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A rather more sceptical view of the formation of the BSFA from Ken Bulmer, who had been an sf fan for many years, producing a number of fanzines including STAR PARADE, NIRVANA, and STEAM between 1941 and 1958, and writing for many more. Ken was also the first British TAFF winner to actually make the trip to the USA. He later became better known as a prolific writer of popular fiction.

This piece was written for one of the later issues of Bulmer's STEAM, the fanzine he put through OMPA (the Off-Trails Magazine Publishers Association, the primary British apa of the 1950s and 1960s.) An 'apa' (amateur publishing association) was a kind of very slow printed LiveJournal.

This isn't the most well-written or thought out item Ken Bulmer ever produced - but it is worth including here as it does represent in various ways some of the doubts about the aims and intentions of the BSFA that existed at the time. The formation of the organisation was not universally applauded without question.

To various degrees a similar disbelief about the continuance of the BSFA into the 21st century exists in some quarters - best expressed as "If the BSFA didn't exist would we need to invent it now?" But that's another page altogether, as yet unwritten.





H Ken Bulmer

(First published in STEAM Vol 4 number 3, Summer 1958.)


So there is another Holy Cow in Fandom

From other peoples’ point of view that may be justifiable comment ; from most of us it isn’t. So far I have refrained from comment on the various proposals put forward for a new society mainly because I’ve been too busy but also because by this time I figure that whenever an upsurge of ‘get organised’ hits fandom it will level out and quite possibly do a little good.

The notion of organising the body fannish is no new one and afflicts all of us at one time or another. We know there are arguments  - for and against. As one who has no axe to grind it might be fun if I take a few of these arguments to pieces.

Both Vince Clarke and Ted Tubb discussed this with me from time to time over a number of years and we invariably struck against the rock of : “What have you to offer a fan?”

But this apparently facile piece of argument, a sort of organisational stopper, is not as sound as it seems. The sort of organisation mooted can of course offer very little to the fan who is set in his ways and secure in his little niche in fandom. But to get down to the reasons for the failure of a society, we have to dig a little deeper. Here it could be mentioned that the lack of willingness on the part of fen to do any work is not a reason, but merely a symptom of the under-lying disease. If we can check the disease, or more accurately, inject health, there will be no lack of willing volunteers.

Before going on to diagnose the disease, I'll clear the mumbo-jumbo out of the way. The BSFA want a pound note from each of us to start the society. That is a lot of money to some and a flea bite to others (In my book it's a lot; but I can break it down and rationalise it.) Let's be quite frank about it. What the BSFA can do for me, or most of us, isn't worth a pound note - yet. All the madam about libraries and contact bureaux and headed notepaper is just so much swill - I can't keep up with ordinary reading let alone open up a fresh source of supply; I am in contact with far too many people already (and I like it, don't misunderstand me): And I like my own address on my notepaper. Vince has put forward the idea that the society can act as a front in dealing with the press. I don't think he had any idea in his noddle of chicanery here; people have jumped on him for suggesting we fake up an. organisation to impress outsiders. It isn't as black as it looks. Provided the health of fandom is restored, as I come to later on, an organisational front of genuine value is necessary in dealing with people as quoted by Vince who will probably be more impressed by an Association and all its flummery of mask and rod.

((This is straight on stencil, no preparation – I’m trying to argue along rational lines, but those of you who know me will, after having marvelled at the paragraphs, know I’ll wander.))

The library and the contact bureaux and the hand outs telling us what happened in fandom twenty years ago and the rest are of use only to the newcomer. So let's be honest and say that the Association wants a Bradbury from each or us in order to subsidise its proselytising activities. I don't think that many of us would grudge that quid for that, if honestly stated. As for the Association Journal - quite apart from the fact that Tedd Tubb has rather rashly got himself caught up in it, and by that very fact we know it will be a good quality.

So far this year I've had about twenty odd fanzines arrive at Tresco for me alone, there have been others for Pamela and yet more for Bobbie. (Those people who moan that the fanzine field is dead can't be on many mailing lists.) Another new fanzine, even though it is the organ of an official society, excites no wave of enthusiasm in the dovecotes, especially when by that very token it is likely to be rather dull and pompous and full of lists of members and reports and brighty squibs for bringing in new people and drably written explanations of what sf is, may have been and ought to be. As I discussed with Ted, one very valuable item could be well-done book and prozine reviews. As these are usually greeted with horror by the trufan type in a fnz, there is, in my opinion, a wide scope for a radical new departure for the official organ, and for that reason alone I would welcome it. But it's hardly worth a five-shilling piece per issue.

