We plan on publishing this issue of Mimosa in June, so by the time you read this the 1998 Worldcon in Baltimore will be less than two months away. The Hugo Award nominations for Bucconeer have already happened, and when I received this year's final Hugo ballot, I was surprised to see that the nominees in the Best Dramatic Presentation category consisted only of movies. I had expected to see Contact and Men In Black to make the ballot, and even Gattaca wasn't a surprise. But, with the popularity of newer television series like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (good series you should be watching!) and proven series such as Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Highlander: the Series, and The X-Files, I had expected an episode from at least one of them to be there. It was disappointing to see the category filled out by two inferior movies.
But next year ought to be different. Next year I'm hoping that enough fans will have seen (and remembered) an excellent television series that is worthy of an award. Let me tell you about it.
Last weekend (as I'm writing this) the cable television network HBO aired the final two episodes of From the Earth to the Moon, a twelve part series about the Mercury/Gemini/Apollo years (1961 to 1972) of man's journey to the moon, told from various perspectives. Based mostly on fact, it was exciting and more than a bit nostalgic, especially for someone of that generation who dreamed of going to the moon. The twelve hours I invested in watching the series were well spent.
But it was in the very last episode, as the Apollo 17 astronauts were on their way home from the moon, that something reached out and grabbed me. As the astronauts were leaving lunar orbit, the flight controller in Houston radioed them a message of congratulation for a successful mission, and included four lines of poetry which had nothing to do with the space program but everything to do with science fiction:
"We pray for one last landing
On the globe that gave us birth,
Let us rest our eyes on fleecy skies,
And the cool green hills of Earth..."
The flight controller correctly identified the lines as from "Rhysling, the Blind Poet of the Spaceways." But as a science fiction reader, I already knew that -- it was from a story by Robert A. Heinlein that originally appeared in the 1940s. So I had to wonder -- how many people watching actually knew this the source of this (perhaps) obscure quote, and of the character that 'wrote' it?
The space program used to be something most children (and adults) knew about; how many children (or young adults) today can name any of the astronauts (other than the ones who died aboard the Challenger) or, indeed, even have an interest in space exploration? Man last set foot on the moon more than twenty-five years ago but today there seems to be no excitement or interest whatsoever in going back, or in exploring the planets other than by remote control.
This leads me back to the 'connectivity' theme of this issue -- have we, the generation who dreamed of space travel and saw it happen, connected to the generation of today with our dreams of space travel and exploring the universe? Are there young(er) readers (proto-fans?) who are stimulated by the SF books of today and moved to connect with us?
American culture has changed since we were kids looking for kindred spirits who read SF and a place to belong. SF/fantasy (or at least sci-fi) has become mainstream and common place. Classics of the genre are taught in schools and colleges as literature. Most Americans have not only heard of science fiction and fantasy but have even read it! Fans who come to Worldcon in Baltimore can visit a Star Wars exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in nearby Washington, if they can get a ticket. (I can attest that the lines of people to get in can be pretty long.) Several years ago, the Smithsonian had a similar Star Trek exhibit in that venue. Twenty years ago such an exhibit of artifacts from an SF movie or TV series would have been considered avant-garde at best.
But my real question is on the future of fandom. Are new fans out there waiting to take up the mantle that First Fandom has passed on to us via all the subsequent numbered fandoms? And are they aware that SF fandom started in the 1930s and the Internet had no influence on it -- that fandom was formed long before cyberspace and not the other way around?
There are some SF fanzines that exist only in cyberspace, i.e. on the World Wide Web, but the ones I've seen have been mostly media-oriented. The e-zine (as they are called) editors don't print paper copies and send them out via a traditional mailing list. Instead of showing up in your mail, there might be an announcement in one of the various SF related news groups or a possible e-mail notification if you're on the right listserve. But by just having the e-zine out there with no paper mailing lists, the connection of the readers with the editor is not evident; in fact the editor has no real knowledge of who the readers are! This is a perturbing aspect, as SF fandom is built around fans communicating with each other either through the mail or at conventions.
I have no idea how substantial the letters of comment are for e-zines, but I do know that despite the number of people who have visited the Mimosa Web site, the vast majority of our LoCs are the result of the printed version of the fanzine. Some of the people who discover us via the Web do send e-mail, but to date they have not contributed substantially to our Letters Column.
I'm sure there are younger fans out there -- they were in the audience at LoneStarCon in the neofans panels and we occasionally get a few dollars for an issue from a person we've never heard of. For the most part, fandom -- true fandom -- is a stable population slowly shrinking by attrition. Is true fandom doomed to die off with the last true fan? I'm not optimistic that the fandom we're involved in will continue due to lack of connections between us and the 'next' generation. (Rich thinks this is a downer essay, but that is the way I feel.)
I don't dislike SF/fantasy becoming popular; I think it's great to see my favorite genre everywhere, even if it is mostly sci-fi. What bothers me is that I don't see true fandom gaining by this as it did in the past. We're still the "ugly step-sisters" when it comes to the sci-fi fans. Sure, many of today's sci-fi fans may come to Worldcons and some may even attend local and regional conventions, but they have their own 'SF cons' that often are professionally (rather than fan) run. The dealers rooms in these conventions are filled with TV and movie merchandise, and most of the books, from the few booksellers there, are tied in with the media.
SF has been shoved aside by sci-fi. Sci-fi has become the popularization and commercialization of science fiction and fantasy through the visual media and concentrates on the merchandise aspect of the genre rather than the science or introspection behind it.
While all this isn't necessarily bad, we aren't seeing the influx into fandom of eager new fans as we did when Star Trek was first on TV -- very seldom, for instance, do sci-fi fans join amateur press associations or the local SF clubs. Despite the disdain some SF fans had for Star Trek and Star Wars fans when they were new, fandom benefited by the many, chiefly women fans who joined what had been until then a mostly male club. Fandom hasn't seen many fans from this decade of sci-fi joining it, and without new fans, it's hard to see how true fandom can continue.
So, like the HBO series From the Earth to the Moon, we may be the last generation to reach out to the unknown and find a common bond with those who are also reaching out. Like our past dreams of space travel, SF fandom is considered outmoded and can be replaced by a removed experience. In the years to come, I'm afraid our fandom will be looked on as nostalgia by the media fans and its history considered a footnote, if noticed at all, by popular culture. We've been usurped by sci-fi, which came from us, but rarely acknowledges us and is all the poorer for it.
All illustrations by Sheryl Birkhead