on several e-mail
lists related to science fiction and fandom. A note came through one
of them the other day; the title was, “What passes for fandom
in (anonymous Southern state).” The email consisted of a link –
to a volunteer-run science fiction con that seems to be primarily
focused on SF TV shows and movies, followed a remark about how their
brand of SF con was definitely not to the poster’s taste, which
in and of itself is fine; not all of us like the same things. Several
replies followed, the most salient coming from someone mulling the
possibility of offering the concom a programming item on fanzines,
with the expressed wish of introducing those poor benighted souls to
“true” fandom. This was met with a Greek chorus of
agreement and offers of help.
the flurry of messages left me scratching my head, wondering if I’d
also somehow missed out on the “true” fandom over the
course of the two decades that I’ve been actively involved in
SF clubs, conrunning, gaming, and more.
seems that ever since at least the mid ‘90s, possibly earlier,
I’ve been hearing about “the graying of fandom,”
and the need to bring in new, young fans. As a member of Gen X, I
stand between old and young, “between the candle and the star,”
as Delenn from Babylon
5 would say. I use
AIM occasionally, and I’ve finally been dragged onto Facebook,
but I can’t text message (txt msg) to save my life.
this divide? Fandom has many subgroups; why is the generational gap
so profound? History offers some clues.
the late ‘70s, a seismic shift hit the speculative landscape,
in the forms of Star
Trek: The Motion Picture,
and Dave Arneson’s and Gary Gygax’s publication of their
little boxed set, Dungeons & Dragons. The unwashed masses
discovered science fiction (or space opera, if you want to split
hairs) on film, and fantasy role-playing games – and went
looking for the original literary forms behind these creations. No
longer was fandom an exclusive club, requiring special code words and
a secret knock to get in the door. When the world beats a wide path
to your slan shack, it’s not “special” anymore. Or
as Syndrome, the villain in The
“Everyone can be super! And when everyone's super... no one
has led to what appears, from my viewpoint, to be some resentment on
the part of the old guard because we, not of any numbered fandom,
didn't have to walk five miles, uphill, both ways, in the snow to
meet other SF fans. Starfleet International was founded in 1974. I
was only six years old (I was born the year that 2001:
A Space Odyssey was
made into a film).
the time I was old enough to pay attention, there were Starfleet
chapters all over the country; there are now over 200 chapters
spanning the globe, with more than 4000 members total. And while my
high school didn't have a science fiction club, once I got to college
it was easy enough to find both the thriving SF club as well as the
gaming club, and connect with people there.
generation and the ones that followed haven’t had to struggle
for our fandom, not like the first wave of fans did. We have had an
easier time of finding and connecting with like-minded others, and
more often than not, the earliest exposures we had to speculative
fiction weren’t necessarily books; they were Star Wars on the
big screen, or Star Trek, Lost in Space, and Dr. Who reruns on TV.
And while some people remain solely fans of media SF, I think if you
take a moment to ask, you’ll find that the young whippersnapper
gushing about the new incarnation of Battlestar
Galactica or Guitar
Hero III also likes
Terry Pratchett, Guy Gavriel Kay, and/or Charles De Lint. Likewise,
that greybeard who’s bending your ear about fanzine history –
ask him or her, and you may well find a lurking Farscape
or Babylon 5
an avid reader of science fiction and fantasy. Vernor Vinge’s
and J.R.R. Tolkein’s books are on my shelves, along with
Clarke, Asimov, and Heinlein. Though I’ve only recently started
writing my own fanzine, I know what they are and the prominent role
they have played in fannish history. I know what a slan is and I’ve
read Harry Warner’s All
– I’m also a gamer, a lover of SF on the big and small
screens, and something of a comic book geek (particularly Batman).
I enjoy and partake of a broad spectrum of speculative fiction, and
there are many more like me, who like to read but who also enjoy TV
shows and movies, comics, anime, and/or gaming, costuming, astronomy,
computers, filking, and more.
in 1997, a small group of us formed the Research Triangle Science
Fiction Society. As we were starting to publicize the group, I found
a very small email list, called “ncfan,” and posted the
notice about RTSFS to it. The ncfan list didn’t get much
traffic, and RTSFS soon surpassed it, both in terms of membership and
activities, both actual and virtual. A few years later, one of the
ncfan mods asked me how I did it, saying she had struggled to get
people to her list and it never saw the popularity that RTSFS did.
answer was simple: RTSFS took off like wildfire because it was and is
open to fans of all persuasions – whether their interest is in
books, fanzines, old pulps, music, TV shows, anime, board games,
role-playing games, comics, stargazing, or just socializing with
others who have similar interests.
never made any claims of being The One Correct Fandom, and that
enabled us to reach a wider – and yes, younger – group of
people than we might have otherwise. The group has many folks who
couldn’t tell you when or where the first WorldCon was held,
nor what TAFF and DUFF are, and while I know some of you are appalled
at that, these people are fans nonetheless.
the other hand, as Robert A. Heinlein said, “A generation which
ignores history has no past and no future.” If fans are serious
about forestalling the death of fandom and of fan-run gatherings,
several things need to happen. Ideally, attitudes about what
constitutes a “true fan” would become more flexible. Just
because someone has never had his or her fingers stained with mimeo
ink and correction fluid doesn’t mean he or she isn’t a
fan; said individual is merely younger than you. And that fan who
collects pulps, doesn’t use email, and doesn’t like media
SF isn’t a stodgy dinosaur who has nothing to teach the rest of
us about our past.
