Foist Lensman: Early Fan Pastiche From the Works of Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D.

Fans love to pay tribute to the authors they love most. This takes the form of flattery and at times, its most sincere cousin: imitation. Imitation can stray accidentally or venture boldly into parody. The works of Edward Elmer “Doc” Smith, Ph.D. attracted all of this.

The earliest instances of fan pastiche based on Smith’s Skylark and Lensman novels appeared in fanzine that have largely been lost to history. Spurred by an inquiry from the Online Science Fiction Book Club, FFE has endeavored to make these works available. For Smith enthusiasts, we hope this is fun.
Click any image for a full-screen view.

“The Skylaugh of Space” by “Omnia”
Fantasy Magazine, v3n3, May 1934 and v3n4, June 1934
“Omnia” is described in the July 1934 issue of Fantasy Magazine as “a young chap who has shown promise in the science fiction field, having already sold stories to Wonder and Amazing. Besides, he is editor of his college humor magazine…”
Fitting this description is Milton Kaletsky, frequent fanzine contributor and author of such stories as “The End of the Universe” (Wonder Stories, April 1934) and “The Beam” (Amazing Stories, September 1934).

“Whither Wollheim” by Richard Wilson
Fantascience Digest, v1n5, July-August 1938
Not strictly a Smith pastiche, but invokes his work heavily.

“Skylark Versus Thought: Sequel to Skylark by Smith & Invaders from the Infinite by Campbell” by Milton A. Rothman
Fantascience Digest, v1n6, September-October 1938

“Pielark Patrol” by Tony Strother
D’Journal, v1n2, March 1939

The Skylark of Love” by Philia Hyghe
D’Journal v1n3, May 1939
(Identity of the author is unknown)

“Lensman on the Loose” by Al Ashley
Nova, v1n1, November-December 1941
(A full-on parody, but undoubtedly a loving one. Ashley and Smith were friends and co-founders of the Galactic Roamers club in Michigan.)

Though not so “early,” for completeness we also mention:
“Doomed Lensman” by Sybly White
Serialized in The Third Foundation beginning with n77 (the oddly-numbered premiere issue of the fanzine), 1967
Text is online here.
This appears to be an attempt at a serious addition to the Lensman saga.

Enjoy… and if you know of others, please drop us a loin.

How Did E.E. Smith Become “Doc”?

Recently FFE received an inquiry from John Grayshaw. John runs the Online Science Fiction Book Club on Facebook, which is associated with the Middletown Public Library in Middletown, PA. The group has worldwide membership and has hosted interviews with a number of science fiction and fan luminaries.

John’s group has an interest in E.E. Smith, and he asked if we’d be willing to respond to a number of questions posed by his folks. Since we’ve just completed a deep-dive on Smith’s early history as a fan (for a chapter in our latest book), we were happy to take up the challenge. The list of questions the group compiled is wide-ranging, and we’ll be working through them over the next several weeks.

The first query on the list was immediately intriguing:
“How did Smith get his famous nickname ‘Doc’?”

In one sense, the answer is obvious: Smith held a Ph.D. in Chemistry from George Washington University and spent his primary career as a research chemist in the food industry. But in his earliest appearance in pulps, this wasn’t apparent.
(Click any of the images for a full-screen view.)

Amazing Stories, v3n5, August 1928. Masthead for Smith’s first published story, omitting his academic credential

To our knowledge, Smith first revealed his Doctoral status to his readers in his response to Hugo Gernsback’s 1929 letter contest titled “What Science Fiction Means To Me.” The contest appeared in the inaugural issue of Science Wonder Stories.

Science Wonder Stories, v1n1, June 1929

Smith’s entry — awarded “Second Honorable Mention” — added the appellation that would thenceforth accompany his name in professional publications: “Edward E. Smith, Ph.D.” Smith’s willingness to participate in a contest targeted primarily at fans was an early indication of his lifelong commitment to maintain a relationship with his audience.

Smith’s credential featured prominently in the publication of his 1930 sequel to “Skylark of Space.”

