FAFIA, by Linda Blanchard

The young fan, arms laden with full sacks, approached the door of the whitewashed house in the wood. It was her first time with this duty, and she was apprehensive about going into the presence of a legend. Still, she'd been chosen, and that was an honor and a sign that she'd left neohood well behind. She freed up two knuckles and rapped them against the door. From an unseen speaker, a woman's voice asked, "Who is it?"

She answered, "It's Annie, from the SF Club, with your supplies."

"Let yourself in," the brandied voice answered. Annie heard the sound of the door lock snicking open.

Inside, the hall was lit by sunlight shining on sparkles of dust stirred by the opening of the door, and the air smelled of dried herbs. A stairway facing the door led up and around a bend. The hall was lined with bookshelves floor to ceiling; the titles ranged from how-tos to the right of the stairs to classics on the left. Somewhere she heard a voice -- was it the one that answered the door? -- reading aloud, something fannish; she heard familiar names in it. An autokeeper rolled by on some errand, oblivious of the visitor.

The reading voice stopped, as from the left a voice a little more lively said, "In here," and Annie turned, looking up the hall to a door opening onto a room, a den, perhaps, she thought, since it too seemed filled with books. Her step softened by worn Persian carpets, she walked along the hall and into another room filled with sunlight and books and plants. In one corner a white-haired woman sat in a big chair with tables to either side, piled with fanzines.

"I don't get many visitors anymore." The woman smiled up at her through thick glasses. "Except through the mail." She patted a fanzine in her lap.

Annie noted the computer reader on the back of her chair looking over the woman's shoulder at the fanzine she held, and realized then that the voice that answered the door was the woman's, but a mechanical version, as was the reader's. She shifted her weight, adjusted the bags a bit and looked around at shelf after shelf, not of books, but of fanzines. Thousands of fanzines. And all along the floor, stacks more waiting to be put away, or waiting, perhaps, for room.

"Here, give those bags to the servo behind you," the woman said. "Would you like something to drink?"

Annie put the sacks on the servo's holder. It clicked and whirred and rolled out the door. She could just taste chamomile tea, but said, "I probably ought not to stay. I'm sure you're busy," thinking all the while how she'd like to stay and talk for hours to this famous fan, how she could take notes and write it all up, but how she really shouldn't.

"Nonsense," the woman said. "I'd love to have the company. Please stay if you have the time."

"Oh, I do. I'd like to. Do you have chamomile tea?"

"It's on its way. I'm glad you can stay. Fanzine fandom has always been my life. Living alone here in the woods, too old to do much anymore, you know, but getting on with all these machines to help. Well, it's not too bad, and I have plenty of time to read and write locs and articles, lots of company from paper fans. But real fans, three-dimensional, living, breathing people -- well, I do miss them. And reading fanzines means I'm always behind what's really happening what with postal delays and the normal lag between the urge to write something up and the finished product getting mailed."

"Yes," Annie agreed, "I can see you would be. Maybe it would be better for you if you hooked up with the electronic fanzines. Better response time. Live interaction."

"No, I don't think so. I prefer paper."

"So do I, actually."

The servo returned with a tea service, and Annie poured, enjoying the sweet smelling steam rising from the cups. She was surprised to find how relaxed she was. She thought that might be one element of what made a fan great, that they could make any other fan, however new and awkward, feel comfortable. Ought to make a note of that, she thought, and subverbalized it onto her note pad.

"The funny thing," Annie said, "is that I don't really understand why I prefer paper when electronic media provides more instant gratification."

"That's part of it right there," the old fan said. She set the fanzine aside and picked up her tea, ringing the china with her spoon while she stirred it. "Instant gratification is fine in its place, but fans see things on a longer time scale. Electronic media are here and gone. Most of the things written don't get stored anywhere. The electronic copy just gets erased. Maybe an archival copy somewhere but people don't browse ancient electronics the way the can browse stacks of fanzines. A file called, 'HTT XX' doesn't grab your attention the way its cover would have had you come across it in a stack."

"But what about instant gratification?"

"Oh, yes, that's what I was saying, wasn't it? Fans love gratification, but in electronic media it comes quickly and goes quickly. There's no anticipation, no build up. And the process of creation -- all the fancy typefaces and graphics -- it's so easy to do. Where's the glory in that? Fans have always gotten the most credit for the hardest work. Doing the impossible even. Why it used to be that the Gestetner people couldn't believe what fans did with mimeo work."

"We're still doing it now!" Annie said. "You should see the portrait of Roscoe and Carr that old fan Shiffman did in Mainstream."

"I saw it and you're right. As fans, we're still doing fantastic things with forgotten forms. Only there aren't any Gestetner mimeo techs around to impress anymore. We've only ourselves to please, and we do. Fans, you see, take the long view. We immortalize ourselves in print. And we love print. That's the other thing. We love books, real objects, typefaces, layout, the weight and feel, the smell of the pages. I sometimes think we'd taste the pages if chewing on them didn't destroy them."

