Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Immortal Storm, pt 2

Isaac Asimov continues to write about the Futurians, pg 209 of part 1 of his autobiography.
Though science-fiction clubs were small, they were contentious. The membership tended to consist of intelligent, articulate, argumentative, short-tempered, and opinionated young men (plus a few women) who git into tremendous power struggles.

You might wonder how power struggles can possibly arise in small clubs devoted to something a arcane as science fiction, and I wonder too--but it happens. There are arguments over what happened to the other 35 cents in the treasury, who is to run the fanzine, and other equally momentous problems. I believe there were even arguments as to how best to “control fandom” or, on a lesser scale, the world.

When the arguments overflowed the possibilities of word-of-mouth, letters flew from fanzine to fanzine-long, articulate, venomous, libelous letters, which often degenerated into threats of lawsuit that never materialized) (largely because no lawsuit could ever result in substantial damages when no one being sued was worth more than $1.65, clothes, pocket change, blood chemicals and all.)

Naturally, it didn’t take a club long to split up into two clubs, with each then proceeding to put out competing fanzines. The main task of each fanzine was to vilify the other group with an intensity and a linguistic fluency that Hitler might have studied with profit.

This may sound as though I’m exaggerating a bit, but, honestly, I’m not. If anything I lack the words (competent writer though I am) to describe the intensity of the tempests brewed in the microscopic teapots of science fiction fandom.

Okay - tomorrow we'll get to Sykora!
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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Asimov Photo Gallery: Ouvres Young and Old

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The Immortal Storm

Isaac Asimov joined the Futurians in 1938. But the first fanclub had started in 1935...and the history of first fandom from 1935 to 1938 is told in Sam Moskowitz's book The Immortal Storm.

Isaac Asimov writes about his joining the Futurians in his autobiography, In Memory Yet Green.

For nine years I had been reading science fiction...I knew there were other readers, because I read their letters in the magazines, but I knew no other readers personally.

What I did not know was that here and there, groups of science-fiction readers were forming clubs of one sort or another snd even publishing little periodically (usually on primitive mimeograph devices) called "fan magazines" or "fanzines" for short. ...

Then, on August 2, 1938, I received a postcard from Jack Rubinson, who had been at Boys High with me and who had been in my graduating class. He too was a science-fiction reader. He had read my letter in Astounding, and he wanted to begin a correspondence.

I was willing, and on September 6, 1938, he sent me a large envelope containing the first fanzines I ever saw. My judgement, according to my diary, was that they were "fairly interesting."


On September 12 came the next step. I received a card from Rubinson telling me of the club he belonged to - the Greater New York Science Fiction Club, which met periodically in Queens.


I got my invitation to attend a meeting. The invitation arrived on September 15, 1938, but in between something had happened at that club that I knew nothing of. Let me explain.

[We'll continue this on Sept 27, 2010 - it'll introduce William Sykora, Sam Moskowitz, et al.]

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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians pt 14

Damon Knight, in his book, The Futurians, next mentions Asimov on pg 37.

At the meeting of March 26, 1939, the minutes show that a visitor, Robert G. Thompson, was commissioned to make an offer of unity to the Queens Science Fiction League, with a joint meeting of the two clubs to be held at a time and place of the QSFL's choosing. At the same meeting, Pohl discussed his plans for an organization called the Futurian Federation of the World, and Asimov offered to pay dues of 25 cents every time he sold a story.

At the April 9 meeting, Kornbluth reported that he had attended the latest QSFL meeting and in Thompson's absence had made the unity offer, which had been rejected without discussion by the director, James V. Taurasi. The Futurians were indignant about this, and voted to censure the three leaders of the QSFL, [William] Sykora, [Sam Moskowitz] and Taurasi.

At this meeting a question was asked about the club's attitude toward the forthcoming World Science Fiction Convention in New York. Wollheim took the chair to reply, "outlining the underhanded and dishonest actions of William Sykora in this regard as well as the dishonorable acts of the editors of the professional magazines." He went on to say that the club had no official attitude toward the convention, and that Wollheim's original committee had withdrawn uin order to avoid damaging fandom by holding two conflicting conventions.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians, pt 13

At the meeting on Feb 26, 1939, according to the Science Fiction News Letter:
The "Things to Come" suite and other recorded fantastic music was played for the edification of members' asthetic sides. Not scheduled were playing same pieces backward & taking of Asimov on thrilling rocket-ride, blindfolded, with eggbeater, clanking spoons, spacial sound effects. Mr. A was also successdully levitated*, after involved, highly complicated ritual.

The Futurians' method of levitating someone was to get him to lie down on a couch or floor, telling him that after a short time he would rise, "untouched by human hands." Then they just left him there; when he got tired of this he would get up, and the Futurians would say, "See?"

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians, pt 12

The Futurians met again on December 26, 1938. Apparently it was discovered at the last moment that the meeting room at 182 Bergen Street was not available. Asimov wrote in his diary:

The meeting there did not materialize, and we all trooped over to Michel's house. It's a nice one, and I had simply a devil of a time. I smoked two cigarettes. * Doc Lowndes came over. He's here for Christmas. There was the largest gathering of the year, I think, about fifteen to twenty, of which several I had never seen before, including two girls. They raided the icebox, and I cleaned out a nut dish.

This aparently marks the first appearance of women in the Futurian Society - probably Doris Baumgardt and her friend Rosalind Cohen. Pohl remembers that the Futurian Society was the first fan organization he knew of that had any women at all in it, but the proportion was never large. Wollheim says that years later, whenever he and his wife Elsie were in a restaurant and saw a large party with only one or two women in it, they'd tell each other, "There's a typical Futurian bunch."

