Years of Light: A Celebration of Leslie A. Croutch; A Compilation & a Commentary by John Robert Colombo
Roderick McGillis was Associate Professor of English at the University of Calgary, Alberta.
Years of Light is a potpourri of material relating to science fiction fandom in Canada; it is, according to its creator, John Robert Colombo, a jeu d’esprit. The book is delightful and informative, containing both judiciously selected and quirkily reproduced examples of the contents of Light, once Canada’s most important fanzine, and seven appendices that document the life of Light’s editor, Leslie A. Croutch, provide a bibliography of his fiction, and recount the history of Canada’s pulp magazines and fanzines.
Better than half of the book consists of its appendices, and it is these that are most valuable. Before the appendices we have four stories by Leslie Croutch and some 25 pages of “Light Flashes,” jokes, editorial opinion (on subjects such as the bomb, French Canada, religion, films), information, and personal commentary. Much of this makes easy reading because neither the writing nor the ideas have piquancy or complexity. We well might ask here: who is Leslie A. Croutch and why should his work be preserved?
Leslie A. Croutch was a radio and television repairman who lived his life in Parry Sound, Ontario, and who for 25 years edited and “printed” the Canadian fanzine Light. Croutch represents the “fan” — a member of a community of readers who share their knowledge of and enthusiasm for science fiction. More than a hobby, fandom is a way of life. The fan participates in the three areas of fandom: clubs, conventions, and fanzines. The community provides an outlet for the fan, a means for him to communicate. Fandom has its own lingo: personalzine, prodom, fandom, gaflated (getting away from it all), zine, apas (amateur press association), ay-jay canfanac (amateur journalism Canadian fan activity). And it has its own means of communication: the zine. Light was Canada’s premier zine; in its pages one could read letters from A.E. van Vogt and short articles by Donald Wollheim, and amateur fiction by Croutch and other writers long forgotten. The printing of the zine was crude (one complete issue of Light is reproduced), and Years of Light captures something of this with its many misprints, repeated lines, and incomplete pages. (I do not criticize; this is part of the fun.)
But why celebrate Croutch’s achievement? Because Croutch’s fiction and his commentary and jokes tell us about our past. Some of the appeal is nostalgia. Dickie, the child-robot in Croutch’s “Playmate,” reminds us of a time when the robot had not been ousted by the android; the bomb threatened human survival in Croutch’s day, but we could still imagine that after it fell children would walk hand in hand into an orchard; people laughed at a joke that asserted “Nothing is so helpless as a fat girl in a rumble seat.” But there is more here than a harkening back to a simpler time when postage was one cent a letter. Croutch is a fan, a reader who lives inside the world of his books. What is so important is that Leslie Croutch reminds us that literature is communal, that it is participatory — and this we often forget in our rush to formalise reading and turn it into private activity.
The information that Colombo has assembled in Years of Light will interest anyone concerned with the history of science fiction in Canada, especially its social manifestations. Colombo’s judgements are not always profound, but he presents them energetically. Enthusiasm is something he shares with the fan. In fact, Years of Light is one fan’s tribute to another. The tribute is fitting and the book is fun.