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Interview: Richard Geis - Science Fiction Review
Review by Ernest Lilley
Richard Geis  ISBN/ITEM#: 0707RichardGeis
Date: 15 June 2007

Links: Locus Award Page for Richard Geis / Oregonian Aritcle 3-15-05 (Taboo Opinions #42) /

Though I was an avid SF reader from the early 60s on, I came late to fandom, arriving in the late 80s. So there were things I didn't know when I started up SFRevu a decade ago. Like for instance that Dick Geis had published "Science Fiction Review" from 1955 to 1973 and had managed to pick up a number of Hugos along the way. SFRevu and Science Fiction Review aren't the same name, but from the time I first heard of Dick's zine I wanted to talk to him and apologize for any apparent attempt to cash in on his work. I thought our tenth anniversary (which was last month) would be a good time to check in, so we emailed each other back and forth a bit. Here's the result.

SFRevu: When did you start working on your first fanzine, and how did that come about? Was it Alien Critic? How old were you then (if you don't mind my asking).

Richard Geis: I started Psychotic in 1953, at age 26. I was into fandom then, and a letterhack to the prozines, mostly to Startling Stories and Thrilling Wonder Stories. It was egocentrically inevitable that I, too, would publish and edit a fanzine.

The Alien Critic came into being in 1973 for reasons I don't remember, when I was 46.

SFRevu: How did Science Fiction Review get started and how long did it run? What did you hope to accomplish with it?

Dick: I changed Psychotic to Science Fiction Review in 1955, probably for "respectability" and because I was tiring of the "fannish" ambiance of Psychotic.

SFRevu: Who worked with you on it?

Dick: It was a one-man operation in those days. I've almost always been unwilling to share editing and publishing pleasures.

SFRevu: What was the most fun you had doing it?

Dick: The most fun was writing responses, editorials, doing headings, choosing art, doing layouts, getting lots of mail from BNFs and writers, from pro editors, pro publishers, and of course money subscriptions.

SFRevu: Kurt Vonnegut died this year, so I'll never get to interview him, but you did, devoting an entire issue to him...right? What was that like?

Dick: Ummm... I don't remember an issue devoted to Vonnegut. I do recall getting a phone call from him in which he called me a cocksucker (my one claim to Vonnegutian fame) because of something Phil Farmer wrote and which I published --- but that incident is lost in the cracks of my corroded memory banks. [Yes, I am a robot.] I wrote an editorial about the phone encounter in the next issue of SFR.

SFRevu: Is there anywhere on the web people can see issues, or an index to articles? Dick: Not that I know of. Anybody out there with a complete file of TAC and SFR who wants a thankless job? I don't think anybody has a complete file. Maybe a university library in southern California. Bruce Pelz's collection was perhaps the most complete.

SFRevu: While looking things up to ask you I just found Locus' page for you, which lists: "Geis, Richard E. Winner of 13 Hugos, 2 Locus Awards, 5 Science Fiction Chronicle Reader Awards" Which I didn't know. Please shoot me now, as such ignorance does not deserve to live….but 14 Hugos? Where do you keep them?

Dick: I keep my Hugos (except for one --- the prettiest one --- the one with a dragon wrapped around it --- 1976) in a deep vault somewhere in the uncharted depths of a friend's house in Salem, Oregon. Don't ask me why.

SFRevu: Steve Sawicki, who been part of SFRevu since the start, and who you may remember actually wrote a small press column for SFR, suggested that I ask you about your predicted fall of the government in 1988.

Dick: The government did fall in 1988 as I predicted/hoped. We are now living in an alternate universe in which it didn't fall. You can't win against The Manipulators.

SFRevu: What publications besides your own did you write for? Did you review for Galaxy.

Dick: No, I didn't review for Galaxy. I had a humorous column in Galaxy in the Sixties which featured the interactions and arguments between me and my Alter Ego, a cynical, caustic alien entity who lived in my brain, collected used synapses and drove me crazy.

SFRevu: Did you write for anyone else?

Dick: A few years ago I wrote a "cutting edge" book review column for Chronicle (DNA Publications), but poor eyesight forced me to cut way back on reading, so the column died.

SFRevu: From what you've said and what I've seen, you might be considered to be occasionally caustic. It happens that I know a few other members of fandom that one might consider your contemporaries…and who's wit leaves one bleeding. They're also some of the most knowledgeable folks I know. So what I want to know is, why are you folks so cranky? Is it a reaction to having found out that the golden age of SF didn't actually herald a golden age for fandom? Or was it our misguided adventure in 'Nam...or were you just born that way?