Annie laughed. "You're probably right. Electronic media can't compete. Besides, for instant gratification we have the traditional method, conventions."

"Good point."

For a while the two were quiet. The house and the world felt quiet too, except for the birds outside and the distant hum of the autokeeper vacuuming upstairs. Annie looked up to find the woman looking at her, studying her. She blushed. She hated blushing.

"Ah," the old fan said. "You're Annie Swenson, aren't you?"

She turned a deeper red. "How did you know?"

"That blush. You're famous for it."

Annie looked at the spoonful of tea at the bottom of her cup. And poured some more.

"A very promising fan." She was smiling at Annie, though Annie was trying not to notice, trying just to will the color away from her face. "Your FemFanatique was a brilliant genzine for a year or two, a tremendous start for a newcomer. But you haven't published it in...how long?"

"A year. And a bit." Annie felt chagrined that this legend knew so much about her. And flattered. She'd gotten locs from her. Brilliant stuff. But everyone got brilliant locs from her. That didn't mean she--

"What stopped you?"

"Oh," Annie stalled. "Things." The blush was fading, she could feel the heat going away. She just felt the familiar misery of too little time to do what mattered. "The club, you know, politics take up a lot of time." She looked up and found the woman nodding quietly, attentive, seeming to ask but not press for more. "And life. I got married. I have a baby now. A job. And... There's just not enough time. Or enough money to publish. Things." Then she looked up at the woman and saw the smile. "But you know about fafia."

"Yes, I know about fafia."

"It's what you're famous for."

"That's right." And now Annie thought the old woman was blushing. "That's what I was famous for. I really didn't think anyone in this generation would know about it."

"Oh we do!" Annie enthused, "you're a legend. Everyone knows how you were lost to fandom for years and were miraculously brought back to life... Or at least I think I know. It all gets a little hazy and unbelievable." She looked up for and found an approving nod, so she continued. "I hear you were brought back from the Fields of Fafia by Jophan, but since he's just a...a. myth...I...uhm..."

"You don't really believe it and you want to know the truth."

Annie blushed again. "Yes."

"It's been years since I've told this story. And I'm not saying you'll believe it if I do tell it but I can only tell it the way I remember it. And I'm a fan. My memory is a fan's memory. Fanhistorical. Fanallegorical. I can only tell you what I remember."

"That'd be great! Will you tell me?"

"If you have time."

"Can I record it?"

"If you like."

Annie pulled the recorder disk out of her pocket, squeezed its coin shape between thumb and forefinger and set it on the table beside the old woman.

"Ready?" she smiled at Annie. "Then I'll tell you how it was."

***

I'd always been the odd one. You know the fan stereotype. A heavy reader, a student who actually enjoyed science classes, but not strong in the social graces. It was natural, then, that eventually I was drawn to science fiction, though this, and my eventual discovery of fandom, came later in my life than for many. When I found fandom I knew I was home; I'd found my place at last. Because I was fairly mature for a neofan, and because I'd considered myself a writer all my life, my first fanzine was good and well-received. All the kind words and clever criticism I got in the mail only reinforced my feeling that I'd found my own kind, which fueled a hyperfannishness that led me to being a member of two apas while simultaneously publishing a quarterly genzine, and a monthly personalzine. I kept this up for about three or four years, earning a terrific reputation.

Things were going fine until I took the wrong side of an argument against a former Secret Master of Fandom, one who'd fallen from grace but still had the power. I didn't know who he was at the time I was feuding with him. In fact, it was only recently I understood just who it was who had laid the Curse of Fafia on me. I won't tell you who it was; I won't say his name anymore for fear -- probably superstitious -- of drawing down the curse again.

The curse was subtle, though. So subtle that I hadn't realized it had been laid on me. I just thought I got busy. Involved with other things. Like you, I got married, had a child, got a job, bought a house. Fannish activity started to slide off, then suddenly stopped. I found other interests. It was when I stopped reading science fiction as well, that the last phase of the curse took effect. My fannish personality disappeared and to the eye of fandom, so did I.

From this point on I need to tell you the story from another point of view, because mine no longer existed. It is at this point that Jophan enters the story. He was wandering about the land, I know not why or on what mission. Perhaps he was out hunting for Ideas or Articles. More likely he was just out exploring the realm of fandom. Anyway. He found this fantastic wooden house tucked far into a forest. The house looked as though it had originally started as just a one-room cabin but had been added onto for many years with each addition more ornate than the last. Yet, as he found it, he knew it had been abandoned. The flowers around it had grown wild, the lawn had gone to meadow, and saplings sprouted everywhere.

He tried the door and found it locked. The windows too were locked and caked with dust and grime so thick he couldn't see in. He went around to the back of the house, where he found a porch almost caved in and the back door off its hinges. He walked right in and found himself in a pantry. The pantry was filled with dolls.

