The Neutral Arbiter

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Zine
Title: The Neutral Arbiter
Publisher:
Editor(s): Sherri Fillingham & Pat Nussman
Type: letterzine
Date(s): 1991-1994
Frequency:
Medium: print
Fandom: Blake's 7
External Links:
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The Neutral Arbiter is a gen Blake's 7 letterzine edited by Sherri Fillingham ("The Teal Aribiter") & Pat Nussman ("The Vandor Arbiter").

There are seven issues plus a final issue published as a special issue of Revel Times.

The letterzine had three restrictions regarding discussion: no slash, no past quarrels, no personal attacks.

As of issue #2, the letterzine had 100 subscribers. Ironically, it was the growth and popularity of the publication that led, in part, to its cessation; the two editors could no longer keep up with the work of typing, mailing, and otherwise managing it as it grew and grew.

The VAST majority of discussion in this letterzine is analyzation of the show, characterizations and motives, and canon. Excerpts below generally do not highlight these topics, but instead focus on the comments about fanworks and fandom.

A Fan Q

From the fifth issue:
Thanks to all of you (which is literally each of you) that made it possible. As you may have heard of by now, "The Neutral Arbiter" tied for a Fan Q award for "Best Blake's 7 Newsletter" with the Horizon Club's publication. Since that publication is many, many years more established than we, it was definitely quite an accomplishment. Without you, none of this would have been possible. Your contributions are this zine. Without you. we'd be sitting at home right now without letters to type, disks to return, printers to cajole... only kidding, we're having a blast and hope you are as well.

Issue 1

The Neutral Arbiter 1 was published in May 1991 and contains 15 pages.

first page of issue #1

Some topics discussed:

[from the editors]:

First, we want to thank you for supporting The Neutral Arbiter with your subscriptions and letters. We are genuinely pleased with the enthusiasm of your response. It is, indeed, encouraging.

This, as you well know, is the first issue of what we hope will be a long-running venture into Blake's 7. We are starting as a quarterly, but if your response demands it, we will consider going bimonthly.

Our purpose is to discuss, at length, the characters, plotlines and situations that made Blake's 7 of obvious interest to all of us. We hope discussions will focus on the show, not personalities in fandora. Judging by your letters, though, this isn't going to be a problem.

A new Blake's 7 letterzine! How wonderful! I was terribly disappointed when Pressure Point folded, because a nice, neutral letterzine is such a joy, though I certainly understood Pat's frustration and exhaustion. B7 fandom has really needed a forum, though, and so I'm delighted to send along my subscription to The Neutral Arbiter as well as this feeble attempt at a first letter.

I'd like to put in a plea for tolerance of other fan's likes, dislikes, and ideas. One of the things that makes Blake's 7 so fascinating--and keeps us coming back for more-is that it is so complex. and a reasonably legitimate case can be made for just about any point of view.

Obviously, we all tend to lean toward our own interpretation of characters and events (Note that I said a "reasonably legitimate" case could be made for other people's opinions! If made for other peopie's opinions! If that doesn't show bias. I don't know what does!), but I find that I will be more likely to give other people's ideas due consideration if that person doesn't make me feel like a fool for not seeing his/her point of view immediately. I don't mean for this to sound like a lecture. I just thought I'd mention that over the years, the thing I've found most off-putting about the letterzines is the tendency for people to put down other people's ideas.

Hooray! I truly missed Pressure Point, so I'm extremely happy to see you back in business. I don't know if you are planning any changes in the format, but I hope you continue to include the zine reviews and other news. I have noticed that B7 is attracting a new crop of fans. Our local fan club, Blake's Several, has received some letters from people who have just discovered the program and are trying to catch up with the rest of us. That's great, because B7 fandom is just about the most fun I've ever had.

What a pleasant surprise to receive your letter and flies! Welcome back, Pat -- you were missed. Since Pressure Point's demise, there has been no comprehensive, reliable source of information on available B7 fanzines. I do hope The Neutral Arbiter, in addition to being a great letterzine, will pick up the slack in that area and list zines once again. Yours was always the best "catalogue' around for those who wanted to go zine shopping.

I couldn't agree more with your theme for the new letterzine. What a refreshing idea -- getting back to the fun in B7 fandom. Fantastic. And long overdue. The interim between our fannish war and subsequent peace has been characterized largely by apathy and boredom -- and a distinctive "falling off" of interest in fandom, which I for one find distressing. There have been many other factors involved, of course, not the least of which is B7's disappearance from most PBS affiliates around the US.
B7 is my first and only fandom. I stumbled on it several years ago and it has taken over much of my free time (for which I have no regrets). The intriguing B7 characters, fanzines, and fellowship are three elements that sealed my addiction to a television show that hasn't been in production for ten years. I enjoy all the characters but Tarrant is my personal favorite. The first episode that I saw in its entirety was "Powerplay." Tarrant's enthusiasm, skills, sense of humor, and decorative appearance are what immediately caught my eye and convinced me to tune in the next week.
I'm hoping this l/z will be a forum for everyone's opinion, with no silly arguing over who was most important. Admittedly, I like Blake and Avon best, a preference for years 1 and 2, but at the same time it's really the entire series and all the characters who make it special; having a particular favorite shouldn't mean trashing and bashing the rest. After all, many times the very thing we love in our favorite is a result of the interaction with one or more of the others; that's certainly true with my "pets."
[Linda Terrell]:

Ah, a fresh, new beginning! I figured one would come along. I get letters every week from new fans asking about SESKA/FA and until now, I've had to tell them I folded the FA and there wasn't anything going on.

I haven't "left" B7 fandom, or Fandom. I have been on sort of a sabbatical. After 7 years of immersion in B7 and 5 years of doing all the work on doing Federation Archives, I need a new perspective. [snipped] But I've kept my thumb on B7 fandom, so to speak. I see lots of new fans coming in, so let's see what "new blood" does -- especially for the fiction. I fear I'm finding a tedious trend back to unremittingly grim/Avon in a coma after GP and/or Blake-as-a-loutish-jerk-while-Avon-saves-the-day .... again. *Sigh* I didn't enjoy that in 1984.

I am still the confirmed fan of Roj Blake I ever was -- but only as he plays off Avon. B7 is the gestalt of the entire crew, and it is Blake and Avon together, playing off of and up to each other's weaknesses and strengths.

I've also developed a kind of maternal/indulgent fondness for Tarrant. He was about the only "spark" left in Series 4. Always the staunch comrade-in-arms, esprit des corps smile to die for, wot? He was also about the only one who made the human and humane decisions in Series 4 -- often reminding Avon of his "duty."

Poor Avon, who thought he could make his own rules until he was overwhelmed by those who made their own. Can't say Avon is a tragic figure -- that mantle is best worn by Blake. Avon was not given to "heroics" but always seemed to have heroics dumped on him. He certainly wasn't expected to be heroic.

Then there's Blake -- because he was the "hero," the Good Guy, the idealist, he wasn't allowed to make the mistakes Avon is often forgiven. It's so much easier to be the Bad Guy. -- until you lose it all. Then it helps if you have a soul to fall back on. Avon had one once, and he gave it to Blake. Then at the end, all he had left to give was his life -- but he made Blake pay for it. Yet even then, Blake seemed to ignite a spark in him.

[snipped]

My LOCS are likely to deal in concepts. I've traded all my B7 tapes to a new fan so I can't check them and cite chapter and verse. I can only recall the feelings the show and characters evoked. I always seem to work more from my heart than my head, anyway.

So let's meet the challenge of seeing and analyzing the characters of B7 (and this includes Zen and ORAC), against the fabric of the B7 universe, free of any actor-is-the-character-is-the-actor colorings. I've found that few actors really have the same grasp of their characters as their fans. That actors often give us something in their character that even the actor doesn't realize is there. And, after 10 years, B7 has taken on a life of its own -- the crew of the Liberator/Scorpio is still out there, still torn between idealism or taking the money and running.

I vote for cutting and running.
Is Blake as disliked among the new fen as he was among the old? (This was more prevalent among the British fen than Americans. Many felt that this was due to Americans rooting for revolutionaries, read "freedom fighters" -- due to our history and the Brits not liking revolutionaries -- read "terrorists" -- due to the Irish situation.)

[C.K Smith]: ... [I am] one of the older B7 fans. Read that Mrs. Darrow wrote their study of B7 demographics [and] revealed the usual age for B7 fans is 33 *sigh*.

My interest is in writing old fashioned "pulp" style action adventures, and I have not particular interest in the actors or their careers. That's nice, just not for me. IDIC. Neither do I have a favorite series character, which confused fan fiction aficionados to no end. Rather, I write them as the particular story calls them to be. My personal preference is to make them flawed individuals, thus allowing them to grow and learn. That's where I think Mr. Nation was so clever, and why B7 still interests people today long after many TV shows have been forgotten. Sly, wasn't he?

... Frankly, one criticism of my fan writing is that I don't do fan fiction writing. "They're just science fiction adventures," I have been told. "Yup," says I. Endless pages of talking heads bores me. But [I] would be interested in some "expert" input as to what is the difference between writing fan fiction and science fiction. I refused to be locked into stereotypical characterizations... How about some "experts" politely showing me the error of my ways.

[P.N. Elrod]: [who wants a copy of The Quibell Abduction, can't find Lillian Sheppard who is this zine's author, will send an autographed copy of one of her own pro books as a thank you for helping]

And now that I've brought the topic "cleverly" around to my books (ahem), I just wanted to make a public thank you to the B7 fans who were nice enough to take the time to write me about them, especially book #4, Art in the Blood, with its B7 avatars. I'm really very grateful for the attention THE VAMPIRE FILES has received. Thanks to your enthusiasm, I'll be signing a contract for three more titles in the series! The 1st book, Red Death, will detail the early adventures of vampire Jonathan Barrett, who was introduced in my third novel. (Hold onto your hormones, as he's more or less "based" on Pierce Brosnan, woof!) Anyhoo, between this and other projects, I AM planning on having a fourth AVON: ON-LINE zine and anyone interested in more info can SASE the above address. [1]

Issue 2

The Neutral Arbiter 2 was published in September 1991 and contains 28 pages.

first page of issue #2

A fan mentions in it that there are 80 subscribers.

Some topics discussed:

  • the "I've done it!" phrase that Blake says, and the controversy among fans as whether this makes him a terrorist or a freedom fighter
  • is there a difference between how American and British fans see Blake's character
  • were Tarrant and Avon friends
  • who is to blame for Gauda Prime
  • is killing a clone as bad as killing the original human
  • the "disappearing" child molestation charges against Blake
  • mind-reading as a topic in fanfic
  • the perceived decline of active Blake's 7 fandom
  • P.N. Elrod writes a lot about the Blake's 7 costumes she's worn at conventions
[from the editors]: Now on a serious note: Later in this issue, one letter complains about our "restrictive" policy on submissions. This rather surprised us, because we did not feel our policy to be overly restrictive.

We also realized, however, that different flyers had different amounts of information on our submission policy. And, some of you subscribed through word of mouth or handing one of us a check, so may never have seen a flyer.

So, to answer any questions that letter may cause, we felt it necessary to restate our restrictions.

Our policy restricts only three topics: slash, personal attacks and past fannish quarrels. Discussions of any of these will not appear in The Neutral Arbiter.

Please understand, this is not meant to serve as a condemnation of any of the topics, but we made an editorial decision upon starting this venture to place these limits on content. 'Nuff said.

