Edited by Bruce Gillespie and Jan Stinson
Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce, July 2010
Zines are, to some extent, a self-indulgence. They are a way for fans, frequently not professional writers, to indulge in writing about their passions, just as authors themselves get to do. And because they are generally aimed at a community who are already in tune with the focus of the zine, they can afford that self-indulgence, knowing that their readers will appreciate what might otherwise be termed vanity.
All of this is by way of expressing my amusement that the first 16 pages of this issue of SET is an editorial from Bruce Gillespie, entitled “2009 the year – 2000-09 the decade.” It begins with Gillespie discussing the troubles he had writing a paper, and reflecting on Christopher Priest’s The Magic. He then moves into a more personal discussion of his own life in 2009, the issues he had with various fanzine projects, and some medical issues. As I have stated in previous reviews of SET, reading the zine never fails to amaze me because of its very personal nature. Gillespie is clearing writing as if for friends, a community who knows him and wants to know these sorts of details. It really is like a paper-based blog in many ways. From this introduction, Gillespie moves into “Favourites lists”. He cheats a little, to my mind, by listing his favourite books read for the first time in 2009, a list which ranges from Gormenghast (Mervyn Peake, 1950) to Barley Patch (Gerald Murnane, 2009), and which he reminisces over for a few pages. He proceeds then to favourite films seen for the first time in 2009, and then favourite CDs as well. He follows up these annual list with one looking at the preceding decade, inspired by Jonathan Strahan doing a similar thing. He list his best SF novels, fantasy/horror/slipstream, crime/mystery/suspense/spy novels, favourite films, and four lists of favourite CDs. This is, indeed, self-indulgent. However, it’s also a way of flagging great works to an audience who, especially in this case, are already likely to share your tastes. And, frankly, it’s also a lot of fun, so there’s no way I’m going to diss Gillespie for undertaking the task.
Appropriately, since he began his “editorial” discussing the difficulty of writing it, the second article is the article Gillespie presented to the Nova Mob in October 2009. It’s called “The treasure hunt: books about SF”. He begins by discussing his discovery of reading, and of science fiction, as a child through both books and radio serials, and then his discovery of popular music (and the beginnings of his interest in writing lists, it seems). He goes on to outline his discovery of SF magazines, his desire to be able to find and read “good” authors, and hence the pull towards the Australian Science Fiction Review as somewhere to find like-minded “treasure-hunters”. Finally, the point of the article comes in the last few pages, when Gillespie discusses some recent titles of science fiction criticism, such as Paul Kincaid’s What it is we do when we read science fiction, a Joanna Russ collection entitled The country you have never seen, and Thomas M Disch’s On SF. He does not endorse these books wholeheartedly, complaining that science fiction critics tend toward general statements rather than close reading of particular texts. I can understand this complaint, since his own zine does tend towards the very particular of authors and texts; however I can’t help but think that perhaps he has not picked up the best books, in that case, since (for example) the anthology put together by Farah Mendelsohn, On Joanna Russ, has very specific readings, as does the older Science Fiction, by Adam Roberts. Overall, though, Gillespie does offer some interesting thoughts about the books he’s read and criticism more generally (with some amazingly long quotes).
Ray Wood contributes “The Dancing Cyborg”, with an examination of Terminator: the Sarah Connor Chronicles and a comparison with the nineteenth-century ballet Coppélia, or the Girl with the enamel eyes. He begins with the plot of the ballet: he point of comparison lies in Chronicles’ seventh episode, wherein the terminator spontaneously dances in her room; in the ballet a girl hides herself by pretending to be a scientist’s automaton. Woods proceeds to a discussion of what the Terminator stories tell us about the human in the machine or the human responsibility for the machine, and some of the ironies of that particular Chronicles episode. In what is quite a long article (again helped by some fairly long quotes), he then ranges more broadly on the topic of Chronicles, about John and Sarah Connors’ relationship, but most interestingly on the subject of the terminator, Cameron, herself. This article – and presumably the show itself, which I’ve not watched – brings up one of those fundamental questions: what it means to be human, and how we differentiate ourselves. It’s one of the more fascinating articles on the issue of robots (sorry, cybernetic organisms) that I’ve read in a long while.
The inclusion of the next article confused me mightily. It’s George Zebrowski’s Guest of Honour speech from the Science Fiction Research Association Conference, from June 1996. The title is “The writer-editor: the rightful custodian of science fiction and fantasy”, which is certainly an interesting topic. However, given that it is now 14 years old, it would have been useful to see a “this is still relevant because…” section at the start. He does include a short “Epilogue” at the end, but that didn’t help with my dissatisfaction the first time I read it! (This Epilogue is basically a short reiteration of the whole article, insisting that little has changed since 1996.) Nonetheless: the article begins with a discussion of how several “Golden Age” editors got their starts, and the magazines along with them. His point is how these editors controlled SF in the ’50s. He continues with a potted history of editors in the ’60s and ’70s, and that – in his telling at least – those editors who were also writers appear to have been “best” for the SF scene. He has some interesting things to say about the commercialism and entertainment aspects of the SF genre, not all of which I think I can agree with but which are worth thinking about. Overall, it’s an interesting enough article. Not being an editor, I felt that the second half had little relevance for me; the first half was interesting from an historical perspective.
It appears that Gillespie exhausted his correspondence in issue 11, given the close publication dates of 11 and 12, and I would guess most of his correspondents don’t use email. Consequently, the last few pages of this issue are given over to an article, not letters: a tribute from Frank Weissenborn to A. Bertram Chandler, called “A lovely dollop of trollop”, which like Gillespie’s second article had been presented in 2009 to the Nova Mob. I have never read any of Chandler’s work, so I cannot speak to whether this was a worthy tribute to the man and his creation, or not. Weissenborn provides a brief overview of Chandler’s life and his works, especially his Rim Worlds universe and the character John Grimes. I have to say that I do not think I will be picking up Chandler’s work any time soon, since Weissenborn seems to delight in the fact that all the women were there to be rescued or slept with, and I think I prefer a bit more substance to my space adventures than Chandler’s work admits of.
This issue of SET is a wide-ranging one, of which I thoroughly approve, and I hope Gillespie’s longtime readers did and do as well. I also really liked Dick Ditmar Jenssen’s cover, showing a hot-air balloon floating over a green landscape with a Saturn-like planet hanging heavy in the background.