Norwegian Fandom: Origins

Citation: Lindberg, Cato. “When Fandom Came to Norway.” Mimosa No. 23. Eds. Rich and Nicki Lynch. Gaithersburg, Maryland, 1999. 18-21.
Article (c)Cato Lindberg and Mimosa. Reproduced with permission.
Source: http://www.jophan.org/mimosa/m23/lindberg.htm

I was born in Norway in 1937, at a time when my country and most of the world was getting out of the depression. Then, in September 1939 World War II started, and before I turned three years old, came 9 April 1940 and five years of German occupation of my country. “Will there ever be peace?” was one of the most important questions of my childhood. Sometimes we kids, who did not remember a time without war, were pessimistic, afraid that the war would never end. Other times we found it exciting, with all the German military activity on the one hand, and the illegal resistance activity on the other. Luckily, there was no bombing or destruction in our town, except for a few sabotage actions. All radios, except those of the Nazi collaborators, were confiscated by the Germans, and my father, who had started a radio shop just before the war, had to find other things to do to make a living. In secret, he made radios for the illegal home front, and I had to learn to keep my mouth shut about this activity and about my family listening to news in Norwegian from London. Victory Day, 8 May 1945, is a day I’ll never forget — I have never afterwards experienced such joy and celebration. My youth coincided with the reconstruction of the country after the lean war years. In particular, the first years after the war were very happy and optimistic — in spite of the beginning cold war and the threat of nuclear war.

I grew up in Drammen, 50 kilometers southwest of the capital Oslo. Our house was situated just where the town ended and the farmlands and countryside started and I enjoyed hiking in the woods alone as well as playing indians and cowboys and other games with the other kids. Car traffic was sparse, so we had plenty of elbow room then. I also enjoyed cycling down to town to savour the more urban pleasures — four cinemas and a well-stocked Narvesen newsagent. Which brings me closer to the theme of this article — science fiction and fandom. The ‘Narvesen kioskkompani‘ is a chain of newsagents started more than 100 years ago. In their kiosks and stores you could (and still can) find virtually every magazine or newspaper published in Norway, but also much foreign stuff — especially English and American magazines, newspapers and paperbacks, but also publications from the other Scandinavian countries as well as from Germany, France, and other countries. What comes nearest to it in Great Britain is W.H. Smith; I’ve never found anything in the U.S.A. like Narvesen — not even in New York City. Drammen also has many good bookstores and an excellent library, which has an extensive children’s literature department. I was an avid reader of everything from the classics and general literature to thrilling books for boys, westerns, historicals, crime and detection, and comics.

We started to learn English in sixth grade, and I didn’t know many English words before I started buying American magazines like Mechanix Illustrated, Motion Picture, True, Collier’s, Fawcett and Dell Comics, and others, many of them financed with money earned by collecting and selling return bottles. The Dream of America was very vivid then, in a country where many goods were still rationed or not yet available. American magazines and Hollywood movies gave us a taste of that dream, showing us what an affluent society looked like.