Amazing Stories, v5n5, August 1930. Note the formal reference to “Dr. Smith” in the Editor’s commentary

Shortly after the appearance of “Skylark Three,” science-minded fans began responding to the story, and to Smith’s “Author’s Note,” which defended the scientific principles and ideas presented in the tale. Among those taking some exception was one John W. Campbell, Jr. — then a relative unknown with just a handful of stories published in Amazing.

Smith responded energetically and in good humor, furthering his reputation in the fan community.

Now to our question: When and how did the esteemed Dr. Smith become the familiar “Doc?” This required some digging. In the end, the apparent answer isn’t too surprising.

In professional publications, we don’t see a reference to Smith as “Doc” until reprints of his work in the 1960s. But we know that by the 1940 World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago, Smith was widely known as “Doc” within fandom.

In the Autumn of 1939, two young organizers of the “Chicon” set out to visit Smith on a recruiting mission. They wished to secure him as the Guest of Honor at their convention, thereby further cementing their contested claim to sponsorship of the event. Erle Korshak recounts his visit in the fanzine Fantasy Digest.

Fantasy Digest, v1n6, August-September 1939

“Doc is his name to you” –you, the fans, as Smith considered himself a member of that community. In fact, Smith had claimed the nickname for himself some months prior to the visit in a letter to Ad Astra, a fanzine published by Korshak’s Chicon co-conspirator, Mark Reinsberg.

Signed “Very cordially yours, ‘Doc’ E.E. Smith”

Still earlier, we find Smith signing as “Doc” in a private letter responding to a fan. The author further endeared himself to his readers by engaging with them in rich correspondence. In this personal note to leading Chicago fan Jack Darrow, Smith reveals his hobbies, the makeup of his basement, and his plans for a new novel to be called “Gray Lensman.”

Edward E. Smith, Ph.D. to Jack Darrow, May 8 1938. Courtesy of Doug Ellis

To find the earliest references to “Doc,” we need to continue our journey back in time. Fortunately we have access to most of the premiere fan publications of the 1930s, and one instance surfaced quickly. Courtesy of the Editors of Science Fiction Digest (SFD), we have this detailed autobiographical interview with Smith from 1933.

It seems from this article that Julius Schwartz already had a familiar relationship with author. We know that Smith corresponded with SFD Editor Raymond A. Palmer, who coordinated Smith’s participation in the serial novel Cosmos. So, we dug deeper.

Which early fan might have had the audacity to first refer to the prominent author in a colloquial way? We believe that the answer — perhaps to be expected — is Forrest J Ackerman.

The predecessor to SFD was The Time Traveller, edited by seminal “First Fans” Mort Weisinger, Julius Schwartz and Ackerman. This was arguably the first true fanzine, and was certainly the most sophisticated of the early efforts at fans’ self-publishing. Ackerman, then all of 15 years old, contributed a fanciful column that mimicked a radio broadcast from the future, “Science Fiction On The Air!”

The Time Traveller, v1n6, July 1932

Note the bottom of the first column: “Doc. Smith blew in a few minutes ago and will speak to us soon.”

Ackerman reprised his column in the next issue of The Time Traveller, again referring to Smith in the familiar.

The Time Traveller, v1n7, August 1932

In the midst of the second column, we find:
“How about you ‘Skylark’ Smith? Oh, Doc says he’s being bothered by little red ants at present.”

This citation also includes Smith’s another common nickname, “Skylark Smith,” an obvious reference to his earliest work. Ackerman’s reference to “little red ants” reflects a phrase Smith used in his work; e.g. from Skylark Three:

“Oh, you’re full of little red ants! We can’t do a thing with that zone on…”

The idiom expresses “you’re very madly mistaken,” along the lines of “you’re full of baloney.” We see this odd nugget in sporadic use even today, and we’re very curious to understand the etymology of this etymology.

These are the very first occurrences of “Doc Smith” that we’ve unearthed. We feel it’s entirely apropos that early fans affixed an affectionate tag to an author they revered, but also thought of as one of their own.

We welcome additional insight from others who knew “Doc” or have studied his life and work. More to come as we research other Smith-related questions from the Online Science Fiction Book Club.

Introducing Volume Two of The Visual History

Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom is a half-of-a-half-of-a-book. Strange to say, given that it’s over 480 pages.

