Blowing the GUFF


Astronomers had trained their mighty infra-red telescopes upward, night after night, to unravel the enigma. But then ... IT happened!

"God!" belched Amis. "This could well be the ultimate disaster of all time. But don't quote me on that."

As the shockwave tore rippingly through Earth's slender crust, releasing torrents of deep-down magma, scientists themselves collapsed into helplessness at the awesome threat.

"I just ... can't handle this," screamed Rubinstein, as Holdstock exploded.

A terrible rift yawned in the naked face of reality itself, exposing vistas of horror beyond the authors' imaginations ...

"Don't tell me!" shrieked Priest. "I don't want to know any more!"

But it was ... too late ...

Which is merely one of the less embarrassing items that came to light when I looked through the files to remind myself of how GUFF began. Ten points to any reader who guessed that it's a wisely unused blurb for my and Paul Barnett's spoof disaster novel Earthdoom, which weaves in the remarks of authors and indeed one agent who (when this was initially proposed as a round-robin story) refused to touch the project with an eleven-foot pole. Among them we notice Chris Priest, whose fault GUFF is.

Chris has written elsewhere about how he came back from his 1977 Australian trip full of fannish goodwill, Fosters, and eagerness to forge new bonds with antipodean fandom – provided only that someone else did the work. Thus, one fine summer morning in 1978, I received his letter explaining that against titanic odds I had won the coveted position of First European GUFF Administrator. Resistance, Chris conveyed, was useless. Leigh Edmonds was already in charge of this new fan fund's Australian end. The juggernaut had begun to move.

July 1978: the twelfth issue of my then fanzine Twll-Ddu burst upon the world with an attached GUFF ballot, inviting voters to choose which of three notable Aussie fans should be brought to the 1979 British Worldcon if sufficient funds could be raised. Largely cribbed from the traditional TAFF ballot text, this flyer insisted the fund was a one-off and egregiously neglected to mention what GUFF stood for. I always suspected that Chris had started with a fannish-sounding acronym and then fitted words to it – Get Up-and-over Fan Fund.

August 1978: realizing that this thing needed the oxygen of publicity in copious gusts, I launched a fund newsletter called for no very good reason The Northern GUFFblower. The first issue's deathless prose richly deserves not to be reprinted, but does remind me of the bizarre fundraising goodies I'd come across in South Wales – a stack of copies of the privately published Philosophy of God's Mathematics of the Atomic Energy by Timothy O'Mahoney Esq ('A Member of the "Legio Mariae"; Ascribed Member of the Institute of Charity; K.B.S.; Mathematician of the Atom ...').

This 1948 treatise, which sold like fairly tepid cakes at British conventions, bears the same relationship to a trendy modern pop-science book as 'The Eye of Argon' to The Lord of the Rings. Grown fans pulled their own heads off rather than endure readings from the more creatively mathematical bits:

'For example, if every two inches of the circumference of the matter of the world possessed 1 2/3 drams of Radium, the total amount would be 2,737,152,000 drams; this would give us 8,811,456,000 scruples of Radium to every two inches of earth's energy. The radiant energy stored within the atom must ever mean motion, which would lift masses of matter to a height of 280,000 miles.'

GUFF, luckily, had only to transport a mass of fannish matter across about 12,000 miles and back again. In May 1979 the fourth Northern GUFFblower was able to announce the precise nature of this agglomeration. It was John Foyster, who won the vote by a simple majority over rival candidates John Alderson and Eric Lindsay. For statistics fans: 127 ballots were cast, being 65 for Foyster, 44 for Alderson, and 18 for Lindsay – who'd taken the trouble to publish an issue of Gegenschein asking fans not to vote for him.

The Foyster platform brings it all back:

'Attended Australian conventions since 1958; chairman of 1966 amd 1971 conventions. Published many fanzines since 1961 including The Wild Colonial Boy, Satura/The Gryphon, Exploding Madonna/The Journal of Omphalistic Epistemology. Coedited (with Edmonds) Norstrilian News and Boys' Own Fanzine. Guest edited Australian SF Review and SF Commentary. Member of SAPS (1962-1972), FAPA (1969-1972, 1976-), OMPA (1969), ANZAPA (on and off since 1968). Won Ditmar for best fanzine (1970) and best Australian SF (1973). Initiated DUFF (1972). Twice founded the Nova Mob. When backed into a corner about his SF criticism pleads guilty but insane. Dislikes motor cars.'