Jophan opened the door into the house. Now he was in the kitchen, and on every counter and every table, piled everywhere: more dolls. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Pretty fashion Barbie dolls and GI-Joes. Dolls in swimsuits, dolls in jeans. Cowboy dolls and clown dolls. Hard-hat dolls and scientist dolls. Baby dolls and kiddy dolls. The place was filled with them.

He walked into the next room -- the living room it seemed -- and was not surprised to see yet more dolls. He started lifting them and looking at them and found that no two were alike. They each had different faces and styles. He could only imagine some mad collector -- or dollmaker -- had lived here and accumulated this many.

Next Jophan went up a flight of stairs. In every available place: dolls. He began to suspect that the extra rooms had been built on to accommodate them all, and that whomever had put them here had moved on to some other place to continue the work. Perhaps, he thought, the collector had moved into another dimension.

It was when he was in a room that seemed as though it should have been a library -- though there were no books on the shelves, only more dolls -- that something caught his eye as he turned to go, and he turned back, scanning the shelves for the movement he had seen. And there, on a shelf, was a doll of a woman: she wore a three-piece gray suit of a conservative cut and she had a frying pan in one hand, a baby bottle in another, and a propeller beanie, the props spinning in the breeze, on her head. Jophan knew then that he had found what had drawn him to this house.

He pulled the doll off the shelf and carried it outside with him and set it on a bench among the trees. The props whirled faster. He stopped them with a finger and let go, letting them spin again, and said, "You're a fan, aren't you?"

And those are the first words I remember hearing. It seemed to me I was just awakening from some long dream, and I felt as though I was still in its clutches. I was sitting on a park bench and next to me was Jophan, waiting for an answer.

"Yes, I am," I said, surprised. "How did you know?"

He only looked at me and smiled. "In fact," he continued, "as I recall you were a hyperfan for a while there."

"Yes, I suppose I was."

"And a damned good fan, too."

"Well. I don't know. What do you mean?"

"An excellent writer. A wit. And a good person, too."

I couldn't think of anything to say, so I just blushed, much like a modern fan I know.

"I found you," he said, "a mundane doll in a house full of other mundane dolls. No two alike and yet all the same. Except for you. When I saw you I knew you were a fan, and I brought you out. If you want, you can go back there, to a life just like all the others, with no fannish imagination to animate your life, no written memory to timebind it." Jophan looked me in the eye for a long moment and then, very seriously said, "You have within something very special. Don't waste it." And he left me there, sitting on the bench.

***

In the silence that followed the end of the tale, Annie felt as if she had just awakened from that same dream. She looked up at the old woman, who had one hand resting on the fanzine on the table beside her as if on a bible, and the other curled in her lap. Her gaze was out the window to times long gone by. Annie softly cleared her throat and asked, "And that's the way it happened?"

"That's the way I remember it."

"Jophan. Himself." Annie felt stunned. And a little doubtful. "He appeared to you?"

The old woman turned, and leaned forward to look at Annie, her expression as serious as Jophan's might have been at the last. "Annie, listen," she said, "whether it happened or not doesn't matter. Maybe I sat on a bench and dozed and dreamed it. If so, then Jophan came to me in a dream, and that's just as incredible as if he'd sat next to me. Then again, maybe nothing like that ever happened. Maybe something ordinary reminded me that I was a fan, and later, thinking about it, I thought I'd been like a robot when I quit fandom, like a doll, and that it was Jophan's call that brought me back. It doesn't matter what happened. Really. What matters is that I came back."

Annie nodded thoughtfully. "Were things the same, then? After you came back?"

"No," the old woman chuckled. "No, fandom is always changing, though some things remain the same. But I'd changed. I'd gotten wiser. I'd learned what feuding can bring."

"What's that?"

"Gafiation. Fafiation. Because really, in the end, they're both the same. I've never known anyone to be truly forced away from fandom. It's all choices. Priorities. When fandom is no fun, as when you're feuding, other things beckon."

"I see." Annie thought about fandom, about her friends there, and the great pleasure she got from reading the work of a talented few, this lady not least among them. She treasured that and lately she'd been letting it slip, she knew it. She ought not to let that happen, ought to learn her lesson from-- she chuckled.

"What?" asked the old fan, smiling.

"I was just thinking about your tale, and the moral. I was thinking I should take it to heart myself. And then it occurred to me that might be why I was chosen to bring supplies out to you in the first place. They probably hoped you'd inspire me."

"That may be. You have a lot of talent, you know. You really shouldn't waste it."

Annie smiled and thought, I've just heard Jophan calling.

Return to Writing Page

Email Me

1998 Linda Blanchard. All rights reserved worldwide. Date Added: April 25, 1998. Last Update: May 29, 2005.