|This closely resembles my Guest of Honour talk at Intervention, the 1997 UK Eastercon. There are differences, because (a) various last-minute scribbled changes vanished into the mists of history when -- in keeping with the traditions of the venue (Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool) -- my print-out was subsequently lost or stolen; (b) I've restored a few bits cut owing to worries about length and speakability; (c) a couple of egregious afterthoughts have crept in; (d) I further overhauled the text for Aussiecon 3 in 1999 -- Dave Langford.|
Hello.... These days there are a few things about sf conventions that make me feel old. This morning, for example, I discovered that with hideous cruelty my hotel bathroom has been fitted with a mirror. It wasn't a pretty sight. Even more soul-searing was the realization, when I gave a version of this talk at this year's British Eastercon, that oh my God I'd been going to Eastercons for 25 years. You know how it is: you dabble for a little bit, thinking you can give it up any time you like, and then one Worldcon in Australia you wake up all grey-haired to find worried doctors telling you that your published fanzine count has reached the dangerous level of 345, which by an uncanny coincidence is the number of your remaining brain cells.
Never mind, here at Aussiecon I felt instantly young again at the sight of the now incredibly aged and venerable Peter Nicholls.
Well, I wanted to talk about the fanzines that made an impression on me back in the 70s and early 80s -- a sort of 1066 and All That history of the bits which those surviving brain cells can remember. There's certainly unforgettable stuff in these tatty old duplicated productions. I doubt that even the great Harlan Ellison ever wrote a more memorable sentence than his famous fanzine example, dispassionately summing up a 1953 fan feud:
'The Mad Dogs have kneed us in the groin, they've rubbed dirt in our eyes and rabbit-punched their way to a first-round decision.' (Psychotic 15, 1953)
You've probably guessed that I tend to forget all the historically important stuff in favour of what made me laugh ... such as the writings of a now almost forgotten fan whose name used to be a household word: he was called Kettle. Leroy Kettle.
One problem with fanzine humour is that it tends to be highly topical. For example, there was once a time when the British SF Association was in a state of collapse and failing to send out any mailings -- [speaks very rapidly:] a situation which could not possibly happen under the present management -- and Leroy Kettle's fanzine True Rat duly ran an ad for the BSFA, or Bromley Silent Farting Association. Motto: 'Join now, and we promise you won't hear anything from us.' Nowadays, of course, the service offered by the BSFA is not to be sniffed at. On a similar level of good taste were the little space-filler quotations Leroy used to put in, like the wistful line about a certain well-known laxative cereal: 'where have all the bran-buds gone? (long time passing)'.
It was True Rat that inspired the news-mangling techniques which were later brought to a new low in my own newsletter Ansible. Here's the report of an aspiring young novelist's first triumph:
'At last, yes, finally, Rob Holdstock has had an offer for his novel So Many Readers It's Falling To Bits. Robert Hale and Rob's agents Tenper, Cent and Moore, have agreed on a sum of £100. Rob is still struggling to find the money.' (True Rat 5, 1975)
True Rat's finest hour involved the only definition of sf which I've ever been able to remember, supposedly written by Peter Nicholls -- the Australian sf pundit who in those days walked among British fandom, his awesome intellect overshadowed only by the vastness of his ego, his beard and his beer-gut. The piece began, 'You'll never appreciate Sci Fi until you read this unbelievable critic,' and then launched into the solidly academic definition:
'Sci-fi can be succinctly defined as speculation, whether based on established scientific facts or on logical pseudo-facts consistent with the framework of the fiction in question, involving smelly green pimply aliens furiously raping or eating, or both, beautiful naked bare-breasted chicks, covering them in slime, red, oozing, living slime, dribbling from every horrific orifice, squeezing out between bulbous pulpy lips onto the sensuous velvety skin of the writhing sweating slave-girls, their bodies cut and bruised by knotted whips brandished by giant blond vast-biceped androids called Simon, and written in the Gothic mode.' (True Rat 7, 1976)
But Peter Nicholls didn't usually write quite like that. I admired the way the irritating sod could be funny even when writing solid criticism for the SF Foundation's heavyweight Foundation, which back in 1972 was a lot more like a fanzine than it is now. Here's Peter reviewing Larry Niven's Ringworld with his famous smartarse mode engaged:
'Some of you may not be familiar with that famous work entitled A Reference Book of Planetary and Galactic Civilizations for the Use of Science Fiction Writers. It was a compendium John W. Campbell Jr worked up from Spengler, Toynbee, and The Child's Wonder Book of World History. Campbell had the only copy, and he used to lend it to his writers. Asimov and Heinlein used to swap it backwards and forwards all the time; Alfred Bester could only get hold of it twice. There's a nasty story that A.E. van Vogt had it xeroxed, but his secretary made a mistake and xeroxed a Superman comic in place of Chapter 6. Anyway it came out all right, because he never noticed. Poor old Jim Blish couldn't get hold of it when he needed it, so he had to read Spengler in the original, to the ultimate confusion of the fans.
