Claude Degler is to American fandom what Jack Bowie-Reid is to Canadian Fandom, a singularly powerful organizer and motivational leader, whose innovative practices continue to inspire us even now.
Bowie-Reid created a dozen SF clubs in the late 1940s, drawing them out of the muskeg with ease, but nothing compared to Degler, who half a decade earlier fashioned multiple dozens out of the Ether itself!
Bowie-Reid, being Canadian, was laid-back and practical; he named his super-organization: ‘The Canadian Science Fiction Association.’ No sex involved.
Degler, being American, reached for the stars, his wide-ranging vision igniting a veritable constellation of Satrapies known collectively as ‘The Cosmic Circle.’ Loyal followers, being possessed of ‘Cosmic Minds,’ were deemed ‘Cosmen,’ and told to breed with ‘Coswomen’ at the ‘Cosmic Camp’ and spawn a race of ‘Super-Slan Cosmen’ (mutants superior even to the mutants in van Vogt’s novel SLAN) who would rule the Earth and conquer the Solar System (from whom? Always wondered about that…). Lots of sex promised.
What a splendid vision! (Especially the bit about the love camp in the Ozarks.) But sadly, a tiny minority of fans feared the general public might find his ‘Cosmic Concept’ peculiar and begin to look with disfavour upon SF fen everywhere, so fen began to look upon HIM with disfavour, calling him a ‘Cosmic Clod,’ and his devoted followers ‘Cosworms.’ Besides, as they never tired of pointing out, ‘real’ fans were virgins. Not that they advocated this, they were merely pointing out the obvious (as the situation was for teenage fans back in the 1940s) to bring the fans down to Earth (a terrible thing to do to a SF fan).
Nevertheless Degler remains highly respected and universally praised. Why? Because he was the first fan to make SF fandom itself science fictional! He never let reality stand in way of his crusade to transform the Human race. Never!
He traveled ceaselessly across the States, staying with numerous fen overnight (and being kicked out the next morning), judging their character, and months later anointing them (without telling them) glorious leaders of his latest ‘Cosmic Club,’ outfits with delightful names like ‘The Circle of Azor,’ ‘The Muncie Mutants,’ and ‘The Future Fantasy French’ (the latter a Quebec branch based in Montreal).
Claude Degler, the antidote to fannish apathy.
But was he not, really, the spirit within us all? The Ur-vacuum which aspires to make something out of itself, i.e. something out of nothing?
Take me as an example. I started off as an innocent, ignorant fan who considered myself a fan simply because I liked anything to do with science fiction: comics, toys, films, books, etc.
Slowly I became aware other fans existed. Imperceptibly I was drawn into the orbit of organized fandom, yet remained blissfully ignorant of Trufandom. Then, one day, a conversation:
Fan: “You know there used to be a local SF club in the 1950s?”
Me: “Really? What was it called?”
Fan: “Dunno, but they used a language all their own. All fans did.”
Me: “Really? Give me some examples.”
Fan: “Dunno. I forget.”
Me: “Where did you learn about this? Who told you?”
Fan: “Dunno. I forget.”
The hook was in. The hunt was on. I never looked back.
Today I am the proud host of the Canadian Science Fiction Fanzine Archive website, yet – in the back of my mind – a cosworm is creeping, for I have discovered that many of the fen who derided Degler were themselves guilty of assuming fen superior to non-fans. The very fact they call non-fans ‘mundanes’ is a bit of a clue. Some fen claim the term is NOT pejorative, but try telling that to a mundane!
Then, in the late sixties, fen stopped deriding mundanes and turned on their fellow fans, on the newcomers. Not hard to see why. Back in the day, the average male fan was lucky to ‘borrow’ his sister’s Betty Boop doll for a quick peak under its cotton skirt, or to catch a glimpse of a Vargas calendar in a barber shop. Barren, frustrating, fruitless teenage years nothing like the coming of age for the Trekkies who became fans during the Hippie era, becoming media fans who were also weekend hippies, who gained – never mind knowledge – actual experience of sex. Great Galloping Ghu! How unfair is that? Trufen turned on Trekdom with a vengeance!
