Our progression through the decades brings us to the 1960s, 70s and 80s, and a visit to the fandom of Sweden. Although we have never actually met the writer of the following article, we can tell you he is one of Sweden's best known and most active fans. On the other hand, considering the topic of this article, maybe we can't really say that for certain!
'Vanishing Fans' by Ahrvid Engholm; title illo by 
  Peggy Ranson If you see a new fan, you better check his ID. If a fan dies, check his coffin. You can't be certain in the world of hoaxes! People who like to be deceived by fantasy literature, have always liked to try to fool each other too. Among the trolls and the elfs in Scandinavia, mystical figures are moving in the fannish circles. Some half dead, some half alive. Everything is possible, in the Twiltone Zone...

Have you heard about the strange case of Marvyn de Vil's death, of Bob Weber the conning Canadian, or of Klaus van der Link the Hell's Angel with a different Dutch treat? These are examples of hoaxes that Swedish fans have engaged in. We use the word 'hoax' in Swedish fandom too. It's always nice to use a foreign word. To call it 'hoax' also gives the message that it is something special, and not a common fraud.

Swedish fans have been involved with hoaxing from the start of our fandom in the mid `50s and on. Early examples are fanzine publishers doing fake issues of their competitor's publications, which in one case even led a publisher to request a police investigation. Even a whole convention, Malcon, was hoaxed from the beginning to the end in those early days. In the '60s we had 'Carl J Brandon, Jr.', a hoax so well known that it stopped being a hoax.

# # # #

The Brandon, Junior
The fan John-Henri Holmberg had read the `50s American fanzine Fanac {{ed. note: edited by Terry Carr and Ron Ellik }} and decided to start a Swedish edition of the newszine under the name Carl J Brandon, Jr. (after another hoax fan named Carl J Brandon, who I don't think I have to tell you about). At the same time he was also, under his own name, editor of the Swedish edition of Science Fiction Times. His parents lived by a street corner, so he simply put up an extra mailbox on the crossing street to get a new address.

Contrary to fannish myth, the SF Times' Swedish founder (one Sture Sedolin) knew about it all along, and most people of any importance also soon knew. You couldn't read a foreign fanzine without becoming suspicious of a name like 'CJB jr'. It turned into a pen-name rather than a hoax. ('Carl J Brandon, Jr.' became especially known for pushing for the 'objectivism' teaching of Ayn Rand in numerous LoCs and fanzine articles.)

Then hoaxing stopped for a while, but in the late `70s we had an new outbreak, with a new younger generation of fans appearing. New fans want to be noticed, so they begin to do things they hope won't be noticed -- until they with a wry smile reveal the hoax, to collect huge amounts of Egoboo. (They hope.) Neofans tend to publish fake fanzines, invent people, send fake LoCs in a desperate attempt to get recognition.

Such Egoboo shortly becomes very thin, but that has never stopped a good old neo: since everybody seem to do it, it must be good. In the end of the `70s the atmosphere was sometimes so thick with hoaxes that one seriously doubted the existence of any new fan emerging unless he could provide a photo-ID.

Before we continue, a word of warning. All this hoaxing stuff sounds very entertaining, but there are serious problems. If you have to assume all new fans are hoaxes, it may seriously effect recruitment and make it difficult for neofans! Time after time I used to bump into people I was convinced didn't exist. Imagine the problems.

Death hoaxes should be dealt with carefully and done in a certain way, so you don't hurt anyone. The person who 'dies' shouldn't be too close to anyone, the funeral must already have taken place -- so people don't send expensive flowers -- and the death shouldn't last too long.

# # # #

The Death and Life of Marvyn de Vil
The hoax inflation of the late `70s made the success of the death-hoax of Marvyn de Vil in 1978 even more remarkable. One day in early fall news reached fandom from Marvyn's friend Anders Åkerlind (who is founder of the Swedish apa SFF, by the way) that the fan Pär Johansson a.k.a. 'Marvyn de Vil' had suddenly died. He was known to be a pretty wild figure, heavy on booze, experimenting with drugs, the live-hard-and-die-young-type, so the news wasn't unexpected.

A memoriam fanzine, titled Hippie Forever!, full of solemn words, was published by Åkerlind. Everyone felt sad for at least as long as it took to read it.

A couple of weeks later we had the next Minicon in Stockholm. Åkerlind was there, as well as the BNF Bertil A G Schalén, known as BAGS from his initials. BAGS was known to be into mysterious things and strange cults. He had for instance bought a priesthood by mail from an American pseudochurch called Universal Life Church, and all his fanzines were published by 'Universal Life Church Press'. (Despite this, BAGS wasn't very nutty -- but simply interested in nutty people. He later got a degree in psychology, and he probably considered fandom as just another of these strange cults that he should investigate.)

