Claire Brialey

It seems self-evident that each issue of Science-Fiction Five-Yearly offers not only a selection of the sort of fan writing and art which is prevalent in the period of its publication, but also a snapshot of what fandom itself is like at the time. Every time there's an opportunity to build up a picture of the trends, the key players and the concerns of each mini-generation -- a slice through fandom, in effect, rather like one of those mice that urban myth has found in loaves of bread.

And so it's not just for comic effect -- or what would, were it not for this preamble, be the sort of opening book that Vinc Clarke advised fan writers to plant for the entrapment of their audience -- that I feel it's important to make one thing clear at the start. This is to help both contemporary readers and the fans of the far-flung future to understand fandom in Britain in the first decade of the twenty-first century by revealing one of its motive forces. It is, in fact, primarily my consideration for posterity that bids me tell you:

It was all James Bacon's fault.

Devotees of democracy might argue that ultimately it was the fault of the electorate who, back in 2004, chose James over Anders Holmström as the westbound TAFF deligate in the first ever race to be a straight fight between two candidates from outside the UK. James accordingly made the trip to his first non-European Worldcon, impressing a considerable number of Worldcon personnel and partygoers alike with his reserves of energy and focus on the matter in hand, and came back to apply that focus to many, many fannish projects including getting more people interested in TAFF and in SF fandom outside their own country. It seemed unreasonable not to try to help.

My third convention was a Worldcon, in Brighton in 1987. It wasn't completely lost on me that it was a Worldcon and that the 'world' bit was significant; in terms of its size and scale and duration and cost and the overwhelming numbers of Americans, it was clearly very different to most aspects of my limited previous convention experience. But I was still so new and so young that all I was really looking for was to replicate that experience within the Worldcon, and I've since spent more time than is healthy lamenting what I missed. The extent of my ignorance about fandom at large and fannish institutions like the fan funds in particular doesn't now bear thinking about; I didn't even know what I didn't know and that I was missing a rather good opportunity to find out about it. Nonetheless, even I could see some of the advantages of so many exotic foreigners, even while I was personally thinking that some of the disadvantages of a Worldcon involved some of the foreigners too.

These days I can see rather more point in the 'world' bit of a Worldcon, and am entirely in favour of exotic foreign visitors. At the dead dog party in Glasgow last year the process of going to bed took nearly an hour, just by going round the fan lounge to find and say goodbye to all the friends I knew I probably wouldn't see again for months and months or even years. But I've never wanted to stand for a fan fund, not least because I've never needed to stand for a fan fund; I've been fortunate enough to be able to afford any of the trips to conventions abroad that I've wanted to take. I'm also not an ambassadorial type; I don't feel I can adequately represent anyone's fandom but my own, I shrink from being expected to be someone who is worth meeting and capable of near-continuous performance, and I really like being able to plan my trips based on what I want to do rather than on a sense of obligation and responsibility. And I would never voluntarily put myself into a popularity contest, since I would automatically expect to lose and I saw little fun in that. (The administrative side of the fan funds, which dissuades many of the other people who don't want to stand, has always struck me as the less off-putting part; in the course of my everyday fannish activities I've written trip reports and fan fund newsletters, raised money for the funds, and helped to administer a race, and it all seems entirely within the capacity of any normally intelligent, well-organized and responsible person.)

I've had a lot of contact with overseas fans through fanzines, and every trip I've made to other countries has involved meeting more of those fans and adding some new people to our mailing list. We have some exceptionally hospitable friends abroad and I've never felt that they would have treated us any better if we'd been visiting because of a fan fund. But I still feel I've benefited from the fan funds, through meeting American and Australian delegates, through reading the trip reports when people bother to produce them, and through being part of a fandom that's enthusiastic and energetic in its pursuit of engagement with other SF fans.

In spring 2006, with an eastbound race that brought Suzle to the 2005 Worldcon under his belt, James Bacon was on the final leg of his TAFF administration. Being James, he was planning not just a sprint down the home straight but completion of an obstacle course in a pirate costume, culminating in donning a jetpack streaming multi-coloured smoke for his victory lap. It all sounded quite reasonable to start with: James wanted to announce the result of the westbound TAFF race at a convention, since there would be scope for the candidates to strut their stuff, the announcement would be more of an event in itself, and it would all encourage lots of last-minute votes and raise the profile of the fund as well as swelling the coffers. It seemed plausible there might be a small fun fannish convention over the last weekend in May; the results of the 2002 race had been counted and announced during a similar con and, although it wouldn't leave the winner with a great many weeks to organise their trip, James thought it would be worth trying to do it again.

