The Madison Science Fiction Group

Fossil’s View

The Madison Science Fiction Group, known in various incarnations as Madstf, SF3, and “the group,” has met every Wednesday night since its first meeting at the Madison Book Co-op in the fall of 1974. Founded by Hank and Lesleigh Luttrell, Janice Bogstad, Phil Kaveny, and Thomas Murn, its membership has grown to about 100 people, and into a group that’s hard to define.

The state of Wisconsin thinks it’s simple. According to the state (and the IRS), we are the “Society for the Furtherance and Study of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Inc.” – SF3 for short – an official non-profit educational corporation. Some members do indeed pay dues to SF3, the corporate umbrella which facilitates the group’s convention (WisCon), publications, and various activities, but dues are not required for any activity other than voting at the annual SF3 meeting. On the other hand, the University of Wisconsin counts the Madison Science Fiction Group among the other official University clubs, and allows us to reserve space in Union South for concom meetings and special events. In the 70s, many of the group’s members attended the UW; but nowadays, it’s not that easy to find those required student signatures for our University Club Status Renewal Form. Some people define us according to our politics, and indeed, many of us are active feminists, but contrary to rumor, men are allowed to join and no test of political correctness is required. Most members attend WisCon, but declining numbers work on the convention committee. A few active SF3-ers no longer even live in Madison, though almost all members read science fiction. Some members seek connections to the international fannish community while others have time only for the local network of friendships it provides. Some members consider themselves fans, while others bristle at the label when it is applied to them.

I would be hard-pressed to characterize the Madison SF Group with a one-sentence description. Few labels can be universally applied in our group; few traditions survive indefinitely, which may provide some explanation for the group’s longevity. The group’s resources have generally been adapted to whatever its members were interested in at the time. At the start, we were interested in publishing. In fact, it was the announcement of the imminent publication of an SF magazine that drew me to one of the group’s Wednesday night meetings at the Book Coop. I remember saying, “I’ll help.”

Five issues of Janus were published on Hank and Lesleigh Luttrell’s mimeograph machine in the back room of their flat on West Mifflin Street before we switched to offset printing. Edited by Janice Bogstad and myself, the zine exploded onto the fannish scene with a quarterly publication schedule and a provocative feminist perspective shared only by the short-lived, Canadian fanzine, The Witch and the Chameleon. Janus was the group’s “only child” in those days and it was lovingly and obsessively groomed. Thomas Murn wrote long articles on popular culture, John Bartelt contributed short stories, Jan wrote very serious articles from a Marxist literary perspective, I began to experiment with a humorous style, and everyone wrote book reviews. Typing and proofreading chores were shared among all of us (including Mike Weidemann, Perri Corrick, and Doug Price), though I was fired from that task abruptly when it was discovered that I could spell a word in five different ways on the same page. Feminist SF was flourishing and we enthusiastically joined the conversation. Letters of comment flowed in, surprising the editors who hadn’t understood they were joining a vast letter-writing community when they began publishing their magazine, but soon the group began attending conventions and trading fanzines.

Except for Hank and Lesleigh, no one in the group had ever attended a convention before the 1976 Minicon, but it was our second con, the 1976 worldcon in Kansas City – MidAmericCon, MAC, or Big Mac – which imprinted our minds with the most fateful ideas. The reason the first (1977) WisCon, which was, after all, only a small convention with barely two hundred members, boasted four tracks of programming was because Big Mac’s programming had been scheduled in multiple tracks. That’s how conventions worked, we assumed. Big Mac’s masquerade featured a strip tease performance and quite a few fans shared their anger and feelings about it at the serious, feminist panel which Susan Wood had set up in spite of the concom’s opposition. This landmark panel overflowed into an extended discussion/party/consciousness-raising session. A Women’s Apa got its start in that room and both Jan and I joined. Afterward, we interviewed Suzy McKee Charnas and Jennifer Bankier and printed the transcript in Janus. And we resolved to produce panels for WisCon like that great feminist panel at Big Mac.

1976 was a significant year all around for the group. Many of us began attending conventions and meeting some of the people who had been writing Janus letters of comment. Also, the Wednesday night meeting moved away from its traditional bookstore site later that year. We had begun meeting in the Wisconsin Student Association (WSA) Book Coop, but when the store went out of business, our refugee group adopted Nick’s Restaurant, and that move subtly changed the group’s social interaction. We still laughed about (and took secret pride in) our group’s capacity to turn any party into a meeting, but things loosened up. There was less talking about science fiction and more socializing. There was less note-taking and more eating and drinking. There was more flirting and many members began striking up casual and permanent liaisons with one another.

