Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

In the latest issue of the fan magazine PLOY, H.P. (Sandy) Sanderson mentions an experience that a lot of us must be having for the first time these days:

"At the office each new science-fiction-type news release leads to a barrage of questions from the mundane types who tend to regard one with awe as an expert on these things because of prior knowledge."

True, true. But one of the snags of being bowed down to as an idol is that your feet of clay tend to loom uncomfortably large in your worshippers' field of vision. There is a danger that in time people might find out that we don't know everything, especially since few of us have had practice in the technique of being an Informed Source. Sandy goes on to offer a helpful hint for avoiding this catastrophe:

"What these mundane types don't know is that a system of dealing with these questions has been developed whereby the ones that can be answered by a hasty mental reference to one of the Arthur C. Clarke books are answered in detail, and the ones that can't are answered in such a way as to show that of course the speaker knows the full answer but isn't allowed to reveal it because the information is still classified."

Well, you can see at once that there opens out before us a glorious new field for the exercise of the techniques of "OneUpmanship", as pioneered by Stephen Potter, one which we have entirely to ourselves and which is full of possibilities. For instance, American fans are in the happy position of being able to use this Top Secret Defensive Gambit as the basis for an offensive sortie. When faced with a question casting doubt on the usefulness of the space flight programme, especially from somebody who has in the past been particularly nasty and sneering about our ideas, it is sufficient to whip out a little black notebook and ask "What Communist Front organisations have you been a member of?"

Obviously there is a lot of research to be done and any suggestions you have would be welcome, addressed to me in care of this magazine. For instance, there are a lot of questions which can't be countered by Sandy's defensive gambit and which are awkward for those of us, few in number admittedly, who don't have all the works of Arthur Clarke off by heart. Like "How do you know how far away the stars are?" and similarly deceptively simple queries. If you haven't got the self-confidence to launch into a glib lecture about spectra, Doppler effects, locomotive whistles and red shifts—and we must admit that the whole thing sounds lots less convincing than a tape measure—all I can suggest is the Condescension Counter. This involves whipping out several sheets of blank paper, a sharp pencil (and if possible a slide rule), meanwhile asking confidently, "Of course, you understand the differential calculus?" There is something about these last two words which strikes terror into the heart of the average moron—I can hardly bring myself to type them—and fills him with a crushing sense of inferiority. On hearing, with a politely incredulous air, the reply "Well . . . I'm afraid not", you look pitying, then puzzled and just stand there with the air of one looking helplessly around for a child's abacus until the questioner apologises and retreats in disorder. Of course if he does happen to understand the differential calculus I admit you're in a bit of a spot. All I can suggest is that you raise the ante by mentioning all the mathematical esoterica you've ever heard of in the hope that eventually you will reach the stage where you can safely say, " Well, it should be pretty obvious then?" Of course, you might be up against an experienced counter-bluffer . . .

News and Gossip
The Transatlantic Fan Fund election has been won by Ron Bennett, editor of PLOY, and on all counts a very fine choice. By the time you read this he will be in America attending the World Convention in Los Angeles. Meanwhile out there another dream is coming true in an almost fairy-like fashion. This 1958 Convention is the result of a propaganda campaign which started ten years ago almost as a joke with the slogan "South Gate in '58." South Gate is a small town just outside Los Angeles. Editors of fanzines used the slogan as a filler until it became a tradition in the fan world and in 1957 the convention was voted to the South Gate fans without any opposing contenders, the first time this has ever happened and probably the last. Unfortunately South Gate does not actually have any big hotels so the Convention had to be arranged for Los Angeles itself, and it looked as if the legend would fail to come true by a matter of a few niggling miles. But we reckoned without the ingenuity of the South Gate fans. They have arranged with the Mayors of Los Angeles and South Gate for the territory of the Convention Hotel to be legally ceded by Los Angeles to South Gate for the duration of the Convention, and the Mayor of South Gate will attend at the opening to claim the territory formally for his municipality.

Sadder news comes from the West Coast with reports of the deaths of two very well-known fans, Francis Towner Laney and Vernon McCain. F.T. Laney was in many ways a controversial character with many enemies he had made himself with his sardonic sense of humour and vitriolic style, but Vernon McCain was universally popular. Both of them contributed to the interest of the fan world for hundreds of us all over the world, though neither had been active recently, and it certainly will not seem quite the same without them.

from Nebula No. 34, September 1958

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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