Why is Cally a mind-reader in so many fan stories when all she did in the show was send thoughts?... And why do so many people think Avon is telepathic? Psi stuff does not seem to fit the B7 universe, in my opinion, but obviously a lot of people feel differently. Frankly, it makes me uncomfortable. Cally's controlled thought sending is acceptable, but I would not want to get anywhere near someone like the Betazoid in ST:TNG, let alone a telepath who reads minds whether the subject allows it or not. A lot of B7 fiction gets into really heavy mind reading and mind invasion. It is mostly for a "good purpose," to help someone, usually Avon, deal with mental and emotional problems, but I find it repellent. I have read only a few things using heavy telepathic mind reading that I liked in spite of the premise, but most of it seems about the same as Federation mind manipulation. To my view, there is no Good mind invasion and Bad mind invasion. Who gets to decide which is which?

Not that much of anything has to do with B7 recently. Has a fandom ever flamed out so quickly? I know that statement is going to cause me a heap of trouble. I made it last year and got shit dumped on me, so why should this year be any different? It's not as if I'm expected to learn from my mistakes, right? Let's be unreasonable here.

Anyway, B7 seems to have fallen off the fannish map. With the exception of Jean Graham, I don't see much activity in the zine biz (forgive me, Sherri, I know you've announced your own new zine, and good luck with it, but it's not out yet, is it?). There are some clubs, although some of them seem less active this year. And there are practically no conventions. Okay, okay, I know these are only the outward signs of a healthy fandom. The Washington, DC PBS station has been airing Blake's 7, the first new station to pick it up in some time. And this letterzine has attracted a lot of attention. Still, it seems to me that B7 fandom is in a deep, deep trough at the moment. And I'm not sure what we can do to resuscitate it. Okay, I've made a pretty broad generalization there. Let's see what kind of response I get.

[Jean Graham]: Threads Through Infinity sounds like it should be a great zine; I'm pleased to see another new "star" in our cosmos. The number of B7 zines folding, going on hiatus, or failing to respond to queries has been downright depressing lately. I've had to pull stories from formally reliable zines (anyone know what's happened to Standard by Several?) after they simply ignored my submission and all three of my follow-up letters -- this over the course of a year. Unless an editor is gravely ill, hospitalized or something equally dire, ignoring submissions is, well, rude to say the least. Can anyone who can't find 30 seconds to drop a postcard in the mail with a simple "yes" or "no," or to return a SASE with a brief answer, be relied on to produce much of a zine?

When we published Gambit 6, the orders were so dismal (less than half what they'd been for the previous issue seven months before) that I'd begun to think that the fandom was dying after all. Fortunately, that turns out not to be the case. We tried a new technique to get the word out about Gambit 7 -- we merged all our old address lists and sent out a mass mailing. Costly, particularly with the postage increase, but profitable but the response was overwhelming. Many people commented that they'd lost touch and were unaware that we were still around. This indicates that, far from dying. B7 fandom has simply changed since the demise of most of the B7 conventions and many of the fanzines. We've started losing track of each other (a problem Neutral Arbiter can hopefully help to alleviate?), and we aren't keeping up with new B7 publication as easily as we once did. I, for one, am often surprised to hear about a new zine having been available for some months now because it had gone completely unmentioned in any of the dozens of B7 zines and newsletters I received. Not to sound cliche here, but as I think Gambit's mailing proved, advertising is everything. You audience has to know you're there before they can buy your product.

[snipped]

The demise of the B7 cons I find rather sad, but not altogether unexpected. No fandom maintains the "first blush" of early enthusiasm for long, and invariably things settle down. The actors get tired of cons, the fans "gravitate" to other things, the fanzines dwindle in number [2].
I agree with you completely that isn't necessary to "trash and bash" the other characters in the show to prove your undying love for the ones you do like. I've seen that happen too many times in other fandoms and know the damage such an attitude can cause when it is pushed on other fans who happen to disagree. After getting involved in such disagreements in SW fandom, I've come to the conclusion that if I see it happen again in any other fandom, I'll just ignore the perpetrator as a troublemaker. Such people have a tendency to fade away when no one responds to them. It's not always easy to recognize such people, but after, say three letters in which they use the same identical arguments over and over and take offense at any disagreement (they interpret any disagreement as an attempt to take away their right to their own opinion, but never recognize that what they are doing is the same thing in reverse), you learn to either avoid them altogether or, at least, the subject they are touchiest about. I wish that I had been faster in figuring this out.
One of the big differences between professional and fan writing is that fan writing does allow for the kind of stories which include long "talking head" scenes. That is one of the reasons why I enjoy so much fannish writing. I don't want continuous action, action, action. I want a story in which I can get to know the main characters. If this means the occasional scene where the characters blab their heads off for a longer time than would be acceptable in a pro book, it's fine with me. Even if I know the character from a book, movie, or tv show, I want to get to know them better. That's the point of a new story for me -- to get to know the character better in a new situation. Actually, since so many women have been writing science fiction and fantasy stories professionally in the last couple of decades, much more characterization has been showing up (not sneaking into, as I've heard some people put it) in many books and stories. Much more emotion, as well, though such male writers as Orson Scott Card don't seem to be afraid to allow a male character to show the occasional honest emotion. As much as I've always enjoyed the writing from the Golden Age of Science Fiction (1939-about 1960), I have to say this is a vast improvement. It is possible to mix characterization and emotion with action and adventure in science fiction and fantasy.

The tendency to view Avon as a nut-burger is probably a reflection of the sentimental tradition that is ever a mainstay of fandom. Avon is seen as a Byronic hero, and Byronic heroes always go crazy. In the sentimental vision, every intelligent and sensitive person will go insane once the true nature of our corrupt universe becomes apparent to hime, as inexorably as a child becomes an adult. The only way to avoid this fate is to die while still young and innocent.

The predilection for casting Avon as a tortured romantic hero is responsible for another aspect of fanfic I find distasteful: the penchant for pairing Avon off with wimpodial, doormat types (often Calls). The general scenario has Cally putting up with all sorts of abuse from Avon, thus demonstrating that 1) she truly loves him and b) he is a paragon worthy of any sacrifice. I'd prefer to see Avon in a more equal partnership -- with Jenna perhaps.
A general request. I have recently begun making B7 music videos and inflicting them on my friends. People are now asking me all kinds of questions about video technology. Help! I know how to do music videos using my epuipment (one regular VCR, one with audio/video insert and a rotating erase head), but I'd like information on other setups, especially lower-cost alternatives. Many VCRs and camcorders now have audio/video dub capability and a flying erase head: is this satisfactory for music video production? And I've heard that it's possible to do videos using three regular VCRs; how does this wor? And what about those videotape mixers/editors? I hope to put together a comprehensive guide to fannish music video production, covering all of the various setups, drawbacks and advantages to each, technical info, even brand-name recommendations. If you can offer assistance, please drop me a line.
I have always been told by British fans that "Blake-bahsing" was an American invention. Reportedly, the Brits who saw the original BBC broadcasts took the first two series as a straightforward tale of fairly heroic rebels fighting the evil oppressors. It was supposed to be the Americans, who often first sat down to watch the series already informed of the outcome well-read in the fanfic of the mid-1980s, who came up with the revisionist versions where Blake was a terrorist worse than the regime he was fighting.
Now the melodramatic scenario I have NEVER been able to accept is the good ol' Malodaar shuttle. As Spock said in a similar situation -- "There's always another alternative." That shuttle set was crammed with things that weren't jettisoned, including Avon's boots and jacket. The episode "Orbit" as filmed, chiefly seems to show the British contempt for science. Avon is so deeply sunk in melodramatic posturing that he can't see reason. It just goes to show you can't be a successful rebel and please Chris Boucher.

Right now we're going through the doldrums [with fan fiction]. Many of the old zines have died or are on hiatus and fannish creativity seems to be on the skids -- in particular, for one of our favorite mainstays, the PGP story.

Some PGP premises have been so overworked that I get a little nauseated when I find myself using them in one of my own stories. Plenty of great PGP premises are still untouched, because the same ones are written over and over. Can't we cut down on any of these turkeys?

Dee Beetem's List of 7 PGP Cliches (Letter has 10, but this is B')

1) The Malodaar Bitch Session. Why do Avon and Vila always have to thrash out Malodaar? The shuttle trip was only one instance of Avon's fourth season penchant for ruthlessness and manipulation. Remember "Stardrive"? Why should they need to slobber over the one case where Avon's motives were clear and indisputable?

2) Blaming Tarrant for Gauda Prime. Look, gang. Tarrant called it the way he saw it. Oops. In any case, he didn't owe Blake any trust -- he didn't even know the man. The only people who owed Blake any consideration were Avon and Vila, who had been his comrades.

3) The Scorpio crew rallies around Avon. As if they ever did on the show! Some fanwriters may consider Avon to be the center of the universe, but the other characters didn't. They stuck with him because they felt they had no choice, but they weren't pals. In fact, who would be Avon's pal?

4) Cally appears/handy aliens appear/crossover characters appear WITH NO OTHER MOTIVE than to save Avon from the Federation.

5) Servalan -- again. I don't mind seeing Sleer reappear as a recurrent villainess, but I do object to her being portrayed as a total idiot just so Avon can escape. "Well, I guess I'll turn my back and close my eyes and find out what you do, Avon."

6) "The girls" are snuffed out in the first two paragraphs. I understand that authors don't always like to plot for five characters, but couldn't Dayna and Soolin be disposed with a little dignity? Sometimes it seems that femmefans have no respect for any character of their own gender.

7) The Blake/Avon bond. This is actually set up in the series (I'm looking at "Terminal" more than "Blake") but the sentimental fans have pushed it to ridiculous extremes. Many male combat buddies are really close, but don't bother to keep in touch after the tour of duty. Has anyone considered the possibility that Blake didn't get in touch with Avon after "Star One" because he was sick of him?

Basically, I think the main problem with PGP stories is that Avon is always the protagonist, and after mucho pages of agony and adventure, he is essentially unchanged. The Federation may have fallen, Blake may have been found and lost, Avon may even have (grudgingly) accepted a role in the Revolution, but he hasn't learned anything. Fiction doesn't work that way, especially character-driven fiction. You have to change the protagonist in some way to give the story any power. In fact, one of the powers of the program Blake's y is that the characters do change over time -- Blake, Cally, Tarrant, and above all, Avon. Do we love Avon too much to let him grow up?
A fan convention that puzzles me is Avon's allergies. It's amazing the man is still alive considering all that I've heard/read the man is allergic to. There's nothing in canon that supports this, in fact, "Rumours of Death" rather destroys it. I mean, the methods of questioning used by the Federation had to include drugs. If he were so allergic, how did he survive it?
Okay, there have been a growing number of stories asserting that the Federation of Blake's 7 and Star Trek are the same. What do you all think? I've thought it's an interesting idea, but that a lot of explaining needs to be done. For instance, what happened to Klingons, Romulans, Vulcan, etc?

Issue 3

The Neutral Arbiter 3 was published in December 1991 and contains 30 pages.

first page of issue #3

Some topics discussed:

Is fandom dead?... Someone made the comment that fandom seems to be focusing on the series and not on the "other things" that go along with it. I take it this includes fanzines. This troubles me a bit because B7 is a limited universe if you only focus on the seres. Twenty episodes can fuel quite a few discussions, but that topic is limited if we don't look beyond to what we think happened or what characters' motivations were.