In the event, there wasn't a weekend convention, but once James had announced the voting deadline those of us involved in fan-fundraising thought that perhaps sponsoring a one-day event in London would be manageable -- and SFFY readers would probably not thank me for describing in detail either the ensuing logistical anguish or the background faffing about. Suffice it to say that James wanted a convention at which he could announce the TAFF result, and that's pretty much what James got.

This isn't to imply that James acted alone. Part of his modus operandi is to sweep along in his wake a moderately-sized horde of henchmen who are convinced they are acting voluntarily and who often pick up enough momentum to start acting under their own power. (James himself will claim that he is incapable of achieving anything much without the involvement of Stef and Elvis, which may be either passing the buck or revealing them as the masterminds behind a plot to bring down fandom in a way that's too dastardly and complicated to be able to appreciate at this proximity.) Few people are wholly immune to James's powers of persuasion -- even those who are still sufficiently in control of their own actions to maintain that in some ways he is quite, quite wrong often seem to end up doing what he wants them to -- and those who do hold out are likely to be on the receiving end of a lengthy letter or fanzine article or a sincere and intense conversation about the world according to James until they either see the light or prove themselves to be, again according to James, irredeemably unreasonable wankers.

The only reason I can deduce that James -- who took up permanent residence in this country less than a year ago -- has not so far taken over the British fandom entirely is that he has too much going on in his head at once and is thus frequently distracted by passing pretty girls, cool toys, awesome science fiction, an old-school fan in need of re-education, or his old wild imaginings.

In this particular endeavor James's main partner was Flick -- herself a figure worth noting in contemporary British fandom, both for being a creative force as well as a content provider and for possessing a figure which many find worth noting. Despite being in the midst of a year organising the process of becoming the second Mrs. Mike Scott, Flick took time out from planning the wedding to help James (her junior bridesmaid) to run a one-day convention. My role was, I think, to worry on the sidelines

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"Forklifts and customers -- a bad mix."

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about TAFF, the League of Fan Funds generally, and anything that no one else was worrying about sufficiently which, given James's usual working methods, was everything. Mark designed a fabulous new vote-counting spreadsheet to make the on-the-day process rather less prone to accident and to generate proper records. Alison Scott did the artwork. But the design for the day was all James'.

So James and Flick whizzed about London looking at venues and laughing at naff wedding clothing en route, like a postmodern fannish retelling of the Three Bears: every possible venue was either too big (or expensive), or too small (or far away), or just right (apart from being unavailable). Then someone suggested the Horseshoe Inn.

It was twenty years ago in a few days' time, as someone may have written only to demonstrate that it's not a memorable line. I was 16 -- one of the young people that fandom seemed to be worrying less about finding then -- and about to encounter for the first time a part of British science fiction fandom that I didn't go to school with. Actually, I was slightly hazy about the fandom thing; so far as I was concerned it was ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha, the HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy appreciation society, around and beyond which the rest of British science fiction fandom clearly did exist in a sort of haze, but I was only ready for one but at a time. ZZ9 mostly saw the rest of fandom as, at best, fellow travelers, partly being a microcosm of wider fandom in itself, partly taking a Groucho Marx-style stance of not wanting to be part of any group that would have them as members, and partly being locked in a state of mutual suspicion with traditionally fannish fandom about whether ZZ9 was wanted as a member anyway. A lot of this came down to the way that most 'real' fans -- excepting perhaps the university SF groups who, being students, were probably a bit up themselves -- were so old. Most of them were in their thirties at least.

You can't get away from Greying of Fandom discussions now, or indeed weariness about Greying of Fandom discussions. Maybe that's always been true, and I inevitably didn't notice it when I was both young and just mucking about in the water having a good time; maybe I have aged naturally into it. Maybe my cohort, or even the one before that, were the last major intake; or maybe it's the one we noticed a few years ago. Maybe we should pay more attention to the mockery of the whole Greying of Fandom fret-fest -- not so much by the people who just haven't noticed that they're grey too or don't care what happens to fandom anyway but, crucially, by all the fans who are too young to be grey at all. Maybe there are lots more young fans out there and we haven't noticed because they're not interested in us because we're old; maybe there are lots of potential fans but they're doing something just a bit different and don't want to help us keep our odd little community alive. And maybe it just doesn't matter, and we should live for today rather than worrying about all this sustainability stuff.

I'm only conceptually grey, and some of the people who knew me twenty years ago will assert that I have always been. But back then I was chronologically 16, and in

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the sixth form at school which meant -- to the explicit sadness

of several of the ZZ9 men I met -- that I no longer had to wear

school uniforms, and that I also had a bit more flexibility about

whether I was on school premises during free periods. This gave

me the courage and the inspiration to contemplate epic journeys.

