Most of the early writers of science fiction seemed to be either amateurs who began writing sf when they knew of no market for it, or professional writers on mostly quite other themes, who jumped over to science fiction for its freedom of plotting. Then it became more and more true that the larval stage of the sf writer was the fan, beginning with a scant handful of deeply committed fans who graduated to making the stories others would read.
Two of the earliest to make the transition were Poul Anderson and me. Both of us even married female fans, when such creatures began to appear. I have to admit he did a better job of it than I, though. My first fan marriage lasted only a bit over three years; Poul’s, to Karen, survived until his death, from cancer, in 2001
What both of us learned from early fan activities is that everybody should take his turn in the barrel, which is why we both served a term or two as president of the Science Fiction Writers of America. Poul’s was constructive and unmarked by major disruptions. Unfortunate, because as a result of one of the thoughtful and kindly things Poul did, mine wasn’t.
It happened that a SFWA member named George Zebrowski had suggested to Poul that it would be a well received gesture if he conferred an honorary membership on the Polish writer Stanislaw Lem. SFWA hadn’t done much conferring of honors on anybody at that time, but Poul knew that Lem had been enthusiastically taken up by the American literary establishment for his satirical science fiction, and obligingly wrote a letter to Lem to tell him he was an honorary SFWAn, saw that news of the ennoblement appeared in appropriate publications and then crossed that matter off his To Do list.
Time passed. Poul honorably completed his time in the barrel and I was elected to replace him. Along about that time Philip José Farmer and others got upset about some highly critical things Lem had said about American sf in general and Farmer’s books in particular, and Philip K. Dick announced that he believed that Lem had somehow conspired to divert some of the zlotys from the Polish translation of Ubik to himself, for which reasons they demanded that SFWA revoke Lem’s honorary membership at once. That was a nuisance to me personally, since it meant that I, as president, would have to do the revoking.
Fortunately an at least vestigially honorable escape turned up. On consulting SFWA’s bylaws, which someone should have done earlier, but didn’t, it turned out that they expressly forbade granting honorary memberships to any person actively qualified for regular voting membership by reason of substantial publication in American media. Lem certainly was so qualified, and therefore his appointment was void.
As then president I wrote a letter, as uncontroversial as I could make it, to Lem, advising him that for the reasons already mentioned his honorary membership had to be withdrawn, but reminding him that he was eligible for regular, active membership. Since there was a theoretical possibility — though an unlikely one in view of his books’ success in the American markets — that, as a Polish citizen, he would be barred by his Marxist government’s laws from sending money abroad, I said I would be glad to pay his dues out of my own pocket.
He wrote back, very politely saying he did not wanted to join SFWA, and with that I assumed the matter was closed. It wasn’t. For several years thereafter, at SFWA business meetings, someone would usually demand that SFWA reopen the question of Lem’s honorary membership, but the matter never got much support from the voting members.