This, of course, is the stuff fanfic is made of. And I would hate to think B7 fans are turning their back on it.

And, I don't really think they are -- as readers. I talked to a number of people at Visions who wanted TTI, but had no interest in the letterzine. Others wanted to be a part of the letterzine but wanted no part of fanfic. Different strokes for different folks, thank the eternals.

Is fandom dead? No. Is it declining? Hard to tell. It will be interesting to see if submissions to Threads 2 come in any quicker than they did for 1. Perhaps the trick is being an established zine editor. Of course, that may not speak well for the fandom, either, if writers aren't willing to take a chance on new editors, but that's neither here nor there.

About fanfic: does anyone else cringe when a writer changes B7 too much? I'm probably hypersensitive to this because of PROS fanfic, where there is a great deal of fanfic that bears no resemblance to the broadcast series, beyond a couple of guys that look like Shaw/Doyle and Collins/Bodie. In seven years I haven't come across anything that extreme in B7, but have recently read a couple of novellas that have come a little close.

The set-up [for one] (hint, hint) is that Avon was the one who went missing at Star One; he was captured by Servalan who had Sula do some insidious mind-manipulation on hime: everyone that we saw in yrs 3 & 4 was Sula's false memory for Avon; most of it never happened, and the few things that did occur were entirely difference. Okay so far. Except yrs 1 & 2 also didn't happen as we saw them, lots of little things don't correspond -- the writer's "Liberator" has a railing on the flight deck, a raised platform and viewscreen in teleport -- and one biggie: Del and Anna Grant are black in this version. Sondra contends this is no big deal, I argue otherwise. Had Anna been black, or whatever, in the series, no big deal. But in the context of this story the writer is saying that absolutely nothing of the B7 canon is of any relevance: we can change it around to suit ourselves, to fit any idea we come up with, and who cares if it bears little to no relation to the original source?

Well, I care. If the characters as printed in those 52 episodes, what we saw them do, is of no relevance, then what are were all doing here, discussing it and arguing over points, and trying to arrive at what makes them tick? Why bother finding evidence within the episodes to back up anything, if what happened can be thrown out or changed drastically?

Made me realize that, even when it's well done, I would still rather have those 52 episodes, clunkers and all, than some fan writer's "new and improved" -- and bogus -- version of B7. I mean, even the Bizarro universe relates directly to the broadcast series.

So am I the only one bothered by this? And if I am, shall I stop sweating the details, trying to make my stories fit into B7 canon, extrapolate from what we saw? Now, I've done a story that suggests Blake and Avon might be the reincarnation of Merlin and King Arthur [3] , but it's still within the context of broadcast B7, doesn't negate one tiny aspect of what occurred in the series. That's as alternate universe as I care to ever go.
B7 fandom hasn't fallen off the map as far as I can tell. I'm involved in four these APA/letterzines and know of at least one more....There have been a lot of zines out this year, more due out shortly, and more planned for next year. The only difference I can perceive is that fans are focused on the show and the characters; there's less salivating over a particular actor. If we like Paul, Gareth, Steven, whoever, it's in addition to B7; but we're not taking up a lot of letterzine space oohing and aching over them anymore. If anything, it's a healthier fandom, and wonderfully feisty/opinionated.
It bothers me, too, as a contributor: waiting months for a response from a zine ed... or never getting anything back at all, despite a SASE with every submission/query. I get grumpy because it keeps me from sending the piece elsewhere, which is the way real world publishing works. If "Isaac Asimov SF Magazine" doesn't want a story, you find out fairly quickly, and can try someone else. With zines, we're at the mercy of the zine ed, and of course it's just a hobby and all sorts of things can interfere/screw things up. Tribbers are understanding, and only want to know if sub was received, and if the editor wants to use it, and what issue might it be in. That doesn't seem unreasonable to me. All silence does is get the rumor mill started, and lord we all know what comes out of that in fandom.
I like the [episode] "Blake" for sheer bravura writing and acting. The script is a marvel. From the standpoint of plot, it's astonishing that Boucher managed to kill off Blake (as Gareth Thomas demanded) and have Avon do it (as Paul Darrow requested) without pulling anyone out of character. Few of us like the outcome of "Blake," but could any of us have handled that unenviable assignment any better? And I think the dialogue is second only to "Rumours" for its sharpness of irony and wit, and for its cleverness in managing to tell us just enough without making us feel we were being manipulated away from certain key areas of information (which we were). And if the actors had been saving up anything until then, they certainly put the last full measure into the finale. I admit, it's hard for me to be objective about "Blake." It's like trying to rate a punch in the stomach on a scale from one to ten, but as punches go, I'd give it high marks for both technical competence and artistic merit.
If there are fans who casually bump off the clone to "save" Blake, there must be a reason. Could it be the robot-like, unemotional personality of the clone? Gareth played it very stiffly. Are fans interpreting it as being soul-less? I see the clone as having a clean-slate for a personality. When he mimicked Blake, he used Blake's personality, but being a "newborn," he had none of his own. This would change with time and experience.
About Tarrant bashing. I've never understood bashing in any fandom. He's not my #1, but he is an interesting character, a valid part of the whole. In puzzling over why I don't rank him as highly as other fans do, I came up with two lines of thought. 1) He is a second-string character, not one of the first seasoners. This is a chauvinism of mine. I often latch onto the first batch of characters I meet in a universe, and as new/replacements are introduced, it is very seldom that they ever break into that original fraternity. I plead guilty that it is an unfair attitude, but I'm not 100% consistent with it nor do I go about bashing every newcomer (I hope). 2) As a character, I will never forgive Tarrant for his bullying of Vila in "City" He deserved a sound thrashing for that behavior. Now, go figure how Avon can get away with (attempted) murder?
[P.N. Elrod]:

I think the basic difference between a fan and a pro is that a "fan" wants to hear how great their stuff is and a "pro" only wants to make their stuff great. There are a LOT of fans out there with pro attitudes, and a lot of pros that should be in the food services industry.

And one last word, this from my personal experience, being a pro means that your writing is your JOB as well as a source of pleasure. If my zines have an erratic publishing schedule, or I miss going to the conventions, it's because I have to meet other responsibilities. I dearly love doing a fanzine, but when it comes down to the brass tacks of having to live in the real world, fannish activities have to come second to my work.

See HORK! You want ME to explain the difference between pro and fan writing?? for more.

I can fully emphasize with [a fan's comment about] "furtively buying Starlog, since I'm that way myself when it comes to fandom. I always say "I'm visiting friends" when I'm going to a con (same difference, really), because I know I'd be (a) teased or (b) though of as weird(er) by my mundane friends and colleagues. I try and keep my fan stuff hidden in the bedroom and am deeply embarrassed if someone drops in and there's a zine out in plain view. How do other people handle this?
Yes, fandom seems to have dropped rather a bit. But, I remember when Doctor Who fandom was eclipsed by B7, and now the good Doctor appears to be undergoing a resurgence of popularity. So I think B7 will have its day again ... Well, it seems to be there's still a dance in the old dame yet.
About restrictive policy on submissions -- once a zine establishes its submission policy that is all that is necessary. I'd like to discuss B7 slash, but I'll just do it elsewhere. That doesn't mean that I can't discuss nearly everything else involving B7 (outside of personal attacks and fannish quarrels) in the pages of NA. For those of you enjoy raking other fen over the coals and keeping old quarrels alive and infinitum, there's always the telephone, personal correspondence, or even personal discussions. Most disagreements that could be quietly settled in private are pushed to the point of no return in public. And for those who actually enjoy spreading poison, please shoot your venom elsewhere. If we can't all be friends, let's at least be friendly
I agree with you 100% that a big part of the appeal of fanfic is that there's more "talking heads" than is permitted in the typical pablumized pro novel. You're also correct in that this appeals to women more than to men. Many people have noted that fanfic is remarkably similar to romance novels, with its heavy emphasis on relationships and characterization. It's hardly a coincidence that both romances and fanfics re aimed mostly at women. The difference is that with fanfic you don't have to put up with the galling gender stereotypes that infest romances!
[The episode] "Sarcophogus" is a thinly-disguised retelling of Tanith Lee's book, Kill the Dead. Avon is Parl Dro and Sally is Ciddey Soban, the lonely woman who welcomes ghostly possession. Myal Lemyal, the other major character, is frequently imagined to be Vila. That doesn't quite fit, however. And although Ms. Lee has admitted that Parl was based on Avon, she has always maintained that Myal was entirely of her own invention.

Excuse me, but "fannish creativity is on the skids"???? Where are all you guys been living?? [snipped] Actually, I think at this point in time, there are more B7 zines, both available and up going, than at any other point in our history. You know, if was only about five years ago that I started publishing SOUTHERN SEVEN. At that time, the ONLY major US B7 zines were B7 COMPLEX (which was on hiatus), FIFTH SEASON (which appeared infrequently), and MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (Leigh Arnold had temporarily disappeared and suddenly reappeared about this time). The SCORPIO group also put out a couple of zines that appeared infrequently. People seen to be forgetting that B7 fandom has NEVER had a number of zines being produced at the same time (unlike Star Trek, for example). Our fandom never had the following or, frankly, enough people willing to do the work associated with a zine to allow it to grow very large. My personal feelings were that fandom had reached its limit and would begin to suffer the natural attrition that most fandoms do. However, the fandom has remained steady and has even begun to grow slightly again.

[snipped: much about how much material she has and how many Ashton Press zines are being published]

I think Tom Beck and others are often mistaking "change" in the fandom as an indication that the fandom is "going downhill." I really have to disagree. My contributors are changing, it's true. Many of the "old-timers" have moved along to other fandoms, as always happens, and happened in B7 before. I'm excited about B7 again. And let's not forget that a lot of the so-called "old-timers" are still with us. Folks like Sheila Paulson, Kathy Hintze, Barbara T, Pat Nussman, Jane Carnall and more.

I think it's great that all of a sudden there are so many new zines being advertised. And, you know, in spite of all the doomsaying, I can only think of a few zines that have "folded" over the last few years. Some zines have only published one issue, but that's called a one-shot and doesn't mean the zine "folded." In fact, the only zines I can think of that have ceased are MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (which ceased publication one before and came back) and LAUGHING MUTOID (which still did seven issues before stopping.

