Whatever Happened To Egoboo?

There is no mention of egoboo in the first Fancyclopedia, written by Jack Speer, published in 1944.

However there IS an intriguing entry relating to Arthur C. Clarke, then a famous fan, later a famous author. Seems his nickname was ‘Ego,’ which was “depicted as a separate being, like an astral projection, who embodies Clarke’s dizzier characteristics in extreme form.”

Hmmm, sounds promising.

The classic definition of egoboo was offered by Richard H. Eney in his 1959 Fancyclopedia II:

“EGOBOO: That which boosts the ego. The force that impels fans in their tireless activity. In fandom, egoboo is usually gained by seeing one’s name in print, preferably in someone else’s publication. Spoken egoboo, tho transitory, is pleasant. Most common sources are favourable comment on one’s fanac, but include indirect things like success of projects, volcanic reaction from the target of one of your needles, and unsatiric parody. If the egoboo of fame is unobtainable, notoriety is better than no egoboo at all. Fandom may be defined as an infinitely complex system for the production of pure egoboo.”

Egoboo, including whatever it was called (if anything) before the term itself came into use circa 1945, has always been the currency of fandom.

Imagine the solitary fan of old, Nils Helmer Frome in Fraser Mills B.C. in the late 1930s being a good example, who has no contact at all with fen in his hometown (if there were any), no chance of membership in a local SF club (there were none), no instant communication via the internet (it did not yet exist), no chance of phone communication (long distance charges hideously expensive), little chance of travel by automobile (interstate and inter-provincial highways not yet built), train travel expensive, travel by aircraft incredibly dangerous… how on Earth could a fan of SF communicate with other fans? Share his passion? Give meaning to his SF hobby interest?

Personally, I would have tried building a 1/1 scale spaceship out of butter in the backyard, but that’s just me.

Fen reading the letters columns of SF prozines in the 1930s discovered there were amateur SF zines available at remarkably little expense. (The fannish term ‘Sticky Quarter’ refers to the habit of taping a quarter to a letter and sending it off for a year’s subscription to a fanzine. Amazingly, no one ever, or hardly ever, absconded with the quarter before the letter arrived.)

By the late forties you could get dozens of zines for ‘The Usual,’ i.e. in trade for your zine, or for a letter of comment. Egoboo opportunities galore.

Picture it. A fanzine arrives in the mail. You quickly scan it, leaving ‘eyetracks’ all over the pages. Did they print your letter of comment? Did they quote your words from another zine? Did they review YOUR zine? Did they review YOU? Have they launched a written assault on your reputation? Is there any mention of you at all?

If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are overjoyed, exultant, ridiculously happy.

If the answer is ‘no’ then you are outraged, humiliated, insulted.

Either way, it really doesn’t matter which, you are motivated to sit down at your typewriter and compose a ‘needle’ or a ‘rocket’ to be hurled back at the Venusian swine as soon as humanly possible. You are in touch with fen. Your hobby is a living thing.

At any given time you are liable to have a dozen or more locs hurtling toward unsuspecting faneds. Every day you gleefully imagine their reaction. Every day you gleefully anticipate their response. Every day your friends and neighbours look at you and think “Man that guy is gleeful! Smiling like a fool. Could be he IS a fool. Better stand clear.”

It might take a month or more before an individual loc results in a response showing up in your mailbox, but you get around this by writing constantly, juggling numerous lines of communication all the time, such that almost every day SOMETHING shows up. You can hardly wait to get home from school to find out. Your mother says things like “Do your homework first. The locs can wait till later.” You have arrived. You are a fan.

As late as the 1990s I experienced something of the sort publishing the early issues of my SPACE CADET. I received locs from legendary fans such as Harry Warner Jr. (the ghod of locs, you couldn’t even call yourself a faned unless you had one of his locs in your zine), Walt Willis (one of the most beloved fans of all time, renowned for his wit), and Mae Strelkov (a tough old bird running a cattle ranch in Argentina – she rendered the bones of her cattle to produce the jelly to print beautiful hektographic covers for her zines), and many other well-known fen, usually at least a dozen per issue. Alas, many have since passed on to the Glade of Gafia in the sky.

