Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

Have you ever noticed how oddly the people in stories behave? I mean the extreme reactions they have, and the way they get into all sorts of unnecessary bother through silly misunderstandings, and how at the beginning of stories they keep telling each other things that they know quite well, and then don't explain anything else until the last page, and so on. There's something wrong with the lot of them, and I think I've found out what it is.

They smoke too much.

I've been noticing this for years. but I never bothered drawing it to your attention, because I figured that after all it was no business of mine. We all have our faults and it ill behoves anyone to point the finger of scorn. But the other day I was reading a story in an American SF magazine and a new aspect of the matter struck me.

This story was called "Breakaway", and it's all about how this fellow wanted to go to space and his wife was mad at him because she wanted him to stay home and he got so worked up about her attitude that the psychologists wouldn't let him go after all and then he got mad at his wife, so everybody was unhappy in the end. You can see rightaway that there's something wrong with these people, and you don't have to look far to see exactly what it is.

At the bottom of the first page the hero comes into the living room and finds his wife with a cigarette in her fingers, "burned down too far". (The cigarette, I assume, not her fingers.) The observant author goes on to describe how she crushes it in the ashtray on the maple coffee table (note that, maple coffee table. This is literature, man. Realism. An ordinary superficial author would have missed out on subtle nuances like that), and takes another from the pack. During the next two-thirds of a page she says 103 words, turns her head away, brushes away tears, holds the hero's arms tightly, drops her eyes and picks up yet another cigarette from the pack on the coffee table. (See, it's still there. This is known as the dramatic unities.) In the intervals her voice has been breaking, her shoulders shaking with quiet sobs and the colour has drained from her cheeks.

Now this may seem like quite an eventful evening, especially when she was apparently puffing away hard at that cigarette all the time, but you know, when you work it out, that programme of activities doesn't really take so very long. Such is my selfless devotion to the cause of truth and literature that I have actually personally carried out the experiment; and I assure you that even reading her and the hero's dialogue at dictation speed and performing all the actions in slow motion, the whole performance can be gone through in 1 minute 75 seconds dead.

You see what I'm driving at. This girl has smoked a whole cigarette in less than two minutes. A good deal less, actually, if you deduct the time taken up by talking, armgripping and tearbrushing. An American cigarette too, none of your Woodbines. Why, the girl must have been drawing like a furnace. No wonder the colour drained from her face. No wonder she's in such a nervous state. No wonder she doesn't want her husband to go to space. Who's going to keep her in cigarettes?

You may say she must have put the cigarette down and let it go out, and I agree that's plausible what with all that armgripping and tearbrushing, hazardous things to do with a lighted cigarette smouldering away, probably burning a hole in the maple coffee table. Sheer waste any way you look at it. You may say, hell it's her cigarette and her coffee table, but look at it this way. That first cigarette took 25 words just to put out, and the second one took 38 more words just to light. That means that at 3c a word each cigarette is costing the editor nearly two dollars, and that's not counting the cost of the ashtray and the maple coffee table. That's what I call an expensive vice—and don't forget, friends, it's our money.


TRIODE, No. 8. Eric Bentcliffe and Terry Jeeves, 47 Alldis St., Great Moor, Stockport, Cheshire. 1/-. This large well-filled issue contains columns by the editors and Mal Ashworth, a fascinating report of a Swedish fan convention by Lars Helander, a hilariously esoteric instalment of a Future History of Fandom by the inventive John Berry, and lots of interesting letters, but to me the high point of the issue is a blow-by-blow account by Dave Newman of the events behind the scenes before and after the appearance of the Liverpool Group on a commercial television programme. After reading this graphic report you wonder how any such program ever gets on the air and manages to stay there. It's amazing how little of this psychic disturbance that pervades the studio is transmitted to the viewers.

PLOY, No. 7. Ron Bennett, 7 Southway, Arthurs Avenue, Harrogate,Yorks. 1/-. The most notable item here is a long, polished and extremely interesting column by someone who hides his light under a bushel called 'Phoenix', but the magazine has lots of other varied material including an amusing personal account by Stuart Mackenzie of his troubles as a kilt-wearer in getting aboard a U.S. Army plane during the Berlin airlift. The Regulations said, presumably to protect the modesty or health of female passengers, that "all personnel will wear pants", and rather than throw their planes out of kilter, they were prepared to throw this kilter out of their planes.

from Nebula No. 19, December 1956

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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