Science Fiction Fandom in the UK: 1930–1980
Readers of my series about the UK’s ‘First Forteans’ ( FT308–
FT325) – who would like to learn more about the genealogy of our topic can do no better than read THEN, Rob Hansen’s monumental history of British science-fiction (SF). As veteran SF fanzine editor Peter Weston records in his introduction, nearly every generation from 1930 to 1980 attempted a history of SF fandom, only to fail partly because fandom was incredibly diverse. Individuals and groups were scattered throughout these isles and beyond – and few (if any) knew many, and certainly not all, of them. This was before the days of email and the Internet, when nearly all fan communication was by letter, newsletter or fanzine (to rank them by sophistication and circulation). Gatherings were rare, usually taking the form of pub meetings or the occasional convention. While there were more serious projects (associations, clubs and book services) over time, any collections of these publications was likely to be private and (most likely) disorganised.
Rob’s first entry into SF fandom was, Weston notes, around 1975, and he quickly became a key figure in the
search for and collection of documentation, especially of the early protagonists and their activities up to, during, and through the first decade after WWII. Aided by a few like-minded folk and some (now quite) old-timers, archives were rescued, scanned and made available on the Internet, supplemented by sites for online discussion and reminiscing. Few of this tribe are more qualified than Rob to write this priceless social history of the fans who laid the groundwork for such pervasive genres as SF and fantasy movies, RPG gaming, ‘what if’ speculations and other sorts of futurism.
He details the lives and interactions of several hundred of the UK’s leading fans, their literary output… and boy, could most of them write! Here are early glimpses of Arthur C Clarke, John Wyndham, Fred Brown, Christopher Priest, Charles Eric Maine, William Temple, Ted Carnell, Bob Shaw and so many others; and among them the early forteans including Eric Frank Russell, Sid Birchby and Harold Chibbett. Others, like Benson Herbert, George Hay and Raymond Cass, were developing experimental technology; and still others (like Egerton Sykes on Atlantis) became foremost scholars in their subject. This fat book also records the crossovers between SF and the burgeoning comic book fandom, at home and in the USA, and from 1947, the rise of ufology, and of ‘alternative’ and New Age culture, paving the way for most other modern fandoms. Here, too, our early roots can be found among those youngsters (often in their late teens or early 20s) who founded the Manchester rocketry group, various astronomical societies and pioneering psychical research teams.
My own place in this lineage is that I once met Chibbett, corresponded with some of those early forteans (including Eric Frank Russell), and as an apprentice to Peter Weston learnt how to put together a fanzine… until I gafiated (you’ll have to look it up) and started FT. Rob Hansen’s narrative is engaging, despite the deluge of faces and facts, dates and titles, collaborations and feuds. There are lists of conventions, fan polls, folk with portraits herein, fandom statistics, and copious source notes. As Peter Weston notes: “It is [..] a minor miracle that it ever came to be written,” concluding: “Without Rob we would know almost nothing about British fan history, whereas, thanks to him, we now know just about everything.” It is privately published by David Langford: more details at ae.ansible.uk/