THE BEST OF XERO
Edited by Pat & Dick Lupoff
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
When I picked up my copy of The Best of Xero at the local bookstore (via special order), the bookseller looked at the cover and commented, "James Blish, Avram Davidson, Harlan Ellison, Frederik Pohl...this is going to have some good reading in it." While I'm sure he was under the impression that the book contained fiction by these authors, he was right about The Best of Xero containing good reading.
Xero was an Hugo Award-winning fanzine published for 10 issues from 1960-1963 by future SF author Richard Lupoff and his wife, Pat Lupoff. As Lupoff explains in the introduction, they had planned for Xero to have a relatively small circulation, but it quickly became a very popular fanzine, both for readers and for its letter column. The Best of Xero collects articles and letters from the entire run of the fanzine.
Because Jacob Weisman, the Lupoffs' editor at Tachyon, was able to be selective in the articles and letters he chose, he was able to build narrative arches, which surely existed in the original run of the fanzine, but perhaps not quite as obviously. Following Harlan Ellison's review of the film "Psycho," the editors have run several letters which refer to it, and only by chance refer to other articles which ran alongside Ellison's review. Later, he's selected to publish a screed by Donald E. Westlake, followed by responses in both article and letter form which spanned multiple issues of the 'zine.
One of Xero's strengths was its reporting on comic books, and one of the strongest articles in The Best of Xero isRoy Thomas's history of Fawcett Comics, "Captain Billy's Whiz Bang." Focusing not only on the character of Captain Marvel and his companions, Thomas looks at the entire stable of Fawcett's superheroes, many of whom will be just names to today's readers. Nevertheless, Thomas provides enough information that heroes like Bulletman, Captain Midnight, and Spy Smasher all come to life. It is only too bad that the article is not accompanied by depictions of the heroes.
Just as fanzines frequently have heavy illustration, The Best of Xero also includes many drawings from the fan artists of the early sixties. Often they seem to be the artwork which illustrated the original article, but the Lupoffs have also elected to include some of the cover art from the various issues of Xero.
Alongside each illustration or article, there is a sidebar which provides biographical information about the contributing artist or author. This biography is as up-to-date as the Lupoffs were able to make it, although in some cases, such as Charles M. Collins, they acknowledge that they have long lost contact with the author. In other cases, such as the author of the introduction and several poems throughout, Roger Ebert, the author is well known to both the fannish and non-fannish world.
If there is one minor quibble with The Best of Xero, it is that the Lupoffs did not specifically indicate which issues of Xero a particular article or letter came from, although it can reasonably be assumed that they are reprinted in the order originally published and the letter columns included indicate breaks between issues. Nevertheless a more specific reference would have been nice.
In his introduction, Roger Ebert wonders "Are there still analog (paper) publications called fanzines?" There are and, as luck would have it, I was putting the finishing touches on mine, Argentus, when I picked up The Best of Xero. Many of these paper fanzines, including mine, are available in electronic format as well, at Bill Burns's excellent site efanzines. For those whose appetites are whetted by The Best of Xero, efanzines is an excellent place to start looking for more fannish writings.
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