(Gafia = Getting Away From it All.)

Today there is something claustrophobic about being a traditional faned. There’s a powerful sense of throwing one’s fanac into a bottomless pit of apathy, a black hole of indifference.

Taral Wayne (who has received 11 Fan Artist Hugo nominations to date) has a theory. The only people who read fanzines are other faneds, and they’re so busy producing their own zines they don’t have time to review yours or send a letter of comment.

Is this typical of faneds these days? It does seem as if egoboo has evaporated, as if it is no longer the coin of the realm.

And yet, I know there are readers out there, non-faned readers, fen who read zines purely for the pleasure of it (or because they’re masochists). Every once and a while I run into somebody who says “Oh, you are THAT idiot. Read your stuff. Nice try.” Makes my day, that does.

Fact is, I am convinced there’s a Nixonian ‘Silent Majority’ of fanzine fans out there, people who peruse the www.efanzines.com site hosted by Bill Burns, or my www.cdnsfzinearchive.org site, looking for interesting zines to read, but who can’t be bothered to compose a loc because they don’t want to wait weeks or months before it appears in print (communication being somewhat quicker nowadays on this newfangled internet thingie).

Still, the fact remains that egoboo, as a source of fanac motivation, seems to have largely disappeared from our ken. Many faneds have the impression no one is reading their zines, so what’s the use of publishing?

People who crave and lust (or faunch, to use a fannish term) for your work do exist. You have to imagine them bowing before your magnificence, visualize them shuddering with awe upon reading your sacred words. Telepathy helps, if you can manage it.

But what you really have to do is go back to the Clarke version of ‘ego’ and embrace it. You have to depend entirely on your self-motivated egoboo, or what I like to call ‘SEGOBOO,’ self-egoboo. That’s what I do.

This column for instance. I chuckle and chortle and utter frequent cries of delight as I compose each paragraph. I’m writing for one imaginary reader, namely myself, and I fancy I’m pretty good at imagining myself. So I imagine I’m pretty good. Positive reinforcement. Positive fantasy.

Forget egoboo. Try segoboo. It works.

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Taral Wayne. Image copyright Taral Wayne. All Rights Reserved.

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And now for something inadvertently different:


Mr. L.C., of Parry Sound, Ontario, asks:


MR. GUESS-IT-ALL: Scientists say Dark Matter is an invisible and undetectable substance comprising the bulk of physical material and gravitational influence in the universe. The latter claim is true, but as for the first part… HAH! Complete nonsense! Dark Matter is HIGHLY visible and EASILY detectable with the naked eye! Why do you think the night sky is so DARK? If it weren’t for the sheer amount of Dark Matter floating around in outer space the night sky would be a solid blaze of starlight nearly as brilliant as the daytime sky! If it weren’t for Dark Matter we wouldn’t be able to get any sleep AT ALL unless we burrowed deep underground. Thank Ghu for Dark Matter!

So what IS Dark Matter anyway? Simple. All stars are made of billions and billions of tons of gravity-compressed coal and as they burn they shed unbelievably copious amounts of coal ash which is blown hither and thither by the pressure of starlight.

Eventually the ever-growing volume of Dark Matter will blot out all starlight, and even the moonlight, so that in the resulting perfect darkness we will find it very easy to fall asleep. Sadly, long before this state of bliss can come about, our Sun will use up its stockpile of coal and blink out, becoming cold and dark, thus ending all life on Earth more or less instantly. Current estimates give us another ten years or so.

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  1. I think a lot of fans now get their egoboo on Facebook or other online forums they participate in nowadays. I know I feel happy when someone chooses to “like”, “share” or comment on a post I’ve made, or even just “liked” a comment I’ve made. And it’s got all the instant gratification you could want.

    That said, I do appreciate seeing my name in print or photos associated with my fandom’s and I definitely appreciate egoboo of the transient “in person” format, especially when I’m wandering about a con in a well constructed cosplay outfit (aka “costume”).

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