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British Science Fiction Association

Entry updated 4 April 2023. Tagged: Community.

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Despite their names, the British Science Literary Association (1931), organized by Walter Gillings, and the first British Science Fiction Association (1933-1935), organized by the Hayes SF Club, failed to become much more than local groups. The UK's first truly national organizations – the Science Fiction Association (1937-1939), the first British Fantasy Society (1942-1946) and the Science Fantasy Society (1948-1951) – were short-lived. Following A Vincent Clarke's call for a national sf organization in his fanzine Zymic #6 (December 1957), the British Science Fiction Association was established at the 1958 Eastercon, with the initial intention of counteracting a perceived decline in UK Fandom by providing a central organization of interest to casual sf readers. The association's principal attraction was and is its journal, Vector, published (not always regularly) since 1958. The BSFA library has since the mid-1970s been held on indefinite loan as part of the Science Fiction Foundation's collection. The BSFA sponsored the annual UK Easter sf Conventions 1959-1967 and also initiated the original British Fantasy Award. This, first presented in 1966, was relaunched in 1970 as the still continuing BSFA Award.

Brian W Aldiss was the BSFA's first president 1960-1964, being followed by Edmund Crispin, who retained the position until the BSFA became a limited company in 1967. The president, in an essentially honorary capacity, was Arthur C Clarke for many years until his death; Stephen Baxter, then vice-president and an active contributor to BSFA publications, became the association's president in 2008. The executive head of the organization has been variously called chair and co-ordinator, the latter title being used by Maureen Kincaid Speller in the 1990s. More recent chairs include Donna Scott from 2013; the current incumbent is Allen Stroud.

Besides Vector, the only other printed periodical still published by the BSFA is Focus (1979-current). This is aimed at aspiring authors and devoted chiefly to articles on writing and selling sf. Christopher Priest has contributed a series of essays on writing to twenty-first century issues. Depending on the preferences of editors, Focus has occasionally included fiction, poetry and "drabbles", Flash Fiction stories of exactly 100 words. The digital-only The BSFA Review, launched in Autumn 2017, usefully supplements the reviewing capacity of the printed Vector. Fission, an intended annual anthology of new genre fiction, made its debut in 2021.

Some former BSFA publications, excluding committee-only newsletters:

  • BSFA Bulletin (47 issues 1965-1972) – a predecessor of Matrix.
  • BSFA Newsletter (15 issues 1960-1963) – a predecessor of Matrix.
  • BSFA Yearbook – appeared in 1976 and 1977 only.
  • Matrix (1975-2011); the first six issues (1975-1976) were titled BSFA Newsletter. This was initially an sf/fan Newszine, though with increasing emphasis on media coverage in the twenty-first century; from 2006 it was subtitled as the media rather than the news magazine of the BSFA, and in 2008 it switched to online publication only. The final printed issue was #186 dated 2007. Numbering became uncertain in the BSFA website incarnation, and the last editor Ian Whates announced the cancellation of Matrix Online in July 2011.
  • Paperback Inferno (1977-1992); early issues #1-#18 (1977-1980) were titled Paperback Parlour under the editorship of Phil Stephensen-Payne. This cheaply duplicated pamphlet contained paperback book reviews and occasional editorial comment. Paperback Inferno ceased with issue #97 in late 1992 and was merged into Vector (from Vector #169).
  • Tangent (two issues 1965; separate run numbered #1-#5, 1977-1978) – title of two short-lived attempts to launch a BSFA fiction magazine.
  • Vector Review Supplement (three issues 1977), #2 and #3 being titled Nexus; also one issue numbered #1 in 1980. Contained the occasional overflow of reviews from Vector now accommodated by the PDF-format The BSFA Review.

BSFA membership has remained substantial for decades. Despite occasional administrative slumps and sometimes only lukewarm support from other factions of British fandom, the BSFA for many years performed its originally intended function of introducing new fans to sf discussions and controversies, and in pointing them towards specific local fan organizations. Most of the organization's energies are now devoted to publications – Vector, Focus – and various one-off chapbooks – plus the administration of the BSFA Award. A pleasant tradition in the twenty-first century is for the BSFA Annual General Meeting (required by UK company law) to form part of a free one-day Convention jointly organized with the Science Fiction Foundation. Another is the showcasing of BSFA Award nominees in magazine-format Anthologies, attractively packaged from BSFA Awards 2008 (anth 2009) onward as listed under further reading below; these are sent to all society members as an aid to informed voting on the awards. [RH/PR/PN/DRL/GP]

further reading


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