How don't get me wrong: I'm not knocking the BSFA, nor am I standing up and cheering wildly for it. I'm trying to balance out what it can offer, to surmount that rock against which fan organisations break down. We have now reasoned out that for most of you reading this, it can offer practically nothing except a lighter bank balance. It can help the newcomer. Possibly the most valuable function of all that it can perform is to bring in new people. Refraining from my usual attitude of a fan is born not made; but with careful machine tailoring be can be turned into a fair semblance of a fan; I will content myself with saying that if a person is interested in sf they will eventually find fandom, if they are that way inclined. If they aren't, they won't and if your Ass’n goes and drags them in you're just wasting your time. You can't make an interstellar cruiser from a sputnick. If you just want their money, well, that's all right, provided that it is clearly understood. If you expect to turn up a fresh Willis every week - you're crazy.

In addition to that you might take a pride in an ever swelling membership list, counting every name of some poor-joe in the back of beyond who pays his money and gets his Journal and membership card. This large membership might impress the press; it certainly won’t fail to amuse those who have heard of the N3F. But this is almost an inevitable corollary of your policy; you cannot define these people of the shadows as fans, so you impress the press with a semi-fake list: is this so different from the proposals outlined by Vince?

I'd like to see a break down of the way in which currently active fen entered fandom. This is the sort of activity which brings me a great deal of pleasure - reading about it, not doing it, natch - but can only be as boring as last month's Science Fantasy News to the newcomer and the pseudo-fan. (That reference to SFN is a compliment, bwah, like you talk about as stale as yesterday's news - meaning the Times.) How many of you really active folk came in on your own steam (what have I said?) and how many were collared and inducted? I expect most of you were readers and then saw an advert for Operation Fantast or Slant or FIDO or something like that and wrote off. Maybe an active fan wrote to you. But whichever way it was, it was a positive act on .your part that brought you in. The drifter-in, the one who comes in because it looks like a lot of fun, and to hell with sf, usually is as hollow as a bedroom utensil when it comes to fannish feelings. So you can put out as much advertising as you like, and rake in the shekels, and send off Journals galore and even set stupendous atendances at conventions; but unless a person makes that first positive act of interest, you won’t make a single fan.

This was by way of a digression. Way back there I spoke of the disease afflicting any fan society. Of the societies we have had that match most closely the current one, two, the BFS and the SFS, foundered because of ths disease. One, the SFA, foundered more because of the war, and its effects carried over into a flowering of the greatest fan period of all time (so far), Second Fandom. Born from First, it aroused hostility and partisanship, in which Second grew like a healthy tree. That enough of the sob stuff – except for this. I’ll draw you a diagram.

When I published my first fanmag in 1941 under the title Star Parade, I put a slogan or banner, "Dedicated to the Cause." It aroused hilarious mirth. I was a throwback to First Fandom, along with a small group of actifans at that time; but the slogan disappeared fairly fast and I, thank Ghu, (it should be Foo-Foo to get the period right) plunged into Fanarchy and Second Fandom's way of life. But the slogan meant something. In those days - and you can call them the 'Good old Days' if only because they contained a vital spirit that is completely lacking today, there were few prozines. The idea behind fandom was that sf should be pushed, that we should get more people to read it, and thus more prozines would be published. Then we didn't bother about that any more and were a self-contained unit. Here speaketh FANTAST and SATELLITE and GARGOYLE ond FIDO and the Litter. Perhaps certain fey characters had already seen the ghastly debacle that was to follow. (Moskowitz style, Anyone?) Even so, the truly intensive activity to push sf had virtually declined with the war. The great days are even now being outlined by Wally Gillings in his Clamorous Dreamers in Fid - damn, Nufu. The war brought Cunningham and the BSFWRS and things of that ilk and the grim determination to secure any sf that was available. It is true to say that the war did more to promote international and inter-personal relationships than anything before or since. Chain letters were part of it. There was a feeling that if we kept together the tenuous links would not be broken, that a single prozine was a sort of binding symbol, and although we might talk about anything in fanzines - and did (What do you people read in your bath?) - whilst the prozines and sf books circulated a bond existed that would not be broken.

