F. Towner Laney — A Survey
The death recently of Francis T. Laney has brought home to me the fact that few fans today realise the multiple talents, inexhaustible interests, and top-notch ranking that Laney possessed during his peak of fannish activity. The fan who has wandered into the field during the past half-dozen years probably knows that Laney was a pioneer in the field of realism in fan writings, left active fandom with unequalled élan through production of “Ah! Sweet Idiocy!” and figures as a central character in the Burbee mythos. This mental picture of FTL is accurate but too fractional. I suspect that even we old-timers in fandom have tended to forget the extent of Laney’s activities, his leading place in fandom, his fecundity as a publisher and writer, and the sercon Aspects of his fanning. If someone were to take a poll to determine the ten most important fans of all time, I would unhesitatingly put FTL in this list, and he wouldn’t go into the tenth slot, either.
It is impossible to review even in an article of this length all the facets of Laney the fan with any great detail. If the excerpts that follow sound choppy, it is the fault of the Boswell, not the Johnson.
Laney’s reputation as an iconoclast, as a debunker of the less savoury things about Los Angeles fandom, and as a stamp collector in his last years may have helped to cause fandom to forget exactly what he did in fandom. As a fanzine publisher, his creativity can be largely lumped into three divisions: The Acolyte, his subscription fanzine that was largely sercon in nature and for four years a leading example of the fact that fanzines can be literate; Fan-Dango, largely confined to FAPA, which was still appearing as the 1950’s began, years after the suspension of The Acolyte; and the one-shot Ah! Sweet Idiocy!, a volume of fannish memories that was unparalleled at the time as a revelation of things that were more often said than written about fans. I would guess that this publishing activity must have contained a thousand pages, more or less. Add to that the several hundred articles by Laney that appeared in almost every important fanzine of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, and a career as a letterhack for fanzine letter sections that must have run to several hundred thousand words in published form. The total is enough to give the shivers to any fan who might undertake the job of choosing the materials for a memorial anthology.
I don’t believe that Laney’s type of realistic fan writing is quite understood, even today. It was not the realism that is obtained by peering through a dirty windowpane and applying an ear to a door and describing what has been seen and heard through the eavesdropping tactics. It was instead the realism that you obtain from a very expensive, high quality mirror set in full view in a fully lighted room, a mirror which magnifies slightly the things that it reflects, bringing into prominence every quirk and small detail that the normal eye might overlook. In a word, it is frankness, as an observer and as a writer. Laney was as scrupulously frank and candid as any person who has ever been in fandom. He said what he thought, sparing neither himself nor his friends nor his enemies in the process. He wasn’t to blame for the poor imitations of this kind of realism that resulted: the articles that contain a puke to the paragraph when describing a convention, or the character defamations that are written in an effort to gain the spotlight that a feud casts upon the participants. The obvious way to illustrate the real Laney method would consist of long quotations from “Ah! Sweet Idiocy!” However, I’m going to quote from a less accessible, earlier document of less scope, the “Pacificon Diary” that appeared in the 13th issue of Fan-Dango. This was distributed with the Fall, 1946, FAPA mailing, in the wake of the first real post-war fan convention. In the quotations that follow, I shall not indicate omissions from the original by means of dots, asterisks, or any other signals. These abridgement symbols are distracting to the reader, and unnecessary when the reader understands that condensation is in progress:
Monday, July 1. At the Clinic I discussed at some length with one of the surgeons the matter of sterilisation. I don’t want any more children (two are enough for me, at least) and I thought it might be interesting to lay some of the old wives’ tales on the subject. I learned one thing that is new to me: that the operation is not necessarily irrevocable, and that in 50% of the cases it is possible to rejoin the cords in the event of the patient changing his mind. Otherwise the facts are as I have understood: local anaesthetic, five minute operation, no loss of working time, no effect on one’s sexual powers except for a slight strengthening if anything, and so on. Due to some stupid law, co-operative clinics are not permitted to do the operation except in cases of proven necessity, but private urologists do the operation all the time. I’m toying with the idea, but so far have made no definite decision.
