Fanzine reviewed: SHAGGY #41
Shaggy (#41) February 1959
Faned: Djinn Faine
Thought I’d revisit them crazy Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society fans by looking at another issue of SHANGRI-L’AFFAIRES (or SHAGGY), the clubzine of the LASFS. I wonder how many readers are old enough to recognise most of the people listed in the masthead?
Director: Jerry Stier
Secretary: Ted Johnstone
Treasurer: Barney Barnard
Senior Committeeman: Al Lewis
Junior Committeeman: Forrest J. Ackerman
Now, before people jump all over me to complain that it is “well known” that Forry never had a period after the “J” in his name, let me point out that I didn’t put the “.” there, it is present in the list. Either it is a typo (which would have upset Forry), or maybe he didn’t drop the period till later? But he had already been a famous fan for over twenty years, with well-established habits, so I suspect it’s just a typo. This sort of conundrum is exactly the kind of thing fan-historians obsess over, which is why fan-historians are few and far between. Most tend to die of apoplexy on reading anything which contradicts their cherished theories over insignificant minutiae. I’m still alive because of my cherished and invincible ignorance.
STAFF FOR SHAGGY:
Editor: Djinn Faine
Managing Editor: Al Lewis
Printer: Ernie Wheatley
Artwork: Bjo, Jack Harness, Jerry Steir and Morris Scott Dollens
Typing: John Trimble, Ed Cox, Ted Johnstone, Ernie, Al, & Dijinn
The people I recognise off the top of my head are Forry, Bjo, John Trimble (who later married Bjo—or were they already married?) and Jack Harness. How many did you get?
The lead article is by Charles Burbee, famous for his wit, though here he appears to be in high dudgeon in a somewhat insensitive manner. He is outraged that Francis T. Laney’s wife Edith had announced Laney’s death in 1958 with the assertion that “a number of months before he died he was brought around to seeing the light by a more-than-enlightened preacher.” Burbee refused to believe this.
“Of course I know what happened to Laney. He went to church with this wife simply to keep her mouth shut.”
Laney had also gone to church with his third wife Cele, to help maintain her “decent reputation” as a schoolteacher. Knowing Laney’s dislike for religion Burbee had then asked him how he spent his time in church.
“I sit there and play phonograph records in my head.”
“Doesn’t the preacher bother you, talking away up there?”
“I don’t pay any attention to that son of a bitch. I blank him out. I mentally pick a record, lay it on the turntable and out comes a glorious rendition of DIPPERMOUTH BLUES as played by Satchmo. And you know? I even hear the needle scratch sometimes, and if my record has a slight crack in it, I hear that as I replay it in my head.”
Francis T. Laney quite the independent sort of thinker, and a very good buddy of Burbee. He claimed, after he had supposedly gafiated circa 1949, that he had continued his membership in FAPA because “I was writing almost entirely for the titillation and edification of Charles E. Burbee.” Very good friends they were.
Laney is perhaps most infamous in fandom for his “Ah, Sweet Idiocy” memoirs which, among other things, accused the LASFS of harbouring homosexuals and condoning their behaviour. Burbee still making jokes about this a decade later, as revealed later in this issue when a portion of interview with Burbee taped during a LASFS party is transcribed:
Jerry: “It has been often stated that various science fiction clubs have backgrounds of faggot behavior and what do you think of the future possibilities for LAS-FS?”
Burbee: “I am at present readying an exciting editorial on this subject in my new fanzine, HOMOSPEAK #7, also my co-ed’s new fanzine, FAGTALK.”
Djinn: “What is your opinion on females in fandom?”
Burbee: “Do you mean female-females or the kind I have been used to?”
Whereupon Ron Ellik interjects: “Back in the old days all the tall Blonds in LASFS were queer.”
Bear in mind that all participants were drinking, it being a party and all, but that when sober the staff of SHAGGY still found the interview amusing enough to print for the edification of fans everywhere, so the “shocking” aspects of the “Ah, Sweet Idiocy” controversy and its presumed negative influence on the reputation of LASFS had obviously long since been laid to rest. A source of mild amusement. Nothing more. In fannish lore it may be that the whole affair was greatly exaggerated to begin with. Tempest in a teapot, like most fannish “controversies” and feuds. (Let’s see if anyone mounts their high dudgeon over THAT statement.)