[snipped]

As for what we can do to get B7 out of its "trough", well if anyone really believes the fandom needs a boost, all they've got to do do is jump onboard, take command, and get something started! You miss conventions? Run one then! (I've helped run my share; some of us "old folks" is tired.) You think there ought to be more zines? DO ONE OF YOUR OWN THEN. You think the zines out there aren't what you'd like to see? I repeat, do one of your own then. It can only add something to your fandom. Submit to some of these zines begging for your creative talents. B& is alive and well for those who want to participate.
I think the current shift if fandom is amusing. All of a sudden it seems like the Tarrant fans are outnumbering the Avon fans! What a hoot. I guess I still like Avon and Vila best, but Tarrant has his interesting points, as do all the characters. I don't believe in "bashing" any of the characters but it can be fun arguing their strong and weak points. I just usually choose to do it in the context of a piece of fiction rather than in a letterzine. I have to admit I also hate to give away my ideas in print before I've actually used them in a story.
B7 as an entity. I think you've got something when you talk about outward signs of fandom, and yes, those certainly have fallen off. But I don't believe B7 is less popular. For all those who left the fandom in recent years, there have been many others who have discovered it since that time. I do think, however, that the nature of the fandom has changed. Instead of being actively social (clubs and cons), it's gone introspective, which means it's returned to what's important, and that is the series itself. I'm familiar with far more letterzines and discussion groups now that ever existed in B7's heyday. And all of these discussion groups, l/zines and APAs continue to grow and prosper. Most of the B7 fans I've talked to recently are interested in just that -- B7 -- and not with the trappings which customarily go with fandoms.
I've done music videos using a regular VHS and a regular Beta, which worked OK, tho' it took us several attempts to get the edits clean enough. I've also done them using 2 regular VHS machines, but exact timing in that instance was tricky at bets. I've found that the biggest advantage to using a machine with audio/video dub is you save at least one generation. Not quite so big a deal when you're dealing with decent first-gem originals, but when your source materials are a few gens deep already, the end result can get pretty scrappy. The regular VCR I use for my source machine comes out of a pause very smoothly, which seems to help. Signe's VCR (which I used for my recording machine) is a Panasonic (I can't remember the model #, tho' I could check with her to find out) with audio/video dub and flying erase heads. A friend has a JVC with the same, but he's got a tracking wheel which will moved forward or backward frame by frame -- terrific for getting things lined up exactly. (Sing's frame by frame is advance only). By the way, I loved seeing your [4] and Carol's videos at WorldCon. Do you have plans to make more and/or make them available to fans?

Issue 4

The Neutral Arbiter 4 was published in March 1992 and contains 32 pages.

first page of issue #4

Some topics discussed:

  • is Blake a terrorist, an ever-popular subject
  • sharing your fannish life with mundanes and others
  • the differences and similarities between Star Trek and Blake's 7
  • fanfiction and deviations from canon
  • is Blake-bashing an American sport
I'd like to comment on fan objections to deviations from the B7 "canon" in fan fiction. I don't have any problem with this: having been exposed to ST's Mirror universe at an early point in fannish life, I tend to mentally classify anything I like that doesn't fit in with the canon (or with other stories I like) to an alternate universe of its own. That way I can enjoy the Mind of a Man is a Double-Edged Sword trilogy (the first one in that series is one of my all-time favorite zines) post-GP is the end of everything and anything else that takes my fancy. Stories I don't like I just ignore and leave for those who do -- it takes all kind to make a fandom!
[comments by P.N. Elrod]:

Argh, you feel you have to hide your fan stuff? I hope the day will come when no one here has to be furtive about fandom. Not that my life has been all roses and butterflies, but I'm determined that if people can't accept me the way I am then they aren't the sort of people I want to know. Coping with mundanes can get pretty exasperating, but you never know when you might make a convert from their ranks. As for being thought of as weird, well, that never bothered me much; I enjoy being different. Often fan-mundane conflicts are unavoidable, especially within families and indulge in teasing is "Obviously you have a problem with this subject, I do not. Perhaps we should take about something eel (or not talk at all)"

[snipped]

About the use of media character in pro novels. Lois Bujold and I have talked about this and it is not so much the characters as the actor playing them. Now in a movie, I can clearly see Paul Darrow, playing the part of Due Galeni and playing it very well, but Galeni is not Avon, nor Avon Galeni, nor, I would think, would Darrow play Galeni as Avon. (Now, I have seen a fan doing a cabaret impersonation of Avon as Elvis but that's quite another story...)

I will also mention that we don't do this for every single character in our books. It's a device writers somethings use, but not always or you leave no room for spontaneity or just plain fun. I'm still trying to figure out where a couple of my favorites in past stories come from. Had I stopped to "cast" them, they wouldn't have been half so interesting to write. When this happens I'm careful to leave them alone. If they want to write themselves I just stand back, leave them to it and count my blessings.
Well, I do tend to keep a certain type of zine tucked away and out of sight, and the rest of the zines and stuff are on a shelf in my bedroom, but mostly because that's the most convenient place to keep it. What I get hassled about is wasting time writing stories I won't get paid for, or wasting money on all this junk, all the mail involved, the phone calls, dubbing video tapes...
Fanfic that changes the B7 (or any) universe too much: This is the #1 reason why I read next to zero fanfic. Little riles me like investing precious reading time in stuff that ultimately twists "my" heroes into something else. I've written a bit for other universes, and the highest praise I felt I ever got was that the reader could've seen it filmed. Cross/alternate universe fiction is even more anathema. But that's just this reader's preference. I'm more than content to to devote my time to the fan authors I know and trust, and to favorite pros: Kurtz, McCaffrey, Tolkien, et al. [5]
I would like to contribute to the discussion on whether ST's and B7's Federations are the same. I recall one episode of ST titled, Mirror, Mirror" in which a malfunctioning transporters switches Kirk, McCoy, Scott, and Uhura with their alternate-universe conquer parts. The alternate-universe Federation, as it appeared in that episode, shared more characteristics with the B7 Federation than with the ST Federation. It could be possible that the parallel-universe ST and B7 Federations are the same.
Whatever else Star Trek was, in the sixties, it was pretty conservative. There were no women captains (in the last episode, Kirk came right out and said there could be none, by Federation law). It was assumed that a crewman who got married would leave the service and have babies. The series stood four-square behind male supremacy, the Puritan work ethic, the warrior virtues, and so on and so on. The refusal to admit to the possibility of impossibilities was only one thing that annoys me when I watch old Star Trek episodes (which I don't, very often). Plus which, Avon is better looking than Spock and Blake is less self-satisfied than Kirk. And less hysterical, too.
B7 vs ST? No contest. While I have a nostalgic fondness for classic ST, and have enjoyed the movies, ST: TNG gets on my nerves with its Perfectly Plastic People. Yes, it's an idealized vision of the future, but it bothers me. I always get this feeling there's a great deal of emphasis on conforming, on regimentation. I can see ST's Federation as the forerunner to that of B7. A Roj Blake in ST would still be given "the treatment" -- but out of loving kindness, to correct his skewed view of the world. Avon wouldn't fit in there, nor Vila. They'd have legions of Deanna Troi's after them to be counseled to correct theirs socially unacceptable behavior. A few nudges in the right direction, and benevolent control becomes control for the sake of power. Not that I think there is a connection between the two series, but in the realm of fanfic someone could make it work.
I fully agree that an integral part of the attraction of B7 is its recognition of the no-win scenario. Victories in Star Trek are bought much too cheaply. I still watch TNG for sentimental reasons, but it has about as much to do with reality as a Disney movie.
I am told by Brits that Blake-bashing was an America sport. I'm not at all sure I was told the truth by these Brits, though. They seem to like to present a united front to outsiders ("Don't like to wash our dirty linen in public" was how one of them put it.), but when you read their LoCs individually, they seem just as factionalized as we are. I can't give first-hand testimony because while I've been a fan of B7 since 1982, I didn't really throw myself into the fandom until 1987. Blake-bashing and Tarrant-bashing were established on both sides of the Atlantic by then.
The release of the commercial B7 tapes in the U.K. has reportedly given British B7 fandom a whole new lease on life (with the Horizon Club currently at a record-braking 1000+ members). I don't think American fans always appreciate that in Britain there is no equivalent to the American institution of TV syndication (and for some reason, British fans have never been as fanatical about tape trading are we have been.) Until the release of the commercial tapes, many British fans were going on 10-year old memories alone. Now a whole new generation can be introduced to the series.
True, MINDFIRE did handle the Avon-as-a-telepath cliche well, but that's largely because it wasn't yet a cliche when this fan novel was written. MINDFIRE may, in fact, have originated the idea.
My problem with the fan fascination for extrapolating on the potentials of both Del Grant and Avalon is that both characters were such... well... whims. I've yet to read a fan story that did anything really memorable with them, I'm sorry to say. Female characters in B7 were all too often afterthoughts: the series was written and crated by males to be primarily about males, so not surprisingly, Avalon, Servalan, Kasabi, Klyn, Dr. Paxton and a number of others were all originally written as male characters [in the original scripts]. The sexism of the 20th century is hard to escape, even when you're writing about the future.
Explaining the differences between fan and pro writing could fill volumes, especially since there's a great deal of disagreement on the subject. I've read many a pro novel that sucked compared to some fan stories, and vice versa. So there's really no way to generalize, but the points you made are certainly valid ones as the question applies to the writers themselves. The actual work is harder to differentiate because of course the quality varies so widely. If I had to pinpoint the one most prevalent distinction, the one thing that brands a work fannish rather than pro, I'd have to say gushing. Yeah, gushing. Fan writer invariably bogs itself in either A) characters who sit and do noting but endlessly discuss their undying feelings for one another (if I want this, I'll watch General Hospital), and/or B) interminably boring narratives that drop entirely out of scene to impart pages of utterly useless information direction from writer to reader. This is also known as the "idiot lecture", or "not-the-whole-encyclopeida-Chekov!"
I tend to agree with you about "fan writers" and "pro writers" -- but the difference between "fiction" and "fan fiction" is a somewhat different kettle of fish. At its best, "fan fiction" is far more interactive than normal fiction. Since the story is pitched to an audience well-versed in the source material, the fan writer can compose "variations on a theme" dependent on an extensive body of shared knowledge. In this way, fanfic is like the Sherlockian "apocryphal writings" or on a more grandiose level, like the classic plays of the Golden Age of Greece (when every tragedian did his own treatment of the Hippolytus myth). I love to write fanfiction precisely because of this sense of jumping into the middle of a conversation and saying, "No, I don't think you're quite right about Blake" or "I betcha I can make you believe the opposite of what you've been saying." As a matter of fact, the one sentence that's sure to inspire me is "It would be absolutely impossible to write a story in which..." Now, if I could only feel that way about regular f & sf, it would be almost like coining money.
How do other people handle their mannishness in a mundane world? I quite trying to hide or excuse it long ago, having traipsed through darkest mundania to the beat of a different drum my whole life though I was a fan long before I even knew what the word meant, let alone that there were others with the same affinities. It took many years before I felt confident enough not to hide it all, however. My parents and in-laws still sigh at the fact that neither Chuck nor I will ever "grow up," have 10 kids, stop reading comic books/fanzines/science fiction, etc. etc. ad nauseam. But that's the way it is, and it's come down to a simple case of take us that way or leave us, cuz you don't have any other choice -- we're not going to change. Fascinating, how closely this parallels children who have to face their parents about their homosexuality -- but the same taboo applies in both cases. Fandom is something we are supposed to be ashamed of. It's culturally unacceptable. Well, culture be damned. Give me subculture, counter-culture, anything but what the rest of the frigging worlds calls culture -- mundania is boring. I am a fan. I have always been and will always be a fan. Even if by some major miracle tantamount to winning the California lottery I should ever publish professional fiction, I will still be a fan. You can't change it without gafiating. It's in the blood. Or maybe the gene pool. Throws up a register every thousand or so. Outside the family, I admit to taking a less militant stance; you gotta take pity on the mundanes sometimes; they're clues after all. I don't hide what I do, but I can play chameleon when the need arises. It's "small press publishing" instead of "fanzines," "science fiction anthologies" instead of "stories based obscure TV shows." They seem to understand that sort of terminology a little. As to ridicule and teasing, well, you learn to develop a thick skin and a good comeback. If I had a nickel for every time I've been asked (with sneer attached) , "How can actually dress up in silly costumes and make a fool of yourself at these Star Trek conventions"?), I'd be filthy rich.
Does anyone else bring when a writer changes B7 too much? Yes! More than cringe. I also stop reading and skip to the next story. Over several years and hundreds of zines, I've come to recognize stories I don't want to waste time on very quickly. I read the first page. If it has nothing to with B7, there are no familiar characters, or I don't recognize the ones there as anything even vaguely resembling the series I admired (they're all romping naked with unicorns and fairies on a bright blue planet somewhere in la-la-land, for example) I start skimming ahead. If the next few pages still don't offer any hope of real B7, I give up and turn to the next piece.
By the way, to all of you with computers, modems, and $13.00 a month: Prodigy's Arts Club has included a pretty lively discussion of B7 for some time now. The more participants, the merrier.
I suspect everyone cringes a bit when a writer changes B7 too much. However, we'd never reach a consensus on what constitutes "too much." The letters in "Neutral Arbiter" reveal that everybody sees different things in this series; our interpretations of the same characters, episodes, dialog, etc, are each unique. Naturally, our view one what qualifies as "too much" change are going to differ as well. You rail at Anna Grant being black, Sondra says it's no big deal. Some people detest Hellhound, other adore it. I see this diversity of opinion as a favorable reflection of B7's richness and profundity.... That B7's characters and relationships can be interpreted so differently by different people is something I treasure. For example, some fans think Avon and Blake were devoted to each other, some are convinced they detested each other, while some feel the two didn't care much one way or the other. Such uncertainty is not found in, say, Trek; everyone agrees that Kirk and Spock were very fond of each other, the only question being how far they're willing to go to prove it.

