Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.6 The Origins of Interzone

Interzone: “a New Worlds for the 1980s”

The origins of Interzone, one of the UK’s longest-running and best-respected science fiction periodicals, can be traced to Leeds in the 1970s, where several of its founders lived, worked and/or studied. One group of enthusiasts, effectively the Leeds SF Group, met at the Victoria pub in Great George Street on Friday nights, while the Leeds University Union Science Fiction Society (LUUSFS) had been formed in the early 1970s by a group of students, among the most active of whom were John Harvey and Eve Simmons (they later married). John and Eve were also the founding editors of the Society’s fanzine Black Hole. Although ostensibly separate, there was some cross-over of membership between the two. 

Copies of the first issue of Black Hole, March 1974, from Leeds University Library's Special Collections; 'News from Leeds' contains mention of David Masson, Professor Cyril Oakley and Michael Rosenblum, all subjects of previous Futures Past features.

By early 1978, the Leeds SF Group agreed to bid to host the next annual British Easter science fiction convention, or Eastercon, at the Leeds Dragonara Hotel (later the Hilton); the bid was presented at that year’s convention, and won. Having successfully organised this national event in 1979 – known as Yorcon – they also were awarded the 1981 version. As this exceeded expectations, after much debate, they decided to launch a SF magazine with the proceeds of the second convention, Yorcon II. At around the same time that the Leeds group (David Pringle, Alan Dorey, Simon Ounsley, and Graham James) came to this decision, members of a London-based equivalent had independently come up with their own proposal for launching a new science fiction periodical. The four based in Leeds had some discussions with those in London (Malcolm Edwards, John Clute, Colin Greenland, and Roz Kaveney), resulting in the pooling of their resources into a single collective of eight people, all with an equal editorial voice.

The founding group, admirers of the long-running SF magazine New Worlds, chose to take their title from William Burroughs’ (fictional) location for Naked Lunch, and in 1982 Interzone was launched as a quarterly science fiction magazine. It remains a highly-respected cornerstone of British sf, with an illustrious list of published authors including Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, Iain M. Banks, Thomas M. Disch, Greg Egan, Harlan Ellison, William Gibson, M. John Harrison, Gwyneth Jones, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Moorcock, Kim Newman, Rachel Pollack, and Bruce Sterling.

With thanks to Paul Annis for providing an invaluable wealth of background information on the Leeds science fiction scene in the 1970s and early 1980s, which forms the basis of this post.

Alan Dorey has also written a far more comprehensive feature on his own involvement with the Leeds group.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Subversive Urbanism

I came across this blog at a film showing of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker. Or rather, I came across the blog's author, Phil Wood. Funnily enough, I'd seen him give a presentation more than a year before at a Leeds Psychogeographers event, otherwise known as urban walking. The title of his Tumblr site, Subversive Urbanism, reflects his interest in this field, and surveys some of the lesser known architectural sites across Europe, Asia, Latin America; as he notes in the introduction, 'most of us actually live in places that you’ve probably never heard of'. The images Phil posts are striking, often haunting and utterly science-fictional, particularly those from former Soviet countries. This example (see below) is a Yugoslav war memorial, an enigmatic concrete structure, upturned to the sky like an alien bloom or an extraterrestrial transmitter.

Stone Flower, a monument to the victims of Jasenovac
Little wonder, then, that I should see him at a Tarkovsky film. Stalker itself is a meditation on inner and outer space, with most of the action taking place in the mysterious Zone, a site fabled to have the power to grant peoples' deepest desires. Phil has visited many of the places where films like this were shot; let's hope his travels through urban space will continue to generate memorable images and insights into architectural and urban endeavours all over the world.