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Science Fiction Fanzines
by Stephen Perkins

In April 1926 Hugo Gernsback published "Amazing Stories," the first magazine devoted solely to science fiction. Previous to this time science fiction had appeared only in books or in the large circulation magazines of the period. Losing control of this magazine during the crash of 1929, he returned with two new science fiction magazines which were soon combined into Wonder Stories.
During this same period, and feeling the bite of the Depression, Wonder Stories with the hope of increasing sales started the first...

    ...large-scale science fiction fan club, the Science Fiction League, as a promotion device. It was their hope that they would be able to enroll thousands of members, all of whom would buy every copy of the club's official organ, which of course was Wonder Stories. Their expectations were not realized. Many of the members bought the magazines more or less regularly. But more importantly they invented science fiction fandom....It was through the SFL that local clubs got their first major impetus in forming and staying alive, and from them came everything else. (1)

One thing that came from this coalescence of science fiction fans was the appearance of what in the 1930s were originally known as fan mags, and in later years shortened to the more familiar word fanzine. The general consensus amongst science fiction writers is that The Comet, which came out in 1930 was the first fanzine. As the science fiction fan clubs multiplied so did the fanzines.
Fredric Wertham, in what appears to be the only book devoted to this subject (2), details four phases in the historical development of fanzines:

  • One first point was that professional commercial science fiction magazines began to introduce special substantial columns in which they printed letters from readers.
  • When the magazines added to these letters the addresses of their writers, the readers began to write not only to the magazines but also to one another.
  • As science fiction organizations, clubs and conventions were increasingly organized, the correspondence became very large. The result was that special letters and amateur fan magazines, fan-mags, developed to which amateurs and semi-amateurs, professional and semi-professional writers all contributed.
  • The field enlarged gradually not only in scope but in diversity of subjects as well. Literary and often personal contacts went hand in hand.

The type and variety of fanzines are endless, depending upon each editors' particular interests. The editors and reviewers of fanzines have developed a descriptive language that encapsulated the concerns of particular zines, Fredric Wertham lists a few in his book including, "satirezine, humorzine, parody fanzine, reviewzine, rockzine, artzine, Tolkeinzine, articlezine, newszine, strip zine, communicationszine..."
What emerges from this self-publishing activity within the science fiction community, and its relevance to zines from the '80's can be summarized by the following points:

  • Fanzines are uncommercial, nonprofessional and irregular small run publications which have taken advantage of the cheapest and most accessible technologies in any given period, i.e. mimeography, spirit duplicating (ditto) and xerography, as well as more traditional printing methods such as offset printing.
  • Fanzines are published by and for special interest groups and they provide a physical link between these communities and, equally importantly they provide a place for networking and exchange within this community. The inclusion of correspondents' and contributors' addresses establishes the fanzine as an 'open system', and one in which interaction and reader involvement is essential.
  • The distribution of fanzines takes place principally within the community that generated it (small print runs and the uncommercial ethos mitigating against wider circulation). Aside from subscribers and contributors, editors frequently adopt a fairly idiosyncratic approach to who receives copies, with some fanzines not for sale and some for exchange only.

1. Bretnor, Reginald. Science Fiction, Today and Tomorrow. New York, Evanston: Harper & Row, 1974.
2. Wertham, Fredric. The World of Fanzines. Carbondale & Evanston: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973.

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