Ansible is a free UK-based monthly Science Fiction and Fantasy newsletter that is read by fans and professionals alike. It focuses on the printed side of SF and F, though not always exclusively. Since its inception in 1979 it has won five Hugo Awards for Best Fanzine1. The editor of Ansible, David Langford, has himself won 17 Hugos up to now, in the Best Fan Writer category.
What's in a Name?
The name of Ansible originally came from the book Rocannon's World by Ursula Le Guin, published in 1966. She used the word as the name of an instantaneous communication device that would allow contact over vast interstellar distances. She continued to use it in several books, after which the word was unceremoniously stolen by, among others, Orson Scott Card, Vernor Vinge and Elizabeth Moon for much the same usage. Due to these various appearances, the word has become a standard science fiction term for any (fictional) faster-than-light communicator. In 1979, when David Langford was setting up his new newsletter, he pinched the word as well. Author Christopher Priest has commented that it appears to be an anagram of 'lesbian', though this is probably unhelpful.
A History in Parts
Ansible began life in August 1979 and was first seen at the world SF convention, which that year was named Seacon '79 and was held in Brighton. It was first published in a multi-page format, and was not quite monthly. The first run continued for fifty issues, and the last was published for Conspiracy, which was the next world SF convention held in Britain, in August 1987. It was here that Ansible won its first Hugo award.
At one point during that convention, David Langford got very, very drunk and made some disparaging remarks about L. Ron Hubbard. He was overheard by some scientologists, who were quite unhappy about Mr Langford's comments concerning their founder, and voiced their opinions with some gusto, threatening legal action. Langford therefore considered it wise to lie low for a while, and to stop working on Ansible. Especially as the next issue would, if it was to retain any sense of journalistic integrity, have to mention his spat with the scientologists, and could, in doing so, get him into even more trouble.
Langford suspended publication of Ansible for four years, resuming in 1991 with issue fifty-one. The incident in 1987 could therefore be conveniently ignored, or at the very least, blatantly brushed under the carpet. Since then he has ensured that the monthly publication can fit on a single sheet of A4 paper, though it can also be delivered by email, with a copy also published on the Internet. To receive a printed copy, all that Mr Langford requests is a stash of stamped, addressed envelopes. The Hero Distributors in America and Australia will also send printed copies after receiving SAEs.
Much of the newsletter is taken up in general gossip from the SF/F world. If you want to read bizarre letters from fans to authors, hear about how Michael Moorcock is recovering from an ingrowing toenail, or keep updated on the progress of Harlan Ellison's latest legal case, then you will find it here. Also included are details of shortlists and, later on, the recipients of various awards, as well as information on some upcoming SF conventions.
Other regular sections in Ansible include:
Did you ever read a book, and one line just jumped out at you as being a terribly bad or sloppy bit of writing? That's the kind of writing the Thog, the rather thick barbarian hero in John Grant's Lone Wolf series, probably likes. So much so, that Langford feels the need to collect these pieces of deathless prose, and present them for the amusement of others.
As Others See Us
Science Fiction does not, as a rule, get a good press from mainstream critics and writers. Each month there is usually some quote that declares the hideousness of SF. And that quote tends to be based on the critics idea of what SF is, because they would never lower themselves to the extent of actually reading any to find to what its really like. Oh, no. This section contains the bits of random SF-bashing that have occurred during the previous month.
There are always some. Sad, but true. Langford usually gives the essential facts along with some notes on the SF credentials of the deceased, though occasionally there are some obituaries from other writers.
Quite understandably, this is a little bit at the end. It contains the copyright information, thanks to several people, and odd tidbits of information that don't quite seem to fit anywhere. There is nothing more after this.
Read Ansible for yourself.
Visit Dave Langford's site.