Jul 20 2008 7:17am

Ecce Fanno

It’s hot here in New York in the summer. Hot and sticky, as if the air were filled with invisible cobwebs of cotton candy. Hence the seasonal mantra of the New York City weatherman, translated from the sticky Latin of our municipal motto, “Hazy, hot, and humid.” 

My daily fanSo I carry a fan. At the moment, it’s a relatively nice painted wooden one that’s far more effective and more durable than the cheap paper ones I used to get. I use it primarily when riding the bus and the subway. Both modes of transit are reliably air conditioned these days, but the fan amplifies the A/C’s effectiveness by assisting in the rapid evaporation of sweat, of which I produce more than I used to, thanks to a medication I’m on. The other passengers look at me oddly at first and eventually enviously, but I’m only rarely asked where to get a fan, and I never see anyone else using one. Do other people fear to resemble a southern belle or a Chinese mandarin? It doesn’t bother me, I’d rather be cool.

That pretty much sums up the traditional science fiction type: careless of convention and more than happy to look eccentric to achieve a practical advantage. 

Perhaps it’s not true anymore, but for decades there really was such a science fiction type, and not only among the genre’s readers. For people of that type (originally men, but eventually women, too) were overwhelmingly its writers, artists, and editors.

 [click on "Read more..." to uh, read more!]

OK. So here’s a list. What do these ten men have in common?

  • Arthur C. Clarke
  • Christopher Priest
  • Donald A. Wollheim
  • Frederik Pohl
  • Harlan Ellison
  • Isaac Asimov
  • Ray Bradbury
  • Robert Bloch
  • Robert Silverberg
  • Terry Carr

Well, obviously, they are some of the greatest names in 20th century science fiction. Less  obviously, they were all active SF fans before they became professionals. Yes, that’s right, every one of them was once one of those nice but nerdy boys who attend club meetings, publish fanzines, and go to conventions. They were immersed in SF and fantasy long before they began to write it. SF was their religion, and they grew up to become its high priests.

This doesn’t seem to be happening any more. (Why, is a question for another time.) My colleague Patrick Nielsen Hayden and I are from what is perhaps the last generation to follow that path from the wilds of fandom to the halls of professional publishing. We don’t usually harp on it, nor are we ashamed of it. We are, possibly, a little proud.

It is now 82 AG (after Hugo Gernsback founded Amazing Stories), and even here in that same 21st century future that Amazing’s readers dreamed of and had such high hopes for, there is still a remarkably smooth continuum from the ranks of casual readers, through to the fans in the trenches publishing the zines and blogs and putting on the cons, and on to the studios of the artists and the offices of the writers and editors and publishers. There is still a rare osmosis, a fluid interchange among all the members of the SF/fantasy community that is unmatched in any other field of literature. (Why that should be, is again, a topic for another time.) is but the latest manifestation of something special about our field. The medium may be new, but the energy behind the messages is the same. Open books encourage open minds. (Especially if the books are science fiction.) And open minds are the only perpetual motion machines we're ever going to find. They spark and fizz and snap like Tesla coils.

We’re glad you could join us in a demonstration of that ongoing and, we hope, permanent, state of affairs.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden
1. pnh
Presumably the bit about the fan suggested the title of this post; I suspect Moshe has forgotten that my fanzine for FAPA (the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, oldest of the SF-oriented APAs) was in fact entitled Ecce Fanno.
Moshe Feder
2. Moshe

Well, I'm tempted to claim that I was just handing you a straight line, but in fact, I'd forgotten that, and just now did a spot-on Homer Simpson "Doh!" when I read your comment.

I'm sure your zine's title was the first time I'd ever seen that change rung on "Ecce Homo" and being the trufan and fan of Jesus (the fellow nice Jewish boy, that is, no further beliefs intended or implied ) that I am, it no doubt lodged deep in the dusty crevices of my mental attic only to emerge today. In any case, the inadvertent reference to you and your zine is actually quite appropriate, as the article makes clear.

You are, of course, correct in guessing that it was the hand-fan conceit of my opening that inspired the title, but I also wanted to use the denotation of the dog Latin phrase. I want my readers to "behold the fan" I was and will always be, and the fans that so many of the writers and editors we admire will likewise ever be.

It was nice that you mentioned FAPA and explained what it was. One of my favorite fun facts about our field is that Bob Silverberg is still publishing a FAPAzine, something he started doing in 1949, at the age of 14. You've gotta love a guy who could keep faith with his boyish self in that way. In some ways, he's one of the suavest, most adult people I know, yet he hasn't lost touch with that kid.

I suppose I ought to turn the tables on you now, and ask if you remember the name of my FAPAzine!

