Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What I learned from the Warrior-Maid of Mars

I recently came across this incredible cover for Planet Stories Summer 1950 issue and the title stories snagged my attention immediately, of course – how can you not be snagged by Margaret St. Claire and Ray Bradbury in their primes? – but I was also curious to see who else was featured, and went off looking for the contents[1].

Holy cow this is an amazing issue! Look at these titles:

Friday, October 28, 2016

The Strange Silence of Ernest Kinoy

I have heard the name Ernest Kinoy over and over in recent years as the old archives of broadcast radio have gone online. As an example, look at the episode lists for the two iconic SF radio play series Dimension X and X Minus One from the 50s.[1]

Not only was he involved in the adaptation of nearly every episode of these two series, but he and his partner George Lefferts also contributed original pieces. True, much of his work in SF was derivative in the sense of being derived from the short stories of others[2] but radio plays are a very different beast from print, and it's not as though he did no original work of his own: Kinoy contributed 8 wholly original works to these two series, and is credited with the novelization of several dramatic works in addition to adapting work for radio and screen.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Pulp Aesthetic

Misha Burnett recently joined the ongoing conversation about pulps, to which a fellow blogger Rampant Coyote[1] responded – and Misha responds again here. There are some excellent points in both blog posts.

Too often, I come across supposed "pulp revivals" that seem to think the defining feature of the pulp era[2] was "B list schlock." To be sure, there was a lot of poor work printed in the scramble to get a piece of the action in a market suddenly bursting with appetite for literary periodicals, but to say that's what made the pulp era different is deeply unjust. In fact, the pulps drew their appeal from three things:

Monday, August 29, 2016

Jack Vance the Magician

"The less a writer discusses his work - and himself - the better. The master chef slaughters no chickens in the dining room; the doctor writes prescriptions in Latin; the magician hides his hinges, mirrors and trapdoors with the utmost care." Vance in the afterward to "The Bagful of Dreams" The Jack Vance Treasury (2007)

August 28, 2016 would have been Jack Vance's 100th birthday.

The man had an incredible gift to spin worlds from nothing and paint them with a palette of the most vivid language imaginable.

His work is so compelling, in fact, that it’s very hard to remember that every word he wrote after 1980 (a list that includes 11 novels, 27 short stories, and a number of essays, forwards, afterwards, and footnotes) was written by a man who was legally blind and growing steadily blinder. This bibliography is impressive enough – but let’s not forget that in 1980 Vance had already been publishing stories and novels for thirty-five years.

Vance reputedly kept an arm’s length between himself and fandom, rarely exposing himself to real world scrutiny. He is said to have compared himself to a stage magician, whose power of illusion would be spoiled by revealing how his tricks were done. But I sometimes wonder if the truth is that he was actually rather shy of the attention he would have gotten if he’d put himself in the limelight.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Truesdale Affair's Real Affront

[First, apologies for long silence - real life. I will get back to the couple of projects I had going shortly]

Image result for sword woman howard

So, by now most of those who follow SF with any interest at all in the Hugos and Worldcon have probably heard the sordid tale of Dave Truesdale's ejection from Worldcon in reaction to how he opened his panel on the state of short fiction in SFF.

I'm not going to belabour that point, which is being quite adequately argued about in other places. What I want to talk about is the panel itself.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Wanted: The Insane (or: Theatre in the Round)

For some time now, I have been a bit obsessed with the idea of Shakespeare in the round.

OK, so perhaps this is madness: but wait!

How amazing would it be for (maybe Japanese?) versions of Shakespeare to be peformed at strategic points around the Yamanote Line?

No, really.

The original plays were intended to be performed in the round - i.e. with a surrounding audience at fairly close quarters - and while I suppose full five-act plays would be a bit much, it would be quite a thing to travel around a small area enacting key scenes from a play.

And let's not limit ourselves to the traditional - perhaps if Japanese versions are to be used the language could also be updated a bit, the costumes made somewhat manga-esque.

The question, of course, is which plays, and where.

Ah, now there's where the discussion becomes interesting!

For Harajuku, I propose The Merry Wives of Windsor - the madcap antics, the crossed communications, the costumes and infidelities. How could this be anything but a reflection of this crazy area?

At Hamamatsucho? What else but Richard III at the foot of Tokyo's iconic tower? Mind, depending on the timing, perhaps Romeo and Juliette - after all, the place used to be a big date spot.