'The rumour is that Fred Pohl has the book now, but he is more cautious about who he lends it to. But he liked Larry Niven and lent it to him, and Larry took the Ringworld civilizations from the chapter called "The Decline of Technocracy into Superstitious Tribalism". He made a few mistakes, but Fritz Leiber and Walter Miller had scrawled so many annotations all over the margins and between the lines that he can hardly be blamed.' (Foundation 2, 1972)
When I first read this in 1972 I was not as sensible as I am now, and fervently wished that I could get a look at John W. Campbell's legendary guidebook. But after a while, something dawned on me.... What was annoying about Nicholls was that he not only wrote witty litcrit stuff -- well, that was his job -- but he also trespassed on the territory that I fancied, by doing fanzine convention reports. The bastard.
The time was 1975, the Easter convention was Seacon (which was supposed to be on the Brighton seashore but had moved to that little-known seaside resort Coventry, bang in the middle of England), and I was still cowering on the sidelines of the action ... afraid of being destroyed by a single crushing look from famous people like James Blish, John Brunner, Harry Harrison or Leroy Kettle. This event took place in the poshest and most freshly decorated hotel any British con had known -- at least until 1987 in Brighton, where they helpfully did the redecoration while the Worldcon was actually happening.... Meanwhile, the Seacon '75 hotel renovations had Peter Nicholls cringing from all human contact, just like me, but for a different reason:
'What must have looked like the standard fannish paranoia, most familiar of all sf syndromes, was rooted in the knowledge that I had a static charge of half a million volts inside me. So did everyone else. It was the nylon carpets and air conditioning. My first contact with an attractive woman at the con had resulted in a crackling blue spark when our hands touched. "Cor, I'm all right here," I thought, having read about that first electric contact many times in my favourite Woman's Magazine. I wasn't disenchanted until the same thing happened when I shook hands with Bob Shaw.' ('The Great Seacon Freak-Out', Wrinkled Shrew 4, 1975)
The main thing I learned from Peter was that when you're stealing other people's stuff -- just as I'm doing today -- you might as well steal the best. His summary of the Seacon '75 convention experience illustrated this by swiping bits from that classic of early fanwriting, The Divine Comedy:
'I began to walk spiralling down the stairs. With every successive landing it was like entering a yet more inward circle of Dante's Hell. The circle of the drunkards was followed by a circle of limbo, where aimless neofans trudged in passive circles, seeking a way out to the great unreachable room party in the sky, which no-one could locate. The next circle was the circle of the sleepers. Picking my way through them, I spiralled down through the circle of the failed gamblers, commiserating with one another about the difficulty of filling inside straights. Further down was the circle of the lost. They sat, unreachable in their desolation, crooning to themselves, "I need a woman." [...] I feared to descend to the lowest of all the circles, half-expecting to meet the horned one himself, haunches sunk in ice, endlessly chewing on the body of some long-damned fan, perhaps George Hay.' (Ibid)
Newcomers to the accursed circles of British sf politics may need to be told that George Hay more or less created the Science Fiction Foundation -- although he was very quickly dethroned by a palace coup involving someone called Peter Nicholls. George saw the Foundation as a group of slan-like sf intellectuals which, when the aliens finally condescend to make contact with Earthly civilization, would provide them with like-minded people to chat to. Meanwhile, he also hoped to finance the Foundation's growth to world domination by taking out lucrative patents on the bright ideas developed by sf writers who were too unworldly to exploit them commercially -- ideas like time machines, antigravity and faster-than-light travel. Sceptical fans may mock, but the word is that George used Isaac Asimov's psychohistory to predict that one day his Foundation would be taken over by academics who would fill its magazine with essays called 'Some Lesser Known Aspects of Eighteenth-Century Utopian Fabulation in Albania'. And so George set up a Second Foundation at the other end of fandom, which will one day reveal itself and astonish us all.
