The Robert Runté Guide to Fandom: Part 2

by Robert Runté

Many neos believe that they qualify as trufans once they have mastered fanspeak, subscribed to a few of the more widely circulated fanzines, volunteered to work on an upcoming convention, and learned which BNFs control the local club elections. Nothing could be further from the truth. Mastery of fannish lore is only the first and least significant step on the path to trufannishness. Anyone can parrot a few slogans and mimic fannish behaviour, but a few superficial trappings are no guarantee that one is dealing with a trufan. Trufannishness is a personality type or spiritual quality, and is manifest in an individual's every waking thought and action. Many a fake fan has been exposed when some unconscious mannerism or habit -- their choice of tie, say, or taste in music -- has revealed their true mundane selves. Trufannishness represents a total commitment and penetrates very aspect of one's lifestyle.

In this installment of the Guide I address the often overlooked topic of fannish pets. Just as pets take on the personalities of their owners, the personality of the owners is clearly revealed by the type of pet they choose. Many otherwise convincing candidates for BNF status have disqualified themselves by keeping the wrong sort of animal. Here, then, is a brief overview of some of the more common pets, and what each reveals about one's role in fandom.


Cats are, of course, the archetypal fannish pet. The popularity of cats among trufans is easily explained by their independent nature. Whereas other pets or potential roommates might demand attention -- and so distract one from fanac -- cats require only food and shelter from their owners. Cats are particularly popular with female fans, for whom they serve as baby substitutes. Just as many women postpone having children until well advanced in their professional careers, many prominent fans prefer to sublimate their maternal instincts through cat ownership until they are established as BNFs. And, for that element of fandom which overlaps with the practitioners of the -- shall we say -- more traditional religions, the cat's role is even more familiar.

Cats are extremely fussy eaters, totally arrogant, impossible to control, and prone to caterwaul outside one's window late at night. In learning to cope with these characteristics in their pets, cat owners consequently develop many of the skills necessary for organizing successful SF conventions and banquets, and often excel as conchairs. Avoid becoming embroiled in club politics with cat owners, however, as they can be quite catty to their rivals. Nor do cat owners usually make good fanzine fans, since their perzines and locs are invariably preoccupied with tedious cat anecdotes, and their book reviews, while often playfully malicious, seem to go on and on and on, rather than simply dispatching the hapless victim at once.


Dogs are not particularly fannish but are tolerated because so many fans have dogs when they first enter fandom. Dogs are completely undiscriminating, mindlessly loyal, amiable creatures, and so excellent pets for the typical proto-fan. Once the neo discovers fandom and learns how to make real friends, the dog becomes redundant, but is usually retained for sentimental reasons.

Dog owners make poor club presidents or convention chairs because they seem prone to surround themselves with yes men. They are good at giving simple orders, but if you want even the simplest favour from them, you practically have to sit up and beg. And lord help you if you mess up on one of their committees, because they will insist on dragging you over and rubbing your face in it. On the other hand, their zines are often friendly and laid back. They're particularly good with the letter column: Throw out a comment in a loc and they will grab the idea and run with. They often seem to have boundless energy for the back and forth of correspondence. Their only flaw as editors is that they will spend an inordinate time chewing over any little bone of contention that does arise.


Hamsters, gerbils and mice give very little clue to their owner's fannishness. They do, however, indicate that their owner is by nature too timid to take on a larger, more significant pet, and so unlikely to make a good chair or president for your fannish organization. Assign them work on the refreshment committee, a smaller task which they are more likely to feel they can handle.

(The exception here is if the mice are being raised to feed a boa constrictor, in which case, see below.)


As with hamsters, an ambiguous sign. Fish owners may well be key consumers of fanzines, conventions, and club activities, but they are generally passive observers, rather than active participants. On the other hand, they are good at setting up and maintaining the structures for routine, repetitive activities and so are a good choice to sit on the committee drafting the club's constitution, etc.


Bird owners are again in the same class as those with hamsters, but are distinguished by their endless patience and their ability to cope well with emergencies. Herding errant Shriners out of the consuite and back to the elevator, for example, is second nature to anyone who has had to get an escaped bird back in its cage. They are, however, notoriously poor conversationalists, and after a few drinks at a con or club meeting will often become tediously repetitive.


Tarantulas are completely unfannish. Such exotic pets are the sure sign of a mundane struggling to distinguish himself from the masses by deliberately cultivating an eccentricity. Such attempts at individualism are by definition self-defeating, not only because of the superficiality of the gesture, but because the very act of buying an exotic pet has become a socially acceptable outlet for nonconformity. In other words, they are conforming in their nonconformity!

Trufans, on the other hand, are true nonconformists. Rather than the trappings of deviation, their entire way of thinking and being rejects the mundane world. Thus, only by embracing the fannish lifestyle in its totality; only through the rigid adherence to all the fannish traditions, norms and beliefs; only through the absolute, unquestioning rejection of all symbols of the mundane world (such as pet tarantulas) can one be sure of the depth of one's nonconformity. Thus no one with a tarantula can be considered a trufan.


While not strictly speaking a pet, stuffed dragons may come to fill the same ecological niche, especially for that minority who carry their stuffed animals about with them constantly. (I knew one woman who not only took her stuffed dragon with her to work, but also to lunch. Indeed, I remember coworkers saying she and her dragon were out to lunch quite a lot.) The fannishness of these stuffed dragon owners cannot be in doubt, but they seldom achieve any prominence in fandom. Other fans often seem reluctant to delegate significant duties to someone who seems to relate best to inanimate objects, or for whom the responsibilities of a living pet are considered too challenging.


The ultimate trufan, of course, has no pets at all, since any animal requires at least some care and attention, which necessarily detracts from the time and energy available for fanac. Attendance at out of town conventions, for example, is much easier and more affordable if one does not have to make arrangements to kennel the dog or drown the budgie before leaving. Similarly, the petless often have much more time to loc zines than those whose multitude of pets may pressure them into recycling the paper from their current zines before they have entirely finished reading them.

Of course, even the most demanding pets are less distracting than friends, family, or employers. I will therefore discuss the advantages in becoming an unemployed loner in a future installment of the Guide, tentatively entitled: "Towers, Rifles, and the Single Fan".

Originally published in UNDER THE OZONE HOLE Number Five, August 1993

Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 3

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