Parts of Othello could perhaps be performed at Mejiro and Meguro (eye-white and eye-black respectively when translated to English)

At Akihabara: A Midsummernight's Dream?

Naturally, it's unlikely that I will ever have the will (or the courage) to actually organize such a thing, but if there are any theatre enthusiasts in Tokyo, get cracking!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Zen and the Art of Commuting

You know you have been in Japan too long when you have a train nemesis.[1]

Like any other commuter, I typically take the same train each morning. Riding from the same station and for some reason choosing to board at the same spot on the platform[2] is a woman who is obviously also on her way to work. Now, like many Japanese commuters with habits we have a pretty good idea of the people on the train – it also helps that I live very close to the end of the line ( #inakaparadise ) so it’s the usual suspects day after day, as much slaves to routine as we are. We know where the empty seats are likely to be, and we know which of our fellow sardines[3] will be getting off in the near future. We board accordingly, in the hope that things will line up so that we don’t have to stand for too long.

Me, I get on the train at my home station and I don’t change, so while I rarely have to stand at all and usually only stand for a few stations if I do I’m really not too worried. It’s a long way to go, and I’m not going anywhere, so the odds of someone around me getting off along the way are pretty good. But my nemesis…

I know nothing about her except that she gets on at my station and she is damn well getting a seat.
Seriously, she is the style of commuter I have previously only seen as living parodies of a harried salaryman, the kind who skitters onto the train like a cockroach fleeing from the light, nudging and pushing everyone and everything out of the way to get to that one empty seat. Seriously: I have actually seen a 60ish man jump the line, push past a disabled fellow commuter to get on first, and then sprint to the other end of the car so that he could snag the last seat before anyone else even got on the train.

This is a serious business for some people, as you can see.

But the problem in my nemesis’ eyes, apparently, is that I’m not playing the game right. As mentioned, I’m not worried about getting a seat, especially since most days I get one right away or within one or two stations. So if there’s no seat available immediately, I just head to the center of the car where it won’t get so crowded as by the doors, glance about to see if there’s anyone in particular I recognise as getting off soon, and if so I place myself to get that seat when they do. This is not rocket science, and if it doesn’t go perfectly it’s not the end of the world. It seems this causes an issue for my nemesis in that I am a large person[4], which means that once I’m moving and when I’m stopped I form a barrier to her salary-person scuttle.

She has been riding this train for perhaps a month, and it appears that my failure to to either compete or properly cede the field in this time has been grating on her nerves. This week in particular, she has been quite pointed about nudging me out of the way, giving me poisonous stares, once even stepping on my foot on what seems to have been the one day she was wearing heels.[5]

I don’t know why this is so important to her. I don’t know what her work is like, I don’t know about other dimensions of her life.  But I do feel sympathy for her.

What a depressing grind she must be enduring if she needs these minor aggressions against a total stranger to make her day bearable.

Is it her only sense of power? Am I a stand-in for a co-worker or family member she can’t bring herself to confront? Or is she merely so selfish that the very idea that someone might not only regularly get what she wants so desperately but doesn’t apparently care about it the way she does makes her seethe?

She’ll be there again tomorrow morning.  She’ll bump me with her bag and give me a daggered look as though I weren’t the one just standing there. The train will come, and I will be able to feel her tension rising, like an animal winding itself up to leap.

It’s a petty thing, but it seems so important to her. I find myself wondering if she could let it go, even if she realised that I’m not trying to cheat her out of anything, that which one of us gets a seat is really a matter of chance, and her struggle really makes no difference today, is impotent over the days and weeks and months.

She can’t, of course.

So today I will give her my seat, and maybe her day will feel a bit brighter. Maybe that will be the piece she finally needs to just let it go.

[1] And I have been in Japan so very, very long Roy.

[2] Like me, she probably chooses the spot that is most convenient when she gets off – most people know the doors closest to the stairs they’ll need when they change trains.

[3] Ew! Greasy!

[4] Actually average, but largish in comparison I suppose.

[5] Yes, I’m sure it was deliberate.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Seven Ages of Fan - Part 1

Yes, the text is apropos.
Once upon a time, O Best Beloved, the world was without form, and void. And then ghughu said the Word, and the Word was Amazing.

