A Fan Manifesto

Challenge accepted, Mr. Torgersen!

Background: More than rabbit-souled one self-declared foe of the Sad Puppies slate of Hugo candidates has urged their fellow lapines to shun us and bite us with their wee square rodential teeth to drive us trembling into exile, away from the fuzzy and comfortable warren of right-thinking, that is to say, left-leaning, that is to say, non-thinking conformists.

Their claim of right and clamor of noise was that we were all disqualified from being heard, on the grounds that we are not ‘real’ science fiction fans.

Nothing wrong with fans holding forth their opinions, far from it: Science fiction is blessed to have such an active and enthusiastic fanbase. Nothing wrong with fans telling pros how to conduct their business, far from it. You fans are the employers. The customer is always right.

But their is something wrong with one fan wagging the insufferable finger of correctness at other fans, and telling them they are not members of the one, big happy family, because then you are frelling with my customers, you loon, and mucking with my paycheck. So shut your fat and drooling trap, friend.

My normal Vulcan equanimity is perturbed, causing me to raise one supercilious eyebrow an alarming inch and a quarter up my otherwise unwrinkled forehead by anyone who claims that I and mine are not ‘real’ fans because our participation in fandom is somehow insufficient or politically incorrect.

One Rob at CDN (https://anthrobob.wordpress.com/2015/02/17/so-im-not-cool-enough-to-be-a-fan/) takes exception to the restrictive definition; and was joined in his umbrage by Brad R Torgersen (https://bradrtorgersen.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/my-fanifesto/) and Paterick Richardson (https://otherwheregazette.wordpress.com/2015/02/15/not-a-real-fan/) and Kerry English (http://karyenglish.com/2015/02/on-discovering-sff-and-becoming-a-fan/) and an anonymous passer-by on the internet, who, because he happens at the moment to agree with me on this one issue, I trust as I trust the Oracle at Delphi and the Sibyl at Cumae, combined! (https://westfargomusings.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/a-fan-in-my-own-way/)

So, in that spirit, let me say that, while you were still in kneepants, I was a fan. I embarked on my life of crime for the sake of fandom.

My life as a criminal began in the Fifth Grade. During lunch period and recess, because I preferred to read rather than play on the playground, and because my book and my MUNSTERS lunchbox were too big for my small hands to carry both, it was my habit, just before the bell rang, to walk over and unlatch one window the merest crack. Then, while other children were getting healthy exercise, I would sneak back to the classroom building, open the window deftly, and slither inside, retrieve my book, close the window, and depart my the front door, locking it behind me. I would have gotten away with it, too, if Mr Geisel, my teacher, had not collared me during one break-in. My career as a first-story man, or boy, seemed cut short. But when he realized I was trespassing in order to get a book, to read it, something no other child seemed wont to do, I was not sent to Alcatraz, nor to the Principal’s office.

I agree that, compared to the career of Adam North, the Napoleon of Crime, or Professor Moriarty, that Irish mastermind, or of Blackie DuQuesne, that superscientist of villainy, my crime wave was short lived. But I got away clean as a whistle, which is more than two of the three of them can can say.

Whether that book was THE GAMMAGE CUP by Carol Kendall, or TIME CAT by Lloyd Alexander, or DANNY DUNN AND THE SMALLIFYING MACHINE by an author whose name I forget, or THE MARVELOUS INVENTIONS OF ALVIN FERNALD by Clifford B Hicks, or THE MAD SCIENTISTS CLUB by Bertrand R. Brinley, or WONDERFUL VOYAGE TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET by Eleanor Cameron, or A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle, or ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Engdahl, or THE MAGIC BED KNOB by Mary Norton, or THE DARK IS RISING by Susan Cooper, or TUNNEL THROUGH TIME by Lester Del Rey is something I do not now recall, but I do recall those to be among the books I read at that age, probably all in one week. I read quickly and omnivorously and gluttonously.

I remember the green cover of the Carol Kendall book, and the dark silhouettes of Minnipins flourishing their war swords at the ghastly Mushroom creatures; I recall the dizzying circles radiating from the eye of the startled face on the cover of the Lester Del Rey book, and the silhouette of the time traveler falling into the Triassic, in part because it reminded me of the TIME TUNNEL television show, which I was watching, not in reruns, at about that same time.

I remember arguing with my teacher over the meaning of ENCHANTRESS FROM THE STARS by Sylvia Engdahl. She said the machine-using invaders who were occupying the medieval planet were supposed to represent us, the Earthmen; whereas I said the psychic and self-sacrificing Illuminati attempting in secret to protect the medievals were the Earthmen.

And I recall the plot, the characters, and themes of all these books and their fellows, because they live in me, and shaped the contours of my imagination, forever.  Even to say their names is to be like Helen of Troy whispering the names of her one hundred suitors, if only she had given her heart wholly to them one and all.

