Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan. That used to be a wryly half-humorous saying in science fiction fandom, and it was true—even if nobody else thought we had any reason to be proud. Now we have, but we're no longer lonely. All of a sudden we have some 1,578 million new fans to keep us company: or at least, even if the whole world hasn't started reading science fiction, they have come to believe what we have been telling them for years and have accepted the basic sciencefictional premise about the destiny of Man. In thousands of offices, shops and schools fans who yesterday were mocked at as crackpots are today approached deferentially as experts. We will no doubt behave with becoming modesty, forbearing to say "I told you so" too often, but between ourselves, let's be proud. Not just because we were right all along on a question of fact, but because we fought a hard fight and won. I don't mean space flight itself . . . that isn't the job of s.f. fans, but of scientists . . . but the preparation of public opinion. Didn't you notice that the reaction of the Press and radio to the " Dawn of the Space Age ", as they called it, was instantaneously right? Why, the leader columns of the national newspapers read exactly like fan magazine editorials: occasionally better written, perhaps, but imbued with exactly the same idealistic enthusiasm for the concept of Man putting his tribal squabbles behind him and setting his face towards the stars. I don't mean to imply that the editors of the national newspapers have been secret fan magazine subscribers for years, but I do suggest that there can hardly be any literate person who has not at some time or another been exposed to a science fiction enthusiast and his ideas. We may not be numerous, but we're certainly articulate, and we've been arguing our case for more than thirty years. That's a lot of words in a lot of ears, and it looks as if some of them have stuck. If we are responsible, even in part, for the fact that Man is approaching the stars in his right mind, we have very good reason to be proud.

But what now? In a way fans were less thrilled than anyone about recent events, because we knew what was coining—if not just where it was going to come from! Some fans are still looking further ahead than the newspapers, which takes a bit of doing these days. The most interesting reaction I've come across so far has been that of Pierre Versins, of Switzerland. He published a special issue of his fan magazine when he heard the news, and here are some quotations from what he had to say. You might be surprised ...

Friends, I am scared. . . .

Cold. It's cold. I feel like a man in a room, warm and quiet, dreaming. It is winter, and outside there is snow on the soil and on the trees, frozen snow. Nobody in the streets, no noise . . . And then, suddenly, the window is wide open and there is no one standing outside. But THE COLD is creeping in. . . . Anyone may enter now, with the cold. . . .

In outer space there is either someone waiting for us, or no one. And each part of this alternative scares me.

Because I fear the emptiness of the universe.

Because I fear its fullness.

Another thing to be turned over in the light of these New Moons is science fiction itself, but that will have to wait till next time. Meanwhile, a few words about the subject this column would have been full of in less stirring times.

Among the more predictable results of the satellite sensation was that the B.B.C. showed again on television the film it took at the World Convention in London in September, with a comment to the effect that these people hadn't been as crazy as they looked. They looked crazy, incidentally, because they were in fancy dress for the Masquerade Ball, but the B.B.C. omitted to mention this fact and no doubt eight million people are quietly convinced that s.f. writers and fans go about normally dressed as tendrilled spacemen and tentacled monstrosities. Fortunately, however, John W. Campbell was not in fancy dress, was interviewed seriously and talked convincingly . . . and, as it turned out, prophetically about the immediate prospects for space flight. John W. Campbell was, of course, the Convention's Guest of Honour, but the most interesting speech from a science fiction point of view was probably that of Sam Moskowitz, fan, collector and critic, and one of the leading authorities in the field. He gave a startling analysis of a market survey of s.f. readership. Sam is an expert in this type of thing, since he does similar work for a company marketing frozen foods, and it said a great deal for the force of his personality that he was able to talk seriously about s.f. mags and frozen pies in the same breath without anyone raising so much as a titter. Probably the most interesting fact to emerge from the survey analysis was that 9.8 per cent. of s.f. readers buy between 10 and 16 magazines regularly, accounting for 32 per cent. of all copies sold, and if they reduced their purchases to the average, the average sales of all magazines would drop 25 per cent., and less than a quarter of them could continue to exist. From all of which the interesting conclusion emerges that fans are not just a vociferous and unimportant minority as some editors have claimed, but the mainstay of the field and representatives of its development.

from Nebula No. 26, January 1958

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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