Canadian Trufen were particularly vicious. Why? Because Canada had been even more puritanical than America, so much so that visiting noted liberal (and hardly-at-all English) bon vivant Aleister Crowley termed Canada “severely Scottish.” Back then it was illegal to sell an ankle-length tan-coloured raincoat to any male under the age of 21 unless he possessed a criminal record. Times were hard for the sex-obsessed. No wonder Trufen were jealous, come the Trekish end of days.
Today the situation is even worse. Frenzied teens sext each other from locker room to locker room, employing technology not even SF writers dreamed of back when the current curmudgeons were young. Born to the wrong generation! Bitter as hell!
Never mind the media fen population explosion (hardly surprising, with all that sex) which is driving SF into mainstream, the most heinous crime newfen commit is the fact they’re having fun, something Ur-fen could only dream of. Hence the ongoing debate within fandom:
FANS (mundanes masquerading as fans of SF) vs. FAANS (former fans of SF still masquerading as fans of SF).
I resolved to do something about it, to put an end once and for all to the endless circular arguments clogging the blogosphere, I would define fandom!
First attempt: Only three sub-sets exist within SF fandom:
FANDOM: Anybody who likes SF stuff.
ZINEDOM: Them as loves the art of publishing SF fanzines.
OLD FANDOM: Them as still cherish the lore and practices of early SF fandom.
Gave myself a pat on the back for explaining things so clearly. Till I started thinking about it. Wait a sec, don’t these sub-sets overlap? Isn’t this simplistic explanation overly-complicated? I can do better!
Second Attempt: Only two sub-sets exist within SF fandom:
FANNISH FANS: Them as loves everything SF.
FAANISH FAANS: Them as hates them as loves everything SF.
Hmm, couldn ’t quite put my finger on why, but maybe just a tad contentious… Besides, it wasn’t true, cause I’m a Faanish Faan and I loves EVERYTHING to do with Sf…. Say what? Suddenly everything became clear, for I had experienced a fannish epiphany:
Third and finally successful attempt: Ain’t no subsets in fandom:
FAN: Anybody who loves anything to do with SF. Period.
Son of a gun. Full circle. That’s how I started out. It’s what I’ve again become.
Am I now a traitor to Trufandom? An enemy of zinedom? A despoiler of tradition?
Fout no! I remain as fanatical as ever in my love of fannish legend and lore.
It is simply that now I feel free to cherish all the other aspects of multi-faceted SF fandom without any sense of slumming or guilt. Now I feel totally liberated.
They say you can’t go home again. Not true.
Here, in the pages of Amazing Stories, a magazine devoted to all things and fans SF, I have found my way home.
(Which fits in neatly with my burgeoning second childhood…)
< — >
And now for something abominably different:
YOUR WEEKLY CORUSCATING CONUNDRUM
Mr. PQ of Coquitlam, B.C., asks:
DOES THE METHANE IN THE MARTIAN ATMOSPHERE PROVE THERE’S LIFE ON MARS?
Mr. GUESS-IT-ALL: Scientists claim the methane is a product either of bacteria deep beneath the Martian surface or of volcanic activity at roughly the same depth. This very convenient theorizing on the part of said scientists will require decades of government grants and increasingly sophisticated space probes to prove or disprove, thus providing employment for generations of scientists.
However, the origin of the methane has nothing to do with whatever is or is not happening beneath the Martian surface. The methane in question originates on Earth. Canadian muskeg is now defrosting because of global warming and as a result is releasing methane in prodigious quantity in the form of supersonic jets ejecting methane so far beyond the pull of Earth’s gravity that the gravity of Mars sucks it down into the Martian atmosphere.
If we could but harness these jets we could safely travel to Mars by balloon. This requires divers government grants to determine the level of feasibility. I have already sent in my application.
And on a related note:
Ms. BB, formally of Bellingham, WA, asks:
ARE THERE ANY ADVANTAGES TO THE PHENOMENON OF GLOBAL WARMING?
MR. GUESS-IT-ALL: Absolutely! The Canadian methane currently saturating the Martian atmosphere is wiping out all manner of squelchy, squiddy horrors resident on the surface and is in fact sterilizing the entire planet, rendering it perfectly safe for our use once global warming has wiped out all life on Earth. The trick is to migrate before we die. Timing is critical.