Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

I hesitate to suggest this of such intelligent and well-read people as the readership of NEBULA, but it is possible that some of you may have missed a recent article in the Justice of the Peace and Local Government Review. It was called "Bleep Law", an unusually snappy title for this serious minded publication, and it dealt with the fascinating legal problems raised by space flight. Being something of a legal expert myself . . . well, I once got sixpence worth of chips wrapped in the News of the World . . . I thought I would explain it all to you. Apparently up until recently the legal position in these matters has been governed by the old common law maxim cujus est solum, ejus est usque ad saelum et ad inferos. (And you must admit that you don't get high class stuff like that in just any old magazine column.) My Latin has got a bit rusty. I should never have left him out in the rain . . . but looking at that lot with my eyes half closed I figure it means he who owns the land owns above it as far as the heavens and below it as far as you care to mention. You can see the sense of that—you can't have people digging subways under your rhododendrons or viaducts half an inch above your convolvulus—but you can also see it might get pretty silly when the same people get up to their antics a hundred miles up. It seems, for instance, that when the first Russian satellite went up into its orbit the Americans complained it was violating their airspace: nuts said the Russians in diplomatic language, we fired our sputnik straight up into our airspace and it's still there, it's just that America keeps sneaking round underneath it. Well, you can see both points of view, and it's obvious that our old friend cujus est solum has just about had it, the same as happened to poor old Isaac Newton's laws when they came up against space. I can't help feeling it's a pity though, because the old law had some wonderful implications. It meant that if you owned a bit of ground, you owned it not only right down to the centre of the earth, a long narrow cone 4,000 miles long, but that you owned everything contained in the continuation of this cone upwards. Since your fences are at right angles to the ground and the earth is curved, your cone of possession keeps getting wider and wider and wider. Do you realise that at this very moment you probably own a couple of nebulae? Makes you feel good, doesn't it, even if they don't contain copies of this column. Unfortunately you won't own them long, because your cone of possession is sweeping through space like a demented searchlight, and possession has probably already passed to the man next door. Ah well, they wouldn't have been much use to you anyway. Even if you were fortunate enough to live on the Equator you wouldn't own the Sun long enough to file an injunction on other people using it, and anyhow they'd probably plead ancient lights or something. Maybe it's just as well they're going to change the law, come to think of it. Think of the rates on the Sun! No, it's a sticky problem and we'd better leave it to the legal Einsteins to fix up.

Talking about sticky problems, I notice that a certain American science fiction magazine has been running articles about a psionic machine. I have skipped other articles in this magazine because they contain mathematics, and mathematics always sends me into a sort of coma from which I awake to find myself reading some other magazine, but I've been reading these articles and I think I've found out where everybody has been going wrong. As far as I can make out, they've been feeding electricity in at one end of this machine and getting a sticky feeling on a plate at the other end. Well, it seems to me that this is going about it the wrong way altogether. What good is a sticky plate to anyone? (Except of course people who have lost their teeth.) My own view is that, generally speaking, there is far too much stickiness in the world as it is. Why, just look at all the energy, lubrication and talcum powder we expend trying to get rid of it. Why produce more? Conversely, there isn't nearly enough electricity. The sensible thing, it seems to me, is just to reverse the connections on this machine so that it absorbs stickiness at one end and produces electricity at the other! There could be great psionic power stations all over the country, fed by wads of chewing gum; old stamps, bits of cellotape, burnt rubber, old caramels and similar hitherto useless junk and producing clean useful electricity, not to mention reconditioned caramels. You might even develop a new type of motor car driven by a miniature psionic pile powered by the friction between the tyres and the road—the faster you went the more power the pile would deliver. I think I'll take out a patent on this, as soon. as I can figure out a way to get it started.

Review

British fandom has been resting on its rather wilted laurels since the World Convention and things have been prenaturally quiet in the fan publishing world. So it's a pleasant surprise to be able to welcome the reappearance of S F NEWS, a guiding light which has left us in the dark for far too long. It's published by Vincent Clarke at 7 Inchmery Road, Catford, London, SE6, with the assistance of Joy Clarke and H. P. Sanderson. The price is 6d. per copy and worth much more to anyone interested in what's going on in the science fiction world, and who appreciates intelligent comment and thoughtful reviews. Very highly recommended. Why not send for a sample copy?

from Nebula No. 29, April 1958

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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