Science fiction fandom or SF fandom (or Sci-Fi fandom) is a community or fandom of people actively interested in science fiction in contact with one another based upon that interest. SF fandom has a life of its own, but not much in the way of formal organization (although clubs such as the Futurians [1937–1945] is a recognized example of organized fandom).
- Origins and history
- Science fiction societies
- Offshoots and subcommunities
- In fiction
- Fans are slans
Most often called simply "fandom" within the community, it can be viewed as a distinct subculture, with its own literature and jargon; marriages and other relationships among fans are common, as are multi-generation fannish families.
Origins and history
Science fiction fandom started through the letter column of Hugo Gernsback's fiction magazines. Not only did fans write comments about the stories—they sent their addresses, and Gernsback published them. Soon, fans were writing letters directly to each other, and meeting in person when they lived close together, or when one of them could manage a trip. In New York City, David Lasser, Gernsback's managing editor, nurtured the birth of a small local club called the Scienceers, which held its first meeting in a Harlem apartment on December 11, 1929. Almost all the members were adolescent boys. Around this time a few other small local groups began to spring up in metropolitan areas around the United States, many of them connecting with fellow enthusiasts via the Science Correspondence Club. In May 1930 the first science fiction fan magazine, The Comet, was produced by the Chicago branch of the Science Correspondence Club under the editorship of Raymond A. Palmer (later a noted, and notorious, sf magazine editor) and Walter Dennis. In January 1932, the New York City circle, which by then included future comic book editors Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger, brought out the first issue of their own publication, The Time Traveller, with Forrest J Ackerman of the embryonic Los Angeles group as a contributing editor.
In 1934, Gernsback established a correspondence club for fans called the Science Fiction League, the first fannish organization. Local groups across the nation could join by filling out an application. A number of clubs came into being around this time. LASFS (the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) was founded at this time as a local branch of the SFL, while several competing local branches sprang up in New York City and immediately began feuding among themselves.
In 1935, PSFS (the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, 1935–present) was formed. The next year, half a dozen fans from NYC came to Philadelphia to meet with the PSFS members, as the first Philadelphia Science Fiction Conference, which some claim as the world's first science fiction convention.
Soon after the fans started to communicate directly with each other came the creation of science fiction fanzines. These amateur publications might or might not discuss science fiction and were generally traded rather than sold. They ranged from the utilitarian or inept to professional-quality printing and editing. In recent years, Usenet newsgroups such as rec.arts.sf.fandom, websites and blogs have somewhat supplanted printed fanzines as an outlet for expression in fandom, though many popular fanzines continue to be published. Science-fiction fans have been among the first users of computers, email, personal computers and the Internet.
Many professional science fiction authors started their interest in science fiction as fans, and some still publish their own fanzines or contribute to those published by others.
A widely regarded (though by no means error-free) history of fandom in the 1930s can be found in Sam Moskowitz's The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom Hyperion Press 1988 ISBN 0-88355-131-4 (original edition The Atlanta Science Fiction Organization Press, Atlanta, Georgia 1954). Moskowitz was himself involved in some of the incidents chronicled and has his own point of view, which has often been criticized.
Organized fandom in Sweden ("Sverifandom") emerged during the early-1950s. The first Swedish science fiction fanzine was started in the early 1950s. The oldest still existing club, Club Cosmos in Gothenburg, was formed in 1954, and the first Swedish science fiction convention, LunCon, was held in Lund in 1956.
Today, there are a number of science fiction clubs in the country, including Skandinavisk Förening för Science Fiction (whose club fanzine, Science Fiction Forum, was once edited by Stieg Larsson, a board member and one-time chairman thereof), Linköpings Science Fiction-Förening and Sigma Terra Corps. Between one and four science fiction conventions are held each year in Sweden, among them Swecon, the annual national Swedish con. An annual prize is awarded to someone that has contributed to the national fandom by the Alvar Appeltofft Memorial Fund.
Since the late 1930s, SF fans have organized conventions, non-profit gatherings where the fans (some of whom are also professionals in the field) meet to discuss SF and generally enjoy themselves. (A few fannish couples have held their weddings at conventions.) The 1st World Science Fiction Convention or Worldcon was held in conjunction with the 1939 New York World's Fair, and has been held annually since the end of World War II. Worldcon has been the premier convention in fandom for over half a century; it is at this convention that the Hugo Awards are bestowed, and attendance can approach 8,000 or more.
SF writer Cory Doctorow calls science fiction "perhaps the most social of all literary genres", and states, "Science fiction is driven by organized fandom, volunteers who put on hundreds of literary conventions in every corner of the globe, every weekend of the year."
SF conventions can vary from minimalist "relaxacons" with a hundred or so attendees to heavily programmed events with four to six or more simultaneous tracks of programming, such as WisCon and Worldcons.
Commercial shows dealing with SF-related fields are sometimes billed as 'science fiction conventions,' but are operated as for-profit ventures, with an orientation towards passive spectators, rather than actively involved fans, and a tendency to neglect or ignore written SF in favor of television, film, comics, video games, etc. One of the largest of these is the annual Dragon*Con in Atlanta, Georgia with an attendance of more than 20,000 since 2000.
Science fiction societies
In the United States, many science fiction societies were launched as chapters of the Science Fiction League and, when it faded into history, several of the original League chapters remained viable and were subsequently incorporated as independent organizations. Most notable among the former League chapters which were spun off was the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society, which served as a model for subsequent SF societies formed independent of the League history.
