Paraphernalia: The Time Traveller

By Mark Plummer

Dear APEX:

I write to you from 1985—a late October night, an apartment in upper Manhattan—invoking fanac against the twenty-three years between us, addressing a letter to 1962.

That's the beginning of Teresa Nielsen Hayden's "Over Rough Terrain." This twenty-page "mosaic, montage, bricolage, brachiopod, a cut&paste ransom note from me to me" was assembled from a three inch stack of "drafts, starts, notes, carbons, partials, unmailed letters and unclassifiable bits" generated during the period when she'd declared herself to be a non-writer. It first appeared at the back of the fanzine Izzard #9, February 1987.

The opening section was "Unfinished letter (rant?): 'And all the seas were ink—' (New York, 1985–1986)." It had started out as a letter to the past, to the 1962 members of the "secret APA" APEX, eventually becoming a note of a phone call to former APEX member Ted White. Along the way it talks about the extent to which facets of contemporary (1987) life would and wouldn't be comprehensible to visitors from earlier eras, and so up here in 2012, when Apex is a (pretty good, I think) online SF&F magazine and "APA" is more likely to imply the American Psychiatric Association or American pale ale, some further contextualisation may be in order, if nothing else, because not everybody clicks through links.

APAs, Amateur Press Associations, are not a fan creation, with early examples in both the USA and the UK dating back to the late nineteenth century. Each association consists of a number of members, typically numbering dozens, although it might be in single figures, one of whom acts as a coordinator, usually termed a central mailer or official editor. The members of the association produce their own fanzines and send them to this coordinator, who then sends out to each member a mailing or distribution consisting of one copy of each fanzine, either as a loose sheaf or a bound bundle as the APA's practice dictates. Mailings can be anything from weekly to annual, although something between monthly and quarterly is typical. There will almost inevitably be rules about the format of the contributions, and the minimum (and possibly maximum) levels of contribution required, as well as qualifications for membership, which may include obtaining the approval of the existing members. Most APAs require that all members contribute, if not to every mailing, then to a certain minimum frequency and/or page count.

The first fan APA was FAPA, the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, founded by Don Wollheim (whose credits also include DAW Books) and John Michel in 1937. The initial roster listed 21 names, but membership had risen to its capped limit of 50 by November 1938. That cap was subsequently raised to 65, and at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s there were more people on the wait-list than in the entire membership. Many prominent names from the professional and fan communities have appeared on the FAPA roster at some point, and FAPA still operates quarterly mailings today.

Other fan APAs followed. SAPS was the Spectator Amateur Press Society, started in 1947 and, again, it still exists today. The first British APA, started in 1954 by Vince Clarke and Ken Bulmer, was OMPA, the Off-Trails Magazine Publishing Association, and ANZAPA was the Australian and New Zealand Amateur Publishing Association founded by Leigh Edmonds in 1968. And there were many more—VAPA, TWP, PAPA, e-APA, WOOF, APPLESAUCE—some based geographically, some thematically, and some generationally. (APA 45 was restricted to fans born in or after 1945, in the days when that meant "the young people.")

Looking at a list of APAs in Fancyclopedia 3 or Wikipedia, it may seem that some were created to utilise a vaguely amusing name or acronym. A personal favourite is Frank's APA, a name so good that it's been used at least twice. Combine this tendency with the relatively low membership of some groups, which in turn allowed low tech reproduction such as carbon paper, and it seems almost inevitable that somebody would come up with the Carbon Reproduced Amateur Press.

The initial membership roster of this group at its foundation in 1957 or 1958—I've seen both dates cited—contained only four names (or maybe five; again my sources are inconsistent), that being about the limit for legible carbon copies. By the beginning of the Sixties, this had grown to 10 and the carbon copies had been ditched in favour of more technologically advanced modes such as ditto. But there was a perceived problem, and that was the "omniapans," Bruce Pelz, Ted Johnstone, and Jack Harness. They tried to maintain memberships of all the fan APAs, something which was still perfectly achievable at the time, and some CRAP members took exception to this, I think because the omniapan approach was more about a form of collector completism rather than a desire to participate in the group.