I am not sure when I got my first taste of science fiction. Norwegian folk tales had been my nourishment since I was a little child — and many of these tales have strong fantasy elements, if not science fiction. Among the first books I read were those of Jules Verne. Occasionally, articles about space travel appeared in various Norwegian magazines, and around 1951 to 1953 I found some paperbacks at Narvesen with some wonderful covers. The Signet edition of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Man Who Sold the Moon even included an Interplanetary Tour Reservation form, issued by the Hayden Planetarium, with the possibility of making reservations for tours to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn! (But for some reason or other, I never sent in my reservation.) And then in 1952, the first science fiction magazine ever displayed for sale in Norway appeared — the British Authentic Science Fiction, edited by H.J. Campbell. Some of my first sf books were anthologies (Bleiler and Dikty, Healy and McComas, and others) including many of the classics of the genre, and I was very soon hooked. Then the first American sf magazine was displayed — and for some strange reason Narvesen had chosen the pulp magazine Science Fiction Quarterly (May 1953), not any of the more obvious candidates — Astounding, Galaxy or The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. But I enjoyed Authentic and SFQ, and one very fine thing about them was that they both had columns about fandom. In 1954, a Norwegian sf paperback series was launched with translations of Asimov, Heinlein, Van Vogt, and Wyndham. Also, a few home-brewed Norwegian sf novels were published then, but much more was to come in the 1960s. This was also the time of science fiction films like The Thing from Another World, The Day the Earth Stood Still, When Worlds Collide and others, all of them shown in the cinemas of Drammen.
I did something very typical of Norwegian youth at that time. In 1954, 17 years old, I worked my passage over to New York City and back again as a pantry boy on board M/S Oslofjord. This was before cheap air tickets, when most travels between the U.S.A. and Norway went via the Norwegian America Line’s three passenger vessels. In New York City, my three greatest experiences were the view from the top of the Empire State Building, the show at Radio City Music Hall, and a long, narrow record store in Manhattan, E. Geiger Records at 815 Broadway. They mostly sold used records, but in the innermost corner I found a paradise for a budding science fiction fan — several shelves with used sf magazines. I spent several dollars of my total pay of $10 on issues of Astounding, Startling, Amazing and others, all at 10 cents apiece.

I started to get ready for fandom. I’m not sure if it was via the fanzine columns in Authentic or SFQ that I got my first contacts. I wrote to some fanzines, but the first ones I received did not impress me much. Then I received Charles Lee Riddle’s Peon, and I was hooked! The November 1954 issue was a beauty of a fanzine, with stories and articles by Jim Harmon, Terry Carr and Isaac Asimov, and fine illustrations in a beautiful layout. And soon other fanzines started to arrive, among them the now so famous Hyphen.

I had a neighbour and good friend, Roar Ringdahl, two years my senior. By some strange coincidence, two such kindred spirits happened to live in the same street. Both of us were avid readers and moviegoers, and both of us had the hobby of making miniature cities and hand-written magazines. These magazines had a circulation of one and no readers except ourselves, and sometimes Roar’s younger brother Ulf and my very patient and kind mother. As soon as he moved to my street and we got acquainted, when I was nine, we started to make these magazines together — magazines containing stories, comics and jokes. Some of the other kids found this a strange activity and called us redaktørene — the editors — meant as a derogatory term. Roar also shared my interest in science fiction, and when I showed him Peon and Hyphen and suggested that we make a fanzine, he instantly agreed very enthusiastically. I thought that Fantasi, Norwegian for ‘fantasy’, of course, was an apt name for our fanzine.The first issue of Fantasi, dated December 1954, had a small circulation of five, and was produced by carbon paper. The contents included translated stories by Ray Bradbury and Fredric Brown, science fiction news, and book reviews of Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Van Vogt’s Slan, H.J. Campbell’s Another Space, Another Time and Brain Ultimate, Curt Siodmak’s Den friggjorte hjerne (Donovan’s Brain) and a Norwegian science fiction novel in the Van Vogtian tradition by Hans Chr. Sandbeck, published in 1945.

It was not until issue no. 3 that we started producing the fanzine by the spirit duplicating method, and mailing it to other fans. We were unable to find other interested people in Drammen. At school, I propagandized for both science fiction and space travel, but was met with very little enthusiasm and much scepticism. Very few of my other friends thought much of “that Flash Gordon stuff” and very few, if any, believed in space travel. So our first readers counted only a few Norwegians (none of whom we were able to convert to fandom), but several Swedes like Alvar Appeltofft and Lars Helander, because Sweden at that time already had a fandom as well as a professional sf magazine, Häpna. Both Appeltofft and Helander contributed fiction, which we published in the original Swedish, since most Norwegians read Swedish without problems.