Volume One of the series covered the emergence of organized fandom in the decade of the 1930s – broadly, and with depth in selected areas. The result was a 515-page tome weighing in at over six pounds. If you’ve held a copy in your lap, you know what this means.

The original vision for our project anticipated two volumes of The Visual History. The first, already published for the 1930s, and a second to cover the period from 1940 thru 1946. We thought it important to span the pre-war and war years, leading up to a natural stopping point at the 1946 World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles (the first Pacificon).

When we dug in on the research for the second volume, we quickly found two things:

  • The events that took place in fandom prior to the US entry into World War II were seminal. The echoes of the 1939 Worldcon were still ringing. Traditions that would become central to fan gatherings for the succeeding decades were established. Many prominent fans were making major transitions into professional careers that would shape the genre and the industry.
  • Some of the fans of this period could really write – and they did, prolifically. The volume and quality of fan-produced content both grew substantially, yielding many rich essays that convey their experiences in compelling ways.

Our initial estimate that we could cover 1940 thru 1946 in a meaningful way in one book seemed out of the question. We pivoted to focus on the pre-war years, targeting Volume Two on 1940 and 1941. We felt this represented an approximate bisection of the work, as activity in fandom subsided to a degree in the war years. This gave us license to delve more deeply into the history of each year.

After several weeks spent pulling together material available for our reduced Volume Two, we framed an outline of the story we wanted to tell and did a page count estimate. It became clear that we were at risk of creating an even more unwieldy tome. Further, our dive into 1940 surfaced many stories that needed telling. So, we split the work again. The result: a half-of-a-half-of-a-book. With this narrowed focus, Volume Two seeks to tell the story of fandom in 1940 with the depth and nuance it deserves.

The Table of Contents from The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume Two: 1940
Click the image for a full-screen view.

The richness of fan content produced in 1940 presented a further challenge. Fans waxed eloquent on their experiences attending events and traveling to meet other fans. They stumped for ideas they held passionately and railed against injustice, real and perceived. We discovered over a dozen detailed narratives we view as important. Each ran for three or more full-sized pages. Simply regurgitating these into the book wouldn’t serve our purpose: to bring the stories to life in an accessible way.

Our imperfect solution to this quandary was to yet again split Volume Two. The core book samples the narratives, presenting key extracts supported by visual artifacts and context. A separate Supplement – over 100 pages – contains full facsimiles of the extended fan articles as they originally appeared. We hope our readers appreciate the accessibility and flow of the primary book as well as the completeness offered in the Supplement.

Some aspects of the story are rooted in 1940 but refuse to be constrained by time. Extended sections cover the full careers of fan-artists John Giunta and Tom Wright. The life-long contributions of iconic fan Wilson “Bob” Tucker are documented. The colorful publishing career of William Lawrence Hamling is covered in full.

We’ve again sought to spice the soup with original narrative comics drawn from fan content. Our third collaboration with leading artist Mark Wheatley brings a stunning treatment of the harrowing tale of two fans traveling to the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago by hopping freight trains. Eric Brock returns with illustrations highlighting the activities of the Futurians. Daniel Krall and Antonio Santos make their FFE debut with graphical renditions of key events in 1940 fandom.

Our mission at FFE is to bring to life the evolution and impact of science fiction fandom. We hope this exploration of one pivotal year gives the reader a visceral sense of what life as a fan was like in 1940 – and reveals how the passion of early fans laid the foundation for the pervasive influence that science fiction and fantasy exert today. If these aims are achieved, the book is worth its weight.

Volume Two is available for pre-order. The book will be launched at Discon III in Washington, D.C. on December 15 2021. Print copies will ship by the end of the year.

Early Chicago Fandom, In Pictures

We offer this post in tribute to Alistair Durie on his recent passing. Alistair was a remarkable fan, collector and historian, and a lovely human being. He collaborated generously in our research, providing insight and access to unique artifacts from his extensive archive of early fanzines.

The upcoming second volume of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom will focus on 1940, a defining year for the movement. Much of the story centers around Chicago, site of the second World Science Fiction Convention — the first ChiCon.