Late one evening during the con, BAGS suggested that we should have a seance to try to get in touch with Marvyn de Vil on the 'other side'. The place was the legendary club house of the Scandinavian SF Association on Pontonjär Street, with a barren cellar that with some imagination could have come from a Frankenstein film. If your only illumination was a candle it could get quite spooky there.

Pontonjär Street was also the place where the police earlier had come when the members of 'weapons fandom' had fired blanks in the middle of the night. Strange things were normal there.

BAGS was to lead the seance. About a dozen people were present and sat down around the big table in the cellar. He lit a black candle on the middle of the table, all other lights were turned off. Everyone took the hands of their neighbours. BAGS told us to concentrate on the candle's flickering light.

BAGS began to mumble things. We were at first giggling but soon everyone fell silent. One stair up, the wind made the street windows moan, and the whining sound reached down into the cellar.

BAGS went on for minutes. Several times he repeated that everyone must concentrate on the candle, hold hands and be silent. BAGS is a person of natural authority, and he was obeyed. I remember that we held hands so long that my palms began to sweat. After maybe ten minutes he began to call on Marvyn de Vil.

illo by Peggy Ranson "Marvyn this is your friends calling. Are you there?"

No answer.

"Marvyn, are you there? Show us a sign."

Maybe there were some extra flickerings from the candle, but the room was silent. BAGS went on repeating the words for a couple of minutes. If you did as instructed and looked into the candle, you couldn't help feeling half-hypnotized at this stage.

"Marvyn this is your friends calling. Step out from the land of shadows!"

And then out of the shadows, in the faint light from the candle, a figure emerged. Or was it a hypnotic illusion? A very pale face with dark clothes strode forth from the corner of the room where the stairs down to the cellar were. It was no illusion -- it was Marvyn de Vil.

For prolonged moment, the room was absolutely silent. You could hear your heart pounding and a book review from the Jules Verne Magazine fall (this Swedish prozine's critics have always been lightweight). During these few seconds one's entire view of the universe was shaken, turned upside down, cut to pieces and then re-assembled in the wrong order.

I have never believed in ghosts or any spirits other than those in bottles. But those who thought they saw Marvyn de Vil standing a few meters from the table were dead right.

After a while the giggling started, from Anders Åkerlind and BAGS, and the whole thing was revealed. Against all odds the story had stayed to three fans, including de Vil himself -- until the very climax. It wasn't by accident that BAGS had suggested a seance, and how and when Marvyn would enter the cellar had been planned very exact.

Last time I met Marvyn de Vil a few years ago, he had tie, a suit and claimed to have reached Jesus.

I think de Vil is an example of a good hoax. A good hoax shouldn't be done to harm anyone (death hoaxes can be done in the right way, as this). A hoax should be limited in time, it should involve efforts and hardships for the hoaxers, it should be intelligent and it should end in a climax.

A good hoax, just as a good story, should have a dramaturgy where suspension grows, and on the moment of letting the bubble go, people should be thrust from one belief to its extreme opposite.

# # # #

Bob Weber of Canada
Early in 1981 I received a call from the fan Erik Andersson in Gothenburg. I publish a newszine in Sweden with not a too bad circulation and did so also in 1981. I had cooperated with Erik in many fannish matters. He was the publisher of the fanzine Der Leuchtturm, probably the best Swedish fanzine of its time, responsible for printing at least two complete novels by the genius David Nessle.

Erik presented an idea and wanted help. He had this friend who had stayed in Canada a while and could speak rather fluent English without (or almost without) accent. His friend was interested in science fiction, and in a few months time we'd have the next big convention, Regncon, in the west coast city of Borås. ('Regncon' means 'Raincon', but it later became known as the only convention in May where it snowed.)

Why not announce that Regncon would get an overseas visitor, Erik suggested. A fan from Canada, for instance; I could write in my newszine that Erik had received a letter from this person and that it was "possible" that we'd get a real, live Canadian to the con.

We needed a name. I dug in the bundle of American and Canadian fanzines I had and came up with the name Bob Webber, who is an existing person and a fan. (I've never had any contact with him. So if he reads this I suppose he'll get surprised.)

It was an advantage to borrow a real person's name, if someone should try to check the story. In the noise on the telephone lines between me and Erik the extra 'b' was lost, so the name of our fan became 'Bob Weber'. It was important to say that it wasn't certain that he'd come to Regncon; it's a subtle way of raising expectations. If he appears despite uncertainty and hardship, people will be more willing to accept that he is who he claims to be.

