Usually, I avoid writing about books that would be problematic for my readers to read but this time I am making an exception. I am doing this as I believe that the book Fandom stories is important enough to mention it here. This is a reportage about the Polish fandom written by a person who does not consider himself as a member of it. The book is mainly targeted at a general audience, but as a long-time fandom member I still found it quite fascinating.
The history and the present times
Tomasz Pindel – the author of Fandom stories – describes the Polish fan community starting from its beginnings in the communist Poland of 1970s through transformation and early capitalism until today. The attention to details is not equal for all of those periods, but the author manages to cover many (or even most) of the important topics.
One thing in the book troubles me quite strongly. Tomasz Pindel’s book is based on his conversations with fandom members as well as articles written by fans in different times. Unfortunately, most of the fans he mentions and whose words gave him the insights into the life of fandom are professionals – writers, editors and translators. I do understand that it was mainly them who were publishing articles and books about Polish fannish community, but nowadays it is easy to find many members of fandom (both beginners and experienced fans) who are not professionals. A few of them are mentioned in the book, but usually only one or two sentences are devoted to each of them.
Of course, the issue mentioned above does not make Fandom stories untrue, but it makes the publication lack some important insights. However, even with this flaw, it is a really good book that allows the reader to get a grasp on the Polish fandom.
Mirror mirror on the wall
As I mentioned before, Fandom stories are targeted at a general audience. The author explains a lot of things that are obvious for any involved fan. A question arises whether this book is worth reading if you are a fan. I believe that the answer is “Yes”. For me, it was a mirror allowing me to look at our community from a distance. When the book had been announced, I was a little bit afraid on what a “stranger” may write about us. Whether he will understand what he would like to write about. After reading the book I must say that he did a really good job at trying to understand and describe us.
The fear that probably we all share is that the “stranger” will behave as Mr Press and artist accompanying him in the 11th chapter of The Enchanted Duplicator. I am really happy that the author made some more effort to understand us.
Have I learned something about the fandom from this book? The answer is: it depends. Most of the book is supposed to explain things to the general audience. I knew all of this (or at least most of it) for many years. At the same time, Fandom stories showed me how the fandom looks from outside. It clearly shows why people may treat fans in a strange way and without much understanding.
Man from nowhere?
Tomasz Pindel is not a member of fandom, but he is not a complete stranger. He likes some of the SFF works and even before he started to work on his book, he had a chance to visit a convention. I think that those circumstances allowed him to make his book so good. He is stranger enough to be able to describe fandom to people who have no idea about it. He is also familiar enough to not fall into the pitfall of calling fans “weirdos”.
The book describes the fandom and fans in a positive manner. We are not shown as crackpots but as people who are really passionate about SFF. Instead of being depicted as a funny phenomenon, we are rather portrayed as people who take a lot of effort into both understanding and creating culture. And here I want to thank the author for the effort he made to understand what hides behind a facade of strange t-shirts, dice and costumes.
Tomasz Pindel has not written his book to show that fandom is the best place on earth. He spotted and pointed out some of the issues that existed and still exist in fandom. What he mentions is the issue of sexism present in the early Polish fandom and how it still is visible in the community. He also shows that not all members of fandom are happy with the changes that took place.
Every rose has its thorn
When I finished reading the book, I was both happy and sad. Fandom stories made a good read and on top of that it made me happy that the author showed fandom in a positive light. Yet certain parts of it made me sad. I am speaking here about what I mentioned before: some of the long term members of the fandom do not understand nor appreciate the change that took place. Some of the interviewed fans were clearly complaining that opening the fandom for activities other than reading made it a worse place. I find this really sad that some fans believe they are better than other fans just because they prefer different fannish activities.
Some of the issues of Polsih fandom were viaible during Polcon 2017.
What I described above is not true for all of the fans who were present when Polish fandom was born. I know that some of them are not only showing understanding to newer fannish activities, but they are also participating in them themselves. I regret that their voices were not added to show that the sense of superiority is not the only behaviour one can expect from the more experienced fans.
All in all, I am really happy that Fandom stories was published. It is a good book that shows the Polish fandom to a general audience. It was not written to support a thesis that fandom is a band of misfits, neither to show that fandom is a perfect community. The idea (as I read it) was to show what fandom is and the book makes it pretty well. It does not paint a full picture, but it shows its most important traits.