Vector #267


Certain topics ask for poetic treatment—love is one of them, and unrequited love in particular. Poetic writing is, through its intensity, writing that says more than it appears to say. Thus the love that dare not speak its name, in Lord Alfred Douglas’s words, lends itself to poetic treatment, in times when it focuses on an expressly forbidden topic. What we have here is, of course, essentially a literary structure: At its center is a guilty secret—and the guilt and the secrecy are both pivotal. The guilt and the secrecy creates a relationship between two persons, one who knows, and one who does not know. I suspect all writers, from time to time, can be drawn to that structure more or less strongly, whether the secret involves gay sex or not. But I suspect its hard to write a story using such a structure, possibly for its poetic potential, that is not going seem, to some readers, a coded gay tale—even to the surprise of the author; which I think may have been what happened here.

Samuel R. Delany

But the fact is, none of the writing I did about that time—or during that time—gives a direct portrait of my sexual life back then. To repeat, this was three, four years before Stonewall. Back then you didn’t write about things like that, except in code. You left clues that people could—sometimes—read, between the lines. But it was actually dangerous to write about them. You could get in real trouble. You could get your friends in trouble. So you didn’t do it—not in journals, not in letters, not in fiction. A few brave souls, like Ned Rorum or Paul Goodman, were exceptions—and later on, I tried to fill in a few incidents myself. But basically, that wasn’t me.

I tell you this, because it’s important to remember, when considering fiction—like “Aye, and Gomorrah”— just how wide a gap can fall between life and literature—and how social pressures control that gap, so that, in looking at, say, the two award-winning stories of mine that deal with matters gay from the second half of the ’sixties, you have to realize they are finally fairy tales in the way my anecdote about the African medical student cruising the park and his friends is not—even though the Science Fiction Writers of America, who handed out the awards, doubtless felt that they were congratulating me for bringing a new level of “mature realism” to the genre, simply because I was dealing directly with something they thought of as sordid and probably wouldn’t have recognized it at all if I had presented it in any other way. Possibly, at that time, I wouldn’t have recognized it either.

For much the same reasons Nabokov says that Madame Bovary— famed at its time of publication for its realism, it even helped found the school of realism—is finally as much a dark fairy tale as “Jack and the Beanstock” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

Samuel R. Delany

Vector #250

Ken Slater sent me Vectors 41, 42 and 43 when I was asked to do this article and it all came flooding back to me.

I was the Secretary of the BSFA. We had a new Publications Officer, Steve Oakley, and review books and money were sent to him. Heh lived about 20 miles from me, but he had romantic problems (his mother refused to speak to me, as I had introduced the lady in question), and I don’t believe Vector ever came out during his tenure. In fact, he went off to university in the autumn. I had applied for and got a job in charge of a legal department, and was attending evening classes studying law, when Ken rang me about the non-appearance of Vector.

I arranged to go over to Wisbech, and we had a committee meeting. We decided that Ken and I would jointly edit Vector until the AGM at Easter, and Ken gave me a load of stencils (remember them?) which I took home to type. We had no material, so I wrote to Dan Morgan, Ted Tubb, Chris Priest (who was also auditor, and wanted to know whether we had any money), Ken Bulmer and Phil Muldowney.

Then the fun started. Ken typed his own stencil — no spelling errors — and I typed the rest. We got in touch with Phil Rogers (the Chair) and all me at Ken’s on Saturday. Phil turned up late in the afternoon to find Joyce and I stood there, duplicating. Ken had a really old Roneo, and on every fourth page it got stuck and destroyed the paper. We stood on our feet from 10am to 4pm. When the men appeared we had something to eat, and I remember getting very drunk that night and motoring back to Deeping St James with all the papers, envelopes given to me by Ken, and money for postage from Phil.

We were pleased with theh outcome, and carried on for Vector 42 and 43. You ought to read those Vectors get the flavour of them.

