What would it have been like to discover science fiction in 1930?
It was the most promising of times. Technology had advanced in astonishing ways in the preceding two decades, opening one’s mind to almost infinite possibilities.
It was the most frightening of times. The Great Depression cast a pall over society. Brutal world conflict was still a fresh memory. The rise of fascism loomed on the horizon.
For some, the rush of scientific advancement promised certainty and hope. We’d know everything, go everywhere, solve every problem. Everything that could be imagined would be realized. For others, the now-unbounded universe of possibilities opened the door to the darkest fears. Unspeakable terrors would be unleashed. If we could go there, they could come here.
It’s said that the “Golden Age of science fiction is twelve” – an age when the mind is developed enough to grasp new ideas but still open enough to accept them. If you had reached this age in the late 1920s or early 1930s, you might have stumbled across the emerging torrent of imaginative fiction that sought to bring these dreams and nightmares to life. You might have been swept up in the way these stories expanded your view of the universe and the possible.
You could also discover that there were like-minded people who shared your sense of wonder, some of whom might even live nearby. For the first time, you might feel part of something larger than yourself, a member of a tribe united by a common passion. If you were particularly outgoing and energetic, you might seek to contact these fellow dreamers, meet them, organize with them, and begin to create your own dreams.
During this period of rapid, disruptive change, some early fans of science fiction did all of these things. They leveraged the ‘social media’ of the time – letters in the mail, a borrowed typewriter, the mimeograph machine at school. For some, these early activities came to dominate their lives. The echoes of their passion have shaped the genres of science fiction and fantasy ever since.
Some of the early fans we encounter in this history will be well known to readers of any age: Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Frederik Pohl and many other prominent masters of the genre began their involvement with science fiction as fans in the 1930s. Others who shaped the field for decades are less recognized: Julius Schwartz, founder of several seminal 1930s fanzines, went on to drive the growth of the Superman and Batman franchises at DC comics; Forrest Ackerman, the original “super-fan,” created Famous Monsters of Filmland, a magazine that is cited by filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson as their original inspiration to make science fiction movies.
The tale of early fandom has been told before. In this telling, we hope to bring a more direct and visceral sense of what it would actually have been like to be an early fan. While previous histories have mentioned or described the activities and artifacts of the period, we include them, complete and as they were. This is an archive wrapped in a story which seeks to preserve an essential part of cultural history in both letter and spirit.