Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

In one of Nigel Balchin's novels—The Small Back Room, I think—there was a character whose interest in life was hunting for correlations. That is to say that he would, armed only with a computer and some punched cards, venture into the morass of statistics and bring back wild and peculiar facts which he would then attempt to tame into significance. Sometimes this took quite some doing. The instance quoted in the book, as I remember, was that tall men had slightly better scores in rifle-shooting than short ones. The possible explanations for the tiny discrepancy include that tall men were nearer the target when they lay down, or their bullets less subject to gravity drag and atmospheric resistance when they stood up. You see what I mean.

It would be interesting to apply the same techniques to people's literary tastes. If we could find a correlation between a fondness for science fiction and some other trait we might be able to explain why it is that out of the entire population of the English-speaking world, only such a comparatively small proportion are devotees of the literature that seems so vital and significant to us. Maybe some day someone like Sam Moskowitz will undertake this assignment, but in the meantime all we can do is to speculate. One line of approach that occurred to me recently was to see what sort of non-science-fiction literature science fiction fans liked. If you could find some such correlation, it would be a reasonable hope that other readers of that type of literature might be potential science fiction fans.

One that occurred to me right-away was, of all things, Forester's Hornblower stories. Many of the fans I know are admirers of this series, but it was Ken Bulmer who put me on to it first. I ignored him valiantly for years —I hate historical novels because the characters seem so dead, if you know what I mean—but then one day I read one and I was hooked. Ever since I've been wondering why. There's nothing fantastic about them to appeal to my sense of wonder. There's no personal interest, because it's extremely unlikely that I'll ever be in command of a four-masted brigantine. (I'm sort of set in my ways now.) Finally I decided that it was because they appealed to something very similar to the sense of wonder, and equally the soul of what science fiction should be, the thrill of discovery. Not the vicarious thrill of discovery you feel with the characters in stories of real or imaginary exploration, but the thrill of discovering things for oneself. Mere information. But my point is that information isn't so mere, and it's time that science fiction authors realised this. They're still reacting against the time thirty years ago when a science fiction story was apt to consist of one sentence of action to four inches of footnote, and some editors now boast that their stories are pure "entertainment", as if there were anything entertaining in the hero getting chased and knocked down with monotonous regularity on every page. Information can be entertainment, as many best-sellers show, from straight travelogues and exploration accounts to novels set in specialised settings, like Dorothy Sayers's or Balchin's, or scores of others. But the Hornblower saga is one of the best examples, because if it was put to you in cold blood you could hardly imagine anything less interesting than old Admiralty regulations and store accounting instructions. But, presented properly, they're utterly fascinating, and the spectacle of the average circulating library reader avidly absorbing page after page of abstruse technicalities should give us scientifictionists something to think about. If people like to be informed, surely science fiction has something even more interesting to offer than details of the navigation, administration, maintenance and revictualling of sailing-ships during the Napoleonic Wars?

This is Forry Ackerman's Life:
A happy little event took place in Los Angeles recently: a little boy suffering from leukemia died and left Forrest J. Ackerman a tape recorder. No, wait, this isn't as callous as it sounds—quite the reverse in fact. You see, some fifty of Forry's friends got the idea of giving him a testimonial dinner on the eve of his departure for Europe and the World Convention, and a going-away present of a tape recorder. They wanted it to be a complete surprise, but your film correspondent is a very busy man and they figured that to make him break his work schedule without notice would need something like a sick little boy who wanted to talk to him about science fiction. So they invented one. Bobbie Benson was his name, and he was completely documented. But when one of the conspirators brought Forry along, arms full of books and heart full of sympathy, the door opened on a banquet instead of a sick-bed. It must have been a nice moment, and well worth recording, but the main reason I mention it is that it tells you so much about Forry Ackerman.

Arthur, Sea Clerk:
Arthur C. Clarke, expert on deep space and shallow seas, has set up another record by being the first science fiction author to be advertised as a tourist attraction. A travel folder published by the Government of Ceylon, where he is now living, features on the cover one of his fine colour photographs showing Arthur himself engaged in what his old sparring partner, Bill Temple, once called "submersive activities". This certainly makes a change from bathing beauties, and let's hope it opens up a new source of income for science fiction personalities. Why, for instance, should the finest things in Scotland always be represented by photographs of the Cairngorms and Edinburgh Castle? Let's have an action shot of 159 Crownpoint Road showing Peter Hamilton At Bay.

It's reported that the well-known rocket expert who writes under the name of Lee Correy has left his company because of disagreements about the progress, or otherwise, of the U.S. satellite programme.

Ted Tubb and Ken Bulmer have formed an amateur ciné club to produce their own motion pictures.

A new film society in Liverpool (The New Shakespeare) was reported in The Observer to have resolved to exclude "films of violence, horror, science fiction or exaggerated sex". As a result of written protests from fans all over the country, led by Vince Clarke, of London, the film society has now agreed that each film should be judged on its merits, and science fiction films will not be automatically excluded.

from Nebula No. 27, February 1958

Last revised: 18 October, 2006

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