Saturday 6 December 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman has passed away

It was with some sadness I read the news that Forrest J. Ackerman had passed away two days ago at the age of 92. I strongly suspect a lot of people reading this are saying, "Who?", so a biography is in order of the man who was one of the most important formative figures in SF fandom and is credited as the populariser of the term 'sci-fi'.

Forrest J. Ackerman, who was nicknamed later in life as 'Mr. Science Fiction', was born in 1916 and saw his first movie, One Glorious Day, in 1922. He purchased his first SF magazine, Amazing Stories, in 1926, and established a club for young SF readers in 1930. By 1933 he was contributing to SF fanzines and had established a sizable worldwide network of correspondents and in 1939 attended the world's first ever World Science Fiction Convention in New York City in costume, thus allegedly creating the tradition of cosplay. He attended every Worldcon bar two before his death. Ackerman attended the Clifton Cafeteria Science Fiction Club, where one of his claims to fame was introducing Ray Bradbury to Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson. Bradbury later borrowed $90 from Ackerman to set up the Futuria Fantasia fanzine in 1939.

Over the next few decades Ackerman amassed a collection of SF&F memorabilia that remains legendary. More than 300,000 individual items filled his collection, which he displayed to many luminaries including astronaut Buzz Aldrin and an estimated 50,000 fans between 1951 and 2002. Ackerman later allowed some of his collection to be displayed by the Seattle Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, of which he was a board member. Ackerman won the one-off Hugo Award for #1 Fan Personality in 1953.

Ackerman's own contribution to SF fiction was reasonable - over fifty short stories and novels, some of them published under pseudonyms or in collaboration - but as an editor and 'encourager' his role was more pronounced. He is credited with helping Marion Zimmer Bradly, L. Ron Hubbard, Ray Harryhausen and even the director Ed Wood (director of the terrifyingly bad Plan 9 from Outer Space, almost certainly the worst movie ever made) get their careers off the ground. In 1958 he began the Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, whose readers later included Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, Stephen King and George Lucas before it folded in 1983. Between 1969 and 1977 Ackerman also arranged for the translation of the long-running German space opera series Perry Rhodan into English, although only 150 or so books (out of more than 2,400 at present) were published.

Ackerman's most famous claim to fame was in 1954 when he used the term 'sci-fi' at UCLA as a replacement for SF, citing some people confusing the genre definition with San Francisco. However, Ackerman's ownership of the term was disputed when it turned out Robert Heinlein had been using the term in the mid-1940s in private letters. 'Sci-fi' is now regarded as a somewhat derogatory term within SF circles, although some have argued for its use when referring to soft or overtly populist SF (such as Star Wars or Star Trek). Ackerman was certainly credited with the creation of the world, possibly to Heinlein's relief.

Ackerman passed away on 4 December 2008, having failed to reach his target of 100 but having achieved an almost indisputed position as one of the the genre's most popular and important fans. Without him, we may very well never have had furries ;-)

SF Crow's Nest's tribute to him is here.

No comments: