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Entry updated 25 January 2024. Tagged: Community, Fan.


The active readership of sf and fantasy, maintaining contacts through Fanzines and Conventions. Fandom originated in the late 1920s, shortly after the appearance of the first SF Magazines. Readers contacted each other, formed local groups (some of which, notably the Science Fiction League, were professionally sponsored), and soon began publication of APAS and other amateur magazines, which came to be known collectively as fanzines. The first recorded fan club meeting was that of the New York Scienceers on 11 December 1929. The first organized convention was held in Leeds, UK, on 3 January 1937 and the first World SF Convention or Worldcon in New York in 1939 (although it actually took its name from the holding in that year of the World's Fair in New York). From the 1920s to the 1950s, when sf was a minority interest, the number of people in fandom was small, probably no more than 500 at any one time. Since the 1960s, however, the number has steadily increased to over 10,000 – though this figure, of course, represents no more than a tiny fraction of the wider sf readership. Fandom is, like Genre SF, primarily a US phenomenon, though other English-speaking countries quickly adopted the concept. Continental Europe, Japan and elsewhere followed much later; but increasing translation of and interest in sf has now spread fandom to some 30 countries, from Mexico to Norway. It is made up of both readers and writers of sf; many authors started as fans and many fans have written sf, so there is no absolute distinction between the two groups. Fans themselves were traditionally young and male with higher education and a scientific or technical background, but exceptions were numerous and the stereotype has become less pronounced, although fandom and "geek culture" still have much overlap. Many more women entered fandom in the 1970s and all subsequent decades.

Fandom is not a normal hobbyist group. It has been suggested that, if sf ceased to exist, fandom would continue to function quite happily without it. That is an exaggeration; but it indicates the difference between sf fans and ostensibly similar groups devoted to Westerns, romances, detective fiction, etc. The reason may lie in the fact that sf is a speculative literature and consequently attractive to readers actively interested in new ideas and concepts, in addition to those idly seeking entertainment. Early fans took part in rocketry, radical politics and quasi-utopian experiments; later fans seem to find Fanzines (and their online equivalents and successors), Conventions and the interaction of fandom itself a sufficient outlet for their energies and ideas. Though fandom has a tradition and history, even a Fan Language, fans are notably independent; relatively few belong to national organizations such as the N3F or the British Science Fiction Association, and many publish individual and independent fanzines, a fact that at least one outside sociologist – Fredric Wertham in The World of Fanzines (1973) – has found remarkable and even "unique".

There is a fannish word "fiawol", an acronym for "fandom is a way of life": the joke is not altogether untrue. Just as sf is unrestricted in the scope of its interests, so too are fans and fandom. Fandom is thus a collection of people with a common background in sf and a common interest in communication, whether through discussion, chatter, correspondence, fanzine publishing or (increasingly) online mailing lists and social networks. The result is more nearly a group of friends, or even a subculture, than a simple fan club or a literary society. At its best it is a group that refuses to take itself too seriously, as indicated by the counter-acronym "fijagh" – "fandom is just a goddamn hobby".

There have always been divergent interest groups within fandom, and during the 1980s these tended to split more obviously. The most basic division, perhaps, is between those fans whose main love is written sf and the so-called media fans, who prefer sf in such forms as Cinema, Television or Comics. Even among fans of written sf, fanzine fans and convention fans have become separate groups, though there is substantial overlap; comics fans have their own conventions, and there are other special-interest groups in media fandom who may be primarily interested in, for example, Star Trek (the "Trekkers" or – though this term is regarded as derogatory – "Trekkies"), Star Wars or Doctor Who. There is an extensive Games fandom, with a particular interest in Role Playing Games and Collectible Card Games. Further subgroups include costume or cosplay fandom, with an emphasis on clothing; anthropomorphic or "furry" fandom, developed from the comics and fanzine-art tradition of humanized or human-hybrid animals; music- and song-oriented Filk fandom; and so on indefinitely.

Various aspects of US fan history have been covered by fandom's own historians. The 1930s are discussed in the pioneering Up to Now: A History of Fandom as Jack Speer Sees It (1939 chap) by Jack Speer, and in The Immortal Storm (essays 1945-1953 Fantasy Commentator; 1951; rev 1954) by Sam Moskowitz; the latter is often regarded as the standard text, but several alternative views of the 1930s (including Up to Now) are assembled in Challenging Moskowitz: 1930s Fandom Revisited (anth 2019 ebook) edited by Rob Hansen. The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume One: The 1930s (anth 2020) written and edited by David Ritter and Daniel Ritter takes a consolingly retrospective tone, though it specifically recognizes that the opinions of many fans of the time were objectionable, and necessarily focuses almost exclusively on young white American males. The 1940s and 1950s are covered by All Our Yesterdays: An Informal History of Science Fiction Fandom in the Forties (1969; exp 2004) and A Wealth of Fable: (The History of Science Fiction Fandom in the 1950's) (1976 3vols; exp rev 1992) by Harry Warner Jr; a study with a specific focus on Los Angeles fandom is Bixelstrasse: The SF Fan Community of 1940s Los Angeles (anth 2021 ebook; rev 2022) edited by Rob Hansen. Further reminiscence not confined to a particular decade can be found in The Futurians (1977) by Damon Knight (see Futurians) and The Way the Future Was: A Memoir (1978) by Frederik Pohl. The FANAC Fan History Project [see under links below] offers a selection of relevant fanzine material online.

The fullest history of UK fandom first appeared in the form of a multi-part fanzine, Then, written and published by Rob Hansen: the more than 650pp of #1 (1988 chap), #2 (1989), #3 (1991) and #4 (1993) cover the story to the end of the 1970s. Brief supplements from the same author's The Story So Far: A Brief History of British Fandom 1931-1987 (1987 chap) summarize early and mid-1980s UK fan activities, but Hansen has increasingly devoted himself to expanding "The Then Archive" of older source material – including online archives of such early newszines as Futurian War Digest [see links below]. The main narrative of Then has since appeared as Then: A History of Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930-1980 (2015 ebook), with the final, very much expanded edition published as Then: Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930-1980 (2016); a companion anthology of relevant source texts is Then Again: A UK Fanhistory Reader 1930-1979 (anth 2019 ebook) edited by Vince Clarke and Rob Hansen [whom see for further titles covering UK fandom during World War Two, UK Conventions including entire books on individual Worldcons, and other topics]. Peter Weston also explored the byways of UK fan history in Relapse, and a number of UK fans have worked to put their history online in the form of searchable HTML archives of the British Newszines. This is a laborious process, and other archives such as FANAC have chosen to focus on scanned images of historic fanzines. Bill Burns's [see under links below] usefully hosts or links to many current fanzines in addition to older material. [PR/DRL]

see also: FAPA; OMPA; Ratfandom.

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