Actually, if the truth be told, Amazing Stories is not the beginning of SF fandom in North America – indeed, not the beginning of SF publishing: certainly, Hugo Gernsback’s addition to the pulp market in April, 1926 was apparently the first periodical specifically dedicated to “scientifiction” however stories and novels of this sort had been published in pulp format for decades already. 

Arguably, the US market for primarily literary magazines was first plumbed by Frank Munsey with his (initially weekly) magazine launched in 1889 that he modestly named after himself.[1] The Argosy was added to the news-racks in 1896.  Both these published scientific romances and fantastic tales of course, but were more general literary magazines so contained many other types of story as well.  Nevertheless, interest was sufficient by the 20th Century to support the launch of specialized fantastic literature magazines such as Thrill Book (1919) and Weird Tales (1923). These focused more on occult and weird fiction of course, but nevertheless also contained tales that today we would class as SF.

It was in this era that the first of the many Numbered Fandoms[2] arose – the beginning that eventually evolved into an entire culture of SFandom.  This story is a long one, particularly if one starts at the beginning, so perhaps I will divide it into parts. In this part, I will lead us to the end of the First Fandom and lay the foundations of a theory of Ages that I think illuminates some of the latter history of the community.

Eofandom (1919 to 1929 – the letter era)
In the beginning was void and chaos: that is to say, scientific romances and scientifiction were scattered among a variety of magazines (and of course the occasional dime novel or penny dreadful). This is not to say there were no fans – of course there were fans! But the world of fandom was still fragmentary and of limited interaction. I think though that it’s important to note that there were nodes of interest congealing, mainly through letter writing circles such as the one that formed around H.P. Lovecraft. Likewise, interest in the science and technology of the future was intensifying in the 19-teens and 1920s: the speculations and predictions of writers such as H.G. Wells and Jules Verne appeared poised to come true, the economies of developed nations were bubbling at seemingly breakneck speed, and nearly every year was producing new, astonishing inventions that could actually be taken advantage of by ordinary people. [3]

A key feature here is that there were fairly well respected authors “dabbling” in scientific romances – names such as Washington Irving, James Ferinmore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Samuel Clemens, and Herman Melville – producing works we now see as having “literary merit” at the same time as the “dime novel” and “penny thriller” formats were beginning to boom in the late 19th century. What the ‘Teens and ‘20s really brought was really a combination of the intensification of industrial and scientific development (truly incredible discoveries were being made after all, some of which shook thinking society right down to the foundations of understanding[4] – remember, this is the era of General Relativity, of Nikola Tesla’s inventions, of atoms and cosmic rays, of injectable insulin and penicillin – and an explosion of both economic fertility and mass production, which made for a strong middle class and plenty of spare cash for cheap luxuries like throw-away print.

The resulting explosion of pulp was a Darwinian soup in which publishers experimented with formats and combinations, bred and mutated and died. The side effect was that there was at least a whole generation raised with science fictional ideas not just inhabiting the pages of recreational reading, but occasionally appearing to become possible if not actually true. Naturally, this sudden blooming led to a growth of enthusiasm which manifested itself in the letters pages of the more persistent journals, and from there to the beginnings of correspondence directly between the fans themselves.

By all accounts, Lovecraft’s circle of correspondents (who were sometimes included as a result of fan mail from Lovecraft himself) was just one of a number of circles of this sort – a particularly interesting letter might lead other readers to write to its author to argue the matter or to add to it, and so on. Many such circles seem to have sprung up in the 1920s as the pulp magazines finally started to settle into what we might call genre lines, and two particular names seem to come up often in fan histories as having started a habit of monthly letters to professional magazines, resulting in extensive national networks of correspondents: Forrest J. Ackerman and Jack Darrow[5] being two particularly prominent names from the period.

This is what defines what we might call Eofandom – a sort of pre-fandom, fragmented community of individuals who just happen to have a similar interest and who are connecting in a haphazard way through ordinary correspondence.

The First Fandom (1929-1939 – the fanzine era)
Now, the Mists of Time obviously can’t last forever, and eventually it was inevitable that something would have to happen. It happened in the early 1930s. Or rather, two things happened.

