Part 6 – Science Fiction in Southern Africa by Gail Jamieson

In the late 1960's Tex and Rita Cooper were in touch with Dorothy Jones of N3F(National Fantasy and Fiction Foundation) in California. There was a notion of joining up with them, but a better idea seemed to be to start up a South African Club. Letters were sent to the newspapers and enough interest was shown to make a decision to go ahead.

At last on a cold Friday winter's night June the 9th, 1969 about 9 fans met and "The Science Fiction Club of South Africa" was formed. Another 25 people soon joined. Meetings were held once a month and the first volume of Probe, the clubzine, was printed, using ancient technology – a roneo machine and stencils. A smaller newsletter called Robe was occasionally published. The idea was that even smaller ones would be Obe, Be and maybe even E, but I haven't been able to find these in our archives.

The club grew from small beginnings and held regular meetings and then in August 1978 we held our first Convention. It was a two day affair with speakers, debates, and movies (on 16mm film) with the highlight being the Cheese and Wine supper. We had a number of eminent medical professors discussing "Medicine in the Future" and we had over 200 attendees. There were articles in the local newspapers and we felt that we were fulfilling our mission of bringing SF to the people of SA. We also contracted our name to "Science Fiction South Africa" Some time in the early years of the club, our first published SF author Claude Nunes joined the club. He did not attend many meetings, being deaf and preferring to communicate in writing. His novels were all Ace Doubles and the first one, "Inherit The Earth" was published in 1966. His second novel "Recoil" was co-authored by his wife Rhoda and appeared in 1971. His last novel was "The Sky Trapeze" hit the stands in 1980. His short stories have made the top 10 in our annual competition as late as 2001.

Our annual short story competition has been running for about 28 years and the winning and other highly placed stories are regularly published in Probe, which is a quarterly magazine that comes out at least three times a year. The first editor was Tex Cooper, Gail Brunette (later Jamieson) took over at issue 39. Tony Davis (now back in Toronto), Neil van Niekerk, Derek Hohls, Deirdre Byrne, Cedric Abrahams, Liz Simmonds and Back to Gail (now Jamieson) have taken over through the years and we are about to print issue number 129. The magazine runs to 64 A5 pages and we feel proud of it and that it compares favourably to other magazines which come out of countries that have far larger SF reading populations.

We have also published two collections of the competition winning stories. These are "The Best of SFSA Volumes I and II" At them moment volume III is being prepared and we hope to print it in the next six months. Another regular finalist and winner of the 2004 competition, Nick Wood has published a Young Adult fantasy novel, called "The Stone Chameleon" His competition winning story "God in the Box" was published in "Interzone 187"

Probably the most currently successful SF author to come out of SA is Dave Freer, a previous winner of our short story competition. He has had nine novels published by Baen Books since 1999. His first solo novel is "The Forlorn" He has collaborated with Eric Flint on "Rats, Bats and Vats" (2000), as well as "Pyramid Scheme" (2001) and then with Flint and Mercedes Lackey to write the "Heirs of Alexander" novels, "The Shadow of the Lion" and "This Rough Magic" as well as "The Witches of Karres".

A rather better known author we should not forget is Doris Lessing. She grew up and lived for a long time in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Her novel "Shikasta" (1979) was the first of her "Canopus in Argo" series. This is truly literature as well as being science fiction.

A much more recent author is Richard Kunzmann, whose novel "Bloody Harvest" shows real insight into urban African culture was published very recently. Someone else who needs to be mentioned is Arthur Goldstuck. He is a previous competition winner whose company World Wide Worx now sponsors the South African section of the annual competition. Arthur also judges this section and we have had some really good local stories which we have published in Probe. This fiction is truly science fiction out of South Africa.

I can't think of short story competitions without mentioning Yvonne Walus. She is the most successful entrant we have ever had. She has been the winner many times and in a single years general section she claimed the first three places. She, unfortunately for SA now lives in New Zealand. I am sure we will see her science fiction published in the not too distant future.

We have over the last few years entered the electronic age and gained a number of international members. We also trade Probe with other clubs and fans throughout the world. We maintain our own website at www.sfsa.org.za.

Since 1998 SFSA has also been represented at WorldCon. At least a couple of members have been at each one, since then, with the largest number having been to Bucconeer and Torcon 3. We hold a "South African" party and like to show off our bright new flag and talk to as many people as possible. There will be six members of SFSA at Nippon 2007 in Yokohama. We feel that although we are very small we are keeping the spotlight on science fiction in South Africa.

Gail Jamieson