When I discovered fandom back in the seventies there were two basic versions to the fannish first contact story. The first of these had all but disappeared by the time I arrived because it involved learning about the existence of fandom from the science fiction magazines. In this story the innocent reader would either begin by writing to some of the individuals whose letters had been published in the lengthy letter columns that many early science fiction magazines bulked out their issues with or by sending away for one or two of the fanzines reviewed in columns such as The Clubhouse, as written by Rog Phillips for Amazing Stories. With the demise of the pulps and the almost complete disappearance of fandom from the pages of the few remaining magazines the most common contact story had become one in which the innocent reader discovers the existence of a nearby science fiction club or convention, attends same, and is then sucked into the community by the experience.
My own story however doesn’t fit either of these two narratives. It all began in 1978 when I was in my second last year of school. I was lucky enough to come top of my class in general science. The general science option was for students who didn’t want to study biology or physics because they were devoting most of their energy into subjects such as english, history, or economics. Since everybody was required take some sort of science class back in those days a general science class was seem as a reasonable compromise. I chose to take it because biology and physics looked like too much work and my number one objective back then was to keep my homework to a minimum.
Anyway, imagine my surprise when after making so little effort I came top of this class. My surprise was doubled when the principal revealed that every student who came top of their class would be given a gift voucher with which to buy a prize to be awarded at an awards ceremony. None of the schools I had attended had seen fit to encourage their students with prizes previous to this.
Anyway, of course I rushed right out and used my gift certificate to purchase a book on science didn’t I? Yeah right… I didn’t spend the entire school year in cruise control so I could improve my mind. No, I gave the science books a big swerve and chose something I really wanted, Brian Ash’s The Visual Encyclopedia Of Science Fiction. A volume which has been eclipsed in reputation by later efforts which I think is unfortunate as even now it’s quite a good reference manual.
It was through Ash’s work that I learnt that science fiction fandom existed. Towards the back was a section (written by Ash I assume since there’s no credit) which spent about nine pages attempting to explain fanzines, clubs, conventions, and awards. Whoever wrote the article did have the firm view that fandom’s greatest worth was as a conduit to the world of the sf professional:
‘Viewed overall, the real importance of sf fan clubs – however disparate their objectives – can be seen as the opportunity they offer reader to meet the writer themselves, and to indulge in the cross-fertilisation of ideas which contributes so largely to the enhancement of the genre’.
Even so whoever wrote the article managed to make it pretty clear just what it was that sf fans did for fun.
Not that much later on I began buying second-hand issues of Amazing Stories that were no more than a few years old. In these I discovered a reincarnation of The Clubhouse column written by the likes of Susan Wood and John D. Berry. I read those columns as avidly as I did the fiction, fascinated by this world which was apparently still going on strong somewhere beyond my personal horizon.
By the time I moved to Sydney in 1981 and introduced myself to Australian fandom I was armed with a theoretic understanding of what fandom was about and what happened there. Of course what I came face to face with was more complex than that but I don’t suppose I have to tell you that people are far more slippery in person than in theory.
Much water has flowed beneath the bridge since then and while I’ve mostly retired from active fandom; clubs, conventions, and all that jazz, there are still things I’d like to share in the hopes that somebody will find them of interest. Hence this ongoing column of theories and rare fragments from the past. I like to think of this as a strange sort of sequel to The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.