I remember seeing STAR TREK, also not in reruns. My earliest recollection was the episode where the Enterprise is thrown back into the past, and saves a fighter pilot from destruction by beaming him aboard.

The moment when I saw the image of the great ship from the far future in silhouette, laboring to gain altitude in the atmosphere — which, even at that age, I knew was dangerous for space vessels to go — of a year in the their far past, our present — which I knew was the wrong place for future people to be — while the brass trumpets of Alexander Courage blared an eerie and ominous cord still lives in my heart, and still trembles with an echo of that old, old thrill of wonder and strangeness.

(As a child, I thought it was hilarious the the current-day earth-pilot did not know where to stand to be teleported, as Mr Spock had to reach out his hand to urge the man to step on the glowing circle before Scotty could beam him down. It never occurred to my boyish brain that the current-day earth-pilot had not seen the STAR TREK show as I had, nor that it would have been a quaint paradox if he had.)

This was what I was reading before I became a science fiction fan, but the books all contained some element of the fantastical and adventurous. All were fun and all expended the imagination.

A modern or postmodern mind will notice something odd about that list — namely, that it is mostly lady authors. But this was in the late 60s and early 70s, and the postmodern narrative now (uproariously) claims women were excluded from publisher’s offices and bookstores back in the day, and there were no women authors, especially no lady science fiction authors. This indeed would be news to Mary Shelley, who invented the genre.

The postmodern narrative is a fiction just as much as any tale about a voyage to the invisible second moon of earth inhabited by mushroom people and saved by a chicken, or a yarn about an evil planet ruled by an bodiless brain where all the children bounce balls at play time in perfect unison — except that the postmodern narrative neither entertains, enlightens, nor expands ones imagination, but indeed does the direct opposite.

The first book I ever bought in a bookstore (or, rather, my parents bought it for me) was THE DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH by HP Lovecraft, which was because I was lured by the cover: a zebra stands to one side of a tree at whose roots is a human skull: up the tree a staircase runs, and graceful cats sit near. To the other side of the tree shines a golden oriental city seen in the distance.

The words within fulfilled and more every promise of that magical, alluring cover. I keep all my paperbacks in pristine shape. Without mar or crack or wrinkle that book, yellow now with age as am I, still sits in a place of honor on my bookshelf. That book, to me, contains all the dreams of my childhood crystallized by the gentle and inexorable polish of nostalgia, so that to reread it is to be Randolph Carter in truth, if his beloved boyhood memories of Boston in the twilight were held in his hand.

The second book I bought was THE LAST UNICORN by Peter S Beagle, and great is my envy for anyone who has not yet encountered this gem. I bought it for the utterly frivolous reason that the cover looked somewhat like the cover of DREAM QUEST OF UNKNOWN KADATH. Never before has an idle purchase been more richly rewarded.

But these were not my introduction to the world of science fiction! That, like all true blessings, was a gift.

My father was in the Navy, and servicemen, in those days, took care to take crates of paperbacks with them on cruise, for the rare and stolen minute after mess, or when the smoking lamp was lit, or just before lights-out when one could loaf in the rack and read. A friend of my Dad had such a crate he wanted to give away, and he knew me to be a bookish little munchkin, so a vast wealth of printed matter became mine. That cardboard crate sat in the corner of my bedroom for nigh unto ten years, as I read and reread every book in it.

Ah, but that first evening, burning with impatience, when I took home that plunder, greater far than the hoard Beowulf won from the Dragon, greater than what Aladdin saw in the Cave of Wonders! Up to my room I hauled it, tipsy and overburdened by the weight, slammed to the floorboards, and ripped open the cover.

I remember. The book on the top was black and starry, with an image of the earth hued in gold, and in a half circle above the earth were faces, presumably of the characters: a large eyed creature like a lemur, obviously the good alien, a fellow with a strange haircut I later discovered was a Roman, a caveman, a thin and sneering fellow, obviously a criminal, a fat man with the eyes of a killer, obviously a thug. But also others a fanged insectoid horror with huge and staring eyes of inhuman malice, obviously the bad alien.

I opened the cover and turned past the boring stuff, copyright notices and title pages my children brain could not understand why the put in books, and opened the first page:

You see, I had this space suit.

How it happened was this way: “Dad,” I said, “I want to go to the Moon.”

I was hooked.

I was infatuated.

I was in.

I have been a fan of speculative fiction, of wonder, of science, of all the adventure of the future from that day to this, as well as being a disciple, a devotee, and an adoring follower, and now, with my recent books receiving lauds and plaudits, a leader in the field.

You say I am not a fan? Go wash your mouth out with soap.