Thursday, April 26, 2012


Lisa Irontongue has an interesting post about communication, but what caught me about it was that she begins by discussing amateur press associations, or apas, communities in print within the context of science fiction fandom, that had a lot in common with the online bulletin boards and other communities that succeeded and have in practice supplanted them - except that the exchange of conversation was a lot slower.

I belonged to several apas in my time, and as many as five at once in the 1980s. But I gradually cut back, and my last apa called it a day after its OE died in 2006. The problem is that I've always liked apas best as close communities of friends, and they could spoil or go sour, and other apas I might have joined didn't appeal to me for the amount of emotional effort it would take to integrate into that community. (This is also why I never joined the Well.) The interactive side of my desire for apas is being reasonably met in blog and LJ comments, and the expository side is actually being met better in LJ, because what I always really wanted was an incentive to keep a kind of public diary, and writing for an apa about "what I've been doing since the last deadline" was only a vague approximation of this.

The post says, "APAs originated in science fiction fandom a long time ago (the 40s? 50s?)." They didn't start in fandom. The original apas (known in fandom as "the mundane apas") were founded in the late 19th century by home-printing hobbyists. They'd print N copies of little magazines, and send them off to a central mailer, who'd distribute bundles of copies of each to all the members. The idea was that it was a cheap way to keep a mailing list, and the point was to display your printing skills rather than whatever the intellectual content was (and it wasn't necessarily written by the person who printed it). The mailings were not bound together - they were just bundles of little magazines in an envelope - and there was no interaction between the individual magazines.

H.P. Lovecraft was such a hobbyist, but apas met fandom when some fans, including Donald Wollheim, later a well-known editor, joined some apas in the mid 30s, and invented mailing comments - they'd write their responses to the material in the previous mailing. This was revolutionary. They founded their own fannish apa in 1937: it was called the Fantasy Amateur Press Association ("fantasy" was considered something of a synonym for "science fiction" in those days) or FAPA, and it's still around, though hobbling. Like the mundane apas, its mailings are unbound, and some of them, also as in mundane apas, are full-scale fanzines with contributions by others than the editor.

A few of the other older apas are similar in nature. I'm not sure when the custom began in newer fannish apas of stapling the contents together, and of the individual contributions being just personal natterings and comments by the typist that don't really stand alone outside of the apa context, and of printing being of no other than practical interest, but these customs were already well-established by the time I started joining apas in the mid-70s, which was something of the heyday of fannish apas. But the relics of the history remain in the custom of calling those individual contributions "zines" and in the custom of giving them individual titles as if they were still fanzines on their own. Every once in a while one encounters people who get the terminology wrong, using "apa" as the term for the individual contribution rather than the entity as a whole, or "zine" for the mailing instead of the individual contribution. This annoys me on the same level as misusing "crescendo" or writing allusions to "lions and tigers and bears, oh my" that don't scan properly.

In their day, I found apas handy to read on the bus or during breaks at work, both because they permitted short, disjointed patches of reading (being written in a short, disjointed, patchy way), and because they were handy to ward off unwanted conversation by the sort of people who thought reading was only something to do if there was nobody to converse with. Asked "What are you reading?" I would reply, "an apa," and when asked the expected follow-up, "What's an apa?" I would reply, "this is," and that was usually the conversation-stopper it was intended to be.

1 comment:

  1. So often I was at WisCon, and some enthusiastic person would ask me "why are YOU here?" Expecting something like "I'm an author of a six volume trilogy about Celtic warrior women." I could only reply, "because I was in an APA with Jeanne back in the '80s."