Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

"They watched anxiously as Kcid came to them across the treacherous ttornot. 'He'll be here in less than a glb,' muttered Arck tensely."

This is a typical example of the sort of thing you find in many modern science fiction stories and which infuriates anyone with a logical mind. Why, it even annoys me. I refer of course to those alien words and names which the author uses to impart an appearance of verisimilitude to his narrative, much as Indian Army colonels pepper their memoirs with chota pegs, mem sahibs and tiffin. The idea, you see, is that the author was there on the spot witnessing these stirring events, and is so intimately acquainted with the locale that he can't even think what the English equivalents might be for the local terms. He'll do his best of course, but he can't be expected to descend to the level of you day trippers.

I don't mind that so much, though it is a cheap trick. What I object to is the names themselves. These are all ones that have been used in professional stories recently. Just look at them. I concede that you can't very well call your extra-terrestrials Smith and Jones, and it's legitimate enough to give them names that look strange and exotic with lots of consonants, especially 'X' and 'K'. But I do claim that they ought to have proper names, not mere random collections of letters.

I take it that these aliens do not use the English alphabet, and that the "words" quoted are transliterations into the English alphabet of the sounds of their language—an actual sound which can be uttered in some way or other, transmitted through a physical medium and received at the other end. In that case the English letters used must be assumed to have some phonetic value. But if so, just how do you pronounce `Kcid'? What is the phonetic significance of the extra 't' in 'ttornot'? Just how do you get your tongue round 'gib' without the aid of a vowel? And what is the exact shade of difference between 'Arck' and the ordinary English word 'ark'?

No, these little tricks do not convince me that the author was there: they just make me suspect he thinks we're not all there. These phoney phonetics are examples of rank bad writing and careless thinking, and an insult to our intelligence.

As you may have noticed, I haven't been reviewing fan magazines here so much recently, for various reasons. However, they're still going strong, and subscribing to one is the best and easiest way to get in touch with the friendly and interesting people all over the world who are united in the loosely organised and tightly knit society known as science fiction fandom.

One of the reasons I haven't been doing so much reviewing in this column is the long time-lag before its publication. By the time you read it, the issue of the fanmag I reviewed may be sold out, or worse, the editor may have give up publishing altogether. In either case, you'd feel dissatisfied and I'd feel responsible. So Ken Bulmer of London and I have thought up a project which might solve this little difficulty. We propose to set up a bureau to be called the Nirvana Guild (named after a legendary perfect fanmag), which will be a sort of combination between a Fanmag of the Month Club and a clippings bureau. Its aim will be to help people who'd like to see something of the best in science fiction fan publishing, but who haven't the time or the resources to search it out themselves. The idea is that they send us a small deposit, from which we pay for them to be sent the next fanmag that comes out which we think they might enjoy. If you'd like to try this, send a couple of experimental shillings to me (at 170 Upper Newtonards Road, Belfast, N. Ireland) or to Ken Bulmer, 204 Wellmeadow Road, Catford, London, S.E.6,and see what you get. Both Ken and I have been around so long we're about due to be scheduled as ancient monuments, so you needn't worry about losing your money, and we get pretty well everything published in fandom, so you won't miss anything outstanding. As an example of what you might get I'll list below a few British fanmags: in addition of course there are dozens of American ones, which I've never reviewed here but which will also be available to you.

EYE, the London Circle fanmag. News, views and reviews from the centre of English sf publishing, intelligently and humorously presented.

TRIODE, the leading Northern fanzine. All types of material, most of it of the highest standard.

HYPHEN, an international fanmag devoted mainly to humour and personalities rather than sf itself, but featuring also reviews by Damon Knight.

FEZ, a lively and controversial fanmag mainly the work of young ladies. Formerly FEMIZINE, it had a curious history, being started ostensibly to demonstrate the competence of female fans to produce an exclusively female fanmag, by a young lady who eventually turned out to be a male hoaxter.

CONTACT, a lively and enterprising news magazine published in English by a Belgian fan.

from Nebula No. 18, November 1956

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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