Alison Scott
3. AlisonScott
You have left Terry Pratchett off that list.

But more seriously, I think your basic premise is just plain, flat, wrong. I now have numerous friends who I met in fandom who were and are fans, and who now are (or in some cases, soon will be) published authors. Just last week I got the shiny new hardback first edition of the first novel of a woman I have known so long that I questioned the use of the phrase 'exciting young SF writer' on the publicity material. One of my closest friends, a woman who I met in the fantasy society in my first week at university, will have her first novel published shortly. Jo Walton's won loads of awards, and I knew her first as a fan (though of course she was already a published writer of games). Charlie Stross is now a huge, famous author, and he's been going to cons forever.

Now, things might be different in the US; I don't know because I'm not active in fandom there.

I remember people bemoaning the fact that professional authors didn't come to conventions any more, and I pointed out then that there were loads of younger authors at the con. The older authors they were thinking of were of an age where lots of people cut back on cons anyway.

I think when we look back at the writers of this age, lots of them, too will be active fans.
Moshe Feder
4. Moshe
Allison noted, "You have left Terry Pratchett off that list." Of course, it was never meant to be a comprehensive list, merely a representative one, but I'm interested to hear that, because I had no idea that Terry was active in fandom before going pro.

What was his main fanac? Was he active in a club, did he run cons, or do zines? Of course, only the latter even had the chance of piercing my horizon on this side of the pond, so I can't be too hard on myself for not knowing this about Terry. Still, it makes perfect sense in line with what I've seen of him at cons since he became a world-famous best-selling author. I can't think of any writer more comfortable at cons and hanging out with fans, let alone such a famous one.

But on your main point, I'm rather surprised by the vehemence of your rejection of my premise. I take you at your word, of course, that you know lots of fans who are now selling, but I'm just not seeing it as a major trend here. Could this be, as you suggest, a divergence between the US and UK?

Yes, there are some recent North American fans who have become important authors, Tor's own Robert Charles Wilson and Robert Sawyer (both Canadians, I note) immediately come to mind. But they seem to me to be very much the exceptions. And the dearth of fans, indeed just of young people with even a deep-rooted reading background in the field's canon and history, is sorely obvious in the publishing world.
Avram Grumer
5. avram
Yeah, Alison, my experience runs counter to Moshe's as well. My friend Seanan McGuire just got her first book contract, after years of con-going (and -running), filking, gaming, blogging, etc. Nick Mamatas blogs and goes to cons. Pretty much every young writer and would-be-writer I can think of blogs and generally goes to cons.
Moshe Feder
6. Moshe

I'm glad to have Avi's confirmation of Alison's assertion for our North American community. I suspect he 'gets out' more than I do. It just leaves the question of why none of these alleged many fannish authors are showing up in my submissions pile.

I've been at least attempting to acquire books for Tor for eight years now, and successfully doing so for five. In all that time, I've had two fans approach me with books, and just recently reached out myself to solicit some from a third. Did someone stick a Repel-O Ray projector on my back when I wasn't looking?

And that still leaves the question of why there seem to be so few 'core' or 'prime' fans in publishing these days. Is it just that they've all become programmers instead and would rather make the big bucks and buy their books in bookstores, rather than get them for free at the office but live with four roommates? No, that couldn't be it, surely?

Moshe Feder
7. Moshe

I couldn't resist following up on Alison's saying that "Charlie Stross is now a huge, famous author, and he's been going to cons forever." That made perfect sense, but it didn't quite answer the question for me. After all, to my mind, just attending cons is not quite the same as being an active fan like Alison.

So I wrote to Charlie and quoted the whole paragraph of Alison's at the end of which he's mentioned.

Here's what he said, and what I wrote to him in response. Charlie is in red and I'm in blue:

Can you confirm this or comment and expand on it?

Well, my first con was Yorkon 3 in, IIRC, 1984. That early enough for you? ;-)

Hey, I don't mean to turn this into a pissing contest, even if my first con was in 1970. (And if I'd had half a brain, I could have been reading fanzines in 1969.) I know or knew too many folks who'd predated me by even longer. I'm just filling in the details of your background that I didn't know.

So were you just a con attendee back then, or were you actively involved in some way?

My one experiment in con-running was on the committee of one of the Unicons back in the late 1980s. I steered well clear after that. I was heavily active in APAs in the 1980s and was a BSFA member from about 1983 onwards.

Pretty good fannish credentials AFAIC. You can't get much more hard-core fannish than apas. (Ever hear of the song parody I wrote about them? Susan Wood quoted it in her "Club House" column in Amazing.)

Of course, the fact that I was ignorant of your activity there also shows how their insularity is a drawback as compared to genzines. That, and the less than complete sync between US and UK fandom are enough to account for my being unaware of you back then.

