All Our Yesterdays 3
by Harry Warner Jr.

Bob Tucker

Someone suggested that I should run something by Bob Tucker. I can’t think of anything that would be more fun to do, and have devoted the whole kit and caboodle to him this time.

Tucker’s beginnings, like that of the Grand Canyon, is lost in the mists of antiquity to most present-day fans. I can assure you that his fan career actually did begin; not that I was around as an active fan at the time, but there were many survivors of his earliest days when I appeared on the scene. Tucker first came into prominence as a contributor to prozines letter columns around 1936, promptly involving fandom in the First Staple War. This affair, starting as a big joke, actually produced some bitterness in its later stages, and when someone sent a fake obituary notice to Astounding, Tucker quietly withdrew from the field. He lay dormant until 1938, when he resumed activities, this time in fandom itself, rather than through the prozines. For almost a decade he and Ackerman alternated winning polls to determine the number one fan, but the latter part of the 1940’s saw Tucker gradually drop many of his activities and gain the ability to sell mystery novels for big sums of money. Now he’s joined FAPA again, and shows signs of coming to full vigour.

Tucker is one of the most prolific writers that fandom has ever known. He turned out articles by the dozen each year for his own magazines and the publications of others. I don’t think he ever turned down a request for material from an unknown fan, and probably his good nature in this respect is responsible for the existence of a lot of fanzines that just had to come out, after getting a Tucker manuscript. His publishing has included some one-shotters and indexes, but has centred mostly around three titles. First was d’Journal, the propaganda organ of the anti-staple faction, which was as mythical as most of the staple events until long after the conflict was forgotten. When Tucker re-entered fandom in the late 1930’s, he decided to publish, and actually produced some issues of a magazine to go with that title. Don’t ask me how he got that title; I doubt whether Bob remembers himself. LeZombie started to wag the dog, and for five years LeZ was tops of its kind in fandom. Science Fiction News Letter also started in a very small way, and grew to meet the demand. SFNL is expertly done, but I’d prefer to be receiving LeZombie these days. I’d also be willing to wager that it would be the severest of all tests for the fantasy collector. To assemble a complete file of it these days would be a wonderful test of patience, skill and luck.

LeZombie started out as a personal opinion and humour magazine for Tucker and his pseudonym, Hoy Ping Pong. (HPP was incarnated as a Chinese philosopher, but soon became a pen-name for almost any type of material.) Later it expanded from a single-sheeter to a fanzine of generous proportions, with much material by other writers. Contents were generally restricted to two types of stuff: humour and personal opinions; frequently combined. However, you never knew what to expect next, and Tucker was always creating new mediums. For instance, his Lez-ettes, a fine art form which has been neglected since the demise of the magazine. Lez-ettes were science fiction stories, each in three chapters containing not more than two words. For instance, from the July, 1942 issue: Chapter 1: Planet. Chapter 2: Ice-age. Chapter 3: “Brrr!”. Sometimes there was an unhappy ending to these Lez-ettes, like this from the same issue: Chapter 1: Superman. Chapter 2: Superwoman. Chapter 3: Runt. Or they could be horror stories: Chapter 1: Amoeba. Chapter 2: No fission. Chapter 3: Grue-some.

Tucker’s regular style of humour is cumulative in its effect: no single sentence or paragraph is funny, but a couple of pages of these sentences or paragraphs will provide an enormous belly-laugh. That makes it hard to select items for excerpting: they lose their flavour in the process. The March-April, 1943, issue for instance carried an article by Squire Pong on “How to Raze Babies”. The best paragraph is probably this one:

“Let us consider the tiny rocketship for example. It should be a reasonable facsimile of the real thing, down to a hollow rocket tube, in which little Eustace can poke his finger. If he can’t get it out again, this is the lesson one. Also, in order to lend an appearance of reality and acquaint the little fellow with the true facts of the case, we suggest you stuff the tube with inflammable material — flashlight powder will do nicely. Then hand the darling genius a lighted match and sit back to see what happens. Chances are, the child will know all about rocketry before his classmates and never, never ask such foolish questions as: “But, daddy, how can it push against the nothing in space?”

I also liked the delicate way in which Tucker announced the ending of my fanzine, Spaceways, in his January, 1943, issue of Le Zombie: “We announce that you aren’t likely to find any reprints from Nova in Spaceways’ pages because Nova won’t allow reprinting and Spaceways hasn’t any pages anymore.”

