All Our Yesterdays 1
by Harry Warner Jr.


It happens like this. Joe Fann puts out an excellent fan magazine. He digs up material which other fans have laboured to write, and a hundred or so persons receive copies of the issue. The magazine is read, it becomes the topic of letters to the editor, and that’s the end of it. The years pass, fans come and go, new fandoms spring up, thousands of people pass through the field for long or short periods. And those future years, only a tiny proportion of the new fans see or read that particular fanzine and its contents. It seems to me a dreadful waste of good reading matter, that only the present group of fans should read an article whose timeliness doesn’t stale with the passing of years. In lieu of what we really need — a printed annual collection of the best fanzine material — here are a few samples of what has been said in the past.

I’m taking all three items from the early 1940’s, for no particular reason other than it happens to be just a decade ago. This was the time when the World War Two crop of fanzines were just about at their peak. A little later, the draft became so strenuous that many of the most capable fans went into the service, and a little earlier, fandom still hadn’t fully recovered from the era-ending collapse of Fantasy Magazine.

Scienti-Snaps was one of the finest of the fanzines of those days. Walter E. Marconette of Dayton, Ohio, published it for a year or more as an exquisitely hectographed one-man production. A little later, he switched to mimeographing, and took on an assistant editor, J. Chapman Miske. The Second Anniversary Issue, dated February, 1940, contains an amazing line-up of excellent material by the big names in science fiction. Here are some excerpts from an article about writing by John W. Campbell, Jr., published under his pseudonym of Don A. Stuart:

“How much of writing is an art — that is, a more or less unplanned, unthoughtout result of a sort of instinct — and how much of it is a development of the science of plotting, I don’t know. It seems that all of the part that makes the story effective, the actual wording and expression, is as completely unscientific and unanalysable as walking. Walking robots walk scientifically, based on accurate and detailed analyses of the mechanics of walking, and stalk with the stiff gracelessness of a forced story.

“The story ‘Forgetfulness’, which seems to have been one of the best-liked stories I’ve done, was rejected the first time I submitted it to Mr. Tremaine. I had laboured on that work. I wrote it out, then rewrote it, section by section, building up the characters necessary in precisely the way I felt they must go to explain my story. Some parts were rewritten five and six times before I submitted it.

“When it came back, I stuck it on the shelf for nearly a year. Then, having had better than ten months to forget the self-pleasing phrases and the pleasure they had evoked, I was a little better able to read it from ‘outside’ the story.

“It was all there — everything of plot and idea that appeared in the final version. It wasn’t bad, because the plot and idea were fairly sound. But it was, too, not good. I walked with the precision, tile scientifically exact placement of words and phrases and incident that five or six carefully studied rewritings had built into it, word by word.

“A story is a vehicle for expressing an idea. That one was, but the mechanism of the vehicle was there for any who looked to see. I rewrote it, from beginning to end, without reference to the original copy. That time, knowing what I was going to tell, it told itself smoothly,”

Jack F. Speer was in Washington in those days, and spent part of his time writing things like the following random notes from the Spring, 1940, issue of Sustaining Programme for FAPA:

“What this country needs is more synonyms for badly-worn preposition.

“Here’s an experiment you can try. You’ve heard that one can’t do any complicated thinking without using words for symbols. Sit down to a typewriter and copy some easy piece, or if no typewriter’s handy, just count steadily 1-2-3-4 etc, (the typewriter is better, because you will know if you cease doing it unconsciously) . Either of these methods will, I believe, block or rather keep busy, that part of your brain which handles words. Then see how much original thinking you can do. I find myself able to run over in my mind thoughts already phrased, but not to synthesise anything new, under these conditions.

“Idle thought with which to occupy your mind while writing for the soup to cool: What would you do if left in charge of a class of third-graders for a couple of hours or so, to keep them occupied and out of mischief, and perhaps just on the side slip in a little mental improvement?”

Louis Russell Chauvenet might be an unfamiliar name to the present generation. The old-timers should remember him with pleasure, though. Totally deaf, he nevertheless succeeded in becoming one of the best-liked fans as a. writer and as a person. Oddly enough, in our one meeting, I found less trouble in keeping up a conversation than I did with most fans whose hearing was intact. He had something interesting to say in reply to anything the other fellow might say, a rare gift, unfortunately. For the September, 1941, issue of Phil Bronson’s The Fantasite, Chauvenet wrote a sum-up of the more popular ideas about alien races. Since he didn’t pretend to do a complete job, it shouldn’t do any harm if I present his article in abridged form.

“For obvious reasons, the aliens have usually been inimical. Perhaps Wells may be said to have set the pattern in his ‘War of the Worlds’; his Martians are, however, in every way less interesting than his Selenites in ‘First Men on the Moon’, since it is the civilisation of the latter which receive far the most attention. The Selenites were an insect-like race which bred and developed individuals for the performance of specific functions; they illustrate specialism carried to an extreme. It is interesting to compare them with the Chloran of ‘Skylark of Valeron’, the difference is that the Chlorans’ specialisation was a temporary matter only, thanks to their amorphous nature, and any Chloran individual could apparently develop any required organic structure for the performance of whatever task devolved on him. Such races are obviously non-human, as well as inimical. Friendly non-humans are not quite as common, but are nevertheless plentiful. For instance, we have Weinbaum’s ‘Loonies’ on Io, creatures apparently of a fairly low order of intelligence, and then again Tweel and his race upon Mars. Tweel was a success because he illustrated what others before Weinbaum had chosen to ignore: namely, the possibility, that alien minds may function in a radically different manner from ours, so that communication becomes difficult or impossible. It would be a blunder to omit mention of Weinbaum’s famous ‘Oscars’ on the dark side of Venus. These vegetable-like creatures had minds capable of deducing the structure of the universe from any given fact, yet were philosophically resigned to destruction at the hands of howling savages, or the Venusian equivalent thereof. Speaking of vegetable-types brings to mind Stapledon’s mention of such beings: a mixture — vegetable by day, animal by night — with intelligence, but not sufficient intelligence to avoid disastrous experiments with extreme attempts to become first wholly animal and then wholly vegetable.

“In general, the humanoid races have been pictured as friendly, a trend which is markedly evident in the writings of Jack Williamson and E. E, Smith, among others.

“The race of ancient reptiles in Williamson’s ‘Xanadulu’ is not only amicable but also thoroughly pacificstic. It is interesting to speculate on whether or not a race must necessarily lose belligerency as it grows older; in this connection we must return again to ‘Star Maker’ where Stapledon sets forth the notion of conquering the universe. The analysis of how they get to be that way is quite interesting; it is one of the few faults of Dr. Smith that his evil races, the Fenachrone and ‘Boskone’ are supposed to be somehow “innately” wrong-headed, a rather too mystical doctrine to appeal to me, although reasonably acceptable for the purpose of the stories.

“The question of ‘Life as we do not know it’ has naturally come in for much consideration. A story I recall vaguely told of a type of radioactive mineral life which, upon encountering human beings, failed to recognise them as living creatures, while the humans also failed to discern the presence of radically alien life. The time rate was the basis of a tale of interplanetary voyagers who travelled out to Neptune to meet friendly race of non-humans, but found nothing. On returning a second time, they located gaseous beings whose movements took up days of earth-time.

“The notion of living worlds has occurred on several occasions. There was another tale, ‘The Planet Entity’ by C. A. Smith, in which the entity was vegetable in nature, and covered the whole surface of the sun in a Schachner opus, while E. E. Smith has given us the similar to our iron, in the ‘Spacehounds’.

“If we except Van Lorne’s ‘Marinerre’, most of the few examples of intelligent aquatic life are those taken from the Smith epics.

“The microcosmos and the macrocosmos have both, on occasion, been claimed to be the residences of life, and curiously enough, the electron and the supra-universe have been ‘found’, usually, to possess strictly human life. Characteristic are Cummings’ ‘Golden Atom’ tales, Meek’s ‘Awlo of Ulm’, and Raymond’s ‘Into the Infinities’. Raymond’s hero at least takes his heroine with him, and does not pick her up during his travels, a fault committed by all the others cited. Any student of biology knows that cross breeding between humanities of diverse origin would be impossible, or at least produce monstrosities. Burroughs’ naive crossing of an oviparous Martian princess with John Carter of earth’s viviparous, stock is the classic blunder in this field.

“Stapledon is the only author I am familiar with who discussed the problem of evolution of symbiotic races; such a concept has many fascinating angles. The ‘Star Maker’ himself is an interesting form of extraterrestrial life, but on the whole not as convincingly portrayed as the less pretentious forms of life. Finally, we have Stapledon’s suggestion that the suns of space are themselves living animals — an idea for which some support can certainly be found in the fact that suns are born, grow old, and die; take in energy, and emit it, and seem to be in a continuous state of controlled change. While it has naturally been thought that the temperature and pressures involved make any stable grouping of atoms impossible, and hence make life impossible, this conclusion cannot be said necessarily to follow upon the premise, since it is doubtful whether energy beings, such as the stars may be, could be said to require such a thing as a ‘Stable grouping of atoms’.”

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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