Since you’ve been gone…

As the old saying goes, much has changed since you’ve been away, but things are generally still the same. Yeah. That makes sense. Especially since it’s so true when I think about Amazing Stories and such.  And it is the such part of that statement I wish to talk about in this blog of how Science Fiction fandom seems to be operating these days. So what I am going to do here is copy-paste and revise a bit of what I wrote in Askance #31 (May 2014) because I think it covers this subject very well.

Generally speaking, SF Fandom is danged huge. So huge, in fact, that the label “Science Fiction Fandom” encompasses a lot of different interests, many of which have developed their own sizeable fan groups that hold their own conventions and hand out their own awards.  Back in March of 2014,  I read an interesting posting by author Brad Torgersen. Here is the link:

In here, Brad posits an interesting viewpoint of what SF fandom looks like to him. He starts off with a Venn Diagram (copy/pasted below) that looks more like a batch of multi-colored soap bubbles that came off afour year old’s bubble wand on a windy day.

Like any good Venn Diagram, many soap bubbles circles overlap,
each circle representing a particular fannish interestgroup (e.g., fanzines, conventions, clubs, Trek fandom, Steampunk, etc.). Some of these float separate from the rest, but not many. For the most
part, there are a lot of overlaps and a fair number of smaller groupings that don’t seem to hold a close attraction to other subgroups.

I have to admit Mr. Torgersen’s viewpoint overlaps with mine. In fact, what he offers is not so much a radical interpretation of his observations of fandom, but is more of a visualization and description of how science fiction has Balkanizedsince the mid-

1970s.
I can’t imagine many people disagreeing with the basics of this viewpoint; it has definitely become a familiar topic on convention
panels and in assorted fanzines and blogs, and there seems to be, in my mind at least, a consensus opinion that SF Fandom has become a monster in more than just size: it is also capable of generating a massive amount of money. Greenbacks. Cashola. Beaucoups bucks.
*ahem*
One thing is definite to me: Science Fiction is now the mainstream. At least it is the Media Mainstream, in terms of how Hollywood sees it. Those of us who have been active in science fiction fandom through conventions, clubs, fanzines, and so on for any length
of time – say, on the order of 40 years or so – understand that since the mid-1970s when Star Wars, and then Star Trek, proved how much money could be made through those two mega-popular movie franchises, every single production company in the television and movie industries decided to jump into the apparent lucrative Science Fiction pool and soak up some of that filthy lucre. I can understand this rationale; in fact, it doesn’t surprise me and is
quite predictable. That’s the Hollywood mindset. The problem is that cracker-jack computer graphic animation doth not guarantee a big pay day. Sure, a movie can look wonderful, especially when it’s based on a popular book by a big-name author, then add in a decent cast, but if the screenplay is terrible, then the result is Starship Troopers or John Carter(which I enjoyed as mindless entertainment, which the original story, A Princess of Mars (1912), was meant to be).
The point I am making is that many non-traditional fannish people call themselves “science fiction fans” when what they really mean is that they are media science fiction fans: in other words, they are
fans of how television networks and movie producers view science fiction and what it’s like, or rather, what is likely to appeal to viewers; this is how consumer fans are created, and they are legion. There is, of course, cross-over interest from “true” or “pure” science fiction fans – those who read the books, magazines, produce fanzines, discuss the literature, et cetera – who also
watch the shows and movies, but percentage-wise, they’re a miniscule minority when compared to the vast numbers of media consumer fans who hold the money that media producers pursue.
The problem is defining the term “Fannish.” It is such an amorphous word that can mean anything we want it to. Being a fan does not necessarily mean you publish a fanzine, go to conventions, read the books, belong to a local sf club, or things like that. These days the mass media (a.k.a., Hollywood) has used its own definition of “science fiction fan” to muck things up. For example, the popular television program The Big Bang Theory portrays a group of highly intelligent young men and women who are heavily into comic books, movies, television shows, and gaming. I have yet to see any of the characters – Sheldon, Leonard, Raj, and Howard, let alone  the women – Penny, Amy, and Bernadette – actually reading science fiction books and discussing them as part of an episode. That would be boring to 21st century television viewers. No, what those characters are seeing and responding to need to be available to the viewers, the “fans” of the show. Hence, these characters are media fans, not science fiction fans as most trufen see themselves.
Does this make media fans outsiders? I don’t think so. They are all fans of shows/movies/comics/graphic novels that they enjoy: Star Trek, Star Wars, Serenity/Firefly, Doctor Who, Logan’s Run… the list is lengthy.
My conclusion is that a fan is a fan if he or she is enjoying something that falls under the general label of Science Fiction.  That’s fine.  At the 1973 World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, Texas, and then again at AggieCon (held in College Station, Texas, where I currently reside) and other regional conventions, there is a lot of media-oriented science fiction and fantasy.  Also, this is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, maybe some of these media fans might broaden their horizons outside of

