It’s been a blast guest-blogging here at Tor.com. I’d like to thank you, the readers who put up with me here, whether or not you wind up buying my book (hint… The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown). I’d like to thank all those who commented and re-tweeted and linked on their blogs. (In fact, if it hadn’t been for “Blarg,” I’d never have learned how wrong I was in thinking that there was ever a Nazi threat against the U.S., Britain or France, so there’s that.) And I’d like to thank you for being a fan of science fiction.
My book may be about some of the heroes of the Golden Age—Heinlein, de Camp, Asimov, and yes, old L. Ron Hubbard—but it’s also about the fans who embraced them. The birth of a genre is really a two-sided coin. There are the creators, and there are those who appreciate. The story of those who eagerly awaited each pulp issue from month to month, who founded the clubs, who got together with others to write their own because they couldn’t frickin’ wait a whole month for their fix, is as much a sub-plot as Cleve Cartmill’s reveal of Atomic Bomb secrets pre-Manhattan project. Because I can’t tell the story of science fiction fans without talking about our ancestors, the first fanatics, the ones who gave the glow to the Golden Age.
The first true science fiction fan was an African-American, Warren Fitzgerald, of Harlem, New York City. He invited his science fiction lovin’ friends to up to his apartment where they consecrated another sacred moment and created The Scienceers, the first sci-fi club in 1929. I don’t know what they talked about that first evening but I bet they spent more than half of their time trying club-names on for size. It wasn’t long before the schism appeared. One part of the Scienceers liked the fiction side of the street, strolling under the light shadows of science. The other side liked the hard science of reality, with an edge of fiction to make it understandable, if not entertaining. Fitzgerald was a junior racketeer and loved the application of science. He was probably hoping the group would talk a little bit about cool stories, and then get down to the business of talking about how they were going to build cool, futuristic things like rockets. Imaginary science vs. applied science. The seeds of dissent were sown. But before the grapes of wrath sprouted, the group published their monthly fanzine, The Planet, probably fandom’s first ever.
Thanks to Hugo Gernsback and the letter column of his Amazing Stories, the fans were finding one another at a great rate of speed. At equal pace, grudges were being forged, feelings were being hurt, factions were being formed, lines were being drawn. War was about to break out. Fandom had gone from Harlem cool to Gernsback geek at the speed of light.
In 1939, a group of fans, The Futurians, were ejected from the Science Fiction World Con organized by New Fandom in the first physical instance of a flame war. The Futurians had become the trolls to the New Futurians, a constant irritant—purposely tweaking their leadership in print over their perceived lack of vision over the future of the genre. Members of the Futurians (a group whose members included Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl) felt that science fiction could become a political movement and took those to task who disagreed with them. It’s hard to imagine the powerful grip over the imagination that science fiction held in those days that there were those who thought it could radically and immediately change the world. Meanwhile, there were others who just wanted to hang out with kindred souls—their people.
The discussions have changed over the years—who was the best captain, which was the best Star, DC or Marvel, X-Files or Fringe? It is, as it has been since the question was Wells or Verne, a family discussion. The family has grown considerably since it began—but most do. And there’s been considerable evolutionary change as well. But one aspect that’s remained unchanged is the symbiotic nature of the relationship between the fan and those who create the works that inspire and motivate fandom. From its earliest days, creators emerged from its ranks. If it weren’t for the arguments, the discussions, the dialogue, we wouldn’t have moved from the Foundation to the Culture.
I’ve been on both sides of the coin. Unless you’re a fan, I can’t really describe the thrill of finally getting the chance to visit the Ackermansion and talk with Forrest, of receiving a form letter from Ray Bradbury with a personal message scrawled in the margin, of walking and talking with Steven Spielberg and asking him for a job (I didn’t get it), of being a fan. I know the other side, as well, of creating something fans like, that they discuss, argue over, contact me about me. I’ve written things that haven’t gone over as well, and I’ve felt the wrath of some and the relief of being vindicated by others. You can’t please everyone. But the great thing is that there’s something in it for everyone, too. There’s always something new to discover, some fresh voice—and there’s always someone ready to take their first step into a larger, welcoming world.
Paul Malmont is the author of The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown, out this month from Simon & Schuster. Find out more at www.thatamazingbook.com and the Facebook page. He tweets from @pmalmont. He will be appearing Thursday (7/14) at New York’s Mysterious Bookshop (58 Warren Street) at 6:30.
On Friday (7/22) he will be at Comic-Con on a Panel in Room 8 at 12:30.