Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Although Jack Speer's Up to Now, purports to be "a history of science fiction fandom in the 1930s", in many ways it is a history of Donald A. Wollheim's involvement in fandom during that period. Speer is up front about the fact that throughout much of the period he counted Wollheim as one of his "enemies" within fandom, and the book does take the tack that Wollheim, while influential throughout fandom, was a dictator who enjoyed running other fans out of fandom. Speer's book covers the period known as First and Second Fandom, along with the beginnings of Third Fandom.
Perhaps the strongest part of Speer's book is the explanation of the differences between these early forms of fandom. First fandom still had ties to the pulps: Amazing, Astounding and Wonder. When those magazines fell upon hard times in the mid-1930s, a new type of fan emerged, those who enjoyed fannish activity (which, judging from Speer's book, consisted of writing fanzines and getting into arguments with other fans) for its own sake. Some of these fans even admitted to not reading any science fiction. This period also was one in which Wollheim held the most power, creating FAPA (the Fantasy Amateur Press Association) and trying to make fandom a Communist organization (remember, this was still in the 30s and Communism was under the beginnings of Stalinism and McCarthyism was still nearly twenty years in the future). Many of the fans who had created First Fandom had gafiated (turned their backs on fandom) during Second Fandom. Perhaps most important for ongoing fandom, Second Fandom saw the creation of science fiction conventions.
The second period ends, according to Speer, when Wollheim and his cable (which included Frederik Pohl) were ousted from their positions of power in 1938. At the same time, the magazines were having a resurgence and an increase in influence on the activities of fandom and many of the First Fans who had gafiated were beginning to return to the fold, perhaps most notably Bob "Wilson" Tucker. Originally published in 1939, Speer can only speculate as to the course Third Fandom would take and assumes it would not simply be a rerun of First Fandom. The book ends, unfortunately, before Speer could cover the events surrounding the First World Science Fiction Convention in New York during July 1939, including the infamous Exclusion Act which denied Wollheim and five of his compatriots entrance to the con.
Speer's book is written for people who already have knowledge of fandom and its members. Figures appear without any sort of introduction and disappear as quickly. Frequently mentioned, Forrest Ackerman's fannish activities are never really defined. He merely appears as an emissary from the West Coast and then disappears, having bestowed his blessing on a fannsih event, a sort of latter-day Prestor John.
Speer's writing style also gets in the way of the topic. Rather than writing a popular history, he attempts to write in a style reminiscent of a professional historian. Unfortunately, he does not seem to have the organizational frame of mind which would have been necessary to make such a style work and his prose tends to jump from subject to subject, assuming audience familiarity with the events and concepts about which he is writing.
The professional press and authors make little appearance in these pages, with the exception of active fans like Wollheim and Pohl. Fandom, therefore, is divorced from the phenomenon which gave it rise and is seen as an island, without any connection to anything else. Even during Second Fandom, fans had been drawn into the culture because of their common interest which is not addressed. Furthermore, Speer is mostly interested in the politicking which surrounds Wollheim and fails to give any real indication of the numbers or ages involved. This is a strange oversight since one of his own accomplishments, which Speer documents in Up to Now is the institution of a poll to determine the make-up of fandom.
Up to Now does not form a particularly good introduction to the origins of science fiction fandom. It assumes a wide variety of knowledge and focuses primarily on the role of Donald A. Wollheim, a man who Speer did not particularly like. A reader interested in early fandom should, perhaps, try to track down copies of Joe Sanders's anthology Science Fiction Fandom (Greenwood, 1994), Sam Moskowitz's The Immortal Storm (Hyperion, 1954) or Harry Warner's All Our Yesterdays (Advent, 1969) to get a more general view of fandom. Once that is done, Speer provides an interesting, partisan insight into the same events.