The first thing that appears to have happened is this: the expansion of transportation options in the United States led to the ability of fans to travel to visit the people they had been corresponding with.[6] Naturally, this sort of travel would be best carried out in such a way as to meet several people at once – leading to the revelation that there were others nearby who had shared enthusiasms. As they say, if you get two Americans with a shared interest together they form a club – the networks began to coalesce into actual clubs. The second thing is a related matter: the printed fan magazine.[7]

No longer content to communicate solely via correspondence circles, and finally beginning to organize in a more formal way, fans who had access – either through financial resources of their “club” membership or by virtue of a close relationship with a printer – began to develop their own member publications.  Now, instead of poring over an ever-increasing and changing range of often genre-spanning serials to see and respond to letters, or painstakingly writing letters – sometimes with several duplicates – to be delivered directly to correspondents’ eyes alone, fans at the center of social clusters could compile the news, discussions, and arguments into a familiar form: typeset magazines such as The Time Traveller, Science Fiction Digest, Brass Tacker and others. The communities that began to coalesce around these publications are significant for what comes next.

Now, a key element of the First Fandom – and probably its seminal moment[8] - was probably the establishment of the Science Fiction League, which began life under the pen of Hugo Gernsback on the pages of the February 1934 issue of Wonder Stories.

Gernsback was of course an incredible entrepreneur of the popular science and “scientifiction” enthusiasm of the 1920s, and had launched (and mourned the death of) a number of magazines.  In this context, Gernsback was an experienced player, having established the American Radio League (which started life as the Wireless League) in 1909.  He had originally formed the organization as a means to defend the amateur radio community from oppressive legislation[9] but no doubt also realized the marketing and promotional value of this sort of organization. Beginning life with known writers and community notables such as Forrest Ackerman, Jack Darrow (that name again!), Edmond Hamilton, P. Schuyler Miller and others the organization proved popular and soon had chapters in the US, UK and Australia.

This, I believe is the defining feature of the First Fandom: this is a kind of Cambrian explosion marked by the emergence of coherent communities from the previous casual correspondence circles, and the rise of “official” fan organizations, and it is these dinosaur-like entities that feature so heavily in early fan history.

Here, however, both Speer and Katz urge the reader to see some kind of transition. Speer suggests that in the period between the sale of Wonder Stories in 1936[10] and the first Worldcon in 1939 there was a period of transition and conflict which lies between the “true” First Fandom and the Second Fandom. Katz on the other hand repudiates the idea of an interregnum and instead points to the shift in fan publications as the marker for a change in Era. I both agree and disagree with both.

I choose to use Speer’s Numbered Fandom nomenclature - along with the idea of an “interregnum” as he puts it, and I agree with Katz that publications are a useful marker for the character of the community at the time, but I think he puts too much stock in the idea of “focal point” magazines, which I think obscures some of the social complexity which is evident in the early narratives. And I’m fairly sure that social dynamics is a major part of this story, which of course gets reflected in the kind of communication fans are using.

With that, let’s go back to the idea of fan correspondence:

As you might guess, the coalescence of fans into groups and the revelation that these groups were connected to one another in a network led naturally to the desire to communicate. Typewriters had of course become much cheaper with the development of the classic Underwood #5[11] but typing and retyping the same letter multiple times – even with carbon paper[12] - was a chore that surely even the most ardent fan correspondent dreaded. But the industrial advances of the 20s had also brought about a revolution in the price of duplication devices such as hectographs and mimeographs. Mimeographs and their solvent stencil process were the superior option of course – thus their survival until quite recent times – but hectographs were cheaper and with the invention of the updated Ditto process in 1925 they could be used reliably for up to 100 copies.

Copying letters to one another is of course a fine fannish thing to do, but recall that these (mostly teenaged and early 20s) fans were building on a tradition that grew out of the egoboo that comes from seeing one’s letter between the covers of a favourite magazine: it was inevitable that basement newsrags would be born, and so the first fan circulars – true fanzines – came to be “printed”[13] to supplement the semi-pro magazines that were being printed by Conrad Ruppert and others with access to printing equipment at reasonable rates.  Some of the more active and enthusiastic fan groups developed their own publishing organs, some of which appear to have been really quite elaborate and even acquired subscribers from the British fan community. (again, a testament to the extended correspondence networks that had been building). Gradually, the cost (and effort) of producing real-live high-quality fan magazines like FM grew too much, particularly with the 1930s being a poor time to market small-run magazines of such specialized interest.  Subscription petered off and the field thinned.