The plan had been that several of us would travel the 50 miles to

London by train after school in order to visit some of the near-

mythic figures who cavorted across the pages of ZZ9's quarterly

newsletter in their natural environment: the pub meeting. The

long-standing London Circle meeting on the first Thursday of

each month, then established at the One Tun for at least a dozen

years, seemed too big and scary, involving as it did the presence

of many other (grown-up) fans of whom we had never heard; so

the obvious first step was ZZ9's own Alternative Tun meeting,

then held monthly on the third Thursday at a small pub near

London Bridge station. In the event, my friends weren't allowed to go, even though the itinerary was eventually transmuted to my father driving us there and back.

I refused to be so faint-hearted, even if it meant having to meet these fannish legends by myself with only the lurking presence of my father checking them for axe-murdering tendencies, so at the first opportunity, September 1986, I slapped my thigh and set off for London to make my fortune. Outwardly, ZZ9 appeared safe and quite respectable (most of them actually were safe and quite respectable, but many of them liked to believe that they weren't really), so Dad left me with them and went to visit his sister for the evening.

I have a photograph taken that night, showing five of the people I met at my first ever fannish pub meeting. It's quite a dark photo because it was quite a dark pub: small and dingy, really, but I always had a soft spot for it because it was my first time. A few months afterwards, it closed for refurbishment, which to be fair it needed, and ZZ9 switched venues. Unsurprisingly, most of the people in my photograph look quite different now -- at least enough to convince John Harvey, over a dozen years later, that he was looking at a group of foreign fans rather than younger versions of several people he knew well. But as well as its comical potential, the photo helps to demonstrate the profound effect that meeting had on the next twenty years of my life and what makes me keep returning to it in fanzine articles: of the five people there, two -- Noel Collyer and Mark Plummer, in turn -- became the other partner in my only long-term relationships. And by the time John got the chance to be confused by it the photo had realised some tragic potential as well, forming part of a memorial exhibit he and Eve were putting together for a third member of the photographic group: Ian Gunn, who died in 1998, had quite impressed me that evening twelve years before by having travelled halfway round the world to attend a ZZ9 pub meeting -- a journey nearly as intrepid as my own from the sheltered middle classes of small village life in East Anglia -- and may well be the first progenitor of my enduring belief that it's worth making the effort to socialise with Australian SF fans as often as I can.

It's therefore possible to construct an argument that links my support for the fan

funds to my first ever fannish pub meeting as well. I suppose I should explain that

there's a body of opinion in British fandom that

TAFF, in particular, is now unnecessary and wrong,

and should be done away with -- as distinct from the

school of thought that TAFF has never been necessary

or right, and should be done away with. Yet there

seems always to have been this sort of feeling, albeit

based on a variety of reasoning (the example that

always leaps to mind is Terry Carr, himself an

eastbound TAFF delegate only five years before,

writing in the year I was born that 'it's simply an

outdated idea to exchange delegates between European

and American conventions as though that were a novelty'),

and so far there's always been reason enough to keep going,

even at times when the institution has enjoyed considerably less support and recognition than it seems to at the moment.

There are any number of reasons that motivate people to support fan funds, but that's the point: there are still a lot of different reasons that hundreds of people annually find it worthwhile paying to cast a ballot. Some will argue in favour of one-off funds to enable specific people to take a particular trip, and I've been as strong a supporter of a number of those because I agreed that the recipients deserved it. But the existing fan travel funds can fulfil a similar function, with the advantage of established arrangements for their organization; and the enduring connection between the countries involved and the earlier fandoms in each of them is one of the things about the community of SF fandom that continues to make me want to be part of it.

And TAFF westbound has seemed pretty healthy recently. The 2006 race had three candidates representing a broad range of interests and experiences across British fandom, and I think it's worth reiterating that this race had the highest number of European votes cast in any TAFF contest and the second highest overall total in a westbound race. And yet there's still some concern, even amongst those who feel that TAFF is still a good thing, or at least that under the stewardship of James and/or Bridget Bradshaw it is currently a good thing, that it is all falling away and that all of fandom as we know it is doomed to follow. We're still asking ourselves where the young fans will come from, or at least the young fans who are like us, or perhaps the young fans who are like the way we imagine we were.

Even James is not immune to this. Despite his pretty conclusive answer at the 2005 Worldcon tot he question of where the young fans would come from ('through that door at the back', as he and Stef led the participants of their Young Adult Fun Activities programme stream in an invasion of the Greying of Fandom panel item we'd scheduled for this purpose), in a few quiet moments which many might consider uncharacteristic he could be found scanning the massed denizens of the fan lounge and wondering who the next version of him might be and why they hadn't yet emerged.