Dick: Of course I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm the product of my genes and life's assaults on my denial of mortality. It hasn't much to do with the status of science fiction.

SFRevu: Do you have a copy of SFR#1, or do you know where I could find one? I'd like to make a PDF of it and include it with the piece. I'd be happy to send it back to you afterwards, and send the PDF on to eFanzines.

Dick: I do not have a copy of SFR #1 and know not where a copy might lie. However, there are packrat people all over the world who save all kinds of esoteric literary trivia, so if you put out a Call perhaps a Response will come.

(Dear reader...consider the call given. - Ern)

SFRevu: Catching up on what you've done since SFR, I read "Psychotic America" in Taboo SF #1. I loved it, and it's certainly held up well. You must be pretty appalled that your predictions of America's sexual squeamishness have been right on target. Is there any area of society that has moved forward? Is there any hope for the future?

Dick: No, not appalled. More like grimly satisfied.

'Forward' is a slippery direction. I think that "progress" for society has been and is a side effect of advancing technology, wealth surpluses and (in America, at least) massive increases of debt which allow us to afford pretentious delusions like 'politically correct' social imperatives such as thinking we can eliminate 'racism' by education and media peer pressure. Almost every week we read scientific reports that show us our behaviors are hormone-caused, instinctive, genetic ... But we continue to ignore all that and blindly insist bad things occur in society because of bad environment, period.

We had much better sense and were closer to reality in 1707 than now. Humanity lived closer to the grave, then.

I see the future as a jagged descent from the present Golden Age of Civilization as we use up more and more of the planet's supply of oil. Cheap energy has been the mainspring of our worldwide boom for a hundred years. Increasingly expensive energy will measure our fall from "greatness." We are entering an endless Retro Age of declining standards of living [though we will call it Progress].

I'm lucky to have lived in this short, peak era. After me, the Deluge.


Our Readers Respond

From: Todd Mason
Actually, briefly, Geis did do a straightforward book review column for Hank Stine's few issues of GALAXY, at the end of the UPD run. He'd begun doing "The Alien Critic" more-fannish column in James Baen's IF in 1974, and it moved over to GALAXY when IF was absorbed by GALAXY at the end of that year...Geis continued contributing the Alter Ego column through the Baen and J. J. Pierce years, and then Stine tried to remake the magazine to appeal to STAR WARS fans and decided, presumably, that the fannish column was Too Inside.
From Jonathan K. Stephens:
    Hi Ern,
    When I was young, ok, younger than now, anyway (a teenager in fact), I was subjected to a horrible influence which warped my life and my chances of leading a happy, normal life. This pernicious influence was called ... Alter Ego! Yes, the little SOB fled REG's brain upon the death of "SFR" and now, unhappily, is lodged tightly in my cranium from whence he emerges every now and again to force me to do hidious things - like write this note!

    Dick Geis' "The Alien Viewpoint" was always one of my favorite "Galaxy" colums, and led to my reading "SFR" without fail until it's tragic demise. However, my copies of REG's "Galaxy" colums are from the late 70's not 60's. Still, I'm glad to read something again about Dick Geis. He always struck me as amoung the sanest members of our species.

From: David B. Williams:
    Good idea for an interview. Dick is right about one thing, and it's not the Fall of Civilization as we know it. He's right that living in the fifty years after World War II (and antibiotics) is a real stroke of luck. One of the highlights, of course, was Dick's series of fanzines (semi-prozines). Dick has a very lucid but characteristic way of writing, one of the secrets of his success.

    But you really should have asked to interview Alter. He would have gloried in the attention and told you things about Dick that even he would be reluctant to reveal.

From: Ron Chernich
    Dear Ern,
    I don't have #1, but I do have an almost complete collection from reasonably early on up to The End. They are quietly turning yellow and brittle (the paper used in the early ones seems to be acid-soaked ;-)

    Would also have all the "Alien Critic" columns probably, though I doubt anyone cares any more... *sigh*

    I guess you know about his semi porno novel "One Immortal Man" that ran in SFR (who am I kidding, "semi" ?!) Then there was the self-published "Star Whores" which I now regret not getting a copy of.

    Anyway, thanks for interviewing the old bastard and re-awakening happy memories for me--must go visit The Archives and scan through some SFRs. Let me know if you'd like anything special scanned -- since permission seems to have been given. I have some experience in this having headed "techno-proofing" for the Vance Integral Edition project.
    regards,
    Ron

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