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ne of the first casualties of the last war was the British Science Fiction Association, officered by active enthusiasts, Ted Carnell, Ken Chapman, Eric Williams, and others whose names are as familiar in U.S. s-f circles as they are in their own country. The S.F.A. formed a focal point for all British fan activity for some time prior to 1939.
Its dissolution left half-a-dozen fanzine editors striving to maintain contact between their readers -- readers whose addresses altered with remarkable rapidity as they were called up and transferred from one part of the country to another, or who, after the first year, were 'bombed out'. One by one these fanzines ceased as their active spirits were mobilized, or found that longer hours of work permitted them little leisure to wander in the gaudy worlds of the now rare s-f magazines. The fictional 'Final Blackout' did not seem too far from the reality that slashed with steel and fire across the imagination.
If one excepts the 'Cosmos Club', a South West London organisation with only local membership but with strong connections in the U.S. which enabled it to build up a large library from the generous gifts of American fans, the only link uniting the British fans in wartime was Mike Rosenblum's fanzine 'Futurian War Digest', affectionately nicknamed 'Fido'. Through miracles of hard work, 'Fido' was produced throughout the war; sometimes on paper sent across by U.S. fanzine editors, so that one would turn a page and be confronted with the cover of 'Vom' or 'Le Zombie'; sometimes it included one or two page 'zines from other British fans, the collection being aptly named 'Fido's Litter'.
'Fido' enabled the active fans to keep in touch, welcomed many newcomers who had been contacted by serving fans up and down the country. 'Fido' eventually ceased, to take thereafter a prominent place in our fan-history, but before it did so its readers formed the British Fantasy Society. Although equipped with a large library, much of which was donated by the U.S. British Science-Fiction War Relief Society, which had already helped the Cosmos Club, the BFS could do little in the period of re-adjustment following the end of the war, and was soon wound up, although the library was still active, and after many vicissitudes is still functioning.
The 'Cosmos Club' was disbanded, and its library went into storage, but another group was then in existence. The 'London Circle' was no formal body, but a group of fans who met (and still meet) once a week at the 'White Horse Tavern' in the heart of London. It was at these weekly meetings that 'New Worlds' was re-born as a fan-financed publication.
When in 1948 Capt. Ken Slater felt that there was a need for a country-wide organization of fans again, it was members of the 'London Circle' who formed the Central Committee of the 'Science Fantasy Society'.
This rather lengthy preamble is necessary to give an idea of the state of British fandom with which we on this Committee have been confronted. We can learn from the mistakes and mishaps of our predecessors. We number amongst our members long-standing fans who have belonged to all of the organisations mentioned here. But we face a problem that has no precedent.
During the war, the only s-f prozine available here was the British Reprint Edition of 'Astounding S-F'. It may have made hundreds of new readers of s-f who are eager for each issue, but it did not make 'fans' as we understand the term. You in the States may not realise the tremendous effect produced by the readers' letters departments in the various prozines. It informs the readers that they are not alone in their enthusiasm for this strange branch of literature. It enables those with that inward urge to be 'actifans' to get together. It produces, if you like, a feeling of comradeship. Over here, the B.R.E. did not contain a reprint of any of the departments such as the 'Brass Tacks' section, and the reader without contacts remained on his own, unless by some lucky chance he met someone who knew of 'Fido' or the B.F.S.
Every week, we in the S.F.S. are contacting people who have been avid s-f readers for years, but have no idea that there exists any common ground on which they can meet other readers, to exchange news and views with them, or to try their hands at writing s-f for the fanzines as a prelude to writing for the pro's. 'Science Fantasy Review', (of which we are extremely proud), has had advertisements in the few British prozines that have appeared during the last three years, and some enthusiasts have been contacted, but beyond that there has been nothing to bridge the gap.
The consequences are that not only are the majority of British fans over 25 years of age, when the average male devotes most of his time to family affairs and has no time to participate in 'fanactivity', but there are less than a dozen under-20's known to us. The younger reader has grown up in an environment of B.R.E.'s and is frequently unaware that they are B.R.E.'s and not a native product, or thinks that the reprint is the whole U.S. edition.
Thus at a time when many of us have lost the early flush of enthusiasm, and give mature appreciation to only the minority of published material, we not only have to contact the younger, 'pre-fan' reader without the help of the prozines, but have to try and satisfy their demand for large quantities of science-fantasy reading matter, after they have found out that the s-f pulps are not ephemeral things that appear for a couple of weeks and then vanish, but have a solid and interesting past.
Furthermore, we give them the (almost incredible!) news concerning the sudden growth of U.S. fantasy-book publishing, and this time there is not only the frustrative effect of the currency regulations, but the fact that the ordinary American s-f novel costs twice as much as the average British novel. You in the States can get some of the idea of the effect by imagining sf to be double the price of any other fiction.
The obvious solution, that satisfies the requirements of not only the new but the old fans, is to have a large communal library; a magazine and book library, stocked and run with the minimum of expense for the readers. We have taken some steps towards this by combining the two ex-club libraries, but they were formed before the present boom in fantasy book publishing, and consequently contain few modern volumes.
Therefore the news of the Cinvention's most generous donation of $150 to buy books for British fandom was breath-taking. It is impossible to think of a more helpful action toward us than this. We now have, with this help, a very solid basis on which to extend our present efforts to build a new active fandom, something to which we can direct the younger readers, and say:- Here is a record of science-fantasy in the past, its history and many of its best stories; here also is a record of present day achievement and the international unity of s-f readers; and here, too, is not only pleasure, but inspiration for the future. Read this, review it, criticise it; then go and write, edit, publish!
Yes, Cinvention, you may have done a lot more than give us a great deal of pleasure and boost the morale of the 'actifans'. We thank you now for your gift on behalf of British fandom...and wonder what probable future British Bradbury or Campbell or Smith or Van Vogt will also look back with gratitude on Cinvention '49.