Confessions of a Former Zine Slut

[Nov. 2007] The zines I've listed here are so old now that the rights have reverted back to the authors and most of them have put their separate stories up on the web. My tastes have also changed dramatically (grammatically speaking) since I worked on this page, and after going back and reading some of these stories online, I've found that I need to update a few of my views on this page.

Since I discovered fan fiction I've been buying zines. I was fortunate with my first few purchases in that they were beautiful examples of everything a zine should be. Perfect English, well formatted, exquisite characterization and stories so good I wanted to cry when I reached the end of the zine. In the past few years though more and more zines have failed to meet those standards, going from simply acceptable to outright abysmal and as a result of the decline in quality across the fandoms, I've since stopped purchasing zines.

Of course fan fiction, like everything else in life, is subject to individual tastes and regardless of how much a zine rocked my world and changed my life, it's probably not going to butter everyone's muffins. However, there are some things that are universal and everyone should expect to see these in a zine they purchase: correct English and punctuation; very few to no typos; a format that isn't hard on the eyes and good characterization (even if it's an AU zine) to name some of the most important. Things like pretty artwork are nice, but a zine doesn't have to contain that to be excellent. It's all about the fiction, after all.

The zines listed here probably won't be for everyone, but I wanted to share what I thought were the bests zines in fandom along with some of the worst as a fair warning. I'll cover the technical side of things and touch a little on the stories in general, but not individually when it comes to anthology zines.

A note of importance: There are a number of truly bad things that have been and are being said about Agent With Style zine publications (an example). I've never used them to publish a zine myself so I can't confirm or deny any of those accusations. However, there is one thing I'm forced to agree with after years of buying their zines: the person who does the editing for AWS is in love with epithets. It's exceedingly rare to get an AWS zine without the stories being over-filled with "the other man," "the blond man," "the shorter man," etc. This is something that I can't stand to read, so you'll find that I list most AWS zines in the average or bad category. (There are usually more reasons than this one for the listings, but this needed to be mentioned.)

The Best Zines Ever Published

Elusive Lover is the website where you can find the first two EL zines online, along with more stories by the zine contributors. These are the zines that got me addicted. I own EL #2-5 and the AU edition. I don't care if zine #1 is online now, I'd still buy it if I could find it. These zines are simply...perfect. Throughout five zines, I believe I've found a total of two typos and maybe one grammar error. What makes this even more mind-blowing is the fact that nearly ever single person involved in those zines from the authors to the editors, is German. Non-native English speakers who put together a zine that reads infinitely superior to most native English speaking ones. I'm still in awe years later.

The format of these zines is a two column structure in about a 10 point typeface. Not nearly as hard to read as it might sound. They also include poetry and artwork from breathtakingly professional to cutely amateur. What makes these such exquisite zines though, is the consistent characterization. The first zine has a couple shaky stories, but that's still recognizably Luke and Han there, and the zines just continued to improve with each year. The fifth (and likely last) zine is a study in how to tell a story and stay true to the characters.

I know Han/Luke slash may not sound like your cup of tea, but once upon a time it really squicked me. The authors in these zines changed my mind with the unbelievably high quality of their writing. Give the website a try. Start with something by Cara J. Loup and see where it takes you. You're unlikely to be disappointed.

Kingdom of the Shadow Trilogy is a set of three novels by Cara J. Loup (Sanctuary, Crucible, Byss and Abyss) that live up to every bit of praise I've given the Elusive Lover zines and deserve praise of their own.

The Millennium Deal, also by Cara J. Loup, is just as good, if not better, than her first three novels. Beautiful characterizations, perfect English, lovely format and a gripping plot. Words can't express how much I enjoy Cara as a Star Wars writer, and how much I hope she returns to the fandom.

Details on all of Cara's zines as well as the EL zines can be found at the Elusive Lover website.

Serge Protector, from the due South fandom, is probably the best Fraser/RayK zine ever published, and one of the best zines published, period. Everything in this one was just beautiful from the editing work right down to the breathtaking stories. The zine is now out of print and can be found online, but nothing can replicate the look of the original zine. Fortunately the artwork can be found on chez Crysothemis.

