So what do you want, good material or good friends??

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Title: So what do you want, good material or good friends??
Creator: Paula Block
Date(s): April 1977
Medium: print
Fandom: all fandoms, but with a default of Star Trek: TOS
Topic:
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So what do you want, good material or good friends?? is one line in a letter of comment by Paula Block.

It was printed in Warped Space #24 in April 1977, a time when things were heating up regarding the subjects of fanwork critiques, quality, fan relations, and two of the powerhouse zines Warped Space and Menagerie. There were many fan discussions in letters of comment and elsewhere regarding perceived elitism in fandom, highhandedness in standards and critique, Mary Sues, and power.

For an essay addressing similar topics (one which Paula Block's essay gives a nod to), see the essay by Paula Smith called I (and Sharon) have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. Frankly, I rather resent this.. An excerpt from Paula Smith's essay:
Somehow, in the past year or so, [we] have been backed into a corner defending a single position over quality controls. . . . We stand in the dock accused of wanting every zine to look like MENAGERIE. Untrue. We want every zine to look like INTERPHASE. We also want every zine to look like WARPED SPACE, like STARDATE: UNKNOWN, like MASIFORM D and SPOCKANALIA, like ERIDANI TRIAD and BABEL, like METAMORPHOSIS, KRAITH COLLECTED and HALKAN COUNCIL. They ought also look like PEGASUS, or failing that, like SEHLAT'S ROAR. They should look like CONTACT and IDIC at those two's best, or ENERGIZE at its worst. . . . Basically, [we] are mean, rotten, nasty, vile, stubborn, pigheaded, horrible snots who, for a lark, vivisect baby kitties. You must understand this in your approach to our zine. If, in taking up a copy of MENAGERIE to read, scan, or wipe with, you expect sweetness and light, you're not going to get it. If you expect welcome mats and kissiepoos, you may get bare courtesy. If you expect the best goddamn job we can do, *that* we will deliver. We'll strive to hone our stuff, erase pencilmarks, align columns and correct typos, hound our contributors and printer for *their* best work, take our lumps when we do something stupid, and apologize when we're wrong, which is often. Then we'll try to do better. Not that you should ever expect anything less.

For additional context, see Timeline of Concrit & Feedback Meta.

Paula Block's Essay

So what do you want, good grammar or good taste? If that's not the age-old question behind how to critique a fanzine, I'll tell you what is; so what do you want, good material or good friends?

The two do not always go hand in hand. Sometimes, in fact, you're forced to choose either one or the other. Unless, of course, you are dealing with a genuine writer (I know of a couple in fandom.). A genuine writer not only knows how to put down good words on paper, but also how to accept and digest criticism when his/her words are not so good. But as I said, the genuine variety are not exactly an overpopulated species.

Anyway, Lori has been chiding me for not sending her more LoCs, and so. In response I have presented the preceding introduction, and now I will get on to the rest. WARPED SPACE Is, and always has been, a good-time zine. There have been, it is true, some real masterpieces of fen fiction here. Faddis' "Lesson In Perspective" obviously stands out, as does Leslie Fish's anarchistic soap opera, "The Weight." And just about anything by P. Smith.

But, for the most part, the majority of stuff printed Is good-time stuff by young inexperienced authors (myself included — but I'm getting older). WARPED SPACE projects a happy 'family' feeling (obviously I mean 'family' in the sense of 'Trek family,' FIAWOL and all that. You wouldn't want your real family to pick up something like your copy of the OBSC'ZINE and start perusing it without your knowledge). The LP6 stories are very representative of this feeling — enthusiastic, fresh, humorous — not much In the way of important plot-line though, but that's not necessarily a fault.

Anyway, what I'm getting around to Is the fact that I personally can't always LoC the stuff In WS because of the type of stuff it is. A lot of it is fun, and a lot of it is silly-ass and schmaltzy, but the writers are suiting the WS genre and the expectations of its readers. And that's why they are writing for WS, not MENAGERIE or INTERPHASE.