To provide background and context, we felt it important to revisit the origins of fandom in Chicago. The two primary organizers of the 1940 ChiCon — Mark Reinsberg and Erle Korshak — were high school students at the time and represented a new generation of Chicago fans. But these young upstarts owed much of their success in pulling off the convention to older fans who established Chicago as a center of activity from the early 1930s. This post highlights one small part of the archeology behind the tale.

The first incarnation of a Chicago chapter of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Fiction League (SFL) was established in February 1935. Director William H. Dellenback was joined by established fans Jack Darrow (Clifford Kornoelje), Walter L. Dennis and Paul McDermott, as well as the budding writing duo Earl and Otto Binder. The group began publishing in November 1935 under the title The Fourteen Leaflet, a reference to the club’s designation as Chapter 14 of the SFL.

Click any image for a full-screen rendering.

The Fourteen Leaflet, v1n1, November 1935.
From Special Collections at the University of California Riverside

The fanzine survived for nine issues, the last appearing in late Spring 1937. While some individual club members remained active, others pursued diverse interests. The Binder brothers relocated to New York to promote their writing careers. Fortunately for history, the final Fourteen Leaflet gives us a rare pictorial glimpse of early fandom.

Prior to the wider availability of lithography, photographs in fanzines required the inclusion of actual photo prints. This was beyond the capability and budget of most amateur publishers. In the rare instances where this was undertaken, it was common for the prints to be glued to a page. If the page managed to survive, very often the glue did not. This decreased the likelihood that the photo continued to travel with the page.

In their fanzine’s 1937 swansong, Dellenback and his cohort undertook to publish nineteen separate photographs, all tiny prints attached to a single page. I first encountered this page in a copy that I acquired in 2015.

Given the extreme scarcity of any issues of this early zine, I despaired of ever finding the missing photos. But FFE has been supremely fortunate to collaborate with collectors and historians with astonishing abilities to fill key gaps in our stories. To the rescue came Doug Ellis, holder of much of Jack Darrow’s early material, and Alistair Durie, early fanzine collector non-pareil. Each shared scans of their copies of this page.

None of the three pages was complete, but between them we’re able to assemble the full rogue’s gallery. Alistair’s version was by far the most intact — not surprising, given the remarkable quality of his collection. Close examination of the various copies reveals that these weren’t all prints of the same photo — in at least some cases, each copy includes a unique snapshot.

The roster was provided by the publisher.

The Fourteen Leaflet, v1n9, November 1937

Sadly, the promised next issue with “shots of 1937 sessions in action” never appeared.

We’re eternally grateful to the many contributors who support our efforts to bring to life the history and impact of science fiction fandom.

Revisionist History: Early Auction Untangled

The upcoming Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom will focus entirely on 1940. It was an intense and pivotal year for science fiction and for fandom. We currently project the book to come in at about 400 pages.

In our research, we’ve naturally focused a great deal on the 1940 Chicago World Science Fiction Convention — hereinafter “ChiCon.” (There have been other ChiCons, but this one is ours, for now.)

We’ve had the privilege of several discussions with one of the organizers of ChiCon, Erle M. Korshak. Erle served as the auctioneer at the first fifteen WorldCons. He pitched in at the 1939 New York event, took up the gavel full time in Chicago and thence became the go-to huckster. We’re delighted to have access to an iconic photo from this early period. It appeared in the 2009 volume From the Pen of Paul: Fantastic Images of Frank R. Paul, published by Erle via his company (Shasta-Phoenix Publishers) and edited by his son, Stephen D. Korshak. The photo as it appeared in that book with accompanying caption is shown below.

In this photo, Erle holds an iconic painting by Frank R. Paul titled “Glass City of Europa,” one a series of works depicting “life on other worlds.” Paul rendered these for Raymond A. Palmer, who used them on the back covers of issues of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures from 1939 through 1942. Palmer and other editors routinely donated original art from their magazines to support auctions at fan conventions.

In the background behind Korshak is an even more significant artwork — Hubert Rogers’ original illustration for E.E. “Doc” Smith’s “Gray Lensman.” It appeared on the cover of the October 1939 issue of Astounding Stories, and was given to Smith by Rogers as a gift.

