Prior to last week’s opening of Boo-Hooray’s exhibition, The Tattooed Dragon Meets the Werewolf: Lenny Kaye’s Science-Fiction Fanzines 1941 – 1970 at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMA PS1, I was in touch with multiple award-winning science fiction Patrick Nielsen-Hayden of Tor Books, was my own fiction editor for several years, and, like his wife and fellow editor, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, a lifelong fan.
In his letter following he provides corrections, elaborates upon some of our erroneous and/or iffy interpretations in the catalog text, gives additional insight into the field and some of its particulars. We very much appreciate the fact that he has given us permission to reprint his letter, here. If any other longtime sf fans (and I personally know you’re out there) would like to add their thoughts, we’ll be happy to receive them!
(And for additional sf fun visit: tor.com)
PATRICK NIELSEN HAYDEN:
Thanks for this. I’ve already ordered a copy of the catalog, as it happens. And I’m definitely going to try to get to the exhibition.
My sense of Coventry is that immersive RPGing/LARPing is an activity with powerful effects on the brain, and that the late-1950s LA-area fans who got pulled into Coventry were the equivalent of 18th-century Londoners raised on ale and claret being confronted for the first time with 100-proof gin–it overwhelmed their nonexistent defenses and drove them around several bends. Later, people began to build cultural practices which alleviated the raw power of the practice. Something like that happened in gaming, too.
I’m impressed, from this article and from what I can see on the web, by how much has been got right about a piece of history I know extremely well. My one quibble with the article you sent on would be to say that Lovecraft wasn’t really a “midcentury” author—he died in 1936, and most of his major work was well before that[Our goof all the way on this one!! — eds] The thing about Lovecraft is that he wasn’t ever actually active in SF fandom as we know it; his version of “fan” activity was his involvement, which peaked in the oughts and teens, in the mainstream “amateur press organizations” such as NAPA. Lovecraft’s actual importance in the history of skiffy [i.e. science-fiction-y] zinedom is that he corresponded with the then-teenaged Don Wollheim in the last year of his life, and in the course of so doing transmitted the basic model of the APA to Wollheim, who promptly founded FAPA, the Fantasy Amateur Press Association, first of thousands of other fannish APAs to come.
The other thing I would observe is that the fandom that made most of these zines seriously disresemble Wagnerians, Ayn Rand fanciers, and Sarah Bernhardt obsessives, in an important way — most of them were notfixated on a single author or work, but on a diverse cloud of authors and works; in fact, being a single-minded fan of anything, in the sense that the “mundane” world used (and uses) the word “fan”, was widely deprecated and regarded as slightly suspicious.
There were exceptions, of course, and there have always been subfandoms as obsessive about Edgar Rice Burroughs or Tolkien or God knows what as any Sinatra-obsessed bobbysoxer. But specifically because of this kind of singleminded obsessiveness, these people always felt, to the main branch of SF fandom, a little (and you may have to crane your neck to wrap your brain around this) unfannish.
Really, the thing that made the zine culture on display here such a hothouse is that what these people were most fannish about was each other.