The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader

I’m not sure people who grew up after the internet can comprehend living before the computer era. They are used to instant communication with anyone around the world. They are used to finding their peeps in a Facebook group just by typing in a search phrase or battling tempests in a teacup with digital acquaintances they’ve never met on Twitter. The internet lets everyone easily locate like-minded members of their subculture or the foes of their philosophy. Anyone can have a world-wide distribution of their writing. But in the days before networked computers, most people only knew other people from meeting face-to-face. Writing letters were about the extent of distant communication, and generally, they were to Mom and Dad when you were at camp.

However, Amazing Stories in the 1920s inspired science fiction fans to communicate with other unmet fans through the letter columns, which led them to invent their own magazines, the fanzine. That allowed SF fans to express themselves and find other fans to share and argue over the mighty topic of science fiction. Instead of HTML, they used letterpresses, ditto machines, and the mighty Gestetner mimeograph to publish text and graphics.

Luis Ortiz has just come out with a new anthology of fanzine essays and artwork called The Science Fiction Fanzine Reader: Focal Points 1930-1960. He ties 400 pages of reprints with commentary and history. Sure this is a big book about a tiny subculture. Only 200 people attended the first Worldcon in New York City in 1939. Most science fiction fans lived in isolation, hungry for contact with their fellow fen.

In my recent essay about Hugo award-winning fanzines, I provided links to sites where you can read these classic zines. What Ortiz has done is give those archives a coherent overview and history. I don’t think many people will be buying this $30 book. The old science fiction fandom is dying out. It’s been completely overshadowed by social media. But I want to let those who remember to know that it exists. And maybe let those who don’t remember a chance to see how the ideology of science fiction was spread before the world knew the term science fiction.

I joined Spectator Amateur Press Society (SAPS) in 1971 and my cousin-in-law let me use his church’s Gestetner to run off my first zine called The Blue Bomber (named after my car). SAPS was an amateur press association (APA) where I shared my zine with 36 other people around the world. In 1974, Greg Bridges and Dennis McHaney and I purchased a Gestetner together. I helped Greg publish a genzine called Diversity for our local science fiction club, but we traded it for other zines in other states, and I think England, Canada, and Australia. Dennis published a zine devoted to Robert E. Howard. I used our mimeograph for publishing my SAPS and SFPA zines.

Communicating with distant people I’ve never met in the 1970s via zines prepared me for the BBS boom in the 1980s. I joined Prodigy, AOL, Genie. I had a 2-line BBS system to discuss science fiction. When I got access to the internet in 1987 I contacted other SF fans via email, forums, mailing lists, and USENET. I created the first version of The Classics of Science Fiction for a fanzine Lan’s Lantern. I reprinted it on a gopher server in the early 1990s, and right after the web was created I set up the first web version. This site is version 4.

I feel all of this communicating across the planet was a natural progression from publishing my first fanzine.

James Wallace Harris, March 27, 2019

 

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