We intended to include a scan of the original photo in our coverage of ChiCon, along with the notable fact that the Korshak family later re-acquired the Paul painting — at a much higher price than it realized when originally auctioned.

Stephen D. Korshak with Frank R. Paul’s “Glass City of Europa,” 2008. Photo by John L. Coker III

When we dug a little deeper, we were faced with a conundrum. “Glass City of Europa” was published as the back cover of Amazing Stories in January 1942 — fully sixteen months after ChiCon. This seemed possible — perhaps Palmer had photos taken of the entire series from Paul and therefore didn’t need the originals anymore.

Far be it from us to question the origins of the auction photo, given the family’s very clear attribution to Chicago in 1940. That said, we couldn’t just leave it alone.

We’re fortunate to have other photos from the period that allow us to stitch together the record. Below we see E.E. Smith, E. Everett Evans and Erle Korshak. This photo was originally also placed at ChiCon. A third photo shows Bob Tucker and Al Ashley and was included in a batch of photos from the 1941 WorldCon in Denver — and so was assumed to be from that event.

L-R: E.E. Smith, E.E. Evans, Erle Korshak. From the collection of John L. Coker III
Wilson “Bob” Tucker and Al Ashley. From the collection of John L. Coker III

As we looked more closely, we came to the conclusion that all three of these photos must be from the same fan event. Note the exact match of the chair back style between the auction photo and the Tucker-Ashley photo. Now pick out the tie and badge worn by the person sitting behind Korshak in the auction photo. Compare that to the tie and badge worn by E.E. Evans in the group photo. Seemingly identical.

If all of these pictures are from the same event, are they from ChiCon? It didn’t add up.

  • The aforementioned time lag between ChiCon and the publication of “Glass City of Europa” — possible, but puzzling.
  • More notably, the corner of the fanzine visible on the far left of the auction photo, standing up on the table. The airbrush art is distinctive. It’s Nova (IV), v1n1 by Al Ashley, dated November-December 1941.
  • Perhaps most notably, the badge worn by E.E. Evans reads “Galactic Roamers.” We know for certain that the Roamers were formed and chose the name of the club on January 10, 1941.

At this point it became clear that the photos weren’t from ChiCon. The next logical guess was the 1941 WorldCon in Denver — but we know quite certainly that E.E. Smith wasn’t there.

Major head-scratching ensued. What hadn’t occurred to us was that there were other fan gatherings at that time where an auction might have occurred. FFE Principle Historian Sam McDonald thought of this, and thereafter quickly nailed the clear answer: all three photos are from the first-ever Michicon, held on November 16 1941.

Additional photos from that event bear this out. The chairs… the badge… the tie… Korshak clowning…

Bob Tucker’s account of the gathering tells us that “Glass City of Europa” sold for not more than $5.

Bob Tucker in Le Zombie, n44, November-December 1941

We’ll tell this story as part of Volume Three of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom. That book will cover 1941 in depth, including the original Boskone, the Denvention and the first Michicon. Stay tuned!

P.S. Where are the movies of the costume ball at Denvention? Where are the hundreds of photos taken at 1940 fan events? Sadly, it seems that a very small sampling of these artifacts have survived.)

The Hole Story: Fake News and Parenting in Early Fandom

For collectors of early fan material, discovering that a recovered treasure is incomplete is more than disappointing. It leaves a gap in the record that spurs a quest to fill the void.

In at least two surviving copies of The MSA Bulletin from January 1940, there’s a conspicuous hole. Why would someone clip out a section of the generally mundane column “Items of General Interest?” These publications did not include coupons.

The MSA Bulletin, v2n1, January 1940

The origin of this mystery dates to June 1938 and an interaction between a young fan from Skowhegan, Maine and the powerful editor of a professional pulp.

James S. Avery appeared to be a rising star in early fandom. He was all of 17 when he excoriated John W. Campbell, Jr. and his publication in a letter to Astounding Science-Fiction. In November 1938, he assisted Harry Warner, Jr. with the launch of Spaceways, a prominent fanzine that ran for 30 issues through 1942. By September 1939 he was a founding member of the Maine Scientifiction Association (MSA) and editor of its club organ, The MSA Bulletin.

