Recollections on the Origins of
Science Fiction Fandom
1917 to 1948
by Aubrey MacDermott (1987)

All files are in PDF format

Thanks to Andrew Porter for providing the scan of this interesting historical document, and to Mark Olson for making the image PDF into a searchable file.

Recollections on the Origins of Science Fiction Fandom (3.3MB)

I have taken Mark's text and reproduced the narrative section of the PDF below. Not included are the membership lists, for which see the original document.

See also the entry for this publication at Fancyclopedia 3, which includes many links to names, places and events mentioned in the text.


RECOLLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS OF SCIENCE FICTION FANDOM 1917 to 1948

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL VIEW OF EARLY FANDOM

by Aubrey MacDermott

To the best of my knowledge I am the first active science fiction fan. In 1916 when I was 6½ my paternal grandfather came to stay with us for a while. (It was my father’s turn.) He was a remarkable person. In 1905 he had sold his lots at Fifth and Spring Streets in Los Angeles and invested in Colorado oil shale land because, as he said, “in time all the oil wells will be exhausted”. He was correct, but his time scale was about 100 years short.

He told me wonderful stories of the future. During Christmas 1917 he said, “Aubrey, mark this well. You will live to sit in your living room and, while it happens, watch people land on the Moon, in color”.

In 1918 I developed T.B. and was sent early in 1919 to the Stanford University Convalescent Home. There I enjoyed the great staff library which I was, with much reluctance, allowed to use. In the three weeks I was there I was able to finish the works of Haggard, Doyle, Verne and Wells, plus a lot of odds and ends.

Then came the great windfall, the start of my collection. During Christmas vacation 1919 a departing neighbor gave me a stack of back issues of ALL STORY, BLUE BOOK, ARGOSY and ADVENTURE. The stack was about three feet high and nine feet long. They all had what was called “pseudo-science stories”. (Science fiction had not been invented yet.) Unfortunately there were missing issues, often either the first or last of the serial. I got my mother to subscribe to all of them.

In April 1923 we moved to the Fruitvale district in East Oakland from San Francisco. My father could not understand why I insisted on having all of the old “junk magazines” moved. With my mother’s support I won out.

In downtown Oakland I made a great discovery. There were second-hand magazine stores and the stock was kept by dates and magazines. The standard price was 5¢ each or three for a dime. Without cover they were ½ price. I took to haunting these places. It was only three miles from home to downtown Oakland and if I walked both ways I could buy three more magazines. I walked. This also allowed me to read one or two on the way home. I started buying duplicate issues and making books of the serials. Sad to say I also did this to WEIRD TALES for years. Think what the issues would be worth now! Of course I only paid 5¢ each.

In the fall of 1925 I had a serious head injury and moved the next April to our summer shack in the hills south of Los Gatos to recuperate. There I saw the second issue, May, of AMAZING STORIES. ARGOSY-ALL STORY had a letter column but it gave names only, never addresses. But Gernsback had something new. He printed names and addresses of correspondents. I had for years been writing to authors and now I could write to fans. When I returned to East Oakland in April 1928 the first thing I did was to contact fans, Clifton Amsbury in Berkeley, Louis Smith in East Oakland and Lester Anderson in Hayward. That was the start of our fan club which, under various names lasted until early 1937.

Forrest J Ackerman had a letter published in the Science Fiction Quarterly in 1929. We thought he must be an adult, so a few members of the club arranged to travel to San Francisco to visit him. We arrived at 530 Staples Avenue. His mother led us back to the kitchen and downstairs to the basement room. There, behind an enormous desk, sat a very small boy. He was about 12 but looked 8. It was 4/E.

Raymond A. Palmer, later editor of AMAZING, told me some years later that after I had organized the Eastbay Club in April 1928 Aubrey Clements in Georgia and Walter Dennis, Paul McDermott and Sid Gerson in Chicago had also formed fan clubs, and Richard Leary formed one in Boston. Ray was the eighth member of Clements’ club.

The Christmas of 1928 I received a Christmas card from Peter Schuyler Miller and a letter about the trouble he was having with a story about Mars, “The Titan”. I also received a Christmas card and autographed photo from Edgar Rice Burroughs which I proudly showed to the club members, an enlargement of which is now on my library wall.

In the spring of 1929 Ray Palmer organized the Science Correspondence Club, based on Clements’ and Dennis’ clubs. Later Richard Leary’s Bay State Science Club of Boston joined. But our own club voted not to merge. Clifton, Lester and myself joined immediately. Eventually most of the other club members joined.

At last some signs of life from New York. Allen Glasser formed the “Scienceers Club” on December 11, 1929. He proclaimed that it was “the first real club”, ”real” meaning that it took place in New York City. It soon fell apart. However, Sam Moskowitz in his “Immortal Storm” accepts Allen’s statement at face value Others in their histories of fandom copied Sam’s mistake without checking.

In May 1930 Palmer and Dennis published the COMET as the official organ of the Science Correspondence Club. The second issue was entitled “?” and announced a title contest. It became COSMOLOGY. As far as I know this was the first fan magazine. In July the Bay State Science Club of Boston issued the ASTEROID, Richard Leary editor.