Body Heat is from the due South fandom featuring all Fraser/RayK stories. It's second only to the above zine when talking about quality of stories and artwork. The technical aspects of this zine though, are equally as good as Serge Protector. Available through Lionheart Distribution.

Body Heat 2 is just as good as the original. The technical aspects are excellent and the stories and artwork are beautiful things to see. Available through Lionheart Distribution.

The Descent Into Madness by Sharon Cross and Tessa Rae. From the Highlander fandom, Duncan/Methos, although it starts out with Duncan/Tessa and Methos/f. This is an epic AU novel that retells the series in a very different way. The technical aspects are very well done, the layout is beautiful, the plot keeps you on the edge of your seat and the characterizations are wonderful. You'll need to put aside an entire day to read this (400+ pages), but it's well worth it. Now available online: The Descent Into Madness. Unfortunately out of print, but you might be able to find it at Waveney Zine Shop as they sell used zines.

Average to Mediocre

Most zines in the past fell under this category. The technical writing was either pretty good or passable, the layout was if not wonderful, then at least not an eyesore and most of the stories were readable with only a few bad apples in the bunch. For the most part you'd be better off waiting for all of these stories to be published online, but there are one or two that might be worth the money. The following are a few examples of what I'd call "decent" zines.

Note: I will state outright that anything by the authors TM Alexander or PJ Alexander will fit in this category, likely heading more towards the mediocre end of things. These are two authors whose stories are just...unexceptional. They'd do very well in the world of online fanfic, but these aren't stories that you really want to pay money to read. Their plots can range from not bad to pretty darn thin, the characterization is almost always borderline and the writing can verge on purple. The fact that they publish out of AWS doesn't help, as the stories are always epithet filled. I've bought zines by these authors in four different fandoms over the years (due South, Invisible Man, The Sentinel and Smallville) and the quality of their writing remains consistently average to poor throughout.

The Alternate Sentinel features all AU Jim/Blair stories. This is probably the best zine I ever found in The Sentinel fandom. I've since lost any interest in that fandom but I kept that zine the longest because it had some of the most intriguing stories. There are too many average and very shaky stories for this to make it into the best in fandom category, but there are also some pretty good stories to be found. It's a large zine with a good layout and format and the technical side of things isn't half bad. I'd recommend this one if you're into The Sentinel fandom. Available through Agent With Style.

As a side note, I should mention that AUs were always my favorite Sentinel stories and I thought that most of the non-AUs in zines were far too OOC and heavy with the chick-flick schmoop. I never ran across anything that needed to be in the "worst in fandom" category, but some -- especially the ones by TM Alexander or PJ Alexander -- came very close. There are probably a couple hundred Sentinel zines out there and I only purchased one or two dozen over the years, but overall I've found that schmoop and purpleness are the catchwords for that fandom. It's why I lost my interest in it.

Body Heat 3
, due South, F/RK, while being fairly good, technically speaking, just doesn't have the impact of its two predecessors. The stories aren't nearly as well constructed, nor are the characterizations as true to the show. Of course there are some very good stories in this zine, it wouldn't have made the average list otherwise, but the majority of the stories are forgettable. Available through Lionheart Distribution. Many of the stories can also now be found on The Due South Fiction Archive.

Bygones by Grey from the due South fandom, F/RK. This might well have made it into the "best in fandom" category. Tense plot (realistically deals with rape and Ray's denial), good technical aspects, good layout, but it really looks like the author just got tired of writing the story. It's like the last chapters are just missing. The story is wrapped up with a few paragraphs when it should've been a few dozen to hundred pages. I really felt cheated by the ending, like I'd missed something important. It's a disappointing zine in that aspect.

[Nov. 2007] I recently went and reread this story and its sequels, which Grey finally finished. While the first story still held up well enough, despite the "hanging" feeling it would've left me with, I wish I'd avoided the sequels. When the author has to deal with a world outside of Ray and Fraser, the writing goes severely downhill. This story and its sequels available at Grey's website: Grey's Corner.

It should be noted that almost all due South zines fall into this average category. Some are better than others but none of them ever reach the high standards of the ones listed in the "best in fandom" category.