In the meantime Ken and I were meeting weekly (with Joyce, of course) and spent hours trying to think how to make the BSFA safer. Phil sometimes joined us, staying late on Saturdays — but never overnight, as he had a regular Sunday appointment. We expected there was a lady involved, but later when I married Phil (in 1972) and asked him, he just smiled and said he never kissed and told.

I was working, as I said, in a legal office. I was in charge of Probate; there was a company solicitor, Danny, in the same office who went all over the world forming companies. It was office policy that all solicitors and clerks had to do a certain amount of conveyancing. Danny hated conveyancing, though, and asked me to do it for him. I agreed, or the condition that he would help me. I explained all about the BSFA, and whether it would be feasible to form a Limited Company with shares. He said now, and explained to me about a Limited Company by Guarantee, which was one of the options that had been suggested by Ken. Whilst looking into this question, of course, we were still producing Vector as before; Trish (aged 9) was proofreading and helping me to assemble the pages, which we then stapled and posted. Ken and I had such good support — although of course not everyone was pleased with our efforts.

In the meantime, I was also studying for my examis, which I took in February (and passed), and approaching authors, publishers, etc. to ask whether, if the company was formed, they would become Directors. I asked everyone from Edmund Crisping to Brian Aldiss.

We decided to enact the change by referendum, and not at the AGM. There was a lot of approval, and a lot of opposition — some of the loudest from Peter Weston, who refused to become a member. I was surprised and hurt, as we had become […] good friends — it wasn’t until I read With Stars in my Eyes that I understood we were at cross-purposes. Peter thought I wanted to break up fandom; I wanted science fiction to be recognised and respected as a genre, but not at the expense of the breakup of fandom. I thought fandom was a vital part of science fiction.

We formed the company before November when the law was changed. (After forming BSFA Ltd., the company solicitor made me form another company for the theatre he’d started in Peterborough.)

I don’t remember who took over Publications. We never saw Steve again. I carried on for a few years, but after a time, with other things on my mind, my membership lapsed, and I haven’t seen Vector for years. I’m sure it isn’t typed on stencils any more.

What energy and what fun we had in those days! Terry Pratchett said recently that there are no old people, just young people looking around and saying “what happened? Where did the time go?” I couldn’t agree more.

Doreen Parker [Rogers]

In 2006, it is perhaps difficult for people who have grown up in a culture where science fiction images and references are splashed all over the place to understand what it was like in the days when sf readers were a comparatively small group, when the racks in general bookshops were not overflowing with trilogies with individual volumes the size of house bricks. Star Wars, Blake’s Seven and various other things were beginning to generate a new wave of popular interest in visual sf, and Dr Who had not entered its long hiatus at that point, but readers were still, on the whole, very isolated from one another, and I wanted the BSFA to put them in touch with one another. I also wanted to break down what I considered to be very narrow definitions of science fiction, the ABC — Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke — approach, with a little H for Heinlein thrown in for good measure. SF was undergoing its most radical transformation since the New Wave of the 1960s, with the arrival on the scene of William Gibson’s Neuromancer in 1984, and I wanted to challenge people to read widely, think about speculative fiction, not just science fiction. In Matrix I listed anything that looked as though it might have some sort of vaguely fantastical component — magical realism was particularly flourishing at that time, I recall, alongside cyberpunk — and did not simply focus on the output of the sf publishers. Paul Kincaid was taking a similar approach material reviewed in Vector. Soon enough, the Clarke Award would begin its eclectic odyssey to explore the boundaries of sf. What I enjoyed then, still enjoy now, is to find a book in an unlikely place, or from an unexpected publisher, and think ‘yes, this isf’, whatever the author and/or publisher might thing. It’s like prospecting.

