Fancy Free

Jim Caughran, who has tried to bring the Fancyclopedia to the web and make it a living, wiki-like document, admitted his frustration with the project in a widely-broadcast e-mail titled “Fancyclopedia free to good home” –

I’ve not had the energy to do a good job with Fancyclopedia. I’ve never been good at asking people for contributions to fanzines or to Fancyclopedia, nor am I knowledgeable enough to write on my own. I had hoped it would spontaneously take off, contributors flocking to the site to write their version of history. Silly me.

Still, the site has its good points. I was proud of the reformatting and cross-referencing of F2. There have been updates to several items. It’s easily available and potentially valuable to fan historians.

The cost is fairly small, but I don’t see the point of paying it in perpetuity for a static site.

If someone is willing to take over, or if someone has ideas of how to get it working, let me know.
Off the top ideas:
    a committee? (would this doom it?)
    Subsume it into Wikipedia?

Jim Caughran can be contacted at fancyclopedia (at) gmail (dot) com.

Jim deserves thanks, both for his work to date and for publicly raising the issue instead of abandoning the project. And if his off-the-top ideas for getting it working bear fruit that will be great, though I will be surprised if that happens. A committee’s failure to significantly advance Fancyclopedia 3 is one reason the project passed into the current hands. Then, the Wikipedia is administered by a tangled fandom of its own that I predict won’t regard most of the material as significant enough to warrant inclusion. They also don’t tend to accept articles without citations, or citing little-known blogs and websites (much less citing dead links at Trufen.net).

Let’s remember what was behind the success of the first two Fancyclopedias – a fan passionately dedicated to writing and completing the project, Jack Speer on the first Fancyclopedia and Richard Eney on the update. Over the past 25 years small groups of fans have tried to devise processes to compensate for there being no volunteer wanting to take that level of responsibility for the task. Experience has shown that you cannot get the work of a lion out of a pack of well-intentioned part-time volunteers.

I suspect that level of passion is needed for more than one reason at this point. There’s the mass of writing that needs to be done, of course. Passion will also be needed to overcome any doubts as to why such a project is still a good investment of time. How many people will use an online Fancyclopedia? Questions constantly arise that experienced fans might answer by opening one of Harry Warner’s histories, but they often don’t do it.

On the other hand, justifications like audience size were irrelevant to Speer or Eney (although I’m sure they felt the membership of FAPA made up in quality what it lacked in quantity.) The truth about most fannish undertakings is that nobody really needs them, fans simply insist on doing them. (Consider this blog, for example…) That kind of self-determined fanwriter is what the project requires if it’s ever going to be done.

Postscript: Should a group rather than an auteur continue the Fancyclopedia project anyway, I offer them this advice.

It’s impossible to attract fanwriters by telling them you plan to treat them as unskilled laborers. I wonder how many people turned aside from the project after reading this warning:

Unlike Wikipedia, Fancyclopedia is to be an edited encyclopedia. Your editors will impose their own iron whim on content, style and presentation.

Also, it is necessary to overcome, not be subservient to, the form in which the project is cast. Fans are less interested in articles that deliver data than they are in stories. I think the underlying appeal of the faanish dictionaries produced by Elst Weinstein and rich brown was how many of their definitions conveyed a story about an individual, event or controversy. The online Fancyclopedia needs to draw on the same energy source.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Jack Speer (1920-2008)

Jack Speer at Bubonicon 36 (2006)

“First Fandom member and writer of the Fancylopedia Jack Speer passed away this morning [June 28],” writes Patricia Rogers.

Speer’s famous Fancyclopedia, published in 1944, formalized definitions for hundreds of terms in use by fans.

Prior to that, in 1939, he wrote the first history of science fiction fandom, called Up To Now. It was very hard to find copies until just last month when Robert Lichtman recreated it as a PDF edition and posted it at eFanzines. In this zine, Speer first articulated the idea of Numbered Fandoms (fannish historical epochs), which ever since has occupied many a fan’s idle hours.

Speer also innovated several indispensable bits of faanish typography, including the quasi-quote mark and the interlineation. He contributed to faanish cosmology by inventing FooFoo, the ghod of mimeography, fearsome foe of Ghu.

According to Don Fitch, Speer was diagnosed as terminal some weeks ago. Still, Jack had managed to attend Corflu Silver in April, making his way around with the aid of a portable oxygen supply, attentive to everything going on. The con’s classic moment was when fellow eo-fan Art Widner serenaded Jack with the first-ever filksong, written by Jack himself.

Although the term “filksong” had yet to be invented, several of these songs were sung at the 1940 Worldcon. Jack created them by setting new lyrics with a science fictional theme to familiar tunes. A snippet of one goes:

We’ll build a tempo-ship
And we’ll take a little trip,
And watch a million years go by.

In 1995, Speer received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. In 2004, he was Fan Guest of Honor at Noreascon 4. His collection, Fancestral Voices, was published by NESFA Press for the occasion.

Having spent decades thinking of Speer as a distinguished founding father of fandom, as he certainly was, I’ve tended to overlook that he was having a helluva lot of fun while making history. This point is brought home by Harry Warner’s anecdote about Speer at the 1947 Worldcon in All Our Yesterdays:

From time to time that Saturday night, the happy fans were vaguely aware of the existence of loud, intermittent noises. Several Philadelphians explained them away as a local phenomenon that occurred when sewer gas caused manhole lids to lift violently in a sort of municipal burping. However, the real facts were not at all like that. During a late drinking session…Speer had suddenly remembered the existence of fireworks in the hip pocket of the Quintessence of FooFoo, his current auto…. Several roman candles later, policemen in a squad car gave [Speer and other fans] a warning about discharging fireworks within the city limits… [Afterwards], Speer and Davis seem to have taken up strategic posts on upper fire escapes [of the con hotel]… Firecrackers and skyrockets were alternated to provide variety… When the police returned… they paid $5.00 apiece at the 21st District Station for disturbing the peace. The investment was at least partly justified because the pyrotechnics had helped Willy Ley find his way to the hotel.

A later e-mail from Patricia Rogers concluded with this request: “I talked with Ruth [Jack's wife] for around an hour this evening. The memorial will probably be on July 8 or 9.  She has asked me to speak about Jack and his role in SF/Fandom at the service. I know a fair amount but if you or anyone you can think of has anything they would like to add – I would be happy to – just let me know.”

Fancyclopedia Update

Jim Caughran, announcing the latest additions to the online Fancyclopedia, sends links to Jean Weber’s updates of the articles about Fan Funds, GUFF and DUFF.

Weber’s list of a fund winner’s duties includes:

Fund winners become administrators of the fund until the next winner returns from a trip. Fund winners are expected to publish a trip report.

Well, I always do expect them to write a report, and some funds enjoy a good track record when it comes to that. A surprising number of TAFF winners have not felt obligated in that way. Fortunately, there is Chris Garcia’s good example to point out (donation required for access to the full online report; individual chapters have been published in several recent fanzines that are freely available on http://www.eFanzines.com).