But I was talking about fanzines. Some people tend to denounce them as impenetrably esoteric and in-groupish, unless they're entirely full of sf reviews and amateur fiction. Myself, I was fascinated by the chatter about sf people -- which didn't seem any more irrelevant than the gossip columns in newspapers or Private Eye, and was often a lot funnier.
Who, I asked myself, was this obscure librarian Malcolm Edwards who was described as having a baby-faced and owlish appearance that concealed ruthless, empire-building ambition? As the saying goes, all knowledge is in fanzines: Malcolm rose to run HarperCollins UK [and now Orion Books] with a rod of iron, while I still can't remember whether it was Kettle or John Brosnan who christened him 'Le Petit Mal'. Speaking of Brosnan, you had to know that he once had a Morbid Growth on his nose to understand why his scurrilous fanzine was called Big Scab, or indeed why Malcolm suggested he should cut his nose off and enter the convention masquerade as Michael Moorcock's A Cure for Cancer. Again, was it true what the fanzines claimed about Rob Holdstock's immense sexual prowess? He will hit me if I say another word, or even mention that in one convention's 'Fannish Fortunes' poll the top scorers as 'Tallest Fan' included: 'Rob Holdstock lying down.' Meanwhile, who was this mysterious power behind the scenes, known to fallible humanity only as 'Greg Pickersgill'? Friends rushed to advise me, for the sake of my health, not to ask.
Indeed, there are people who actively didn't want to know about fandom. There was a magical moment at the 1979 Worldcon in Brighton, when that man Nicholls tried to lure famous critic John Clute into having desperate fun at a room party somewhere upstairs:
'Clute bridled, but followed, only to jib completely at mounting the stairs. I grabbed his arm, but he backed away, his face a mask of panic. "What's wrong, John?" "I don't want to be a fan," he wailed, in absolutely stricken tones. God knows what dreadful initiation rites he was envisaging.' ('The Regency Buck Stops Here', Drilkjis 5, 1980)
But I myself fancied joining the club, and so I produced a first solo fanzine which was pretty terrible. Part of the problem was the title, carefully chosen to be impossible to pronounce: Twll-Ddu, which is very bad Welsh and -- to the disappointment of friends who'd been hoping for some hideous obscenity -- merely means Black Hole. By the time of the second issue, I'd lived through the appalling 1976 Eastercon and begun to dabble with the dangerous technique of sarcasm:
'I found the convention in Manchester very interesting but a little surprising. There were many interesting Science-Fiction events such as the BSFA Annual General Meeting, but few of the attendees seemed to take them seriously. In fact some people seemed to spend all their time in the bar, and I think it would be a good idea if this were closed during programme items at future conventions. To continue my complaints, the Guest of Honour [Robert Silverberg] did not speak about Science Fiction as I expected, but instead read some odd experimental literature [called Dying Inside] which was very disappointing. And Mr Robert Shaw's scientific talk was completely spoilt by antisocial people who laughed at his proposals.' (Twll-Ddu 2, 1976)
Ever since then, in hundreds of fanzine pieces, I've been continuing to struggle for cheap laughs. It's particularly satisfying when you can sneak a serious point past people's guard by, er, lubricating it with humour, so it goes deeper and sticks in the hapless reader's mind -- like Randall Jarrell making a permanent point about critics by blandly defining the novel as: 'A prose work of some length that has something wrong with it.'
