Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

Last time, I had better explain for the benefit of any among you who don't cut this column out and learn it by heart, I was telling the thrilling story of how Ken and Pamela Bulmer went off to the States as representatives of British fandom under the Transatlantic Fan Fund. In case you've been lying awake nights wondering what happened to them, well they've since been in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Savannah and Washington. Ken has grown a beard, and from reports of his appearance the most charitable explanation is that he hopes to get deported and thus save his fare home. (I could say that is an example of growing fare hair, but I won't.) However, in spite of his ferocious appearance, he and Pamela have been encountering wonderful hospitality from American fans everywhere they go.

In Cleveland, of course, they were guests of the Convention Committee and one of the things they had orders from British fandom to do, apart from having a good time, was to put in a bid for London as the site of the World Convention in 1956. Well, of course, as it says in Whitaker's Almanac, orders must be obeyed at all times, but when Ken got to Cleveland he found that New York had done everything conceivable to ensure getting the nomination themselves, short of extending the city boundaries by 12,500 miles in every direction. When New York decides to do a thing, no one else has much of a chance of beating them at it. As Robert Briggs of Washington was heard to put it once, "New York would rather be the dirtiest city in the world than the second cleanest." In the circumstances all Ken could do was withdraw as gracefully as possible and make it unanimous. So it will be just an ordinary British Convention this year, inasmuch as any British Convention can be described as ordinary, and it will be held in the George Hotel, Kettering, over the Easter weekend—same place and date as the happy affair last year.

However, there's now a very good chance that London will get the World Convention in 1957, and plans will be laid for this at Kettering, with the appointment of representative committees with regional members and everything. Not that this will mean that a few Londoners won't have to do all the work, as they usually do, but it will mean that there will be someone else to blame when things go wrong, as they usually do. Sometimes it seems to me that the only way to avoid the disasters to which Convention programmes are always succumbing is to have the entire official programme prerecorded on tape or film. In other words, automation. It doesn't seem to be so far off, either. It's been only too noticeable in recent years that the only items which went according to plan were the tape-recorded plays and the film show. Basically, of course, the trouble is that Conventions are becoming too enjoyable. The people who should be running things are far too busy having fun to worry about schedules, and since they are the people who write the affair up afterwards, it passes into history as a highly successful Convention. But there must be newcomers attracted by the advance publicity who attend unnoticed, watch in perplexity, and leave in silence. This won't do. Science fiction fans are friendly and likeable people but it's asking too much to expect a newcomer to walk into a conversation and introduce himself. If we are going to advertise a science fiction convention to the general science fiction public we must put on a genuine programme of interest to it. It seems to me the only practical alternatives are either to hand over the official programme to the professional publishers or to prepare a packaged one which will grind remorselessly on even if everyone responsible is whooping it up on the third floor. Prefabricated programmes have the further immense advantage that they can be used again. It would be possible for a keen but introverted fan group to put on a Convention just by booking an hotel and buying a dozen reels of guaranteed high-class programme.

One thing that occurs to me is that when all our distinguished American visitors come over in 1957, we should be able to show them something that hasn't existed for a long time—a good new British sf film. There hasn't been one since "Things to Come," that classic of the Thirties, and it was beginning to look as if every planet in the solar system was going to be overrun by third-rate bit players from Brooklyn. Now, however, we have "The Quatermass Experiment." By all accounts it sticks loyally to the original TV serial, which held all of us here enthralled for six weeks, right from the opening with the crashed spaceship to the climax where the hero has his back to the wall in Westminster Abbey, while the horrible vegetable alien rustles its fernlike tentacles all round him. (Courtesy of John Rustle Fern, no doubt.) Though I must admit that at this awe-inspiring moment one inveterate punster was heard to murmur, "Don't be afraid, Quatermass; you are among fronds." What we liked about the story, apart from the fact that it was the best piece of science fiction we'd ever seen on a screen, was that it made no feeble concessions to the science fiction ignoramus. No earnest lectures on elementary astronautics, no hackneyed quotations about Heaven and Horatio, no desperate attempts to explain why it doesn't have to have air to push against up there—just a good science fantasy. Judging from the reaction of the critics and ,the public it doesn't seem to have done the film a bit of harm.

from Nebula No. 15, January 1956

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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