Issue 5

The Neutral Arbiter 5 was published in June 1992 and contains 38 pages.

first page of issue #5

Some topics discussed:

  • the editors are pleased to announce the letterzine has tied with Horizon Newsletter for a Fan Q for best Blake's 7 newsletter
  • the vast majority have renewed their subscriptions
  • the editors report that the second issue of Threads Through Infinity has many submissions -- in the end, though, this zine was never published
  • P.N. Elrod discusses why zine writing has made her a better pro book writer, and discusses her attempt to write a story crossing her original character (Jack Fleming in "The Vampire Files") in a Quantum Leap story in the zine Good Guys Wear Fangs -- note that three months later, she brings the hammer down on fanworks using her own works, and cuts loose from her own fanworks [6]
  • Linda Terrell publicly connects the pseud, London Bates to herself
  • much about bashing characters
  • the role of zine ed's and their requests
  • Jean Graham contributes a lengthy "fanspeak" dictionary, explaining science fiction "slang" terms

Ten years ago since "Blake," the final episode of Blake's 7 aired in Britain. Ten years since the BBC took a potshot at Blake's gut and laid him low. Ten years since they cut the show off like a would-be Pat Buchanan delegate in New York. Ten years since... well, you get the picture. Anyway, I've been thinking. Blake's 7 fandom began in this country sometime in 1979 or 1980, although I'd be willing to wager that few of the not-so-neutral contributors to this publication were around in that Plesitoncene-like era. I've heard stories from a few about the way the phone lines across the Pond hummed on December 21, as the handful of American fans were desperate to find out from their British friend (virtually all early US fans of B7 were watching the show on camera-copy tapes sent them from the UK) just what had happened -- was it true? Had Avon shot Blake?

Anyway, I wasn't in on it back then. I didn't even hear about Blake's 7 until 1984, didn't see my first episode until late 1985. I think it's safe to say that American fandom really began to take off in 1985 and especially 1986. True, there were the Scorpio conventions, which had begun in 1983 (although the first one was basically a glorified house-party). Still, Lionheart did not begin pushing the show until 1985, when the first few PBS stations began airing it.

Then -- wow! I didn't think any fandom has ever grown so fast. There had been a few American fanzines, notably Deb Walsh's B7 Complex. But all of a sudden, there were dozens of zines. Scorpion IV, in 1986, received a great deal of pre-con publicity all over the country.

[snipped]

Batscon. BATS (the British-American Television Society) was a new group created earlier in the year by a convention promoter being backed by Jon Pertwee's agents to run an organization and put on some conventions. Pertwee was supposed to appear at a series of cons in the fall of 1986. Then he came down with hepatitis and had to withdraw. So BATS signed up Patrick Troughton, Paul Darrow, and Michael Keating to replace him. Then Pat's check from the New York con bounced. So he flew back to England, leaving Paul and Michael to carry on.

[snipped]

Batscon was a great convention. Paul presented a broadcast and discussion of "Rumours of Death" (sort of like hearing Captain Kirk talk about Edith Keeler). In response to one question about "Blake," he claimed it was his idea to have Avon shoot Blake, rather than one of the Federation troopers. "I thought that since Avon had killed the only woman he had ever loved, he who'll kill the only friend he ever had." That insight made me realize just how well Paul understood his character.

[The editors add: I should point out that Chris Boucher, who wrote the script for "Blake," specifically contradicts Paul's claim, saying he had always written that Avon would shoot Blake. Rashomoned again, I guess.]

Anyway, by 1987 Blake's 7 fandom was probably the hottest in the country. Scorpio V that summer was one one the two or three best cons I've ever attended, and we on the East Coast were all thrilled but eh news that a new con, DSV One, would be held in New Jersey the following January. It turned out to also be one of the best two or three best cons I've ever attended.

[snipped]

No question. B7 was hot. Blazing, Icarus-like toward the sun. Ascending higher, ever higher. More fans, more clubs, more zines, more cons. Amazing, especially without more episodes.

And unfortunately, not destined to last. It's hard to tell at this point exactly what went wrong (forgive me if you don't think anything went wrong; perhaps there was simply no way the fandom could sustain such incredible growth, especially in the absence of new episodes.) The "feud" of 1989 certainly didn't help; it's safe to say it probably cost the fandom a lot of its members.

New shows drew off some of the more fickle. Beauty and the Beast, Quantum Leap, Red Dwarf, Next Gen, other shows. No surprises here. The lure of the novelty, after all.
Doctor Who and Blake's 7 fandoms: I've never wanted to think of these, my two favorite programs, as being in any kind of opposition to each other. But it does seem, occasionally, and unfortunately, as if some people can only be fans of one of the two at any one time, abandoning the other. I'm not sure why this is. The shows are hardly similar, except in their encouragement to resist brutality and evil. But their styles, natures, and basic approaches to life (one sunny with optimism, the other sunk in the midnight of pessimism) should not make them competitors in any way. And, indeed, I know many fans who love only one and despise or at least disdain the other.

[P.N. Elrod]: Speaking of Jack Fleming and QUANTUM LEAP, I was asked to trib to a zine called GOOD GUYS WEAR FANGS. I'd been thinking of doing a QL-Jack Fleming crossover, but the idea of Sam leaping into Jack just wouldn't spark. Then, I wondered what would happen if he leaped into Jack's human partner, Escott. 24 hours and 7000 words later (my usual speed is 1000 words a day), I had the start of a promising story. It ended being a novella, and will appear in issue one.

[snipped]

With fanfic, you can jump into things without the bother of setting everything up for the reader. I also find it to be more of a challenge to write because all the other fans have their version of a media character and maybe a writer doesn't live up to that view. Because of that, fanfic can be more gratifying than the pro stuff when someone tells me I got it right!

Some pros have wondered why I spend any time on the zines, but anything to do with writing teaches me. If I hadn't put so much work into the zines, my second novel would have been a bomb. I had grown as a writer because of the zine work. This QL zine I mentioned above is a good example as it gave me a chance to practice a third person point of view. Most of my work is done in first person, and I wanted, and enjoyed the stretch.
I too, get so tired of watching Disneytrek, as I have called it for quite some time now. In fact I often waiting and listen to see if Disney's "When you wish upon a star" is going to play in the background as the Enterprise warps into orbit with their new adventure. My friend and I have thought of Geordi as so happy go lucky that we've nicknamed him Jiminy Cricket.
As usual, the last issue [of The Neutral Arbiter] was a great read, though I missed the deadline myself. It's great that we're not all talking about the same subject. The comments range far and wide, covering just about every aspect of B7 fandom, from the actual episodes, to fan writing, to how all of this impacts our mundane lives. Some of us, especially me, would never have even attempted putting words on paper and submitting it to critical eyes if we hadn't gotten so wrapped up in a TV program. There are so many truly worth-knowing people that we would have never have met if we had stayed home instead of going to cons, picking up flyers, going the clubs the flyers advertised. I'm proud to know ya, guys.
So what if B7 is a rip-off of Star Trek? If it were, why discuss B7, why not just go back to ST? Being a rip-off, I'd not bother with it. Yes, there are similarities, as there are throughout all stories going back through the ages. Terry has admitted that B7 is sort of "The Dirty Dozen" in space. That doesn't make it a rip-off, but more describes into which genre it fits. Similarities between one good show to another hopefully will not run too deep, and it will be each show's unique use of character elements that will give it appeal.
DID a lot of fans' opinions of Blake change radically when they saw "Star One" for the first time -- or only after they were exposed to the "propaganda" about the episode in the form of either comments by persons connected with the program or comments by other fans? I should think these would be common experiences for those who encounter B7 through "fandom." And, after all, we rarely hear the opinions of fans who aren't "in fandom" since fandom is where most of us meet the other fans we know. I'm not sure there's any good way to determine the answer to my question, but as I watch other "trends" in fan opinion pop up, magnetically attract adherents and grow, I have to wonder if that's what took place with respect to the majority's post-"Star One" opinion shift.
You say you dislike deviations from canon so much that you don't read serious fan fiction, but you don't mind "what-if" discussions. I don't see any essential different between asking what Blake or Avon would do in situation X (which they never faced in the series) and writing a story that puts them in situation X and shows what the author things they might do. The only deviation from canon I find intolerable is that which distorts the psychological make-up of the major players. And fans seem just as capable as doing that in a forum such as this as they are doing it in fiction.
I think what Curt was saying about PGP fiction is not that the characters couldn't be alive, but that imagining that the series ended the way it seemed to have ended gave him a sense of aesthetic and philosophic closure. I know it did me (yes, me who alluded earlier in this letter to a series PGP stories I'm writing), and took a whole year before I was willing to "tamper" with that sense of tragic perfection. And I'll tell you something: even though I'm very emotionally committed to the alternative universe I've created, when I watch the episode "Blake," it still feels horribly, painfully right.
[Linda Terrell]:

When I got into B7 back in 1984 and 1985, you were treated as so much used kitty litter if you "admitted" you liked Tarrant (or Blake). I liked Blake AND Tarrant from the off, and I vividly recall encountering outright scorn for it. LIKE Tarrant!?! Well, yo were obviously just to dumb for death to cure. And if you liked Blake... I had my character and cognitive processes insulted more than once for it. And people wonder why I somethings came out swinging.

What I couldn't figure and still can't is not only do Tarrant bashers just plain dislike Tarrant -- the actively despise/loathe him. Why? He's no more or less acid or arrogant than Avon, although he may declare it more. Tarrant is good looking, winsome, charming, pithy, and that smile! And he's the only one who ever ** apologized** to Vila for ragging him.

'Bout time Tarrant was accepted -- he offend was the only one to show some humanity and/or sense in Series 4. I've always maintained that Avon and Tarrant started out Series 3 as a very good team, working and thinking together. They were formidable and should have remained so. But some writers, and, apparently, some *Agent* got it into their head that Avon and Tarrant should paw the ground at each other. Avon and Tarrant went from being a *good team* to a pair of cranky little boys.