Tuesday, July 2. The balance of the day, unfortunately, was wasted much in the same way as all days of the week were wasted for most convention attendees. On the way from Central Avenue to Hollywood I dropped by Slan Shack for a moment, showed the records to a Perdue who was too drunk to be appreciative, and then supinely allowed myself to be inveigled into sitting waiting for Tucker and Mari Beth. The people finally showed up and I finally got away, but not without making a solemn vow I’d be drawn into no more fannish foolishness of this nature. Fans seem to have a great deal of difficulty figuring out anything to do with or to each other; at least the amount of time various individuals spent awkwardly sitting around waiting for something to turn up could not be imagined by one who did not actually observe it himself. Here they were, all these footloose and fancyfree people; and here was LA, beckoning and waiting their onslaught. So what did they do? Sat around for a week and waited for something to happen. Sonstein, Lucas and a few of the others spent most of their days rummaging around the used books stores. When some of the more braintrusty people got together - Speer, Widner, Rothman, Ashley - there were some very good bullfests. But so far as I could observe personally, the typical convention attendee was largely incapable of doing anything on his own initiative apart from sitting on his pratt looking shy and embarrassed.
Thursday, July 4. The presentation of the Fantasy Foundation was pretty badly muffed, but in retrospect this is quite understandable since Ackerman was, at the time he was talking, only a half-hour from the collapse which knocked him out of the convention he had worked so hard to present. All went as scheduled until I turned the meeting back to Ackerman for the punchline and windup, but it trailed off into mere nothingness. I was frantic, tried to get Ashley (who as local board member was the logical man to do this) to take the meeting over and try to salvage it, but he wouldn’t do it. I scared the living jasus out of Widner by asking him to fill in then, forgetting that he’d not been in enough of the discussions to handle it, but ended up grabbing it off myself. Then I discovered that Ackerman was sprawled out on a table in a semi-faint. It was believed at the time that the man had suffered a nervous breakdown but it fortunately turned out to be no more than a prostration brought on by overwork and head and nervous excitement and tension. It still kept Forry from the remainder of the convention; something I regretted very much since he was one of the few persons about to whom the convention meant so much that his missing it was a definite loss.
Friday, July 5. Not much need be said about the Friday afternoon session. Though Daugherty was ostensibly in charge, he did not wish to speak from the chair, and consequently turned the gavel over to Russ Hodgkins. Now Russ is a good guy, but he is also one of the more incompetent gavel-wielders of fandom, and the meeting ran clear away from him, while he looked about him helplessly. Most fans are willing to say what they have to say in a reasonably business-like way and sit down, but every gathering manages to have one or two relative outsiders who know nothing whatsoever of what is going on but who insist on latching on to the floor, and a quibbler or two. Such people should be resolutely squelched, and people prone to chronic paralysis of the gavel are for this reason unsuitable for the chair. (Take a hint, Milty, and have a chairman at Philly who (1) knows parliamentary law and (2) isn’t afraid to assert himself to keep a meeting from bogging down into a mess of futile asininities.) In the course of this session I lost my temper at arch-quibbler Elmer Perdue and called him an a--hole in a voice which carried over at least half the hall. This is the first equally public opportunity I’ve had to apologise to Elmer, and I’d like to do so. I have no apology to make to the convention, since an adequate chairman would have kept things well enough in hand so that the temper-raising quibbling would not have happened.
Saturday, July 6. I went out to dinner with the sticky gentleman from Portland and Sandy Kadet. The dinner conversation was enjoyable enough, but it was spoiled for both Sandy and myself when the said sticky gentleman made a pass at Sandy on the way out to the convention hall. He was repulsed, of course, but it was an ugly incident, any way you look at it. Sandy is one of the most likeable people I met at the Pacificon, and. I am very sorry that he was exposed to such an experience in my car. (Future conventions should warn us little innocents about hitherto unidentified homosexuals. The sticky gentleman from Portland makes it ten. Yes, fellow FAPs, he is the tenth active homosexual who has made his appearance on the local fan scene. Fans are slans.)
Sunday, July 7. The afternoon session didn’t amount to much. Some character named Donald Day apparently had nothing better to do with his time than to tabulate the number of stories written for the pulp stfzines by each author, his findings meant little or nothing from even a statistical point of view, and it was very difficult for me to see the point in his reading and discussing his findings for what seemed like a month, but was probably only about an hour and a half. Had this talk contained anything of criticism, or even a mere review, it would have been worthwhile, maybe; but as it was it would take a better man than I to attempt to justify its inclusion on the programme. I shan’t discuss the banquet, except to say that I felt robbed and starved. When I cough up $2.50 a plate for a meal, I expect something moderately edible, and this was one of the worst meals I’ve had in LA. I had been jokingly threatening to try to round up a congenial group, give the banquet a miss and go out to dinner at a certain Italian eatery I’m very fond of. I wish now I’d tried it. Taken by and large, the convention was enjoyable. Good as the convention was, though, I doubt if I’ll ever attend another one. Quite frankly, I don’t believe that it is worth it.
