Finnish Fandom: Fanzines

Tero Ykspetäjä • November 5th, 2008 @ 5:41 pm • Uncategorized

Fan publishing has a long history in sf fandom. There are no commercial sf magazines in Finland, but here too many sf clubs publish their own zine. Some (most notably the Helsinki sf society’s Tähtivaeltaja (meaning “Star Rover” or “Stellar Wanderer”—for some strange reason my suggestion for the translation, “Star Trekker,” wasn’t received with very much enthusiasm) and the Tampere sf society’s Portti (“Gateway”) could be classified as semiprozines instead of fanzines: they are large (100 pages or more) and printed on glossy paper in color, and their print runs are in the four figure ballpark. The rest are smaller, in page count as well as in distribution, but many have their own distinct identities and therefore are of interest also outside of just the members of the club that publishes the fanzine.

Tähtivaeltaja is, in my opinion, the premier sf zine in Finland (and I’ve heard it called “The best sf zine in the world I can’t understand a word of” by many visitors from abroad). It’s devotedly and expertly edited by Toni Jerrman since the early 1980s, four issues per year, over 100 issues to date. Tähtivaeltaja is always on top of current trends in science fiction, and usually telling the rest of us about the next ones too. Its main emphasis is science fiction, but horror, comics, rock music, and other subcultures have also been strongly represented. The contents of Tähtivaeltaja are many: in-depth author interviews and articles, comics reviews, books and comics news, short stories, extensive movie reviews and articles, comics, humor pieces, and the best sf book reviews you’ll find in any zine here, all put together with uncompromising punk attitude.

Portti is the biggest (and one of the oldest, founded also in the early 1980s) of the Finnish sf zines, about 130 pages per issue, four issues per year. Its circulation is also the largest, so by numbers, that would make it the most succesful fanzine in Finland. Portti hosts an annual short story competition (with cash prizes up to 2000 euros for the winner), and the majority of the zine’s contents are short stories from the competition. It has also published a Finnish translation of the year’s Hugo-winning short story for many years. The rest of the issue is reserved for articles and book and movie reviews. Portti published an English-language special issue in 2003. It’s not available online, but can be ordered from the publisher.

Usva (“Mist”) is a newcomer in the Finnish fanzine scene, published since 2005. It differs from the rest of the pack in that it’s published on the web as PDFs instead of on paper. It’s published regularly as quarterly issues that are clearly made for printing out and reading on paper instead of on screen, so I’m counting it as equal among the fanzines here. Usva is not published by a club but by an individual editor, Anne Leinonen. This shows in Usva having a distinct personality among the Finnish zines. It publishes mainly Finnish short fiction (with just the occasional article among them), and does this really well. Anne is a good editor who works with her writers, and this shows in the finished product: the stories in Usva are usually more polished, more finished than in the rest of the Finnish zines. Anne also chooses interesting short stories that often are only marginally sf, and thus Usva explores and expands the boundaries of Finnish genre fiction. Usva has published two English Usva International issues, in 2006 and 2007. These showcase Finnish sf written by, among others, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Juha-Pekka Koskinen, Anne Leinonen, Tiina Raevaara, M.G. Soikkeli, Sari Peltoniemi, Petri Laine, and Hannu Rajaniemi. Both issues can be downloaded from the zine’s web site.

Spin is the oldest Finnish fanzine (founded in 1977), and many of the dinosaurs of Finnish fandom wrote for it in the early days. Spin is published by the Turku Science Fiction Society, and unlike Tähtivaeltaja and Portti, it has always been more a club zine than a product of a single editor. The zine has had several editors (I was one of them for a few years in the mid-1990s), and it contains club news and information sections and more reports from fandom events than most of the other fanzines in addition to the “standard” articles, interviews, short stories, and book reviews (one factor in this may well be that the Turku society has a lot of other activity too, where the Helsinki and Tampere societies nowadays mainly exist to publish their zines). Spin went through many years of serious difficulties in keeping its schedule (if I remember correctly, last year they only published one of the year’s issues), but has managed to pick up the slack this year; all of last year’s remaining issues plus three (of four) of this year’s have come out on schedule. Spin is much smaller than the big two, and more amateurish in content (but there is enthusiasm and fandom spirit in doing it), but is quite nice-looking, with color covers and a stylish layout.

