As a byproduct of the popularity of science fiction movies, books, and games, an entire subculture has entrenched itself in our current culture. This avid following of all things science fiction is more commonly called “SF Fandom” and has some interesting roots.
In the Beginning
In the late 1800s, science fiction stories were first published in book form. Jules Verne is credited as the first to write what is considered “pure science fiction” where stories solely centered on technological, futuristic, fantastic, and alien or otherworldly content.
Sci-fi Fan Interest Grows
Science fiction started making more headway into the public eye in the early 1900s as magazines would sometimes run single stories or serialized versions of a story mixed into their normal content to capitalize on the growing interest in the topic. Magazines like Argosy, a children’s weekly publication, would publish stories with science fiction themes, but, as a whole, there were no genre-specific publications like we have available today.
Despite an influx of new science fiction stories being published in those early years by Argosy and other similar magazines, science fiction fans of all ages were looking for lots more material.
To meet the demand, the mid-1920s saw the explosion of what was called “pulp” magazines. These publications were typically issued monthly and featured short stories produced and illustrated mostly by fans but sometimes featured works by already established science fiction authors.
A well-known example is the 1926 pulp magazine Amazing Stories which featured only works of a true science fiction nature. Not commonly known is that Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Allen Poe all provided significant contributions with stories published in early copies of Amazing Stories while many authors found their first publishing success in the myriad of other pulp magazines.
Even More Fan Access
While this may seem strange now, science fiction fans reading Amazing Stories were encouraged to contact each other via a letter column included in the publication. Amazing Stories’ letter column provided the the names and addresses of its fans in print. Publishing such information meant fans could contact each other (and sometimes professional authors or artists) via mail to discuss characters, stories, and plots or to arrange for the swapping of magazine issues. This connection of like-minded science fiction buffs became the first organized type of fan club for the genre’s enthusiasts. Essentially, this was an early equivalent of social media helping to boost and share information on a beloved topic
A further outgrowth of the fan clubs was the creation of fanzines. Fanzines were typically amateur magazines often produced to provide further exploration of the genre via elaboration on story lines or to provide outlets for artistic contributions like character or scene illustrations. Additionally, fanzines afforded a platform for novice writers who hoped to join the ranks of professional science fiction authors.
An example of one of the earliest fanzines was The Comet, created in 1930 by Raymond Arthur Palmer who was a member of the Science Correspondence Club of Chicago.
After the introduction of The Comet, many other fanzines came as went as the creators often found keeping up with the publishing of them was too demanding of their time and sometimes too costly.
However, while short-lived, fanzines did make a significant mark on the genre with some of the most successful writers being Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs (Mithra series), and J.R.R. Tolkein (Lord of the Rings trilogy).
Today, science fiction fandom has taken on a life of its own. Some popular outlets include Sci-Fi conventions, themed events such as weddings or graduation parties, role playing games, and many others where attendees can hear or converse in fanspeak, a jargon used by die hard fans to communicate with each other about all things science fiction.