That trend toward greater socializing didn’t actually begin with the move to Nick’s; the move just intensified the changes. The friendships had already begun to flourish in the bookshelves among this small group of people who committed every Wednesday night to conversations, and a publishing project that gobbled up more and more of their free time. In fact, Jan and I worried that the Wednesday night meetings were straying dangerously far from serious discussion of science fiction, and as an antidote we organized the monthly programs at Union South. The programs were elaborately planned, and the members responsible – Jan, Phil, Hank, Lesleigh, Rick White, John Bartelt, Perri Corrick, Richard West, Randy Everts, myself, or a special invited guest – often researched their topics as if they were writing a term paper. I spent hours each month drawing illustrations for the posters which were printed and tacked up onto University kiosks. Of course, this attracted more new people. Pat Sommers, Greg Rihn, Kim Nash, and Steven V. Johnson began showing up on Wednesday nights. John Bartelt, Greg Rihn, Doug Price, and Rick White rented a flat together on Gorham Street the next year, creating Madison’s first slan shack.

Janus’s expenses in 1974 and 1975 were largely paid out of our pockets. Everyone chipped in when it became clear that our fannish publication would never produce a profit. The University of Wisconsin provided assistance: The UW-Extension, through the kind offices of Professor George Hartung, paid for the travel expenses of WisCon’s first Guest of Honor, Katherine MacLean. The Wisconsin Student Association (WSA) awarded Janus several grants, and provided us with electro-stencils and use of their bulk mailing permit. But we considered ourselves fairly poor – individually and also as a group – and so tended to resist grandiose schemes. At least we did until Dick Russell and Diane Martin showed up at one of our monthly programs. It was, I think, a meeting intended to drum up interest in the up-coming first WisCon. In fact, it was the first Concom meeting ever held at Union South.

Diane and Dick joined the group in 1975. Dick immediately advised us to organize ourselves as a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation in order to reap the benefits of a cheap bulk mailing permit and avoid the hazards of financial liability, and went to work writing our bylaws, which were officially filed in the fall of 1976. Perri Corrick was elected “President for Life,” though her term didn’t last quite that long. Dick and Diane also convinced us (and contributed financially) to print Janus on an offset press, and the new, improved Janus appeared in December 1976, with number 6. Diane and Dick were an amazing, stunning whirlwind of proposals, assistance, humor and energy, who changed the group’s activities and social map profoundly.

It’s hard to believe now that the name SF3 simply appeared within the mass of paperwork that Dick presented to us as the SF3 bylaws, that we collected no nominations of possible names, that there was no voting. But the hot issue of the day did not concern our name; rather, we debated whether or not Dick was an evil force attempting to take over the group. In comparison, the name of this proposed corporate front group seemed like a very insignificant matter. (Most of us never expected to actually use the name outside of the silly annual meeting required by law.) Some of us worried instead that Dick’s plans would change the group into one of his preference. It was hard to believe at first, that Dick was as unselfishly generous as he appeared. Did he have a hidden agenda? Eventually, however, those who distrusted this corporate transition were convinced to give Dick a chance and eventually adopted him as our “pet bureaucrat.” Dick proved to be a tireless proofreader of Janus, and both Diane and Dick introduced to the group a technology of monolithic importance (as in 2001: A Space Odyssey): the IBM Selectric. Diane volunteered to help us organize our finances and worked as the group’s treasurer for more than a dozen years. Jan gratefully handed over the shoebox. As a result, Janus commenced a period of high-quality production and by the second WisCon, the group’s finances and legal standing had improved immensely.

Once the structure had been built – once we became an institution – we experienced an avalanche of changes and achievements.

I learned the basics of graphics and layout from my work on Janus. Offset printing allowed me to create and procure a larger range of artwork and our zine’s graphic style improved from one issue to the next. Many fans and some pros began writing and illustrating for the zine and in the years that followed, Janus attracted several Fan awards and three Hugo nominations. My work on Janus and other zines eventually led to a professional book illustration job and later helped me secure a position as a professional graphic artist with the state of Wisconsin, where I work today.

By the spring of 1977, Jim Cox, Phil Kaveny, Hank and Lesleigh Luttrell were working at the local listener-sponsored radio station, WORT, on the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hour. Jim Cox was hosting the Madison Review of Books and had begun a separate organization of the same name with Lesleigh Luttrell, Phil Kaveny, Terri Gregory, and John Ohliger. For a couple years, Jim operated an office on University Avenue and packed the shelves with review books. Jim encouraged us to pick up a book at the MRB office, review it in the MRB newsletter or on the radio show – and keep the book. It was a dream come true for some poor student-type members.