The original of this article runs to ten tightly packed pages. However, Laney was perfectly capable of terseness, when there was any need to be succinct. Joe Kennedy published an enormous 1946-1947 Fantasy Review, which covered the entire fan and professional science fiction field for a dozen months. Laney got the job of writing a page about the LASFS. I quote from it briefly:
Fan clubs come and fan clubs go, but the LASFS seems to go on forever, bumbling along in the same old rut and never quite getting into the groove. 1946 was a typical year, marked by an average number of quarrels and ruckuses, an occasionally stimulating meeting, and highlighted by the club’s arriving on a solid financial basis for the first time in several years. The club maintained an average attendance of 25 to 30 at its weekly meetings, most of which were of a trivial nature. Following the convention, nearly everyone succumbed to an overdose of crifanac and fans. Some of us have still not recovered. But as the club settled back into its pedestrian routine, it was momentarily resurrected by what was for many of us the outstanding event of the year, Samuel D. Russell’s July 25 talk on constitutional psychology. It was just an ordinary meeting presented ably. Also about this time occurred the ill-starred picnic known as Liebscher’s Folly, which has been so ably and completely written up by Tucker that I don’t feel like trying to describe the indescribable. E. Everett Evans found himself elevated to the directorship. Everett’s calibre as an organiser and executive is well-known to all fans and the LASFS may be expected to follow in the footsteps of the nfff.
Then later Laney turned more and more to the kind of writing that was deadly for its brevity and directness. Early in 1950, he was deeply immersed in a fuss with Ackerman. The 24th issue of Fan-Dango, distributed in the first FAPA mailing of 1950, contained such musings as:
The Big Pond Fund was a collection started by Anglophiliac Ackerman to import a sample British fan for one of the conventions for what outré purpose God and Forry alone know. For Christmas of 1947, FJA gave me a dollar. He knew better than to give it to me directly, so he put it in the Big Pond Fund under my name. The next anti-LASFS article I write, I’m going to sign Ackerman’s name to it, and then we’ll be even.
The current FAN-TODS gave an interesting parallel quotation arrangement proving while fan and pro-author of splendid stories, Henry Andrew Ackerman was a plagiarist. Ah yes. In the summer, 1944, ACOLYTE, I too exposed this boy Ackerman, showing that two of his fannishly published stories were lifted, stolen, plagiarised. For over a year, I was kept busy assuring people that this was NOT Forrest J Ackerman. A few, I am afraid, never did clear 4e in their innermost hearts, and one cannot blame them. After all, he is a man who will do ANYTHING for fandom!
Let me hasten to assure you that Laney’s typewriter ribbon was dipped in acid only occasionally. Some day, when a fan university exists, the most popular theme for theses may be the influence of Laney on Burbee and vice versa, as a writer of fannish humour and satire. “Spawn of the Blue Tiger” by FTL appeared in a tremendous issue of Bill Rotsler’s “Masque” late in 1949 or early in 1950, whose issue number I have been unable to find. Laney is describing a telephone call from the 13-year-old Con Pederson:
“But don’t you see?” Burbee was getting wrought up. “Don’t you see? In five or six years Buddy will be old enough to be a fan.”
“You mean Charles Edward Burbee III, don’t you?”
“That’s just it!” Burbee shouted. “In five short years that clean-limbed, intelligent, oldest son of mine will be dabbling in advanced semantics, publishing fanzines, going to the LASFS, joining FAPA. And don’t laugh, damn you - how old is Sandra?”
I tried to tell him that girls don’t become fans - while the ghosts of Myrtle, Marijane, Trudy, and Pogo and others paraded past my mind’s eye.
Our children, sweet, loveable, demure, fetching - just like their fathers. These precious innocents of ours, who have indubitably inherited our broad mental horizons and keen analytical brains. What ghastly retribution it would be for them to become fans! Our kids, our sweet loveable kids, would turn out to be serious constructive fans! I tried to tell Burbee something of all this.
