SF Fandom and the Internet – Big Disappointment?

One of the things that I enjoyed most about the old SF magazines (the “Pulps”) was the letters sent in by readers. Have a look through any magazines from (say) the 1940s or 1950s and you’ll find missives from fans of all descriptions, including some names that would later become big-name authors in the SF field. But the one thing you’ll really notice is the feeling of community, of “togetherness”.

Those letters pages were a forum, THE place where SF fandom got together and discussed not only the stories from previous issues, but also other things in SF that were important to them. These letters pages were the place where SF fans hung out together in between conventions, and they played a vital part in creating and nurturing SF fandom as we know it.

With the arrival of widespread internet access, we should have expected a similar process to occur online, but on a much greater scale. Huge numbers of fans could potentially get together in a vast online virtual fandom, with near-instantaneous communication provided by online chat facilities, and email and forums allowing fans everywhere to maintain constant contact and discussions on a global scale that would’ve been impossible in the old magazines.

So why hasn’t it happened? Sure, fans do maintain contact by email and chats, do talk in forums, and do visit SF websites. But not on the scale we would’ve expected. And not in any overall cohesive manner. It’s all fragmented and small-scale, some websites here and there, a few scattered watering holes on Usenet and in forums on the likes of Compuserve, Yahoo and Delphi. Where is the vast global SF fandom that the internet should’ve spawned, the single huge online SF forum where every SF fan could hang out?

And where is the feeling of “family” and “togetherness” that so distinguished the letters pages in the SF magazines? It just isn’t there. Instead of the single collective “meeting place” or “virtual tavern”, the internet seems to be used more as an enhanced form of snail mail or telephone communication connecting lots of little separate communities and sites run by individuals. It’s all so long-distance and stand-offish.

It seems that, while the internet provides the potential for this theoretical vast collective global SF fan network, in reality it has turned out to be something else altogether – a disparate collection of small groups and individuals, all doing their own thing, although with the ability to communicate with or visit other such groups. Instead of a single vast collective fandom, everybody together, all of these little groups and individuals keep their distance, setting up their own little patch on the internet, and only commune with the rest of online SF fandom if they feel the need (which most rarely do).

I know that the internet has changed my life, and, like a junkie hooked on heroine, there’s no way I could survive without my daily fix. But frankly, compared to my fantasy of a single vast virtual SF fandom, I find the reality distinctly disappointing…

Classic Comics – Miracleman (Eclipse Comics)

Some very nice comics arrived from Ebay.co.uk today. A bunch of Miracleman comics, from the classic Eclipse Comics series. Issues 12, 14 , 22, 23, and Miracleman: Apocrypha #3 (of 3), to be exact. Leaves me just #’s 11, 13, 15 and 24 of the main series to complete the entire run. I was outbid on #24 at the last second (with the previously winning bid from me sitting at £21), something that I was rather pissed off about (to put it very mildly).

This series is a much sought after classic title. And the asking prices reflect that. Certain individual issues will pop up regularly at £30 or more – I expect the hotly demanded #’s 15 and 24 to cost me a pretty packet at some point. The four trade paperbacks of the main series – A Dream of Flying, The Red King Syndrome, Olympus and The Golden Age (there is also a fifth, covering the Miracleman: Apocrypha 3-part mini-series) – go for exorbitant prices (and only cover up to #22 of the 24 parts).

I still need A Dream of Flying and Olympus, but the high asking prices for the trade paperbacks have forced me to concentrate on the original comics instead. In a way, this is preferable, as the original comics are worth more anyway – the trade paperbacks only have artificially inflated prices only because of the fact that the series is unlikely to be reprinted anytime soon due to the complicated legal situation surrounding the creators rights. But I’d definitely like to get the other two tpbs, eventually (and at the right price), as this series is structured to fit four “books”, and are extremely collectible in this format.