Speaking of critics, when I very nervously started typing my first fanzine I was lucky enough not to have read one piece of criticism that might have scared me off altogether. This was Greg Pickersgill's notorious (only I didn't know that) and much-quoted (but I didn't know that either) 1970 review of the one and only issue of Viridiana, a less than perfect fanzine by the now blessedly forgotten Dave Womack. The review ended:
'Jesus Christ I'm reading this bloody thing now and I can't believe it. It's worthless. It gets Brit fandom a bad name it hardly deserves, bad as it is. Every copy ought to be sought out and burned, with Womack securely roped down in the middle. My fury knows no bounds.' (Fouler 3, 1970)
Eventually, of course, I did collect some reviews, not every one of them flattering. On the whole the critics agreed that up to about issue number 8, my magnum opus Twll-Ddu was in need of improvement. Thereafter until the 20th and last issue, the general consensus seemed to be that it was past its best. Somewhere in between there must have been a peak moment, but I blinked and missed it. My favourite review was a mild denunciation by Don West, which condemned me and various others as belonging to an unspeakably sinister movement which he had detected and identified as ... Middle Class Fandom. This concept quickly led to Chris Priest's inspirational Middle Class Fandom Liberation Front flyer, with its splendid rallying-cry:
'Now is the time to sit down with a nice cup of tea and be counted.' (MCFLF, 1980)
Of course one can understand why Don West should be hard on the smug middle-class bastard fans who could afford their own duplicators to produce fanzines, when he was reduced to building his own just like Robinson Crusoe. Here's the West recipe.
'A rotary duplicator, mind you. Not any of your cheap flatbed shit. All you need is a one-gallon paint tin, four furniture springs, a mangle roller, two wardrobe fittings for hanging clothes rails on, a couple of plates for joining bunk-beds together, a mincing machine handle, some felt, a rubber bath mat, half a clothes horse (for the wood), various screws, nails, nuts and bolts, some sellotape, two pushchair wheels, a pram axle, some draught excluder, and half a baked bean tin. The design is original. [...]
'You people who go out and buy these readymade duplicators make me sick. No enterprise. No initiative. You should be ashamed of yourselves, the lot of you.
'I am going to show you how it really should be done.' (Stop Breaking Down 2, 1976)
This reminds me that my own duplicator broke down in 1979 and was fixed with the aid of an unusual spare part. I'd been organizing the Hugo trophies for that year's Worldcon in Brighton, and for years afterwards my fanzines came churning out of this great clanking machine that incorporated a piece of a Hugo. If you believe in sympathetic magic, it might explain a lot about my later career.
One useful bit of critical advice for would-be funny fanwriters came from Bob Shaw, who advised that you should set down in merciless detail the most horrible and demoralizing thing that had recently happened to you. The callous readers, he promised, would then collapse to the floor in tears of helpless laughter. I remember Bob demonstrating this technique in a convention bar, by reducing his listeners to jelly with a graphically agonizing anecdote of how, before his guest of honour speech at Tynecon in 1974, the committee had treated him to a delicious meal involving real game birds that had been shot with a real shotgun. Of course Bob broke a tooth on one of the pieces of real lead shot, and had to recite his funny talk through a haze of pain and anaesthetic whisky, with what felt like tactical nuclear exchanges going on at the back of his jaw. Having given his blow-by-blow account of this horror, Bob looked sadly at the listening fans who were falling around in hysterics, and added: 'You see what I mean? It isn't funny.' But it was the way that he told them.
A favourite horror story for us would-be sf writers is Rob Holdstock's fanzine description of what it's like to produce 180 pages of hack novelization of a lousy Peter Cushing movie called The Satanists, in just eight days, with only the dirty bits to cheer him up. Here he is, shattered but near the end:
'TUESDAY: Two days left and sixty pages to go. I read from the script; Felicity is dressed in a simple white shift and kneeling in some sort of trance; the Duchess sensuously strokes the girl's creamy white neck....
'I perk up immediately. Strong possibilities here. Ditch the shift: stark naked, full breasts, rounded buttocks, a hungry look in her eyes like she wants head or something equally repulsive. The Duchess dressed like a belly-dancer. Touch of lesbianism. Rubbing magic oils into their bodies. By mid-morning my hands are shaking. Phone Pickersgill, who is into this sort of thing, and read him several steamy scenes. The heavy breathing from his end is taken as approval and I carry on. By midday I reach a crisis. Can't decide whether to have her raped or not. Decide not to. Story flags a bit as Black Mass proceeds, so flip to priest slumped in a corner and have Satanist come over and kick him a few times. "Vomit rose to his lips as the foot thudded into his groin, then smashed into his mouth." This sounds familiar so I check back and find I've used exactly the same expression twice in the same chapter. How many times can one be kicked in the mouth and lose the same teeth? I am reminded [...] that last year in three consecutive sf stories I wrote "The screams of the time travellers were terrible to behold." Just for the hell of it I write "Simon's screams were terrible to behold." [...]