“Naw, it won’t be like that, Towner.”
We sat and looked at each other for a time.
“I’ll tell you how it will be,” said Burbee. “There will be this thirteen year-old boy-wonder, a real brain truster at 12, a dabbler in advanced semantics at 13, and a good friend of mine. He will be coming over to my house all the time. And, of course, Buddy will be 13 or 14 then, too. And his friends will ask him, ‘Who is that goofy looking kid that keeps coming to your house all the time?’ And Buddy will say ‘Hell, he doesn’t come to see me; that’s one of my old man’s fuggheaded fan friends!’ And apart from wondering, in their innocent way, what an old man like me can see in a young boy like that, that’s all there will be to it.”
I hope he is right.
The 21st issue of Fan-Dango, which circulated through the Spring, 1949, mailing of FAPA, contained more philosophising about fans in general, fizzing up as the result of a visit that Laney, his wife Cele, and his mother paid to Ackerman on February 13. He was entertaining Eph Konigsberg, Jean Cox and Con Pederson when Laney arrived:
The whole experience terrified me, terrified me and set me to thinking. I believe that all of us have a certain inner fuggheadedness, more or less latent, which lies fallow and does not arise very much unless especially brought into the open. We live our little lives and do our little deeds and die our little deaths, and only rarely do we ascend to any great heights of fuggheadedness.
One of the chief things that brings out our own latent fuggheadedness is protracted association with fuggheads en mass. Let me hasten to say that none of the four gentlemen who were at 4e’s are basically fuggheads. No, indeed. And that they said many fuggheaded things must emphatically not be held against them, for they are in a sense unwitting victims of their environment. Surely few will fail to agree that the LASFS, the matrix of these four, is one of the twentieth century’s great citadels of fuggheadedness.
If we consider a woman apart from her social matrix, we are apt to look somewhat askance at her habit of plastering her hair with fresh cow dung. We might even be a bit dubious about her manure coated skull, hesitate perhaps before we took her to the Palladium. But if we realised that she was a Ubangi woman, that all women of her tribe made cow dung coiffures, we would understand and accept and think no more about it. In an analogous way, any fuggheaded remarks made by these four gentlemen can be explained and forgiven as part of their matrix. Where fuggheadedness is the norm, no one can be blamed for falling into occasional fuggheaded lapses. But constant association with fuggheads inures us. Our threshold of receptivity for fuggheadedness becomes dangerously high. It takes a titanic and overwhelming piece of asininity to rise above the background and strike us. The typical fugghead and his typical fuggheaded remarks just slide right by; we accept him and them; in fact we even top them with fuggheadedness of our own. I’d been away from fans too long, I guess. My fuggheadedness threshold was extremely low – too low to protect me - and I am still quivering inside from the impact. I’ll bet that if any one of them were to stay around non-fans exclusively for eight or ten months, then go back and talk with the other three, their reaction would be the same as mine.
So far, I have dealt mainly with the Menkenish Laney, the side of Laney that was to be found in his personalzine for FAPA, Fan-Dingo, and in many of his contributions to other people’s fanzines. But the sercon side of Laney appeared in The Acolyte, which was devoted to weird and fantasy literature in general, with much emphasis on H. P. Lovecraft. Towards the end of his fannish career, Laney undoubtedly wished that some specialised kind of catastrophe could wipe out most of this phase of his creativity from fanzine collections throughout the world. But it was a good sort of devoted fannish fervour, which was always literate and grew dull less often than most serious-minded fan writers. “Criteria for Criticism: The Preliminary to a Survey” was the lead article by FTL in the Summer, 1945, issue of The Acolyte. It typifies the sober-minded side of Laney. Not one fan in a hundred would guess that he was the author of this typical quotation from his six-page article:
Of perhaps lower artistic stature than genuine satire is unadorned humour. Humour in fantasy, to my mind, is well-nigh the least acceptable of any secondary motivations. This is not to deny the very genuine place in general literature of humour; it is merely to state that so-called fantastic humour seems of questionable value except, perhaps, for occasional bits worked now and then into serious stories. At this moment, no piece of all-out fantastic humour comes to mind which approaches the quality of stories cited as examples elsewhere in this article. Perhaps this is partly clue to definition. Thorne Smith, for example, is satiric fantasy throughout, with frequent interludes of all-out slapstick. L. Sprague de Camp is frequently admired as a writer of humorous fantasy, but an analytical reading of such masterpieces as “The Land of Unreason” or “The Incomplete Enchanter” leaves little justification for listing them as other than serious fantasy. It is true that each of these writers has an exquisite knack of limning fantastically absurd and amusing incidents which abounds in all their stories, but those are incidents rather than being the chief components of the stories themselves. John Kendrick Bangs wrote many volumes of humour, both fantastic and mundane, in the 1890’s, but the writing style unfortunately dates these tales badly. A.M. Phillip’s “The Mislaid Charm” is the host available example of fantasy humour, and it suffers exceedingly by comparison with Thorne Smith’s fantastic plots and mundane slapstick incidents, subtle and delightful satire, and it seems rather emasculated in this light. A whole article might well be devoted to the place of humour in fantasy; perhaps I am dismissing it too curtly. But it seems to me that in a branch of literature devoted to soaring ideals, brilliant imagination, powerful mood creation, prophesy of the future, and similar lofty topics more laughter for laughter’s sake is out of place. Furthermore, it is well-nigh impossible to find any humour, even in fantastic settings, which does not owe its power of amusement solely to mundane factors. For those reasons, I tend to object to fantasy humours always differentiating between mere humour and genuine satire.