I certainly hope the Tarrant fans avoid the "Megan syndrome" and don't attach the actor to the characters.

[snipped]

I wrote a couple Blake/Cally romances way back in 1986 and 1987. DOING TIME and INTERMEZZO IN B. DT is an "epic" only ever published in THE OTHER SIDE 2 and 3 and if you never read London Bates, well, you missed it. It's slated to be reprinted in FREE FOR ALL next August. REYCT to T. Beck re his essays on B7 fandom "demise." His essays always strike me more as bemoaning the loss of B7 All-Guest Cons -- which I don't consider a loss but a blessing. Give me a FAN CON for, by and of Fans any day. The minute you introduce the Actor Factor, then the factions start.

[snipped]

Total agreement about the roles of zine ads. They should **never** rewrite a Writer's work. Suggest, yes. Guide, defiantly. But to arbitrarily rewrite, even to the most basic concept? That's criminal. Real World editors have been taken to court for that. Some zine editors seem to think that they are not held by the usual rules and ** courtesies** because no money is changing hands. Well, goods are being bartered for services. Same thing.

I'll cut, chop, lengthen (a bit), move around, correct grammar, syntax, and p.o.v., but I will never compromise the concept of a story (a chapter, maybe).

I've had two editors do that within the last year. I sent the work elsewhere. One told me she liked my 3 page vignetter, but could I add some detail? Against my better judgement, I did and ruined the punchline I was aiming for but maintained the "awwww" feeling I was after. She rejected the rewrite as "not enough" and gave me a list of questions she wanted answered, even though the story already did by inference (assuming a Reader IQ of at least two digits). What she wanted was a a virtual novella -- not only a soap opera, it was a story I never intend to tell and didn't want to. I said I would do that. She flat out refused to accept the story unless I rewrote it to HER specifications. Excuse me, it's MY story! Well, now I feel as though I was bullied and she's miffed that I told her so. It's like having her say she'd print my Mona Lisa if I changed the silly smile.

Another editor, after holding a story for nearly a year, then told me, at virtually the last minute that she wanted an "epilogue" in which Avon tells Blake all about what just happened to him in the story Blake is "dead" part of it... What did I just spend 25 pages on then?... I refused, saying I would not insult the Readers' intelligence that way. She refused to print the story without the epilogue...

The rudest I was ever treated by a zine editor was when I sent an early B7 tale out back in 1984 or 1985. Nearly *a year* and three or four SASEs later, I got the manuscript back with a one inch square post-it not on which was scribbled, "Story fails to meet my editorial standards. It took her "a year" to realize this? And thirty seconds to write me off? The minute any editor gets capricious and/or offhand with me, I find other zines.
Deviation from "canon" in fan fiction is all well and good if the writer is competent and manages to hold our interest with well-drawn original characters and pots. But what about those that don't? I'm reminded of Samuel Johnson's famous rejection: "My Dear Sir, your manuscript is both good and original; but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good." That essentially sums up my feelings on badly-written fan fiction. Happily, there are many who do write well outside the so-called canon. And perhaps we can hope that the rest will learn by virtue of continued practice. More than one fan writer has graduated to the rank of pro writer, after all, including at least two of our contributors to NEUTRAL ARBITER.
The (primarily) male viewpoint that writing for fun rather than money is a wast of time, and that we "waste" money on zines, mail, phone calls, conventions, videos, etc.is, I think, unworthy of argument simply because nothing is ever going to convince these cheapskates otherwise. People who can't see beyond the profit motive are sorely lacking any semblance of imagination. They cannot conceive of doing anything just for the fun of it. Sorry excuses for human beings, if you ask me.
Regarding your comment that "this is not a wuss fandom where we're all required to defer to each other?" Amen to that. I take you've been involved in some that were? Me, too. I recall in particular a BNF in ST fandom (who shall remain nameless) whose ST fanzines back in the early 70s were very popular. But you could not write for them unless you adhered strictly to her view of the ST universe which (you guessed it) was twisted fare beyond canon. Anyone who disagreed with her or dared to write anything not in her "universe" was rather rudely rejected. Thank heaven B7 fandom is more open-minded than that.
With regard to feminine appeal, Avon is a character very much like Spock and Illya Kuryakin, neither of whom ever attracted much female interest on their respective shows, but both of whom appealed tremendously to thousands of female viewers! In all three cases, interestedly enough, someone else (Solo, Kirk, Blake) was designed to be the romantic hero, but proved far less popular with the fans. And in all three cases, the powers that be actually considered getting rid of the character that later proved the most popular. NBC tried to scuttle the Illya Kuryakin character over squeamishness amidst the Cold War, then decided to simply keep him in the background (he, he). They did exactly the same thing two years later with Spock, demanding that Rodenberry get rid of him. Thankfully, he refused. And the BBC considered dumping Avon on at least one occasion because he was too "competitive' with Blake. He might have been the one to die 2nd season instead of Gan!
I'm not too fond of crossover fanfic either. Too contrived, and even when it isn't, the authors most often get so enamored of the process of getting the universes crossed that they forget to write anything resembling a plot into the bargain.
[Jean Graham]:

No matter how well you think you know someone, you leave yourself open to a great deal of misery if you trust too much. Early in my fan "career," I trusted a large number of people who were supposedly friends, most of how I had known for years, gone to school with, etc. In the space of one year, a relative stranger insinuated herself into local fandom and proceeded to conduct a war against me, replete with lying, cheating, stealing, grand theft/embezzlement, harassment, malicious mischief, slander, libel, and death threats. Most of my so-called "friends" believed her (she was a pathological -- and therefor extremely convincing -- liar). Moral: be very, very careful who you trust, and how much.

[snipped] I just stamped her letters, "REFUSED: RETURN TO SENDER" and sent them back. Unfortunately, that didn't stop her from conducting a hate campaign against me in every other area she could get her tentacles into. The reason for all her malignant hatred, by the way, was that I opposed her bid to take over the local sf organization. She ended up cheating her way into office, anyway, and promptly bankrupted and decimated the club. Sigh.
[Jean Graham]: Oh dear, editor horror stories. I've been fortunate, for the most part, in working with editors, particularly in B7 fandom, who respect writers enough to consult them before changes are made. I don't mind changes -- every editor has the right to ask for some here or there. But rewriting the entire piece without telling the writer is indefensible. I suppose the closest I ever came to having that happen was a less-than-pleasent experience with an U.N.C.L.E. editor who retyped my story (this was b.c. -- before computers) and misspelled half the words (all of which were correctly spelled to begin with). When I politely complained, she smugly informed me that she had corrected the spelling, punctuation, etc. and she did not need to be told how to edit her own zine. Needless to say, she never got anything from me ever again, and I reprinted the story, correctly spelled, a short time later in my own U.N.C.L.E. zine. The lesson to be learned there, I guess, is that unmitigated arrogance is certainly not confined to fictional computer experts.
I'll throw in my two millicredits on the topic of LoCs and fannish criticism. For the most part, I've found LoCs to be very gentle with stories or art that are blatantly amateur. Fans try hard not to hurt anyone's feelings. Ironically, the stories that receive the harshest critical are the ones that are the most skillfully written; LoCers seem to assume that accomplished fan writers must be mature and self-assured enough to take whatever's dished out. Seen in this light, being trashed in an LoC is an honor of sorts: it means you've hit the big time!

[The editor writes that she has been informed that some vague references to terrible zine eds are only vague to her, and give too much away, so she needs to be more careful in future issues. She also has some comments on editing LoCs]: We did cut one persons' comments. I won't say who, but the comments dealt with criticizing some fanfic by name. We did feel this was a bit too personal. Thus far, critiques have been somewhat anonymous. This was a direct attack on the story and we felt it should be left out.

I debated over whether I should announce it or not, but after much deliberation figured everyone here was mature and would understand our feelings. This was the first thing we've had to cut (after well over 100 pages) which is a wonderful record. You have all managed intelligent discussion without attack, etc. and are to be congratulated. I hope the person [whose letter we cut] will understand why we did -- and we hope all of you do as well.

Issue 6

The Neutral Arbiter 6 was published in September 1992 and contains 42 pages.

first page of issue #6

Some topics discussed:

  • the editors ask, but don't require, future submissions to be on a computer disk, neatly handwritten, or typed double-spaced; they are having a hard time with the single-spaced typewritten letters
  • the second issue of Threads Through Infinity is still on the books
  • the deadline for the next issue of "The Neutral Arbiter" is November 15
  • P.N. Elrod writes that she has gone "loopy" over Forever Knight, says that her book, Red Death, is early finished and has been a "real bear" to work on, offers to tape episodes of "Forever Knight" for fans and send the tapes to them for cost, and offers to record old B7 tapes for a fan at cost ("We want to be VERY careful NOT to do this for profit! Copyright laws, y'know."); while Elrod puts a plug in for "that zine with my Quantum Leap-Vampire Files crossover story," her letter (while published in September 1992, the same month as her open letter: Open Letter to FYI from Author P.N. Elrod) was written shortly before or during the beginning of the entire Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and A Matter of Willful Copyright Infringement fall-out occurred
  • a fan plugs the commercial B7 episode tapes: good for vidding!
  • Jean Graham includes a detailed chart of the characters in B7 and the people they have killed in canon
Last time around, a number of people were registering pet peeves about Avon's depiction in fanfic. Let me add mine: hunting-the-trauma stories about Avon's early life. You the sort I mean: they begin with the assumption that once upon a time, Avon was idealistic, open, and an all-around once guy, and then Something Happened to change all that. But don't worry, that Something can be reversed through hugs, tears, and massive does about love and trust. Just once I'd like to read a story in which Avon gets cured of all his "dysfunction," puts his heart on his sleeve, and promptly gets killed because he's no longer paranoid, and nasty enough, to survive in the universe he lives in.

Maybe I've just been reading a skewed sampling of stories lately, but it seems to me that the Federation is gaining in popularity. Lately I've read several stories in which Travis is more-or-less a good guy, for instance. There are probably a lot of reasons for that. Villains do have a certain fascination. P.J. Rourke, the conservative writer, was asked if he minded when people called him a Nazi. He said not really, since nobody has a secret fantasy about being tied to a bed and sexually ravished by someone dressed as a liberal.

Let's face it, the Federation is a very idealized dictatorship. It's effective, it's run by capable if amoral people, and while they sometimes lose a round, they're never too dumb to recognize their own interests. All of this makes a refreshing contrast to democratic politics as we usually see it practiced today. Hence the appeal of the Federation -- at least they made the rains fall on time.
Hey, Pat Elrod, since you've been in contact with Lillian Shepherd, maybe you can convince her to have more than Quibell Abduction reprinted for the American market. You lot of Cally-bashers are just going to love QA; not to give to much away, but if you haven't read it before, rest assured it does not depict the wimpy creature everyone calls Callyrella. Better still, convince [Lillian] to come back to the fandom; we need her quality of writing.
Discovering fandom can bring a sense of acceptance, can't it? I grew up thinking that liking SF was wrong (my mom still considers it kid stuff - no, she has never read anything SF in her life), "girls" weren't supposed to like stories like that -- or adventure or war, or virtually anything that wasn't all tied up in pink ribbons and lace. Well, I like a good love story now and then, but endless pages of goo becomes quickly sickening; I want the romance set against an exciting background -- being it Victorian England, Camelot, or Darkover. So it was a real eye-opener, some eons ago, to wander into Trek fandom and at last discover that I was not alone, that there were lots of perfectly normal, adult women, who liked the same stuff I did.