Not that others failed to try to fill the void: efforts like Science Fiction World, The Planeteer and others were tried but each and every one seemed to flare and die – here the newly emerging hectograph and occasional mimeograph publications started to take up the slack. With Fantasy Magazine in particular out of the way, every fan could aspire to be an editor and see some kind of success in the hobby, but by all accounts the majority of the early hectograph efforts struggled – and failed – to achieve the kind of quality fandom had come to expect.

Still, when Morris Dollens began to send out his Science Fiction Collector publication (which was initially filled with fiction by Dollens, then expanded its scope as popularity increased) with an effort at higher production quality, if not content (which Speer reports as being spotty) a higher standard was set and the field improved.

And this is where the seeds of the end of the First Fandom are to be found – but this, perhaps, is merely the fertile soil. To understand more deeply, we need to go back in time once more.

Once upon a time,[14] in the Spring of 1928 to be precise – only 2 years after the launch of Amazing Stories – the organization that might well have been the first organized fanclub was formed: the Science Correspondence Club, which later changed its name to International Scientific Society in a letter by the founder Walter Dennis and various executives published in Astounding Stories of Super-Science[15], and later to the International Scientific Association, or ISA[16].

The ISA predated the SFL of course, but it was also an organization of a slightly different character – while Gernsback’s group was welcoming to science enthusiasts, it was after all primarily an organ aimed at promoting interest in science fiction (and indeed, the cynical might assume it was intended to promote interest in Gernsback’s magazine). ISA on the other hand was explicit in its aim to bring together the amateur science community and science fiction, with the understanding that an interest in scientifiction would naturally lead to an interest in science and ideally to a career in science.

It was this grand vision which seems to have spelled the end of the First Fandom, through the conflict that began in the latter half of the 30s, and came to a head in 1939.

As previously mentioned, the early 30s saw the rise of a dizzying number of fan societies of various levels of formality. Among the more formal clubs were organizations like ISA and SFL, and of course that hoary old chestnut The Scienceers.[17] ISA was surely the strongest of the field at the time, and as the earlier fan society it’s unsurprising to find that the first “conventions” were essentially ISA affairs – the first, of course, was not so much a convention as a picnic that somehow got out of hand and ended with a dozen or so NY-ISA members heading to Philadelphia in 1936 to meet with fans there, but the next two affairs could more reasonably be called conventions and surely led to the first Worldcon ever in 1939.

This is where things get a bit messy.

The fanzine and fan magazine realms had already seen their share of strife, from silliness like the Staple Wars[18] all the way to the conflict between Gernsback and The Planeteers over payment for the use of space at the Museum of Natural History that led to the club fracturing.

The beginnings of serious conflict began in 1934, however, with Wollheim’s accusation that Gernsback had been publishing stories from young authors in Wonder Stories and not paying them.[19]

This led to great rancour as Wollheim took to criticising Wonder in every respect in any venue to which he had access. As a stalwart member of ISA, Wollheim and his fellows-at-arms were no doubt both snide and ruthless in their criticisms, and once the truth came out that the deeper reason for hostility was Gernsback’s failure to pay battle lines began to be drawn between the ISA and the SFL.[20] It doesn’t appear that “dual citizenship” was by any means impossible, even in this era of conflict, nor is it entirely clear what effect Wollheim’s propaganda campaign against Gernsback really had, but it is true that Gernsback sold Wonder Stories in 1936

One venue in which Wollheim was able to voice his displeasure with little risk of editorially enforced moderation was the fanzine circuit. As mentioned, some of those early fanzines (by which I mean the hecto- or mimeographed publications) were of…ah…uncertain quality. However, they were produced by fans in small quantities and mailed or otherwise shared about, allowing communication to a larger audience than mere letters, and served to supplement what could reasonably be expected to reach publication in the print pro-zines.

The quality of these fanzines was increasing through the mid-30s, and as noted Dollens’ Science Fiction Collector set a high bar from its launch in 1936. Other such fanzines worked to reach a similar level, and unsurprisingly the fans who were most enthusiastically writing for and participating in the better ones were ultimately moved to form the first SFandom Amateur Printing Association, FAPA in 1937.

FAPA charged membership dues of $0.50, which entitled the 50 members to receive a packet containing copies of the other members hectographed fanzines. It is significant, I think, that the organizers of FAPA were Wollheim and John Michel, who were also at the center of the increasingly political ISA.

