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July 31, 2002

Grandmaster Degler Teresa, mistress of the web’s dark Eisnerean corners, has struck gold: a Seattle speed-metal band that performs thrashing songs about famous science fiction writers. In Dave Barry’s trademarked phrase, I am not making this up.

From “Alfred Bester”:

When Campbell fell under L. Ron’s spell
Alfred said, “Man, you can fucking go to Hell”
More on Making Light. [12:16 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Grandmaster Degler:

Jim Meadows ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 04:07 PM:

I congratulate for the clever reference to Claude Degler. But I have this cold fightening feeling that you and I are the only ones who know who he is, or was. Will you share with the rest of the class?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 02, 2002, 04:23 PM:

Come now. In a blog universe that contains Gary Farber, Avedon Carol, Vicki Rosenzweig, and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, among others, Cosmic Claude's name shall be forever green.

Anyone still mystified may read the long Fancyclopedia II entry here (scroll down), followed by Teresa's "Hell, 12 Feet."

The Great Unwashed ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 01:21 AM:

We've never heard of Michelism, either.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2002, 01:39 AM:

It certainly is too bad that nobody but me has access to Google. Oh, wait, they do. Anyway.

A quick google brings up Fancyclopedia 2, Dick Eney's magisterial late-1950s reference work on the history of science fiction fandom up to then.


At the Third Eastern in October 1937, Don Wollheim read a speech written by John Michel, which denounced the "Gernsback Delusion" and declared that stf had made idealists and dreamers of fans, since it is the best form of escape literature ever invented. Since we cannot escape from the world, science-fiction has failed in not facing the realities being fought out in Madrid and Shanghai [and later in other locations we'll leave you to fill in as events unprogress] and in the battles between reaction and progressive forces at home and abroad. "THEREFORE: Be it moved that this, the Third Eastern Science Fiction Convention, shall place itself on record as opposing all forces leading to barbarism, the advancement of pseudo-sciences and militaristic ideologies [referring to the racist notions of Naziism], and shall further resolve that science-fiction should by nature stand for all forces working for a more unified world, a more Utopian existence, the application of science to human happiness, and a saner outlook on life." Hot debate followed and the motion was defeated 12 to 8 (the 8 being the Futurians, voting en bloc).

To further the movement, soon named "Michelism", its advocates formed the Committee for the Political Advancement of Science Fiction, which armed itself with slogans like "Save Humanity with Science and Sanity" and "Lift the Embargo on Loyalist Spain". (The former motto was not a reference to the null-A text, but a call for education and intelligence.) They distributed radical pamphlets at the Newark Convention and thru FAPA, and published an issue or two of SCIENCE FICTION ADVANCE, which included articles on contemporary issues by writers from Jack Speer (for the conservatives) to Josef Stalin (for the...oh, you knew?)

A few American allies like Ackerman and Rothman rallied to the cause; intensive opposition came from moderating liberals like Speer, personal enemies such as Moskowitz, and rank and file fans who just didn't believe in mixing politics and stf. Such names as beard-and-bomb boys (from the antique American notion that all radicals were bomb-throwing anarchists), Bolos or Brooklyn Bolsheviki (from Moskowitz' definition of the movement; and the location of Michel, and later the Ivory Tower, in the borough of Brooklyn) were tagged on the Michelists.

At the time everybody tried his hand at defining Michelism. Moskowitz' was the shortest: "-It is Communism."- (At that time Soviet Communism was still called "Bolshevism", hence the nicknames cited above.) Lowndes said it was a state of mind which began with discontent at what science-fiction now is, proceeds thru the question, What is our purpose?, to the answer that we should not reject our dreams, but try to make them realities. Wollheim, after some early pronunciamentos like: "MICHELISM is the belief that science-fiction fans should actively work for the realization of the scientific socialist world-state as the only genuine justification for their activities and existence..." finally described the Michelists' attitude1938 thusly: "They understood that fans who were trying to realize science-fiction thru many channels and diverse methods in the general sociological field were on the correct road and should be aided and encouraged. Those who were socialists and those who were only mild Esperantists were both on the right track."

Proselytizing efforts in FAPA ended when the Quadrumvirs resigned, after a year, in a feeling of temporary defeat, but Doc Lowndes, and to a lesser extent the others, kept plugging at the line and modifying and adapting the program to changing conditions. With the Exclusion Act, and eventually the war against the Axis Powers, fan feeling toward the Michelists moderated somewhat. The movement was considered a thing of the past by 1942, tho new fen under such banners as the Intellectual Brotherhood of Pro-Scientists, Animalist Party, etc, carried on what might be called Michelism in Lowndes' definition.

Michelism in a sense was an overflow into fandom of the active opposition to Naziism that appeared in the democracies in the late 30s, and which manifested itself in seeking for policies of active resistance to totalitarian aggression -- a search which led some into getting mixed up with Communism thru the total lack of a strong program on the part of the democratic powers. After the Michelist speech, sociological discussion came into fandom to stay, but it is impossible to assign relative weights to Michelism and other broader forces in this development. The Michelists themselves probably antagonized more people than they converted.

Simon Shoedecker ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2002, 04:02 AM:

Not only do I feel I know less about what Michelism was after reading that than I did before, I get the impression nobody else could agree on what it was, either.

The Fancyclopedia is a fine reference tool, to be sure; but in general, defining terms by googling them is a hazardous practice, to say the least.

Back to the song lyrics: the couplet quoted is very amusing, but I get the impression from Hell's Cartographers that Bester was rather more polite than that.