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The Best of Xero
edited by Pat and Dick Lupoff
Tachyon, 257 pages

The Best of Xero
Richard A. Lupoff
Richard A. Lupoff was born in 1935. He has worked in print journalism, in information technology, as a radio show host and in book publishing. His novels include One Million Centuries (1967), Sandworld (1976), Space War Blues (1978), Circumpolar! (1984), Countersolar! (1986), Lovecraft's Book (1985), The Forever City (1988), as well as a number of mystery novels. A collection of his short fiction, Before... 12:01... and After, was published by Fedogan & Bremer in 1996. Other recent publications include Claremont Tales (Golden Gryphon, 2001) and Claremont Tales II (Golden Gryphon, 2002), and The Great American Paperback (Collectors Press, 2001).

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Philip José Farmer's The Dungeon
SF Site Review: Claremont Tales II
SF Site Review: Claremont Tales

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rich Horton

Back in 1960, Pat and Dick Lupoff started a fanzine which they called Xero. They were of course part of the SF fan community (though this was some years before Richard Lupoff began publishing SF himself (and mysteries and more)), and the 'zine certainly did feature plenty of commentary on SF. It also had a distinct slant toward commentary on comics, but also more general interest stuff. Richard A. Lupoff writes in his introduction to this book "I realize now that Xero was a review of popular culture and contemporary events." It was quite successful, eventually getting too big for comfort, and after some 10 issues the Lupoffs stopped putting it out. But it still won a Hugo for Best Fanzine in 1963 (and Pat Lupoff was the first woman to win a Hugo).

I've spent much of my bathroom time over the past week reading through The Best of Xero, a compilation (by Jacob Weisman) of excellent material from this more than 40-year-old amateur publication. (And before anyone inquires into my digestive health, I got addicted enough to finish the book in a more conventional seat.) It's wonderful stuff, still enjoyable and occasionally controversial even at this remove. I will say up front that I like fan writing, and I do lots of it myself -- I am certainly in the center of the supposed market for a book like The Best of Xero. So be it. I recommend it very highly!

The book comes with three introductions. One is by regular Xero contributor Roger Ebert, now of course much more famous as a movie critic. (I grew up reading Ebert's movie reviews in the Chicago Sun-Times, and I was later delighted to learn that he was a previous member of the Champaign-Urbana Science Fiction Association, an organization I joined on going to college.) The other two are one each by the editors, Pat and Dick Lupoff. All contain interesting reminiscences of fandom in the late 50s and early 60s. There is also a lot of art reproduced from the pages of Xero, by such notable fan artists as Steve Stiles, bhob Stewart, and Eddie Jones (whose work I liked particularly well). Unfortunately this book doesn't reproduce the colors -- a pity as one of Lupoff's articles discusses some of the tricks they played to get color effects. Another nice latter-day addition is sidebar bios of the various contributors.

The meat, however, lies in the articles and letters reproduced from the original 'zine. The book opens with a bang with a very well-done review of the movie Psycho, by Harlan Ellison. Other highlights include James Blish's review of Kingsley Amis's groundbreaking critical study of SF, New Maps of Hell; another article by Blish (writing as "Arthur Merlyn", the same pseudonym he used for the original 1942 story that led to his later classic "Surface Tension"), this one a behind-the-scenes account of writing for the TV series Captain Video; a very funny and vicious parody of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu books, by Lin Carter; and perhaps most controversially, an article by Donald Westlake, bidding farewell to SF as a career. (A choice that proved very wise, as any reader of Westlake's wonderful comic mysteries such as his books about John Dortmunder, or of his darker mysteries as by "Richard Stark", will attest.) There are loving and knowledgeable pieces about comics, by Don Thompson and Roy Thomas. There is a piece about Clark Ashton Smith by a forgotten fan named H.P. Norton -- a curious choice as it is a dreadfully written article, and almost embarrassingly hagiographic (though again knowledgeable) -- I was glad to see a later letter endorsing my opinion. But even if this one article is a lesser work, it's also sincere, and an effective way of displaying one of the flavors of fandom.

One of the most vital parts of a fanzine is the letter column. Xero's was run by Pat Lupoff, and called Epistolary Intercourse. The present book includes a generous helping of letters, and they make more tasty reading. There is of course plenty of commentary on the more controversial articles -- notably on Blish's review of New Maps of Hell (a very controversial book in SF circles at that time), and on Westlake's farewell letter. (Many writers making the sensible point that Westlake's departure from SF, which he attributed to the moribund state of the field, in both artistic and commercial terms, might better have been a result of the fact (something Westlake admitted) that he himself was a better mystery writer than he was an SF writer.) There is also a series of purely delightful sly letters from Avram Davidson (some elevated to the status of separate articles).

I have not mentioned even half the contents of this book, and it is almost all well worth your time. I have one quibble -- the articles are nearly all undated. They appear to be arranged chronologically, but a more precise dating (that is, at least dates of the succeeding issues of Xero) would have been helpful. But that is a small thing. The book as a whole is fun, intelligent, historically interesting and still relevant: much to be recommended.

Copyright © 2004 Rich Horton

Rich Horton is an eclectic reader in and out of the SF and fantasy genres. He's been reading SF since before the Golden Age (that is, since before he was 13). Born in Naperville, IL, he lives and works (as a Software Engineer for the proverbial Major Aerospace Company) in St. Louis area and is a regular contributor to Tangent. Stop by his website at

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