Bruce Gillespie Secret Master, Institution and Fine Fellow – Part 1

Transcribed by Doug Burbidge. This is from the Aussiecon Three souvenir book. It’s by Leigh Edmonds, and it starts with a sidebar telling us who Leigh Edmonds is.

Leigh Edmonds

Leigh is a Ballarat based historian and Ditmar winning fanzine editor who did so much in fandom, that he had to move from Melbourne to Ballarat to Perth in order to find some respite from it. He was the founder of ANZAPA, editor of Fan Newsletter and then The Notional. He was the first Australian DUFF delegate. He has recently returned to Ballarat but, in keeping with his gafiation, has promised not to resurrect the Ballarat North Fan Society.

Bruce Gillespie
Secret Master, Institution and Fine Fellow

Let me introduce you to one of the Secret Masters of Science Fiction fandom.

Of course it will blow his cover, but it’s time a little bit of fame (if not fortune) came his way.

What, you’ve never heard the term Secret Master before? I’m not surprised, you’re not supposed to. I suppose you could say that Secret Masters are the people who have a major influence on the development of the fields of science fiction and science fiction fandom. They do it either though sitting in back rooms and dreaming up schemes and making plans, or they do it through years of hard work that has a major influence on the field.

Bruce Gillespie is one of the second kind (if he also sits in back rooms with others and schemes it’s a secret to me). He has produced a vast body of work, which has had a major influence on how science fiction developed and he has been a major contributor to the growth of science fiction fandom in Australia that has led to events such as Aussiecon Three. Yes, that’s right. You can blame Bruce, for most things anyhow.

How did it happen?

Well, when Bruce Gillespie came into science fiction fandom in the late 1960s there was a serious need for his talents. In the previous few years, Australian science fiction fans had built a solid reputation around the world for serious, informed and lively science fiction criticism. From 1966, this reputation was based around Australian Science Fiction Review which quickly gathered a strong worldwide band of reviewers, critics and commentators.

Much of what has occurred in Australian science fiction fandom from that time flowed from this immense burst of creativity and enthusiasm. However, after a couple of years of intense activity, the fire died down and the momentum began to dwindle. Sure, by that time a new group of fans had developed, but a few of them had the ability to produce such high quality work about science fiction. Consequently, a huge gap developed in Australian and international sf reviewing and criticism. Into this gap stepped Bruce Gillespie. Fresh out of Teacher’s College with a specialisation in English Literature, a love of science fiction and having discovered Australian Science Fiction Review and the milieu surrounding it, he decided to fill the gap. He planned a new little fanzine that he called SF Commentary. Many around at the time did not think this new fanzine would fill such a massive gap but Bruce did it, and he has been doing it for three decades.

If you haven’t heard of SF Commentary or its sister fanzine, The Metaphysical Review, it is not because they have diminished in quality or influence. It is because the whole field of academic science fiction that has developed since those times has masked their importance. In fact, the publication of academic journals and presentation of university courses on science fiction was spurred initially by the discourse and interaction that occurred in SF Commentary and other similar fanzines that began to appear in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Very quickly Bruce took over where other fanzines of high quality science fiction commentary and review had started. Everybody who was anyone appeared in SF Commentary, many of them still do. Due to Bruce’s education, interest and diligence he built up a solid group of reviewers and commentators who produced issue after issue of high class reading. SF Commentary became, and remains, one of the high water marks of critical sf publishing in Australia and the world.

Sadly, Bruce was not perfect. There was, for example, his almost obsessive interest in the works of the great writer, Philip K. Dick. The result of this obsession was a series of impressive articles about Dick written by Bruce and several of his contributors and an absorbing correspondence with Dick himself. Eventually this led to the publication of the best of this material from SF Commentary by a little collective of people under the name of Norstrilia Press. After this book Norstrilia Press went on to publish collections of science fiction and novels written locally. It was the beginning of small sf publishing in Australia that has made such an important contribution to the development of the field by encouraging many new writers. So that’s something else Bruce can take at least some of the blame for.

That’s about the halfway point, so I’m going to declare “to be continued…”.

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