"It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan." Robert Bloch, the SF author and fan who wrote Psycho, coined this phrase in 1956. Fans were few and scattered then, and science fiction was a tiny, despised ghetto. Nowadays fans are everywhere, and SF is a gigantic, hugely profitable, despised ghetto. At least if you believe the newspapers ...
Even people who dedicate their entire lives to a single movie, The Big Lebowski, feel they can look down on SF fans. A spokesman explains the regular Lebowski Fest: "People have likened it to a Star Trek or science-fiction convention, but we have women and nobody speaks Klingon." (AZcentral.com)
Klingons are a recurring theme. All fans are Klingons. When the Radio Times talked to William Shatner, its interviewer had this original thought: "Lord knows, over nearly 40 years, how many times he's been forced to endure one of those dreadful conventions where men wear pointy ears and order halves of shandy in Klingon."
More of the same from Scotland on Sunday, discussing Serenity: "As a race, sci-fi fans make Klingons seem like regular, laid-back guys, only better-looking and often with clearer complexions. History, however, shows that Whedon's appeal can stretch beyond the intergalactic anorak and reach a much wider audience." A better class of audience than, well, us.
When far-right US blogger Ann Coulter taunts jihadist suicide bombers (NOTE TO CARTOONIST: PLEASE DO NOT ILLUSTRATE THIS PARAGRAPH), guess what comparison she chooses? "No wonder they dream of an afterlife with 72 hot teenage girls. These guys are klutzes. Nerds. Dweebs. In the Las Vegas of life they're at the convention center with the other Star Trek fans."
Happily, journos often get their SF references wrong. From a Daily Mail sketch about tracking that elusive politician John Prescott: "Like Doctor Who, I could sense the Force was nearby. But where?"
Meanwhile, many people who like some example of SF feel they must emphasise that it's very different from horrid old SF. Battlestar Galactica, for example: "It's sci-fi, yes, but there are no aliens; there are androids, but they look just like us and are fervently religious; and both the best fighter pilot and the president are women. In other words, the conventions of sci-fi are borrowed only to be subverted ...' (Radio Times again.) Katee Sackhoff, who plays Starbuck in BG, seems to agree: 'I'll meet people who haven't watched the show purely because it's on Sci Fi. I'm like, you've gotta be kidding me. It's not really science fiction. [...] they've turned it into a drama first and a science-fiction series second.' (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
The New York Times used the same strategy with the SF TV series Threshold. First, establish coolness credentials with a sneer: "Sometimes, when devoted fans of fantasy and science-fiction entertainment – for economy's sake, let's just call them geeks – get together ..." Then explain how Threshold is untainted by SF: "It's all played real and true, and it's not played as science fiction," says producer David Heyman. "It's played as science fact." Aha, it's a documentary!
So apparently is Surface, whose co-star Jay R. Ferguson told the old, old story: "To me, sci-fi is Star Trek or Star Wars ..." But, conversely, "This is almost like something that could be real." (Sci Fi Wire.)
Even when reviewing new SF like Hyperdrive, the hacks can't resist ancient stereotypes. A Times example from the ineffable A.A. Gill: "The good thing about sci-fi, for the terrestrial Tristrams who produce it, is that it attracts unarguably the least discriminating, most tunnel-visioned yet loyal audience of any oeuvre in any medium – and that includes Wagnerphiles, although Wagner could probably be seen as science fiction. People who read sci-fi read little else. Star Wars fans are a weird closed society, bearable only to each other. And there are still people writing me letters begging me to use my influence to bring back Blake's 7; or could I possibly beam them up episode 57 of Red Dwarf to complete their set? So I expect Hyperdrive will attract a collection of smelly flotsam fantasists who will permanently orbit it."
Mysteriously, our caring Government shows no sign of bringing in punitive laws against rabble-rousers who go around stirring up prejudice against SF fans, or glorifying acts of anorak-related snobbery. All the same, I dare say we'll survive.
David Langford is a proud and lonely thing, but only sometimes.