It's become a cliché in fan-historical circles to note the parallels between apa writing (in style and content and even social dynamics) and the writing online today, but one key difference, among many, is that so much writing on the net (as in newsgroups) and on the web (as in blogs) is done in public rather than in private, and is also so completely unrestricted by geography and the possibility or more often,  impossibility, of meeting in the flesh.

Madeline F
8. Madeline F
Lois McMaster Bujold came from Star Trek fanfic into being an author, way back in early 80s. Elizabeth Bear I met first in the mid-90s on a mailing list for Zelazny's Amber books and Wujcik's RPG based on them. I bet if you want to find people today interested in stuff like your fan, you'd do well at the MAKE magazine blog.

Fandom isn't the only game in town; the internet means that people who are interested in the areas that fandom covered can now hang out in places that are easier to get to and more to their taste.
Arachne Jericho
9. arachnejericho
I'm wondering if "being active in fandom" can now be extended to people who religiously update their blogs, hang out on message boards and forums blabbering away, read tons of blogs in the field and comment quite a bit.

A lot of fandom seems to be communication and connection, and the web provides a lot of that these days, through sites like, the great multitude of blogging platforms and forums, even these days with Wikipedia-platform-based fan wikis.
Moshe Feder
10. Moshe

Thanks, Madeline, Lois is an excellent example of someone following the classic pattern. And her case demonstrates that by her time it worked for women as well as for men.

But let's not forget that the early 80s was a quarter century ago. That's a whole generation, at least.

And the Make Magazine forums are doubtless a great place to find people who might once have become fans. A good suggestion.

But your point about fandom not being the only game in town is the main thing, and exactly right in my opinion. That's part of what I was referring to in a comment on Alison's excellent front page article Related Subjects: Fandom, when I said:

"In the 38 years I've been around and watching, I've had the interesting experience of being present at the creation of daughter fandoms, and branch fandoms, and gotten to watch them bud off and flourish and eventually outstrip us in size and public visibility. That used to bother me a little, but I've come to realize that was just childish on my part. The proliferation was actually a healthy thing and it was inevitable, barring the disappearance of SF/fantasy itself.

"How hypocritical it would be to claim to be a fan of the Literature of Change, and then complain when the winds of change swirled through our own community!"

and later:

"The genres of the fantastic dominate the mass media and are appreciated by the broad public in a way that the fragile, scattered, tiny community of fans in the '30s would never have dared to dream. It may have been stuck with an ugly dynastic name, but Sci-Fi is the King of all Media.

"That being the case, fandom (prime, core, and otherwise) can never be the same and will never again serve the same purposes. But if we are true to ourselves, it won't matter."

Fandom as we know it, in all its variety, will not survive, yet fandom will continue -- like a body shedding cells and adding new ones, yet recognizably staying the same creature. It would be nice if it remembered where it came from, but that's sentiment, not a pragmatic concern.

Moshe Feder
11. Moshe

arachnejericho asks, "I'm wondering if "being active in fandom" can now be extended to people who religiously update their blogs, hang out on message boards and forums blabbering away, read tons of blogs in the field and comment quite a bit."

I can't speak for anyone else (and doubtless there are curmudgeons who'd disagree) but I definitely do so extend it, because you're right when you go on to say that the point is communication and connection.

Mimeography is an interesting quaint craft skill (which I enjoyed), but it has no innate connection to SF/fantasy, anymore than blogging does. The romance of Twiltone, for those who felt it, was a matter of long association, nothing more. No doubt blogging and the other forms of electronic fanac have or will acquire similar resonances over time.

Alison Scott
12. AlisonScott
Obviously Terry P was active in fandom long before I was, but it's very well documented; eg in Peter Weston's Stars in His Eyes amongst others. He was one of the fans invited to the 40 year RePetercon reunion because he'd been at the first one, for example. By the time I met Terry he was still pretty active in fandom, but also beginning to be quite successful.

I don't think it's entirely fair to suggest that novelists have to be wildly busy actifans; to write novels you need a little bit of time and space in your life that may not be available if you're a wild blogging party animal. And similarly, it's not terribly surprising that people pick careers that pay the rent over those that let them follow their heart, Johnny Bunko notwithstanding (nb: must get round to reading that).

