Fri
Dec 11 2009 10:29am
Happy 80th anniversary, SF fandom

On December 11, 1929, the world’s first club devoted to science fiction met for the first time. They called themselves the Scienceers. Years later, in 1961, one of their original number recalled those days in a fanzine article which, through the magic of the World Wide Web, can be read here.

Our thanks to Rob Hansen, author of the formidable history of British fandom Then, for reminding us of this anniversary. Says Rob, “I’ve always been fascinated that the first president of that first US fan group—indeed, the world’s first fan group—was a black guy, Warren Fitzgerald, and that they held their early meetings at his home in Harlem. I’m amazed this doesn’t seem to be widely known.” Rob also points out that Fitzgerald was one of the founders of the American Rocket Society.

All that aside, it would be nice to establish December 11 as the official anniversary date of the formation of SF fandom. And certainly it’s a more pleasant thing to associate with December 11 than the assassination of Byzantine emperor Nikephoros II in 969, the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936, or the arrest of Bernard Madoff in 2008. Go, fandom, may you always be creative, unconventional, and neurodiverse. 


Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a musician, a blogger, and the fiction editor of Tor.com. He is aware of all internet traditions.

10 comments
Daniel Goss
1. Beren
Quite possibly the best idea ever! SF Fandom day! Write your congressman! We could celebrate by giving a book from our own collection to a nearby library, a practice that I have been forced to adopt lately to deal with overflowing shelves in my office.

Oh, and by the way. I debated even telling you this, but when I first read this article I thought it said "Neil Patrick Harris."

SF Fandom, it's Legen(waitforit)dary!
Randy Byers
2. Randy Byers
Thanks for the pointer to the article by Allen Glassner. It seems fannishly fitting that within a year there was a feud and schism. ("By the end of 1930, dissension among our members caused the club to split into two factions ...")
William S. Higgins
3. higgins
All that aside, it would be nice to establish December 11 as the official anniversary date of the formation of SF fandom.

We could argue about other events that might also have signified the formation of SF fandom, but if we want to pick a date, this one seems reasonably solid to me.
Randy Byers
4. Rich Lynch
Interesting article, but it's a bit subjective to point to any event to say that *this* was the beginning of science fiction fandom. You could make perhaps an even stronger case that the beginning of fandom happened with the June 1926 issue of Amazing Stories. Here is a passage from my article in one of the Nippon 2007 progress reports:

In the June 1926 issue of his Amazing Stories magazine, Gernsback had noted that there were many science fiction enthusiasts who were buying the magazine but who probably had never met many (if any) other fans. The reason was obvious: the number of fans of the genre was probably only a few score, and since letters printed in Amazing's "Discussions" section did not include addresses of the correspondents, it was unlikely that fans would happen across any other fans they didn’t already know. In one stroke, Gernsback changed all that – he began publishing names and full addresses for all letters he included in Amazing. Almost immediately, fans started writing letters to other fans rather than just to the magazine. Correspondence networks began to form between fans. It was the birth of modern day science fiction fandom.
Patrick Nielsen Hayden
5. pnh
Hey, Richard Lynch! Are there more places where you've posted this comment? This is the second one I've come across in fifteen minutes.

It's "a bit subjective"? Of course it's a bit subjective. Were you under the impression that Rob Hansen was arguing that before December 11, 1929, nothing resembling SF fandom existed, and afterward, it was fully formed? Don't be silly.

"You could make perhaps an even stronger case that the beginning of fandom happened with the June 1926 issue of Amazing Stories." You could make that case. And you could as easily say that SF fandom began the first time two people enthused to one another about one of those Jules Verne books. But the first known in-person meeting of an actual club chartered to discuss science fiction seems like a reasonably good starting point.