I don’t usually pay this kind of inflated collector’s prices for comics – I have better things to do with my money – but, for a series like Miracleman (originally known as Marvelman, an infinitely better title, at least in my opinion), it’s well worth paying out over the odds. The original modern incarnation of Marvelman first appeared as a black and white strip in the classic British comic, Warrior, at the start of the 1980s. It was written by a then relatively unknown Alan Moore (later an equally relatively unknown Neil Gaiman – this comic has some serious creator pedigree) and drawn by Garry Leach (later Alan Davis and others), and totally redefined the stagnant superhero genre. It blew me away. It was, and remains, my favourite superhero strip of all time. By a huge margin. When you rate something as highly as that, you’ll pay what it takes to get it.

I’ve been following the Gaiman vs McFarlane legal squabble over Miracleman copyrights with interest. Apparently Gaiman says that issue 25 was mostly completed before Eclipse went under, and that he’d get it finished, and the Miracleman story finally wrapped up, if the legal situation ever gets resolved in his favour.

Lets hope that’s how it turns out, and sooner rather than later.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I’ve just recently bought the hardback of the final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It’s been sitting in front of me for about a week now, and I’m trying to get up the nerve to actually read it. And it’s proving more difficult than even I’d imagined it would be.

My son, Philip, died on 19th April 2006, at the tender age of only 14 years and 9 months, from complications caused by terminal cancer. He was a huge Harry Potter fan. I had read the first three Potter novels to him when he was younger, at one chapter a night – he loved his latest bedtime installment of Potter – and read books 4, 5 and 6 to him as he lay ill in hospital. We hung on, hoping against hope that the final HP novel would be released, in time for him to reach the end of the story. But it wasn’t to be. He died before the final book was published, and one of my most poignant regrets is that he never got to find out how it all ended.

I made a promise to myself, and to my son, the day he died. I swore that, when the final HP book was released, I’d read it out aloud, one chapter per night, in the hope that he might just finally hear the end of the story “up there”, or wherever else he may be. I’ve avoided all spoilers like the plague. I haven’t even glanced at the back of the dust jacket. I know absolutely nothing about the story, other than the nebulous “somebody dies” that I’ve seen floating around the internet. So whatever happens, it’ll come as a complete surprise.

But now that I’ve finally got the book, I’m finding it very difficult to carry out my promise. There’s something, an internal fear holding me back. It’s like an invisible forcefield, a mountain I have to climb before I can open the book for the first time. It’s incredible how something as untouchable, as unsolid as the mind, the emotions, can feel so physically real, like a giant pair of hands, holding me back. I really need my kid right now, both in person and to give me a much-needed metaphysical push in the back.

Well, I’ve made up my mind. By the time the coming weekend is out, come hell or high water, I’ll have broken the ice, the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be well and truly behind me, and I’ll be moving through the book at a regular chapter per night.

And at last, if there’s any justice at all, and any such place as an afterlife, my son (and I) will find some sort of closure with the end of the Harry Potter saga.

Collecting Old Comics Stuff

I’ve been going through a bit of a crazy phase recently. Almost a reversion to my youth, or, at least, my youthful collecting habits. I’ve been spending a lot of money on Ebay, trying to pick up some of the rare relics of my early-to-mid teenage years, when I was an obsessive collector of British comics, as opposed to the more easily found US comics that I became a collector of from my later teens onwards.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been buying a lot of old issues of my favourite British comics from the 1960s and 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant and Thunder. I would dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV Century 21 (aka TV21), but these are a lot harder to find and a heckuva lot more expensive than the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich.

I’ve also started collecting old annuals, those hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. Again, mainly Valiant, Lion and Thunder, although I did also pick up a nice Countdown Annual from 1972. I remember from when I was a kid – these were the Holy Grail, usually too expensive for me to buy (I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in the ’60s and ’70s, and annuals cost on average ten times the price of the weekly comic), and usually confined to Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

Well, I’ve made a really good start on picking up many annuals from the ’60s and ’70s period, and I’m starting to develop a real knack for picking them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheap. (I’ve just won two more as I’m typing – Lion Annual 1973 and Thunder Annual 1973). I often look at this ever-growing stack of annuals beside me, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with it?” And then I open an annual and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the 40-somethings (I’m 46). If it is, I’m a complete addict. Since my son died in April 2006, I have little else left in my life.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought makes me shudder…