In May 1931 the Science Correspondence Club became the International Scientific Association. We had members all over the world.

That fall Julius Schwartz and Mortimer Weisinger, who had been Scienceers members, began planning a fan magazine. 4/E states that he had published two issues of a hectographed fanzine, the “Meteor” prior to the first issue of “The Time Traveller”.

As of January 1932 Frank Eason of Atlanta, Georgia became president of I.S.A. Palmer, due to ill health, had turned the editorship of “Cosmology” over to Arthur Gowing of Springfield, Mass. In 1931 Palmer told me that he had won a prize of $100 for a story about a cover of AMAZING STORES. He bought an A.B. Dick mimeograph on which Gowing produced eight issues of “Cosmology”. Later, when I became editor Gowing sent me a “rocker” with a straight-up handle on top. I was never able to obtain the original mimeograph.

At last Schwartz’s and Weisinger’s fan magazine appeared in February 1932, “The Time Traveller”, with Allen Glasser as editor and 16 year old 4/E as film editor. Its subtitle was SCIENCE FICTION’S ONLY FAN MAGAZINE. Glasser explained that the others were not “real fan” magazines, meaning not from New York. In May I became the editor and publisher of “Cosmology” with the 13th issue. Clifton Amsbury was associate editor and did most of the struggling with our blotter-mimeo. He also translated the two articles on rockets by Willy Ley. This was Ley’s first publication in the United States and probably his first in English.

In June Conrad H. Ruppert printed the third issue of “The Time Traveller”. This was the first printed fan magazine. Then in September he also printed the first issue of “Science Fiction Digest” with Maurice Ingher editor. In October the first semi-pro science fiction magazine, “Science Fiction Magazine” with Jerome Siegel and Joseph Schuster editors was published. They later became famous for “Superman”.

In January 1933 the last issue of “Cosmology” was printed by Connie Ruppert, and paid for by that wonderful fan, Bob Tucker. With the 15th issue my mother had said “Not another cent”. It took me years to pay the bills of the issues Clif and I had published. In April Ruppert took over Science Fiction Digest and I became his Bay Area distributor.

Glasser’s downfall started with the August AMAZING. Moskowitz in his “Immortal Storm” pages 14 and 15 relates that the Glasser story “Across the Ages” was a direct copy of “The Haze of Heat”. This plus other alleged plagiarisms, destroyed Glasser’s position in fandom and also resulted in the demise of “The Time Traveller” which merged with Science Fiction Digest, becoming FANTASY MAGAZINE in 1934.

Later, Ray Palmer “gave” the defunct International Scientific Association to Will Sykora. Today most fans think that Sykora started ISA, having no knowledge of its existence from 1928 to 1934.

Peter Schuyler Miller’s “The Titan” was published in the last two issues of Crawford’s MARVEL TALES, 1935. Unfortunately the last part of the serial was not published. “The Titan” had been turned down by every publisher for six years. Peter told me he had been insulted and called a sexual deviant by every editor he had sent it to except Crawford. Crawford also has the distinction of being the first publisher of Robert Bloch and Cordwainer Smith.

I graduated from San Francisco State College in June 1936. Clifton left to fight in Spain in the International Brigade against Germany and Italy. In October I received pamphlets from the Committee for Political Advancement of Science (Dockweiler, Pohl, Rubinson, Wollheim and Michel). It was a plea for democratic action against fascism and to prevent World War II. As we know, the effort failed.

The last meeting of the Bay Area Club was in April 1937. After nine years we were all friends and still are. It is strange that although we had been active in fandom and had written numerous letters to the New Yorkers we did not exist. Moskowitz gives Ackerman (4/E) credit for starting the “first fan club in California” for his 1933 Fantasy Fans Fraternity. The fact are - 4/E joined our club after our visit in spring 1929 but his mother said he was not old enough to attend meetings at my house, which involved walking to the streetcar in San Francisco a ride to the Ferry Building, taking the ferry to Oakland, the Red Train to Fruitvale, a trolley to 27th Street and then a walk to my house, Therefore in 1930 he formed the “Boys’ Scientifiction Club” It was strictly correspondence. Much later, 1933, he formed the “Fantasy Fans Fraternity.

My fan activities from 1937 to 1943 mainly concerned my collection. Almost all of us had moved and lost track of each other. But in May 1943 4/E had leave from the Army, spent it with his mother in San Francisco and decided to put on a Staplecon. One of his precocious young fans was Harry Honig. By chance he was a student in a class I taught at Presidio Junior High in San Francisco. So I met 4/E again. It was a one day affair, including Lester Anderson, Lou Goldstone and others, 14 in all. There was a second Staplecon on November 21. Later 4/E put out a nice program pamphlet.

From then to the fall of 1948 I continued reading everything I could find and collected or upgraded my collection. In September, with pregnant wife, three year old daughter Patricia and two year old son Gordon, we all went for a vacation in Los Angeles. There in a local paper I read about a meeting of a “strange group”. The place was the Park View Manor. It turned out to be the first Westercon.

Last revised: 10 February, 2016

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