The problem with "casting" certain characters, of course, is that not everyone in your reading audience will pick up on it -- or they'll picture someone else entirely. For the sake of the writer though, it can help to lend substance to a character, when you have a particular face in mind. The downside to that and a lot of fanfic techniques, is that it can make you a lazy writer. We get out of the habit of description, for instance, assuming that everyone knows what Blake looks like, how Avon dresses, how Tarrant moves; even what a place looks like. We forget how to create an atmosphere, to pull the reader into another world. One of the best compliments I used to get on my writing was that it was very visual, but some recent material has been lacking in that quality, and I'm trying to get it back. It's necessary to remember that description does not mean cataloging items; it means creating a picture in the reader's mind...

Maybe it comes from the cannibalistic nature of fanfic: we feed off each other too much, when we ought to leaven our literary diets with non-fannish materials. I know some fans far prefer zines to pro novels, which always astonishes me; if I have to choose between books or zines, books win every time. Not that there aren't bad pro writers, but those can be spotted quickly and ignored in favor of the truly talented.
B7 fandom was a hard fandom to find back when, wasn't it? I was so desperate I put an ad in a Doctor Who letterzine, with little expectation of getting so much as a nibble of response, only to get shanghaied into the fandom by Linda Terrell. Had I but known the obsession that lurked just around that fannish corner, ready to to snatch me up and not let me rest...
I've recently read Between Black and White, and though that, for the purposes of that story, it made sense for Avon to have those allergies. Does anybody still use that cliche though? Wouldn't think they'd dare, considering how throughly it's been skewered in the Bizarro universe.
No one's going to force you to read fanfic if you don't want to. Fanfic comes from wanting more than just those 52 episodes, wanting to understand the characters better, just having a neat idea and wanting to share it. And, yes, from a dissatisfaction with how certain things were handled, including the ending. In the canonical sense, I do believe it ended on GP, that they're all dead, that the last scene is Avon's Last Stand. So what? I like them all too much to leave it at that; I don't want them all dead. Fanfic is an alternate universe that does not ever, really, impinge, upon "real" B7. It's mostly harmless, often enlightening, always full of possibility. Don't know it 'til you try it.
Your horror stories of zine ed experiences are enlightening. Knock wood, the worst that's happened to me is simply being ignored by a zine ed, although that can be annoying enough sometimes. Lately, I've had the real pleasure of working with Lorna Breshears, Teri White, Peg Kennedy, and Mary Ann McKinnon, all of whom have shown themselves to be considerate and treating this tribber at least as an actual human being. That's greatly appreciated. All it does is engineers bad feelings when a zine ed refuses to respond to the simplest query, whether it be about a submission or an order. I think we all have to realize that fandom is not a full-time occupation for anyone, that we all have lives to lead in the mundane world, and that all sorts of complications arise, but I don't believe the worst personal disaster that can occur is an excuse for being rude.
I like Servalan enormously. What a wonderful, wicked wish-fulfillment fantasy figure she is, and perversely pleasing that she is the eventual winner and the sole survivor (with the possible exception of Oral) of the regular cast. I love the bit in "Terminal" where she stands on the flight deck of the Liberator in that Evita pose saying, "Maximum power!" She is so thrilled that she doesn't even notice the ship is falling apart around her. Servalan is the ultimate Bad Girl. She makes Madonna look innocent. She has it all and doesn't feel guilty about anything. She gets lad more than any other characters.
[P.N. Elrod]: If you were referring to me as one of the fan writers who graduated to pro work via work in zines, then I must technically bow out. I'd written only one zine story back in the mid-1970s. I wrote no more until getting hooked on B7 and that was long after signing my contract with Ace. How the zines DID help me was that I lavished so much time and sweat on them (labor of love syndrome) that tI was unknowingly growing as a writer. When I got my 2nd novel back from being copy-edited, I had to totally rewrite it because of that growth.

Other zine grads I know are Lois and her best friend Lillian Stewart Carl. Lois' Shards of Honor started out as a Star Trek story.

I'm also delighted to announce that Lillian's story "Beauty" will begin Avon: On-Line #4 making it a (nearly) all pro zine. She nailed the characters down so hard and so accurately I couldn't resist it. I also have to mention that she has an Avon avatar in one or both or her master novels, "Ashes to Ashes" and/or "Dust to Dust."

[snipped]

I view zine writing (my opinion, people -- just me!) as a place to practice writing skills before moving over to pro writing. I tend to assume that everyone has that attitude and forget that many, many people are quite happy with zines. Whatever melts your butter is OK by me!

I have to take exception to your saying that "The (primarily male) viewpoint that writing for fun instead of money is a waste of time." My spouse (who is extremely male) has entirely supported my zine writing, indulges in it himself, and is now helping edit our club zine, which has a goodly number of male contributors. I think it more fair to leave gender out of things as there are lot of WOMEN out there who think it's a waste, too. Fortunately, we zine lovers know better and I DO agree with your conclusion that you can't convince these non-creative cheapskates to see past their bank accounts. The best thing we enlightened people and o is not wast our VALUABLE time on THEM!
Why is it necessary for some fen to build up a favorite character by tearing down a non-favorite? I don't want to have to choose between Blake or Avon, Han or Luke, Kirk or Spock. Even if I don't particularly care for a character, why should I have to knock him to build up someone else? If the so-called favorite can't stand on his or her own with comparison, then maybe that character really isn't such a favorite. The fen who know seem to be showing their own doubts in their supposed favorite by constantly having to prove how wonderful they are. Besides, we all live in our own heads. All I can do is state my own thoughts and feelings and hope that someone will listen. I can't place my thoughts and feelings in another person's head and hope they'll turn into me. Perhaps if we all accepted that we are all individuals with our own thoughts and feelings and that in many cases those thoughts and feelings willdiffer, and perhaps if we all were willing to accept differing opinions as personal views and not personal attacks, then fandom would be a much more peaceful and less vitriolic place.
I believe way back in the old Federation Archives someone suggested a tiered system of apocrypha: scripts were 1st-order apocrypha, remarks by writers and actors were 2nd-order apocrypha, and fan writing was 3rd-order apocrypha or something like that. But only what was on the screen was canon. Besides, while their remarks are interesting and sometimes even enlightening, the writers and actors have been known to contradict one another and sometimes one of these greater lights will contradict something he's already said, so it's hard to take what they say as pure gospel.
I've had a chance to check out the commercial B7 episode tapes from "The Video Catalog". There are now eight tapes available, all the way up to "Weapon." They are not copy-protected. The quality is superior to even my first-generation SP tapes. The colors are truer, the background details sharper. Best of all you can get dazzling, crystal-clear freeze-frames -- effortlessly. At $28 for two episodes, they are expensive. But they'd be worth the investment for anyone who does music videos or tele pics.
What's your candidate for the most overused B7 zine story plot? Nothing personal, those of you who've written one, but I'm awfully tired of tales that open with the old "Avon stood over Blake's bloody corpse" line, only to end up with the corpse miraculously reviving, sitting fawningly by Avon's bedside while he recovers, and then spending umpteen tedious pages gushing all over poor Avon before nobly forgiving "his best friend" for the shooting. If I were Avon, I'd shoot him again. Erg!
I neither read nor collect slash, but I have seen parts of some for the Emmanu-elle pornzines, and you're right. I did laugh. For a real giggle-fest, in fact, try reading some of this schlock about, as two friends and I did during a 500-mile trip to a San Francisco B7 con. We could barely keep the car on the road for laughing so hard. What's funnier still is that the people who wrote it took is entirely seriously. During that car trip, one of group wondered, in fact (and Sherri [editor of "The Neutral Arbiter"], please feel free to cut this part if it's too ... well prurient) why the typos got worse the dirtier the story became. From behind the steering wheel, I theorized that Amy it was harder to type with one hand. [7]

Issue 7

The Neutral Arbiter 7 was published in January 1993 (a month later than intended) and contains 32 pages.

first page of issue #7

Some topics discussed:

  • the editors apologize for it being a month late: the main reason was the decision to end the letterzine: "Please don't let our depressing news keep you from submitting to our final issue. It will be a good chance to make your closing arguments, say goodbye, etc. Also, so that people can correspond after we're gone, we will print full addresses at the top of your letter if you so desire it. Just put your address at the top the way you want it to appear."
  • the second issue of Threads Through Infinity has been canceled
  • P.N. Elrod writes that the fourth issue of her zine, Avon: On-Line, is delayed due to her commissioned/work-for-hire job with TSR to write the "autobiography of their resident vampire, Count Strahd. I was the 1st name on their List of People to Ask... It's a commissioned novel, but I view it as being the same as any commissioned art: it may be someone else's idea, but I shan't stint on the experience!"

But, by and large, this is late because we have been debating one of the toughest decisions we have ever had to make -- whether or not to continue publishing "The Neutral Arbiter." After much soul-searching, we have decided that this will be our second to last issue. Our reasons are numerous, and your support has earned you a right to hear them all. Firstly, we started this publication figuring it would just get easier and easier. Instead we find TNA taking up more and more of our time. Our own success has brought this about in large part: it now takes two typists 1-2 weeks each to get all the letters typed in. Also, the increasing unreliability of the U.S. Postal Service has meant more and more time spent remaining issues to subscribers.... Also, Pat has decided to cut way back on her fannish actives and has removed herself from both of the letterzines we do. She has been very involved in fandom for a very long time and plans to continue to be involved -- just not as heavily. While I was able to find some able assistance for our other (much, much smaller) letterzine and to get this and the next issue published, I have not been able to locate anyone to help on a full-time basis.

Before it sounds like Pat is the villain, Sherri, too, has begun to back off from fannish activists. Sherri discovered fandom in February 1990. In less than three years, she's managed to start two letterzines and publish two fanzines. It has left her little time for what attracted her to fandom in the first place -- a forum for her writing. She also has two novels underway and would like to work on getting them done. And, to be quite honest, it has left her a bit burned out. She's ready to rediscover the fun of fandom and leave a bit of the business behind.

Finally, money has also become a real problem. With the increase in size of each issue, the cost of printing and mailing has more than doubled since our first issue. By the time you include the cost of the fliers, remaining, computer upkeep, etc. we are now losing money. Don't get us wrong; we never expected to make money -- we just don't have the financial wherewithal to lose money. And we know times are tight all around, so we don't feel right asking for more money after you've already paid for a subscription....

That's the full reasoning -- plain and simple. We regret it, but also know that it's time to move on.

Our offer: This was not a decision made quickly or easily -- we hate to see any fannish forum come to an end -- especially one that has been as much fun (at least on paper) as this one. And, if someone out there feels the same way strongly enough to think about taking upon him/herself, we'll be happy to help, including the use of our mailing list. We'll give advice, and a real view of what it takes to do this. If you don't want your address given out (note: we'll ONLY give it to someone who seems willing to resume a B7 letterzine), just drop us a quick note. We'll honor your wishes.

[P.N. Elrod]: Guess what? No big surprise here. AVON: ON-LINE #4 is going to be delayed yet some more, this time because of the TSR job [8]. BUT I'm planning to get a computer with the advance, so the good news is the zine will look better than before.... I agree with you that in writing a zine story we DO often forget to mention details of what familiar things look like, so it's great when a writer makes an extra effort to visualize stuff for the reader. Lillian Stewart Carl did the [this] VERY well in her story, BEAUTY, and I think anyone reading it will agree with me [9]. It was like seeing the characters for the first time all over again.

