Outgrowing the Cafeteria: LASFS

Over the years, the meetings of the now-independent Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society got bigger. As some of the younger fans went on to their dream jobs, some related to science fiction and fantasy, they also began to be able to pay for their meals, which meant that meetings moved away from Clifton’s. The difficulty is that it’s hard to find a good place for a science fiction club to meet. Still, the club was over thirty years old before someone got the bright idea of buying a building.

Still, LASFS gained a reputation not only as a place for science fiction fans to hang out, but one for professional writers and artists to frequent. Forry Ackerman started acting as a short story agent for some of them, before becoming editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Editors, writers, and artists would visit LASFS on their way through town. Many had corresponded with LASFS members before turning pro and remained friends for life. Some joined LASFS, even if they were only in town once in a while. The club rolls eventually included Poul Anderson, Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and a host of other writers, and ones who were local often attended meetings or made special visits to chat with fans or other writers. Thus, you might find L. Sprague de Camp and his wife and co-writer Catherine sitting next to Randall Garrett and talking with fans, while people played cards in the next room. Or, a new pro writer would be a club officer under the fannish version of his name, and write novels under a different one.

In the late 1940s, LASFS members decided that there ought to be a science fiction convention somewhere on the west coast, and created what is now called Westercon, held in July somewhere in the western states. Small parties were held as those with aspirations of becoming pro writers or artists sold their first works. Many continued to create amateur works for fun as well, though, and LASFS continued to be a place to share your creations, whether professional or fannish.

Members of LASFS met and married, as the club became a chosen family for many fans, a place to share a lifetime of interests. It also became an incubator for different aspects of fandom. Several publications by fans, commonly called fanzines, were printed and distributed within the club or across the country. As television SF and imports from other countries became popular (the Perry Rhodan novels from Germany, and the animated stuff from Japan whose name eventually became “anime”), members of the club were instrumental in linking fans together. Members of the club, along with students from Caltech, were involved with a march on NBC that extended the run of Star Trek for a year. Other fans helped to organize events, and LASFS itself became more organized, becoming a full non-profit corporation in the 1960s, and a property owner beginning in the 1970s. The club also started more conventions, either directly or as spinoff projects by club members. LosCon is the annual SF convention put on by the club, and is held each November, but fannish groups with interests in anime, Doctor Who, or a variety of other things all sprang from the work of LASFS members.

The sciences were also well represented within the club, as many members held technical jobs in growing fields. The space program and computers drew interest from club members, and SF author (and member) Jerry Pournelle also became a longtime writer for Byte magazine. Some of the first computers used as word processors were used to create science fiction stories here in Los Angeles, and the people who learned how to build and maintain them were LASFS members.

Then, there are the ones who worked in the movie and TV industry, or ran fan organizations that connected fans to media…but that’s for next blog.

Visit www.lasfs.org to find out more about LASFS, which will turn eighty-five years old next year.

– Nick Smith


Smith is the curator of the exhibition Dreaming the Universe: The Intersection of Science, Fiction, & Southern California, which is on view March 3 through September 2, 2018.