The word was spread, in print and mouth to mouth. The Regncon committee was of course informed, and if Bob Weber turned up they were willing to allow some time for him in the program. At that time, the fandom of Borås was the center of everything interesting happening. At one time their core, the Smyslov group, almost went through with a bomb attack on a school parade (small home-made gunpowder things, though). Regncon was surely something, and everyone would be there.

'Bob Weber' was really a person by the name Jan Lennart Andersson (no relative to Erik), a friendly guy who was in his early twenties, brown haired, with a taste for whiskey, a typical mingler easy to speak with. And of course he did turn up on Regncon.

'Bob' (as he actually became known as, after this) turned up not too early and not too late, so he wouldn't stick out. He asked for Erik and for me, saying something about that he "had heard that this was supposed to be a science fiction convention."

He immediately went for the bar, where he started to mingle with people and make passes on the girls. I and Erik took him aside a couple of times during the evening to brief him, both about persons and on how fandom worked. 'Bob' was of course new to it. (If he wasn't, people would have met him before.) Once we were close to blowing it when someone almost stumbled upon us, because we briefed him in Swedish and 'Bob' wasn't supposed to know that language.

He got himself respectable amounts of liquids to drink, which got us a little bit worried. He had to remember to speak English all the time and couldn't be too intoxicated. But not even Swedish fans with good knowledge of English and experience from foreign cons suspected anything. His accent wasn't perfect, but he spoke in a very soft way to hide it, and few people there really knew how Canadians spoke English.

The biggest threat was the bar pianist, the fan Kjell Waltman, who had had engagements as piano player in Canada and knew a lot about the country. But when it was appropriate, 'Bob' didn't remember details or had "...never been on that particular spot." (Afterwards Kjell told me that he'd been suspicious, but I'm not sure I believe him. It's easy to be wise in retrospect.)

He also managed to impress the girls, and stayed the night at the home of a local Borås femmefan. What happened there is a matter or privacy, but they came back to the con together the next day and to my eyes they didn't look too unhappy. She was still convinced 'Bob' was from Canada.

The Saturday worked the same way. The bar. Mingling with people. One thing I remember is how the very young Nybro-fans got excited when they found a phone-booth on the con that still took 10 öre coins -- worth about 1,5 cents -- and used it to phone random numbers abroad to wake people up. They'd get about two seconds of swearing until the 1,5 cents were up. I'm sure they phoned Canada too.

'Bob' managed to become quite popular, and also managed to exchange views on Canadian sf with the pro Sam J Lundwall. Sam J always makes the impression of knowing everything about sf in all countries, and 'Bob' of course didn't know anything about Canadian sf either.

Then the Sunday came. The committee had a closing program event in the main hall where speeches would be held, some awards presented, and so on. 'Bob' was scheduled to appear here, as one of the last things on the convention. This was his speech:

He looked into his papers, and said, "Hi! I'm Bob Weber from Canada. I'll try to hold this speech in Swedish. Miss (the girl he stayed with) helped me to translate it, and I hope I will be able to read it." He paused, looked into his papers, seemed puzzled, tried to form silent words with his mouth, and continued in a rather broken Swedish: "This has been a nice con, and I've enjoyed it very much, but think that Borås is a very boring city..." A dramatic pause, and then he continued in (of course) perfect Swedish: "But I knew that already because I did my military service here. I'm Jan Lennart Andersson, and I'm a typical hoax."

I have it on tape. There is a moment of silence, then some screams and sounds of uncertainty, and then a very long round of applause. The girl he had stayed with almost fell off her chair.

People started to approach 'Bob' to ask questions, some so uncertain that they still spoke English.

'Bob' himself later wrote an article about this in my fanzine and said that he had enjoyed it very much. After this he spent a short time in fandom, but vanished as he began law studies at Stockholm University. I had him as guest one week in the Futurian Embassy in the beginning of his first semester, before he found a student's apartment.

# # # #

The Hell's Angels Link
To make a successful hoax, it is absolutely essential to have as few people as possible who know about it. Three is a maximum. If more people are involved, the truth will leak out. My next story demonstrates this -- the failed but rather funny hoax of 'Klaus van der Link'.

Martin Kristenson, one of the famous Sala fans, travelled on an interrail youth ticket by train in Europe. From England and later Denmark he mailed copies of fanzines to the most well known Swedish fans -- especially one Kaj Harju in Stockholm -- in the name of 'Klaus van der Link'.

The fanzines gave a picture of a huge Dutch fan who had a motorcycle and was a member of Hell's Angels. He wanted contacts with Swedish fandom (and gave Poste Restante addresses people could write to) because he was coming here on his bike.

