There Has Always Been Locus by Christopher J Garcia

There has never been a time when I didn’t know Locus.

Art by Steve Stiles

When I was a kid, I liked to color. In everything. If I wasn’t melting my crayons, I was coloring in a coloring book, or on a tablecloth, or in a book, or on the inside walls of the linen closet. I loved coloring, and my dad, bless him, had a stack of these printed things that had cartoons. I didn’t know it at the time, but they had been drawn by some of the biggest names in the history of science fiction fandom – Bill Rotsler, Grant Canfield, Tim Kirk, and on and on. These black-and-white little pictures were obviously meant to be colored in, made happier, funnier! So, of the dozens of issues of Locus my dad had squirreled away, not a one ended up with an uncolorized illustration of any kind.

I was Ted Turner before it was cool.

I learned to read from fanzines. Those same issues I defaced were among the first things I ever read. News of Torcon and Westercon and Hugo Awards and Nebulas helped me establish not only my love of reading, but my ability to do so. I can remember being six or so and asking what ‘V-o-n-n-e-g-u-t’ spelled and my dad saying “That’s Vonnegut, Critty,” and tousling my hair a bit. (The hair tousle might have been added in post-production under the influence of 1950s television shows.)

Detail from Locus issue 13

Growing up, those issues, the first 70 or so, were what I knew of science fiction, of fantasy, but especially of fandom. Dad got more later, but that first stack was my introduction, kept tucked away in a cardboard orange box at the top of the closet, coincidentally next to the one with the magazines that would become far more interesting when I hit 13 or so. I would read endlessly from those pages, tearing more than a few, beating them up from my eternal quest to have all that knowledge in my apple-cheeked head. Locus was important, I knew this even at the age of 6, and I had access to all of it… well, at least the first run of it that Dad had gotten.

I don’t know when I met Charles N. Brown, the publisher and really the heart of the enterprise, but my dad knew him. I can remember us running into him about 1992 or so and the two chatting happily about something or another. My dad, the man who lived life to have a good story to tell, always lit up when there was some new story coming to him, and Charles was full of stories. When I think back on that moment, I remember thinking that this was the Locus guy! And my dad knew him! How cool was that! I also knew that he was a bit of a rascal, as my Gramma would have put it, and know-it-all, as my other Grandmother would have said. These things they both often accused me of being, so I instantly liked him.

Those magazines eventually left the house, as did Dad, but I always remembered. I started going to cons on my own in high school, and by Jove those Locus issues had set me up right. As a kid, I shouldn’t have been able to talk knowingly about so many things from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s, but Locus had given that to me, those stories had made it to me and I knew how to converse with a new group of older, smarter, stranger, and more wonderful people than I had ever encountered before. I could talk to Kelly Freas, and often did, about his work for Laser Books, and the Skylab I posters. I could tell the story of the horror that was Nolacon, the New Orleans WorldCon that somehow managed to make a half-dozen mistakes every time they fixed anything. I knew who some people were, and I often introduced myself to the much older version of them I knew from the pictures on Locus’s covers.

Locus gave that to me; it gave me what would become my largest family. Fandom.

Art by Catherine Cribbs 1970

When I fell out of fandom by moving to the fannish dead-zone that is going to college in Boston, I ended up believing I could become a writer. I thought I could specifically become a science fiction writer. In my Genre Writing class, taught by the amazing Lynn Williams, the topic of how to find out what was likely to sell came up. While people talked about this crazy new thing called the Internet, I simply said, “you can get everything you need to know about that by picking up a couple of issues of Locus.”

Professor Williams looked at me, and gave me a look I would describe as amused admiration.

“I did not expect you to be the sensible one, Chris.”

I wouldn’t make my way back to fandom until the year 2000. There was too much else going on in the world. I moved back home after college, but those Locus issues, along with all my dad’s other ‘zines and comics, had gone with him. They were mostly stolen over a decade that saw him dealing with homelessness, traumatic brain injury, terrible girlfriends, and a carny lifestyle driving across the Western US. A few were returned at one point, though sadly, they are again lost. I really think I’d enjoy showing my kids that I liked coloring in black-and-white ‘zine illustrations as much as they do with my ‘zines.

