I am a fan of mainstream cult SF.
"Well, duh," I can hear some of you say already. How rude. But I think this needs to be said in that I take "mainstream cult SF" to mean stuff you can sit in front of on the TV and just vegetate for a few hours and either be enlightened (Babylon 5, Doctor Who), immerse yourself in escapist entertainment (Star Wars) or even have your intelligence outright insulted at times (Star Trek).
A lot of people (the uninformed, uninitiated, or just plain unintelligent (that's most of you, by the way)), seem to think that the label "science fiction fan" is just as good a description as any for those of us who spend our time watching or reading it. That's like saying that all yobbos are footy fans - it's just not true. Most of them watch cricket, too.
There are several varied and distinct categories of science-fiction fans. Many people might overlap areas, some may pass from one area to another during the course of their sad, lonely lives. So... you may wish to consider this as something of a Trainspotter's Guide to Science Fiction Fandom!
1. The Literary Lover
This breed of creature can never be seen in front of a television because everything presented on it is just a rehash of an idea originally created by one of the great sci-fi literary "giants" such as Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Greg Bear. They don't take into consideration that it's done far more interestingly on TV anyway, without all the passages arguing the scientific validity behind the stuff getting in the way.
But it doesn't just stop at science fiction. This category encapsulates people who read all those fantasy books as well. You know, those books with bright artwork covers, often of castles on a hilltop or wizards casting spells, that tell tales of travellers wandering lands filled with elves and demons seeking out some sacred artefact that will rid the Land of the approaching evil (sorry if I've given away the ending for anyone reading anything in this genre at the moment). These books often go on for hundreds of pages and yet always seem to never tell the full story; fantasy readers are forever waiting for the release of Book Eight of the Poncysoundingname Saga.
More often than not, these people rarely venture into daylight. They can be found in darkened rooms at all hours of the day or night playing Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.
This group of people may have been brave enough to watch the movie Starship Troopers, but of course they all agree that it wasn't as good as the original Robert A. Heinlein novel.
2. Star Trek, Part One: The Embarrassing Generation
This bunch of overweight and, quite honestly, sexually repressed and/or deviated people wear all the uniforms, read all the books and own all the videos. They are a blemish on the face of Star Trek fandom, and indeed the entire science fiction community as a whole, but thankfully they are a minority. This doesn't stop them from being the only group of people that the media have any contact with any time anything remotely science-fiction related makes headline news.
These people can often be found talking endlessly about Star Trek in internet chat rooms.
3. Star Trek, Part Two: The Old Generation
For fans of the original Star Trek series only. Nobody in this group is under forty years of age, and they all think that William Shatner is the best actor in the world, even in that Loaded Weapon movie. Everything McCoy says is funny, even when he said it in the episode before ("he's still dead, Jim"), and they drink a lot of Scotch only because Scotty does. The post-Next Generation era is just something that happened to other people, and Gene Roddenberry is God.
4. Star Trek, Part Three: The New Generation
This group of people all agree wholeheartedly that Star Trek began with The Next Generation episode one and anything that came before was just a loose relation that nobody need bother with. This group tends to suffer from delusions that the Dominion War is a really gripping saga, and that Voyager still has potential to be a great series. They believe that Star Trek as a whole is a lot better without Gene Roddenberry's interference, although they're very nice to his wife Majel Barrett if she ever makes a public appearance.
It is within this group that the first major rivalry occurs. This group of people will tend to react violently if you even dare suggest that Babylon 5 is a far superior series, and they will happily and frothing-at-the-mouthingly give you millions of reasons why it isn't without even watching a single whole episode of the aforementioned series.
These people don't read any Star Trek books, they only write them. They can be found in internet chat rooms talking about anything but Star Trek.
5. The Mainstream Cult SF Fan
This is middle ground. This sort of enlightened person knows that Star Trek isn't bad when done properly; they can even sit and watch through the last three seasons of Deep Space Nine and realize that, once all the Klingon honor crap is removed, once all Odo's angsting over Kira is over and done with, and once Vic Fontaine finally stops fucking singing, it really does make six or seven minutes of mildly watchable television.
This group of person can sit through Doctor Who and actually appreciate it for it's intelligent plotting rather than constantly deride it's cheapness. They know what you're talking about when you mention Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters, and know the X Files conspiracy better than Chris Carter did when he wrote it. And Babylon 5 is THE thing to watch, and if you didn't see it in order from the beginning then you ought to bloody well go away and don't come back until you do. They don't bother arguing with Star Trek fans about why this programme is better, because if they can't see it already they're not worth wasting the brainpower on talking to.
In between terrorizing the internet, playing intense shoot-em-up computer games and comparing 3D graphics cards sizes with each other, specimens of this genus can often be sighted at the local cinema taking in the latest hi-tech special effects movies, and when they can't agree about what to watch at parties it's more often than not Starship Troopers that gets put into the VCR because the computer graphics were really very well done.
6. The Alternative Cult SF Fan
This breakaway sub-group tends to think that Blake's Seven is worth watching, that the 1970s and 1980s were a boom time for brainless "glitzy" sci-fi - the likes of Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers and The Six Million Dollar Man are really worth signing up to Pay TV for.
WARNING: older members of this faction have a tendency to mention Space: 1999 or The Avengers during casual conversaion, and have probably never even seen Starship Troopers, although they "must get around to it one day".
7. The Collector
Strangely enough, this category is composed of an awful lot of Star Wars fans. This is because Star Wars is almost the only science fiction commodity that produces half-decent merchandise. Even within this group there are several divisions: those who collect everything; those who collect seven of everything; and those who don't bother with the gimmicky crap like the talky voice chips or the toys that belong more to the G.I. Joe range than Star Wars.
Being a Star Wars fan is either a full-time or a part time business. It can either be your main focal point, or just something you do whenever George Lucas releases another movie. Be warned: those of you considering the Full Time option are going to find yourselves broke for the Rest of Your Lives. You will also need to upgrade your computer's hardware every few weeks just to accomodate the minimum system requirements of the latest LucasArts games.
8. The Ones Who Enjoy Sport As Well
This is your everyday person whose forays into the science fiction universe don't go far beyond the Back to the Future or Terminator films, and they probably even have Predator taped off TV. The Matrix is a film they talk about a lot but never really understood. Red Dwarf is a really funny comedy programme and they remember Doctor Who as being "that show with the giant maggots in it". But if you were to tell them you are a science fiction fan, they'd tell you you're a wierdo because they don't watch that stuff themselves.
After a few drinks, Starship Troopers is recalled as a brilliant movie simply because of "Denise Richards' tits".
9. The Pig Ignorant
Classic example: my mother. Would you believe that she didn't even have any idea there was a new Star Wars movie coming out until as late as seven weeks before the thing actually premiered? For shame.
© Michael Cloonan, 1999