On his trip to Stockholm he stopped to visit local fans, and new fanzines came from for instance Malm÷ in the south and Gothenburg in the west. The fanzines were very weird. 'Klaus van der Link' was illiterate, had a raw language and didn't care much for English grammar. It soon became obvious that his real intention with going to Stockholm was to "...beat the shit out of Kaj Harju" -- the latter had in some unclear way annoyed this Hell's Angels sf-fan. "Watch out Harju! I'm coming to get ya!", 'Klaus van der Link' wrote several times.

Unfortunately, the scheme of publishing fanzines from different places blew the hoax. Cooperation was needed with local fans in different cities, and more and more people began to know the truth.

I'm not sure if Harju really learned the truth until it was obvious that 'Klaus van der Link' wouldn't come, but it doesn't matter. 'Klaus van der Link' never made it to Stockholm, and Kaj Harju escaped what was coming to him.

The classical hoaxes described above inspired Swedish fandom to continue to be full of hoaxes, through the `80s. I can easily remember a dozen or so.

# # # #

A Strand Full of LoCs
I pulled off a couple of them by myself, and at least the brief 'Birgitta Strand' hoax was interesting because of the sociological conclusions you could draw.

Before I moved where I now live ('The New Epicentre' I call it) I lived in the 'Futurian Embassy'. (Yes, I've read all the books about how New York fandom in the '40s moved from slanshack to slanshack. Great stuff.) The former owner of the Embassy apartment had the last name 'Strand', and the name was still on the door when I moved in. So I mailed a fanzine from a new femmefan, 'Birgitta Strand', whose address was my new (unknown) address.

This girl 'Birgitta' (nicknamed 'Gittan') was young, apparently attractive and very interested in getting to know other sf fans. I sent out about 50 copies of her zine, all but one to male fans. (No discrimination intended, this was the ratio of male to female fanzine fans of the time.)

I got an amazing 35 LoCs on this not too good fanzine, and you can't avoid the conclusion that Swedish fans are starved for female company. No LoC was really inappropriate or so, but somehow everyone seemed to find masterpieces and brilliant writing in her zine.

About a week after I had formally announced my new address, and the hoax was revealed, I happened to stroll on town with a femmefan from Borås -- and bumped into the fan Anders Bellis outside his standard beverage gas-station.

The devil got into me, and it took me and my friend about half a second to agree to present her as 'Birgitta Strand', despite the obvious problem that the truth was out.

"Hello, may I introduce Birgitta Strand," I said.

"But you're a hoax!" Bellis said.

"Ah, you fell for that! I'm not a hoax," she said.

"But I've checked with the police and there is no 'Birgitta Strand' where you live!" he said.

"Well, you see, my father works for the government," she said, "in the Department of Industry. And authorities are instructed not to give out addresses and information about my family, for security reasons..."

I can still hear the outcry of amazement, echoing in the alleys of the Stockholm Old Town: "Oh! You do exist! Gosh, I was absolutely convinced you were a hoax!"

# # # #

Those were the days! All the hoaxes I've told you about appeared from 1978 to 1981, a Golden Age of Swedish fandom. Since then, fandom here has been on a downslide.

A few years ago, an obvious hoax femmefan, one 'Patricia Alholm', appeared in Farsta, a southern suburb of Stockholm. Ms. Alholm appeared in an extremely cruddy zine called AZQII Fanzine, whose general content was bad layout and unintelligent insults of well-known fans whom the editors had never met. I felt a lot about the zine (including the title) needed explanation, but all I originally came to learn was rumours spread by other fans, especially from Kaj Harju of 'Klaus van der Link' fame, who in his typical insistent way tried to convince everybody there was nothing hoaxy about the zine. When I asked why nobody had ever heard of the people who did this zine, I was told that they had seen an article about fandom I had written for the Postal Office advertisement magazine Skriv och Berätta ('Write and Tell'), and that they had learned everything about fandom from this article. But after re-reading that 1,5 page article (which was quite innocent), I didn't find anything that could inspire AZQII Fanzine.

I, who was so suspicious that I would hardly even accept a photo-ID as proof of existence (and who had previously created fake femmefans), took this so un-seriously that I even assumed that the male fans around Ms. Alholm were fake. This caused some problems, but that's another story. Few people believed in her, anyway, and the whole thing was soon forgotten. It was soon revealed that two of the numerous editors of AZQII Fanzine did exist, but the rest didn't.

A few months ago, I read an article from one of the 'real' Farsta fans (despite possible lack of photo-ID), where he claimed that 'Patricia Alholm' had been "...one of the best hoaxes in the history of Swedish fandom."

Maybe that statement was a hoax in itself!

illo by Peggy Ranson
All illustrations by Peggy Ranson

back to previous article forward to next article go to contents page