It turns out I am not much of a fiction writer. I stopped trying after a while, but a WorldCon in San Jose brought me back to writing, and re-introduced me to Charles. I ran into him in the Green Room between panels, and he was telling a story about Randal Garrett. Those in the know will understand that meant it was a ribald story, and he told it with a wonderful wry smile the whole time. We chatted briefly about my dad, and I asked what happened to the cartoons. Telling him the story of my use of those particular illustrations as a canvas for my color crayons, he become momentarily serious saying, “You may as well have erased the Mona Lisa,” and then giving a hearty chuckle.

That’s the Charles Brown I will always remember.

I have read Locus off and on literally as long as I could read. It’s been my touchstone for science fiction and for the community that’s grown around it that entire time. When my ‘zine The Drink Tank started in 2005, I used those memories of early Locus issues as something of a template. I never managed to even come close to emulating it, so I eventually did my own thing. When I finally got noticed, and ended up nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Fanzine in 2007 — the same category Locus had won several times before fandom figured out it would be best to give it and those that wished to mimic it their own category — I felt an incredible sense of connection to those old ‘zines I had spent so much time with as a kid. I would be on a nominee list that had Locus all over it, and that meant something special. For decades, I had admired, boosted, and occasionally marked-up, issues, and now when I thought that I would forever be on that list that included Locus, I couldn’t have thought of a better place for my work to live.

Art by Grant Canfield 1972

Charles died in 2009. The last time I remember chatting with him was 2006 at the Los Angeles WorldCon. I brought my friend Jason around and we ran into Charles in a scooter outside one of the programming room. I said howdy, and introduced him to Jason.

“Jason, this is Charles Brown, the King of the Hugos.”

Charles, without missing a beat, but somehow also delivering a brilliantly pregnant pause, came back.

“Actually, I prefer God of the Hugos.”

I finally won a Hugo Award myself, and then another. I made friends from around the world. I got to be a Guest of Honor at conventions. None of that, the things I am most widely known for, would have happened without Locus. I always carried Locus issues with me whenever I did anything fannish. A trip to a con meant, and means, a few issues from various parts of their magazine’s history in my CPAP bag or my brief case, or even just carried with me as I make my way through security. It’s still a regular companion, which I attribute to it having been there when I was first discovering, well, everything. It was the only place my wedding was announced, complete with a photo of me (in a TIE!) and my beautiful bride.

Art by Alpajpuri 1969

It meant all this to me, a guy who happens to love sci-fi (and yes, I do call it ‘sci-fi’) and fandom. I can not imagine what it means to a writer who came to it at that exact right moment, that moment when they thought they could become a writer, and seeing the coverage realized not only that others had, but that they could, too. There are people who found Locus at a bookstore, a newsstand, or library who then discovered that fandom was a thing they could do, and then they did it!

Today, more than fifty years later, Locus is still doing what it’s always done. To this day, when I want to know what’s going on, who’s the new-hotness, and where SF and fandom are heading next, I pick up Locus. The design has changed, I do miss those cartoons, but it’s still clearly what it’s always been. It’s still the touchstone, both online and in hard copy. There are few things that last so long and have so much impact on a subculture; Locus is one of them. The team at Locus today are carrying on a tradition that has elevated the field as a whole, and they want nothing more than to be able to continue that tradition on into the future.

Locus means something very personal to me, and its long-term survival is important to me. Why? I’ve got two kids, and one very early morning, my eldest had gotten into my magazine shelf, most likely by standing on the back of the other child, and pulled down a rain of Asimov’s, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and a whole bunch of Locus. When I finally dragged out of bed to find out what had gone crashing down on to the floor in the hall, my five-year-old kid was reading a 1978 issue of Locus, Ben Bova on the cover. I remembered that issue well, my original copy, made better by the addition of Crayolas, long gone and replaced by this eBay purchase. Looking down on him, I knew, at some point, my dad had walked in and found me sitting in the middle of a pile of pulled down magazines, happily reading a Locus. I need Locus around for another couple of decades, so that one day my grandkids can knock over a stack of ‘em, waking up my own progeny, on their way to discover that the circle remains unbroken.

-Christopher J Garcia

Chris Garcia is a two-time Hugo winner for Best Fanzine, an archivist, curator, and professional wrestling enthusiast from Boulder Creek, California.

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One thought on “There Has Always Been Locus by Christopher J Garcia

  • April 5, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    “I was Ted Turner before it was cool”.

    Hate to break it to ya, Mr. Garcia, but…it never _was_ cool. And among cinephiles,
    it’s still sacrilege (even if referenced in a joking manner).

    Welcome back to the Middle Of the Road.


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