Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

That little piece I wrote about Ted Tubb a while ago seems to have been digested without any harmful after-effects: at least shortly after it was published I met Mr. Tubb at a party during the world convention and he was still speaking to me, even if slightly indistinctly. I was relieved. Not that Ted is hypersensitive, but I thought he might have taken umbrage at what I said about his car—haven't you noticed that motorists are far more sensitive about their car than their character? However, the autobiography didn't produce any writs for libel from Ted's solicitors, or even the car's, so I thought I might tell you something about the backstage personality of the author who recently won the 1957 NEBULA Award, Mr. William F. Temple.

Many sympathetic friends are probably feeling at this point that I should get danger money for this job of rending the Temple veil (or perhaps, if what I say isn't accurate, "hard lying money"), for Mr. Temple has quite a reputation as a devastating wit. Even a swashbuckling desperado like Chuck Harris quietly unbuckles his swash and steals away at the prospect of crossing his path. This is not because Bill Temple is in the habitof sweeping victims into oblivion with his little finger, but because it's only too obvious that he could do so if he wanted to. To the average reader William F. Temple is a serious and sensitive author whose work reflects a thoughtful concern for humanity This is Bill Temple all right, but he is also a brilliant comedian whose writing for fun has been delighting his friends for two decades.

At which point I think I had better introduce his stooge. You may have heard of him, a fellow called Arthur C. Clarke. It's hard for me to realise that to the ordinary reader there's no connection between these two, because to me they're as inseparable as Abbott and Costello . . . on a higher plane, of course. These two have been a sort of cross-talk comedy act behind the science fiction scenes for many wonderful years. It's hardly fair to class Arthur C. Clarke as a stooge, because he gives as good as he gets, but the fact remains that Temple has got his mythology accepted by his small but appreciative audience, and all Arthur has been able to do is to fight a gallant rearguard action. All this started way back in the mid-thirties, when both of them were unknown young fans and Arthur was always talking about a wonderful novel he was going to write (and which eventually became Against the Fall Of Night and later The City and The Stars), and Bill's series, The British Fan in His Natural Haunts, was the glory of Novae Terrae, the leading amateur magazine of the day. The mythology then created by Bill depicted Arthur as "Ego", an eager-beaver egocentric scientific crackpot, and Bill himself as an innocent Robert-Benchley-type victim. Since those early days their energies have been largely dissipated in professional commitments and prosperity—as Bill put it at the 1953 Convention, "Arthur has beaten me to the paunch"—but the old flames flare up wonderfully now and again. And now modern readers are able to relive the old days with the publication in the fanmag Hyphen of excerpts from Bill's memoirs of the early days of the British Interplanetary Society. This is all fabulous stuff, but my favourite is the one about the time they had at a B.I.S. meeting in Bill and Arthur's flat to test a new high-power rocket fuel invented by Frank Edward Arnold. How first they couldn't even get it lit, and then they decided they needed a pressure chamber, and then the Director has the bright idea of using the gas oven, baking a gram of the fuel until it exploded, the idea being that the expanding gases from the fuel would enter the stove burners and push the coal gas back along the pipe, registering their speed on the dials of the gas meter: and how they got into an argument about which way the pointers would revolve, and that developed into a bitter controversy as to whether water spirals out of a bath in the Northern Hemisphere clockwise or anticlockwise, and they roamed all over the apartment house filling and emptying baths: and what happens when they finally do explode the rocket fuel in the gas stove. I'm not sure exactly how much of it is cold fact, though in an introduction to the first of the series Arthur Clarke said it was based quite closely on a specific event (though "the character described as Ego' is purely a figment of Mr. Temple's imagination, possibly a synthesis of his better qualities"), but it's wonderful reading especially now the British Interplanetary Society is so serious and respectable, and I wonder someone doesn't publish it professionally. But then, as I was saying in connection with Ted Tubb, that's the way it often is in the science fiction field. So many Hamlets playing comedian so well—or is it the other way about?—and so few to appreciate these multiple facets of genius.

from Nebula No. 28, March 1958

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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