Science fiction societies, more commonly referred to as "clubs" except on the most formal of occasions, form a year-round base of activities for science fiction fans. They are often associated with an SF convention or group of conventions, but maintain a separate existence as cultural institutions within specific geographic regions. Several have purchased property and maintain ongoing collections of SF literature available for research, as in the case of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the New England Science Fiction Association, and the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Other SF Societies maintain a more informal existence, meeting at general public facilities or the homes of individual members, such as the Bay Area Science Fiction Association.
Offshoots and subcommunities
As a community devoted to discussion and exploration of new ideas, fandom has become an incubator for many groups that started out as special interests within fandom, some of which have partially separated into independent intentional communities not directly associated with science fiction. Among these groups are comic book fandom, media fandom, the Society for Creative Anachronism, gaming, and furry fandom, sometimes referred to collectively as "fringe fandoms" with the implication that the original fandom centered on science fiction texts (magazines and later books and fanzines) is the "true" or "core" fandom. Fandom also welcomes and shares interest with other groups including LGBT communities, libertarians, neo-pagans, and space activist groups like the L5 Society, among many others. Some groups exist almost entirely within fandom but are distinct and cohesive subcultures in their own rights, such as filkers, costumers, and convention runners (sometimes called "SMOFs").
Fandom encompasses subsets of fans that are principally interested in a single writer or subgenre, such as Tolkien fandom, and Star Trek fandom ("Trekkies"). Even short-lived television series may have dedicated followings, such as the fans of Joss Whedon's Firefly television series and movie Serenity, known as Browncoats.
Participation in science fiction fandom often overlaps with other similar interests, such as fantasy role-playing games, comic books and anime, and in the broadest sense fans of these activities are felt to be part of the greater community of SF fandom.
There are active SF fandoms around the world. Fandom in non-Anglophone countries is based partially on local literature and media, with cons and other elements resembling those of English-speaking fandom, but with distinguishing local features. For example, Finland's national gathering Finncon is funded by the government, while all conventions and fan activities in Japan are heavily influenced by anime and manga.
Science fiction and fantasy fandom has its own slang or jargon, sometimes called "fanspeak" (the term has been in use since at least 1962).
Fanspeak is made up of acronyms, blended words, obscure in-jokes, and standard terms used in specific ways. Some terms used in fanspeak have spread to members of the Society for Creative Anachronism ("Scadians"), Renaissance Fair participants ("Rennies"), hacktivists, and internet gaming and chat fans, due to the social and contextual intersection between the communities. Examples of fanspeak used in these broader fannish communities include gafiate, a term meaning to drop out of SF related community activities, with the implication to Get A Life. The word is derived via the acronym for "get away from it all". A related term is fafiate, for "forced away from it all". The implication is that one would really rather still be involved in fandom, but circumstances make it impossible.
Two other acronyms commonly used in the community are FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life) and its opposite FIJAGH (Fandom Is Just A Goddamned Hobby) to describe two ways of looking at the place of fandom in one's life.
Science-fiction fans often refer to themselves using the irregular plural "fen": man/men, fan/fen.
As science fiction fans became professional writers, they started slipping the names of their friends into stories. Wilson "Bob" Tucker slipped so many of his fellow fans and authors into his works that doing so is called tuckerization.
The subgenre of "recursive science fiction" has a fan-maintained bibliography at the New England Science Fiction Association's website; some of it is about science fiction fandom, some not.
In Robert Bloch's 1956 short story, "A Way Of Life", science fiction fandom is the only institution to survive a nuclear holocaust and eventually becomes the basis for the reconstitution of civilization. The science fiction novel Gather in the Hall of the Planets, by K.M. O'Donnell (aka Barry Malzberg), 1971, takes place at a New York City science fiction convention and features broad parodies of many SF fans and authors. A pair of SF novels by Gene DeWeese and Robert "Buck" Coulson, Now You See It/Him/Them and Charles Fort Never Mentioned Wombats are set at Worldcons; the latter includes an in-character "introduction" by Wilson Tucker (himself a character in the novel) which is a sly self-parody verging on a self-tuckerization.
The 1991 SF novel Fallen Angels by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle and Michael Flynn constitutes a tribute to SF fandom. The story includes a semi-illegal fictional Minneapolis Worldcon in a post-disaster world where science, and thus fandom, is disparaged. Many of the characters are barely tuckerized fans, mostly from the Greater Los Angeles area.
Mystery writer Sharyn McCrumb's Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool are murder mysteries set at a science fiction convention and within the broader culture of fandom respectively. While containing mostly nasty caricatures of fans and fandom, some fans take them with good humor; others consider them vicious and cruel.
In 1994 and 1996, two anthologies of alternate history science fiction involving World Science Fiction Conventions, titled Alternate Worldcons and Again, Alternate Worldcons, edited by Mike Resnick were published.
Fans are slans
A.E. van Vogt's 1940 novel Slan was about a mutant variety of humans who are superior to regular humanity and are therefore hunted down and killed by the normal human population. While the story has nothing to do with fandom, many science fiction fans felt very close to the protagonists, feeling their experience as bright people in a mundane world mirrored that of the mutants; hence, the rallying cry, "Fans Are Slans!"; and the tradition that a building inhabited primarily by fans can be called a slan shack.