All Our Yesterdays 6
by Harry Warner Jr.
This fanzine was like most of the fanzines in history — its first issue had a cover containing a space ship blasting onward and upward. But unlike other fanzines this one also had on its cover a worried-looking little man in a business suit, lugging a briefcase, rushing toward the vessel which was just blasting off from earth, and yelling: “Hey, wait!” That was fandom’s introduction to Snide.
I mentioned last time the new note that Sweetness And Light had struck in fandom. Fans had taken themselves rather seriously before the 40’s, having a good time at conventions, occasionally cracking jokes in the fanzines, but rarely taking the attitude that science fiction might not be the most important thing in life. But Sweetness And Light, the return of Tucker, Bruce Yerke’s “The Damn Thing”, and Snide, all came along within a couple of years, less successful imitators sprang up, and nothing was sacred in fandom from then on.
Damon Knight was responsible for Snide. (He still used capital letters on his name in those days.) He resided in an alleged place called Hood River, Ore., which no one had ever heard of before, and which has probably vanished from the face of the earth since he moved to New York. Why Damon didn’t go on to make his living by his pen is one of fandom’s unsolved mysteries. In those days, he seemed to have at least as much talent as Tucker, and definitely more than Bradbury. A little later he did sell an occasional yarn to the prozines, particularly to those edited by the New York Futurians group after he became closely associated with the Futurians in fan activities. He has also done some professional editing and agenting, I believe, but has turned out nothing to fulfil the promise of those issues of Snide.
One thing more about Damon, before we turn to Snide itself. Hardly a fan who is alive remembers that he is the guy who is responsible for the National Fantasy Fan Federation. Probably Damon himself has a whole chain of guilt complexes, caused by the outcome of his innocent suggestion. He wrote an article called “Unite for Fie” and submitted it to me while I was publishing Spaceways. It urged the creation of a national fan body. I rejected it, because I thought it would start a lot of discussion over the need for such a group, and didn’t want to devote much space to such an abstract quality. Damon then sent it to Art Widner, Jr., who published it in Fanfare. I was wrong. Fandom rallied around the idea without prodding, and the NFFF was created. Damon himself never took much of a part in the organisation, smart fellow. It’s hard to tell what fandom would have been without that article. No doubt, a national group would have been successfully proposed by someone else, but it might have been a national group with different purposes and methods.
Snide began to appear in 1940 and lasted for a year or two. Bill Evans, then living near Damon, was a co-editor after the first issue, but I think he’ll agree that the vital spark was furnished by Damon. The best material was written by Knight under pen names, and Knight did the illustrations that contributed so much to the magazine’s flavour. It was one of the few fanzines, in those days with really free format — ie one in which a heading could be any prescribed size or shape, a format which permitted the page in the middle of an article to be broken by an illustration. Damon ranks in my books as the best cartoonist ever produced by fandom. Not the best artist, he didn’t have the finest sense of humour, but he had the ability to weld a joke idea and a drawing inseparably together. Best of all, his cartoons were genuine stf jokes, not something borrowed from a magazine and twisted around into fantasy. They were inspired by situations that could only occur in stf, like the most famous cartoon of all, the man in the space suit, trying to get rid of the fly perched on the tip of his nose. Or the breathtaking silkscreen cover for the second Snide — silver, deep blue, and blazing red, on a pale blue background, depicting a spaceman shooting his futuristic gun, receiving the full effects of the blast in his posterior and saying: “Damn Einstein!”
Snide wasn’t altogether humorous. Serious stuff was published, although you never knew how long it was going to stay serious, like the remark in the middle of a prozine review column: “Free life subscriptions to any of the publications listed here may be obtained by writing to their respective editors, enclosing a one-and-a-half-cent stamp.”
However, satire, light-hearted fiction, and nosethumbing at prozines were the lifeblood of the magazine. The fiction was typified by a Ray Bradbury story, “Tale of the Mangledomvritch”. This was only two pages long (Snide was a half size publication, with 8½ by 11 pages folded down the short axis).
But I think the best thing in the first issues was “Via Totem Pole” and “Via Sweepstakes”, a couple of parodies. It’s an old thing, how a good parody can remain enjoyable, long after the thing it burlesques has been forgotten. Lewis Carroll’s “You are Old, Father William”, is a satire on a now forgotten poem, which lives in its own right. Similarly, Damon’s parody is as fresh and delightful as ever, even though the inspiring stories are permanently buried in the files of Thrilling Wonder Stories. Around 1939 or 1940, TWS was publishing a series of connected short stories, each of which had a title beginning with “Via”, and all of which consisted of radio messages received from a pioneer space expedition. The author was listed as Gordon A. Giles, generally considered a pseudonym for someone, and while the adventures of these earth men on other planets were better than the average TWS fiction, the series grew ridiculous, stretched out to such length.
In the first of the Knight parodies, Jupiter Expedition Number One is in a bad shape. The gravity on Jupiter is so strong that the metal in tin cans has been compressed, and so the cans can’t be opened with the ice pick, and everyone is starving. The expedition has found life on Jupiter, although the natives are not considered very intelligent, because none of them has been seen to move yet, except for one that got knocked down a hill by a rolling stone. However, on the 2,348½th day of the expedition:
The expedition then tries to figure out why totem poles have been found on all the planets. The members decide that it was because the inhabitants liked to build totem poles.
On the long voyage home, the ship is polluted with Jovian bedbugs, so Captain Batwell sprayed everything with kerosene and lights a match. “For six years, on Jupiter, we had not known a temperature above a hundred,” the narrator points out. Then the creeping cold of space sets in, while Parker calculates every half minute, with the space duodecant, because “The slightest error would land us inches and inches from our destination.”
The narrator sums it all up by saying of the return trip:
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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