By the way, in the course of the interview Burbee claimed to have invented sex in 1927. Hmmm, could be …
BJO contributes an article extolling the virtues of a revived SHAGGY:
“It’s about time for a discussion, so all you fans stop stacking bheer cans for a moment, put down that that TWIG illustrated, and listen to dear old ye ed for just a little while. Now if the neo-fan at the back of the room will stop revving his beanie prop, we’ll get down to business.”
“Getting organized, after almost six years of very sporadic publishing, is a feat for space-opera here; certainly it was not an activity that a highly disorganized club would have undertaken if left to its own devices. Fortunately, LASFS was not allowed to sink further into its own private little half-world, to eventually disappear entirely from the memory of all but pre-Laney fandom.”
“So here we are, having fun, drinking coffee, filling up ashtrays, excitedly opening letters to SHAGGY, offering no excuses; only reasons, planning the next issue, and the next, and …”
Ahh, the good old days. When it was possible to revive a moribund club and enjoy doing it.
Fritz Leiber, an extremely well-known fantasy writer—to put it mildly—contributes an article titled THOSE FISHHOOK FENDERS.
“About eight years ago I wrote a grimly predictive short story which H.L. Gold published in an early issue of GALAXY under his pleasantly ironic title of COMING ATTRACTION. The story opened with a most literal narrative hook: some juvenile delinquents have welded fish-hooks to the fenders of their cars and careen about trying to graze girls and tear their clothes off. That is the sort of detail that makes an author wonder afterwards whether he was being grimly predictive in truth or just plain nasty-minded—putting ideas in the morons’ minds in the guise of high shockative art.”
“Take a look at the rear fenders of the 1959 Chevvy. I did—and could only shudder at the thought of being pitched out of a sports car in a rear-end collision and thrown forward against one of these same fenders. Their knife-like flanges are positively medieval in their brutality. It is streamlining put through the fourth dimension, so that smooth spherical curves have changed into saddle shapes—and sharp jutty ones at that. Black cleavers with a chrome edge. They say plain as everything, ‘Keep off—I’m dangerous. Grimly and expensively dangerous’.”
“The history of pole weapons gives a hint of how flange fenders may develop under the pressure of yearly demands for striking style innovations. Pole weapons went Rococo—they kept sprouting additional curlicues and points, the blades were fantastically elaborated. Perhaps we can expect fender flanges that are wavy-edged like Malay krises or terminate in barely blunt fleur-de-lis of chrome.”
“What does all this prove, if anything? Chiefly, to my mind, that if science fiction doesn’t influence anything else it certainly influences industrial design, the language and concepts of advertising, and style in general in this age of technology. Where did streamlining make its first concerted appearance, patient bid for popular acceptance? On the covers of science fiction magazines! Barbaric, wide-belted, helmeted, colorfully-shirted garb for motorcyclists? Ditto. Freeways and clover-leaf intersections? Ditto.”
“Terms like ‘spaceship,’ ‘robot,’ slidewalk,’ are first, you might say, tested or tried out in science fiction stories, then used by industry and industrial press relations. Just today I saw a big sign advertising ‘Power Pack’ gasoline.”
“This doesn’t mean, of course, that science fiction authors invented streamlining, even the streamlined flatiron. It does mean that they are smart at sniffing out lines of development in industrial style—and that business men, in turn, like the colorful, dramatic forms which science fiction authors have given to industrial organization.”
Hmmm, yeah, could be … But what about the influence of Pohl and Kornbluth’s SPACE MERCHANTS? Did Madison Avenue leap to learn from that famous spoof of Madison Avenue advertising? Could explain a lot methinks.
Anyway, as we all know, car fenders did not pursue “weaponization” much further. That trend got legislated out of existence, possibly at the insistence of the insurance industry.
Robert Bloch contributes FUTURE IMPERFECT, in which he complains about the state of science fiction writing. He begins:
“There are several ways to enrage a Serious Constructive Fan. You can offer to buy his entire collection of ASTOUNDING at 10¢ a pound; you can draw a mustache on his autographed photo of Tucker; you can pour a jar of molasses over his Hieronymus machine.”
“But the easiest way to get him mad is to dismiss the entire field of science fiction as nothing but fairy-tales.”
Bloch then explains fairy-tales are well and good in themselves, “but it’s in terms of myth and legend that science fiction lays itself most open to criticism … Just take a look at what science fiction offers along the lines of folk-hero figures.”