Yet, for all that we might have been feeling like old fans and tired as we assembled in the Horseshoe Inn for the TAFF day, the pub itself was looking remarkably fresh and about twice the size it used to. Clearly it had had more than one refurbishment and, as well as a generally light and airy interior, whose existence I'd never suspected when I drank there regularly. The space still doesn't entirely lend itself to putting on a programme of talks or panels as well as the social side, but the day was undoubtedly a success in TAFF terms.

For me, it was an oddly emotional experience. I felt so stressed about the number of things which could go wrong with the live TAFF count and announcement -- none of which did, which I ascribe at least partly to the placatory effect of my worrying on the underlying bloody-mindedness of the universe, but also to the careful preparations made by Mark and James and Suzle -- that, although I'd been entranced by the suggestion of the Horseshoe as a TAFF day venue, I hadn't really focussed on its significance beyond stuffing the photo from two decades before into my bag. I hadn't been back since ZZ9 left; without realising how much it had changed, I always suspected that it couldn't live up to the significance it had assumed for me.

Three of the subjects of the photo were there, and for the rest of the attendees -- well, it wasn't quite my whole fannish life flashing before my eyes, but James had managed to get a fair proportion of London fandom through the doors as well as a number of visitors from further away, even if not quite as far as Australia. Officially, the event was recorded as having 112 attendees; these included ten of this year's Hugo nominees (including guest speakers Paul Cornell, Paul McAuley and Kim Newman), four former TAFF winners, two former GUFF winners, and the winner of SMOFF (a one-off fund-raiser contested during this year's Eastercon). Unofficially, I like to think of it as a testament to the way that it's not all about the greying and ageing of fandom at all. The young people present were in a minority, there's no question about that; but it's also unquestionable that they were there.

There are active fans in their twenties in Britain: not just people like Flick and Helena McCallum -- who have also been in fandom since they were teenagers and who therefore qualify in one sense as old pharts so that we often forget they also qualify as young people -- but people like Liz Batty, who's heading up the literary programme for the 2008 Eastercon and who carried on her shoulders at the TAFF day the mantle of the whole of 'Third Row' fandom; yes, we even have active fans who actually read and watch science fiction, and who write and talk intelligently about it as well.

We also have a literal new generation of fandom as well as a literary one: the children of fans of about our age, sufficiently numerous in recent years to make their presence felt. As is often the case, they included

Marianne Cain, perched on a bar stool in a corner

reading quietly, and her younger brother Jonathan,

leading Meriol Ameringen into a life of enterprise

as he charmed 50 pence coins from passing adults

to feed into the pub games machine. But on this

occasion, with great significance for me, they also

included the Waglets. Twenty years ago I would

have had difficulty in imagining any of the young

men in my photo as someone's father, but I would

have put money on the least likely candidate being

Screaming Mad Wag. Many would now contend

that Helena is the responsible grown-up in this family,

but nonetheless there they all were on the TAFF day: Helena, John Waggott, as he's more frequently known these days, and their twin sons, memorably named on their T-shirts as Thing 1 and Thing 2. We showed them the photo of their father and promised to tell them more about his disreputable past when they knew more words,

But that's not all. Probably only a British fan could get sentimental about this but, as someone who hadn't drunk in the Horseshoe Inn since I was old enough to drink, I was really rather pleased to see that fannish events in this pub still attract fans who are too young to get served in it. Abi Brown is a second-generation fan as well; she attended the Worldcon last year with her father and met Flick, who was reporting on parties for the newsletter. With one fell tumble off two pairs of stilettos, the Plokta Cabal had a new content provider. John Coxon, meanwhile, had joined the ZZ9 committee at an age when I was told to run along and finish my exams, and took the opportunity of the TAFF day to distribute the paper copies of the first issue of his fanzine. They both seem not only a lot more self-assured, and perhaps more aware of the world in general, but also a lot more comfortable in fandom than I was back then.

I mention all these people by name because I'd like to think that they'll still be part of the slice of British fandom you could get to see in the next issue of this fanzine, in five years' time. Maybe one of them will even be writing it.

I've been told that ZZ9 are meeting in the Horseshoe again these days; I'm drawn to drop in for my own twentieth anniversary, but after that I think it's time to look forward again. Reports of fandom's imminent death remain, I think, an exaggeration; I believe SF fandom could yet have a pretty good future, and I still want to be part of it. See you in five years.

Data entry by Judy Bemis
Hard copy provided by Geri Sullivan

Updated March 6, 2007. If you have a comment about these web pages please send a note to the Fanac Webmaster. Thank you.