Kosmoskynä (“The Cosmos Pen”) is the publication of the Finnish Science Fiction Writers Association (since the mid-1980s). It naturally concentrates on Finnish writers (with interviews and articles) and articles about writing. There’s usually a short story too, but these are not the zine’s focus. The main articles of Kosmoskynä are the yearly reviews of sf published in Finland, and the extensive reviews column that strives to review every piece of Finnish fantastic short fiction published. Kosmoskynä is currently also suffering the plight of keeping schedules: only one issue of 2008 has been published so far. Kosmoskynä’s English special from 2006 can be downloaded from the zine’s web site.

Finnzine is published by Pekka Supinen. It has the usual contents of book and movie reviews and articles, assorted news, event reporting, and short stories, sometimes also in serialized form. It’s emphasis is on the feature articles on current sf movies, plus maybe on the eclectic mix of its contents in each issue. Finnzine seems to come out in batches of two or even three issues at the same time, approximately four a year in total.

Legolas is published by the Finnish Tolkien Society. It doesn’t restrict itself to only all matters Tolkien (although any Tolkien-related news and articles are naturally prominently featured), but has an emphasis on fantasy instead of a mix of science fiction and fantasy like most of the other fanzines. Legolas has had trouble finding an editor and seems to have pretty much dropped off the radar lately. Which is a shame because the zine has produced some excellent issues, with good fiction and well-written articles, in the past.

Enhörningen (“Unicorn”) is the zine of Ben Roimola, described as “the only Swedish-language Finnish magazine of the fantastic in the world”. It has been around since 1987, but only 12 issues have come out so far. Enhörning publishes fiction and articles, with emphasis on material from Finnish Swede (the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland) writers, and also material from other Nordic countries. Enhörningen (and Ben) has played an important role in making the Finnish sf and fandom known in the other Nordic countries (and vice versa). Ben also does a valuable service to the Finnish writers by publishing Swedish translations of the Atorox (annual price for the best Finnish sf short story) winning short stories in his zine.

Other, smaller zines include Alienisti (published by the Jyväskylä sf club 42, seems to come out mainly whenever there is a Finncon held in Jyväskylä), Marvin (the Helsinki University sf club fanzine which defies reality even in its issue numbering—the issues not only come out in different years they’re supposed to, but also in a different order than stated on the cover), and Escape (an occasional fanzine by the Espoo sf club, usually has something to do with big apes).

For some reason the tradition of publishing a personal fanzine (of the simple, photocopied variety) has never really caught on in Finland. There have been a few attempts along the years (Mundane in Helsinki ran the longest; it represented unashamed tabloid journalism in fandom, often making up stories if nothing interesting was happening to report). A couple of the fanzines mentioned above are published by individuals and not clubs, but they still have more of an official image than a very personal one. At the moment the only semi-regular personal zine is my Turu Mafia Zine which I distribute to people who come to the Turku pub meetings (so far 28 issues have come out in about four years). Nowadays many people blog about sf, which makes up a little for the lack of fanzines (but isn’t the same thing of course).

The Finnish fanzine scene is—despite the occasional troubles keeping schedules—lively (some say too lively, but these persons erroneously imagine that if each club stopped doing its own zine, the resources would magically pool together to produce one great zine), but there’s always room for improvement. Personally, I’d like to see more small zines created by individuals, and also more of a discussion between the zines (and also their readers). But maybe in this age of electronic discussion forum, this is a dream of times past.

11 Responses to “Finnish Fandom: Fanzines”

  1. Brendan says:

    Hi Tero… Interesting post:

    Wondering: What are the differences between Finnish readers and those of the US and the UK? I mean in terms of taste. When it comes to fantasy for instance, do you think Finnish readers are more open minded, less, or about the same?

    Maybe it is a stupid question, but somewhere in my mind I seem to think Finland as being more open minded. Correct me if I am wrong.

  2. Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo says:

    Hi Tero! Legolas *does* have a new editor, Mixu Lauronen from Tampere, and his first couple of issues are quite promising, I think. And I agree with you about the small zines. About 10-15 years ago there seemed to be lots more of them! But now there are som many blogs, and so many discussion forums too!