The solution was to dissolve CRAP—a phrase that seems rather unfortunate now I see it on the page—with two slightly different messages being sent to the membership: the omniapans received the announcement of the dissolution, but the others were also advised of the formation of a new group to be called APA-X, the first "secret APA." The intent was that the very existence of the group was not supposed to be mentioned in the wider fan community, and the specific contents of mailings were not to be discussed outside the group. APA-X later became APEX, and almost inevitably the secrecy didn't hold, allowing Teresa to write about (and indeed to) them twenty-three years after the event.

And, as she explained in her unfinished letter, APEX did in a sense invoke her with the comment from an unnamed contributor (perhaps Ted?):

Fanhistorians fifty years in the future, reading this, should realize that we don't all hate Bruce Pelz.

I didn't read Izzard #9 at the time of its 1987 publication. I had been involved in fandom for a couple of years by then, but wasn't especially interested in fanzines. When did I read "Over Rough Terrain"? Probably in 1995, in the NESFA Press volume Making Book, which contains a selection slightly modified from the original appearance, and again when copies of Izzard came my way as a fannish passalong shortly afterwards, as did a copy of Fanthology '87, produced in 1991 by Richard Brandt and containing yet another, abridged version. There's also a retitled, rearranged cut in The Mississippi Review #47/48 from 1988, and I wonder if I should try to track that one down too, but perhaps not. I wouldn't want to be accused of completism.

I have, however, never seen an APEX mailing, something that's largely unsurprising since even given the tendency of print material to recirculate as collections are broken up and dispersed, there were only ever a handful of copies on another continent decades ago. Most of my information on this topic comes from Fancyclopedia 3, Richard Lynch's outline for a fan history of the Sixties, and Teresa's letter. And I'm really not sure what it was that brought the topic to mind a couple of months ago—a passing reference on an e-list perhaps?—but something did, sending me to the fanzine cupboard and Izzard #9 shortly before this year's Worldcon.

Reading "Over Rough Terrain" again—and it really is a good piece—I noticed that the quoted line about Bruce Pelz from the unnamed APEX member was written in 1962 and directed at "[f]anhistorians fifty years in the future" and, well, I guess that includes me and indeed here we now are. And so maybe I could write my own letter from 2012—coincidentally, also a late October night, albeit in a house just south of London—invoking fanac against the fifty years between us, addressing a letter to 1962, cc 1987, if nothing else to say, "Dear APEX: thanks for thinking of us, and your comments are duly noted."

And I also thought that really I only know about this because twenty-seven years ago Teresa wrote some words about APEX, boosting its story up through the years via the pages of a fanzine, a collection, and a book, thus helping to ensure that one fanhistorian (in my limited way) in 2012 was able to read the message in that time capsule from 1962.

And, you know, having re-read the Izzard version of "Over Rough Terrain" back in August I went looking for our copy of Making Book to check my references—and it wasn't there. As anybody with a print book collection of any size will know, you have to maintain some semblance of order if you want to lay your hands on a particular volume with any degree of ease. I knew precisely where Making Book should be, on top of the chest of drawers to the right of the spare bed, alongside Harry Warner's two fan histories, Peter Weston's autobiography, collections of fan writing from Dave Langford, Lee Hoffman, Terry Carr, and Bob Shaw—you may think you detect a theme and you'd be right—but it wasn't there; and it wasn't down the back of the chest of drawers, nor was it in any of the places that I might reasonably have chosen to put it.

There are plenty of prosaic explanations for its disappearance: that it is now lurking in one of the places that I or Claire have unreasonably chosen to put it, that either of us has loaned it to somebody (it's really very good), or even—and I do think this less likely—that a house guest has at some point wandered off with it. I am choosing to reject all of these in favour of what seems to me the cosmically more likely explanation, that it has gone travelling up the time stream of its own volition to remind fanhistorians fifty years in the future about the world it inhabited. And to make sure that those same fanhistorians realise that back in 1962 the members of APEX didn't all hate Bruce Pelz.


Mark Plummer has now bought another copy of Making Book from NESFA Press and will be keeping an eye on this one.

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