other side of that coin is that even though someone’s fannish
accomplishments may be in areas unfamiliar to you, that doesn’t
make them less valid.
in point: a good friend of mine, whom I first met via UNC’s
science fiction club, was already a media fan and a skilled costumer
when we were in college together. She got her degree in the dramatic
arts, and unlike the rest of our group of friends, she went to work
right out of college in her chosen field. She was getting paid to do
what the rest of us only dreamed about. Here is a very small sampling
of highlights from her professional costuming career:
Movies: The Muppet Christmas
(Jim Henson Productions), SuperBowl XXVI Halftime Show, Red
(soon-to-be-released Civil War docu-drama).
2007 Tournament of Roses Parade (Star
Wars Spectacular Entry), "Weird Al" Yankovic "Straight Outta Lynwood"
(Stormtrooper and back-up cheerleader for Raleigh performance).
more than two decades she has appeared as a costuming expert and
guest at numerous cons all over the South and beyond. This is a very
58/Bucconeer, 1998, Baltimore, MD: Several costuming panels, and
performed with Luna-C
1993 (Pittsburgh) and 1998 (Baltimore) – panelist
Leave (Hunt Valley, Maryland, various years) – invited panelist
Point (Hunt Valley, Maryland, various years) – invited panelist
(Philadelphia, 2003) – invited panelist
(Richmond, VA, 2006-present) – guest
has worked for Jim Henson Productions, marched in the Tournament of
Roses parade with George Lucas, and danced with Weird Al Yankovic.
She has generously shared her time, her talent, and her expertise
with fans of all stripes.
when the StellarCon 32 concom announced her as their Fan Guest of
Honor, there was some disaffected grumbling from the DeepSouthCon old
guard (SC 32 was also DSC 46). Since she isn’t active in
fanzine fandom, most of them didn’t know who she was. Likewise,
the person they suggested in her place was someone that most
costumers and media fans didn’t know.
my friend is a media fan and a costumer first and foremost –
that’s what her fanac is. She also reads, and has served on at
least one concom, and I have known her to play games once in a while,
too. The fact that her SF-related achievements have taken place in
areas of fandom that some of the trufen don’t consider valid
doesn’t detract from their empirical value.
fiefdoms of fandom need to break down their walls, or at least
consider building bridges, not moats. Let’s not ostracize
gamers – some of them like to read; fanzine fans –
sometimes they’re also costumers; otaku (anime fans) are known
to sing the occasional filk. Let’s not roll our eyes at younger
fans who don’t know yet who Hugo Gernsback and Claude Degler
To put it a different way: Dragon*Con does not have to be the
natural enemy of WorldCon. They serve different, yet occasionally
overlapping, areas of interest, that’s all. With open
communication, compassion, tolerance for each other’s
differences, and celebration of our points of similarity, we can all
come together under one big tent called “fandom.”
don’t misunderstand me; I’m not trying, for instance, to
tranSForm every SF con into a broad-based general interest con, and
I’m not telling everyone that they have to learn to like all
facets of fandom. If you primarily enjoy fanzines, by all means go to
Corflu. If you’re a literary fan, you won’t want to miss
Readercon. Ditto for filking and GAFilk or OVFF. The niche cons are a
great way to connect with like-minded others. All I’m asking is
that people stop slamming the neos (and can we please quit calling
them that?) for not knowing every bit of fanzine history, and for all
of us to show some tolerance, if not outright liking, for the various
know these are generalizations and that not all older fans are
automatically dismissive of the young and the new, and not all young
fans flit blithely past their elders, on their way, magpie-like, to
the latest shiny game, comic, or movie. However, I am convinced that
we Gen Xers, neither old nor young, standing between the candle and
the star, can play a pivotal role here in bridging the divide –
by taking the time to talk with and learn from our fannish elders,
working to preserve our history (a.k.a. timebinding), and sharing it
with the ones who are coming up behind us.
thing I’ve noticed in the wake of the recent deaths of both
Gary Gygax and Sir Arthur Clarke is that as far as the mainstream
media outlets are concerned, we fans are all still fair game for
mockery and exclusion. Again, going back to my costuming friend as an
example: When she and other selected members of the 501st
Stormtroopers were marching in the Tournament of Roses Parade,
commentator Bob Eubanks said on national TV that they "looked
like a bunch of guys who needed to get a job." Isn’t it a
shame that the public still sees all of us, not just costumers, that
way? In response to the Eubanks snark, the StarWars.com site posted a
list of the jobs of the participating troopers; the list includes
doctors, lawyers, etc.
it be better to present a united front in the face of such slings and
arrows, rather than backstabbing our own? I can already hear some
people saying “Oh, they’re just costumers, we’re
not all freaks like that.” No, we’re not all costumers.
We all are, however, joined together by a common love of exploring
the great “what if?” – whether we do that via
reading, gaming, costuming, filking, watching anime, writing
fanzines, or gazing into a telescope.
closing, I give you this James Baldwin quote: For nothing is fixed,
forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always
shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to
grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are
responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The
sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children
cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the sea engulfs
us and the light goes out.
us, therefore, cling to each other.