I don’t know if any of us at that point actually started a revolution; I don’t think we effected any kind of reconciliation between two sf cultures. I’m not even sure there was a revolution that needed starting, or a reconciliation thaht needed to be made. Twenty years is enough time to realise that what goes around, comes around. Something becomes important for a while, then something else arises to take its place. I freely admit I glaze over when the discussion turns to Buffy but I will be there with bells on when the discussion turns to text again. The most important thing any of us has done, still does, is to stoke the fire, keep the discussion going, and make sure there is a place for it to keep going; one way or another the BSFA has been doing that since 1958 (the year before I was born) and keeps on doing so.

Maureen Kincaid Speller

Vector #235

Over the past two years or so I’ve been building up piles of back issues of magazines and journals I use. I’d had a sizeable run of Foundations for a while, and filled in all but about four gaps, even the Philip K. Dick issue which sold out centuries ago; but my five years’ worth of Science Fiction Studies expanded to cover virtually the entire run (again four issues or so missing) and I’ve even found most of the Extrapolations since the mid-1970s, leaving the first third to get. As far as I can tell, that’s going to involve waving my flexible friend at some American bookdealers. (Note to Word fans – my spellchecker tells me that should be booksellers. Ho hum.)

Vector was more hit and miss. I had a patchy run of the various times I joined and fell off the mailing list, a pile I acquired off the back of a lorry, and a much larger pile I’d been given by the former administrator, Maureen Kincaid Speller, when I took the job on. But that only really took me back to issue 123 and (this is sad – I have a table telling me these things) the end of 1984. OK, so getting on for twenty years’ worth, with some gaps, but still less than half the run – plus there were issues of Focus, Paperback Inferno, Matrix and the other, mysterious, transient BSFA magazines such as Tangent, Parabola and Hypotenuse. OK, I made some of those up.

But I’ve recently acquired two large boxes that filled many of the gaps in the collection, and pushed me at least into the mid1960s for Vector, also filling most of the runs of the other magazines. This was fortuitous, as a number of recent articles I’ve been writing have required me to read some of the early material. To every magazine there is a time and place.

We’ve come a long way from typed stencils and duplicating machines to word processing, desktop publication and burning PDFs onto CD-Roms. There are indeed letters complaining about the placing of staples, and apologies for tardiness, and authors getting upset about reviews, and people saying the rot would set in if we stopped collating the magazines manually. Oh, and editors getting upset about only having six pages of letters of comment. One thing struck me as I’d been in a reflective mood and taking stock of my life, counting how many issues I’ve edited, how many I’ve got left: the recurring commentary on the role of the editor of Vector. It is made clear by contributors, chairs and editors alike, that the job is one held in trust. The magazine is not the mouthpiece of the editor, but the mouthpiece of the BSFA.

Any decisions and tone should reflect the feelings and opinions of the BSFA. I’m not sure how far this is the case today – I don’t think there is the same sense of ownership and stakeholding. It is clear that personalities have been reflected in the magazines, and priorities have altered over the years. I’ve largely been allowed to get away with what I’ve wanted to do, as long as I’ve kept to schedule and not gone on too long. Certainly when Cary S. Dalkin and I took over as feature editors in 1995, we were given instructions about the party line and told not to frighten the horses. Perhaps the horses are beyond frightening now. Perhaps the editorial structure — Tony Cullen as layout/production/general editor, Cary and I and then just me as features editor(s) and the various reviews editors — has meant that a single voice has not dominated, that we balance each other. There is no editor of Vector as such.

Perhaps we’re just too close to it — and in 2024 the editor of the holographic interactive Vector will laugh about how that old guy, Whatisname, used to go on about stuff and the old days; this is sf, ferchrysakes, it’s meant to be about the future. And as she searches for some inspiration for the topic of her next editorial, there is a bleep from her mobile phone to indicate a txt msg has been received (she knows it’s archaic, but there are still some members who prefer to receive Vector that way. OK, so they lose a bit in boiling it all down to 256 character chunks, but the highlights can be digested). Apparently the virtual staples are in the wrong place.

Andrew Butler