However, The Acolyte normally was easier going than that article, which must have been written too soon after perusal of HPL’s famous essay on weird fiction. Most of The Acolyte was devoted to contributions from other writers, but the intense Laney bobbed up in the editorials quite frequently. Hardly a fan who is now alive remembers the vendetta that sprang up between Laney and the only other, fan who was publishing a really literary fanzine at the time, A. Langley Searles. The Spring, 1945, issue of The Acolyte devoted most of its editorial to an astonishing “retraction” of which the following is typical:
We deeply regret the necessity of devoting further space to the rather futile antagonism existing between co-editor Laney and A. Langley Searles. Searles has complained that Laney’s brief account of it in the last Acolyte is incomplete, inaccurate, and gives an improper impression to readers who may not be fully cognisant with the full facts of the matter. Searles, in fact, has demanded an amplification and/or retraction on penalty of his bringing suit against us for libel. As stated in the previous editorial, Laney’s family obligations preclude his participation in the always expensive folderol of court proceedings. To put it bluntly, Laney does not feel it worthwhile to jeopardise the possible future of his two infant daughters by taking any chances whatever on making big donations to lawyers and their works. If this be cowardice, make the most of it.
Searles points out that Laney did not answer his letter dealing with the possible collaboration on the biblio, and that Laney attacked him in his Fantasy Apa magazine, Fan-Dango. These facts are true. The editorial was incomplete however, in that it did not mention that the chief point of difference between Laney and Searles arose over Searles’ statement in his FAPA publication to the effect that he would submit to the Postmaster General any FAPA magazine in future mailings which seemed to him illegally pornographic, and therefore unmailable according to P.O. regulations. Searles agrees that a previous official FAPA decision had set up machinery to cope with submissions of this nature, but states that he felt it had been disregarded and that prompt action, rather than words, was therefore demanded.
Laney, in addition to being completely opposed to any censorship other than that imposed by the good taste of individual FAPA members, felt that Searles’ proposed action could be construed in no way other than as that of a would-be informer. The page of his magazine which carried this threat was included in the same envelope as the letter which was wrongly referred to as arrogant and supercilious. Laney admits freely that his extreme anger at this statement caused him to ignore the letter from Searles, caused the attack on Searles in Fan-Dango, and caused him to announce that he would boycott Searles altogether. Laney wished to point out that the chief bone of contention, this ruckus in FAPA, was left out of the original statement, and, thus toned down, the editorial in #9 Acolyte was not a complete statement of fact.
The 14th issue of The Acolyte, published in Spring, 1946, led off its editorial in this fashion:
This, dear reader, is the last issue of The Acolyte as you have known it. It is not, I hope, the end of our association with one another.
I have been considering seriously for more than two years the termination of this magazine. The amount of sheer drudgery connected with its production in a quarterly issue of 200 copies cannot be imagined by one who has not himself undertaken something similar. Each issue involves at least 6400 pages through the mimeograph, at least twelve hours of assembling and wrapping, and at least twelve hours of clerical details in connection with the mailing list. If one has anything else whatever to do, a chore such as publishing The Acolyte quickly becomes unsupportable.
