Fanorama by Walt Willis

WALTER WILLIS writes for you

There was once a man in America who made his living by putting small ads in large circulation magazines reading ACT NOW. DON'T DELAY. SEND $1.00 TO ME IMMEDIATELY AT THE ADDRESS BELOW. HURRY—TOMORROW MAY BE TOO LATE. Among the hundreds of millions of people in America there were always enough of the idly curious or simple minded to provide him with an adequate income. The law got after him once, but it was ruled that since he offered nothing at all he couldn't be accused of fraud.

Only slightly less startling are the people who live by selling names and addresses. I don't know if you've ever noticed their advertisements, but they read RECEIVE INTERESTING MAIL. APPLY TO . . . These people make lists of those who write in and sell them for hard cash to mail order firms, charity organisers, etc., rather like the mathematicians who sell lists of random numbers to research workers. The product is known as "sucker lists" and the reasoning is that people who answer such an advertisement are likely to be people who will write away for things, or who at least can read.

To want to "receive interesting mail" is a very understandable desire, but one not so easily satisfied. I suppose it all started for us as children, when about Christmas and birthday time the postman became a rich unpredictable uncle delivering surprises from all over the world into our hot little hands. But, alas, most of us have long lost the thrill of seeing the postman coming up our path: we expect nothing more colourful than a Final Demand in red ink, and we almost wish we were a dog so we could bite him. This all changed for me when I became actively interested in science fiction fandom, and it's one of the most rewarding things about the hobby. Instead of lying resentfully in bed in the mornings I dash downstairs for the morning's mail—driven, as you might say, from pillow to post—and instead of every day being a dull stepping-stone to Saturday it's enlivened by two consignments of the Unexpected. Everything comes that you can think of, and a lot that you can't, because sf fans are people with highly original minds—complimentary copies of books, gramophone records, picture postcards from the most unexpected places, recorded tapes, quotecards, toys, novelties, souvenirs, photographs, maps and of course fan magazines and letters from all parts of the globe full of friendliness, humour, drama and sheer incomprehensibility. I've also received in my time such unlikely items as a wooden box of exotic fruit from Disneyland (that was Forrest J. Ackerman), letters with handpainted full colour illustrations in the margins, a slab of guava jelly from New York and a device for blowing bubbles from the top of your head from Damon Knight. When I was a very active fan stuff like this used to surge in by every post and when on rare occasions the postman didn't call we began secretly to suspect that the world had been plunged into atomic war and it was being kept out of the local papers. Once I didn't get any mail for a whole day and was considering digging a hole in the front garden when a red van drew up outside with my mail all tied up in an enormous bundle with thick, rope, in what I thought was an unnecessarily pointed manner.

This was all brought home to me by reading Sandy Sanderson's "Inchmery Fan Diary" in his fan magazine APORRHETA, in which he recounts day by day the variegated imports of that lively fan household. This is heady stuff and I can well imagine a newcomer being fascinated by the colourful life which active sf fans live. In which case perhaps a word of warning might be in order. This is not quite like sending a postcard with your name and address and getting a seed catalogue.

Before you can attain the dizzy eminence of receiving devices fog blowing bubbles from the top of your head from Damon Knight—and understand I cannot positively guarantee that—a certain amount of activity on your part is necessary. The Diary of a new fan mightread more like:

"Jan. 1st. Got Nebula and read Willis's column by mistake. Remembered that out-of-date Postal Order they wouldn't cash and sent away for a sample fan magazine.

Jan. 10th. Fanzine arrived: Sent away for another.

Jan. 15th. Discharged from hospital, having promised doctor not to open staples with my fingernails again.

Jan. 25th. Second fanzine arrived. Decided to publish one of my own and show these people how it should be done. Jewel-like reproduction, tasteful lay-out, multi-colour illustrations, regular monthly schedule, mailed in envelopes. Wrote for material to Robert Heinlein, Arthur Clarke and a couple of Big Name Fans.

Jan. 28th. Still no word from Clarke. Wonder if I should have sent a stamped envelope—that frogman stuff must be expensive. The BNFs don't answer either, the slobs.

Feb. 10th. No word from Heinlein. Wonder if ' Robert Heinlein, America', was sufficient address.

Feb. 11th. Soap coupons.

Feb: 12th. More soap coupons.

Feb. 13th. Letter from Mr. Littlewood.

Feb. 14th. Letter from Mr. Vernon. Decided to give up idea of fanzine of my own for the time being. Wrote letters of comment to the editors of the two I got and to a couple of people who sounded nice from their letters in the readers' sections.

June 12th. Haven't had time to keep up this diary but nothing much today so can catch up with my reading, just a letter from some neofan looking for material for his crudzine (some hope) and a note from Damon Knight that he's sending me a parcel."

Sandy Sanderson's address is 7 Inchmery Road, Catford, London, S.E.6, and if APORRHETA isn't available at the time he'll have you sent something else equally worth your money. If he doesn't, ask me for a refund. I'll bet I don't get enough requests to force me to leave for South America. Among the fascinating melange of news and views in the current issue, incidentally, are quotes from the hurried notes of Ron Bennett, Transatlantic Fan Fund winner and Bradbury worshipper, written during his hectic tour of the States. One typical one reads, "Have shaken hands with Bradbury six times. So far."

from Nebula No. 36, November 1958

Last revised: 18 October, 2006

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