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Bringing out the fan-boy ...

01/12/2001. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

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Another year nearly over and another proposed prediction unfulfilled: Still no alien contact in the 21st century. Well, if 1984’s ‘Big Brother’ was 15 years late, what can we expect?

Hello everyone

Another year nearly over and another proposed prediction unfulfilled: Still no alien contact in the 21st century. Well, if 1984’s ‘Big Brother’ was 15 years late, what can we expect? If there are any deep space outposts looking out for radio transmissions, then they're still picking some rather quaint terrestrial material from nearly a century ago.

One can only hope alien civilisations believe in social evolution and that we’ve moved on from some quaint customs we had back then. They’re probably still expecting us to be moving towards optic transmissions cos they’re faster than radio waves.

Anyway, that’s not the subject this time. Those of you who’ve read my biographical notes elsewhere on the site - and yes, they’re due for a little update for the past few years - know that I picked up on General Semantics in my youth.

In its most applied way, it is very much a lateral thinking technique of how to look at problems. Trying to read de Bono’s ‘Lateral Thinking’ book made me realise he was talking old hat as Alfred Korzybski got there first and then some.

Most important of which was seeing the answers to subjects in multiple answers or levels and illustrating it the same way. Once that’s understood and applied, any written material can hit most people simply because there is something at one level or another that they can appreciate or understand.

A lot of the time, I don’t even recognise all the levels I use myself cos it’s done on an instinctive level. Where this one-sided conversation is leading is even when I’m intentionally light there will always be some sort of underside there that could or will have something heavy bubbling underneath.

Don’t worry if you don’t spot it. If it was meant you to understand it then you would see it. Much of the time, it’s pretty much the same message with a different dressing. It’s no wonder Korzybski proposed everyone should have some level of General Semantics training just to cope with such lateral thinking.

Then again, I never agreed with his train of thought that we’re all born equal. If we were all equally talented, there would be no such thing as exceptional talent or vocation. We’d all be brilliant artists, writers and scientists. They can be taught but there will always be people who can do such things innately.

Today we’re discussing the opening line or rather to be specific, ‘the fan boy attitude’. There is a ‘fan girl attitude’ out there equally as strong but who wants to see hyphenated words spread through the text? Come to that, calling it ‘fan person’ is so PC that the term loses all meaning. Some words are meant to be sexist.

The term ‘fan boy’ became prevalent somewhere in the late 80s of the last century. It tends to be a derogatory term indicating an obsessive fan with a somewhat adolescent obsession, irrespective of age, with a particular interest. As if anyone with an interest in Science Fiction doesn’t have such a passion? HAH!

Within our own genre, it narrows down to any specialised subject which is also deemed obsessional like, say, ‘Star Trek’ and any SF based TV shows, particular reality series, comics, films, books, etc.

Have I missed any of you out yet? We all have a fan boy or girl attitude or fondness to some particular aspect of SF that got our intensified interested in the subject in the first or sometimes second or third place.

It’s often a reaffirmation of our interest cos by then, we’re already SF fans.

The only major difference is whether or not it achieves what appears to be a somewhat, shall we say, too obsessional level where it permeates all aspects of your life. If it doesn’t, do we use the really obsessed fan level to indicate how far gone we are compared to the rest of the population?

Do we see ourselves in a less inhibited a way? Do we wonder if we would have the nerve to dress that way - a variation of ‘coming out’ - or condone a stance that appears to give the media an opportunity to laugh at our interest as if it’s confined to dressing funnily?

What has always puzzled me is who gives the right for one obsessional to tell another obsessional that maybe their interest is going a little over the top? There’s a certain amount of arrogance in such attitudes.

On the other hand, just how do we rate obsession against what appears a level of insanity like, well, like wearing a particular costume outside of a convention fancy dress parade as if its regular clothes?

To some extent, it’s like a voice saying, ‘I know what I am. Is there someone else out there who belongs to my particular community. How do I tell them I’m here?’ It’s a rather extreme way of stating an answer when much of the time a badge or maybe a tee-shirt would have the same effect without of kilter with the local inhabitants.

Many of my generation were bullied or derided at school for having the slightest interest in SF, let alone letting it dominate our lives so much. As such, we learnt how to hide ourselves in the open. We’re mostly spotted by which bookshelves we favour in High Street bookshops, magazine tastes or forays to specialist media shops for our regular fix of material to read or watch than what we look like.

This didn’t mean that we weren’t afraid of speaking our minds, just a little more prudent in who we chose to confide our interest. Some of us even became fanzine editors, granted many years after leaving school, and you can’t become much more public than that for what is perceived as an obsessional level.

The point being that a fan interest doesn’t have to be from what you wear but on how you feel about a subject being of prime importance.

Over the years, SF has become more respectable largely, I suspect, through films and TV more than through books. If you didn’t see or like ‘Star Wars’ then you were certainly prepared to admit you’d been spooked by ‘Alien’ or admired the high-tech of ‘Aliens’.

The media hype and merchandise at least ensured everyone knew what was being talked about. The general public would say they liked such films without thinking they were SF. ‘The ‘Alien’ films are horror, right?’ Actually, ‘horror’ is only as aspect of any genre designed to frighten you. It isn’t necessarily the genre itself.

You can have horrific romance novels after all! If nothing else, it developed a certain amount of acceptable tolerance for Science Fiction amongst the general population. They might not want to be acclaimed as SF fans but they don’t mind the occasional taste.

This doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t a certain amount of backlash, even amongst SF fans, in regards to all things ‘Trek’ for whom the mass media believes embodies all things Science Fiction.

Although ‘Star Trek’ started to make TV SF look respectable in the 60s and removed the stigma that everyone in the future would wear silver suits, it has tended to dominate, especially in recent years, at the expense of other SF TV series that weren’t allowed more than a season to develop a similar size audience.

To some extent, this can be blamed on TV company executives who think any SF series will automatically garner an audience without realising that even in the days of the Net, it will take some time for word of mouth to spread and an interest to grow beyond a core audience.

Such things haven’t changed much over the years. TV executives weren’t even in nappies to remember that 60s ‘Star Trek’ had to go to re-runs before gaining its critical audience.

So, where does this rhetoric take me? What brings out the ‘fan-boy’ in someone such as me? I mean, I was there at the dawn of practically all the TV SF shows from the early 60s on. I tend to look at articles on such subject more for inaccuracies than I can mix in with any of the sub-genres cos I have more than a basic knowledge.

Historically, I was there when it happened. I can have an affection for all, the ability to tell the good from the crap, recognising good and bad decisions, etc. I know what it was like beyond any research or re-runs. Being an editor/writer, I can also keep most things in perspective and not really be taken in much by any hype and even give valid reasons and opinions. I watch the programmes because they are there.

Any judgements I make tend to be purely my own and not second-hand.

An affection for an SF TV series can often run totally against any trend. We all have short-run TV series we like that we believe should have been given a better shot at success than they were given. My particular bugbear is a Leslie Stevens (co-creator of the original ‘Outer Limits’ TV series) production called ‘Search’. A 1972 quasi-SF/high-tech/espionage series that lasted 23 episodes.

Probe agents wore a miniature TV scanner to relay pictures back to their headquarters with a surgically implanted earjack to receive information from Probe Control. People used to look at me incredulously saying no camera could be made so small. I also expect a lot of them are also using such camera technology in digit cameras and Internet cameras today.

Reality has caught up and made the series an example of reality catching up with the fantastic. What made ‘Search’ special was that that the Probe agents used the technology without making what they did feel like it made them extra-ordinary. They just used it as part of their job in locating things they were ordered to locate. [Check out if you want to sample info and photos from the series. Nothing dies if it can be put on the Net and be looked at if you know where to look.]

In many respects, this makes Leslie Stevens an SF innovator on par with A.E. Van Vogt - his ‘The World Of Null-A’ novel used terra-forming, teleportation and cloning before these words were used to describe what he was using - and Martin Caiden - for his detailed demonstration within our reality’s constraints of what it takes to build a ‘Cyborg’ in the novel of the same name.

Arthur C. Clarke might have come up with a theoretical demonstration of satellite communication but he never utilised it within a story. People tend to remember things better if it’s laid out in a story. It gives them something more to relate to. Submarines existed before Jules Verne’s ‘20,000 Leagues Under The Sea’ but it was his story that captivated the population at large.

In a similar manner, Isaac Asimov changed robots from being a convenient menace into technology that functioned as technology obeying certain guidelines. Anne McCaffrey took dragons out of their fantasy ghetto and turned them into an SF empathic icon. If they weren’t the original creators then they certainly took a refreshing slant on things that forced others to follow.

It isn’t so much recognising something that shows an aspect of our potential future but showing it being used as part of every day existence that makes it a reality that people can grasp. If that doesn’t bring out the old ‘fan boy’ or ‘fan girl’ enthusiasm and a reminder why we have an interest in SF in the first place. It is the thought of future possibilities that spurs us on.

It’s why we often look at odds with our contemporaries when we can enthuse on something we see an innovative beyond the point of window-dressing.

We all have within us the need to infuse our enthusiasms. Those of us with the loudest voices can make it heard the loudest as well. Whether that can be seen as a blessing or curse on the rest of you is debatable. On paper or screen, all I have to give are words structured into sentences.

A lot of the time, all it can be used for is to remind people just why we got interested in Science Fiction in the first place. In cases like people like me, why it is a spur to be creative, thoughtful and, for the most part, to be nice. Enthusiasms are here to be open and discussed.

Where SF is concerned, there’s a lot of ground to be covered. In an editorial, this can only be a hint of what can be covered in the future.

Science Fiction is an enthusiasm we all share no matter the form or obsession it takes. As such, we should all remind ourselves to maintain a tolerance attitude towards our own more extreme obsessives lest we look like outsiders who don’t really want to understand our genre or the people who inhabit it.

We’re not all rocket scientists and SF fans range right across the cross-section of population in education and intelligence. If anything, it’s a clear indication that SF hits a chord in all of us who see a spark for seeing the future or society in a different way that has absolutely nothing to do with our upbringing. I, for one, find that extremely gratifying.

It is the ‘fan boy’ attitude that keeps things fresh in our thoughts and an undying enthusiasm that makes us all SF-die-hards. Some, like myself and my erstwhile publisher, embrace the entire genre. Others are happy to keep up with only some aspects of the diversity. Each to our own.

If we all had the same taste, this reality would become exceedingly dull cos we wouldn’t have anything to argue or debate about. You won’t get that from any other genre. As long as we respect a measure of tolerance for our individual obsessions, we’ll present a much firmer body as SF fans to on-lookers who can’t see what we see.

Thank you, good night and here’s to hoping that 2002 is the start of a more peaceful but equally innovative future.

Geoff Willmetts


PS I haven’t forgotten any of you waiting for a reply on your e-book samples. Until cloning is officially sanctioned and they decide to over-look imperfection and allow it to be done to hyper-active empathic diabetics, you’ll have to be patient. You’re not being forgotten.

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