Astounding Science-Fiction, v21n4, June 1938

Meanwhile, on July 5 1939 the New York Daily News saw fit to print this brief item in the “Hollywood” gossip column by Danton Walker:

Street & Smith was the publisher behind Campbell’s Astounding. The company noticed – and took exception. But some science fiction fans also found time to read the newspaper. Donald A. Wollheim amplified the rumor in an article in Fantascience Digest penned in August 1939.

Fantascience Digest, v2n5, July-August-September 1939

Wollheim may have missed the terse, marginal retraction that appeared on July 7 in the Daily News.

Campbell also kept an eye on leading fanzines. Fantascience Digest received a threatening letter from Street & Smith and promptly printed a polite retraction.

Fantascience Digest, v3n2, January-February 1940

Campbell also contacted James V. Taurasi, editor of the weekly Fantasy News. Taurasi seized on the opportunity to attack his “notorious” enemy, Wollheim.

The response from Wollheim was inevitable and predictable.

Science Fiction Weekly, v1n2, February 25 1940

Taurasi had inserted a personal diatribe in the middle of a quote from Campbell, potentially confusing the reader. Campbell objected; Taurasi demurred.

Fantasy News, v4n10, February 25 1940

In their hysterical article, Fantasy News also revealed the explanation for The Hole:

“…in the January 1940 Maine Science Fiction Association Bulletin [sic], this same libellous [sic] statement appeared in exaggerated form, over the name of James S. Avery…”

Campbell’s revenge for Avery’s acerbic 1938 letter to Astounding, served cold? We suspect the ever-attentive editor hadn’t forgotten.

It appears that the MSA was in the midst of mailing issues of the January 1940 issue of the Bulletin when they became aware of the transgression. What to do with the fanzines they’d already printed? With an impoverished treasury, we believe the club elected to salvage the run by clipping out the offending article.

Fortunately for the obsessive historian, at least one intact copy escaped.

The MSA Bulletin, v2n1, January 1940.
From the collection of Sam McDonald

Unfortunately for Jim Avery, the consequences of his error were not limited to paper cuts.

Fantasy News, v4n12, March 10 1940. Perhaps our favorite fanzine headline of all time.
The MSA Bulletin, v2n2, March 1940

Under threat of legal action, Avery’s parents intervened, barring their son from all fannish activity.

“To them I must bow down…”

Science Fiction Weekly, v1n1, March 3 1940

The MSA Bulletin, v2n2, March 1940

But fortunately for Jim Avery, parents usually forgive. In short order he rejoined the MSA and retained his post as Associate Editor of Spaceways.

The MSA Bulletin, v2n3, April 1940

In 1940, fans and professional editors enjoyed and distained a love-hate relationship. Editors depended on fans to drive subscriptions. To varying degrees, the pros listened to fans and supported their efforts. Following the trail blazed by Charles D. Hornig, Mort Weisinger and Raymond A. Palmer in the 1930s, more prominent fans were joining the professional ranks — including Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim and Robert W. Lowndes. These later crossovers often promoted fans quite directly by publishing their stories, covering their conferences and printing reviews of their fanzines. None of this stopped fans from raking the editors over the coals for the quality of the stories in their magazines — or spreading rumors regarding their commercial standing. “The Hole Story” represents this fraught co-dependency in microcosm.

This post is a preview of material in development for The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume Two: 1940. Stay tuned for more!

A Poetical Historical Puzzler

I’m listening to replays of the radio talk show “Car Talk” this morning. Beloved by many, annoying to some, this iconic series aired on National Public Radio in original form from 1977 to 2012. Hosted by two brothers who ran a car repair shop in Cambridge (“our fair city”) Massachusetts, the show featured callers with a variety of problems — some automotive, some marital. Tom and Ray Magliozzi found humor in everything and often filled half of an episode with their infectious and/or infuriating laughter. The brothers didn’t often speak of their actually impressive credentials — both were graduates of MIT, and Tom had an MBA. The show won a Peabody Award in 1992, and the hosts were the MIT commencement speakers in 1999.

