Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

It occurred to me the other day, partly as a result of my own sensitive perceptiveness and partly because your editor had written suggesting it, that when I mention a science fiction personality and you read about him, we are probably thinking of two entirely different people. Take Mr. E.C. Tubb, for instance, whose name keeps cropping up both in this column and in the rest of the magazine, which I understand some of you read as well. You keep voting Mr. Tubb your favourite author year after year, but you probably know only two things about him. First, that he writes pretty good stories. Second, that he is short and fat in appearance. I have news for you. Only one of those statements is true.

I have read as many Tubb stories as anyone . . . in fact probably more, because when we were both humble little fans I rejected one of his stories for my fan magazine and I haven't seen it since . . . but I still don't think of him primarily as an author. He has other talents, and there is one sphere of activity in which they can all be brought into play at once, with prodigious results. I remember vividly the first time I witnessed this remarkable phenomenon. It was at the first science fiction Convention I ever attended, some six years ago. I had been out for a cup of tea and when I got back the programme seemed to be over. All there was to be seen in the hall was a mass of fans grouped round a tall hungry-looking figure holding up a book and shouting "What offers for this book by Olaf Stapledon? " The auction, I thought. I had little interest and less money. I started drifting away. "They'll never be another Olaf Stapledon you know," the auctioneer continued. "There was only a limited supply." I stopped. The resonant voice went on. "Look. at it. Beautifully bound in gun metal grey, showing up fingerprints to advantage. Observe the narrow margins—no hunting all over the page for the print. For another sixpence I'll sign it for you." Fascinated, I joined the crowd. "Who is it?" I asked someone. "Ted Tubb, of course," he said. "Shhh." Now he was trying to get rid of a lurid pulp magazine. "An hour of erotic entertainment. This sort of stuff will make you independent of your girl friend." Someone who had read it jeered incredulously. Ted opened the magazine at random and pretended to read aloud a brilliant parody of a pulp author's purple paragraph. He has an utterly fantastic ability to improvise at will whole fluent passages in any particular style. "A First Edition!" he declared, "The plates have been smashed. Burned in effigy in France and smuggled into the country in the guise of nylons. Did I hear a shilling ? Come out from below that chair and say 1/3. We sold one of these for ten bob and it was stolen from the purchaser by an outraged fan. What, only 1/3 for this hideous travesty of human drama? Do you want me to commit suicide right here on the floor? All right then, 1/3. I'll take your trousers for deposit." And so on, inexhaustibly, for hour after hour. It was a veritable tour de force, and I have never seen anything to surpass it.

Until, that is, another British Convention some years later. The programme had collapsed in utter chaos, the Committee wondering whether they had the strength to throw themselves in the canal or whether they should just lie there waiting to by lynched. Suddenlythe sullen muttering of the audience was stilled: a tall dark pale-faced figure had mounted the platform. With an almost audible click everything came right again. "Ted's here," people whispered to one another, and sat back happily. Their confidence wasn't misplaced. Single-handed and without any preparation he took over from the battered corpse of the Official Programme and carried the Convention to a hilariously successful conclusion some six hours later. I can think of only a few people who could have done this, and most of them live in penthouses with a pride of press agents and drive around in Cadillacs. Ted on the other hand lives in a small suburban semi-detached villa with his wife and two children, and drives a car which looks like a pile of junk on the way to the scrap-heap to give itself up. He's an example of a phenomenon which seems to me peculiar to science fiction fandom: people who are little short of geniuses but who restrict their gifts to the tiny world of fandom, either because of some impractical streak in their nature or because what they do, they do for fun, and it would spoil it if they did it for money.

Ted Tubb doesn't seem impractical: he is always thinking up ingenious schemes for making money and discussing them hilariously with friends until the early hours of the morning when everyone goes to be firmly convinced they're going to be millionaires tomorrow. They aren't, though. The schemes never seem to come to anything : the idea was the thing . . . the actual work is too much trouble and it's more fun to think up another idea. With some other London fans, for instance, Ted invented a science fiction parlour game which would have superseded every indoor sport played by more than two people. It was fascinating, but by the time they had finished with it, it took three hours to learn the rules and one game lasted a week. They couldn't bear to destroy its subtle beauty by simplifying it for the- crass world of commerce, so now they just play it among themselves.

This is typical, and more symbolic than you might think.

FANZINE REVIEW.

Ploy No. 9 Ron Bennett, 7 Southway, Arthur's Avenue, Harrogate, Yorks. 1/- per copy. This issue of what has become one of the best and most reliable of British fan magazines is distinguished by another instalment of the brilliant column by Phoenix (which can be appreciated by anyone with a sense of humour even if he wouldn't know a fan if one came up and bit him in the leg) and an article by John Berry to which almost the same applies. Highly recommended for these alone, and you may find much, else of interest too.

from Nebula No. 24, September 1957

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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