*Reading this passage to me [Damon Knight] in 1975, Asimov said, "Good lord! I would have offered myself up to slow torture as a guarantee that I had never smoked a cigarette. Gee, that's a shocking thing. There's such a thiung as going too far in a diary."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians pt 11

From The Futurians, by Damon Knight

The fifth meeting, on November 13, apparently was held in the Flatbush YCL hall again. I [Knight] take this account from from Dick Wilson's Science Fiction News Letter, Nov 26, 1938:
The Futurian Society's meeting of November 13, featured a debate between Donald A. Wollheim and Isaac Asimov, with Mr. Wollheim resolving that the Martians, who landed in New Jersey on Hallowe'en eve, should replace homo sapiens as inhabitants of Earth.

Said he: "On October 30, 1938, Orson Welles broadcast "The War of the Worlds" which had half America gibbering in terror, believing that horrible Martians, equipped with heat rays & invulnerability, were laying waste Jersey & New York. Later, coming to its senses, the US reassured itself, calling the Martians figments of Mr. Welles' imagination."

"This is not so," said Mr. Wollheim. "It is more likely that Mr. Welles is a figment of the Martian's imaginations. As a matter of fact, the people of Mars, having lived so many eons longer than Tellurians, naturally have powers denied us. They knew the state the American mind was in, what with war scares and all, and foresaw just what would happen when "The War of the Worlds", which they also knew about, was broadcast. They took advantage of this, landing their spaceships at Grover's Mill while the panic was at its height. (This is borne out by the many people who saw them land.) They immediatelty went into hiding and are now waiting for the excitement to die down so they can emerge and take over the world."

Mr. Wollheim then gave many reasons for the adviseability of such an action. Mr. Asimov then spoke, and tho interrupted by raucous voices crying, "What about the Martians?" made no mention of them, dwelling on the development of the Cro-Magnon and the tortures of the Inquisition. One may readily see that Mr. Wollhaim won by a mile.

Asimov's diary mentions this debate but does not say who won, or even which side he took. The diary [Asimov's diary] continues:

...Besides that, I got elected to the executive council. I had a few games of ping pong, and also practiced a bit of the piano, working out very painstakingly the first three lines of the "Internationale."

When I arrived at the meeting place, no one was there, but soon Wollheim showed up and we dropped in at Pohl's place. His private room is cluttered with maps, Russia and Spain, pictures, Marx, Lenin, Engels, Stalin, Browder [Earl Browder, head of the American Communist Party] and poems. He's a darn good poet.

The next scheduled meeting was sold out, but the Futurians met again on December 26.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians pt 10

On Saturday, a day when "Papa is sick, the cat is sick, and Minnie had her tooth pulled," Asimov went to Rubinson's home and agreed to buy his entire magazine collection for $2.50. He signed a contract to that effect and made a down payment of 50 cents. "Mama put up a devil of a kick when she saw them, but I'll get the Amazings and Wonders yet."

The fifth meeting, on November 13, apparently was held in the Flatbush YCL hall again. I [Damon Knight] take this account from Dick Wilson's Science Fiction News Letter, November 26, 1938:
The Futurian Society's meeting of Nov 13 featured a debate between Donald A. Wollheim & Isaac Asimov, with Mr. Wollheim resolving that the martians, who landed in New Jersey on Halloween eve, should replace homo sapiens as inhabitants of Earth.

Will continue the story of this meeting tomorrow.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians pt 9

From The Futurians, by Damon Knight:

The fourth meeting was at Dick Wilson's house in Richmond Hill, Long Island, and again Asimov got lost, but by walking fast made it on time. ("Of cuorse, in those days walking wasn't dangerous," he commented.")

Wilson, a tall, spade-jawed young man, had a soft, almost purring voice. In his fan journalissm he could be cutting, but in person he was gentle.
You should see the collection Wilson got. About a hundred fifty science fiction magazines all the way back to the large-sizers, maybe even more, plus Weird Tales, Argosys, Doc Savages, etc., and also over two hundred science fiction novels. [In 1938???? I didn't think SF novels started until the 1950s. Ed.]

Jack Rubinson says he has a lot of back numbers he's anxious to get rid of, and that they are in good condition. He says he'll sell them two cents apiece, but I don't know if he's serious. I'll be down Saturday night to look them over. I told him about Amazing*.

*"I had just sold my first story," Asimov said. "On October 21, 1938, Amazing accepted Marooned Off Vesta," the third story I wrote. So that my fourth meeting of the Futurians was the first one I attended as a professional. And I told them, of course."

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Asimov and the Futurians pt 8

The third Futurian meeting was held at Jack Gillespie's home near Fort Tryon Park, the highest point in Manhattan. Asimov got out at the wrong subway exit and had to go down "a series of precipices and steps."
Pohl wasn't there for some obscure reason. [James] Blish, Michel and Wollheim, who were there, want to break up the Futurians and organize it on a much wider basis, including all sorts of persons with a Futurian mind, whatever that is, and taking all the politics out of it. I opposed it like hell, but got nowhere. The meeting broke up about 5:45, and I went home with Kubilis, who is a 6-foot-6 guy.

Walter Kubilis (later Kubiius) who appears seldom in this chronicle, is a gentle, soft-spoken Lithuanian-American. Nobody I talked to had anything but good to say of him. Pohl, for instance, calls him a really sweet person-a decent, intelligent human being.

James Blish, then 17, lived with his mother in New Jersey, he attended Futurian meetings for a year or so, then went to college and was seen infrequently until 1944.