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Fandom Is A Way of Life

WS1934-05_Cover_jpgI’ve been doing a lot of reading about early science fiction fandom. So, what’s early? The period from 1926 to the day the US was bombed into World War II. Four books have been my guide. “The Immortal Storm” – Sam Moskowitz, “All Our Yesterdays”- Harry Warner Jr, “A Wealth of Fable” – Harry Warner Jr, and “The Futurians” Damon Knight. With a back beat from “The Way the Future Was” – Frederick Pohl, and “Wonder’s Child” – Jack Williamson.

There is controversy about the beginning of science fiction. Can it be traced back to Mesopotamian cuneiform or did it start with the publication of the first all science fiction magazine in April 1926? So, too, there is a controversy about the beginning of science fiction fandom. No one is claiming there was evidence in the travels of Gilgamesh about fan correspondence appearing on the next tablet over, but there seems to be evidence of fandom before the turn of the Twentieth Century. Problem is there are no artifacts, no opinionated fanzines, no heated letters, not a single club membership card until circa 1926. Since then the burgeoning field of science fiction fandom has blossomed into a couple million dollar industries in the case of Star Wars and Star Trek.

Much as I would like to condemn the crass commercialization of TV and Film fans, I am aware that the origin of science fiction fandom had a similar, if less profitable, reason for existence. Hugo Gernsback wanted to sell more magazines. Gernsback’s motives weren’t entirely driven by the desire for more “filthy lucre.” He believed that readers of “scientifiction,” his original name for modern science fiction, would, through the experience of confronting science in the pages of his magazine, become inventors and scientists. There is some truth in the observation that some scientists and an inventor, or so, were inspired by science fiction. The fans Gernsback tried to engender were more likely to become the latest crop of science fiction writers.

My Science Fiction League Membership CertThe May 1934 edition of Gernsback’s magazine “Wonder Stories”, Volume 5, No. 10, page 1061, introduced, not the first, but the most influential early science fiction fan club, “The Science Fiction League.” Executive Directors: Forrest J Ackerman, Eando Binder, Jack Darrow, Edmond Hamilton, David H. Keller, M.D., P. Schuyler Miller. Clark Ashton Smith and R.L. Starzl. There was a scroll decorated certificate of membership and a very nifty button, sporting a rocket ship and planet Earth in a field of stars encapsulated by an outer circle with the words “Science Fiction League.” Brass red and blue. Last look showed one sold for $200.00 on Ebay.

I clipped the “Application for Membership” on page 1183 and mailed it immediately. Sherman, please set the Wayback Machine to New York City, May 1934.