We experimented with various types of inexpensive duplicating methods to increase our circulation, among them a primitive spirit duplicator using what we called a ‘Rory-rull’, a washing machine roller to roll across the master and receiving paper. Later we used the stencil method, and since a Gestetner mimeograph was beyond our means, we fastened the stencil to a large stamp pad. Issue no.6, in January, perhaps the finest issue of the eleven issues published, had a photocopied cover showing Roar’s cartoon of us during our 1955 trip to England. We began getting contributions from fans outside Scandinavia, and No.6 included a story by Paul Enever: “Roar’s Head,” and No.7 included letters from John Hitchcock from Baltimore, Ron Bennett from Harrogate, and Paul Enever from Middlesex. I am not sure about the circulation; I believe it was around 75-80.

I left Drammen to go to radio school in the army in 1956, and during those 26 months Roar took overFantasi and published Nos.8, 9, 10 and 11 (the last issue was in January 1958). The eleven issues of Fantasi contained all sorts of typical fannish and sercon material. We were very fascinated by fannish language and customs, and liked to include cartoons of ourselves with propeller beanies on our heads.

In 1958 I went to sea, and for almost two years I worked as radio operator on board a Norwegian steamer, S/S Mataura, calling at ports like New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Savannah, Miami, Havana, Ciudad Trujillo, Tampico, Vera Cruz, La Guaira, and Belize. I met some American fans then, and especially remember young John Hitchcock of Baltimore who impressed me with his linguistic knowledge and acquaintance with the complex language situation in Norway — the differences between riksmål,bokmål and nynorsk! I also once met John Magnus and some other fans in Baltimore (and therefore read with interest Jack Chalker’s story of Baltimore fandom in Mimosa 20). Even in a large city like Baltimore there were not many true science fiction fans then, and when I look through my old copies of Hitchcock’s fanzine Umbra, I see very few locals writing there; instead, there were internationally-known names like Jan Jansen and Ron Bennett. It is not strange that two young guys in little Drammen, Norway, had such a hard time converting people to sf fandom, when there were so few in a large town like Baltimore. In New York I visited Dick Ellington and his wife in their flat in Greenwich Village, and learned about the Industrial Workers of the World. He gave me copies of his fanzine FIJAGH and a propaganda brochure for the ‘Wobblies’ in Norwegian(!). Ellington had a Linotype machine in his apartment, and I had the impression that he was a kind of free-lance typographer. I also met the active fan Mike Deckinger in New York City. He came over from New Jersey to meet me at Grand Central Station. I, of course, visited Stephen’s Bookstore, 45 Fourth Avenue, and was overwhelmed by seeing so many science fiction books in one place. This was the world’s only specialised science fiction store then, but Stephen told me that I had been his only customer that day. He mainly made his living by dispatching books ordered by mail. During this period, I contributed some “Reports from America” to the Swedish fanzine SF-Fronten, writing about my meetings with American fans.

About this time, Roar started to cooperate with the Swedish fan Sture Sedolin Hällström to combine Sture’s fanzine Super with Fantasi. The first issue of Super-Fantasi, “the only true triangular fanzine,” had a cover by Atom and articles in English, Swedish, and Norwegian. After two large issues, Super-Fantasi ceased publication, partly because Roar’s interest in cinema started to compete with his interest in fandom — he soon started his first film review magazine (which is still being published regularly). But he still remained a fan; for some time he led the ‘Norwegian branch office’ of the International Science Fiction Society, which published the magazine Sirius.