All things have fuzzy edges, including the birth of steam power, the nation of France, the formation of the Beatles, and the imminent death of the internet (film at 11). And yet, anniversaries are fun. If you're in a state that's celebrating its 150th anniversary of statehood, do you go around primly telling everyone "Actually the process of becoming a state really got started 153 years and seven months ago, so your celebration is stupid"? Of course not. Rob's point was that in December 11, 1929, we have a reasonable candidate for Founding Event.
Randy Byers
6. Daftnewt
But I always commemorate the assassination of Nikephoros II! Well, maybe I can combine the two somehow...
Rob Hansen
7. RobHansen
My history of British fandom, THEN (which Patrick links to above) begins:

"When Hugo Gernsback launched AMAZING STORIES magazine in America in April 1926 he created the Science Fiction genre and ushered in the age of the SF pulps. True, there had been earlier works that we now consider to be science fiction - among them those of writers such as Verne, Wells, and Conan Doyle - but though fantastic these were solidly in the mainstream of literature. Not until Gernsback did such fiction become a separate and distinct category of literature, one he termed 'scientifiction'. The creation of this distinct and separate category of fiction brought with it a distinct and separate category of reader. In the June 1926 issue of AMAZING, Gernsback noted that many of those buying the magazine had little or no chance of contacting each other and so, when printing their letters to the magazine in its 'Discussions' column, started giving their full names and addresses. This led to correspondences springing up between readers, the beginnings of a sense of community, and eventually, to the formation of the first fan groups."

Which in its essentials is pretty much identical to the piece of his own that Richard quotes, so we have no disagreement on those points. Why would we? Before you can have a fandom you have to have the fans who will come together and create that fandom, a process Amazing was instrumental in starting. And the first time those fans came together and formed a fan group was in Harlem, New York on December 11th 1929. I really can't think of a better candidate for a single founding date or event.
Rob Hansen
8. RobHansen
Twenty years ago, when I was first researching the history of British fandom, the date and venue for the inaugural meeting of our first SF group, the Ilford Science Literary Circle, was unknown. Walter Gillings, one of its founders, had died some years earlier but in his writings had given a date fr the group of 1931 and mentioned that there activities had been covered in The Ilford Recorder, a local newspaper he then worked for. Armed with this information, I sought out their archives, went through old back numbers, and discovered the first meeting had been on Monday 27th October 1930. Nearly 60 years after the event, we had our birth date. (Should anyone be interested in reading what they got up to back then, I've recently put those newspaper reports online at:

http://www.fiawol.org.uk/FanStuff/THEN%20Archive/archive.htm)

Another thing I found in those reports was the adress where they met. A few minutes with the electoral register of the period gave me the names of the owners and hence two more members of the group. I wonder if it's possible to use this method to find out more about Warren Fitzgerald? I've no idea how common a name that might have been in Harlem in 1929, but we know he was 30ish and married so are there records his name could be checked against to find an address? If his house still exists, a photo of it would be A Good Thing to have out there, at least.
William S. Higgins
9. higgins
Rob Hansen writes:

I wonder if it's possible to use this method to find out more about Warren Fitzgerald? I've no idea how common a name that might have been in Harlem in 1929, but we know he was 30ish and married so are there records his name could be checked against to find an address? If his house still exists, a photo of it would be A Good Thing to have out there, at least.

Reading this caused me to spend a couple hours looking at data from the 1930 U.S. Census. Then I wrote a long message to Rob.

A Warren Fitzgerald, age 30 and married, is listed at 211 West 122nd Street, New York, New York, in 1930. This is in Harlem, between 7th and 8th Avenue. It's a brownstone apartment building, visible in Google Street View.

I have scans from Heinlein's collection of early AIS newsletters. I should look them over for any mention of Mr. Fitzgerald.
Randy Byers
10. Larry Steckler
For more information on Hugo Gernsback check out a new biography available on Amazon.

The document was found by me when we closed down Gernsback Publications in 2003. It was an old ms that I edited and produced as a book.

Follow the link and you can go to the book and thanks to Amazon’s “look inside” feature, you can even get an idea of what it covers.

http://www.amazon.com/Hugo-Gernsback-Well-Ahead-Time/dp/1419658573/ref=ed_oe_p

Hope you find it interesting.

For more information feel free to contact me, Larry Steckler, at PoptronixInc@aol.com

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