Thursday, February 19, 2009

To my mimeo with love – a few words about my fannish origins

OK, this post will be slightly out of topic, since it’s not entirely WoW related. It will also be insanely long, so be warned!

I mentioned earlier in a post a couple of days ago that I used to be active in the worldwide community of Science Fiction fanzine publishers, known as Fandom, some 20 years ago. Spinks from Spinkswill became curious about this and asked me in a comment to tell a bit more about it. And since she’s a valued guest and I’m a service minded innkeeper, I thought I should give it a go. Even though World of Warcraft wasn’t invented at that time, I can see some resemblances, which I guess is one of the reasons why I feel so much at home in the WoW blogosphere.

I joined this community in the middle of the 80's when I was 17 years old. I had read science fiction for many years; it was a heritage from my parents, who offered me a diet of classic authors like Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov and Heinlein. But the thought hadn’t occurred to me that there could be a network around for likeminded people, so when I stumbled upon my first science fiction fanzine it was like a new world opening up to me.

Where it started
The origin of Fandom actually goes as far back as to the 20's, when the first Pulp magazines, such as Astounding Stories, appeared. Those magazines had departments for letters to the editor, where the readers started to contribute quite actively. In the 30's some of those commenting readers began to publish their own amateur magazines and that was the beginning of Fandom, a sort of loosely connected network for geeky people with a taste for science fiction and writing.

Except from publishing fanzines and trading them between each others, those fans also networked in other ways – by forming local clubs and arranging conventions – small and local as well as huge world events. And even though the means have changed a bit – as far as I know there aren’t many fanzine editors who stick to mimeographs in these days of online publishing – Fandom still is pretty much about this.

Sercon and fannish
So how should I describe those fans? Well, as with WoW players, they come in different shapes. The “sercon” fans (abbreviation of serious and constructive) are focusing pretty much on the science fiction genre. Some are more into movies and TV series, but the branch of the movement where I dwelled engaged much into written literature. Those serious fans often write book reviews, articles about certain authors or themes in the science fiction literature or reports from science fiction conventions, referring the most interesting panels and speeches. They know everything there’s worth to know about the genre – seeing sercon fans in a quiz competition at a SF convention is just amazing.

The “fannish” fans are of another kind. They too normally have read and loved Science Fiction once upon a time, so the origin is the same, but it isn’t necessarily their major focus right now. They’re more interested in fans, fanzine making and Fandom as such, seeing each other at fan gatherings, having fun and making friends in a very relaxed and geeky way. I must admit that I was leaning more towards this faction. Even though the title of my fanzine was “The mystic planet” you wouldn’t find much hardcore science fiction content in it. It was more of personal reflections about everything and nothing, just like PPI is today.

Lore of Fandom
Just like WoW has its own vocabulary, Fandom has developed a lot of concepts and lore that are hardly understandable outside of the community. For example the fans “worship” (in a humorous way) an imaginative god (or I should say “ghod”, it’s a fannish practice to put in a lot of unnecessarye “h” in words) in the shape of a beaver called Roscoe, who was celebrated on the 4th of July every year (yes, the US origins were quite obvious sometimes.)

There were a lot of cryptic abbreviations you had to learn as a newcomer, just as in WoW. A BNF was a Big Name Fan (the equivalence if Big Red Kitty, Tobold or Matticus). FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life) was an expression used by the truly dedicated fans, while FIJAGH (Fandom is just a goddamned hobby) was preferred by the casuals. If some one for some reason left the community and went back to the world of normality, this was called GAFIA, meaning Getting Away From It All.

All of those words and many others are explained at The Fancyclopedia, which contains a wealth of knowledge about Fandom.

The mimeos
A favourite topic of discussions was our mimeos, mostly loved, but sometimes hated when they didn’t behave the way we wanted them to (destroying a whole edition of our fanzine with leaching ink for instance.) Making a good looking fanzine using those unsophisticated tools was an art in its own. The stencils could sometimes break and every typo you made with your typewriter was something of a disaster. They made holes in the stencils that needed to be mended by a pink, smelling fluid, called “corflu” (with our vocabulary). Talented fanzine producers could make illustrations, which required you to put a rugged surface under the stencil and very carefully draw the picture using a special pen. In the printing process the ink was pressed through the small dots in the stencil. Making a fanzine was far from the rather sterile task of blog publishing. You could smell it and literally feel it when you picked the papers and joined them with a staple. This was crafting.

The mimeos were so important to us that they almost became like persons and you often met fans who had given their duplicator a nickname. Sometimes people made songs about them, “filk songs”, which were performed at the conventions, preferably at late hours under the influence of huge amounts of beer.

Trading fanzines
The fanzines were normally published in rather small numbers. I think the fact that you had to pay for the stamps limited the editions quite a bit. It was normal to reach about 50-100 readers, rarely more. Fanzine editors used to trade their work with each other for free. (Non publishing fans could subscribe for them at self cost.) Another variant of distribution was the forming of APAs (standing for Amateur Press Association), where several fanzine editors agreed to distribute their publications together with a common send list in order to save work and above all cut the costs for distribution.

The frequency and the length varied a lot, just as it does with blogs. I guess a pretty average fanzine would come out with a 20 page issue every second month or so. Some ambitious fans experimented doing daily fanzines, but usually they couldn’t keep up with it for more than a couple of months, it was too much work with the printing and distribution.