Chronicles of the Heart volumes 1 and 2 are Highlander zines featuring Duncan/Methos stories. The layout is quite lovely, the technical writing is good, but the amount of average stories in these zines outweighs the really good ones, although the latter definitely exists. Still, I'd recommend having these in your collection if you're a D/M fan. Out of print, but you might try Waveney Zine Shop

The Dawn of My Knight
is a Forever Knight/MacGyver crossover by Rimfire featuring Mac/Nick. It's really a very intriguing plot and the characterizations are well done. Technically it's not bad either. The format is readable although very plain. This one almost belongs in the "best in fandom" category and I have to admit that it's only personal taste that's making me not place it there. There's something not quite excellent about it, the way the story is written. It's a perfectly readable and even memorable zine and I do recommend getting it, but it leaves off in a bad place, making you wonder what's going to happen next with no talk of a sequel, and that bothers me. Available through Lionheart Distribution.

I Can't Stand to Fly is a Clark/Lex zine from the Smallville fandom. I bought this one because, well.... Have you ever seen a preview for a movie and thought, "Damn, I gotta see that!" only to find out when you go see it that they used all the good parts in the previews? I didn't realize that could be done with a zine, but this one showed me it was possible.

The publishers of this one, OMD press (who appear to have dropped off the web) had previously published the Highlander
zines I enjoyed so they had credibility with me. They also provided extended excerpts from some of the stories in this zine. Unfortunately, upon reading this, I found that those excerpts were the only good things in this one. The graphics, the technical aspects, all of that was absolutely beautiful in this zine, I have to give them that much credit, but it didn't help with the quality of the writing. With each story I read I kept thinking, "Surely the next one has to be better!" But it never was. Every story in this zine is average to borderline bad. Fortunately there are only one or two that fall into that latter category, but there still isn't an excellent story out of the lot. The characterization is, in every story. In half the stories Lex cries, wails, sobs and overall just acts like an adolescent girl and Clark shows far too many signs of being the Big Dumb Alien. It isn't a total OOC fest or else this one would be tossed in the "Worst in Fandom" category, but not one author managed to grasp the characterizations properly either. There were also cases of purpleness in a couple of the stories and, very unfortunately, one story where the author loved the epithets. This zine was just a huge let down, not to mention a waste of my money. No longer available on the web, you can find the stories on the authors' sites.

If Only is an A-Team, Face/Murdock AU zine by
Lamardeuse. I was already familiar with this story from the web so I had few qualms in purchasing this zine; I knew what I was getting. The format is good, the artwork isn't half bad and the story is very intriguing. Actually, I want more of this story. I would've loved to have seen this one fleshed out and expanded by a few dozen to a hundred pages. However, I do have a large problem with the writing itself in that the author can't stay away from the epithets. She does make an attempt but that makes the epithets stand out even more when she uses them, and there are some whoppers in there. It's very distracting from the story which deserves to shine on its own without any pitfalls along the way. Available through Lionheart Distribution.

The Oak and the Cypress
by Mirtai. There has yet to be a Smallville Clark/Lex slash zine that rates in the "best in fandom" category, but this one is the closest yet. Well formatted, well edited and the characterizations aren't half bad. It's an AU future zine and it covers decades in its scope. The writing is pretty good as is the plot, but I don't know that it's worth the $36 (within the US) it costs to get hold of this. Available on Mirtai's LiveJournal.

[Nov. 2007] What the hell was I thinking? I tried rereading this one a couple weeks ago and could barely get through the first few chapters. Clark and Lex act more like teenage girls than young men, the characterizions are off all around, the point of views shift constantly, and the plot leaves a whole lot to be desired. This still isn't bad enough to get tossed in the worst in fandom category, but it's most definitely on the mediocre end of the scale here.

A Plain and Simple Zine 1 through 10 in the Star Trek: DS9 fandom, features Garak/Bashir. These zines range from very good to just plain acceptable, but there's hardly a truly bad story in the lot. You will find typos and blurry text and the layout isn't very nice to look at, but the stories are overall worth owning the zines for. Most are out of  print but what is available can be found through
Waveney Zine Shop.