“The Brave Commander … the Dashing Junior Officer Who Must Prove Himself on a Dangerous Mission … the Grim, Determined But Devoted Government Official in a Lonely Outpost on a Faraway Planet … the Dedicated Scientist … the Treacherous Subhuman Native … the Treacherous Superhuman Native … the Noble Native Whose Motives Are Misunderstood By Us Until the Last Page …”
“’Scientific extrapolation’ are no, it is pretty hard to give serious critical regard to the stereotypes who stalk through so many of these stories. And in spite of a preoccupation with Neo-Freudian psychology, the ‘plot’ generally requires that even the most supposedly sophisticated characters will deliver their punches, their sluggings over the head with blunt weapons, and their automatic emotional responses at the sight of an outsize bust; just as they do in the crudest western or whodunit.”
“Science Fiction fans may admire the painstaking accuracy with which a writer describes the building, launching, and piloting of a space-ship. But science fiction critics will continue to jeer as long as that space-ship is then manned by a crew of military types taken straight out of a boy’s book about West Point, or Annapolis, or a B movie about the fighting marines. Again, the fans may revel in a writer’s delineation of living conditions on an alien planet, while the critics sigh over the soap-opera drama which is set against the exotic environment. Actually, of course, the ultimate solution is simple; science fiction must eventually achieve the distinction between the out-right fairy-tales of the future and the realistic projection of things to come.”
“I am not advocating that science fiction give up either its adventurous romantic saga or its sense of wonder.”
“But I do believe there is also a place for the serious writer who wishes to appeal to the so-called ‘adult’ audience. And he can find that place and furnish that appeal only if he learns to abandon the fairy-tale elements of hackneyed characterization and motivation and give us protagonists and plots worthy of critical contemplation. There is little point in hurling the reader through the barriers of space and time, only to introduce him to another souped-up version of the invincible Wyatt Earp, ten thousand light years away.”
Bloch was maybe ten years ahead of his time. The advent of “New Wave” science fiction largely took care of his complaints, although often at the expense of “sense of wonder” in my opinion. There’s only so much internal angst I can take. I frankly don’t give a damn about characterization, be it soap-operish or literary: off-beat, amusing, or at the very least, interesting, characters are good enough for me. I’m a concept man. Extrapolation and riffing on an unusual and original concept is what interests me the most. The sexual insecurities of the protagonist not at all. (Something for contributors to my POLAR BOREALIS fiction zine to bear in mind.)
Another stand out article is the page titled TAKE-OFF reproduced above. Bjo wrote the introduction.
“One might view the artwork of Morris Scott Dollens as a ‘primer’ for beginning science fiction fans. The basic, simple composition combined with the pure, almost primary colors give the observer a sense of strength and security, even though he may not understand the deep significance of space travel.”
“While the complicated scratch-board work of Finlay and Lawrence may be very appealing to the avid fantasy fan, a lay-person would find the intricate line-work and unworldly designs confusing. Freas, with his sparkling, subtlely colored interpretations of science-fictional works, is a wonderful artist to the sci fi fan who understands blue men, and green-lipped women.”
“However, this sort of thing is for the fan who has read enough science fiction to know what the artwork is all about. Morris Dollens’ clean, simple tempera paintings are immediately appealing to everyone, even the non-fan. The ordinary man, who doesn’t even think about space travel, much less contemplate the full meaning of it all, finds that a Dollens’ painting gives him the universe without even having to know ‘what a rocket pushes against’.”
“Explaining all the details of a rocket won’t give the ‘stay-at-home’ any thrill at all; when he sees a column of colour and fire, and watches an impossible streak in the sky, he can feel the excitement of space travel without all the scientific knowledge that was necessary to send that rocket up. All he has to see is the metal hull, the launching rack, a sky, and a momentary smear of hell. All he needs to know is that the rocket is headed up. Morris Dollens gives us this.”
“Morris is a fine, sensitive, creative man. His artwork has given many fans and non-fans much lasting pleasure.”
And there you have it, a glimpse of what Los Angeles fans considered worth publishing more than half a century ago.
BY THE WAY:
You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines
You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project
You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive
And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. Found at OBIR Magazine
And then check out my newest new website, devoted to my paying market SF&F fiction semi-pro zine Polar Borealis, at Polar Borealis Magazine