ISA was begun, as I have said, as an organ dedicated to bringing the amateur science folks together with the SF fans, believing that the two fed from one another and led invariably to if not careers in science but a scientific adult outlook. Given this, and given the political climate of the 1930s, it was perhaps inevitable that some members of the ISA would become political.

At the time, the economic situation in the United States was still hard and the SF pulps were foundering – the sale of Wonder was one thing, but Gernsback’s effort was by no means the only publication suffering from declining subscription. Interest in fandom was declining as well, as the first generation of enthusiastic fans grew up and moved on to whatever was needed to pay their way as adults.  There remained a core of enthusiasts of course, and increasingly there was a split in the community:

On the one side were those who had been active in the Lovecraft Circle and similar Weird Tales oriented SF – people who were science fiction fans because of the fantastic elements and the adventure. These were perhaps the scientific romanticists, more in league with the science fiction of Burroughs and Shelley and Doyle.

On the other side were those who saw scientifiction as deriving inevitably from science – they might enjoy things like Flash Gordon, but they were more interested in the speculations of Wells and Verne.  Their adventures too might be adventurous, but they expected them to be extrapolations from the amazing discoveries being announced all the time, a serious effort to see or at least inspire the future.

The ISA was, obviously, in the latter camp – but even this camp was not immune to fracture, and the break came in the summer of 1937.

Active in the hectograph scene, Wollheim and Michel (and also Fred Pohl) had also begun to get embroiled in a variety of leftist movements in the New York area, including the Young Communist League.  Wollheim, it should be said, was a relatively rapid convert – by Speer’s account he had been vocal in his support for a Republican candidate for president in the summer of 1936, but by the end of the year he was a communist. A rapid transition indeed!  These three men, along with Robert Lowndes, became vocal advocates of the cause of the future: the goal of a scientific socialist world state, which of course they argued would be a utopia.

At about the same time, another prominent member of the ISA, William Sykora, was president of the club but on the verge of going off to school and pursuing that logical aim of ISA membership: a career in science. Consumed by increasingly sober concerns, the elderly Sykora (he was, after all, in his 20s – the eldest of the players, we should remember) allowed himself to become emotional in his letter of resignation from the office of president of the NY-ISA and blasted the younger members for their obsession with friviolity and distraction from the “Gernsbackian ideal” of the advancement of science through SF fandom.

This, along with the political rift between Wollheim’s side and Sykora’s led to a series of intense battles fought out not only in the pages of fanzines and magazine letter sections, but also in person through the emerging convention scene.

So intense was the enmity after the break-down of the ISA over 1937 (leading ultimately to the formation of the Futurians from the ashes in 1938 – mainly fellow-travellers of Wollheim and Michel, at least in theory) that Wollheim, Michel and others worked to get Sykora ejected from the New York SFL[21] and led intense political campaigns that strained the atmosphere of the first real conventions in 1938 and 1939. Sykora, Sam Moskowitz, and James Taurasi[22] (together known as the Triumvirs, in opposition to Wollheim’s Quadrumvir) for their part were central to the organization of these two conventions – and advocates for serious, apolitical fandom. It was true that they felt SF (or rather stf) was a vehicle for the advancement of science, but they not only saw no need for a political agenda but actively opposed the communist utopia being pushed by the other side.

These two groups seem to have formed the hard nuclei of viciously opposed factions.  It was probably inevitable that after Wollheim read Michel’s manifesto[23] demanding that SFandom commit to the scientific socialist agenda (and assuming that any fan who thought would immediately agree that it was a brilliant goal) the two factions would clash and throw off sparks wherever they were in contact. The next year was filled with fanzine broadsides and manifestoes, mainly between Wollheim and Mozkowitz, and by the time of the first Worldcon in 1939, later dubbed Nycon, the conflict was in full boil. Sykora and Moskowitz barred Wollheim and others from the event, for fear they would make another scene by standing on soap boxes (not literally).  

This, I think, marks the dissolution of the First Fandom. Speer naturally disagrees – I suppose that is to be expected, considering his own place in the events of the era – seeing the rise and fall of the ISA (and similar organizations) as central to the nature of Fandom. Arnie Katz of course disagrees as well, seeing three Eras in the span I have labelled the First Fandom – there is a logic to this of course, as Katz is relying on the fanzine as a focal point to his eras, and because he bases his Era system on the idea of periods in which there is a consensus in fandom.