No, I'm not saying that WS Is a primer for big-time stuff -- but it is an easier turf, a friendlier proving ground for the inexperienced writer. And just because I'm a snot who doesn't particularly care to comment about the majority of stories (essentially because I don't like losing friends and/or alienating naive innocents), doesn't mean that others won't. And thank god others do. If Smith and Ferraro hadn't ruled the lettercol In the pioneer days of WARPED SPACE, It would never have become the enjoyable semi-professional publication that it is today. Nor would I be improving as a hack writer.

Actually, this LoC half belongs In MENAGERIE, for it is, along with whatever else it is, a defense of their so-called 'highly critical' standards. Smith and Ferraro (let's give them both due credit/blame for a change) expect much more from their contributors than Lori does. As a result, so do their readers. This does not mean that is a superior zine. It means that it is a different zine. This is the way old Ghu, the god of fandom intended it all to be.

The problem starts when some readers start asking questions like, "Why Is Paula Smith such a hard-assed, Klingon-hearted tyrant when It comes to being an editor? Why doesn't she give the non-exceptional writers a chance? What a bitch!" Not fair. Also totally disregards the fact that Sharon F. is just as much of a bitch.

In the meantime, other people ask questions like, "Why is fandom reading trivial trash like the Misadventures of Landing Party 6 when they could be reading INTERPHASE? Why doesn't Lori beat on her writers more?"

Lori beats on her writers as much as she needs to put out a publication like WARPED SPACE. And Smith and Ferraro beat on their writers as much as they need to put out a publication like MENAGERIE. But both are good zines, both are enjoyable zines, and both are, most importantly, independent of each other's criterium, which is what gives them their 'certain something'.

This has been a public service announcement. I will now shut up.

Reactions and Reviews

No matter how nicely Paula Block puts it, I can't help feeling that she is putting WARPED SPACE down as a second-rate zine. Sure, WARPED SPACE is a good-time zine. When I read any zine I expect to have a good time, a few hours in the imaginative wanderings of the STAR TREK universe. What WARPED SPACE offers, and uniquely, I might add, is a delightful blend of FIAWOL and IDIC. We WARPED SPACErs delight in the diversity of our contributors. A simple story written from the heart, springing from the desire to share one's dreams, may fall short of certain literary standards yet be more enjoyable than any philosophical dissertation on the same subject. IDIC, which to my mind is the basis of STAR TREK, means accepting a person as he is, trusting him to be the best he can be. [1]
Let me put a plug in for WARPED SPACE as being the best zine in fandom. Certainly all the stories in every issue are not masterpieces, but neither are they all in INTERPHASE or MENAGERIE or whatever zine you care to mention — and they all come out much less frequently than WS. To get the consistent good quality of WS and so often, is something that all fans must appreciate and recognize with grati tude. And I am — thanks. [2]
... A brief comment on Poblocki's letter. The reason Paula Smith is getting most of the flack for MENAGERIE'S policies seems to be that it's usually her name associated with the harassed editorials and letters, though Sharon may agree. And the objections are not to the editorial policy of that particular 'zine, but to what seem to be attempts to extend that policy to fandom as a whole, or to at least hints that they would like to see their policies adopted. What we all should keep in mind is that fandom in all its aspects, including pubbing and writing, is a hobby, we do it for fun, not for profit nor, presumably, for hope of personal gain in less tangible forms. We are not professionals; we shouldn't be forced to act like professionals, nor to meet professional standards of quality. Trying our best is one thing — and I doubt that many fans are not trying their best — and does not necessarily equal excellence, especially in the beginning. This is not to say that I do not appreciate excellence in fiction or art, nor that I think we should not criticize faults ... But let us do it in a spirit of encouragement ...[3]

References

  1. from an LoC by Rose Marie Jakubjansky in Warped Space #25
  2. from an LoC by Paula Steinker in "Warped Space" #25
  3. from a letter of comment by Bev Clark in "Warped Space" #26/27