'By five o'clock I've finished page 142. with lots of mistakes as energy and interest wanes, but I'm now close enough to finishing to remove the terror from the situation. With Wednesday's output I'll be up to page 172, and that means just eight pages early Thursday morning to round off the book before delivery at noon. Is this what they call obtuseness?' ('Eight Days a Week', Stop Breaking Down 4, 1977.)
Thank you, Rob Holdstock. One side-effect of hacking this stuff out at high speed is that you give minor characters the first name that comes to mind. My own universe-busting sf novel The Space Eater contains, for no apparent reason, a brutish Sergeant Pickersgill. Rob's Legend of the Werewolf novelization features this indescribably filthy French sewerman who spends his days fishing cigarette-ends out from between the floating lumps of sewage, and drying them for later use. His name is Michel Rohan. Our friend the fantasy novelist Michael Scott Rohan, who is half French, was not amused.
Getting back to fanzines, I should also mention the Chris Priest principle, which is that not everything that happens to an sf fan is worth writing about. This emerges with hideous clarity in convention reports, which are one of the great classic forms of fanwriting. In Shakespearean times everyone was sooner or later expected to bash out a sonnet or a blank verse drama, and the fanzine equivalent is the con report. I forget how many I've read that tell you in great and circumstantial detail how the writer travelled to the con hotel, often -- a cunning narrative surprise -- using some form of transport. Further astonishing developments include eating unlikely meals, drinking, overspending in the dealers' room, drinking too much, having remarkable and unique bowel movements, drinking far too much, staying up far too late, and being taken completely aback by a colossal hangover next morning. It's a real challenge to write a con report that avoids all of this -- or even any of it.
One of my own efforts began by dressing the thing up as a TV documentary probing the state of science fiction ...
'ANNOUNCER: Viewers are warned that the following programme contains a certain amount of content, and also some dialogue, which may be offensive to some. Better to switch off quickly and read a good book --
'But already we are into the standard sf opening montage. An Apollo rocket boosts into the night ... King Kong wobbles threateningly at it from the top of the Devil's Tower ... a radiant Erich von Däniken slowly rises above Stonehenge ... old Astounding covers show tentacular aliens ravishing Dave Kyle ... the Phantom of the Opera hums a few bars from Also Sprach The BBC Radiophonic Workshop ... Patrick Moore's eyebrows signal across interstellar space and Darth Vader eats the USS Enterprise in a telephone box.' (Twll-Ddu 14, 1978)
I was able to date this particular article by its mention of a recently published book, with a straight man saying 'Ah, you've got Lord Foul's Bane,' and the reply being (of course) 'No, just a hangover.' Another Langford convention essay pretended to be the report of an alien survey which decided this planet was unfit for colonization owing to its drunken natives' habit of laughing heartily at charade games in which people mimed titles like D.G. Compton's sf epic Hot Wireless Sets, Aspirin Tablets, The Sandpaper Sides Of Used Matchboxes, And Something That Might Have Been Castor Oil. In yet another convention piece I saved myself a lot of work by presenting it as a jigsaw puzzle which you had to assemble from a lot of apparently unrelated, out-of-order fragments ... the secret being that in fact they were unrelated.
One fragment was about the panel called 'Science Fiction's Stupid Ideas'. I had no ideas, not even stupid ones. William Gibson was sitting next to me and had even fewer ideas, since he was busy gazing at the coruscating lights of infinity after borrowing an interesting cigarette from famous US editor Ted White, containing some exotic substance; possibly menthol. I tried to be controversial by complaining about Bill's descriptions of mind-destroying computer programs in Count Zero: if it takes a whole sixteen seconds for the dread 'black ice' to 'eat into your nervous system' and stop your heart, a simple dead-man switch on the computer should give plenty of protection. The master of cyberpunk controversially lashed back by saying: 'Uh ... I never thought of that ... don't know how I'd get round that ...' And then he sank into tortured silence for the panel's remaining forty minutes. Afterwards, I made a mental note that I wasn't really very good at panels, while Mr Gibson headed rapidly in the direction of Ted White's interesting cigarettes.
Of course, converting earth-shattering convention incidents and passionate thoughts about sf into decent fanzine writing is hard work. I've already quoted cosmic advice from Bob Shaw and Chris Priest: here is the Word of Malcolm Edwards.