Doubtless I shall still continue to use my "casting" device, though lately it's been in the background as new characters bubble out of my mind. When I'm working fast, I don't have time to match an actor to the part and that's when good ol' reliable sub-conscious kicks in. I trust it and it delivers every time.

I am first the recommend that fanfic writers should read something other than fanfic if they are to develop their talent. This is that "literary incest" thing Ardath Mayhear talks about, though your comparison of "literary cannibalism" is also vividly true. This happens in the pro world often enough, though. How many of you have noticed the number of "evil children" books out there, or "women in jeopardy" titles, or any other glut themes in any given genre? How many of you see themes constantly repeated in the zines? Fanfic reflects pro publishing far more closely than the pros care to admit! This doesn't mean that there aren't good pro books out there; just like zines, you tend to find the best stuff, if you look hard enough.

[snipped]

If you've sold anything it means you're a pro, so one day when you get that magic phone call from an editor on your novel and she asks, "have you been published before (paid for it, that is) you can say YES with a clear conscience. Every piece that sells is one more credit to add to your writing resume.

[snipped]

I do have to disagree that is less work writing in someone else's universe in that you do have to follow the rules laid down in that universe. (Though fan writers are notorious for ignoring rules when they choose!) I'm a Canonical-type writer and see it as much more of a challenge doing fanfic because of that principal.

Consequently, my fan stories have me tearing my hair far more than anything else. For my own fiction, the rules are a LOT more plastic and can be added to or discard as needed. (Which means I still tear my hair, but for a different reason.)

[snipped]

Consider your compliments to the Klute to be passed on. And THANK YOU for making me the exception in wanting to read my Blakeless PGP series in Avon: On:Line]. And Mark sends a big thank you for being included in notable exceptions to standard crossover stories. We both worked very hard to make sure VORTEX did have solid plot going for it. Having read previous crossovers consisting of "let's lock the characters in a closet and listen to the cute dialogue," we were well aware that we had to do more. Incidentally, Mark discovered that he had a very good feel for Blake's character, while I'm one with the handle on |ol' Studs 'n' Snarl. I need hardly say that we have an -- er -- interesting marriage -- though I assume everyone that we do NOT settle disagreements at blaster point!

[P.N. Elrod]: I've covered this elsewhere (including letters to 6 adzines) but thought I should mention it again. It's come to my attention that there may be a rumor going around fandom that I will "turn in" anyone taking a literary character and writing a zine story with them. For example: a KTD story or Elric of Melnibone turning up in a Trekzine. (The mind boggles).

For the record, it ain't my job to blow whistles. I've always registered my protest against this simply by not buying the zine and don't plan to change. I will, however, defend my own copyrighted work and will cheerfully rip the lungs out of anyone using any of MY characters in a fan story.

Whatever is left gets tossed to the tender mercies of the Berkley Publishing Groups lawyers. This sounds harsh, considering that such fan stories are usually written out of admiration for an author's work. For instance, I dearly love Lois Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan, but would never presume to drop him into any of my fanfic. Only Lois can write the way he should be written; the same goes for anyone else's original work.

Granted, it is crazy, but there IS a difference between a literary character and a media one. Mostly it's because media giants know that zines are too small to bother going after, but underpaid writers (like me) can't afford to be that generous. Some may welcome fan participation in their universe, like Bradley and Wendy Pini, but I'm not one of 'em.
I used to like DW a lot, but the show itself let me down when eh 6th Doctor came along, and even the charm of the 7th couldn't salvage a series of lame scripts. The fun was gone. It probably isn't fair to compare any other series with B7, because nothing is quite like B7 in any but superficial ways, but it is reasonable to declare that one program is more rewarding than another. It's interesting how the darker DW became, the more unpleasant it as to watch. That shows what happened when a program betrays its premise -- which is why 3rd year B7 fails.

Okay, one more time. This is B7 the television series, this is B7 the fanfic. Distinct and separate. Got it? [snipped] Are there a lot of fans that don't get that, that alM/u> fanfic is exploring an alternate universe? A lot of canonical-based fanfic <u>could have occurred, but however convincing and sensible ti might be, it remains apocryphal.

However, B7 fans does not have to lose credibility because it takes a route that avoids Gauda Prime. The idea that serious B7 must be unrelentingly dark and grim and hopeless is one I object to strongly. She for the idea that Blake couldn't win... shouldn't win; there's no point in fighting the Feds because nothing's going to change. The B7 universe is painted in basic black. and anyone who tries for a "happy ending" is waiting everyone's time and showing themselves to be an unsophisticated, naive dweeb. I haven't played by those rules yet, and don't intend to start now. Because that isn't reality: in the real world the tyrants are toppled and the good goes win. Not always, not forever, but often enough and for long enough to keep hope alive. I should get that on a button for myself: UNSOPHISTICATED NAIVE SWEEN -- AND PROUD OF IT!
What is a reasonable amount of time to let a zine ed hang on to something? As I write this, one zine ed has had half a dozen or so piece of mine on file for upwards of three years. If a zine ed fails to produce a zine as promised, are tribbers within their rights to yank their material and submit it elsewhere? And are zine eds within their rights to do whatever they please when a zine does come out? For example, it's customary, but is it required that they provide tribbers with a copy of the zine work appears in -- are they required to fill all pre-existing orders before selling any issues at a con? Is it acceptable for a zine ed to sell all existing copies of a zine at a con, leaving non-attending tribbers and everyone who bought it by mail high and dry? If someone makes a deposit on a zine, shouldn't that be a guarantee of receiving a copy as soon as the zine becomes available (and assuming they pay in full when notified?)
ST was my first fandom, and I'm grateful to it in some ways, but at the same time it wasn't that hard to leave it behind. I never felt welcome, like anyone was interested in what, if anything, I had to contribute. My impression was that all anybody wanted was my money, and it was pretty much the same in DW. Which is one of the reasons why I've always been glad that there wasn't much in the way of B7 merchandise. For all that's gone on in this fandom, it remains the most accessible of any I've come across.
I hate writing crossovers of the same reason you hate reading them; having to explain how it happened. The few times I've done it, I've kept the explanations to a minimum, pretty much: Hey, it's magic, all right?

Whether or how we as fans choose to use the information/remarks the actors have offered is, of course, up to us. [snipped] Which leads me to one serious point. I've heard a lot of fans over the years (and not just in B7 fandom by any means) say, "Once the show is on the air, we can do whatever we want with the characters because they belong to us now." Yes, and no.

Yes, fans can will do as they please, argue and discuss and debate and write a zillion stories. And no, the characters do not belong to them. Illya Kuryakin belongs to David McCallum, as Spock does to Leonard Nimoy, and Servalan to Jacqueline Pierce, and as Sherlock Holmes does not belong to Jeremy Brett. Holmes began as a character in written stories, his features derived from the descriptions of Conan Doyle. So in the public imagination any actor who fits that description reasonably well can play Holmes -- William Gillette the first, Jeremy Brett is the latest.

However, in the case of original TV and movie characters, the public imagination is given one image, the image of the actor who creates the role. And the original characters below -- and always will -- to those people who first brought them to life, gave them their features and voice, gave them gestures and movements and expressions, who wore the costumes and spoke the lines and breathed for them, and made them real for us.
The derivation of the term "slash" from the Kirk/Spock virgule is pure fannish-slang convenience, really, and bears no relation to symbolic logic. (Little of fandom bears much relation to logic!) In this usage, the virgule somehow replaced the ampersand (&), which would be the more appropriate symbol, and did indeed come to imply a union rather than "either/or." The virgule thus lost its "virginity" through sheer carelessness. But fandom never apologizes for such inaccuracies: not the origin of the term "filk" -- a typo of "folk." We tend to capitalize on our mistakes, indeed!

I've recently acquired a book which I heartily recommend: Textual Poachers by Henry Jenkins. It's a study of media fandom, and it's rational and interesting. Jenkins steers a realistic middle course between the get-a-life stereotype and the rose-colored view that fandom is an extended ideal family. He got a lot of input from fans and he treats us like people who are engaged in activities which interest him, rather than as case studies in maladjustment.

Unlike some other writers about fandom, Jenkins understands that fans have a deep sense of irony and are quite capable of semiotic double-entry book-keeping. A fan who expends time and ingenuity in rationalizing a continuity glitch still knows perfectly well it is a continuity glitch. If the author of Bimbos of the Death Sun had grasped that, she might have still written a funny book but the laughs wouldn't have been as easy.

The Last Issue

Jean Graham took on the project of issuing the last issue of the letterzine (which had an original submission deadline of March 15, 1993).

It is unknown if this last issue was ever printed and dispersed.

In February 1994, Pat Elrod wrote:
I got a letter from Jean Graham concerning the late, lamented Neutral Arbiter letterzine. The gist is that Peacock Press has volunteered to publish NA's final issue as a special issue of Revel Times. They are trying to contact everyone who wrote in to obtain their disks or hardcopy. [Five fan names redacted], perhaps they or their friends will notice this in the newsletter and help get things moving along. [10]
In May 1994, posted the following flyer to Lysator:
For those who've asked, NEUTRAL ARBITER was a letterzine the editor of which 'gafiated' before finishing the final promised issue. I'm trying to reconstruct that last issue, and have obtained letters so far from about 75% of them. We should be able to print what we have by mid-June or so. (Sorry it'll miss Media West, but I didn't quite make it.) You can't subscribe, exactly, since this is the only one, but you can buy a copy if you want to read it. Printing and postage will run $2.00 inside the US and $3.00 anywhere else...

Other Letterzines/Apas With Much Blake's 7 Content

Also see: List of Letterzines.

Reference

  1. While Elrod wrote for-profit books with Blake's 7 avatars, and published a Blake's 7 zine series, she later came out as publicly against fan fiction of her own works, a fall-out that was based on the pandemonium created with the Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy in 1992. See Elrod's 1992 Views on Fanworks.
  2. And in the case of Blake's 7 fandom, a huge feud fractures the fandom and drives people away.
  3. "Spirits from the Vastly Deep" in Whomsoever Holds This Sword?
  4. Ann Wortham is addressing Leigh Moto'oka here.
  5. this comment is by one of the very rare male tribbers to this letterzine
  6. Elrod was one of several pro authors who either brought the hammer down on or clarified their views on fanworks based on her books around the end of 1992. This was due to The Marion Zimmer Bradley Fanfiction Controversy. Some other authors who joined Elrod in 1992: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey. See the September 1992 Open Letter to FYI from Author P.N. Elrod.
  7. Well, the editor warned fans in the previous issue of this letterzine not to make personal attacks on zines that could be readily identified; apparently, this slash zine was open game and doesn't warrant this protection. :-(
  8. I'm not doing the novel I thought I would. My agent got a work-for-hire job for me from TSR. They have a gaming world called Ravenloft and want an autobiography of their resident vampire, Count Strahd; I was the 1st name on their List of People to Ask. It should be interesting work to find out what made a good guy like Strahd go bad. It's a commissioned novel, but I view it as being the same as any commissioned art; it may be someone else's idea, but I shan't stint on the execution. Besides, every book is a learning experience!" -- comments in The Neutral Arbiter #7 (January 1993)
  9. This zine was never published, which means the story "Beauty," which was supposed to be in it, was never seen by fans.
  10. from Tarriel Cell V.7 N.3