By 1977, the “Book of the Month Circle” sprouted from a discussion section of one of Professor Fanny Le Moine’s Comparative Literature SF classes and was annexed, after a couple years, by SF3. (Le Moine taught the first science fiction class at UW-Madison in 1972.) The Circle met every month at people’s homes. Richard West’s Tolkien Society met every month, too, and attracted some members of our group, though the overlap was small. A group of rabid D&D players – including Bill Hoffman, Carl Marrs, Julia Richards, Greg Rihn, Lucy Nuti, Joanna Meyer-Mitchell and Emerson Mitchel – was meeting weekly by the end of 1977, utilizing the fictional world created by Emerson. Eventually almost all of these players invented worlds of their own based on the Emersonian model. In 1978, Phil Kaveny delivered the occasional lecture at a west side Madison high school and attracted another wave of new members – among them, Andy Hooper, Lynne Ann Morse, and Nevenah Smith. This youth wave touched off a minor controversy concerning the ethics of meeting in a bar with underage persons, and exposed a few ageist biases among the other members who were mostly in their 20s and 30s. In 1985, Dick Russell toured many public libraries in and near Dane County promoting D&D for the Summer Reading Library Program. Social relationships grew more tangled. At times, it seemed we lived in one another’s pockets – attending the new releases of the first SF blockbuster films en masse, partying together, painting a mural in Diane and Dick’s basement, and going to all those meetings. By 1979 the same people who had been presenting shows on WORT radio, created parallel shows on Public Access TV-Cable Channel 4. Dick Russell directed “The D&D Game of the Month,” live the last Saturday of each month. Subtitled “The Longest Program on TV,” it corralled players and artists from the group as talent, and trained interested members in the skills of production and video technology. The number of the group’s activities became more and more complex and I quickly lost track around this point as to who was doing what with whom. At the same time, our contacts with fandom at large continued to increase.

Janus was not the only fanzine being published by Madison fandom. Hank and Lesleigh Luttrell, who had been well-known, Hugo-nominated fanzine editors before they moved to Madison from Columbus, MO, still published Starling. Perri Corrick’s zine Corr, Richard West’s Orcrist and John Bartelt’s Digressions were listed under the SF3 umbrella in our ads. We ran WisCon room parties at XCon, MiniCon, ArcCon, Confusion, WindyCon, ICon and many worldcons. As a result of all this publishing activity and convention traveling, many of us were developing strong friendships among other fan groups, especially in Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York. We exported cat-wrapping and my own “Dead Cats through History” slide show to conventions all across the country – demonstrating that Madison fandom was not all sercon, but our serious reputation persisted and the diverse feminist programming we pioneered at WisCon and published in Janus/Aurora continued to represent our image for most fans outside Madison.

WisCon’s concom, which at the start overlapped almost entirely with the Janus editorial staff, began to take more and more time from members of the group. Issues of Janus were merged with the program books of WisCon 1 and 2 (1977 and 1978). But by WisCon 3, Janus went into a hiatus during the planning period of WisCon, “making up for it” with a special double issue (No. 12/13) that year. But Janus never again achieved its quarterly goal, and between 1979 and 1982 Janus/Aurora became a bi-annual publication. The group’s primary focus had shifted away from the publication of its fanzine to the care and nurturing of its convention. By 1983, Janus could no longer meet even a bi-annual schedule. 1983 saw the publication of only one issue, number 23. Number 24 was published in 1985, number 25 in 1987, and the last issue came out in 1990.

Janus became Aurora in 1979 because its two editors could no longer work with one another. After an especially stressful year, Jan Bogstad and I decided to stop co-editing a fanzine together. Our styles clashed and personal disagreements between the two of us were making everyone uncomfortable. The whole group met in Hank Luttrell’s bookstore, 20th Century Books, and Jan and I formally presented our disagreements as we saw them. It was decided at that meeting that Jan and I would no longer co-edit a fanzine named Janus, and that furthermore, neither of us would individually publish a zine of that name. Eventually Jan began publishing her own zine, New Moon, and I joined the former Janus production staff and we started work on the new fanzine, Aurora, though we continued the issue numbering system from the defunct Janus.

WisCon, in the meantime, flourished. Having achieved early notoriety with its feminist, political and radical programming, and having been dubbed “PevertCon” by disapproving fans – WisCon settled into its niche: as a small, serious, intense convention. GoHs were mostly chosen from the ranks of young, new, female SF authors, many of whom went on to win Hugos during that brief period in the late 70s and early 80s when feminism was actually fashionable: Vonda N. McIntyre, Susan Wood, Suzy McKee Charnas, John Varley, Octavia Butler, Joan D. Vinge, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Samuel Delany, Marta Randall, Lee Killough, Elizabeth Lynn, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Suzette Haden Elgin (WisCon’s unofficial Fairy Godmother), and Lisa Tuttle. WisCon developed a loyal group of attendees, some of whom went to no other cons except WisCon, and others – fans and pros – who traveled a surprising distance for such a small con.

