All Our Yesterdays 33
by Harry Warner Jr.


Almost everyone must have a certain love-hate mixture in his reaction to those big, professional-looking, photo-offset fanzines with full-colour covers, better art than the prozines, far-out and inventive makeup inside. It’s impossible not to love them, but there must be some hate adulteration in various groups for different reasons: the rest of the fanzine editors because it’s so hard to compete with these for Hugo nominations, their own editors because the cost is too great for frequent publication, old-time fans because of a lingering fear that their existence may discourage lots of people from starting modest-looking but worthy fanzines, young and impoverished fans because they cost a great deal or are too beautiful to risk getting fingerprints on or frighten these fans from submitting material.

One consolation might be that fandom had something almost as impressive three decades ago and survived without experiencing the trauma that theoretically should have occurred. Stardust was the first printed fanzine that looked professional, provided beautifully reproduced halftones as well as line cuts for illustrations, showed some imagination in makeup, and rivalled some prozines for quality of fiction. Printed fanzines had always had a vaguely sloppy look about them before Stardust, usually appeared on scruffy pulp paper, and had too small a format to allow much leeway for artists or headings. Exceptions were a handful of beautiful publications that had been handset and published for a special audience on some particular topic with no intent of spreading it all over fandom.

In 1940, W. Lawrence Hamling was a comparatively new fan who was already mutating into a pro. While in high school, he had been chief editor of the school publication, Lane Tech Prep, which claimed to be the largest slick prep publication anywhere, and circulated 10,000 copies. He wrote some fantasy fiction for the school magazine, and in turn borrowed some of its format ideas for his fanzine.

“Ever since the days of the Fantasy Magazine and Marvel Tales, fandom has wished for such a magazine,” Hamling wrote in an autobiographical sketch using the third person to refer to himself. “Bill decided that it was worth the effort involved to give fandom such a magazine — and did it.”

The reference to Marvel Tales explains some of Stardust’s one great flaw. It ran too heavily to fiction. The stories were good, probably representing what their professional authors considered the best of their rejection backlog. But already the great boom in magazine science fiction had begun and the need for a semi-pro fiction magazine was not as pressing as the need that had existed when William Crawford tried to make a success of the fiction-orientated Marvel Tales. Hamling knew the group he wanted to reach, “the larger, but as yet inactive group of fantasy followers who have up to now taken a back seat and have been contented to slide along,” and it’s hard in retrospect to understand how he felt that a fiction-dominated publication could fit the job he thought he had filled. His first issue editorial described it:

“This chain has not been severed. The chain, that is, which separates these fans from the field of active fandom. To that end Stardust is dedicated.... A common ground must be found on which these two great factions can tread, side by side. I firmly believe that Stardust has found that ground. We know that a strictly professional magazine is inadequate to the task, and similarly do we know that a strictly amateur publication is inadequate...Stardust has its aim. To awake interest! To provide that common bond! To unite the passive group and that of the active fans into one huge fantasy organisation!”

Fans who risked the almost unprecedented price of 20 cents for the first issue of Stardust received a 24-page, 8 by 11 inch, professionally printed magazine with slick, heavy paper, featuring on the front cover a razor-sharp reproduction of a photograph of a nebula. The line-up of contributors was quite impressive, perhaps the most star-studded since the collapse of Fantasy Magazine: L. Sprague deCamp, Malcolm Jameson, Robert Moore Williams, Charles D. Hornig, and Ralph Milne Farley, not to mention the not yet celebrated Chester S. Geier. A less celebrated contributor was Henry Bott, apparently a writer of popular science non-fiction. His fact article on the moon and speculation on travel to it contains a sentence which we’ve heard paraphrased quite a lot of late: “But of what use would this worthless world be?” He answered by citing the moon’s possibilities as a jumping-off place for flights to more distant worlds, as the site for an observatory, and possibly as a source of minerals. He concluded: “Oh, what a boost to man’s ego when the first Earthman, clad in a space suit impervious to lack of air, or cold, or heat, steps from the air-lock of the first crude vessel, upon the pock-marked surface of the moon, and hesitantly (from emotion) says, ‘I claim this world in the name of Earth!’” Armstrong wasn’t quite that imperialistic, and it’s curious that the speculators of old didn’t foresee a logical necessity like a small stepladder.

In the same first issue, Hornig wrote an essay on a topic that is not yet exhausted in fanzines, “Sex in Science Fiction.” But it’s not likely that discussion on that topic today will use quite the language or argument that Hornig adopted:

“Good science fiction stories tend to place the fan on a higher mental plane, a psychic condition that broadens his horizons and causes him to identify himself with the generalities of possibility — to lose his present identity in speculations of the future. There is a very hackneyed phrase (which I must plead guilty of helping to perpetuate) about science fiction taking one ‘out of the hum-drum work-a-day world’. I think that phrase is so overworked because it is true. Now: the sex-mood does just the opposite. It is mostly animalistic. It eliminates the higher mental plane. It battles the escapist attitude of science fiction, spoils the illusion of glorious psychic expansion, and, in fact, reduces the reader to a lustful, very down-to-earth personality.”

As a slight anti-climax, Hornig added: “A little wholesome love interest belongs in a good story, but it should not create a sex-mood.”

