One “organization” that was mentioned in early issues of F5 was The Church of SubGenius. Perhaps the best introduction to this bizarre pseudo-religion is via the recent documentary,  J.R. ‘Bob’ Dobbs and the Church of the SubGenius (2019).

In his “review” of the Church in Issue 1, Gunderloy wrote that the Church would:

“…reveal your true nature, and that of the world about you, for another of your hard-earned dollars. Anyone who gives serious thought to the questions of religion will either be offended or amused by this cheesy fly-by-night scam, but at least they are a scam of good quality. Excromediation, Jehovah-1, SLACK!, they’ve got it all, and most of it is for sale.”

Ad from Church of SubGenius featured at the end of Issue #7 of F5.

In the next issue, Gunderloy focused more on The Stark Fist of Removal, specifically an issue targeted toward new members, which he said would “freak out your co-workers and make you wonder whether you’ve missed the ‘joke’ yourself.”

By Issue 7, F5 was running ads by the group.

In his entry on “Zines” in the Dictionary of Contemporary Esotericism, religious studies scholar J. Christian Greer writes that of the many esoteric zines that circulated in the zine scene of the 1980s and 90s, The Stark Fist of Removal was a popular favorite amongst the underground, even going so far as to say that its “Other Mutants” section, which served as a clearinghouse for publishers, inspired Gunderloy to start F5.

While Gunderloy doesn’t say anything about this in the early issues of F5 (to be corrected if necessary as we comb through its corpus), Greer notes that Gunderloy’s involvement in Discordianism — specifically the zine No Governor (1975-1987) — heavily influenced his approach to F5 and the folks he’d collaborate with through his tenure, including Kerry Thornley, Hakim Bey, Peter Lamborn Wilson, and Bob Black.  

The title “Factsheet Five” was inspired from a story by British sci-fi writer John Brunner. Yet, in true zine fashion, Gunderloy didn’t announce this from the get-go. Rather, in a section in Issue #1, he implored his readers to guess the reference through a contest:

“First person to identify the source of the title will win something. I have no idea what and do not guarantee it will be worthwhile or fun.”

By Issue #2 — started just 25 days later — guesses and other correspondence from readers were pouring in. As the project grew in length (from a double-sided single sheet to 6 pages) and circulation (50 to 75, per his report), Gunderloy playfully spliced their comments throughout:

“FACTSHEET Five. Hmmm. I don’t know, but does the title have anything to do with your high school newspaper?”

“‘Factsheet Five’ sounds like 1) A new punkrock group  2) travel itinerary for the Fifth Buddha or 3) 5 employees of a consumer protection agency got arrested and are having the ACLU represent them.”

Perhaps as a result of these misses, Gunderloy sweetened the deal in Issue #2 to include a year’s subscription to F5 “and other valuable considerations” — and provided a clue:

“HINT #1: Look between Time-Jump and Total Eclipse”

The hint must’ve worked because by Issue #3, begun in mid-July 1982, reader and longtime sci-fi fanwriter Arthur D. Hlavaty guessed it. Gunderloy wrote:

“Sorry, but the ‘identify this title’ content is no longer open. The lucky (and I use the term loosely) winner is Arthur D. Hlavaty, who writes:  ‘I seem to recall factsheets in a John Brunner story (with ‘factsheet’ in the title), but do not have my library here to check.’ That’s close enough for me. The title of the story was (strangely enough) ‘Factsheet Five,” and it appears in the collection FROM THIS DAY FORWARD, which was published between the appearances of TIME-JUMP and TOTAL ECLIPSE (two other Brunner books).”

While this story indeed appears in Brunner’s 1972 short story collection, it was actually titled “Factsheet Six” and originally published in 1968 issue of Galaxy (Bruner would go on to win the Hugo award for his novel Stand on Zanzibar the following year). In later glossaries of F5 (and perhaps other issues) Gunderloy would correct himself: 

“FACTSHEET FIVE: Title of a short story by John Brunner. Actually the story is ‘Factsheet Six’, and it originally appeared in GALAXY magazine from 1968. It’s reprinted as part of Brunner’s collection FROM THIS DAY FORWARD (Doubleday, 1972). The FACTSHEET in the story is a sort of psychic consumer magazine whose publisher is ultimately killed by a person who he has negatively reviewed — something which seems close to what I’m doing all the time.”

As for Hlavaty’s reward, Gunderloy noted that:

“Our lucky winner will now find it impossible to get off the mailing list until this rag folds. In addition, he receives a computerized Dobbshead personally autographed by Dr. Armand Gideon, and the cap from a bottle of Moosehead beer. Lucky him.”

Mike Gunderloy published the first issue of F5 via a run of 50 copies, printed on a double-sided single sheet of paper dated May 4, 1982. While Wikipedia notes that he made Issue 1 ”on a spirit duplicator in his bedroom in a slanshack in Alhambra, California” the issue itself says he was “now at” Hyde Park, the southernmost neighborhood in Boston where his then-partner was pursuing a PhD at Harvard. Dubbing it “a collection of notes on current publications and what-not,” subject to “æditorial whim,” and ending with the Discordian phrase “HAIL ERIS!” in the flipside’s footer, Gunderloy set out to use F5 as a way to bring together the disparate interests of his readers. The issue featured nine or so reviews ranging from contemporary fringe groups like The Church of SubGenius to anarchist publications to offensive BBSes with area codes in San Francisco and San Louis. Having already published various zines for some time under his Pretzel Press imprint, including zines like Accumulations (a perzine), Egocentricity (the zine of a sci-fi APA listserv), and Dismal Lich (gaming), F5 carried on Gunderloy’s synthesis of radical politics, the occult, and absurdity, all filtered through a sense of humor and, ironically, a refusal to commit. While the look of F5 #1 is similar to those other zines, it would quickly morph into something else entirely.