Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

One wet day in Connemara, as I was fanning some smouldering twigs in the forlorn hope of cooking tea, a profound thought struck me. "The trouble with the Simple Life," I remarked to our distinguished guest, Bea Mahaffey, who was holding an umbrella over the camp fire . . . which we later rechristened the gamp fire . . . "The trouble with the Simple Life is that it's so darned complicated." It's true, you know. All this talk about the complexity of modern life is so much balderdash. A flick of the finger and you have heat, light and the Third : what could be more simple? Whereas in the old days, what with oil lamps and charcoal and countless other fiddling nuisances, life was so complex that it took you all your time just to continue to exist.

Obviously this trend must continue, and the better machines we have the simpler they will be, like the electric motor and the jet engine. Why, then, must some s-f authors persist in mucking about with mechanisms that are already perfectly simple and efficient? I am referring, of course, to doors. The ordinary simple door we have nowadays is not good enough for s-f authors. Ho, no. Their characters must make their entrances through apertures that dilate, slide, or dissolve or dosomething else ostentatiously superscientific—anything but just swing open on unpretentious hinges. They never seem to give a thought to the masses of electronic gear these useless refinements would involve, the expense and difficulty of installation and maintenance, and the embarrassment that would be caused when something went wrong, which it's bound to do with all that compli‑

cated machinery. Wait until they're locked in the laboratory from Monday to Saturday, and they'll wish they'd kept the simple dependable door, with only one moving part and nothing to go wrong.

And, of course, their characters, with their doors worked by photo-electric cells instead of handles, are laying themselves open to other troubles than purely physical ones. Why, a whole thesis could be written on the importance of the old-fashioned door in the emotional life of humanity, an emotional life that would be thwarted and embittered by handing door-opening over to robots. Consider, for instance, just one consequence of installing the new-fangled dissolving or dilating door in your home. How would you slam it? Just imagine what would happen if all the psychic disturbance at present dissipated in door-slamming were bottled up and vented on your fellow-men. No wonder the future societies imagined by these authors are generally neurotic and heading for a bad end. They're suffering from an ailment which I diagnose as slamnesia. an unconscious urge to slam doors, frustrated by having forgotten what they are.

If van Vogt wants to use this idea for a novel, I could suggest a very good title.

ALPHA, No. 13: Jan Jansen & Dave Vendelmans, 229 Berchemlet, Borgerhout, Belgium. Subscription 1/- per issue to British agent, Ron Bennett, 7 Southway, Arthur's Avenue, Harrogate, Yorks. As I've said before, one of the snags of reviewing fan magazines is that some of the best and most amusing are too esoteric to appeal to a newcomer. The subscribers and the editor have known each other for a long time, and naturally they have evolved their own family jokes, just as a longstanding radio programme has its own frames of reference. But to a person who, as it were, comes in in the middle, it is bound to be a little frustrating, which has made me feel guilty about recommending some of what I consider to be the best magazines. So it's with pleasure that I note the growth of a new trend in recent fan writing. Fanmags started by being exclusively devoted to amateur science, then to science fiction and then to fandom itself, each step in their evolution being the subject of bitter controversy. Now some of them seem to be progressing through the ultra-esotericism of the "fannish" fanzine and coming out on the other. side. A common cultural matrix for s-f fandom having been securely established, fan writers are beginning to write about the outside world from the vantage of that viewpoint. The prime exponent of this style has been Bob Shaw, an unacknowledged pioneer in so many fields, and there is a prime example of his work in this Alpha. It is an account of a fogbound voyage from Liverpool to Belfast which is not only funny in the peculiarly wacky way we think of as "fannish," but is completely comprehensible to an outsider and enjoyable to anyone who happens to share that sense of humour.

RETRIBUTION, No. 1; John Berry, 1 Knockeden Crescent, Belfast & Arthur Thomson, 17 Brockham House, Brockham Drive, London, S.W.2. Send 2½d stamp for free sample issue. This is an even more startling variant the trend mentioned above. This magazine might in some ways be even more attractive to the outsider than to the experienced fan, and for a most unusual reason. It is an entirely new phenomenon in fandom, a magazine primarily devoted to the exploits of an imaginary character, like The Saint or Dock Savage or The Shadow. In this case it is a farcical fan detective called Goon Bleary, an alter ego of nova fan John Berry and a cross between Mike Harmer and a sort of Pekinese Drummond. His adventures are embellished by the cartoons of the equally brilliant fan artist, Arthur Thomson of Hyphen, some of whose work you've also been seeing in Nebula. The other characters in the Goon Bleary stories are well-known fans . . . or at least they have their names.

from Nebula No. 17, July 1956

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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