Getting away from humour for a moment, Tucker did some reminiscing in the November, 1942 issue, about how fleeting fame in fandom can be. He looked back on a poll that had been taken in 1938, and commented that some of the big shots were forgotten already. A little less than a decade later, I have to joggle my own memory over a couple of names and titles. See how many of these you can pin down:

“For a good session of tongue-clacking, let’s take a look at this list of ‘famous fans’ as reported in July, 1938. In first place is to be found Wollheim; Ackerman is second; Johnny Baltadonis is third; Wiggins is fourth; Sam Moskowitz is fifth, Bob Madle is sixth; Johnny B. Michel seventh; James Taurasi eighth; Ted Carnell of England ninth and ‘WHG’ tenth — Walter Gillings of England, probably.

“The five leading fanzines of the same period were, Science Fiction Fan, Science Fiction Collector, Science Fiction Critic, Cosmic Tales and Nova Terrae. Who made the crack about the snow of yesteryear? The circulation of the leading fanzine was (hold your breath) slightly above 40.”

Finally, here’s a somewhat condensed example of an extended piece of Tuckeriana. It’s taken from the ‘September, 1942 issue of Le Zombie, and entitled “A Fan at Large”

“Dear Mom:

“Gosh, it’s swell! I never dreamed a science fiction convention could be so much fun. Here I am away out in space for the first time. As you know, Mom, this is the first time the fans have ever had a convention in space, Our club - NFFF - has chartered this ship for a week’s cruise, out around Pluto and back. There are about 300 of us and except for the crew we have the entire ship to ourselves!

“Gee, Mom, I have the swellest little room. It’s built Snug. It’s built right under one of the rocket tubes. I can put my hand right up on the ceiling and feel how hot it is. Of course, the room is kinda small. I can hear the rockets all the time. Gosh!

“We cleared port at noon. The Captain was mad about something; I don’t know what. A bunch of us stood around an open hatch in the keel and dropped sandbags, trying to hit some little black dots moving below us. There certainly is a swell bunch of fans onboard. One of them (I think it was Widner or something) took me aside later and told me there really wasn’t sand in those bags. He said they held powdered oxygen. Maybe that was why the captain was mad.

“The moon is a funny place, Mom. Just like in my school books. ‘There ain’t no air here at all. The captain warned us we couldn’t stay out long without suits, and after about an hour the talking died down and some of the fans began to get blue in the face so he made us come inside.

“Right after we left the moon an old fella from Michigan name of Evans or something, took me aside and asked if I had heard rumours about him. I said no. Then he said that people were starting rumours that he was out to buy control of fandom, but I shouldn’t listen to them. I said I wouldn’t — and then guess what, Mom? He asked me if I would like to publish a fanzine?

“Gee, would I! So he gave me ten dollars for the first issue and told me to get busy on it as soon as I got home. He’s a funny duck. I caught him two or three times when he didn’t know anybody was around. He would stand by a porthole up at the front end and blow cigar smoke out in space. Then he would rush like the dickens to the rear port window and watch it float by, with a pleased look on his face.

“Gosh, this trip is exciting, Mom! We had to make a stop a few hours ago and pick up a fan who had fallen overboard. A fellow named Rothman had opened a skylight in the roof and was taking pictures of the stars. A sudden gust of wind blew him out the skylight into space and it was a good thing somebody saw it happen. Rothman wasn’t wearing anything but a light suit and he might have caught cold.

“Some of the fans got out their costumes this evening, altho the masquerade is a week away. A swell fella named Speer had a complete Buck Rogers outfit. He slipped outside the ship, went topside and walked along the hull until he came to the forward port window. Then, tying a rope around his middle to hold him, he hung head-downwards in front of the window and shot his ray gun at the navigator and pilot. The navigator fainted but the pilot got pretty mad.

“A couple of swell guys from New York named Studley and Knight have asked me if I know how to play jungle dominoes, and would I like to get in on a little game? I told them I didn’t know how to play but they said they would be glad to teach me. We are going to have a game in my stateroom this afternoon. I said that I didn’t have any of those kind of dominoes, but Knight said for me not to mind, he would bring his. He says his set are “educated”, whatever that means,

“Well, I guess that’s all this time, Mom. I’ll write you again as soon as I get a chance. Gosh, but this is a swell bunch!

Yours truly,

Joe Fann

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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