Ray Bradbury’s influential fanzine proves that geeks haven’t changed since 1939.
For those who love science fiction and its baroque, beautiful, ridiculous fan community, Project Gutenberg has a treat. Four issues of Futuria Fantasia, the legendary fanzine edited by none other than Ray Bradbury, preserved online with all their idiosyncratic geek spelling (thot, nite, thru) and original illustrations (aliens, demons, boobs) intact.
The names both credited and dropped read like a Who’s Who of science fiction legends from the mid-20th century. Aside from Bradbury himself, there’s stories by Damon Knight, Henry Kuttner, Forrest J. Ackerman, and more. There’s after-action reports about parties with Mort Weisinger and Julius Schwartz, excited gossip that Bob Heinlein’s just managed to sell a novel to ol’ J.W. Campbell, and all the minutiae of life as a major geek in the years before America entered WWII.
The most remarkable thing about these absurd, beautiful old issues is how they reveal that science fiction fans haven’t changed a bit. Every nerd behavior I’ve grown up around turns out to be just an updated version of a pre-war template.
For example, every time I’ve seen people quitting a fandom because it used to be cool back when they got into it, but now it’s just overrun with assholes who are ruining it?
I’ll admit there are a few exceptions, but on the whole, s.f. fans are as arrogant, self-satisfied, conspicuously blind, and critically moronic a group as the good Lord has allowed to people the Earth. I don’t blush that I was once a s.f. fan, starting back in ’26—I merely thank my personal gods that somewhere along the route I woke up and began to see s.f. as it really is.
Yes, he just said shit’s been going downhill since 1926. No matter who you are, you have just been outhipstered.
I’ve been going to geek parties since I was old enough to party. You want to hear a quick rundown on every single one of them?
As I remember one night in Coney Island found seven strange looking fellows, fans and authors, crowded into a car for a posed picture. Ross Rocklynne, freshly freckled by a New Yawk sun, at the steering wheel, Jack Agnew at his side with Mark (I’m makin’ my mark in pulps) Reinsburg and immediately in back of Rocklynne a fellow with too much hair, a tan that would make an Ethiopian blush, and teeth, Bradbury, augmented by the humorously verbose Erle Korshak, the professorly nice Bob Madle and one V. Kidwell. I recall also a night at Mort Weisinger’s home during July with Rocklynne, Ackerman, Morojo, Hornig, Binder, Schwartz, Darrow and again Bradbury. A picture was taken that night and the only ones with decent smiles were Ackerman and the under-done personality who edits this magazine. Hornig looked strangely thoughtful with his hand to his chin, Mort had a cigarette drooping from his lip and Darrow, Schwartz and Binder all were lost in profound contemplation of the little birdie which Mort’s brother held. I remember also a night on Central Park, a stag night, when it was raining convulsively and Binder, Bradbury, Hornig, Rocklynne and Darrow all clambered into a rocking boat and swished out onto the glittering water, yodeling popular tunes at the way-way top of their corny contraltos. Binder has a pleasing bath-tub baritone, while Hornig can imitate a frog at the drop of a body. Darrow was strangely silent, but that man Bradbury and Rocklynne set up such a howl that the Park authorities came out in a submarine, thinking that the Loch Ness monster had turned up again. This was all settled when someone pulled the plug and everyone drowned peacefully.
Okay, the names at my parties were… slightly less impressive, but other than that, it’s identical.
Even the weirdly specific stuff; the libertarian nerds who talk about the collapse of “fiat currency” and the techno-utopians who get excited about seasteading and the Singularity? Back in the 30s, they were called Technocracy fans, but the basic themes are identical: everything’s going to go to hell Real Soon Now and then people will come crawling to the AP math class to run things properly.
I shall not spend time telling you why we are faced with economic disaster, for thousands of examples can be had at a Technocracy section. We shall, for the purposes of this article simply assume that the collapse is near, within a matter of days.
All of the large business institutes, and Technocracy as well, will know within 100 days of the time of the ultimate end, when all stocks and bonds depreciate to zero and the financial structure of this country is due to fall.
At this time Technocracy will do, what is termed in colloquial American slang—”TURN ON THE HEAT!” At the present time Technocracy is not interested in forming a large organization, formed of emotional butterflys. It is constructing a functional group; a nucleus of people who know the subject to a T, and who will be prepared to act in the forming of a skeleton control until things are reorganized. In the last five years Technocracy has not used one bit of emotional fly paper, but has presented its whole plan in plain facts, and in as hard-boiled and unentertaining a manner as could be done without insulting the listeners.
These early fans–Bradbury, Ackerman, Weisinger and the rest, the editors they followed like Campbell and Gernsback, the authors they loved like Lovecraft and Derleth–they were misfits, weird kids in a world that didn’t have a place for them. So they dreamed up a place for themselves, built a subculture out of nothing. They dreamed so hard that the place they created is still there, still providing a space for the same misfits today.