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Collected editorials

The Way The Future Ought To Have Been

Refurbishing the time machine

It may happen that you read some articles in January that were last revised in February. Not to worry. I’ve been working the time machine overtime, recovering lost articles from the 1970’s. It might need a spot of recalibrating, and there’s a spot of dust in the framistan. Every thing will be back to normal when we get back from Italy.

Whatever happened to the future?

The noted Science Fiction writer, Fred Pohl, wrote an autobiography called The Way The Future Was. As an SF writer Fred was in the business of writing about the future. There is an old saying, “Life is what happens while you are doing something else.” Likewise, the future is what happened while SF authors were writing about the future.

Once upon a time the future was this marvelous place and time that SF authors like Fred Pohl, and Robert Heinlein, and Isaac Asimov, wrote about. They wrote and wrote, and while they wrote the future kept happening, and somehow it was both like and unlike the futures they imagined.

Something else happened – the Future has all but vanished. It’s not the end of time – tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow will still happen. People will still live and die, angry young men will still save civilization, but the Future, the future that SF writers created, has moved on long, long, ago to a galaxy, far, far away. Nowadays the future is inside computers where they generate special effects.

Do you know what happened in the Future? I will tell you. In 1979 Delos D. Harriman stage-managed the first trip to the moon. In 1984 Winston Smith struggled with the Party and Big Brother. In 2001 a computer named Hal went crazy. That’s what happened in the Future, only it never happened.

Something is wrong here. Whatever happened to the Future?

Science Fiction Fanzines

For those of my readers unclear as to whatever a fanzine might be, my congratulations on having hitherto escaped the knowledge I am about to impart to you. Fanzines are amateur magazines written by and for participants in community of science fiction fans. The contents of fanzines vary wildly in quality and topic, and are often incomprehensible to mundanes (non SF fans).

For about twenty years of my life, roughly 1965-1985 I was an active SF fan, a founding member of NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association), a publisher of fanzines, and a regular attendee of SF conventions. I was a participant in the international community of SF fandom. It was never a large community; I guess it comprised somewhere between ten and thirty thousand people when I became active. SF fandom as a distinct subculture came into being in the 1930’s with the advent of SF pulp magazines. My impression is that fandom peaked sometime in the latter years of the twentieth century. Since then I gather that it has slowly declined in numbers and influence, and that of late it has grayed considerably.

One might suppose that SF fandom was and is one of those obscure avocations such barbed wire collecting and square note choral societies that fill the life of the participants and are of otherwise no particular consequence. Not so. By and large the SF authors and editors were also fans, i.e., they were participants in the fan community. Fan culture shaped the genre. And, by a quirk of historical circumstance, Science Fiction as a genre had an inordinate influence. The twentieth century was one of changing technologies; science fiction was a major impulse in shaping what technologists thought technology could be and ought to be.

Somewhere in the mid 80’s I dropped out of fandom – entrepeneurship is a demanding mistress. A decade or so later I reconnected a bit. I have kept up my old friendships, but I’m not plugged into the fan world. I attend conventions from time to time where I visit with old friends, amble about, and inhale the ambience. However I know nothing of what tempests in a teapot are current in fandom, or even if there are any. Perhaps fandom has grown up. I can’t quite imagine it, but they say that time can do anything, even mellow out fuggheads. I opine that to be part of the scene one has to be an active club member or an active fanzine editor. I am neither these days.

I’m not sure that they even do fanzines anymore. Nowadays the venue of choice for indulging the urge for self-expression seems to be the web. It makes sense. It is a lot easier to prepare a web page and upload it than it is to publish a printed fanzine. I’ve put up a few pages about the joys of publishing fanzines. See:

In one sense this web site is a continuation of a fanzine I published long ago called Personal Notes. PN was a mimeographed fanzine with a circulation of about 100. The content was whatever I wanted to natter about, lots of letters of comment from readers that I commented upon in turn, and art continuity by artist friends. There were nine issues containing about 300 pages of material.

At first sight the website is a very different proposition. PN had a total of about 300 pages of material. The website has several thousand pages. PN had a circulation of 100. The website had just under one million visitors last year. Clearly the website has more presence and more substance. Also, clearly, it is a lot less work. I don’t have to stand over a mimeograph feeding paper and ink into the machine, and collating large stacks of paper to produce little magazines.

Still, there is real continuity. In Personal Notes the content was whatever I wanted to natter about; in Richard Harter’s World the content is whatever I want to natter about. In Personal Notes there were lots of letters of comment from readers that I commented upon in turn; in Richard Harter’s World there are lots of letters of comment from readers that I comment upon in turn. I am a bit short of gorgeous artwork though. There are other similarities. Few people, perhaps a 100, read each month’s issue of Richard Harter’s World as it comes out. Few people, about as many as wrote LOCs on PN, write letters of comment on each issue.

I do miss publishing PN now and then, though not nearly enough to engage in the insanity of actually publishing a paper fanzine again. There is an old joke that is apropos:

She: I have a soft spot in my heart for you.
He: Well, why won’t you marry me then?
She: It’s in my heart, not in my head.

Mining the midden

All of the above is my subtle way of warning my readers that I’ve gone back to the fanzine pile and extracted more fine articles. I am convinced that the world needs more thirty year old fanzine essays that were first drafted onto mimeograph stencil. Hey, it’s just my personal version of the Gutenberg project.

One of them, a rant about the ethics of banks, presented a small problem – I have no place in my categories of articles for rants. Other than the occasional snide remark in an editorial there is no place for indignant remarks about politics nor any of the other manifestations of human totty headedness. All things considered, that is just as well. Let others try to clean out the midden of humanity – I’m just trying to mine it for source material.

In any event I filed it under religion on the grounds that the subject is ethics.


One of the few things that I have been becoming more aware of recently is my innate superiority over much of the rest of the human race. My evidence for this is that I have observed a restless arrogant egotism in many of fellows whereas I have observed only a credit worthy and unassuming modesty in myself.

This page was last updated February 1, 2006.

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Collected editorials