Saturday, 8 June 2013

Futures Past: SF History in Leeds, P.4 Fan Fiction

As mentioned in an earlier post, a comprehensive history of science fiction fandom in the UK can be found at Rob Hansen’s excellent website. The subject of Leeds SF fandom has also been an ongoing topic in Peter Weston's Relapse. Added to which, I was recently in touch with Philip Turner about digitising copies of Leeds-based magazine The Futurian War Digest (FWD) illustrated by his Father, Harry Turner.

Futurian War Digest, Vol. 1, No. 9 (June 1941)
This correspondence prompted an interest in the fanzine itself and about the history of fan fiction in Leeds generally. FWD was published by J. Michael Rosenblum, one of Britain's earliest generation of science fiction fans. Active from the mid-1930s, he attended the the world's first SF convention in Leeds in 1937, and in June 1938 he launched his fanzine, The Futurian. In New York, a group of enthusiasts known as ‘the Michelists’ were looking for a new name, and they liked Rosenblum’s title to the extent of renaming themselves the Futurian Science Literary Society. Eventually abbreviated to ‘the Futurians’, the members included many who would go on to become prominent figures in the development of science fiction, such as Asimov, Blish, Kornbluth, Pohl and Wollheim. However, it was 1945 before they acknowledged their debt to Rosenblum’s fanzine. He continued to self-publish fanzines under various Futurian titles throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, including FWD, which first appeared in October 1940. The zine ran for 39 issues, the last being released in March 1945, and is notable for coining the term 'fanzine' in an article from Vol 1, No 6 by Leslie Croutch. The fact that the publication ran throughout the entirety of the war heavily influenced the themes of the issues. Topics included 'Post-War Prospects As Seen by the President of the British Fantasy Society' and 'Post War Plans'. Of his Father's friendship with Rosenblum, Philip Turner said:

My father knew Mike Rosenblum [...] pretty well -- the Manchester and Leeds science fiction fans used to visit one another regularly, and go to London for events. So when M.R. wanted someone to put an illustration on the front page of issue 6 of FWD, after 5 text-only issues, my father was a logical choice of artist. He also did covers for 7, 9, 11, 13 and 14.
Other cover artists included R.L. Bradbury, D. Elder, Bob Gibson, Edwin MacDonald and Arthur Williams. Rosenblum's early efforts, along with the 1937 convention, made a significant contribution to the fan fiction movement in Leeds, and nationally. However, by the following year, the focus was already beginning to shift to London. The second SF Convention, which was far better attended, was held in Holborn on 10 April 1938, and it was decided at the Annual General Meeting of the Science Fiction Association (SFA) to transfer its headquarters from Leeds to London.

By way of an aside, in the course of reading through back issues of Relapse, I found this reference to the University's own exhibition, which I helped put together:

The 75th anniversary of the world’s first SF convention (in Leeds) [...] was due to fall on 2nd January 2012. This was something we simply couldn’t miss! Rob suggested we should visit Leeds and scout-out the location at the Theosophic Hall, which he’d discovered was still standing. And we need to do it soon, he said, because there was an exhibition at the University (‘Visions of the Future: The Art of Science Fiction’) which closed on 11th June. Rob had supplied material for this, and had put the curator in touch with Jill Godfrey, daughter of Harold Gottliffe (who took the historic photographs of the 1937 con) and he was anxious to see how the promised panels on fandom had turned out.
This passage reminded me of how exciting it was to see a resurgence of interest in SF at the time (largely due to Andy Sawyer's exhibition at the BL), and how much I learned about the University's collection through being involved. It was also great to have contributions from local experts and SF enthusiasts as part of the project, and to be able to put on an exhibition in Leeds, the place where it all began.  

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