The Oxford English Dictionary defines “fanzine” as “a magazine for fans, esp. those of science fiction.” One thing the OED definition leaves out, though, is the fact that fanzines are as much by fans as for fans. MIT’s Twilight Zine fits this expanded definition to a “t”: it’s produced by MITSFS, the MIT Science Fiction Society.
Fanzine is a portmanteau term combining “fanatic” and “magazine.” It first appeared in the early 1940s to describe the many amateur publications that were being written, illustrated, and printed by fans of science fiction. They were usually copied as cheaply as possible, and were often free or provided to subscribers for the price of postage.
Fanzines developed a rich culture and community all their own. Some common characteristics of fanzines include:
- The use of alphanumeric combinations instead of words, for example “4e” for Forry (which is itself short for sci-fi and fanzine legend Forrest J Ackerman)
- Fanspeak: this includes terms such as “fanac” for fan activity, “faan” for a really enthusiastic fan, and “fiawol” for “fandom is a way of life”
- “Filks,” or science fiction songs, which are usually parodies of other songs. (This term originated with a typo for “folk music,” and it stuck)
Fanzines also served as early publishing venues for fledgling writers and artists. Ray Bradbury’s first published story actually appeared in the January 1938 issue of Imagination! He also published his own four-issue fanzine, Futuria Fantasia. Author Robert Heinlein, too, got his start as a fanzine writer.
It seems only natural that MITSFS would have its own fanzine. Officially recognized as an MIT student organization in 1951, by 1961 the club had begun publishing The Twilight Zine. Like other fanzines, the publication has a home-grown quality, with lots of creative stories and artwork, and with a charming sense of self-deprecating humor throughout. Issues also include the club’s current wishlist for titles needed to fill gaps in the immense MITSFS Library.
MITSFS still publishes The Twilight Zine today, though it’s issued irregularly. The last issue to appear was number 47 in 2007. The eagerly-awaited issue 48 is expected sometime in 2011.