But this didn’t’ stop us from interacting a lot and commenting on each others fanzines, just like the WoW bloggers do today, only that it took us a bit longer. Sometimes we made up fictive conflicts, “feuds”, just for our own entertainment, just like the mage battle that we’ve been running here for a while. It happened that we went more seriously annoyed with each other. At those moments you could put your fiend in “blockage”, meaning that you refused to send him your fanzine and trade in the normal way.

Closeness to the authors
I’m really losing myself in nostalgic memories, but if anyone still is reading I’d like to way a few words about the conventions before shutting up. Those conventions were arranged for fun rather than for profit, and always by the fans themselves. The size, style and quality varied immensely. I’ve been to small, local conventions with about 30 participants, which were more or less disguised excuses to see some other geeks and get drunk together. And I’ve been to more serious national arrangements with a few hundred of visitors and several international Guests of Honor, usually pretty well known science fiction authors. The world conventions on the other hand are huge events with thousands of participants from all over the world (unfortunately I’ve never been able to attend one myself).

What was special about the cons I’ve been to was the atmosphere, the very relaxed and intimate relation between the authors and their audience. I’ve had dinner and talked to people like Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison. I’ve never been to a Blizzcon, but I doubt it’s possible to get as close as that to the game developers (with the exception for the famous Ghostcrawler perhaps?)

From Fandom to WoW
So now you’ve heard the story about my years in Fandom. I haven’t been active in this community for many years now and I have no plan of going back. I spend so much more time playing WoW than reading SF novels, and even though I’ve got some fond memories of my mimeo I wouldn’t dream of going through all that hassle again. The PPI serves me fine as my fanzine of the 21st century.

I’ve found my new Fandom in the WoW blogosphere. Quite a lot is the same. We like to escape into other worlds. We like to write. We like to network and we like to challenge each other, exploring our ideas and views in a constantly ongoing discussion. We haven’t got any beaver ghod. But honestly I can live without him.


Klepsacovic said...

TL;DR: Even supposedly anti-social geeks like talking.

I kid! Nice post. Makes me feel I was born a quarter century too late.

I have some of the old books that my dad used to read. They were clearly made in some strange times. Lots of imagination, a mix of hope and fear, as if living in a time of unlimited potential, including for destruction.

They lose a bit of their magic these days when we're pretty sure there are no aliens lurking on the next planet over. Though really, replace "radiation" with "nano-technology" and it translates pretty well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing. I'm fascinated to hear about fandom and how things worked before the internet really took off. I know my husband used to read music fanzines also at a student, but neither of us were really into the scene.

It sounds like hard work, but so impressive. I'm guessing also that there were probably similar fan/fanzine networks for many many more hobbies. Hadn't really thought about that before.

Anonymous said...

Really nice and interesting post i had never even heard of it before.

I am a massive Sci Fan fan And my other passion away from WOW is DR Who and Red dwarf XD.

Also i played eve online for 2 years before i came to wow.

Its always nice to read about the actual RL of blogger other than the toon.

Anonymous said...

@Klepsacovic: Ah thank you! At least someone read it... :)
Actually I don't bother so much about some technology being outdated in SF literature. Many of the ideas are far beyound that stuff and work fine anyway. I think the non technology oriented writers have come best off in the long run. Bradbury is a great stylist. His shortstories still are very enjoyable imo.

@Spinkswill: I'm glad you appreciated it. SF fanzine fans use to say that we were first to use the fanzine concep. We started it all, although it later was followed by music fanzines, comic fanzines and so on. But it was all born out of the Pulp magazines. Tru? I have no idea. But it's a good story.

@Esdras: I don't quite know how many former sf fans there are among the wow players. For some reason I imagine more have been more into the fantasy genere, since it's much closer to the hero ideas of WoW.

The SF community is really huge in itself. I was mostly into fanzines and written literature, but I'm aware of other branches of it, such as the Star Trek community, which probably is quite a lot bigger than Fandom.

Carra said...

Fun read :) I can only imagine working with those mimeos. Now it's just "press ctrl-p" and wait a few minutes. Or got to the local printer.

I'm also found of SciFi books. Set myself the goal to go through the classics (browse the locust/hugo award winners). WoW is taking up most of my freetime but still got a few hours each week to read. And read through quite a few books these last few months:
-> Heinlein: Friday
-> Asimov: The Gods themselves, the End of Eternity
-> Niven: Ringworld
-> Gibson: Neuromancer
-> Dick: The man in the high castle (my favorite so far, Dick is a brilliant author)

Currently reading Stranger in a Strange land and still got a few books on my shelf to read.

But I'm curious as to which Sci Fi books you would recommend?

@Klepsacovic: Heh, yes. It's a bit strange to have "the man from mars" in the novel I'm reading right now. We all know now that there is no such thing :) Although it's interesting to see that the mores hasn't changed much in these past 50 years. Stranger in a strange land wouldn't be banned these days but we have put the "free love" ideas in the 60s closet.

Anonymous said...

Larissa, thanks for going down memory lane and sharing this with all of us. It was a very enjoyable read.

I remember when I was in my early teens, a few of us started a little music 'zine. Of course, I hadn't been aware of the history, just thought it was neat to work on and put some of my poems in. :)

Yaggle said...

I definitely know what kind of food I would NOT want to be. I would not want to be tastyfish. You know when they name you that, you drew the short straw.