by Lesley Reece
About a year ago I was out on a date with this guy I was sort of trying to impress. He took me to a fairly upscale bar and we sat there drinking Guinness. Well, I was drinking; he was telling me about all the reading he had to do to get his degree. Quite a list. I sat there nodding. Id had to read a lot of the same books myself.
In the middle of a thread about Milton, he suddenly asked, "So have you been reading much lately?"
"Um," I said, "Yeah." What a stupid question to ask an English major. Of course Id been reading. It was just that after a discussion about Milton, I didnt want to tell him what. I examined the foam on my Guinness. It was perfectly smooth except for the lip print Id made in it.
"What have you been reading?"
Okay, I thought, Ill just say it and see what he does. "A casebook of essays about cyborgs," I said.
"Cyborgs? You mean, like "
"Cybernetic organisms," I said. "Part biological, part technological." I waited, still looking at my pint.
"I didnt know you liked " I looked up. Yup. He was making an eeyewww face. I knew it.
"Science fiction," he finished. My reaction surprised me. I didnt apologise. I went on the offensive.
"Yeah?" I said, as snippy as I could make it. "So?"
The guy was no fool; he knew hed just lost at least a hundred points on the date-o-meter. For the next half hour, he sat there back-pedalling so much he was practically beeping, while I thought about what Id just done. Id defended science fiction, in front of an academic, an academic that, until this turn of the conversation, Id found reasonably attractive. I could have lied and told him I was reading Alexander Pope or Pamela or something. It wouldnt have been that tough. But I hadnt.
I knew what that meant. I was a fan. How had this happened to me? Id been very reluctant to get involved.
Victor Gonzalez introduced me to Andy Hooper, and I started hanging around drinking beer and unwittingly providing linos while they were putting Apparatchik together. Eventually, they started trying to get me to write for them.
I kept saying no. At the meetings, I folded and labelled while Victor hammered and expostulated - "Theres no reason for you not to write for us; we want you to; you have to do it," and Andy suggested and hinted - "Well, think of how nice itd be to make new friends and get fanzines; think of how much less work itd be for me and Victor."
I honestly wasnt into it. I had a lot of reservations. D.Wests Performance, which the guys loaned me and told me to read, actually caused most of them. I dont have my own copy, but I remember the general tone - there are rules, but were not going to tell you what they are; when you violate these rules you arent aware of, were going to snicker at you and tell you that you suck. That didnt sound very fun. I wasnt afraid of people snickering at me and telling me I sucked - Im sure itll be mostly fans reading this, so I dont even have to go into how I was a total geek when I was a kid. Im less geeky now, but a lifetime of exposure to unfounded execration has toughened me against such pettiness. It wouldnt have been anything new.
The thing with having rules didnt bother me that much, either. If fandom was a competition, then of course it had rules. It just seemed like people were going to be looking sideways at me no matter how well I wrote, because I hadnt been around as long as they had. I thought that was sort of undemocratic.
It was my choice to play or not, so I decided Id stay out of it. Id always written. Back then, I rarely showed anything I wrote to anyone, so I wasnt doing it for money or recognition. I wasnt even sure I liked doing it; all I knew was that I wrote. I wasnt about to ask D.West (or anyone else) for his goddamned permission to keep going. I didnt need it, any more than I needed some bunch of strangers looking at me sideways because I couldnt figure their stupid rules out.
I said as much to Victor, and he was incensed. "Youre wrong!" he cried, waving a fanzine in the air. "Theres no Fannish Rule Book!"
I wasnt buying that. If there are rules, there has to be a rulebook, even if its only in peoples heads. I told him he was full of shit. I dont know why the Apparatchiki kept trying to change my mind after that. I guess they thought it was a challenge or something, because the discussions continued for a few more months. Finally, I caved in when I realised the truth of my own argument. If I truly didnt care about getting permission, I had no reason not to publish. If criticism really wouldnt bother me, I had nothing to lose.
Im glad now that they didnt give up. Writing for a biweekly (and later triweekly) zine was good for me in terms of discipline. Getting feedback from my very talented editors didnt hurt, either. I hadnt expected any "real-world" benefits in return for getting involved with fandom. That was gravy.
Even better, though, Ive found that fandom is a place full of other people like me, people who actually want to have two-hour conversations about cyborgs, or Philip K. Dick, or any of the other stuff I think is really interesting and cool but bores most other people to tears. These are people who read what I write, and some of them like it and say so. It isnt like a family exactly, but it doesnt seem like a competition either, at least not compared to the rest of life, where you have to watch what you say and lie about what book youre reading in case someone might think youre a geek.
I think thats great. If you disagree, and youre currently unattached, I know a very nice guy you could go out with. Hes probably still single.
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