'I'm opposed to the view that it's okay to print any old rubbish because, what the hell, it's just a fanzine. On the contrary, I think that fanwriting is one of the very few forms of writing which are pointless unless you are doing your very best.' (Tappen 1, 1981)
Me, I tend to scream aloud when I open a new fanzine and read a tough, hard-hitting editorial that begins roughly like this:
'Well, folks, live long and prosper, and I suppose it's about time I produced another issue of Boredom Express. Sorry this is so late. I really don't know how I'm going to fill up the rest of this page....'
I don't have a formula for success in fanzines. At the moment my own approach is to produce an extremely thin sf newsletter, so that sheer lack of space forces me to edit out all the boring bits. As the great Walt Willis once said: if the letters that people send for publication in your fanzine aren't any good, you should rewrite them until they are. Not everyone is lucky enough to get letters like the one which Hazel and I have been happily quoting to each other for twenty years. This was sent by Ursula Le Guin to the British fanzine Maya in response to some comments attributed to one-time fan Henry P. Pijohn:
'I wish people who say things like "When I read a science fiction book I don't want to be educated and go to sleep. I want to enjoy myself and read a story," were all named Henry P. Pijohn so that you could recognize them the instant they were introduced, and get away before they started quacking. People with watertight compartments in their heads are very boring. It never occurs to them that one can read a story, be educated, enjoy oneself, and then go to sleep, all at once except for the going to sleep part. Education of course is the trick word. Education is dull. Education is for like eggheads y'know man. Y'know like reading and writing and thinking and looking at pictures and driving so you don't kill all the pedestrians and making edible dinners and all kinds of like stupid intellectual stuff like that. I don't wanna be like educated man I wanna live in a cave and eat bats. And tell myself real good stories about the last bat I ate. Yeah.' (Maya 11, 1976)
So, in a purely educational way, I'll finish with a few last extracts which have somehow stuck in that tiny crevice known as my mind. Our first selection answers the complaint that fanzines don't contain enough about science fiction. This bit from Chris Priest's legendary fanzine Deadloss tells you more about what it's like behind the sf scenes than at least three writers would wish you to know. The setting is the 1976 Eastercon ...
'Hearing familiar voices coming from the next bar, I went in and discovered BRIAN ALDISS, HARRY HARRISON and ROBERT SILVERBERG joking around. In the midst of it all, one of them made a passing, scathing reference to HEINLEIN's Stranger in a Strange Land. I said: "You know, I've never actually read Stranger in a Strange Land. Is it really no good?" One by one, the other three solemnly admitted that they too had never actually sat down and read it all the way through. "What about FRANK HERBERT's Dune?" HARRY HARRISON said. "I've never read that lousy thing either." The rest of us confessed the same. "What about Lord of the Rings?" I said. Same result. We all agreed they were lousy books, but none of us had read them. Other titles were suggested, most of them "classics" of science fiction ... with a very few exceptions, none of us had read them. At the end, HARRY said: "Listen you sods, don't let the fans know! We're supposed to be experts!"' (Deadloss 1, 1978 ... wherein filthy pros were distinguished by capitals, and Chris Priest the fan poked fun at the dignity of CHRISTOPHER PRIEST.)
Only in fanzines do you learn such secrets. Another which I cherish is the confession by Interzone's film critic Nick Lowe that he once had a toilet decorated with Star Wars wallpaper, and found it difficult to complete his bodily functions because Princess Leia looked so disapproving.
Next: one of my favourite ways of wrapping up criticism is a gentle sugar-coating of parody. Before I quote from Kevin Smith's piece 'How to Write like Joseph Nicholas' ... two disclaimers. First, you don't need to know Joseph Nicholas's writing. Second, Joseph himself protests that he no longer writes like this at all. Here we go:
'The starting point in writing like Joseph Nicholas is a simple statement, e.g. --
"The cat sat on the mat."
Add adjectives and adverbs:
"The large cat sat crookedly on the coconut mat."
More adjectives, more adverbs:
"The large ginger cat sat crookedly, preening itself, on the hairy, coconut mat."
It may help if an adverb is somewhat unapt. Then insert similes:
"The large ginger cat sat as crookedly as a corkscrew, preening itself, on a coconut mat with more hair than Greg Pickersgill."
