February 22nd, 2014


Electric Velocipede and Sybil’s Garage

Electric Velocipede 27

Electric Velocipede 27

On Friday, February 28th I’ll be participating in the Electric Velocipede issue 27 release party / memorial service at the Bluestockings Bookstore in Manhattan at 7pm (directions and info here). As you may have heard, Electric Velocipede ends its much lauded run with this final issue. Also reading / performing there will be Richard Bowes, K. Tempest Bradford, Nancy Hightower, Robert J. Howe, Barbara Krasnoff, Sam J. Miller, Mercurio D. Riveria, William Shunn, and Jonathan Wood.

Sam J. Miller, the evening’s host, has asked me to write up a reminiscence about Electric Velocipede. This was originally set to go up on SF Signal, but it was too long to run there, and Sam did not want to cut what I wrote, since he liked it quite a bit. He suggested I post it to my blog, which I thought was a good idea. So here it is. Hope to see you all on Friday.

The year was 2003 and I was sitting in the conference room of a midtown Manhattan graphic design firm waiting for members to show up to this writers group I’d recently joined.  I was a wet-behind-the-ear late start to fiction writing, finishing my first Saturnian return and this talented little writers group was just about the best thing to happen to me since, well, forever. I had no idea it was about to get even better.

Before everyone arrived to that meeting, fellow member Kris Dikeman opened up her bag and dumped a half dozen paper objects on the table.

“Want to borrow some ‘zines?” she said.

“Zines?” I replied.

“Short for magazine.”

Right. Duh.

I hadn’t heard the term since my teens, when I’d scanned the back pages of Thrasher and practiced my ollie kickflips. Spread before us on the conference room table were an assortment of paper treasures.  They all had curious names like Say, or Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, or Electric Velocipede.

Printed on cream or white stock, many folded and stapled by hand, rich with art and words, I instantly fell in love. Was it because they were handmade? Because the ‘zines lowered the barrier between “us” and “them”, between writer and publisher? Because the notion of creating something from scratch excited me? Because I thought I might one day make my own? The answer was simply: Yes

This new generation of SF ‘zines arrived at an opportune moment, not just in my life, but in SF publishing. The so-called Big Three, Analog, Asimov’s, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, were losing readers.  A lot of up-start writers I knew felt their stories weren’t quite right for the Big Three. And self-publishing had arrived in full force. The barriers to entry had been lowered, so anyone could design a print book from start to finish on their home computer. That and the ubiquitous infrastructure for ebooks we have today didn’t exist then. These new SF ‘zines perfectly filled that niche. There was a period of about a decade when ‘zines were a sandbox of sorts, where up-and-comers honed their skills and sold their first stories.

The influx of creative energy was palpable.  So around this time, in early 2003, I began a ‘zine of my own. I used Electric Velocipede and others as my model. You may have heard of my little ‘zine, Sybil’s Garage. Seven years and seven issues later, the ‘zine received great acclaim, many of the stories and poems in its pages received honorable mentions in Year’s Best anthologies, and I’ve been nominated for a World Fantasy Award for my work there.  

I had a lot of help from friends. I still probably owe some of them my right arm. But even with their help it was still an enormous amount of work. With a full-time job and my own writing, I produced seven issues in seven years before I decided to end the ‘zine. But Mr. Klima, with a full-time job and kids, has managed to produce twenty seven issues of Electric Velocipede. The ‘zine has won a Hugo award, has been nominated for a World Fantasy Award multiple times, and has had many of the best names of SF appear in his pages. No small feat, I assure you. I know first-hand how hard running a ‘zine can be.

John told me once he laid out every issue by hand. I’m not being metaphorical here. He actually wrote the story titles on slips of paper cut to the relative story length, and rearranged them until he had the perfect order for the table of contents. It was this type of dedication that was apparent in every page.

Every issue, in other words, was a work of art.

And now EV’s run is over.  And I’m sad. Sad because an era is ending with the death of Electric Velocipede.  It’s hard to imagine history conspiring again to restore print SF ‘zines to their former glory. Ebooks are taking off now. Print magazines are slowly being replaced. Paper is passé. But I’m probably a fool. Right now there may be a young writer waiting for her friends to arrive to a writers’ critique session. And she’s thumbing through back issues of Electric Velocipede and Lady Churchill’s and Say and Sybil’s Garage, and her head is brimming with new ideas. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To paraphrase John who paraphrased another:

Electric Velocipede is dead. Long live Electric Velocipede.”












Originally published at Matthew Kressel. You can comment here or there.