As a side note, every G/B zine I've purchased falls into this category. That includes Doctor, Tailer, Officer, Spy, 1 and 2, Mastery, and the No Holds Barred series. They're all worth owning if you're a G/B fan, but don't expect anything mind-blowing in the way of quality.

Riding the Wheel of If from the Star Wars: PM fandom. An AU-fixit story featuring Obi-Wan. Beautiful layout and format, lovely artwork, incredible story idea that's spun out into an amazingly complex plot. The only thing that stops me from putting this in the "best in fandom" category is the quality of writing between the different authors. The main author, Mrs. Hamill, is very talented and the other authors who contributed have much promise as well. A number of the side stories are shaky (one borders on RPS which is a personal squick but it also affects my rating of this zine) and even though this isn't out of AWS presses, there are way too many
epithets here. It's all enough to keep the zine in this category. I'd have to say that this is overall an above average zine, but there's just too many small things combining to keep it from being an excellent one. This story is also available online here, althought the zine is better edited. Purchase information can be found at Mrs. Hamill's website. There is also a used copy available at Falcon Press.

Sanctuary Moon from the Star Wars fandom, Luke/Han. This zine was such an incredible disappointment. Despite the breathtaking artwork and the lovely format, it falls straight in the "mediocre" category here. With only a very few exceptions, the stories were poorly plotted, badly characterized and very badly edited. In fact, I place a great deal of blame on the editors of this zine for the mess it turned out to be. From a "fear of said" (see the explanation of that here, number two) to badly wrapped up plots, the editors could have done a far better job than this. Not that the authors are blameless. In most of the stories the characters are OOC, the dialogue clumsy, the entire plot shaky and the sex scenes purple. Yes, there were exceptions to this, "Dragonflies" being the most notable, but out of thirteen poems and stories with only three or four being good? It's not worth buying. Wait a while and the stories will be on the web, then you can choose the good ones to read. Sadly, X-Arts who did some of the wonderful illos for this zine doesn't appear to be on the web anymore, but you can see plenty of her illos on the Elusive Lover website. A much more in-depth review of this zine can be found on my LJ. If you really can't wait or if you're a collector, it's available through Agent With Style.

Silk and Flannel 1 in the Smallville fandom, Clark/Lex. Decent layout, decent editing, not too bad on the technical writing, but the stories are just average. Nothing special to stand out and make it worth buying the zine, either with the stories or the format. It's much better to wait for these to be published online. If you really can't wait it's available through Agent With Style.

Straight to Naughtyville 1 and 2, from the Invisible Man fandom featuring Hobbes/Fawkes. These are...nice. Nothing spectacular, just average stories. The formatting and layout are fine, the artwork could be better but they're overall, decent zines. Out of all the I-Man zines, these are probably the best.
Available through Agent With Style.

It's worth noting that the rest of the I-Man zines all fall somewhere below these two in quality. Three of Hearts, all Hobbes/Fawkes/Claire stories, might even be considered better than
Straight to Naughtyville but it is m/m/f and that's not to everyone's tastes. The rest of the zines go downhill in terms of writing quality until you reach anything SuzyH has a hand in (Fawksy and Hobbesy 1 and Never Bail on Your Partner), which almost qualifies for the "worst in fandom" list for blatant OOCness and purple prose. Everything mentioned here is available through Agent With Style.

"Twilight Time" by Shadow. Good old Spike/Xander nummyness from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom. I have to admit that this one is a guilty pleasure, a very guilty one. This was an online in progress story for years before the author finished it and published it in zine format. I found this one back in the dawn of S/X, back when there wasn't much being written and this one stood head and shoulders above most. Since then I've come to recognize the pitfalls and
clichés in S/X writing and I'm honest enough to say that this story hits nearly every one of them. But I still love it anyway. It's probably just nostalgia, being reminded of the "good old days" of the beginning of S/X before the fandom was overwhelmed by fanpoodles and badfic, but whatever it is, I went ahead and bought this zine, already knowing its faults.