The first five WisCons were housed on campus (programming at the Wisconsin Center, sleeping rooms at Lowell Hall and the Madison Inn), but soon our burgeoning numbers and complaints from attendees, who for some reason disliked hiking two blocks through blizzard conditions, convinced us to move downtown to the Capitol Square for WisCon 6 in 1982. Much of the group’s energy focused upon WisCon planning. Even the monthly meetings at Union South were reorganized for a while to function as practice sessions for WisCon programming. Recruitment drives were aimed primarily at attracting new fans who could be convinced to work on the concom. The group entered a period of time in the mid-80s when our bureaucratic machinery gained power and momentum.

I drew away from many of the group’s activities in the mid-80s. Aurora had lost its excitement for me since my job allowed me to do lots of interesting graphics. The Aurora publishing sub-group seemed to have been sucked dry of most of its energy, which I suppose was not surprising since its two most active members, Diane Martin and myself had found fulfilling careers. Dick Russell had moved along into other obsessions – D&D, TV production, union organizing and junk mail management. Georgie Schnobrich, who had been helping me lay out Aurora, left town. Also, there seemed to be a larger force at work: most of the group’s fannish energy was being focused on WisCon. But as WisCon got bigger, some of us discovered that we had developed a profound distaste for the bureaucratic machinery of concom meetings, and turned more and more of our energy toward writing, drawing, publishing and interacting with fans outside of Madison.

Part of my loss of interest stemmed from my friendship with Spike Parsons and some of the events that happened after she joined the group. Spike and I met one another in 1983, in the weight-lifting room at the YWCA, realized that we both worked for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and then discovered that we also shared an interest in SF. Spike, at the time, was reading Jessica Amanda Salmonson’s Amazons! anthology and was excited to learn that in 1984, Salmonson would be WisCon 8’s Guest of Honor. I convinced her fairly easily to attend a convention planning meeting, and after that there was no stopping her.

I think now that some members of the group reacted to Spike very much like they reacted to Dick Russell and Diane Martin’s explosive entry onto our local scene. Spike upset the status quo by not “working her way up” into the active core group, and by almost immediately suggesting changes and assuming a very active role in our activities. Spike, being Spike, wouldn’t have been capable of any other kind of behavior, but some members suspected the worst. It is the nature or our group, and probably every volunteer group like ours, that big personnel changes (who does the work) are mirrored by big changes on a purely social level (who is popular) And there are always some people in the group who resist those changes. Things got pretty ugly for a while later in 1984 when Spike headed the WisCon 9 publications committee and proposed to do things differently. She wanted to publish a pre-convention program book, which would have required the programming department to finish their work a month or more earlier than usual. Heels were dug in, egos crashed, and finally Spike left the room and the committee. Whereas the group had gained enormously by accepting change with Dick and Diane’s involvement, we lost when we appeased the anti-change contingent of the group and rejected Spike’s ideas. She didn’t disappear; she continued to work on the con and edited Cube for several years, but the social group seemed to fragment. The hostile reaction provoked the very thing that the anti-change contingent most feared: cliques and a loss of community within the group.

I walked out of that concom meeting with Spike. But unlike Spike, I never returned. I began agitating for a formal decision to kill off Aurora. Diane Martin almost single-handedly published the second-last issue (#25) in 1987, but the group continued to avoid the reality that we no longer had enough people or time to invest in Aurora, and it wasn’t until 1990 that the last issue was published and we returned subscription funds and manuscripts.

Cube, the SF3 newsletter, made its first appearance in October 1982, perhaps because the group missed the appearance of a regularly published zine. I edited it through Spetember 1985 issue number 14, and then Spike took over editor duties for 29 amazingly regular issues. Andy Hooper eventually edited numbers 45 and 46 of Cube, and after a 16 month hiatus, Steve Swartz took over its publication in May 1992, turning it briefly into a large-scale fannish genzine. Cube, still under Swartz’ editorial control, has now returned to an ensmalled newszine format.

I attended and usually had a good time at the WisCons of the late 80s, continued to organize one or two feminist panels each WisCon, and offered advice when asked, but my attention drifted away from the group. New members joined, became active on the WisCon committee, but I didn’t try to find out who they were or what they were doing. A complete history of the Madison fan group would, of necessity, be collaborative. No one member stayed active continually or was involved in all the different activities. I missed a lot.

