Sci­ence Fic­tion Fan­dom in the UK: 1930–1980

Fortean Times - - Reviews / Books - Rob Hansen

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 at­si­

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