SFX: Hello, David Langford. When we announced in SFX that your sf newsletter Ansible had reached 100 issues, millions of readers failed to ask for more details. Why is this?
Langford: The secret of my fanzine's lack of success is probably the zippy title, a word coined by Ursula Le Guin which nobody is quite sure how to pronounce and which Chris Priest gleefully informed me is an anagram of 'lesbian'.
SFX: You've been publishing 'science fiction's Private Eye' since 1979. Does all this sf newshound effort over so many years indicate that you're a deeply weird, twisted sicko, or just a sad anorak?
Langford: I think I can best answer that by quoting the definition of sf 'newszines' in Philip E.High's internationally unknown novel of science-fictional weaponry, Come, Hunt an Earthman. He wrote: 'A Zine is a terror weapon. It rends and distorts, twisting the structure of the target completely out of shape.'
SFX: Some stuff in Ansible doesn't look very science-fictional. Psychic predictions made in 1968? Language lessons?
Langford: I thought it was highly relevant that the US psychic Criswell predicted that London would be destroyed by a giant meteor in 1988, and that global utopia would be almost achieved on 1 June 1995. Anyway, Criswell was in Plan 9 from Outer Space, a movie of huge emetic interest to all sf fans. As for the language corner, isn't there something science-fictional in knowing that the Kikuyu word komaria means to touch somebody reprovingly or threateningly with a stick and say 'wee!'?
SFX: I'm asking the questions here, sunshine. Why did Ansible stop publication for four years after winning its first Hugo at the 1987 Worldcon?
Langford: One answer is ... sheer embarrassment. The 1987 event in Brighton solved its cash crisis by accepting massive sponsorship from Scientology, or at any rate from L.Ron Hubbard's publishers, who managed to get their guru's dire novel Black Genesis shortlisted for a Hugo. (That was the first time a nominee had ever been booed at the Hugo presentation.) Like many people, I was depressed by the wall-to-wall Hubbard publicity, and towards the end of the convention made the mistake of trying to match Bob Shaw's capacity for G&T at the SF Writers of America party. This caused me to say, very loudly, the following words about L.Ron Hubbard –
SFX: Here is an interesting letter from the attorney for the Religious Technology Centre of the Church of Scientology, wanting very much to know what you said.
Langford (hastily): But I forget the exact words. It enraged the chief Hubbard publicist, and he threw his drink over me. Correct etiquette requires that one should reply in kind, and my glass was much fuller.... A full account of this incident seemed unavoidable in the upcoming Ansible 51; instead I decided to lie low until 1991.
Langford: No, that last bit is a lie. Seriously: for me, publishing a fanzine is something you do for fun. Ansible was getting too successful, and my sanity was slowly crumbling under the weight of an ever-huger subscription list. One obvious choice was to go commercial and be expected to print mounds of boring obligatory stuff. Like lists of forthcoming titles, and all those 'Professional Author Sells Story' pieces that crowd the American sf newsletters – making you wonder whether other trade publications carry items like 'Teacher Survives Double Period With 4B' or 'Bricklayer Lays Brick'. Instead, I had no hesitation in taking the lazy way out.
SFX: But in 1991 you wrote: 'Something is stirring in British fandom, something ancient and very terrible, dimly remembered only by those wrinkled fans in convention bars who swap their wheezy reminiscences of the bad old days. From its grave the age-old horror rises, no longer a mere phantasm of darkness but a tangible form revealed in leprous morning light, a ghastly revenant whose existence can no longer be denied....'
Langford: Yes, that was the 1995 Worldcon bid for Glasgow. Also Ansible returned with a zippy new manifesto. Only news that interests me! Only one sheet of A4 per issue, so no collating or stapling to do. No subscription list to torment the dwindling Langford brain cells. If people can't collect it in person at conventions and pub meetings, they can send stamped addressed envelopes. Or track it down on Internet. Hahahaha! Free at last! Mad? I, who have discovered the secret of life! You call me mad?
SFX (backing away tactfully): Thank you, David Langford.