Things have gotten to the point where I have time to solicit the material for a good magazine, or I have time to publish a magazine. I do not have time to do both. And with The Acolyte’s two-and-a-half year old momentum gradually petering out, it is evident that something must be done about it.
So, friends, this is the last Acolyte.
I have mentioned Laney’s extreme prominence in fandom in those years. This might be a good time to pause and look at documentation of that remark. The 1946-1947 Fantasy Review, to which I had recourse earlier in this article, included poll results. Laney received 489 points to lead the poll in which “voters were asked to picks the best fan writers and publishers of 1946 - to be judged on a basis of quality, not activity.” He was described in this manner in that poll report, probably by Joe Kennedy:
Laney retained his crown as the leading fan journalist. Though his excellent literary fanzine, The Acolyte, folded during the course of the year, Laney continued to maintain a reputation as a forceful and convincing fan writer, with critical articles in Fantasy Commentator and a regular column, “The Fanzine Scope”, in Vampire. He carried on his FAPAzine, Fan-Dango, and devoting himself to more stfnistic activity, held for a time the post of publications director for Fantasv Foundation.
Moskowitz finished second to him, Searles was third, and Speer fourth. Although The Acolyte was discontinued before the year under consideration was half finished, it finished fifth in the fanzine division of the poll. And this popularity was no flash in the pan for Laney. As late as the February, 1950, issue of The Fantasy Amateur, FAPA’s official organ, we find Laney finishing among the leaders in a bewildering array of classifications. Fan-Dango was rated third best publication in FAPA for the preceding year - and was rated among the best five FAPA publications by more persons than the publications that finished first and second. Laney was rated fourth among the best fiction writers, third among the article writers, seventh for mailing comments, first for poetry, second for humour, and second as the best FAPAn. In addition, the summary showed that Laney had contributed 141 pages to FAPA during the preceding year, by far the greatest output for any member, and only seven fewer pages than the second and third placers put together.
Laney as a letter-writer deserves an article all to himself. He claimed in print that he had purposefully developed his prose style from terrible beginnings through hard work. However, I never detected major differences between Laney’s formal essay style and his letter-writing style, where the differences between an instinctive and an acquired writing technique normally appears. While I am tempted to quote extensively from his letters to me, to prove my point, it will be more consistent with the nature of this article to limit myself to letters that appeared in fanzines. The following extracts from Laney epistles that appeared in various issues of Voice Of The Imagi-Nation, in the mid-1940’s, are not breathtaking for the depth of their thought. But they provide an excellent clue to the ease with which Laney wrote taut, clean prose in first-draft form:
It seems to me that Raym’s twin desires to “gain as much knowledge as possible...about just what had gone before, and what is happening in the present” and reading the “classics of literature” are rather incompatible. While such works as Pepys’ Diary or Cellini’s Autobiography will do their bit towards gratifying both aims together, I cannot see the point of reading “classic” American history by Washington Irving or George Bancroft in preference to the modern works of such historians as the Beards, nor the need of wading through the theology of Milton or the musty tediousness of Pope when one can read George Sterling. Or why bother with the chauvinism and archaic social viewpoints of Kipling when there are books around like Strange Fruit or Ulysses, or the Studs Lonigan stuff? Mankind is bound to change, one way or the other, and too many fictional works reflect a momentary state of society that is either gone or on the way out.
If Joel, as he claims, has this “genuine appreciation of fandom”, he would do well to consider underlying motives before he rushes into print to attack a person who has always acted towards him with friendliness. My defence of him may have been “utterly vulgar” - I do not presume to state if it was or not - but at least it was sincere. He states that he does not need any defence...well? I trust readers of VOM are familiar with the average Vulcan publication. About all that can be said for the best of them is their burning sincerity; the material as a rule is definitely second-rate, and the presentation is very poor. I felt all along, and still feel, that each of these magazines and editors shows sufficient promise to be worth encouraging, I felt moreover that outbursts such as the Bronson article would tend to drive new editors out of the field, so I felt that it was desirable for some fairly prominent fan editor to take up cudgels in the lad’s behalf. For my pains I get torn apart in print.