    You could have mentioned Risingshadow: it is a nice, friendly forum and a good source of information about literature and sf-related events. It has an English site as well as Finnish. Here’s the link:

    http://en.risingshadow.net/

  3. Odd Guy says:

    Do you really know as a fact that Portti has the largest circulation of Finnish sf-magazines or is that just your cat-feeling? Any official numbers to put out?

  4. Tero says:

    Brendan: I’m not very familiar on that many US and UK readers, so I can’t make an informed comparison. But my gut feeling would be that sf readers are in general pretty open minded. It’s possible that there’s a little less separation between fantasy and science fiction readers here and people are more open to trying new things, if not for anything else, then because so few books of any fantastic fiction used to be translated that readers who liked them read everything. I think Finns on average would qualify as very open-minded in the US, and maybe that is reflected in their reading too.

    Finnish is a very small language area, so publishing anything “not mainstream” is probably a bigger gamble here than in the English-speaking world. But we have some very good small presses that bring stuff into the Finnish-language market that wouldn’t be there elsewhere.

    Johanna: glad to hear Legolas is doing better again. The society needs to do more PR for it, though, to bring it to more readers. Or maybe I’ve just had my head in the sand in this issue.

    Odd Guy: I don’t have official numbers, but I’m pretty sure of this. For one thing, Portti is the only one carried by a big distributor that takes care of magazines in newsstands and supermarkets, which surely has an impact on the sales.

  5. Toni Jerrman says:

    Don’t think this is the right place to discuss which Finnish SF-zine has the largest circulation… But, yeah, I also think that propably Portti.

    Although the big distributor carrying it propably hasn’t any impact on that – according to Lehtipiste-site Portti is on sale in only about ten kiosks and shops around Finland (counting out Academic Bookstores that also carry other SF-zines). Better than nothing though.

    Tähtivaeltaja has about the same amount of speciality stores carrying it, but they of course don’t reach the wider public (except Academics and Stockmanns). In our case we have counted that getting on Lehtipiste-distribution would mean too much bureaucratic hassle to be worth it – would propably also cost much more than make.

    Nowadays the net and happenings like Finncons and Book Fairs are the best way to find new readers. And yes, I do hope that everybody in Finland would read Tähtivaeltaja, but that’s never gonna happen… Or then the world would be much better place than I’ve ever thought…

  6. Bill Ectric says:

    These fanzines all have such cool names! I enjoyed looking over each one and reading some of the ones that had English versions. Thanks for the links.

  7. Jesse Bullington says:

    What Bill said! Always pleased to discover new online reads, and both those that I can read in English and those I can only stare blankly at seem interesting…and I’ve eagerly been awaiting Iron Sky!

    I confess all I know about modern Finland is courtesy of the films of Aki Kaurismäki and the music of the Leningrad Cowboys (and the obvious intersection of those two), so these posts have been very informative. As a completely off topic question, would you say the droll sense of humor represented in Kaurismäki’s films is representative of Finnish comedic sensibilities in general or is he as much a black sheep there as he and his buddy Jim Jarmusch are in the States? Did my question make a lick of sense? I really like the unique sort of bittersweet comedy in their works and wonder if what we Yanks perhaps naively consider a “European” sense of humor is very common in Finland and therefore Finnish genre writing, or if there’s a greater predilection towards slapstick, satire, etc…Maybe a nonsensical or dumb question, but thanks for these posts regardless!

  8. Tero Ykspetäjä says:

    Jesse: Kaurismäki is definitely a black sheep of sorts, a rebel and an eccentric in the Finnish culture too. But he is quite popular here (and not only among people who consider themselves intellectuals), and there is something very typical of the Finns in his humor. So a little bit of both, I think.

    Typical Finnish humor (the kind favored by the masses) goes more in the direction of slapstick, and also thinking that repeating the same character with a funny voice doing the same thing in twenty sketches would be funny. But there’s quite a lot of wonderfully black humor here too. And a _lot_ of people who like Monty Python.

  9. Jake Hart says:

    This is my favorite website lately as I am a belated collector of Science Fiction pulp magazines. Look at http://www.pulpmagazinecoveroftheday.com/

  10. Tero Ykspetäjä says:

    Oooh, pulp! Must… resist… starting… collecting… pulp… zines… shelves… bursting… already…

  11. Izetta Onishi says:

    Our son is nutty regarding lego as well as star wars lego – cheers for the info!

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