In the same GUFFblower, I speculated that 'perhaps GUFF will be running the other way, to Australia in '83.' This was a bum prediction in that the next Aussie worldcon turned out to be in 1985; nor was the next GUFF race in 1983. Otherwise, history gave my speculation a grudging thumbs-up.

History would do well to forget the fact that GUFFblower 4 incorporated a lengthy report on the 1978-1979 Twll-Ddu fan poll, fashioned to look exactly like Peter Roberts's Checkpoint poll but with voting categories for the worst rather than the best in British fandom. Many of those honoured have drifted away from fannish involvement, but one legendary figure is still with us: #1 Worst Fanwriter, #3 Worst Fanzine, two separate titles tying for #2 Worst Single Issue ... yes, it's Mr Fanzine Fanatique himself, Keith Walker!

Then suddenly it was August 1979 and time for Seacon, the first and best Brighton Worldcon. John Foyster walked among us and proved to be every bit as genial and witty (not to say sarky) a chap as indicated in Chris Priest's GUFF-boosting article for The Northern GUFFblower 5. Here Chris forcefully urged that GUFF should continue its exchange programme into then indefinite future, just like TAFF and DUFF. That issue, published for the Worldcon, was of epoch-making historical importance to me personally since it came bound with Ansible 1, a scrappy and evidently doomed fan newsletter that had taken over from Checkpoint as the weary Roberts prepared to retire at issue 100.

It gets still more personal. I wasn't sure that I'd ever been a terribly good GUFF administrator. In particular, I just couldn't handle the traditional auctions owing to notorious deafness – others like Peter Roberts and Rog Peyton helped here – but tried to make up for it with relentless mail-order promotions of kitsch and overpriced special publications, like the round-robin barbarian epic Gonad Comes Again and a special limited edition of Bob Shaw's serious astrological talk 'Up the Conjunction'. Nevertheless the realization dawned that I'd spent well over a year administering an ongoing fan fund. (Quick on the uptake, that's me.) There's nothing like having been an administrator-by-fiat to help one think the formerly unthinkable and wonder about attaining a similar position through fannish votes. When TAFF nominations closed at the end of 1979, the slate consisted of me and Jim Barker.

Fast-forward to April 1980 and my bemused announcement of TAFF victory in Ansible 9. The sixth and last Langford-edited Northern GUFFblower followed in June. Because I'd somehow convinced myself that raising money for two fan funds at once could mean a conflict of interest, this issue announced the takeover of UK GUFF administration by the excellent Rob Jackson. (Who didn't even enjoy the glory of launching a new fan fund, but self-effacingly did solid work for a year.) Candidates were already mooted – Malcolm Edwards and Joseph Nicholas – for what we now realized must necessarily be reinvented as the Going Under Fan Fund. Everyone was too excited to wait for another Aussie Worldcon, and in due course Ansible 19 (July 1981) carried a wildly enthusiastic report of a trip to Advention in Adelaide by GUFF's first southbound delegate, Joseph Nicholas.

And so it went. The Northern GUFFblower title was carried on by other hands for a while, just as I'd lazily continued Peter Roberts's TAFF newsletter title TAFF Talk. Rob Jackson took it to issue 8 and Joseph to issue 12, announcing the second southbound winner, Eve Harvey. Breaking with the fuddy-duddy tradition of a hidebound past, Eve called her own newsletter GUFFstuff.

Time passed. I eventually published my report on that 1980 TAFF excursion to Noreascon II in Boston (The Transatlantic Hearing Aid, 1985), and John Foyster – quick as a flash – wrote up his 1979 GUFF trip for the first full report published in the history of this fund to date, in 1996. We await the next with keen interest.

Meanwhile, I was stunned and gobsmacked when in mid-1997, nineteen years after that fateful letter from Chris Priest, Marc Ortlieb wrote to tell me that resistance was useless. He (along with Carey Handfield, Eve & John Harvey and GUFF's second northbound delegate Justin Ackroyd) had decided it was necessary that I should be brought to Aussiecon 3 by a new one-off mysteriously called the Auld Lang Fund. Gosh wow! It's as though, two decades after counting the votes as GUFF's first European administrator and subjecting its first winner to the discomforts of our spare bed, I'm being rewarded by a pseudo-GUFF trip of my very own. Huge thanks to all concerned.

If my 1999 Worldcon appearance should prove disastrous – if I spill beer all over the committee and hideously insult revered Australian icons like Peter Nicholls – you now know whom to blame. That's right: Chris Priest.