The second issue had graduated to two-colour printing on the cover drawn by Jack Binder, brother of Eando. Its most important item is one of the very few articles about Heinlein the man, as distinguished from Heinlein’s fiction, that you can find in the whole corpus of fanzines. Ackerman wrote a personality piece at a time when Heinlein was just becoming a familiar name. Nobody had heard of the future history stories, all the novels were yet to come, but Ackerman had read some of Heinlein’s unpublished fiction, described himself as steeped in “Heinleinarratives long before he has begun to make an impression on the reading public” and proclaimed: “Bob is coming, with a bang!” Some of the unpublished fiction to which Ackerman refers still hasn’t appeared, to the best of my knowledge, such as a novelette about Atlantis which he was writing in collaboration with another Los Angeles resident, Elma Wentz, or a story about a mutant man “of the nature of New Adam”. I’m also unable to figure out if a story which Ackerman calls Bob’s personal pet, “A Business Transaction”, really was published later by Campbell under a different title. “Misfit” Ackerman revealed, was originally called “Cosmic Construction Corps” and the working title of “If This Goes On” was “Vine And Fig Tree”. Ackerman lists as Heinlein’s favourite science fiction Taine’s “Time Stream”, Smith’s “Galactic Patrol”, Wright’s “World Below”, and Stapledon’s “Odd John” and “Last and First Men”, plus anything by Wells. Heinlein, Ackerman says, “considers science fiction can be a very important form of creative literature and is inclined to think ‘a considerable amount of speculative science fiction would be excellent collateral reading for students majoring in science, just to keep them from getting dogmatic and set in their ways.’” Ackerman asks Mrs. Heinlein to describe her husband and quotes her: “Bob has the eyes of a wounded olive.” Heinlein is alleged to possess independent control of his eyes and to prefer blue beyond all other colours.

With its fourth issue, Stardust changed format slightly, reducing page size to 6 by 9 inches and increasing to 32 the number of pages. And by the fifth issue, the magazine had settled down into a better balance of fiction with non-fiction. Moreover, the non-fiction had turned away from popular science articles to the kind of material the fringe fan who didn’t know most fanzines couldn’t find in professional publications. Mort Weisinger, for example, was speculating about the chances of prozine writers selling science fiction to the slicks.

“The slick science fiction tale should be elementary in concept, with an emphasis on characterisation and plot. Futuristic trimmings should only serve as a skeleton, yet be convincing. The story is the meat. Once the writer has established his premise, he’s on his own. The reader has swallowed that foundation because he has been able to identify it with contemporary settings and situations. The reader accepts the idea of a Fair of the future, a West Point of tomorrow. These concepts become as taken for granted as the pulp scientificition reader’s understanding of the Lorentz-Fitzgerald contradiction, Newton’s Third Law, etc.”

Hardly anyone except Heinlein and Bradbury fulfilled Weisinger’s goal by selling consistently to the slicks, but their slick-published stories bear some foundation for his theories, and his suggestions seem more cognate concerning science fiction on television, after the tube killed the slicks as fiction markets.

Ray Palmer has a long article in this same issue which goes on and on, sounding at times strangely like one of Harlan Ellison’s farewells to fandom. However, Harlan has never claimed credit for creating Robert Moore Williams’ writing style. Williams has been involved in some recent fanzine controversy. I have no idea whether Williams remembers in the same way a historic occasion which Palmer describes in this manner:

“For two years I tried to teach writers what I wanted. A classic example is Robert Moore Williams. He came to my office one afternoon, after having had a dozen straight rejects from me, to find out what was wrong. I told him simply ‘Your stories are a lot of pretty writing. You write for Mr. Campbell. I don’t like Campbell’s way of writing... If you’ll take your next manuscript, blue-pencil every phrase you consider to be good writing, I’ll buy it.’ He did. Yes, dear fans, he ‘done went an’ hacked sumpin fearful!’ And he wrote a good story. He’s been writing ‘em since. He has been learning too, with practice, and today, he is still writing stories, with hack words (Webster says they are common, ordinary ones) but those stories are beginning to get naturally the ‘soul’ he used to think he was giving them with his pretty, high-sounding phrasing. Today, ofttimes, he sells me some pretty phrasing, but it has guts. It really is writing!”

Ackerman’s biography appears in this issue. To give you some idea of how long ago 1940 was, his collection filled only two rooms in his house and one garage at that time. I doubt that any publication anywhere has revealed since that issue of Stardust some Ackerman trivia: His favourite actresses were Jean Arthur, Alice Faye, Hedy Lamarr, Priscilla Lane, and Marlene Dietrich; green was his favourite colour; he preferred the scent of pine; and among his favourite stories were “Odd John”, “Mastermind of Mars”, “Black Flame”, and “The Diminishing Draft”. I seem to remember that the last title was “Draught” but don’t ask me who wrote it when.

And those five bimonthly issues in 1940 were all that Stardust ever issued. The final issue appeared around the time of the first Chicon. After that event, Chicago fandom splintered, many of its members turned into pros, Hamling soon was working with Palmer, selling fiction, and preparing the career that was to lead to editorship of Imagination and later men’s magazines, and Stardust didn’t change the nature of fanzines after all. I’m glad it didn’t, even though I enjoyed it immensely and was even given a token listing on the masthead for several issues as a member of the editorial staff. I like the spectacular fanzines of today and I hope they survive much longer than Stardust did, and still leave the bulk of fanzines unscathed.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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