Fanorama by Walt Willis

by Robert Lichtman

In the autumn of 1952, while still in his teens, editor/publisher Peter Hamilton launched Nebula Science Fiction, Scotland's first (and still only) professional science fiction magazine. From the beginning, Nebula carried Walt Willis' column, which at first was called "The Electric Fan." Walt changed its name to "Fanorama" after, mysteriously, skipping the thirteenth issue. A savvy editor, Hamilton catered to fandom in a big way—besides "Fanorama," Nebula also carried "scientifilm" reviews by Forry Ackerman, book reviews by Ken Slater, and a lively letter column. Hamilton was also no slouch when it came to selecting stories for the magazine. Nebula carried the first published work of Bob Silverberg, Bob Shaw and Brian Aldiss.

Production of Nebula was obviously done "on the cheap," as the printer credit changed frequently throughout the run. Some of the copies in my set are in better shape than others, which partly accounts for some of the variability of print quality; but mostly it's due to what might be considered the professional equivalent of mimeo problems: broken type, irregular print density, offset, etc. For greater readability they're 25% larger than in their original appearance, which, I hope, helps to mitigate these irregularities.

Front cover of Robert Lichtman's edition of Fanorama

Sample page from Nebula

Back cover of Robert Lichtman's edition of Fanorama

I have no idea how many people discovered and entered fandom as a result of "Fanorama"; Walt acknowledges that the late Ethel Lindsay was one such recruit (see page 45). When I first announced this collection, I solicited introductions from anyone whose fannish origins could be traced to Walt's columns. Only one person responded, Darroll Pardoe, who wrote:

Walt didn't actually get me into fandom directly, but he prepared the ground in my mind. I discovered and was captivated by science fiction at a remarkably tender age. I was seven when "The Eagle" children's comic started publishing with its "Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future" strip, and soon afterwards Radio Luxembourg started a series based on the same character which I listened to devotedly. By 1953 I had dis­covered the magazines, which back then consisted of British Reprint Editions of some American titles such as GALAXY and IF, together with Ted Carnell's stable—and Nebula. I was always fascinated by Walt's column, and intrigued by this sub­culture of conventions and fanzines. I never related to it as something I would get involved with myself, but remember that I was very young and my actual experience (as opposed to my imagination) was limited.

Nevertheless, Walt made it sound as though SF fans were having a wonderful time and over the years I picked up a lot of information about fandom from his columns. So when Ken Cheslin (bless him) put an advert into NEW WORLDS early in 1960 for the newly founded Stourbridge & District SF Circle (SADO), Dave Hale and I spotted it and were astonished. Suddenly everything fell into place for me. Fandom was no longer a distant concept visible only in the pages of Nebula; it was real and existed right in our own village. We contacted Ken and that was it. But without the years of preparation when Walt had given me, I might have ignored that advert. And my life would then, certainly, have taken some very different turns.

So I shall always be grateful to Walt Willis, and I look forward to rereading his Nebula columns. I wonder how they will compare to my memory of them.

Most of the artwork in this collection is by the late Arthur Thomson (ATom), all taken from Nebula, where Arthur's artwork was featured extensively. He illustrated many stories, provided spot cartoons, and did 23 of its 41 bacovers. Arthur wasn't the only artist coming out of fandom to contribute to Nebula: the headings for "The Electric Fan" and the earlier "Fanorama" columns were done by Alan Hunter. Other fan artists who appeared in its pages were Terry Jeeves, Eddie Jones and Harry Turner.

Nebula folded in June 1959, but that wasn't the end of "Fanorama." When I asked Walt later that year to contribute to the first annish of my own first fanzine, PSI-PHI, he sent me a column that had been orphaned with Nebula's demise; it also appears here. Walt revived "Fanorama" in 1964 and produced four more installments for Pete Weston's ZENITH. Those columns also appear in this collection. In addition, I've included a letter from Beryl Henley Mercer that provides context for Walt's final column.

And now, Himself....

Nebula 1 Nebula 2 Nebula 3 Nebula 4
Nebula 5 Nebula 6 Nebula 7 Nebula 8
Nebula 9 Nebula 10 Nebula 11 Nebula 12
Nebula 13
(no column)
Nebula 14 Nebula 15 Nebula 16
Nebula 17 Nebula 18 Nebula 19 Nebula 20
Nebula 21 Nebula 22 Nebula 23 Nebula 24
Nebula 25 Nebula 26 Nebula 27 Nebula 28
Nebula 29 Nebula 30 Nebula 31 Nebula 32
Nebula 33 Nebula 34 Nebula 35 Nebula 36
Nebula 37 Nebula 38 Nebula 39 Nebula 40
Nebula 41  Nebula ceased publication with issue 41
Psi-Phi 5      
Zenith 5 Zenith 6 Zenith 7 Zenith 8

Print edition of Fanorama published November 1998.

The print edition of Fanorama was available from Robert Lichtman, who regrets to say that as of August 2015 it is sold out.

For more information on Nebula, including contents
listings and cover scans, see Jim Linwood's excellent site.

Jim also has an archive of Ken Slater's book review columns from Nebula.

Last revised: 22 May, 2017

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