Therefore it was a surprise to be drawn back into intense interaction within the group again in 1987 when Andy Hooper founded The Turbo-Charged Party Animal Apa. I had gradually realized that there was a whole new community of people active in the Madison SF Group and I began to get a little curious about them. I wrote to Spike, who was visiting friends in England, and told her about the new publishing development in Madison fandom. Pretty interesting, I wrote to her, and then realized that indeed I was interested. Although I was publishing my own zine, Whimsey, I had dropped out of A Women’s Apa several years before that, and I thought I could manage a monthly apazine.

What a wonderful decision that turned out to be! I’ve enjoyed getting to know these folks and now count many of them as good friends of mine. I never did return to regular concom meeting attendance, even though the Tiptree Award pulled me back for some WisCon planning in 1992 and 1993. But it’s been exciting to see the resurgence of interest in fannish publishing. Much of the credit for our renaissance must go to Andy Hooper who inspired people to write for Turbo and for the zine he co-edits with Carrie Root, Spent Brass. After immersing himself in back-issues of Pong, Andy emerged reborn, so to speak, and began to proselytize to the Madison masses, and his message was, “pub your ish!” When Andy and Carrie announced that they were going to move to fannish Seattle, we all wondered if the publishing boom would fizzle or continue to grow.

But nothing stays the same – except maybe our fears of change. A small but powerful wave of new members have joined our group in the last couple years. Ellen Franklin and Jim Hudson moved to Madison from Boston. Both of them are enormously experienced con-runners. Ellen is showing interest in publishing her ish, and both she and Jim enthusiastically joined the Corflu concom and have expressed interest in promoting a smallish Corflu-, Potlatch-, Reinconation-like con for Madison. And Steve Swartz moved to Madison with Elk Krisor from Washington, D.C. in 1991, about the same time Andy and Carrie left town, and picked up the baton Andy passed on when he and Carrie moved to Seattle. Like Dick Russell and Spike Parsons before him, Steve set off alarms for some people in the group. His editorship of Cube, his lobbying for a new mimeograph machine, encouragement of new publications, his tendency to volunteer to help everyone do anything, and the sudden affect on social interactions within the group, provoked uneasiness and distrust from some Madison fans – many of whom weren’t even around when Diane and Dick or Spike first stirred up Madison’s fannish waters. This repeating pattern of reluctance/rejection and final acceptance would be funny if it didn’t cause real injury to the new person offering this gift of energy, and cheat us all of the work they might do. But I expect that Steve, Ellen and Jim will gradually become familiar enough fixtures in Madison’s fannish firmament, and things will calm down until the next wave of immigrant fans stirs things up again.

And personally, I do enjoy it when things get stirred up! At the 1991 WisCon 15, for instance, GoH Pat Murphy stirred things up Big Time when she announced the birth of a new award to be named after James Tiptree, Jr. to honor gender-bending science fiction. Many of us felt that the convention had renewed our excitement and commitment to feminist discussion, and Murphy’s announcement electrified her audience and recruited an avalanche of volunteers. It felt to me as if this award provided a culmination of all the work, all the WisCons, all the issues of Janus and Aurora, and all the feminist panels, that the Madison Science Fiction Group has supported. Suddenly those of us who never seemed to have enough time to spare for WisCon concom or other fannish activities were falling over one another to offer our time for this project. We organized bake sales and published the first Tiptree cookbook to benefit the award, The Bakery Men Don’t See. At the first Tiptree Award ceremony at WisCon 16 (1992), we proudly presented Pat Murphy with a check for $1800 to add to the bank account made up of donations and the proceeds of dozens of convention bakes sales held all over the country for the award fund. Eleanor Arnason (Woman of the Iron People) and Gwyneth Jones (White Queen) won the first two Tiptree awards. This year, 1993, we published a second cookbook, Her Smoke Rose up from Supper, and Elk Krisor (who is not a fan) is organizing the sewing of a king-sized art quilt whose design is based on Tiptree’s novel Brightness Falls from the Air, also to benefit the Tiptree Award. Maureen McHugh accepted the Tiptree Award at WisCon 17, and the “Tiptree Machine,” as Pat Murphy calls it, rolls on.

You may already have guessed by now that I think the Khatru reprint project falls under the category of stirring things up, too.

As must be very clear by now, this so-called history of mine is neither unbiased nor complete and needs to be fleshed out with some research into the activities I didn’t witness, not to mention with some revelations about interpersonal relationships I am tactfully ignoring. But that’s for another publication and another day.

For now, the Madison SF Group welcomes you to our city.

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