Get abusive and exaggerate:
'"The fucking immense ginger cat sprawled as crookedly as a bloody corkscrew on a coconut mat with more hair than Greg Pickersgill, preening itself like a ponced up version of David Wingrove in footer shorts."
The next two steps described by Kevin are 'Force in the current hobby horse' and 'Conjure up random value judgements', which bring us to the following uncanny echo of Joseph's haunting prose:
"The fucking immense, randy ginger tom cat (which would probably win a Hugo if it got published in Analog -- and such a thing would not surprise me in the least) sprawled as crookedly as a bloody corkscrew on a coconut mat with more brains than Spider Robinson and more hair than Greg Pickersgill, preening itself like a ponced up version of David Wingrove (who wouldn't recognize good sf if it bit him in the leg) in footer shorts that would look better on Legs & Co.: not to mention the fact that Poul Anderson should have quit while he was ahead, in 1965."
This is nearly the full version [says Kevin], but it is still first draft. The genuine Joseph Nicholas would ordinarily produce only a first draft. However, the unpractised student cannot leave it at that. It still lacks that certain ambience that marks the true work of Joseph Nicholas. A rewrite is required ... (Dot 9, 1980)
But I'll spare you the rewrite since I think you get the idea, especially those of you who started screaming for mercy at about the second line.
[For the written record only, Kevin's final refinement of josephoid perfection went as follows:
"The Hugos are now so devalued that a randy ginger tom cat would probably win one if it were to be published in Analog (and such a thing would not surprise me in the least, so fucking immensely awful has it become -- Christ! even Spider Robinson, who has less brain than a coconut mat and is bent as a corkscrew to boot, does all right out of it); and Poul Anderson, who should have quit while he was ahead in 1965, still wins the things these days. which only goes to prove that the credulous fan-in-the-worldcon wouldn't recognize good sf if it bit him in the leg." (Ibid)]
Good parodies give you this ghastly vision of what the original must be like, even if you've never read the original. In one fanzine piece, I tried to sum up the subtle prose essence of a certain fantasy bestseller in just half a page, like this:
'"Hellfire!" erupted Thomas Covenant, his raw, self-inflicted nostrils clenching in white-hot, stoical anguish while his gaunt, compulsory visage knotted with fey misery. His lungs were clogged with ruin. A hot, gelid, gagging, fulvous tide of self-accusation dinned in his ears: leper bestseller outcast unclean.... To release the analystic refulgence, the wild magic of the white gold ring he wore, could conceivably shatter the Arch of Time, utterly destroy the Land, and put a premature, preterite end to the plot!
Yet what other way was there? The argute notion pierced his mind like a jerid. Only thus could the unambergrised malison of Lord Foul be aneled. Only thus. He clenched his clenching. Hellfire and damnation!
At that point he winced at a swift, sapid lucubration.
But I'd better cut this short before it runs into a second trilogy, and put an end to your suspense by telling you straight away that the butler did it. I'm sorry, I'll read that again. The hierodule did it -- with the aegis -- in the lucubrium.
Finally, I'd like to quote that great rarity, a piece of fanzine verse that I've found genuinely unforgettable. Stop sneaking for the exits, back there: this is by the great David Masson, author of that spiffy (and criminally out-of-print) sf collection The Caltraps of Time. It's called 'The Eve of St Affidavit'.
'As I sip the bland cedilla
By my aspic-shaded villa,
Where the salmonella ripens in the sun,
Through the rennet-peopled pines
Wind the simnel-chanting lines
Of the banisters whose longitude is done;
Clad in pelmet, syncope, albumen and lathe, they move as one;
For tonight is Calibration,
Time of terror and elation,
When the calipers commute and our Parenthesis is won.'
(Bar Trek 3, 1977)
Time to finish. I'm grateful not to have suffered the fate of a certain 1972 Eastercon guest who shall be nameless -- oh all right, it was Larry Niven -- whose abstruse lecture on physics threw the audience into a helpless stupor, until the Great Inspiration of Brian Aldiss. This consisted of pressing a handkerchief to his nose and sprinting for the doorway, tactfully screaming 'The blood! the blood!' I wouldn't dream of suggesting that you all keep this in mind for the next time you attend a convention Guest of Honour performance by Brian Aldiss.
Thank you all, very much.
|First published in Idea 11 ed. Geri Sullivan,
Article Index Home