by Robert Runté
As all thinking people today are aware, things are not always as they appear. This is nowhere truer then in fandom, where most fans know each other only through what they read in fanzines. Well, I'm here to tell you that you shouldn't believe everything you read! To illustrate just how easy it is to bamboozle people, even within the confines of our tiny community (which should make such conspiracies easier to discover than in the larger society), I will recount several examples of successful fannish hoaxes. I will restrict myself to those incidents which have been well documented or in which I was personally involved. Thus, I can guaranteed all of the following to be absolutely true, but these examples are only the tip of the iceberg. There have been so many hoaxes perpetrated in and on fandom, that at one time there was an entire apa (Apa-H) devoted to the topic.
The easiest and most common fannish hoax is the fake publication. Bob Tucker recounts two famous examples in the NeoFan's Guide:
"One such hoax was a complete fanzine describing an imaginary convention, filled with the names of real people who were said to have attended by invitation only, and several others bit, expressing dismay for having been left out. Another successful hoax was the photograph of the cover of a new prozine said to be coming on sale soon. Four story titles were printed on the cover and the initials spelled out HOAX."
Another variation on this theme is to put out an issue of someone else's fanzine before they do. For example, back when the main fannish newsletter (DNQ) was published out of Toronto by Taral Wayne and Victoria Vayne, a group of Edmonton fans produced and distributed a fake issue. Even though their satirical version displayed the word "HOAX" in two places, had ludicrous news items, the wrong issue number, an Edmonton postal mark, and a three colour logo featuring the title of the perpetrators' fanzine (the infamous Laid), a number of careless readers were apparently taken in. When some years later two of the guilty parties finally settled down to publish a serious newsletter of their own, Taral took his revenge by putting out a satirical version of their fanzine.
Similarly, when on another occasion I was Central Mailer of an apa, I took it upon myself to write the apazines of those members who failed to submit their own. Since, as CM, it was easy for me to doctor the table of contents and delete the phony submissions from the mailings going to those whom I had thus usurped, no one ever caught on until I 'fessed up. Considering that an apa consists primarily of comments on the previous issues, I was constantly amazed that the victims never seemed to notice all the feedback they were getting on mailings to which they hadn't actually contributed.
Almost as common as the hoax zine is the hoax fan. The most infamous of these was Carl Brandon, a hoax so convincing that many fans actually claimed to have met him before his nonexistence was revealed. To again quote Tucker:
"Brandon wrote and published witty pieces, joined apas, published fanzines, and was so 'real' that his unmasking at a convention caused a shock in fandom. He was the brainchild of five fans who took turns providing his fanac."
Unlike the Brandon case, most hoax fans start out as simple pseudonyms which then get out of hand. Teddy Harvia, one of the greatest fan cartoonists of all time, and Miranda Thompson, a prominent letter writer, were both subsequently revealed to be pen names of editor David Thayer. "I started it because I wanted my fanzine, NebulosFan, to seem like the effort of more than one person." Both were such big hits, however, that they quickly took on lives of their own, with editors from all over demanding to know where they could get Harvia art or contact Miranda.
Similarly, as President of the Edmonton Science Fiction and Comic Art Society one year, I could find no one to edit the club newsletter, and therefore had to invent a newly "recruited" John Wellington. Wellington not only edited the newsletter (with a host of hoax contributors), but through it "documented" ESFCAS's sudden revival. In actuality, club membership and activity was at its lowest ebb in over a decade, but Wellington's glowing accounts convinced readers that ESFCAS was once again on a roll. So many members of the old club turned up to see what was going on following the appearance of these fraudulent accounts of nonexistent club parties and projects, that ESFCAS really did undergo a major revival. (This is called a "self-fulfilling prophecy", and is one of the first lessons one learns as a sociologist.) Most returning members enjoyed themselves so much that they didn't even seem to mind that they had been conned.
Of course, pseudonyms have uses other than just padding fanzine letter columns and club memberships. Many editors use pen names when they want to write a negative review of a book or fanzine written by one of their friends, and don't want the review to ruin their friendship. Some writers use pen names to protect their mundane reputations, as in the case of Allan Brockman who was concerned his employers not find out he was gay. (Unfortunately, Neology editor Georges Giguere got confused and printed Allan's other name on one of his articles. We were all quite chagrined at this faux pas until we remembered that that wasn't his real name either. Allan's other name was a pseudonym he used so his employers wouldn't find out he was in fandom.) Or, as in the following case, people sometimes create hoax fans to try out different personas.
