All Our Yesterdays 29
by Harry Warner Jr.
When I was a little boy, and experienced great excitement each December, I always felt minor pangs of sorrow as each Christmas Eve arrived. Here was the occasion I’d awaited so long, expectations were about to be fulfilled, and yet there was the gnawing, inescapable thought that in a few hours there would no longer be anything to wait and hope for until the unthinkable eons of the succeeding twelve months had elapsed.
That old sensation has been sneaking into my emotions as the time before men land on the moon for the first time dwindles from years to months and now to weeks. Barring some kind of tragedy or act of bems, this could conceivably be my last chance to review how fans have behaved in connection with an inaccessible moon. I’m anxious to hear about the first landing on the moon, I’m steeled against the probability that it’ll appear utterly lifeless and lacking in surprises, I’m convinced that years or decades from now life and surprises will be found in crevices or caverns that won’t be explored during early landings, and simultaneously, I’m a bit unhappy over the knowledge that part of the mystery of the universe is about to be solved, never again to exercise its puzzling fascination for men and fankind.
One thing is certain: reading and collecting science fiction did not give fans any deep and accurate insight into the coming of space flight. The atom bomb went off in 1945, and perhaps those explosions were to blame for the bad guesses that so many fans made aboutt he conquest of space during the next couple of years. Gerry de la Ree took polls about space flight in those postwar years. In 1946, 47 out of 61 fans who answered the question predicted that atomic power would be used to propel the first spaceship. Fans did a bit better with respect to the sponsors: 25 predicted that a government would conquer space, while 19 held out for an independent group’s backing. Predictions on when the first unmanned space flight would occur ranged from 1947 to 2000, with 1950 the approximate date most popular with the forecasters. The first manned space flight was most generally placed around 1960, though individuals chose dates starting in 1947 and running through 2100. It remains to be seen if fandom was correct on another matter: 25 thought the United States would sponsor the first interplanetary flight, and 9 favoured Russia. Before you grow too patronizing about the firesight of that generation of fans, think again about the new atomic bombs and ask yourself if you’d have guessed that the power provided by the bombs still wouldn’t be in general use for less destructive purposes, two dozen years later.
I’m not sure why it should be so, but San Francisco and Berkeley fandom seems to ahve paid more serious attention to the moon, pending the first space flight, than fans in any other era. Once they got national attention in mundania, and on other occasions, they touched off a fannish whimsey that didn’t subside for years.
The newspapers and radio stations all over the country gave a pretty good play to the Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s SF Chowder and Marching Society around the start of 1952. That group calmly filed formal notice with the United Nations that it claimed several properties on the moon. It gave writers of funny headlines and caricaturists a good chance to exercise their ingenuity. It seems to have failed to come to full attention of the Security Council, but it did alarm the committee that was planning Chicon II. Persons who joined that con had been promised a small bonus in the form of one moon crater for each person who paid his dues. The committee promised that the craters were guaranteed, even if the Elves, Gnomes, and co., won the rights to their lunar properties.
But fandom soon forgot all that in its obsession with a project which the Fancyclepedia II credits to Dave Rike and Terry Carr. This was the tower to the moon which fandom was to construct out of beer cans — empty ones, of course. Beer guzzling could no longer be criticised as a mundane activity for fans, because it was an obvious type of fanac following disclosure of the great plan. All sorts of speculations, written and drawn, filled vast acreage in fanzines for years and years. The only dissenting voice seems to have been that of Poul Anderson, who cited the rings of Saturn as an awful example of what happened when a similar project was attempted many years ago on another planet without allowance for the difficulty of creating a rigid tower of this height from a rotating earth to an encircling moon. Nobody paid much attention to him, because a serious story published in Amazing around 1935, called ‘The Moon Waits’, had been based on the existence of a rigid tube from the moon to a point on the earth’s surface, and what man can imagine, man can accomplish.
So far, no fan has become famous as an astronaut or a major official in the nation’s space programme. Maybe the example of Bill Dubrucq had more influence on fandom’s behaviour than Gernsback’s insistence that fans should become scientists. Bill was a member of the Lunarites, the Memphis fans’ club, in 1940. He was helping in the search for a stable rocket fuel and tried to concoct one that proved to be definately unstable. He temporarily lost his sight in the explosion that resulted. So fans by and large didn’t do creative things when actual progress started towards real space flight. But it’s interesting to read, after a lapse of years, how some fans as bystanders reacted to the major events that have led up to the imminent moon landing. Here are some examples:
Dick Ryan, in 1955, on Eisenhower’s announcement that this nation planned basketball-size artificial satellites: “It’s started, by golly. It’s much less than the space platform we’ve heard popularised recently, but it’s something. Don’t you have a sense of destiny?”
Andy Young, studying and teaching astronomy at Harvard, on the same occasion: “That business about the artificial satellite took us unprepared, and we were just as uninformed as anyone when the story broke.”
