Fanorama by Walt Willis

The Post-NEBULA Columns

from ZENITH No. 8, March 1965, Walt’s final column:

Some while ago I wrote in an American fanzine about meeting the new English fandom in Peterborough, and poked fun at the discomfiture of us old has-BNFs. To my utter incredulity Ron Bennett reported to British fandom that I had been “snide.”

Naturally I was quite overwhelmed at the revelation of this new and unsuspected facet of my genius—in 17 years of fandom nobody had ever called me snide before—but after searching vainly for those hidden subtleties in which I actually wrote, I was forced to the reluctant conclusion that Ron's judgment revealed more about himself than about me. I remembered that a year or so ago he had said something else peculiar, something about Irish Fandom's “–air of wry superiority.”– At the time we all thought this was one of his more obscure jokes, but it looks as if he actually meant it, and now I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he reads aloud everything I write with a sneering expression and a John Brunner accent. No wonder he gets the wrong impression, because anyone thinking of giving public readings from my works should do so in a rather diffident Belfast brogue, to a rhythmic accompaniment of knees knocking in a cold attic. It would never fill Carnegie Hall.

Faced with a communications breakdown as serious as this, it seems to me I had better say something about the purpose of this column, in this breathing space between new British fanzines.

One of the reasons Fanorama was disinterred from the vaults and given its present lease of weird creaking pseudolife is that it seemed to me at the time that there were emerging two standards of fanzine reviewing. There have always been two types of fanzines and there is room in fandom for both, but in England last year this looked like being forgotten. Proponents of type A were castigating fanzines of type B, not because they were bad type B fanzines, but because the editor had somehow stupidly failed to produce a type A fanzine. Conversely the defenders of type B fanzines were praising them indiscriminately, whether they were good by type B standards or not. Before the situation got any worse I thought it would be a good thing if someone would try and review both sets of fanzines honestly and objectively, judging them only by the standards of what they set out to achieve. I thought that as someone who had published both types, I might make a go of it.

Now I'm beginning to wonder. It's easy to write reviews that are all kindness, if you don't mind wasting everyone's time; and it's easy to write honest review, if you don't care about people's feelings; but it's hard to be both honest and kind. Unfortunately I do care about people's feelings, and I have been brooding quite a bit recently about Beryl Henley, whose indignant letter you'll find elsewhere in this issue along with ghod knows how many more. Despite the sleep I've lost over Beryl's letter I still can't think of any answer I could give her that wasn't in the original review. For instance, I explained that I analysed the passage in question (not just two words) because I thought it was unfair to criticise technique without giving an example, and that I chose that particular passage because I could be sure she thought it was funny. As for her second point, as I implied in the following review, nobody can give all the data about fanzines and still have space left to review them. Peter and I were offering an ordinary fanzine review column, not an advertising supplement. On the third point, Beryl's description of how she writes poetry—inspiration, followed by revision and polishing—is exactly the way I suggest she should write humour. That's what I said.

I admire her simile about gold and buttercups—I told you she could write when she tried—but in fact I looked for no more than I look for in any field of fandom. And no less. If it's any comfort to her I would say that the type of fanzine she has chosen to publish is the most difficult of all, as well as the most rewarding. In a fanzine dealing with the social activities of fans, the background for the new reader has to be created by the writer, whereas in a fanzine dealing with science fiction, the background is already there. Anyone writing about his friends must resist the insidious illusion that they have prefabricated characterisation; unless they are very well known they must be treated as if they were fictional. (Which is why, incidentally, fannish fanzines have produced more professional writers than the other kind.) And he must learn to take with a pinch of salt the praise of intimates who have really enjoyed their recollection of events rather than the description.

I've offered Beryl a deal whereby we each promise to read LINK 1 and its review eight months from now, and the one who admits he or she was wrong buys the other a drink at the London Worldcon. If it's me I'll buy you one too. I hope by then I'll have progressed with Beryl to something like the status I had with Chuch Harris during our most violent altercations, when I used to sign my letters, “Your best friend and severest critic ... alternately.”

To change gear for a moment, I admit to Graham Hall that I may have been unfair to our Press. I acknowledge its fearless crusading zeal in the persecution of Royalty, the bereaved, civil servants, untitled sexual offenders, and others unable to answer back. I recognise its discreet respect for the privacy of other press lords, patent medicine manufacturers, and powerful millionaires. I will even concede that it may have reported an event with fairness and accuracy; all I say is that the event was not a science fiction convention.

That paragraph was dedicated to Ron Bennett.

One of the hardest arguments we SF fans have had to counter when urging the exploration of space is the simple word, “why?” We just cannot say what physical benefit space flight will bring to humanity, any more than Columbus could promise the potato. But we did offer a spiritual reward. We said that when man got into space he would see the world differently. He would see that his home was a planet, not a country, and his race mankind. If anyone thought that was visionary talk, let him read this:

“Think of our world as it looks from that rocket heading toward Mars. It is like a child's globe, hanging in space, the continents stuck to its side like coloured maps. We are all fellow passengers on a dot of earth. And each of us, in the span of time, has only a moment among his companions. How incredible it is that in this fragile existence we should hate and destroy one another.”

That was from President Johnson's inaugural address, January 1965. That is sciencefictional thinking, friends, and it is changing the world.

Last revised: 26 September, 2006

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