Let's be blunt about this: Buffy is OOC (Bitchy!Buffy to the extreme), the
cliché of Victim!Xander is played for everything its worth and then some, Spike calls Xander "pet" every other sentence, Xander's friends are clueless jerks for the first half of the story and way too understanding about him and Spike for the second half, his parents are abusive Neanderthals and the requisite sexual abuse rears its head. This story also deviates from canon drastically.

On the other hand, the author stays in one point of view through nearly three hundred pages and that gets high points from me. She also knows a comma from a semi-colon and how to use them. Her grammar is good and the story itself is very good. She knows how to tell a tale. Good layout, decent format, and overall this was just worth buying for me. Someone new into the fandom might not agree, but like I said, I was hooked on this one early and it's an extremely guilty pleasure.
Available through Lionheart Distribution.

The Vengeance Trilogy (Stained Glass, Smoke and Mirrors, Sanity) by Lisa Martin. From the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fandom, featuring Spike/Xander. Pretty covers, decent layout and formats, intriguing if at times very confusing story line, but dear gods, the grammar! Most people give non-native English speaking authors a break when it comes to critique. I don't. In the online and publishing world today there is absolutely no excuse for not finding a native English speaker to help you out. That's why this trilogy gets a very mediocre review. It's painfully obvious that neither the author nor her editor are native English speakers. There are constant grammar errors in each zine and with examples such as the Elusive Lover zines written so perfectly by non-native speakers, there just aren't any excuses for the poor quality of this trilogy. I wouldn't recommend getting these zines; wait for them online. These can be found through Vision Quest Press or
Agent With Style.

Just for further information, there are no S/X zines I've found that rate above mediocre. Actually, the same can be said for every vampire zine I've purchased, Angel and multifandom. Body and Soul for example, an Angel/Wesley zine, is formatted so badly with so many typos, that if the story weren't interesting it would be put in the "worst in fandom" category. I also wouldn't recommend wasting your money on Love's Bitch (a Spike zine) or Love Bites (multimedia). Both have some good stories, but they're far outweighed by the bad ones.

The horror! The horror! Or, the Worst Zines in Fandom

I was disappointed in the increasingly average quality of the zines I'd been purchasing, so around 2003 I cut my zine consumption down greatly. Unfortunately, the last few zines I purchased fell into this category, and that put the nail in the coffin of my zine addiction.

To make it into this category, a zine has to be truly abysmal. I'll tolerate a few typos or bad formatting if a story is good, but if the plot is paper thin, the characters horribly OOC and the writing dreadful, then not even brilliant technical aspects or the most beautiful artwork in the world can save it. That's when I stick the zines here.

See It In Your Eyes by Pantha, from the Stargate: SG-1 fandom, J/D. I had to think about where to put this one for a couple days. I don't actually like putting zines in this category because by doing so I'm admitting that I've wasted both my time and money on something that I probably wouldn't deem worthy of use as toilet paper. Although it doesn't stretch quite that far in this case.

I'm a big SG-1 fan, big enough that like many other fans, I too don't care for the Jack/Sam leanings the show took in the last few seasons. I bought this particular zine for two reasons: one, it's a "fixit" type of story, turning a J/S episode into a J/D one, and two, this zine was used and cost me much less than buying it new would have. Given my luck with the quality of zines lately, I refuse to by a new zine anymore unless I'm very familiar with either the author or story in advance. I think I'd have been far more upset if I'd bought this particular one new.

The layout isn't half bad and the screencaps lean towards the artistic with manips and creative blurring. The story is even mildly interesting, which is what gave me pause in classifying this zine. What finally decided it for me though was the way this thing is written. I strongly suspect that this author is in love with the good ole' romance novel. Every single strongly emotional scene -- including the sex -- is written in high purple prose, complete with the requisite throbbing manhoods. Whenever the author makes an attempt to break away from that style, the results are both disturbing and unintentionally humorous. (Referring to the flaccid genitalia as a "limp mass" comes to mind.) The sex is quite often simply unrealistic, showing a lack of knowledge on the author's part concerning m/m sex. (One scene in particular would require both men to be double jointed and have nerve endings in very odd places.) The author also seems unable to end the story, providing multiple epilogues as though posting to a mailing list.

