Fanorama by Walt Willis

The Post-NEBULA Columns

from ZENITH No. 5, June 1964:

There's no doubt that reviewing fanzines without going through the formality of reading them first, as a former editor of Startling and Thrilling Wonder admitted to have been his practice, is a great timesaver. Also it is a help in the forming of opinions not to allow oneself to be confused with facts. Before starting this column, for instance, I had a reasonably clear idea of the sort of thing I was going to say about BEYOND 5 (Charles Platt, 8 Sollershott West, Letchworth, Herts, 1/3 per copy). Platt, I knew, was a cocky know-all afflicted with the disease once diagnosed by Redd Boggs as pseudocampbellism, the delusion that fanzines are imitation prozines. Very well, I thought, if that's the way he wants it, I will simply review his fanzine by professional standards, as he himself has apparently done to the Manchester Group's amateur films. I had, I figured, skimmed enough of the magazine to be able to dismiss the editorial matter as completely devoid of wit or originality, the Convention Report as the sort of subjective reporting of social events the editor hypocritically denounces in fannish fanzines, and the articles as either dull or crackpot or both. As for the fiction, after fifteen years of reading prozine rejects, or what ought to have been prozine rejects, I thought I need only read three paragraphs of any story, the first two to guess the ending, and the third to verify it.

Well, it is true that the editorial wastes a whole page on a pedestrian defence of the new sub rate, a thing which even a professional editor would never do, but I would have been unjust to the rest of the contents. The Convention Report is well-written enough to give a vivid mental picture of the reaction of a serious-minded and intelligent newcomer to his first convention, and I found it quite fascinating ... not least in its resemblance to my own first convention report. There is the same ambivalent attitude of being in but not of the Convention, and the same almost defensive readiness to attack what seems to be established authority. This leads Platt to drop such a fantastic clanger as this comment on the favourable reactions of other fans to the Manchester movies:

“ ... to an older fan, unused to seeing invention or initiative in fandom, which is, after all, the same now as it was 20 years ago, the very idea that someone would have shown so much initiative must in itself have been astounding.”

I shall leave this extraordinary statement to the hordes of angry admirers of the work of the Liverpool and Los Angeles groups, who must even now be converging on Letchworth. To me it just seems the latest example of what I think of as The Potter Syndrome. Many years ago, Bob Shaw received a very juvenile fanzine from a very young Ken Potter, with a request for his opinion. Being both honest and kind-hearted, Bob had the greatest difficulty thinking of anything unhurtful to say, but finally concocted a letter which was as encouraging as he could make it. Unfortunately, in the intervening weeks, Ken had matured, and now regarded his first issue with utter contempt. “If you thought it was any good,” he informed Bob coldly, “you must have no taste.”

Platt makes several more perceptive points, including the difficulty natural introverts have in becoming three-day-a-year extroverts, though I don't see what the Convention Committee could do about that. He seems to have been expecting them to make friends for him, a task which I imagine would have been beyond their powers.

The article by Beryl Henley about reincarnation is crackpot by my standards, but it is quite well-written, and makes some attempt, if in my view an inadequate one, to deal with the basic reason why I consider the question as crackpot—viz, that if memory does not survive, then personality does not in any meaningful sense, and the whole concept is therefore pointless. The article about Poe is dull to anyone who knows the five stories Richard Mayall summarises, because that's all he does, but to someone who doesn't it might be a rewarding signpost. I think myself that mention might have been made also of “The 1002nd Tale of Scheherazade,” which while not strictly SF, does more than any of the stories cited to arouse the science-fictional sense of wonder. In this, Scheherazade, finally reprieved, takes a rest from spinning fantasies to tell the king the mere facts about the modern world; his intelligence affronted, he strangles her after all. It is as beautifully done as I've seen anywhere, except in Garrett's lampoon of Moskowitz (“IM4SFPlus” in the fanzine INSIDE some years ago) and reveals Poe to have been keenly interested not only in the occult, but in such contemporary marvels as the electrotelegraph, the teleprinter, the Daguerrotype, the distant nebulae, the properties of light waves and ultraviolet rays. Maybe it wasn't so inappropriate after all that he should have been a contributor to the first issue of Amazing.

Definitely neither dull nor crackpot is a thoughtful article on J. G. Ballard by Peter White, though he does not seem to me to be wholly justified in roping in William Golding as a member of the ‘environmental’ group, to coin an expression. It seems to me that in “Pincher Martin,” that remarkable book, the environment described had no objective existence at all and that the entire action of the novel took place in the few seconds while the hero was drowning.

To my surprise, none of the fiction is about survivors of atomic catastrophe who turn out to be called Adam and Eve, or about the Moon proving to be really made of green cheese; in fact some of it is quite good enough for the prozines.

This is known as damning with faint praise, but in fact two of the stories, by Terence Bishop and Allan Milne, are quite original in plot, and the latter is handled so deftly as to be altogether pleasing. The rest suffer in varying degrees from the usual faults of over-writing, vagueness, derivativeness and pretention, but there's no doubt that they are well above the usual run of amateur fiction. It is possible that Carnell gave up just too soon, and that Moorcock will reap a rich harvest.

Altogether BEYOND is an excellent introduction for some types of new fan, and is and is accordingly serving a very worthwhile purpose. All it needs to be perfect for that purpose is more evidence of a sense of humour, or at least, a more sophisticated one than in evidenced by the three fillers in this issue. I am quite sure that one of them was meant to be funny. This would make it more attractive to the older fans, who at the moment have to choose between feigning interest and risking Potter's Syndrome, or keeping quiet; and unfortunately this latter reaction is sometimes mistaken for hostility. Whereas older fans cordially welcome fanzines like this, recognising them as essential for the continuation of fandom; it is just that having published them themselves for years, they are surfeited with science fiction and talk of science fiction, and view these reincarnations of their former selves with a mixture of nostalgia and guilt. Not patronisingly, like students who have graduated, but like pensioners who have already done their part in the propagation of the species.

Last revised: 26 September, 2006

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