Anyway — one regular feature of the program was “the Puzzler,” a logic or math problem to be solved by the listeners. Some were related to cars, but many were “non-automotive” or “quasi-automotive.”

In this spirit, we present the first of what might become several FFE Puzzlers. This one is quasi-science-fictional and decidedly historical-poetical. It is simply this:

When was the (very timely, we think) poem below written, and by whom? For extra credit, where was it first published? Extra EXTRA credit for answers achieved without the use of Google. Please send your responses to info@firstfandomexperience.org.

JVB 100

Listen: This post has come unstuck in time. Poo-tee-weet.

Since February 7, 1921… seems like it’s been a century.

From the first, at the last, who would have imagined?

From the beginning, would he have imagined?

First, he was a fan.

PSFS News, v2n1, January 1939. Click for larger image.

We see glimpses, perhaps a trajectory.

Art by John V. Baltadonis, 1937
A page from John V. Baltadonis’ high school notebook, 1937

As a fan, an editor and evolving artist.

After the war… a changed man. Art as a career.
By then, we might have guessed.

Protest meeting. Art by John V. Baltadonis, 1947
Still life by John V. Baltadonis, 1946

A man of faith.

John V. Baltadonis, c1946

A First Fan.

And ever a fan. Happy 100th, JVB!

Deep thanks to Steve Baltadonis for much of the material herein.

Two FFE Titles Selected to the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — February 1, 2021 — Cambridge, Massachusetts

First Fandom Experience, a collaborative publishing project based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is pleased to acknowledge the selection of two of its titles to the 2020 Locus Recommended Reading List.

According to Locus: “Published in Locus magazine’s February 2021 issue, the list is a consensus by the Locus editors, columnists, outside reviewers, and other professionals and critics of genre fiction and non-fiction… The final list comprises our best recommendations for your consideration.”

The First Fandom Experience titles selected are:

The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, Volume One: The 1930s

The definitive history of fandom’s earliest days.  A remarkable book!
— Robert Silverberg

“…a sumptuous scrapbook of photographs, magazine covers, artwork and hundreds of articles, letters and typescripts, everything beautifully held together by the Ritters’ concise but enthralling text.”
— Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

The Earliest Bradbury

“This book is essential for any serious fan of Ray Bradbury. It casts light on the primordial stirrings of a career, giving a rare glimpse of Bradbury’s earliest writing and art as an erstwhile teenager. A true gift to Bradbury scholarship and fandom.”
— Sam Weller, author of The Bradbury Chronicles: The Life of Ray Bradbury and Dark Black

“This is a wonderful paean to a wonderful person, an educational, informative, exciting, visually stimulating and page-turning adventure that will bring you far closer to its subject than most have ever been.
— Steve Davidson, Publisher, Amazing Stories

Both books were written and edited by David Ritter and Daniel Ritter, and supported by the essential work of Principle Historians John L. Coker III and Sam McDonald.

The titles are available in hardcover from the First Fandom Experience website. Kindle versions are also available at amazon.com.

The editors wish to thank and congratulate the core team and other contributors who made these unique and compelling visual histories possible:

  • John L. Coker III, Principal Historian
  • Sam McDonald, Principal Historian
  • Doug Ellis, Contributing Historian
  • Jeff DiPerna and Wendy Gonick, tabula rasa graphic design
  • Mark Wheatley, Illustrator
  • Eric Brock, Illustrator
  • Sara Light-Waller, Illustrator
  • Jonathan R. Eller and the team at The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies at Indiana University
  • Joe Siclari and Edie Stern at Fanac.org
  • Peter Balestrieri and the Special Collections team at the University of Iowa Libraries
  • Alistair Durie
  • Drew Morse
  • Kate Baxter
  • …and many others who offered advice, assistance and content

Please contact us at info@firstfandomexperience.org for more information.

Via Freight Train, A Travelogue Tragically Truncated

Olon F. Wiggins was at the center of early science fiction fandom in Denver. By August 1940, his seminal amateur publication The Science Fiction Fan (TSFF) had sustained an amazing run of 49 consecutive monthly issues since its founding in July 1936.