FTL left most of fandom with the impression that Los Angeles was Sodom which was trying to live up to the reputation of Gomorra. However, as long as Burb edited Shangri-L’Affaires, the golden vein of Burbee material was turned into a precious alloy by the silver of Fran’s more benignant writing moods. Burb described how this happened once:
Laney, that old of the fanzines, was the main attraction and elemental force behind this astonishing occurrence at 637 1/2 Burbee Street; he dashed around like an amiable lapdog and addressed us in his gently bellowing voice telling everyone just what he could do. Finally he decided there was something he could do, too. As the full comprehension struck him with all its dazing force, he was forced to sit down and slowly assimilate the stupidindous facts. Then, with a brave shrug and a shuddering inhalation, he sat down and went to work, too...
Here is Laney himself, filling a page on what might have been, but probably wasn’t, that very occasion:
This is one of those things! Someone conceived the quaint idea of having a gala publishing night here at Shangri La, a night when the clubroom would be sacred to the holy rites of publishing an issue of that once sterling fanzine, SLA. Well, I’m working. On my immediate left is that doughty fellow, Prince of Pockerannas, ye olde fooie, Tripoli. He has a harassed expression on his usually benign pan, for he is attempting to use my 1915 model LCSmith. Also he is one of the very few people in this room who is actually working. Across from me catty-corner is that newest arrival, Tigrina. She too is working. You can tell that neither EEE nor TNT have been here for long. Me, I have to work. I’m the director and have to set a good example.
Any scientifictionist this week is undoubtedly filled with thoughts of atomic power. It is as I write this some three days since the first atom bomb dropped on the Nips. I suppose that this discovery was inevitable, but somehow I’d been hoping that it would be deferred for another couple of centuries. The implications of atomic power do not leave me particularly happy.
In the first place, from the releasing of atomic power it is but a comparatively short step to harnessing it. Many difficulties remain to be solved - true enough but it seems reasonably probable that 25 years from now will see this mighty power available for general use. Will we get the benefit of it? I doubt it. Probably some powerful group will use it to make themselves more powerful; the rest of us can go to hell.
And consider the fun we will have some two decades hence when these bombs start dropping on our cities?
We have a civilisation, so-called, which has shown itself to be incapable of even making an equitable distribution and use of steam power. A civilisation which curtails its food production while a large proportion of its population is enduring sub-standard conditions of nutriment. A civilisation which has its sawmills running three days a week in 1938 while half its populace is living in antiquated hovels and warrens. A civilisation which cannot even make suitable use of so relatively simple a thing as an internal combustion engine, as witnessed by the thousands killed and maimed thereby annually.
And now we have atomic power.
Children playing with matches. Cthulhu help us!
This criminally brief summary of Laney-ana has left untouched a major area of his output: the writing that had nothing to do with fantasy or fandom. Most of the writing on mundane subjects that reached fandom appeared via FAPA. It is startling to look over old Fan-Dangos, and find in them definitive articles on subjects which were allegedly new when they bobbed up in this or that FAPA publication just the other day. Sailing ships, for instance: nine years ago, FTL published in “Larboard Your Helm, Burbee!” a three-page article that provides more information about sailing ships than you would normally find by reading a couple of reference works. Naval history was one of Laney’s endless collection of interests. It’s easy to see that he was writing from knowledge, not from the pages of this or that encyclopaedia, when he goes on like this:
I also see I neglected to mention yards, the transverse timbers on which the sails are spread. Each yard takes the name of its sail. And at the tops of the masters proper (i.e. just below the joint between the masts and the top-masts) are the tops, large platforms on which we station the Marines to fire muskets at the enemy’s decks.
It has been a hot summer in Hagerstown. I spent a couple of hours in a stifling attic in my home, getting myself smudged on every accessible surface with the grime and dust of two decades, while hunting through disordered fanzines for the raw material of this article. The repression that was required to prevent this searching period from stretching into dozens of hours must have left permanent scars on my subconscious, because the temptation was almost unbearable, to halt the hunt time and time again in order to read this or that long-forgotten fanzine or to go through the contents of letters from people who were once favourite correspondents. I strained my back once, trying to lift out a pile of fanzines without moving other piles far enough to got a proper grip on the bundle that I wanted. While dancing on one leg in an effort to relieve the ache, I suddenly realised how marvellously my undertaking was fulfilling Laney’s convictions about the incurable gyrations of fans. Two wasps that had squeezed into the attic buzzed around me, and as I raced them to the safety of the lower regions of the house, I suspected that the spirit of Laney might be chortling somewhere. If so, I’m thankful that I’ve made him happy.