Indexing the SF fanzines of the 1930s

By indexing, I mean here both a subject index and a ‘story’ index of the fanzines.  From Pavlat & Evans, and other sources, we have an index of what zines were published when by whom, in how many issues, including the paper page size, the reproduction method, the number of pages, and often notes of oddities (like skipped numbers/lost issues, etc.) for a given title.  For me, the index I am trying to create will support the work of a historian.  The intent being that if you were going to write about the PSFS and one of things you wanted was to read all the pages in which say, Bob Madle, wrote, or was mentioned, you could easily do so by referring to the index (getting legible copies would be the next problem).

So, people as subjects terms are easy, club names are easy, and most bits of fiction and poems are easy to index.  The news columns that name drop 3 dozen people are tedious, but easy.  What I am now finding harder, since I am getting wiser so very slowly, is that making sub-subject terms that are useful is harder and will now require me to go back over and read everything again.  Why do I think I need sub-terms? Well, because looking at series of 7 dozen page numbers after, say the name of someone like Wollheim or Ackerman, means you might be looking for quite a while unless you have it broken down by a sub-term.

So, an example, from The Science Fiction News Letter. Volume 1, Number 2 (December 11, 1937), page 1.


      We are not, as we thought, pioneers. At a meeting of the New York Fantasy Association last Sunday, Donald A. Wollheim, took great delight in informing us that the first weekly science fiction publication was concocted by George Gordon Clark, of BROOKLYN REPORTER fame (or infamy, whichever). This unnamed whatnot ran for eight weeks or thereabouts.

So, my terms for this are New York Fantasy Association; Wollheim, Donald A.; Clark, George Gordon; and The Brooklyn Reporter.  I’m not sure how I would sub-term this for DAW, and now that I look at this specifically, I’m not sure it really matters, but I think if I was going to, I would now sub-term DAW with “New York Fantasy Association” (maybe with December 5, 1937).

Note: DAW was incorrect. There were 5 issues of The Brooklyn Reporter and the first 4 were close to been published a month apart with the final fifth issue showing up 5 months late.r (I have recently seen all 5 issues).

So, other than perhaps overthinking things, the other things that make this a bit harder than a usual indexing project is

  1. The texts are not in a digital, textual form.  Often when one is indexing something for a book you can merely use a fancy tool and select the text and index it.  The texts I am working from are generally scans of very old hecto’d fanzines that were perhaps hardly readable when they were printed (they did the best they could with what they had). If I didn’t have ‘zoom’, and as needed, the ability to fiddle with contrast etc., I wouldn’t be able to read them at all (and we are so not doing to be trying to transcribe over 10,000 pages of material).
  2. How do I say this nicely. These are not professional magazines. They were done, quite often, by teenagers, doing the best they can. So, the structure, and often the content, is kind of juvenile. Quite a few of the initial issues of a title are little more than a hi guys, I hope you like my effort, please send stuff in, I’m so happy to be here!, is it to early to try to sell ad space? So, not necessarily a whole lot there. It is the attempt and artifact that is important, as the content isn’t necessarily very notable.
  3. Pseudonyms.  How SF loves its pseudonyms!  In fanzines, as in prozines, many stories/articles could be by the same pen, but they made up pseudonyms to make it seem as if they were not.  I index them all. I’ll figure out some sort of notation to mark them as such…if I know they are a pseudonym.
  4. What do I care about, subject-wise? Well, I think I have decided I do not care about itemized listing of recent or upcoming prozines. All this info is available via ISFDB, FictionMags, or Galactic Central: Science Fiction. If the author said something beyond whether they liked it or not (even if was just a brief review) I would index it. I think I also decided I was not interested in indexing articles that are one paragraph long about ‘lava’. I’ll index the author, so we know they were active in the issue, but not ‘lava’.  I would of course index articles on ‘technocracy’ etc. Otherwise, I am trying to make as useful of an index as I can. I vaguely have a use case of, (but not by me), if someone wanted to update every relevant entry in the Fancyclopedia using the index and facsimiles of all the known-to-still-exist SF fanzines of the 1930s.

So what form will this index eventually take?  Not sure yet.  Certainly, it will help us write up bits of history. It will likely be used for bits of back-of-the book indexing. Perhaps we’ll consider printing a stand-alone index or putting it online for searching. Too early to tell yet (there are a lot a fanzines, a lot of history, and many interesting project to get side-tracked into!)