Dr. Who,Firefly/Serenity, Star Trek, Anime, comic books, vampires, or whatever it is that they are fans of and strike up conversations with older, traditional sf fans. In my mind,
that could be a very good thing.

 

E-Zines vs. Dead Tree Zines: the more things change…

I have been producing fanzines off and on since 1976, shortly after encountering science fiction fandom and this particular aspect of that hobby interest. As anybody who has ever pubbed (that is fanspeak for “published”) an ish (“issue”), the life-blood of fanzines is the letter of comment (here’s another fanspeak term: loc, or LoC, depending on personal preference). As fanzines over the course of the last few years have shifted more and more into electronic forms, an interesting trend has developed, and it concerns the tradition of loccing: writing letters of comment to fanzines received in the mail.

This is a long-held, and treasured, tradition of fanzine fandom. The letter column of a fanzine is usually where most of the “action” occurs as fans natter back and forth, commenting on articles and artwork that appear in that fanzine, eventually even commenting on letters appearing in the previous issue as well. In this way the grand communication network of science fiction fanzines began back in the 1930s, and continues to this day.

Before I began pubbing my own ish in 1976 – a sort-of clubzine called This House – I was writing locs to fanzines such as Rune, the clubzine of the Minnesota Science Fiction Society, Inc., and Terry Hughes’ Mota., plus others. It was really neat to not only see my own name in print, but other fans wrote locs about my locs, then I started getting even more fanzines in the mail. That kind of egoboo (fanspeak for “ego boost”) gave me the oomph to start up This House. The cool thing about doing that meant I started getting locs sent to me about MY fanzine, and other faneditors sent their fanzines in trade, so I sent mine to them, and….

So it went. That cycle is the great conversation of fandom that still babbles on. The problem here in the not-so-early 21st century is that more and more fanzines are produced online, and these e-zines, as they are called (electronic fanzines), usually receive fewer letters of comment than paper fanzines receive. As someone who once produced paper fanzines for 13 years (1976-1989) and e-zines for 10 years now (since 2003), I do notice the difference. This discrepancy has been a discussion topic in fanzines now for a few years. In fact, many fans reading this can spot this trend very easily, provided you get paper zines like Challenger, Alexiad, Banana Wings, Trap Door, Chunga, and Reluctant Famulus in the mail. Compare their lettercolumns to those of the purely electronic fanzines Drink Tank, Exhibition Hall, Revenant, and my own Askance. There is a distinct difference in the number of letters published between the paper zines and the e-zines.

Some theories have been expounded as to why this is. The most common idea is that since e-zines are essentially free to view at the website efanzines.com, readers don’t feel as compelled to write a letter as they do when they get a physical fanzine – the dead tree zines – in the mail. That makes sense to me. What worries electronic faneditors of today is that they have no idea if people are really *reading* their zines or not. The concern is that if an e-zine gets no response, then the grand conversation of fanzines begun back in the early 1930s may come to an inglorious end. And that would truly be sad.

Then again, as communication technology changes, so does fanac in all of its forms. Blogs, listservs, social media, and so on, are all contemporary forms of of the conversation of fandom. So we are still talking to each other; it is only that the means of communicating are different than before.

The more things change…