But the logic I am using is a little different:

I don’t think that a consensus is necessary to identify an era of fandom, but what is important is that the community is growing and at peace.  You’ll notice that this is the theme through my history here of my First Fandom – through Eofandom there is a blooming of the hobby, interest is growing, connections are building, and at the beginning of the First Fandom fans are coalescing into more or less formal groups. Fanzines and the like are an organ by which this is being achieved, but more than anything the technological development of cheap, accessible printing was simply a driver of the process – this along with convenient postal services and expanding transportation made it possible to make the transition from faceless letter-writing to publication circles and real life meetings.

This, then, is what I think is the central character of a Fandom: the essential nature of the community, how it grows and how it interacts, not any particular consensus.

However, there remains the question of how a Fandom ends and this again is a point at which I diverge from Katz and cleave a little more closely to Speer. The common thread in the early Fandom from both their narratives is this – that it ended, more or less, with the vicious political conflict between Wollheim et al and Moskowitz et al.  It’s significant, I think, that while many fans seem to have picked sides, the voices detectable in the publications that have survived seem a small minority of fandom as a whole. The disagreement may have been wider, but the determination to fight over it was not.

True, as Speer notes World War 2 began and surely news of the war was a dampening force. Likewise, though Katz disagrees with Speer’s assessment that the war era was a “transition” with no clear character he agrees that the war was a major focus. For that matter, I agree as well. But the question remains: why mark the end of the First Fandom (or if you like the Hectograph Era) in 1939?

I am concentrating on the relationships, on the health of the fan community and its growth. As such, I think that the most reasonable explanation for this agreement that the age must end in 1939 is this:

The Wollheim/Moskowitz feud and the intense politics that underlay it were exhausting to the run-of-the-mill fan. People were tired of the conflict. On the one hand, it must have seemed terribly frivolous to argue about the “purpose” of science fiction in the face of events across the Atlantic, and on the other hand the world was rapidly becoming a fraught enough place – those who had enough of strife would have preferred not to be bothered.  No doubt, this led to something of a withdrawal from fan society in order to avoid the constant feud.  On top of this, recall that much of fandom in this era was very young – enthusiastic teens[24] - but they were growing older, and with adulthood came other responsibilities. Even those who went on to work in science fiction as writers and publishers drifted away from the seething fan community simply because they no longer had time. In other words:

The end of this age is marked by gafiating fans.

This is the three point theory I will proceed with:

1.      A Fandom is an era of fan activity beyond simply enjoying SF – organization and society.
2.      A Fandom is marked by a period of growth and relative peace, regardless of the factions.
3.      A Fandom ends when conflict intensifies and resulting gafia causes a decline in fandom.

I will be disagreed with, but at the end of it I’m writing this history of Fandoms for myself, as a project to organize what I am presently reading, not for anyone else. Those who disagree are free to ignore me.

And with that, a warning:

It will be evident from the nature of this post that there is more to come. Not an encyclopedia, not immediately, but there is more.

[1] Indeed – Munsey’s Weekly, or Munsey’s Magazine as it was known after it went to a monthly format in 1891, has been claimed by some to be the first mass market magazine. This is a dubious claim, however, as the growth of mass-market periodicals in the US exploded in the 1860s, eventually producing a number of publications still known today such as Ladies Home Journal (1883).  Thus spake The Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age (2003, Schlup & Ryan eds). Across the Atlantic, Punch was launched in 1841 – in explicit homage to similar French magazines. While some of these were niche it’s hard to see how Munsey’s could be considered the first mass-market – unless one carefully defines “mass-market” or “magazine”, or quibbles to say that it was the first such periodical launched in the magazine format. Even so… 

[2] The concept of Numbered Fandoms was first proposed in 1939 by noted fan historian, Jack Speer (yes, this one) in his amazingly complete article on the history of fandom to that point, “Up To Now” – thankfully archived online here. This idea was revised for Fancyclopedia 2 by Speer in 1946 and of course built on by others in later years, notably Robert Silverberg, who updated the history up to the Sixth Fandom in his column in the Halloween issue of Quandry in 1952. (a copy of which I don’t seem to be able to find). Arnie Katz rethinks the theory entirely in his article in Fanstuff in November 2012 – starting at issue 25, found here and concluding in issue 26, which is here. Arnie Katz reworks the Numbered Fandom approach and creates a new “Era” based framework. While his historical analysis his excellent and his article very informative (indeed, Speer and Katz form the core of my own summary) I can’t wholly agree. Speer seems to have used fanzines and the societies and politics that surrounded them as a sign of the tone and nature of fandom at the time; Katz takes fanzine clusters as being essentially definitive of fandom. I lean to the former as you will see.

