Fanorama by Walt Willis

The Post-NEBULA Columns

from PSI-PHI  No. 5, March 1960:

I've been just a little alarmed to see that in the latest Vector, Eric Jones has been giving instructions for a sort of Do-It-Yourself psionics kit.  Eric has been in cahoots with John W. Campbell over this psionics business ... if that Great Man would allow himself to be in anything so vulgar as a cahoot with a mere fan ... so he should know what he's talking about, and according to him all you need is a pair of bent metal rods. (If you have any difficulty finding these, just follow me round the golf course on one of my off days.) With these you can stalk all over the place finding concealed pennies and other useful items.  All you have to do is concentrate and it seems you can find practically anything.

I suppose that's harmless enough, but I find the trouble with these psionics people is that they don't seem to know where to stop. I know a fan who started modestly enough by dowsing for water in his back garden and worked his way up, or rather down, to pipes, cables and other archaeological artifacts. Next thing he discovered, like Mr. Campbell, is that he could do his stuff in the privacy of his home, merely by dowsing over maps, or even crude diagrams.  The last I heard was that having settled to his own satisfaction the constitution of the Venusian atmosphere, he was dowsing happily over astronomical charts to determine what other stars had water-bearing planets.

Well, you can see right away that this sort of thing is going to put the astronomers out of work, and in no time at all we'll have haggard groups of them at every street corner trying to peddle their spectroscopes for a cup of coffee. But I'm not going to waste any sympathy on them: they were always very stuffy about space flight (imagine preferring peeping at heavenly bodies to exploring them—there's a name for that sort of thing) and it serves them right.  No, it's science fiction itself I'm worried about.  Any moment now it's going to occur to a professional editor to apply his wonderful discoveries to his job, thereby saving valuable time for his real interests.  I can visualise quite clearly the scene in the editorial office when the contents of the next issue are being decided. All the manuscripts that have come in during the last month are carefully spread out on the floor by his secretary ready for the editor's decision.  When he has a free moment he dashes in from his laboratory, puts down his sandwich and picks up a pair of long blue pencils mounted on swivels. Holding one in each hand he marches up and down the office with his eyes closed, his secretary picking up behind him the stories the pencils dipped over.  Then having signed the requisite number of cheques and rejection slips, the editor disappears for another month.

So what, you may ask, adding cynically that many magazine editors as it is seem to pick their stories with their eyes closed.  Tch tch, you've overlooked the fact that SF readers are pretty bright too, and what editors can do, they can do just as well. They're already well briefed on this psionics caper and pretty psoon they're going to start using it themselves.  I can just see it, thousands of fans up and down the country dowsing the magazine racks for good stories, using probably the stems of a pair of reading glasses.  Since probably half of all the SF magazines are bought by optimists on spec, there will be a drastic drop in sales when they're bought by pessimists with specs, and most of the magazines will fold.  Come to think of it, that's what's happening right now.  Do you suppose my warning has come too late?

That psionics piece by Jones was a small sample of the varied contents of the latest issue of Vector, the official organ of the British Science Fiction Association. Probably the best of the rest is a thoughtful comparison by A.R. Weir of Christopher's Death of Grass with Connington's Nordenholt's Million, an older book with a remarkably similar theme. This comparison is by no means entirely in Christopher's favour, and it made me for one to resolve to reread the older book, which I had almost forgotten. It's curious, isn't it, how sometimes you can forget a book just because it's too memorable? I mean, it stays in the memory so long that it doesn't occur to you to reread it until someone else points out how vague your memory of it really is. There should be a sort of literary vomitorium where you could have selected segments of your memory erased so you could read the same books over and over again with the same enjoyment. But then what would the new authors do? (Sealed tenders for the use of this plot to me, please.)

Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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