Back to the present now, for a look to the future. The future of this fanzine is
now down to just a few more pages, so perhaps it's time for a short philosophical
discussion (or narrative, in this case) about what the future of all fanzines,
or indeed, fandom in general could come to. Nowadays, the ideal of FIAWOL may be
starting to show some wear-and-tear around the edges, and as we gracefully grow older
a sense of FIJAGH may be starting to replace it. But if you look deeper, the driving
force behind FIJAGH is another, and perhaps more basic form of FIAWOL. In fact, it
all comes down to the basics.
FIAWOL, fandom is a way of life, is a hard topic for me, devoted as I have been to the alternative view FIJAGH, fandom is just a glittering -- or something -- hobby. But let us reason together.
In my undergraduate days, Antioch College bloomed into Antioch University. William M. Birenbaum presided. "Back to the basics" was heard, as before and indeed since. We can't go back, he said; and if we could it is not clear we had the basics. To get them we can only and we should go forward.
Today some leading fans have reached age sixty, seventy, eighty. I think this an honor and a wonder. Some have been with us from the beginning. Whatever we are doing has held their interest. All are old enough to know they can find other ways of spending their beer money. However, this is bad, because fandom is graying. We worry we might be lacking somehow because we are too old.
In the beginning everyone was seventeen. This was bad. We worried we might be lacking somehow because we were too young.
Science fiction then was an adolescent pastime. It had to be; it was written by Mary Shelley and Rudyard Kipling and Aldous Huxley and Hermann Hesse and George Orwell, and there were all those teenagers who paid for translating Jules Verne.
Now s-f is for fuddy-duddies. Except for permeating popular culture. A 1996 survey found half the U.S. households had at least one person self-defined as an s-f fan. I know because Arnie Katz quoted it while Fan Guest of Honor at Westercon XLIX that year in El Paso. Most of them must be what we'd call readers instead of fans, or the 1996 Worldcon attendance would've been 6.7 million instead of 6.7 thousand, but it's still impressive. As I write, the electronic book service Amazon ranks Dune about 200 by sales; Fahrenheit 451 about 1,100; Lucifer's Hammer about 5,400; Frankenstein about 11,000; Tunnel in the Sky about 15,000; The Glass Bead Game about 27,000. Tom Veal's book is about 940,000.
It's true we get no respect. When people disliked U.S. President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, the best way they could think to mock it was to call it Star Wars. In other words, it was science fiction, and therefore sick. Also there was 'Ronnie ray-guns'. Some of these noises came from us. I didn't vote for him, but I thought this was strange. While Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House of Representatives, a mundane-politics magazine could think of no better way to mock him than reporting he was at work on an s-f novel. The article was by an s-f author. I thought this was so strange I told File 770.
Science itself is strange. One might think it liberating; I for instance joked in Chronicle 231 how I hurried to the 2002 Worldcon, unable to leave Los Angeles till noon, catching a jet, and dashing to my panel in San José at four, which no human being on Earth could have done a hundred years earlier, not even Phileas Fogg. Yet we have 'hard' s-f, and Bridget Landry is lonely as a rocket scientist and master-class costumer, and even James Michener, whose novel Space is within an inch of s-f, knew there were more career scientists who worked in the arts than career artists who worked in the sciences.
I don't have to tell you fanzines are strange. Well, I do, actually, but I won't. Fanzines are goners. They were made obsolete by the Internet, or e-mail, or cheap travel, or something. As Lord Chesterfield said, "Tyrawley and I have been dead these two years, but we don't choose to have it known."
We're all goners. No one needs us any more. Earlier the people who showed up came because they needed to. They were good for nothing elsewhere but we didn't notice so we took them. It must be easier these days for worthless people to get by.
Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian student of communications media whose Ph.D. was in English Literature, and who incidentally considered, among media, money, clothes, and clocks, said media only seem to supersede one another. When a new medium arrives, it takes over the burden of being the latest thing. That frees other media, and tends to clarify them, so they come to be employed for what they prove best at. Fewer eggs are put into one basket. The telephone did not replace the letter, nor did either replace going for dinner or a walk, on business or socially.
Science fiction, like science, is the art of the possible. Fantasy is the art of the impossible. Comprise them, in 'speculative fiction' perhaps: we are the what-if artform. This is a big basket, but even so it is better not having too many eggs in. Some of my favorite pastimes, and people, are not stfnal, to use our old adjective. I take a good deal of trouble staying involved with others that are.
We have long said fandom is communication. This is true, or had better be, but not the whole truth. When a game is not the only one in town, "nothing better to do" rises from sarcasm to description. I want to do what I can find nothing better than.