Looking at other comments, I think part of what's going on here is another symptom of the fannish diaspora; people are active in some form of fanac, just not the bit-we-keep-talking-about-but-don't-have-a-name-for. Cassie Claire is another such, thinking about it; got her novel contract after a bout of glorious, world-beating fan fiction. I can think of a couple of fantasy novelists whose first novels were quite obviously slash fiction with the identifying, copyright-infringing, marks filed off, too.
Rob Hansen
13. RobHansen
Moshe: You asked about Terry Pratchett's involvement in fandom. Well a quick scan of THEN reveals that as early as 1964 he was one of those young fans - along with Charles Platt - who went along to the meetings in Ela Parker's London flat. By 1966 he was appearing on the new writers' panel at that year's Eastercon. If the British Fanzine Bibliography on my website was actually searchable I'd attempt to discover if he'd ever edited a fanzine, but from memory I don't recall that he ever did.
Moshe Feder
14. Moshe
Alison says:

"Obviously Terry P was active in fandom long before I was, but it's very well documented."

Hey, no need to appeal to documentation! it's not like I wouldn't just take your word for it.

But, in fact, Rob Hansen is kind enough to follow up and enlighten us both with the details. And those details kind of support my point, I think, since it turns out that Terry was an active fan in the mid-60s. That's over 40 years ago, and so says much more about the way things used to work in the fan-to-pro mutation than about how it is now.

Alison further says:

"I don't think it's entirely fair to suggest that novelists have to be wildly busy actifans"

But I don't think I ever suggested that. As you go on to say, it's obvious that a novelist doesn't have the time for crifanac. I was talking about starting out as an active fan and transitioning to pro status over time. Yes, it's great that Terry Carr kept doing fanzines and Bob Silverberg does a FAPAzine once a year, but that's hardly something we have a right to expect from them or anyone. What I like about both of them is that they always acknowledged their fannish roots, and didn't run away from them.

I'm proud to consider myself a friend of Harlan Ellison, but one of the things about him that does annoy or disappoint me is that he tends to minimize his fannish past. I loved the recent documentary about him, but it's striking that even as it tells us things about his childhood we never knew before, it never mentions that he was a fireball of an actifan, and published one of the best fanzines of his era. I suppose it's possible the film maker just wasn't interested in that part of his bio, but somehow I doubt that's the correct explanation.

Alison continues:

"it's not terribly surprising that people pick careers that pay the rent over those that let them follow their heart"

Of course! I was not seriously criticizing anyone for being practical in that way. I thought that my tongue was about to come through my cheek when I ended with "No, that couldn't be it, surely?" Did I phrase that bit so badly that you actually thought I was advocating living with four roommates as superior or more virtuous than making a decent living? (Of course, in a better world, the question wouldn't arise, and publishing workers would be paid decently.)

And Alison finishes off with an excellent point about the important and growing role of fan fiction. We old-farts long disdained it, but it can't be denied that it has become a training ground for real writers who are worth knowing.
Diane Duane
15. dianeduane
(chortle) Moshe, *this* old fart started out writing fanfic. And, OMG, what utterly terrible junk it was. All burned long ago, mercifully. :) But it got better. (My first published fanfic came out *after* my first published novel.)

...Yet what goes around comes around, and now *my* characters are getting enthusiastically slashed (to heartfelt local choruses of "I'm averting my eyes, O Lord"). Doubtless there's a message here somewhere.
William S. Higgins
16. higgins
Fans into pros, North American division, in the recent past:

Jennifer Stevenson, de facto head of programming for the 1991 Worldcon, frequent congoer, creator of the con Chimera, and thrower of parties in Chicago fandom, has been writing for many years. She cracked the novel market with Trash Sex Magic in 2004 from Small Beer Press. This year Ballantine brought out three of her supernatural romances in three months: The Brass Bed, The Velvet Chair, and The Bearskin Rug. They're peddled in Wal-Mart and in my local grocery store.

Ryk E. Spoor, whom I know better by his nom de packet Sea Wasp, has been writing intelligently about SF on Usenet and other online forums since before God had an AOL account. Baen published his Digital Knight in 2003 and Boundary, a collaboration with Eric Flint, in 2006.

I met David D. Levine since the Seventies. He has chaired cons, written in apas, and-- with his wife, Kate Yule-- published the tiny annual fanzine Bento. He recently began selling short stories and won a Hugo for "Tk'Tk'Tk." Wheatland Press has a collection out, Space Magic, and David's got a novel on the street. (Don't know whether his agent has shown it to Moshe.)

So. Three people of my acquaintance, long involved in fanac, who have recently begun selling SF and fantasy. If I thought a little longer, I could probably come up with more.
eric orchard
17. orchard
I'm coming late to this conversation but I'd like to say: wonderful article, a really great look at what's happening in the community now and the continuity of how it got there. I'm a faithful blogger and it's put me in touch with people I couldn't reach otherwise, as I'm fairly isolated and live a distance from any conventions.

On another note, I'd be skeptical if a writer or artist entered the SF fantasy field without being a fan previous.

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