Well-known American fan Ray Nelson and his Norwegian wife Kirsten lived at Ulv ya (near Oslo) at the end of the 1950s and became acquainted with Roar. Ray contributed many cartoons to Sirius and even published two issues of his own Le Marché aux Puces Fantastique, a fanzine in French published by an American living in Norway and printed at Roar’s office in Oslo. Ray and Roar made a movie short at Ulvøya, Monster on the Loose, starring Ray himself as a monster unable to scare a single soul and finally committing suicide. Roar was amused to later read in Ray Nelson’s and Philip K. Dick’s novel, The Ganymede Takeover, about a rather sadistic major Ringdahl of Ulvøya Prison. Roar cannot but hope that this sadistic major was not based on Ray’s impressions of Roar’s behaviour during their time together in Norway. I can attest that Roar is anything but sadistic, although he has written some very scary horror stories. He has two published short story collections, and one novel coauthored with Per G. Olsen. I, on the other hand, have had only two short stories published, one in a paperback anthology, Malstrøm (1972) and one in the Norwegian sf magazine Nova. The story from the anthology, “de Anima”, by the way, found its way into two German anthologies, one that was published in East Germany without my prior knowledge, and the other published by Heyne in Munich. On the back cover of the Heyne edition I am mentioned as “one of the best known Norwegian sf authors,” proving that the blurbs of sf magazines and books are not to be trusted.

While I was mostly gafiating, Roar was very active during the Sirius period and he finally managed to recruit several Norwegians into fandom. Now, it was not a two-man fandom any more. In 1962, he met Per G. Olsen (now Per G. Hvidsten), and together they published a very fine fanzine, Alphabor. Per G. Olsen, as far as I know, is the only one from this pre-1965 period who is still very active in fandom, being a sort of link between our fandom and the next to come. Roar was also involved in many other fan projects at that time (maybe we can persuade him to write an article for Mimosa about this).
If the American numbering system for fandom is to be applied to Norwegian fandom, our fan activity in Norway must be considered to be First Norwegian Fandom. Roar and I published fanzines and had contacts around the world, and even a few here in Norway, especially after Roar started publishing Sirius. When students at Oslo University started the science fiction club Aniara in 1965, Second Norwegian Fandom was born. The club’s founders probably had no knowledge about our early efforts.

I have had many other hobbies besides sf and fandom throughout the years. I am married; my three children are now on their own and I have three grandchildren. After my time on board Mataura, I went to engineering school, went back to sea again for two more years, worked two years at the Oslo Spacetrack Facility, a few years as an electronics engineer, and most of my working life as a technical writer. I still like to keep in contact with fandom, am interested in fanhistory, and have attended most Norwegian cons. In 1995, Roar and I published a 41st anniversary issue of Fantasi.

Aniara and Norwegian fandom since 1965 should be a topic for a future article in Mimosa, and there are many people who are well qualified to write it. Since 1965, there has been an unbroken Norwegian fandom with high activity and many fans, cons and fanzines (the first Norwegian con was not until 1975, though). Much Norwegian science fiction has been published during this period by authors like Jon Bing, Tor Åge Bringsværd, and Øyvind Myhre. Since almost all Norwegian fans read English, the market for science fiction in Norwegian is small, and it is a long time since we had a professional science fiction magazine. But Aniara’s beautiful fanzine, Algernon, published since 1974, may be considered a semi-professional sf magazine.

At this summer’s Intercontact `98 convention in Oslo, I noticed a decrease in the number of attendees, even with Pat Cadigan and Gwyneth Jones as GoHs this year. This may have to do with the fact there is now competition with other cons related to science fiction television series and various types of sf and fantasy games. As Nicki wrote in the previous Mimosa, the times are changing, and here in Norway, as in the U.S.A., we are experiencing an increase in sci-fi media fandom and possibly a decline in the old literature-based sf fandom.

My old profession as a radio operator has become obsolete since I quit the sea in 1965. Morse code is no longer taught in military or civilian schools. Much of what I learned in engineering school has become obsolete, such as the use of vacuum tubes and the slide rule. Many of the great ideas of science fiction which were unknown to most people (except science fiction readers) back in the 1950s are now, if not obsolete, old stuff to millions of television viewers worldwide. But even back then, the older fans debated the loss of the ‘sense of wonder’ and were woried about the future of science fiction and fandom. I was full of this sense of wonder then, and did not understand these debates. Now, it’s my turn to worry about the lack of new ideas and the staleness of most new science fiction. Probably, the young media fans of today would not understand such grumblings, but find the genre full of wonder still. And let’s hope many of them will discover the pleasures of reading, too.

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