Misguided fools.

I've said all this before. When the boom began about the early '50's, it was bust for fandom. Sixth fandom flourished on everything except sf. There was plenty of it. Societies were not needed in any formal sense, people were joining up all the time. Of course, not many stuck ... There was no point to it all except the perfectly valid one of 'let's have a good time’. But if that is your sole criterion for your activities you soon tire of one monotonous diet, and crave fresh experiences to give you that fun. Which is why the discussions today on things other than sf and fantasy and closely allied subjects is so much more boring now than it was when they were taken as part of the greater context of an sf fans attitude to life, (Start screaming, some of you..) You can find good fun in plenty of other things beside fandom. But in fandom you can - or could - find things that you just cannot find elsewhere.

So this disease - and I'd rather you didn't call it 'Bulmer's Disease of the Body Fannish’, ta, is simply a complete lack of direction, an existence in a vacuum and an utter lack of any reason why sf fandom and its attendant organisations should exist in preference to any other activity.

"What have you to offer a fan?" when asked of the BSFA, then, is meaningless. Rather, "What does the BSFA exist to do?"

Well, there's the library, and the contact bureaux and the headed notepaper and the ...

First word on page twenty eight.

Well, we're going to bring in more fans. You said so yourself. That bringing new fans in was a good idea ...

So that's it. That's the crux. You are going to drag in fresh blood. Why? Why should I spend a pound note to bring in some poor inoffensive sf reader and try to ram fandom's rather crazy ways down his throat? What can we offer him? What do we intend to do with all this new blood? (Apart from take their money?) All of you have seen so often the normal reaction to fandom from outsiders, you believe they are wrong, and you yet may have an inkling of fear that they're not in your hearts, (We won’t go into the spurious psychology of compensation for real life, the big frog in little pond, the reasons for a fan) If fandom was doing something worthwhile, then perhaps you'd have a reason to bring in fresh blood. We could all jog along quite happily with the folk we have. Subzines as a vehicle for subs are long since dead. You'd gradually go on and on, and as the yearly average dropped out, fandom would die. All right. You tell me why that would be a bad thing. There is an old and sage remark, attributed to a wiseman talking of Christianity, that the proof of an idea or an organisation's worth is in its longevity. If Fandom is moribund, is dying already, perhaps it deserves to. Perhaps it wouldn't die if it was different. But I've tried to show that if it was different it wouldn't be the fandom we know, and we'd then be talking about a different animal.

The disease is lack of purpose. The cure is not a cry of : "Back to Science Fiction." -What does that mean? That you talk about sf, you write about it, you carry on as we did when sf was rare? Why should we when sf sprouts on every bookstall? Certainly I have long advocated that sf should figure in any sf fandom; it seems logical somehow. But not as it used to. We’ve had enough of booms. (I’m speaking as a fan, Ghu forgive me.) So I’ll pose this question to the BSFA. But first; My quid is already earmarked because I personally, believe that the BSFA is rather in the nature of a straw. And we're all drowning, quite happily, to be sure, but drowning we are. The question, then is: "What are the basic aims of the BSFA that justify its existence?"

Well, there's the library, headed notepaper –

Insurgents, anyone?

(Tremendous amount more can be said. The official facade idea is good if dishonest. Perhaps that's the key. Let's be honest about our little dreamworld for a change.)

Ken Bulmer




Explanatory Note

Ken's article should be understandable by any reasonably informed person (at whom of course these pages are aimed) but one line "First word on page twenty eight." may confound many. It is a now-obsolete British fannish reference best explained by this entry from FANCYCLOPEDIA 2 -

FIRST WORD ON PAGE 28  Actually was "Harry", but refers to what he was
saying in the phrase "Harry Turner says ***** to Mike Wallace...".  
The page 28 was that of Hyphen #11, in the letter column; the word from
which we are protecting the Post Office's tender sensibilities was "a rather vulgar synonym for testicles".

The concept of Numbered Fandoms referred to by Ken is also less well-known than it was. It does make some sense in terms of the 1930s-1950s though its use in defining periods after that is something of a conceit. Go here for a good explanation, looking for the reference to 'Numerical Fandoms'. (Yes, I know that shouldn't be in the 'F' section, but that's not my fault.)