Bruce Gillespie’s SF Commentary is one of the longest running science fiction fanzines in existence. Issue 80, the 40th anniversary issue, is somewhat overdue – so far overdue in fact that it might more accurately be termed the 41 ½ anniversary edition. Gillespie had so much material that he wanted to published in this anniversary edition that it will spread to three volumes, including SF Commentary 81 and 82, both of which are forthcoming. As if that wasn’t enough, Gillespie has still more material that can’t fit into the three volumes, so he’s released a supplementary edition, 80A, as a digital download only. This, and the rest of Gillespie’s fanzines (including the excellent Steam Engine Time) can be freely downloaded at efanzines.com. Basically, this 40th anniversary edition is the culmination of more than forty years of hard work Gillespie has undertaken for the love of science fiction. As these pages show, Gillespie has had a whole lot of love to give.
In his editorial, Gillespie discusses Damien Broderick’s suggestion that the anniversary edition be “filled entirely by contributors who were featured in No 1, January 1969.” Unfortunately, only Broderick and Gillespie of those contributors remain in the land of the living, so a few latecomers have managed to find their way into these pages. SF Commentary 80 features guest editorials by Stephen Campbell and Damien Broderick. Both Campbell and Broderick reminisce about the great authors that piqued their own interest in the field of science fiction. Campbell has a special place in his heart for Cordwainer Smith (and amen to that), while Broderick charts the history of the New Wave from 1960-1980.
The bulk of this issue, however, is given over to discussion of the work of Philip K Dick, the writer whose work encouraged Bruce Gillespie himself to enter the world of science fiction fandom in the late sixties. Gillespie’s own contribution to this section is his speech on Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, which he asserts to be the bleakest book he’s ever read. This he presented at Potlatch 14 in San Francisco in 2005, and it is followed by a transcript of the discussion that followed the speech. The PKD mania continues with Rosaleen Love’s review of Christopher Palmer’s Philip K Dick: Exhilaration and Terror of the Postmodern, Colin Steele’s short reviews on five PKD novels recently republished as Five Great Novels, a piece by Robert Mapson on PKD as a modern shaman, plus reviews of Emmanuel Carrere’s I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick, Gwen Lee and Doris Sauter’s book of late interviews with PKD, entitled What If Our World Is Their Heaven? The Final Conversations of Philip K Dick, and finally Tim Train’s discussion of two of PKD’s mainstream novels, In Milton Lumky Territory and Mary and the Giant.
The rest of the issue, and we’re talking another sixty pages, is devoted firstly to a number of responses to SF Commentary 79, which focused on the life and work of Wilson ‘Bob’ Tucker, and secondly to letters in response to SF Commentary and associated issues more generally. Bruce Gillespie doesn’t get letters, he gets letters. Hundreds of them. So many that he has an entire section devoted to letter writers who have passed on between the writing and publication of said letters. Then there are the letters from living personages, of course, including science fiction no-names like Brian Aldiss, Gene Wolfe, David Langford and Ian Watson. And all of that is before the feature letter of comment by Patrick McGuire. For those of us who weren’t old enough to be a twinkle in anyone’s else eye way back in 1969, the scope of this letters section is mind-boggling.
And that’s SF Commentary 80. I remarked to Gillespie recently, upon meeting him for the first time at his house in Greensborough, that I felt, reading the pages of SF Commentary and Steam Engine Time, like I was forty years late to a conversation. It’s a conversation that has been taking place for nigh on one hundred years now, and we owe it to Bruce Gillespie and those like him for recording it so that latecomers like myself might listen in.