The Best of "Xero" PDF Print E-mail

Patricia & Richard Lupoff, The Best of "Xero" (2004), Tachyon Publications

Reviewed by John Hertz
October 2004

Retrieved from the Internet Archive (originally at Emerald City; copyright remains with the author). Used by permission.

Patricia & Richard Lupoff’s Xero won the 1963 Hugo Award for Best Fanzine. Now Tachyon Publications of San Francisco has brought out The Best of "Xero" in hard covers, illustrated, a labor of love. I ran the Fanzine Lounge at the 2004 Worldcon, and made sure to put a copy on display. It’s a fine piece of work, which I commend to you.

In the s-f community we've published amateur magazines, by and for each other, since before the first World Science Fiction Convention (1939). In the 1940s we adopted the late Russell Chauvenet's word "fanzine". In the 1950s we established the Hugo Awards, including Best Fanzine along with Best Short Story, Best Professional Artist, and the rest. Fan activity is one of our bright sparks. Likewise fans and pros mixing it up.

I now come to a matter which has caused me a semi-sleepless afternoon, vide-licit Steve Stills'  [Avram Davidson, here quoted from the letter column, knew the artist was Steve Stiles, and how to spell videlicet—JH] vertical cartoon strip by name "Lin Carter's Fantastic Bunny Rabbit" (it will never catch on with the syndicates, Lin & Steve): Why are rabbits called bunny? Bulwinckle [Bulfinch's Mythology + Bullwinkle the Moose of Jay Ward's cartoons—JH] says of this only, "A pet or familiar name for rabbits, conies, or squirrels." That's a big help. If anyone can tell me why rabbits are called bunny I'll tell him why cats are called pussy.

Davidson, Carter, and Stiles all contributed to Xero; Stiles, who in 2004 was on the Best Fanartist ballot, then drew with a stylus on mimeograph stencils, the technology of the day. Pat & Dick Lupoff typed stencils in their Manhattan apartment, printed them on a machine in Noreen & Larry Shaw's basement, collated by hand, and lugged the results to s-f cons or stuffed them in mailboxes. The machine had not been given by Damon Knight, A.J. Budrys explained in a letter after a while, but lent. Eventually drawings could be scanned by electro-stencil, a higher tech. Colored ink joined colored paper, sometimes wildly colored. Xero could be spectacular.

Knight later founded the Science Fiction Writers of America; he and Budrys were each later Writer Guest of Honor at a Worldcon. James Blish won two Retrospective Hugos in 2004; in Xero he reviewed Budrys' Rogue Moon (not reprinted by Tachyon), and Kingsley Amis' New Maps of Hell. You'll also see Anthony Boucher, Harlan Ellison, Ethel Lindsay, Fred Pohl, Rick Sneary, Bob Tucker as "Hoy Ping Pong", Harry Warner — fans and pros mixing it up. Roger Ebert, later a movie critic, contributed poetry, often free-style, or formal and funny in his fanziner's version of Browning's "Last Duchess":

This crud
I print for you disgusts me; the thud
Is of your fanzine dully falling.

Earlier in 2004, I happened to be at dinner with Ann Monn, Tachyon's layout artist and typographer on the Best of "Xero" project. She, editor Jacob Weisman, and the Lupoffs were all striving at it. One problem was selection. Another was the giving of some context to a cuisine whose meat was freely salted with in-jokes. A third, kin to both, was the treatment of graphics.

You might not recognize her wizardry without seeing the originals. The letter column was "Epistolary Intercourse", edited by Pat; for one issue it was illustrated by an abstract face in red and blue, which Monn reproduced in black & white somehow. The original of the Eddie Jones cover included in Best of "Xero" was orange and blood-red. Less dramatic, but probably still harder, were the stylus drawings, like Andy Reiss' "Harlan Ellison Playing Skittles". Bhob Stewart (yes, with an "h"), who became art editor for Xero, with everything from caricature to montage, is well represented. Then there's where to put what, and the sizes, and the shapes. I'm impressed.

Did I mention comic books?

They were a thread through Xero from beginning to end. Roy Thomas, later editor-in-chief at Marvel, wrote of Bulletman, Captain Midnight, and other Fawcett folk; Don Thompson, later of the Comic Buyers Guide, wrote of the Spectre and Doctor Fate. The book jacket is Larry Ivie's "New Rendering of the Old 'Atom'", also done in gold on the cover. Walter Breen applauded the combination of "comic books and genuine intellectuality" (not reprinted); F.M. Busby, whose Cry of the Nameless won Best Fanzine in 1960 — another of us active both as fan and pro — wrote, "The idea of a sophisticated sercon ["serious and constructive"] fandom centered around comic books just naturally breaks me up" (not reprinted). You be the judge.

Doctor Fate and the Spectre were, of course, too super to last, even in an age of flamboyant comic book superheroes. But ... nowhere in science fiction, even in the cosmic settings of Doc Smith's Lensmen series ... do you find such lavish backdrops for the action. Even fantasy can't match them.... it is a new, startling and, for a time, fascinating thing to find stories in which there are no limits, where every card is wild.

Fanzines roar along today, on paper, on the Web, or both. Some folk who wrote letters to Xero have also had letters in my fanzine. It's bracing to realize how science fiction, and fandom, have been around long enough that we can cultivate a sense of the classic, of what was done before our own time which we find to hold interest, even nourishment, for us whose times are changed.

Last Updated ( Monday, 11 April 2016 )
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