[3] Presuming income of course.

[4] Seriously – see this timeline of scientific discoveries of the 20th Century to see some of the amazing things that we learned between 1900 and 1930.

[5] These two names come up extensively in discussions of fandom from the 1930s as the number 1 and number 2 fans of the early days, but sadly only Mr. Ackerman seems to be remembered. This article bemoans the fact – and this article demonstrates it with scans of historical letters addressed to Jack Darrow (that’s his fandom pseudonym)

[6] Though it would appear that the tale of fandom essentially starting with the pilgrimage of Forrest Ackerman to the East coast is apocryphal, according to Speer in his footnote to his article added in 1994.

[7] I hesitate to call these “fanzines” as the nature seems different from the later type. A good example of high quality fan magazine from this era is Fantasy Magazine, which was started by Conrad Ruppert in September 1932 and printed on his small hand press of the typeset variety, mostly edited by Julius Schwartz. Note that this type of magazine is actually the archetype of the “semi-pro” category recognized by the Hugos and typically had quite high production standards considering the level of resources.

[8] This is where I diverge from Arnie Katz and his focus on the fanzine: I think that rather than looking to the publication as the core of the era, we should look at the dynamics of the society that was generating.

[9] Successfully, as it happens – a letter writing campaign from the membership sparked a review of the proposed legislation, and an amended version of the Alexander Wireless Bill was signed by President Taft in 1913 containing a nearly verbatim copy of the recommendations Gernsback had given in his editorial in the Feb 1912 issue of Modern Electrics, one of his magazines at the time.

[10] It suddenly seems to me that Gernsback was at the helm of a number of sinking ships. His Quixotic promotion of the latest, important thing is something to awe the reader of any history.

[11] The first mass-produced typewriter to be produced and sold in the millions.

[12] Which is only really good for 5 duplicates at a time, for the temporally challenged among us who have never used a typewriter, much less carbon paper.

[13] Multiplicated might be a more accurate word.

[14] You knew it was coming again, didn’t you?

[15] I don’t seem to be able to narrow down the date of the name changes, but from the database of issues at isfdb it appears that Dennis’s letter must have been in either June or October 1930.

[16] Inferring from Fredrik Pohl’s words in his autobiography The Way the Future Was the change to ISA seems to have occurred in 1936.

[17] The Scienceers formed in late 1929, with the first meeting on December 11 being called by some the beginning of Fandom. Ostensibly having aims similar to those of the ISA, The Scienceers were actually mainly focused on SF, which seems to have led to its fracturing a year later at the end of 1930, when Gernsback and the President Warren Fitzgerald hosted a lecture at the American Museum of Natural History. Gernsback tempted Fitzgerald and a few others into joining his rocketry club, which left The Scienceers looking for another home (they had been meeting at Fitzgerald’s apartment). Gernsback also failed to pay the fees for the Museum venue, leaving a bunch of mid-teen fans to foot the bill – not, as it happens, was it the first financial scandal the man was involved in, nor the last – thus the moniker “Hugo the Rat.”

[18] No, really.

[19] Wollheim’s story “The Man from Ariel” was apparently not paid for, and in griping Wollheim discovered that others had been similarly bilked.

[20] I find myself wondering at the coincidence of timing between the slight against Wollheim and the launch of SFL. Could it be that Gernsback saw the dispute coming? Was there more here than just predatory commercial practices and an effort to get a sustainable level of distribution for his magazine?

[21] A nasty affair involving a motion in Sykora’s absence, blocked by the president as out of order, an impeachment, and Wollheim’s “lapdog” permitting the ejection.

[22] Who, it should be noted, was also a prominent publisher of hectograph fanzines

[23] Read the thing here – you can see why many were uncomfortable with it, particularly considering the international events then in progress.

[24] Moskowitz was 19 years old when he was chair of Nycon in 1939! NINETEEN!!!