Born 1947. First eleven years spent in the south-eastern suburb of Oakleigh, along with my Mum and Dad and two sisters, both younger than me. Various house moves took us to Melton (which then had 500 people) and Bacchus Marsh, even while I was gaining my BA and Diploma of Education at Melbourne University (1965–68). At the end of 1967 I met quite a few of the best-known SF fans in Melbourne, and joined fandom in 1968. I attempted to teach in Ararat (1969–70), before gaining a position in the Publications Branch of the Education Department (1971–3). After travelling overseas for five months (September 1973–January 1974), I decided to try a life of freelance editing, which I’ve been doing ever since. I met Elaine Cochrane in 1974, but we did not get together until 1978, and married in March 1979, about the time we moved into a house in Collingwood, along with five cats. We moved to Greensborough, a northwestern suburb, in 2005. We still have four cats.
1. You’ve been publishing SF Commentary since 1969, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, and it’s been nominated for a Hugo Award three times. You’ve also published other fanzines over the years. What is it about publishing fanzines that you love?
In 1961, when I was in Form 3 (Year 9) at Oakleigh High School, my friend Ron Sheldon and I published 26 issues of 6-page duplicated magazine and sold it to fellow students. I did not know the term ‘fanzine’ then, but read about fanzines later in a column by Lin Carter in If. That’s what I wanted to do — publish a magazine in which I could write about anything I wanted and could send it to anybody in the world I chose. In 1966, I bought my first fanzine from the front counter of McGill’s Newsagency (run by Merv Binns, the organiser of the Melbourne SF Club, which was situated in a lane behind McGill’s). It was Australian Science Fiction Review, edited by John Bangsund. At last! In-depth articles about science fiction, plus literate humour from Bangsund and his correspondents. However, I did not write to John until I had finished my degree. I enclosed two articles I had written about the novels of Philip K. Dick. John asked me to visit him in Ferntree Gully. On that weekend in December 1967 I met many of the people who have remained important in my life, such as John Bangsund, Lee Harding, John Foyster, George Turner, Damien Broderick, Tony Thomas and Rob Gerrand.
I desperately wanted to begin publishing, but had no real income until I started teaching at the beginning of 1969. I typed, and John, Lee and Leigh Edmonds actually produced and posted the first issue of SF Commentary early that year. Although that first issue was one of the worst-looking fanzines of all time, it elicited an enormous letter response, including a letter from Philip Dick, my favourite author. I managed to buy a duplicator, produced 18 issues of SFC in two years, and in 1972 I gained my first Ditmar Award and Hugo nomination. SF Commentary itself has lapsed in production from time to time, but I have also produced such magazines as The Metaphysical Review (dealing with all my interests other than SF, and now replaced by Treasure), Steam Engine Time (co-edited with overseas friends, featuring longer articles about SF and fantasy), and *brg* for ANZAPA (Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association [of which he’s been the official editor for ten years – ed]) and its online version Scratch Pad.
To answer your original question: the main pleasure of publishing fanzines has been the pleasure of making something oneself, and receiving a huge amount of warm response, including letters of comment, magazines exchanged with mine, and articles and artwork. In later years, people began giving me prizes as well, including making me Fan Guest of Honour at Aussiecon 3 (1999) and giving me a trip to the west coast of USA (the Bring Bruce Bayside Fund in 2005). But even these awards are not as rewarding as the actual act of publication.
2. One of the fascinating things about your fanzines is the letters columns, wherein people appear to be having conversations that have lasted over many issues — and therefore, sometimes, over years. Have you made friends via letter columns? What is it about that venue that works for people?
I had very little self-confidence when I was a young man, and not much now. But my life was transformed when John Bangsund enjoyed the articles and reviews I sent him, and then many people responded by mail to the first issues of SF Commentary. At my first SF convention, Easter 1968, few people wanted to talk to me. At my second convention, Easter 1969, after SFC 1 had appeared, I was greeted at the door. I seemed to become a different person in print, somebody people wanted to meet. In turn, I could introduce my readers to each other. The conversation, a sort of slow-motion, in-depth version of the Internet, keeps going.
3. Do you anticipate keeping on with SF Commentary, and Treasure, into the future? Are there still things that you want to say?
The problems of producing SFC have always been practical. When I had the time to produce an issue, I did not have the money to print and post it, and when I had the money I did not have the time. These days the main brake on the print version of SF Commentary is Australia Post. Most of my most enthusiastic readers live overseas, but airmail postage has shot up greatly over recent years. To compensate, Bill Burns in America offers the website efanzines.com, where he will post issues of fanzines in PDF format for anybody to access. This has proved a lifesaver to me and many other fanzine editors who no longer have the income to print and post their zines. Until Australia Post makes it quite impossible to send out print copies and/or Bill Burns has to give up his website, I will keep going. Producing fanzines is what I do.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
There are not many Australian fanzines still being published. One of the best, Ethel the Aardvark, can only be read by members of the Melbourne SF Club. However, I can point to Chris Nelson’s Mumblings from Munchkinland (available both as a print and PDF version) as being the ideal small fanzine that covers a lot of ground, especially the history of fannish activity in Australia. Bill Wright is still publishing his Interstellar Ramjet Scoop on efanzines.com, and Van Ikin told me at Continuum that he has four issues of Science Fiction nearly finished.
The Australian fiction scene has expanded in the last 20 years, from a time between 1975 and 1985 when Cory & Collins (Paul Collins and Rowena Cory) and Norstrilia Press (Carey Handfield, Rob Gerrand and me) published most of the new Australian SF titles, two or three a year. The mainstream publishers are now not putting out many more SF and fantasy books than they did in the 1980s, but the new crop of small press publishers (beginning with Aphelion Books, and Eidolon and Aurealis magazines) now produce a huge quantity of fine books every year. The trouble is that very few of them are science fiction books (i.e. realistic books about the future). The switch to fantasy and horror titles was initially puzzling and disappointing to me, but has been justified by the quality of the writers who have emerged in the last 20 years. My own favourites include Kaaron Warren, Angela Slatter, Cat Sparks, Deb Baincotti, Rosaleen Love, Jack Dann and Rick Kennett. (Only two males? Who would have believed that in 1968, when Australia’s small number of working SF writers, all male, would huddle in one corner at conventions?) I feel left behind by the sheer quantity and quality of current fiction, and admire people like Nalini Haynes (Dark Matter) and you podcasters who try to keep up with the field.
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing or reading in five years from now?
As I say, I can keep publishing while the physical means (either print or efanzines.com) remain available. I have no interest in changing to blog production, and indeed rarely access websites, blogs, or podcasts. It’s hard enough finding time to read the incoming emails each day. I don’t want to read books on a tablet or computer screen, so do my best to obtain physical copies (preferably hardback) of major new books. If new books appear only as e-books, I won’t be reading them. Not that I have any problem with lack of reading matter — our house is filled with books, many of them unread. And I have many great books to re-read, especially those by Philip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, and Cordwainer Smith.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: