Numerical Fandoms

Jack Speer gave us an unparalleled fanhistorical tool when he articulated his essential theory of Numbered Fandoms in "Up to Now" at the end of the 1930s, and which he revised for the first Fancyclopedia (1944). This gave us an outline of eofandom, the first three numbered fandoms and their interregnums or "transitions".

Bob Silverberg was next to sign in, updating the theory as far as Sixth Fandom in his column in Quandry in 1952. Silverberg, however, left out the "transitions" notion of interregnums, perhaps only having read the original essay.

Dick Eney, in FanCy II (see below), updated the notions to 1959 sensibilities, including "transitions" accommodating Agberg's update.

There have been, further, quite a number of articles and commentary over the years by Ted White, rich brown and Arnie Katz, among others, attempting to update and/or refine upon these originals. Despite the lack of resolution of many of its finer points, or perhaps because of it, even those who've likened it to medieval disputes over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin have nonetheless hauled it out from time to time, dusted it off and discussed it all yet again.

This, consequently, its length to the contrary notwithstanding, is but the briefest kind of thumbnail sketch.

A numbered fandom is essentially a fannish era with distinct characteristics and a strong identifiable focus. In most early expositions of the theory, this would usually be exemplified by a particular fanzine – and, as a result, sometime in the 1960s, the notion took hold that each numbered fandom had its own "focal point" fanzine which exemplified that mini-era to such an extent that being on the fringes was in part defined by not being a recipient of the zine in question. Speer identified specific fanzines with Eofandom, First and Third Fandoms, while Silverbob did the same for Fifth and Sixth Fandoms. Eney did not identify any specific fanzine title in tacking on what he identified as the "false" Seventh (the Sixth Interregnum) and a later period as the real Seventh Fandom. However, as the focal-point idea has taken hold, the gaps have usually been filled in – although in some cases, as you will see, it remains quite speculative.

A transition or interregnum is the time period when a given numbered fandom begins to come apart for one reason or another and is in a state of flux as it finds itself looking around for a new focus or focal point.

Eofandom: 1930-33. In his first exposition of the notion, Speer apparently started First Fandom a bit on the late side. Rather than back up and start all over with new numbering, he named the preceding period (in which fandom was in the process of coalescing into a planet around the new star known as magazine scientifiction anyway) Eofandom. Keep in mind that the first issue of the first all-stf prozine, Amazing Stories, had been published only four years prior to this and that it took a while for protofans to take advantage of the fact that it printed complete addresses in its lettercolumns to begin contacting other enthusiasts, corresponding with those who lived far away and meeting those who lived nearby. The first fanzine, The Comet, was published during this period (its first issue was May 1930); letterhacking was a major activity. Strange new air-breathing lifeforms were said to have crawled off the bottom of the sea and up onto the land where they immediately began to suck life from the varied plants abounding there; we who were not there can only imagine.

First Fandom: 1933-1936. The emphasis was on serious science and serious discussion of science fiction, news of what was forthcoming in the scientific world as well as sf and fantasy prozines (and the rare publication of fantasy or, rarer yet, scientifiction books), interviews with authors and the like. The focal point fanzine was Fantasy Magazine – it had the clear advantage in being a lofty printed journal among a lot of hectographed and a handful of mimeographed publications.

First Interregnum: late 1936-October 1937. Fantasy Magazine began its decline, the Gernsbackian "ideal" (that reading stf should lead to an interest, if not actually a career, in one of the sciences) was dumped in favor of considering sf for its own sake or, as in some quarters, a turning away from the professional field to begin a more intense consideration of individual fan personalities. Wollheim's printed fanzine The Phantagraph effectively took the place of Fantasy Magazine until Wollheim, along with John B. Michel, started the Fantasy Amateur Press Association in August 1937.

Second Fandom: October 1937-October 1938. The increasing emphasis on fan personalities and de-emphasis of sf-related talk brought discussions of politics to the fore, and this led to unparalleled feuding until virtually all of fandom was effectively at war as a rather determined group included a bunch of young Communists centering on the New York Futurian Society (including but not limited to John B. Michel and Donald A. Wollheim, whom their enemies and followers called variously "Michelists," "Wollheimists" and "Futurians") attempted to drag the rest of fandom into their camp. Neither Speer, Silverberg nor Eney named a focal point fanzine for this era but Richard Wilson’s Science Fiction Newsletter has been suggested, although it remains unverified how many of its 78 issues were published in that period. One must also consider the possibility that "focal point fanzine," being a 1960s notion, could simply be a shoe numbered fandom theorists are Trying Too Hard to fit on this 1930s foot.

Second Transition: From the 1938 conference in Philadelphia through the second Worldcon in Chicago in 1940. The “Barbarian Invasion,” which is to say a heavy influx of new fans, led to the emergence of New Fandom and a re-emphasis on heavy interest in sf. Feuding continued to manifest itself, taking on such forms as the Exclusion Act at the 1939 New York (first World) convention which barred a number of Michelists from attending.

Third Fandom: September 1940-early 1944. The focal point fanzine of Third Fandom was Harry Warner Jr.'s Spaceways. A bit of irony: You won't discover this from reading his books of fan history – All Our Yesterdays and A Wealth of Fable – or from the collected “All Our Yesterdays” columns he used to write, because Harry did not subscribe to the notion of numbered fandoms or focal point fanzines. (They are, nonetheless, highly recommended.) But Spaceways was both frequent and influential enough, and being one of the relatively few mimeographed fanzines (along with Bob Tucker’s LeZombie) had the advantage over its contemporaries and rivals who were still using hectographs. The hectograph, besides its relatively low limit on legible copies, is a painstaking one-page-at-a-time process, while the practical limit on mimeography. which Warner never had to come near, is in the tens of thousands, producing a copy with every turn of the mimeograph handle. The "core" of fandom had risen to 250 to 300 people, and Warner was in the enviable position of being able to reach most of them with an ease unshared by those working within the limits of hecto. As Tucker was busily introducing the concept of “humor” to fandom, this let Warner set the example by simply not allowing people to feud in the pages of his fanzine. There was much talk of fandom "maturing" as warring factions mended bridges; the FAPA Brain Trust came into being, as did the more intellectual Vanguard Amateur Press Association, and damon knight’s article “Unite – Or Die!“ in a 1940 issue of Art Widner’s fanzine Fanfare was promoting the effort to establish a national fan organization.

Third Interregnum: Early to late 1944. Wartime shortages, older fans entering the war effort, thinning of the blood of the FAPA Brain Trust, power struggles in VAPA, wrangling over the constitution of the proposed National Fantasy Fan Federation and an influx of new blood brought an end to Third Fandom and produced this "little" transition.

Fourth Fandom: Late 1944-Philcon I (1947). Silverberg and Eney agree that Fourth Fandom took place mostly in the long lettercolumns published in minuscule type in the back pages of the pulp sf magazines Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories and Planet Stories – due in almost equal parts to a substantial influx of new fans and wartime paper shortages that affected fan publishing. For those who need a fanzine focal point, Joe Kennedy's Vampire has been suggested and found agreement among fanhistorians; it was clearly the "place to be" and, although a quarterly, it published yearbooks in 1944 and 1945 that doled out the most meaningful egoboo – plus, of course, Kennedy was a BNF among the more active fans in those lettercolumns. (Kennedy is today better known as X. J. Kennedy, a highly regarded if minor U.S. poet.)

There was considerable ill-feeling expressed against the Shaver Mystery by fans of this period, but fandom never got organized or effective enough to Force The Issue; Forry Ackerman urged fans to boycott Amazing Stories but was purchasing three copies of each issue to keep his collection complete, and editor Ray Palmer recognized the expediency of placating fandom to the extent of instituting a column of fan news and fanzine reviews in Amazing called "The Club House" written by Rog Phillips.

Although there's no Fourth Interregnum listed, it's worth noting that by the time of the Pacificon in 1945 – the first world convention since the 1941 DenventionFrancis T. Laney's The Acolyte and the Charles Burbee-edited Shangri-L’Affaires topped the fanzine polls. The Insurgency had not yet come to a boil but everything it would need to do so was already falling into place.

Fifth Fandom: 1947 PhilCon I-mid-1950. Laney stopped publishing The Acolyte, the LASFS relieved Burbee of his editorial duties on Shangri-L’Affaires (they didn't like the way he poked fun at their more sober-sided members or the fact that he would publish "outside" contributions rather than put off deadlines when LASFS members failed to come up with promised material on time). They both "retired" to the Elephant’s Graveyard, FAPA, where they began to refine their insurgency in Wild Hair and numerous one-shots – Laney with his memoirs, Ah! Sweet Idiocy!, Burbee with a series of satires that made his previous editorials seem mild. In the vacuum created in general fanzine fandom, Art Rapp's Spacewarp became the focal point for Fifth Fandom; it had some serious material, namely Redd Boggs' "File 13" column, but it was mixed with Rapp's humorous stories of Morgan Botts, the drunken stf-fan inventor, and Rapp’s creation (with Outlanders Ed Cox and Rick Sneary) of the fannish fun-loving religion revolving around the worship of Roscoe, the mighty beaver. When Rapp reentered the Army at the outset of the Korean War as a bomb went off on his front lawn, he more or less formally aligned himself with the insurgents by having Burbee and Laney publish the last two genzine issues of Spacewarp. Rapp was also instrumental in the formation of FAPA's first successful long-time rival apa, the Spectator Amateur Press Society, or SAPS. (Both FAPA and SAPS are still going concerns.)

If there was an interregnum between Fifth and Sixth, it had to be a brief one, since in early 1951 the Fifth Fandom focal point Spacewarp became a quarterly SAPSzine with limited general circulation while a relative newcomer named Lee Hoffman started publishing the monthly fanzine called Quandry (a misspelling of "quandary"), which in very few issues was destined to become the focal point of Sixth Fandom.

Sixth Fandom: Early 1951 through (at least) May 1953. Lee Hoffman modestly began publishing Quandry; after just a few months, she picked up a column by Fourth Fandom's Joe Kennedy, Redd Boggs' Spacewarp column "File 13" and a brilliant new fan columnist from Belfast, North Ireland, named Walter A. Willis who wrote "The Harp That Once Or Twice" for her fanzine. The rest, as they say in the clichés, is History. Early on, Q inspired or was inspired by other relatively new fanzines like Willis's Slant, Shelby Vick's Confusion, Max Keasler's Fan Variety/Opus; a serious sf "boom" was under way, with dozens of magazine titles on the stands, so while sf was sometimes discussed, for the first time it was no longer a safe foregone conclusion that other active fans all had “most” science fiction in common. The emphasis during Sixth Fandom was on fans, fandom, humor and mutual appreciation of things like Walt Kelley's Pogo, Roger Price's philosophy of Avoidism and Stephen Potter's Oneupsmanship. Willis and Bob Shaw wrote and published the Pilgrim's Progress of trufandom, The Enchanted Duplicator. The humor of Sixth Fandom was gentler and more inclusive than the satires of Burbee and Laney, and so was known as Serious Constructive Insurgentism. The first successful fully fan-supported fund to bring a fan from overseas to attend a U.S. convention brought Willis to Chicon II; he produced two con reports, a fictional one written before the event (Willis Discovers America), published in fanzines that supported the Fund, and a long over-the-shoulder account that was first serialized in his "Harp" column and was eventually published as The Harp Stateside which is still generally regarded as the best ever.

Sixth Interregnum/Seventh Fandom: May 1953-? Here's where things start to get sticky as conflicting theories begin to overlap without developing much in the way of consensus.

In the Halloween 1952 issue of Quandry, Bob Silverberg devoted his column to updating Jack Speer's theory. Bob's piece in some respects was well reasoned but was fundamentally flawed in others. He felt that Sixth Fandom (Quandry et al.) was beginning to collapse – Willis had not published Slant or Hyphen since returning to Belfast, Max Keasler and ShelVy (the editors of Opus and Confusion, respectively) had gafiated, LeeH was talking of cutting back the pace – and so maybe (he said) Sixth Fandom was on the way out. But he also speculated that a group of promising new fans, some of whom he named, would become Seventh Fandom when this happened and he neglected to mention the concept of interregnums or transitions. Together, this led a number of fans who encountered the theory for the first time in his column to assume that, whenever one numbered fandom died, a group of fans whose enthusiasms had not waned was always to be found standing on the sidelines waiting to pick up the fallen banner.

The upshot of it all was that when, several months later, the final issue of Q showed up with black borders around the cover, announcing its own demise, the Silverberg piece became both prophecy and challenge. Harlan Ellison called a group of young actifans together in his apartment in Cleveland, urging them to pick up the gauntlet: They went on to MidWestCon to announce that "7th fandom" had arrived. This subsequently become known as "False Seventh Fandom" or even the Sixth Interregnum, since Harlan and friends were vilified for the hubris of putting themselves forward by fans who were their contemporaries but who may have felt they'd been left out and didn't have enough sense to simply proclaim themselves part of it. Harlan left fandom in high dudgeon after declaring that 7th Fandom had been "kneed in the groin" by mad dogs, which many people found funny because of its anatomic impossibility. Out of spite, no doubt, Harlan then went on to become perhaps the finest writer ever to come out of the microcosm. Adding to the confusion, just as Harlan and friends gave up the ghost, a fan named Peter Vorzimer began publishing a fanzine called Abstract in which he declared the arrival of Eighth Fandom. Vorzimer and his friends engaged in a number of childish antics that drew the microcosm’s disapprobation, and inattentive fans who’d been opposed to Ellison flogged their excesses as if they were Seventh Fandom's, not realizing it was already a dead horse.

Other speculators have offered up the possibility that the false 7th Fandom was the Sixth Interregnum, and then that the real Seventh Fandom didn't happen until perhaps early 1956, when Fanac got started. A few say that Vorzimer and Abstract, although claiming to be Eighth Fandom, were the real Seventh Fandom. Others hold that the true Seventh Fandom's focal point was Joel Nydahl's Vega, and it "handed off" the focalpointhood to the first incarnation of Dick Geis's Psychotic. Somewhat later, Ted White theorized that Sixth Fandom "didn't" end with QQ handed off to Vega which handed off to Psy. So the "real" Seventh Fandom could be Harlan & friends, it could be Vorzimer & friends, it could start with Vega, it could start with Psychotic, or it could start with Fanac. Putting it yet another way, Fanac could be the focal point of Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, 10th or even 11th Fandom.

The point is this: Up to Sixth Fandom, the tool works as a kind of fan historical shorthand – mention any of the first six "fandoms" and most fans conversant with the general theory will have a pretty good idea of what you mean. But once Seventh Fandom is brought in, you have to explain which Seventh Fandom you're talking about – at which point it definitely ceases to be shorthand and, for that reason, probably ceases to be useful.

Contributors: Dr. Gafia

from Fancyclopedia 2 ca. 1959
Aside from mere chronological information, study of the history of fandom seems to show trends dominating the whole field at different times. (One of the most obvious is the relative amount of emphasis given by fanzines to the proz, to other fanzines, and to aspects of fandom having nothing to do with fantasy.) Early speculations included comparisons with various stages of Macrocosmic Occidental history (with special reference to the Dark Ages), but Jack Speer developed the most popular and flexible theory by application of Spenglerian principles of cyclic history. In the first Fancyclopedia (1944) he distinguished three fandoms — periods of distinct and marked characteristics — separated by two transitions in which characteristics of preceding and succeeding fandoms were mingled. Later Bob Silverberg distinguished three more following these (in Quandry, Oct. 1952), and drew attention to the parallel with the varieties of mankind in Stapledon's Last and First Men. He predicted the rise of a Seventh Fandom following these, with results described below.

Eofandom, from about 1930 to 1933, existed before fandom became an entity; generally comprised of folk with no sense of group existence whose interests were in collecting stf and scientificomics, and who eagerly hunted down any items with any sort of stfnal significance. Such fanzines as Science Fiction Digest and The Comet were the mags of the day. Primitive trilobites crawled about on the ocean floor. Letter-writing was a major activity, and stfnists depended on hcs of the past as much as, or more than, prozines for sustenance.

First Fandom, 1933-1936, was marked mainly by interest in science and science-fiction, with fanzines consisting mostly of forecasts of lineups in the proz, interviews with prominent authors, fan fiction [def. (1)], sometimes novelty fiction by pros, science snippets, and other depressing things. Fantasy magazine was the dominant fan publication thruout this period.

First Transition ran from the decline of Fantasy Magazine in late 1936 to the Third Convention. It was marked by a shift of interest away from the pro field (then in recession) to the fans themselves. There was consequently more fan news in the fanzines; more fanzines; and talk about things having little relation to SF but interesting to the fans. The International Scientific Assn. (ISA) was the leading organization during its life.

Second Fandom, October 1937 to October 1938, when the Quadrumvirs resigned office in FAPA. Out of the increasing interest in fandom came Michelism, and political discussions were most noticeable tho many other things not related to fantasy were booted about. Fan feuds reached the proportions of fan wars, mainly between the Wollheimists and their enemies, climaxing with the Newark Convention and the FAPA campaign (May-June 1938).

Second Transition, from the 1938 Philadelphia Conference to the ChiCon I. It was marked by the Barbarian Invasion, the ascendancy of New Fandom, and the consequent switch of emphasis heavily back toward professional science fiction tho there was still lots of discussion of other things.

Third fandom, from September 1940 to late 1944 when many of the older fen had been drafted. Warring factions healed their differences or were less in evidence; the underlying fraternity of stfnists was prominent, and a balance was struck between stf and other things that fans were interested in. A general fan organization was much desired, but that which was established as the N3F ran into difficulties as war came to America. There was much talk of fandom "maturing"; the Brain Trust was dominant in FAPA; serious thoughtful discussions of everything under the sun were offered; and at the same time there was a flood of digests and indexes and bibliographies of this that and t'other, regarded as a summation and consolidation of past achievements in fandom. Harry Warner's Spaceways, with its intellectuality and deemphasis of feuding, was the dominant fanzine of the period.

Third Transition, setting in about the time Speer's Fancyclopedia climaxed the last trend of US Third Fandom noted above, and continuing to the failure of Operation Futurian in 1946. A thinning of the blood in the Brain Trust ("a poetic way of saying they gave priority to other claims on their time"), accumulation of deadwood, and missingness of many older fans in the Armed Forces brought on arteriosclerosis of the Golden Age; but shortly thereafter the rise of new fans, and the return of the early releases from the Armed Forces, with the reunion-cons like the FPWESFC led to a revival. Chief [fan event of this period was the extinction of the Futurians in the power struggles beginning with VAPA and the Little Interregnum and climaxing in the X Document fight.

Fourth Fandom: 1946 to mid-1947. The boom in stf publishing (1941-43) had been put down by the war, and five of the eight survivors (Weird, Amz, FA, ASF, FFM) ignored fandom, which led to a congregation of communicating fans in the lettercolumns of the Standard Twins and Planet Stories. Ill-feeling against Ziff-Davis and Palmer over the Shaver Mystery led to a general declaration of feud against RAP which did not, however, come to a head till the next stage in our history. Keynote fans of Fourth Fandom were letterhacks, who mostly dropped by the wayside tho Chad Oliver went on from here to prodom. Their symbol and representative was Sergeant Saturn. In the early part of this period lack of proz led to a trend toward book collecting; a revival of prozines in its latter half produced a small Barbarian Invasion phenomenon. And the raucous cries of the Hucksters were heard everywhere.

Fifth Fandom: from the 1947 PhilCon I to just before the Korean War, 1951. Though short-lived Fifth Fandom left a sharper impress on history than the Fourth. It was a period of escape from the juvenile aspects of Fourth Fandom; Art Rapp's Spacewarp summed up the essence of the era, which its lifetime spanned. As after the first Barbarian Invasion, fans began to notice the prozines once more — and vice versa with the establishment of Rog Phillips' Club House column in Amazing. As Sarge Saturn was the pro sounding board for Fourth Fandom, RPG was that of the Fifth. The pure-stefnistic opposition to the Hucksters passed into the Insurgent Movement; one of its symptoms was Ah! Sweet Idiocy! Others such as the Shaver War (which ended during this period with the ejection of the Mystery from Amazing and resignation of Palmer from his editorship), the uproar over the Miss Science Fiction promotion at the CinVention, and the soulsearching about the Literary Value of Science Fiction which led to a session of Bradbury worship were also aspects of the struggle against commercialism.

Fifth Transition, 1950-1951, saw a diffusion of interests in fandom, with a wartime boom in stf coinciding with Campbell's amazing advocacy of crackpottery like Dianetics while the gafiation of opposition leaders like Rapp and the Insurgents left Tucker's Bloomington News Letter briefly the top fanzine. The rise of Quandry ended this period.

Sixth Fandom: 1951-53. It began as a real force in Room 770 at the NOLaCon. At least, tho not actually born there (for correspondence and the letter-columns of Q and Fanvariety had clearly given the impetus some months before the NOLaCon), its first central meeting may be said to have been there. Contrasting to Fourth Fandom, Sixth Fandom existed at a time when there was too much science fiction — twelve to eighteen proz a month, several hc specialist houses, and many stf books appearing in pb form. The cleavage between the trufans on the one hand, and the pros and their satellites on the other, was evident, reflecting in such things as the Big Convention movement, the opposing move to small informal gatherings like the MidWestCon, and, later, Serious Constructive Insurgentism. The size of Sixth Fandom led to an assortment of trends of which the split mentioned was only the most notable, but it is generally held to have centered around Lee Hoffman's Quandry and to have followed Pogo as its fictional hero. Big names were people like Hoffwoman, Shelby Vick, Walt Willis, and Max Keasler, tho veterans of previous fandoms like Tucker, Silverberg, Warner, and Boggs were influential. It was alleged that it folded with the gafiation of Keasler, Vick, and Leeh (especially) and the corresponding lapse of their fanzines.

Sixth Transition. The major phenomenon of the Sixth Transition was 7th Fandom, self-so-called. This was organized at the HECon (at Harlan Ellison's apartment, May 1953) shortly after the black-bordered Quandry announcing Leeh's gafiation arrived. A group of neofans, mostly youngsters, there began a formally organized campaign to begin "Seventh Fandom", whose arrival Silverberg had earlier predicted. (They did not understand that historical eras do not begin by somebody's arbitrary decision.) Old fans refused to lay down and die, but 7th Fandom ("the phoney Seventh") was an important influence during its day in that the war against these "noisy juveniles" marked the end of the old Sixth Fandom. Some fans, poking fun, proclaimed the rise of 8th, 69th, and 200th Fandom on the ruins of 7th; others withdrew into the APAs, which became the main carriers of fannish tradition while the barbarians howled outside.

Seventh Fandom: 1954-???? Seventh Fandom (the Era) arose after the downputting of 7th Fandom (the Movement) amid general indignation after the shoddy exhibitions at the MidWestCon and SFCon in 1954. It led to renewed interest in fandom as fandom, exemplified in such publications as The Enchanted Duplicator and also in later phenomena like the attempts to start a regular fan monthly as a "rallying point" and the rise of weekly and biweekly fan magazines of the letter substitute (news-and-chatter) type, more fannish than the older formal newszines. Re-emphasis on fandom brought a clash with the commercializing element which showed up in dissatisfaction with the NYCon II and a violent fan feud over the definition of a "real" fan. These clashes and the disgraceful fight over WSFS' plane trip may be phenomena of Seventh Fandom or symptoms of a transition which cannot be distinguished at this point in history. It seems that a diversion of interests is the keynote of Seventh Fandom, as a diffusion of trends was of the Sixth.

If it existed, Eighth Fandom's keynote was probably widespread confusion, and after that fandoms ceased to be numbered. This may be because no fanhistorian has applied sufficient effort to the task of sorting out the trends of 1954 to the present, or it may merely prove that fans cannot count higher than eight.