from Dave Langford, 94 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU, UK. For FRANK'S APA and a disgustingly elitist few. Not to be taken internally.
Belated noises of Happy 1985 to all – and thanks to all who helped with crowd scenes at our New Year's party. (Any member of FRANK'S APA considering him/herself unjustly not invited should join me in a moment's silent disrespect for the FRANKs, who were entrusted with a message for the last mailing – about which the less said the better.) Appalling events at the party were, alas, few. Our Gregory, having spent the day swilling Lambrusco and the entire booze stock of the Higginses, lapsed into melancholy and spent the night sitting on our stairs hating people until it was time for him to leave and puke traditionally on the Higgins carpet. Jeff Suter, whom I'd asked in ignorance of Certain Remaining Frictions, was driven into the cold night by the combined psychic force of the Suter Unappreciation Society, never to be seen again. Tim Illingworth's entire house party arrived in a body and added alarmingly to the overnight count of bodies. Mutually incomprehensible phone calls were exchanged with remote places like Washington and even Newcastle. "What?" I would penetratingly enquire, and Avedon would dazzlingly reply "What?" I don't remember any more.
Appearances should already have hinted that I too have plunged recklessly into word-processing. Yes, I'm tired of downmarket excuses like "The duplicator isn't working again today," or "Ran out of ink, boss." I want to be able to polish my fingernails and say "Ah, the datafile for my planned 56-page fanzine was inadvertently erased by a lightning bolt." So this is being typed on an Apricot PC, same as Chris Priest's new executive toy (he asked my advice before buying, so this isn't quite coincidental). However, Chris bought through a smooth dealer who wore a suit and appears to work on the principle "sell the thing and run"; I went to Pangolin Systems Ltd, otherwise known as Martin & Katie Hoare. This was quite useful, since ACT (the makers) neglected to include a mains lead, get the monitor into focus, supply one of the advertised operating systems, provide current software releases, etc: I found it educational to hear Martin shouting at ACT staff over the phone, narrowing down the culpability to a Mr Something who wasn't available. "He's gone to lunch, he'll ring you back when he comes in, some time after three." It was about half past eleven: "Mr Something," Martin explained, "is a guy who speaks my kind of language. Well, if you can't beat 'em..." My respect for Martin's talents increased when we returned from our brief lunch, some time after three, and despite ignoring Plimsoll line regulations he could not only remember the paunchlines of both his computer jokes ("How d'you tell real ale from integer ale? By the floating points."), but also remained able to program the wretched machines.
Gosh, it's been an exciting life ever since: sussing out the word-processor (SuperWriter, if you must know), corresponding voluminously with Chris Priest on esoteric subjects such as whether floppy disks are best cleaned with marmalade or coffee-grounds, and resisting the evangelism of mighty Andrew Stephenson ("But you have to use WordStar, not that rotten SuperWriter; only WordStar has got street credibility, WordStar is the industry standard, etc." I was secretly pleased to discover that the chap who wrote the standard introductory book on horrible WordStar was on record as thinking it one of the worst w/p programs ever written, and as having had it specified in the contract for said introbook that he needn't write it using WordStar...) But enough of this. Despite thirteen years playing with computers, I still find that variety of shoptalk almost as complete a turnoff in fanzines as amateur fiction – one of the reasons I'm giving up on SFWA. Instead, I fear, here's something even more boring; persons of a nervous disposition should skip the rest.
Water under the Bridge: One thing I hope to hear less of in 1985 is the Great B*rg*r*n Feud. However, one spinoff requires a word: Jackie Causgrove's fanzine Ettle, which some of you will have seen. It's devoted to discussion of TAFF, predicated on the assumption that reforms are needed. I wrote to Jackie after issue 1; she wrote back disagreeing with my position (which turned out to be that of most British fans), but added: "The fact that whether I think your fears are justified or not in this regard is immaterial [sic]. Your letter will run in Ettle, as a valid example of another point of view. Fandom is about exchanging opinions, in part, and Ettle exists to swap these opinions." This is sufficient introduction to my actual letter. Only the boldfaced bits appeared in Ettle 2; you decide whether or not I should be peeved at the result.
Langford to Causgrove, 22-11-84: Thanks for Ettle. I'm not sure I agree that this is a frightfully good time to discuss TAFF tinkering, since so many fans – at least in Britain – are terminally pissed off with what you call "the affair still simmering currently on the eastern side of North America." (Actually I thought it had done some simmering in other places too, such as Britain and Cincinnati; I also thought the Puerto Rican epicentre wasn't technically part of North America. But let it pass.) Having recently come close to gafiation thanks to related issues, I'd suggest a cooling-off period.
If I have a position, it's that the ballot "rules" plus the conventional wisdom form a fair set of guidelines. It would be nice if they were followed and if courtesies (like saying thanks for hefty donations) were observed. That said, I do instinctively distrust any proliferation of formalities and regulations. I have a leery vision of the decent, honest TAFF winner (me) bogged down in two years of xeroxing his bank statements for anyone who cares to enquire; while the person who puts the fund $30,000 into the red can be censured but can no more be prevented from doing so than the mighty influence of the WSFA Constitution could prevent, in advance, the ConStellation debacle.
Sometimes I wonder if the worst dangers to TAFF aren't its friends. For example: I've seen "campaign material" from your own address, concerning TAFF write-ins, which worries me. There is an implication that TAFF is being used to settle scores with the Eastern USA for that "wimpy zone" remark (made, I believe, by someone unconnected with TAFF). There are explicit attempts to stir up resentment between "con fans" and "fanzine fans" – as if so many of us weren't both. Most alarming is the call for the mobilization of (Central) US con fandom behind your campaign. You may perhaps not have thought this through.
One of the ways in which "TAFF works the way it is" concerns a happy similarity of size between UK and US voting pools. Votes on both sides of the Atlantic are important; but your campaign could well upset that balance. If it results in the huge weight of US con fandom being thrown into the voting, with the three zones slugging it out on a basis of regional chauvinism... then British fandom is effectively disenfranchised. There aren't enough of us to matter – as with the Hugos. We'll be able to vote but it won't make any difference – as with the Hugos. Interest could flag and cynicism rule – as with the Hugos. Half of TAFF might wither away. Perhaps.
Are you entirely happy to have nudged the fund onto this particular path? I suspect British fans find this issue far more worrying than anything discussed in Ettle.
[Apart from mentioning an enclosed fanzine, my letter stopped there. In Ettle 2, a later postcard was grafted onto the end of the butchered – Jackie's word – letter.] [1998: Yes, this was all a long time ago, Jackie Causgrove is no longer with us, and that particular debate is a dead issue, but for years I remained unhappy about being gagged like that.]
Next issue: Fun once again! See you then...