Dan McPhail, two years later, after the Russians had launched the first sputnik: “I think we are going to see the darnedest race into space that you can imagine, between the USSR and the USA. It’s going to mean a boost in research beyond anything rocket scientists dared to hope for in the past.” Andy Young, again, on the sputnik: “We waited eagerly for the first step into space. But whoever thought it would be like this?”
Contrasting reactions to the 1962 orbital flight of John Glenn: Dick Bergeron: “John Glenn would probably chuckle at the fact that a simple triple orbit was too restful a theme for our favourite fiction. There’s something spinetingling about the sound of a midwestern voice coming from outer space. I sort of like the idea.” Hal Lynch: “Well, now we’ve got the cheering section. Suddenly we’re all of us in this thing, playing to win. Shades of D. D. Harriman! Even if Glenn is one-half the creation of a legion of ghostwriters and legendmakers, the other half is more of a full-fleshed character than the science fiction writers have ever been able to make of the first American into Space.” Steve Stiles: “I find myself so accustomed to the idea of travelling between galaxies that a mere few orbits around the earth don’t excite me. I find myself wondering if I’ll be able to drum up suitable excitement when the first manned ship lands on the moon. I suppose that it’s true that it’s hard for a romantic to pay proper attention to his own era.”
When Glenn rode in a triumphant parade in New York, Larry Shaw described how he, Bob Rhea, and Dick Lupoff “left our usual sophistication and unfinished lunches behind to yell our heads off with the rest of the crowd.” As Dick pointed out, “This is a day we’ve waited all our lives for! It was one time we were complete conformists, and loved every minute of it.” But how will fandom react to the first actual trip to the moon’s surface? As divergently as to the preliminary flights, or in a uniform manner which we won’t foresee until the returns are actually in?
One fan thought hard about that, two decades ago when atomic-powered space flight seemed quite near to many observers. The outcome of this thinking was perhaps the first piece of faan fiction ever written. It’s Redd Boggs’ ‘The Craters of the Moon’ first published in the July 1948 Dream Quest reprinted a time or so since then, and probably on the verge of reappearing in another reprinted form this year. ‘The Craters of the Moon’ describes the events of a few hours on the night when the first human lands on the moon. The local fan club votes itself out of existence, and the narrator curses that lunar explorer. Little else happens in a physical sense in the story.
Redd makes a lot of predicting boners. He chose June 19th 1950 as the date for the landing on the moon. There is apparently no means of radio communications, so light signals are flashed from the moon to bring information to earth. The local fan club has only one feminine member, George O. Smith has taken John W. Campbell’s place as editor of Astounding, and the magazine’s name was changed not to Analog but to Science Fiction. It would be easy to go on and on with proofs that Redd Boggs doesn’t have the ability to look into the real future.
But there’s another side to the faan story. Basically, it’s the most accurate prophecy of its kind ever written, even though we haven’t yet had that moon landing. What have you been reading about in fanzines recently? Worldcons that can’t cope properly with a couple of thousand attendees? New wave writing that differs so greatly from the kind we’re accustomed to? Wolheim’s talk, with its emphasis on how much science fiction has come true? Complaints that there is too much “Star Trek” influence in fanzines. Through the mouth of the imaginary Clint Martin, the senior citizen in the Centerville Science Fantasy Society, we learned basically those problems twenty years ago. The first moon flight of 1950 has spurred public interest in science fiction — “Will this new stuff be science fiction? Of course, as long as it is speculative, it will have to be classified as such, but it probably won’t be of the type the fan enjoys... We old-timers will be submerged by the new fans, who are all goose-bumps about the interplanetary love story or the tempo-nautical adventure yarn... No longer will we be avis rara... Fandom was at its greatest when a science fiction fan was an oddity, unknown to literary critics and feature writers. Subconsciously, I think, we have known and understood that. In some subtle fashion we’ve resented all this publicity, and popularisation of our favourite literature. All of us were alarmed when the atomic bomb fell — alarmed, in part, because it was a horrible weapon, but equally because it brought fulfillment of an old science fiction dream. Like all dreamers, we science fiction fans enjoy the dream more than the dream-come-true.”
The girl blasts the club’s decision to disband. “Science fiction fans are willing to peek into the future, but when the future creeps up on you, you start looking back”, she says and announces that she intends to volunteer for service on the moon And the narrator curses the explorer when a semi-literate news dealer corrects the fan on the name of the crater where the explorer had landed. “It was a hallmark of the new age.”
I bought a box of Compoz a year ago when squirrels broke into the attic and threatened to chew up my prozine and fanzine collection. I took one, then gave the squirrels something else, and haven’t had occasion to resort to the other Compoz tablets since then. I intend to take my second Compoz the day someone lands on the moon, just in case that day proves to be more unsettling than it gives promise of becoming.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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