TT: Fact or Fiction? The SF Fan

JANE: What’s interesting to me is how the SF/F fan is perceived by those outside of the culture.  Many years ago, a friend who was not a fan came to get me after a World Fantasy convention.  As I climbed into her car, she said: “I knew I was in the right place because there were so many people wearing black.”

A Random Bubonicon Moment

Well, the odd thing was, the reason so many people were wearing black had nothing to do with the fact that this was an SF/F event.  World Fantasy is one of the rare conventions that holds its awards ceremony on the last day of the convention.  The reason so many people were wearing black was because they were dressed up.  Much formal wear, including suits for men and the classic “little black dress” for women, is black!

ALAN: Ah! Clash of the Stereotypes!  SF and Fantasy fans. Now there’s a group of people who get stereotyped if ever there was one – especially since many SF/F fans are both nerds and/or geeks. Pelion piled upon Ossa! But I think that SF/F fandom also exhibits what I suspect is a unique social phenomenon – the fan who is obsessed with being a fan and who has little or no interest in SF/F itself. I like to think of these people as meta-fans.

JANE: I agree the meta-fan is unique.  When I attended my very first convention, Lunacon had a “Fan Guest of Honor” – Dave Kyle, if I remember correctly.  I had to have the concept of a Fan explained to me then.

However, I’m not sure I’d say these meta-fans have little or no interest in SF/F itself.  I’d say that their initial interest in some aspect of the genre has evolved to being an interest in participating in a special sub-culture.

ALAN: I suspect that’s probably true. After all, something has to bring you in to that world in the first place. But once you were there, in the pre-internet days at least, being a fan could take up the whole of your day. Fanzines circulated widely, and dedicated fans spent their time writing letters of comment (LOCs) to fanzine editors and publishing letters from their friends in their own fanzines. All this fannish activity left little time for reading new books or for watching new movies. I have a friend who is widely regarded as a Big Name Fan (BNF) from that era, but these days he seldom if ever reads an SF/F book. He actually spends his non-fandom time listening to jazz instead…

JANE: But did he start as a reader or movie viewer?  If he didn’t, what drew him into fandom?

ALAN: He started as a reader. His proudest possession is a first edition Gnome Press hardback set of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation trilogy which must be worth a small fortune now. I kept bumping into him at British conventions, though we only had a nodding acquaintance with each other then. I did notice that he seemed to be on first name terms with Brian Aldiss and Harry Harrison, and he was constantly taking photographs.

When I moved to New Zealand, I found that he was living just down the road from me and that was when we got to know each other a bit better. He showed me his slides from British cons and, sure enough, he had photographs of me!

JANE: Something that fascinated me about fandom as I learned more about it was that it had an elaborate vocabulary of its own.  Let’s see what I can remember.  Fanac was short for “Fan Activity,” such as publishing a fanzine.  “Zine” was short for fanzine, which in turn was short for “fan magazine.”

ALAN: That’s right – and don’t forget LOC and BNF which I used (and interpreted) before.  Related to BNF is SMOF, or secret master of fandom.  These are the people who run big conventions, like Worldcon.

JANE: I know several SMOF.  Nice, hardworking people, overall.

Another interesting piece of fannish vocabulary is “egoboo.”  When I first heard, it I was completely baffled.  Was it a sort of ghost?  A side effect of catching con crud?

I then learned that “egoboo” was short for “ego boost.”  This, as one hard-working fan explained to me, is the only currency that the largely volunteer organizers receive for their hard labor.  She went on to say that egoboo (or the lack thereof, or someone stealing someone else’s) was the main reason for nasty feuds among fans.

ALAN: Smofs get lots of egoboo. I suspect that’s generally why they do it.

JANE: There was even a term for those who left fandom – gafiate – which was a semi-acronym for “getting away from it all.”  It’s still in use, at least among older fans.  When I was Guest of Honor at MileHiCon in October, I asked after a Colorado fan who always used to come to Bubonicon.  The response was, “Oh, I still see him every week, but he’s more or less gafiated.”

ALAN: And don’t forget fiawol (fandom is a way of life), a lovely word used to describe the meta-fans whose original interest in SF/F now takes second place to their fanac. The sneering response, of course, is usually fijagh – fandom is just a god-damned hobby.

JANE: Wow!  I’d never heard “fijagh.”  Arguments in acronyms.

We’ve been talking about Fandom as if it’s a monolith but, while it started that way, it’s fragmented.  Maybe next time we can talk about some of the sub-fandoms and the way they have transformed conventions.


4 Responses to “TT: Fact or Fiction? The SF Fan”

  1. James Mendur Says:

    Perhaps you can touch upon “the graying of fandom” in your tangents at some point – the phenomenon that the majority of fans at the smaller conventions are edging toward the grayer end of the age spectrum?

    • janelindskold Says:

      Hi James — Probably not, because this hasn’t been my experience. Both Bubonicon and MileHiCon had ample young people present. Maybe this is a regional thing? Or something that is a result of certain cons not being open to new interests?

    • Alan Robson Says:

      I agree with Jane — if anything, conventions in New Zealand exhibit the opposite effect. There’s a preponderance of young people among the attendees, and several recent conventions have been organised by people from the younger age groups. Our last convention was one such, and it was one of the best conventions I’ve ever attended.


  2. futurespastsite Says:

    Once upon a time, the saying was “It’s a proud and lonely thing to be a fan.” Now there are more fans than tribbles.

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