All Our Yesterdays by Warner, Harry, 1969

All Our Yesterdays by Warner, Harry

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I have always considered myself a fan of SF, though a tame one. What do I mean when I say "tame?" Back in the day, in the late thirties, forties and fifties, there were numbers of fans that were a breed apart. Fans who actually got out there and did something to earn money or produce something worthy for other fans to appreciate. Fans who regularly put together fanzines and mailed them across the country, from club to club. Fans who wrote dozens of letters per month, to each other and the prozines to comment on various stories. Fans who traveled hundreds or thousands of miles in broken-down cars during the Great Depression just so they would not miss one year's Worldcon, no matter where it was. Fans who got into long-running feuds with each other over trivial issues of interpretation. Fans who went on to become luminaries of the genre. Harry Warner, Jr.'s All Our Yesterdays is a tribute to those people, most of whom are no longer with us.

I bought this one at my local used bookstore a few years ago, and started reading it then. Before I got too far I was distracted by something else, put it down and never went back. But this week brought us news that one of the greatest fan personalities ever, Forrest J. Ackerman, may be passing away soon, so I thought it would be a great time to pick this one back up and finish it. It was published by Advent Publishing, one of my favorite non-fiction SF publishers. I have most of their back catalog of books and some of them, including Panshin's Heinlein in Dimension and Blish's, aka Atherton's The Issue at Hand and More Issues at Hand. Warner was a hermetic fan who called himself the Hermit of Hagerstown (Md. He did not go to conventions, but kept up pretty much with everybody by U.S. Mail. This book presents a complete deconstruction of fannish activities, feuds, clubs, and businesses in the forties, back when such an index was possible. I say that because Warner presents proof in the form of surveys that save for New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, there were generally not more than two or three known fans per city in the U.S. The forties was just when the genre was getting started, having hiccuped a bit with the Great Depression and WWII. Nevertheless, it was full of individual personalities, such as Ackerman, Poco and Tigara, and was a time before Bradbury, Pohl or even Wilson Tucker had ascended from the ranks to become well known authors they later would become.

Even though fandom has exploded these days, some things just don't seem to have changed much:

Fandom has never been one homogeneous organization. Even at its start, there were those who preferred to collect and those who preferred to publish: the fans who wanted to talk a lot about science and those who preferred the literary outlook on the hobby. But the tendency to create subdivisions partly within, partly outside fandom became noticeable as the forties proceeded.

I still see a lot of this kind of thing today, both in the literary sense and in the fan-driven side of things. Particularly in the fan driven side. Fans can be a cliquey, bitchy, obnoxious gang of hoodlums, sometimes without even trying. I certainly donít think that anything is wrong with that, as I tend occasionally to be an instigator myself, but sometimes the battle lines get drawn a bit too thickly. The book is thorough, to say the least, but it is a bit dry. Warner wrote in the dry voice of a distanced news reporter instead of the nuance voice of an entheusiastic fan. There are several other notable fan histories out there. Moskowitz wrote one, and Warner wrote another about the fifties, though I have not found it yet. As a niche publication, I would have thought that this got little attention, though my copy is actually a second edition hardcover from 1971. Warner also has a pretty big website with lots more information on it. Get this one only for scholarly purposes, or if you are as deeply interested in the history of SF fandom as I. Itís a pretty good read, but not too important in the grand scheme of things, though it does have a few wonderful pages on Ackerman. It also has some pretty interesting commentary on the young lives of some pretty famous people, and that alone may make it worth the effort to most. Who knew that Bradbury was so annoying that he never got invited to parties?

Copyright © 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)


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