Born in 1911, Wiggins was a First Fan of the old guard — but at the turn of the decade, science fiction was also spawning a next-generation of new fans. Lew Martin was thirteen years Wiggins’ junior, and was a high school senior when the second World Science Fiction Convention convened in Chicago.

For Wiggins and Martin, attendance at the Chicago gathering was essential, for they had already hatched a plan to propose that the following WorldCon in 1941 be held in Denver. So — how to get to Chicago?

According to Martin:

“It all began one meeting of the Denver Science Fictioneers when I asked Chairman Wiggins if he planned to attend the Chicago 1940 World’s Science-Fiction Convention. He replied that he was and I told him of my desire and determination to go. He planned to go via bus and I had planned to hitch-hike, picking up Al McKeel at Jefferson City, Missouri. Several meetings elapsed before we had compromised on accompanying each other via freight train.”

From “Via Freight Train” by Lew Martin, TSFF, v5n7, April 1941

Martin provided no further explanation of this odd ‘compromise,’ only adding, “After all, we could have paid our way if we wanted, we chose romance and adventure, and despite the hardships we would gladly do it again.” (Emphasis his.)

This ‘romance and adventure’ is well-known in fan history. In our research for Volume Two of The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom, we came across a contemporaneous reference.

Wilson “Bob” Tucker in Spaceways, v2n8, October 1940, recounting arrivals of fans in Chicago for the WorldCon

Harry Warner also mentions this trip in All Our Yesterdays:

“Among the first to arrive were Olon Wiggins and Lew Martin, who made the trip from Denver in thirty hours by courtesy of several boxcars. A fellow traveler failed to complete his journey in a bloody manner, but he wasn’t a fan.”

Ted Dikty provided the most graphic anecdote of the fatal mishap:

From “Expedition to Chicago,” IFA Review, v1n2, September-October 1940

Naturally we assumed that one or both of the bold sojourners must have documented this extraordinary expedition. But finding a full, detailed account has been something of an adventure as well — one that’s sadly incomplete.

Indeed, Martin captured the journey in depth. His essay, “Via Freight Train,” began appearing as a serial in TSFF beginning with v5n7, dated February 1941. Additional installments were published in v5n8 (March 1941), v5n9 (April 1941), and v5n10 (April 15 1941).

Martin’s account is rich and engaging, It captures a remarkable experience and paints a picture of life at that time that we found unique and compelling. Though a bit repetitive and uneven, the narrative represents some of the best writing we’ve encountered in early fanzines.

However, as 1941 progressed, the attention of the leading Denver fans was increasingly dominated by preparations for the 1941 WorldCon — the first “Denvention.” The issues of TSFF dated from the Spring of that year weren’t actually published on their cover dates. Material was accumulated, but the issues were produced after the July convention and back-dated. Ardent historians will note that v5n7 is the last issue cited in the Pavlat-Evans Fanzine Index.

Tracking down the trailing issues of TSFF required significant archeology. The February issue was excavated from the Ackerman archives held by Jim Halperin. It wasn’t clear that the March issue existed at all until John L. Coker III was able to surface a copy. The April issue is on file with the Hevelin collection at the University of Iowa, but Alistair Durie was able to provide us with an excellent scan of this very scarce artifact. We were fortunate to acquire the April 15 issue from another collector.

This gave us four installments of Martin’s epic. But on inspection, we were distraught to discover this at the end of Installment Four:

Lew Martin in The Science Fiction Fan, v5n10, April 15 1941

We have no evidence to suggest that a “Next Issue” was ever produced. Nor have we seen any trace of this essay anywhere else, in part or in whole. Equally frustrating, none of the four installments we’ve found contain the account of “one of those horrible accidents so common to boxcar transportation.” Lacking the conclusion, we also don’t have the happy ending of the pair’s arrival in Chicago.

We’re pleased to present Martin’s narrative in its incomplete fullness, likely the first opportunity for contemporary fans to share the ride.

Further, we appeal to any interested parties: Does the missing conclusion exist somewhere? Did Martin ever publish the essay separately? Does anyone who knew Wiggins or Martin recall conversations where they related additional details?

And and all insight will be greatly appreciated!

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