While Wellington was largely a local phenomenon, I also ran another hoax fan for international consumption. As one of the members of the Gang of Four, I had found myself embroiled in a number of unwanted fan feuds with various Americans. Convinced that I had somehow gotten off on the wrong foot, I wanted to live my (fannish) life over again, only this time without making the same mistakes. Reincarnation as a hoax fan seemed a practical answer. With this alternate identity I was not only able to disassociate myself from the Gang of Four and my own more provocative statements, but had the freedom to publish a number of self-revealing essays to which I would never have had the nerve to sign my real name. I still consider some of these articles to be among my best work ever. In the end, however, I found keeping up the fanac for the two of us too much, and had to drop my alter-ego. (I also discovered that, contrary to my expectations and best efforts, my neo-fan persona was just as likely to be savaged as was the real me, because some people out there just love to feud, with or without provocation.)
Only one fan ever penetrated my secret identity, and then only because he walked in on me as I was collecting the mail from my pseudonym's mailbox, and so caught me red-handed. About a week later it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what he had been doing in that obscure post office in a suburb kilometers from where either of us lived. I therefore correctly deduced that the only reason he had stumbled across me was that he had been on his way to his pseudonym's mailbox! Consequently, our mutual blackmail continues to preserve our secret identities to this day.
The strangest hoax-fan incidents, however, are when real people are thought to be clever fakes. When a number of letters appeared in the ESFCAS newsletter by the never-seen Sean Stewart, for example, a number of people assumed this was just another of my pen names, my protestations of innocence notwithstanding. Now that Sean is a critically acclaimed author, I might be tempted to try to pass myself off as him, but at the time, this wasn't a hoax either of us was trying to perpetrate -- it just created itself.
Even meeting someone in person at a convention can prove wildly misleading, however, as illustrated by the time Derek McCulloch attended V-Con pretending to be me. Derek extorted free drinks from the gullible by threatening to slag them off in New Canadian Fandom if they didn't come across, even though it is widely known that the real me is allergic to alcohol. (And just for the record, that wasn't me who relieved himself off the 12th floor balcony of Gage Towers.)
Derek, it must be conceded, did ask my permission to represent himself as "Bob Runt" for the V-Con weekend in question. (Well, I was young and naive. I thought he just wanted to cash in on my prepaid membership when I couldn't attend.) Impostors are more likely to be criminals than jokesters, however, as in the recent case where a woman claiming to be SF author Diane Duane bounced checks off everyone in sight. While it is considered acceptably fannish to organize some silliness such as handing out "Steve" name tags to all the attendees at a convention, passing yourself off as someone specific is usually a no-no.
Another variation on this theme is the fannish frame-up. The obvious example here is the cover photo of me in Star Trek regalia on Under the Ozone Hole #4. (At least I hope it was obvious to everyone that that wasn't really me on the cover. See Under the Ozone Hole #5 for the retraction.) Similarly, the various biographies in circulation claiming that I fought in the Vietnam war are entirely false. And I would recommend that readers give the Gunderson biography in Under the Ozone Hole #5 a second and closer look: there is no such person as Monika Bandersnatch.
As I said at the beginning of this article, hoaxes are endemic in fandom. I myself am currently involved in two separate conspiracies, which considering I gafiated three years ago, is saying a lot. One is still in its early stages, so you're not going to hear about it for at least another year. (Other than encountering it as a victim, I mean.) The other conspiracy, and the one I am most proud of, is the invention of Canadian SF.
When Christine Kulyk and other members of the Gang of Four started writing about Canadian SF in The Monthly Monthly, there wasn't any. When I wrote about the renaissance in Canadian SF in the NCF Guide To Canadian Science Fiction I was still hoping for one. (Hey, I figured if it had worked for Wellington in revitalizing ESFCAS, it was worth a shot!) By ConText '89 many of our speculations had become so familiar and widespread that most panelists were confidently stating them as fact. People actually started believing that there was such a thing as Canadian SF, and that it was pretty good. Readers started to seek it out, so publishers started to provide it. This is not to suggest that these developments were all part of the same conspiracy, but I like to think we helped to nudge things along a bit by announcing them before they actually happened.
Similarly, in the ConText' 89 mail-out I announced that since there would be so many Canadian pros attending the convention, the proposed national association of SF authors would be holding its organizational meeting there. 33 authors believed us, showed up, and joined. (I tell you, this self-fulfilling prophecy stuff really works!)
Today we have a vital SF community in Canada, and the only remaining step is for us to achieve greater dominance in the American market mass market. Consequently, I wrote an article for WorldCon'94 Progress Report #4 in which I confidently stated that Americans are now buying more Canadian SF then ever before. I, and all your favorite Canadian authors, would greatly appreciate your repeating this to your American friends at every opportunity.
Originally published by Under the Ozone Hole Number Six - 1993
Click here for Part 1
Click here for Part 2