Overall this zine is rather immature in the writing. There is a hint of promise showing through here which helped in making this difficult to classify, but I simply couldn't get over the bodice-ripper style and lack of practical knowledge exhibited in this one. It wasn't agonizing to read but nor was it in any way a joy. I was happy to finally get to the end and very happy that I didn't pay full price. If you really must see this one, you can find it new at Agent With Style or used for half price in my Zine Warehouse.

Body Heat 4 from the due South fandom, F/RK. The artwork here is beautiful, the format and layout just as good as the previous three zines, but that can't save this one. Sweet gods on high, what show were these people watching? Because it sure wasn't the one I have on DVD. This is a case where the writers just...shouldn't. Not without some serious help. I've never seen Fraser or Ray so OOC and calling the plots paper thin is a compliment. As for the sex scenes, every single one was an insult to a knowledgeable reader. I'm not just talking about impossible positions, I mean the guys acting like complete stereotypical teenage girls in bed. It's just plain unbelievable and I was upset enough about the dreadfulness of the whole thing and the throwing away of my money that I wrote the publishers and gave them my opinion of it. If you're a F/RK fan, do yourself a favor and don't buy this one, don't even read the stories when they go online. If you just can't help yourself, then this one can be found at Lionheart Distribution.

Silk and Flannel 2 from the Smallville fandom, Clark/Lex. When I buy a zine I darn well read every story in that zine because I've paid good money for it. That's my policy. I've followed it through mostly gen zines I bought for one slash story, through het zines, through multimedia ones featuring fandoms I knew nothing about, because I want my money's worth. This was the first zine I've read where I couldn't make myself stick to that policy.

The format is fine, the screen caps in place of artwork are borderline okay and technically speaking there isn't much problem. It's the writing itself that made this such a painful experience and a real waste of my money. Every single story in this zine had OOC characterization. Some were worse than others and some were almost decent, but it was still pretty bad. Lex is cuddly and his IQ has drastically lowered, Jonathan Kent adores him, Clark is the Big Dumb Alien, Clark and Lex call each other cutsey nicknames and the writing gushes purple. The one story I held out hope for at the end of the zine (a continuation of an online series) made me cringe. It was just a huge disappointment.

The "artwork" that I mentioned in the beginning is nothing more than plain, black and white screen caps, mostly with nothing at all done to them. While there isn't anything necessarily wrong with that, it's very plain and uninspiring. The few screencaps that do have captions on them all have punctuation errors, taking away from what could have been rather funny captions.

This whole zine is a sad, sad thing and I highly recommend giving it a miss, even when the stories come online. If you're truly that desperate and you've got money to waste, then you can find this at Agent With Style.

Primal Instincts by Creed Cascade and TJ. From the X-Men fandom, Logan (Wolverine) focused. I was so excited to see one of my favorite pairings in zine format (this has a lot of Logan/Remy). The fact that it's near impossible to find even decent L/R online (forget about good) should've given me a clue, but I still had faith at that point. I sure as hell don't now.

This zine takes the prize as the worst zine I've ever seen in my life. Calling it a train wreck is generous. For the first time ever I was unable to finish a zine. I couldn't even make it through the first story. I flipped through all the rest of the stories but they were equally horrid and I gave up in disgust. Don't let the nice artwork, readable format or decent layout fool you, this is two hundred plus pages of utter crap. I don't say that lightly. The point of view switches every other paragraph and every character is OOC. Remy (Gambit) is a complete doormat, Logan is a knuckle-dragging moron, Scott (Cyclops) is a complete wimp and Jean is an unrepentant bitch. Even someone like me who only reads the comics occasionally knows how severely OOC every bit of that is.

This went beyond painful to read. If I'd forced myself to look at anymore of this dreck it would've been excruciating torture. You can find much better stories online and I suggest that you look there. I truly advise you to not buy this zine and when the stories make it online, do yourself a favor and avoid them! A stomach flu would likely be less nauseating than reading this garbage. Available through Agent With Style or used for half price in my Zine Warehouse, though why you'd want to bother is well beyond me.