McLuhan's famous line The medium is the message, also expressed as They became what they beheld, had a qualification which, unsurprisingly enough, is rarely noted: if not paying attention. Users of an alphabet may become alphabetical, neat, segmented, serial, and uniform, but they need not if they bother to remain aware; or they may do so should it suit them, and become something else tomorrow. The artist can lay down a pen and take up a brush.
Beasts go where the other beasts are going. Slaves try to do whatever no one stops them from. Free people try to do what seems worthwhile. Artists know 'worthwhile' had better not be too materialistic.
We cannot merely call s-f imaginative fiction -- any fiction is imaginative -- but our what-if artform stretches the imagination, an exercise of the spirit of play. Some people insist on justifying that. They make s-f a form of prediction, or protest, or psychodrama. Let us say those are at most Newton physics in an Einstein universe.
Fans are what-iffy people. It was -- will you say it or shall I say it? I will say it -- one of Forry Ackerman's better puns to call us the 'Imagi-Nation'.
This is where inhabitants of the mundane world fail us. They are forever proclaiming that we live in dreams, that we believe our fantasies. We have of course riposted that it might not be so bad if we did; that their cries have a strange ring of jealousy; that more dreaming and fantasy might be good for everyone; but it is not our program. We delight in tales of travel through time, or faster than light, not because we know how to do it, but because we do not. What fun "Let's pretend we're space pirates" if we really were space pirates? With our full share of faults, we're not so dull.
We are participatory. Our clubs, conventions, fanzines, are not gawkfests. With us fans and pros mingle. We're less interested in whether X and Y are celebrities than whether they can carry on a conversation. An s-f con sells, not admission, but membership, and expects both greenhorns and old hands to make themselves useful. A club may publish books or go bowling but will not cultivate low-lifes who prostrate before high-lifes. A fanzine is most often applauded as a forum for discourse. Outside our world live other versions of these things which rarely win our esteem. We do not begrudge their existence but we wish they were more creative.
The life of Mimosa is an honor and a wonder. This zine relishing fanhistory has earned acclaim and been voted a handful of Hugo Awards. If you are acquainted with me in person, or follow my fanwriting, you know I think people are lopsided with the expression c'est la vie; if used, it should also fly out for finding a fine sunset, or falling in love, or fashioning a success.
I believe we have grown complacent. I marvel at fanziners who don't go to cons because they don't see any fanziners at cons because fanziners don't go to cons, or conners who yearn for fresh blood while printing clever fliers that never say "science fiction convention." If you do any teaching, you know one of the oldest rules, a sometimes harsh rule which is all too true: A well-taught class fills, a badly-taught class empties. It's also a source of comfort -- which means "lending strength," did you know that? I looked it up after a funeral -- in that it points to something which can be done. In my own affairs I try to keep it in mind, the complement of publicity.
Pro activity has grown complacent. The craftsmanship is weak; compared to say, the 1940s, I believe we're imagining more widely and writing worse. That's not the joys of my childhood, I wasn't around then. Also our field is particularly prone to distraction by dazzle. We get a lot out of shock value -- an occupational hazard of living by the sense of wonder. Some of this is right. Where else should be the home for dangerous visions? But not all valuable visions are dangerous. Behind the received wisdom is the received iconoclasm. Eventually when the same rules, however hateful, are broken the same way yet again, another beer begins to look better.
Pretending to disdain skill appears in history now and then. The Roman poet Horace cracked, "Because Democritus believes native genius is worth any amount of piddling art, a good many will not take the trouble to trim their nails." Charlie Chaplin in the film Modern Times carefully showed a little tramp too awkward for a factory assembly line, who putting on roller skates suddenly flew round a floor like a champion, then being dragged into a nightclub show was suddenly master of the hardest comedy, a satirical patter-song; no practice; undoubtedly he could just be. These mundane currents influence us. We could yet take on craftsmanship for ourselves, like the feminist slogan a few years ago "Take back the night."
Theorists love contradictory data, which sound the alarm for a more fundamental theory. We used to say science fiction was what could happen, until new science falsified old stories that were yet manifestly distinct from fantasy. I've said science fiction is a mood. Fandom also may be. In that sense it may be more a way of life than a guaniferous hobby, oh dear.
I've been promoting a sense of the classic. I hardly suggest we are worse off than in the past, though it would be a surprise if people of another time and place were never superior to us at anything. If a classic is an artwork so great that it transcends its own day, that surviving its time and place it speaks to us after styles have changed and it is no longer buoyed by the currents of convention, then beyond what it may have been to its own people in the past, it can be an inspiration for us to make something great our way in the future. Let us not try to pull down heroes as low as we may feel ourselves. Let us grieve fitly but not defeatingly when they die. Let us try to rise by their example. Forward to the basics.
All illustrations by Charlie Williams