Product Placement

Andrew I Porter, founding editor of Science Fiction Chronicle, sends excited email: "Robert Sawyer's Mindscan, which just won the John W Campbell Memorial Award as best SF novel of 2005, includes a character named Andrew Porter, whose description has the former SFC editor/publisher down to a T ..." Can this be coincidence? No. In a 2002 auction to raise money for SF fan charities, Andrew won the bidding for a named role in the next Sawyer novel.

These deals have become popular. Another fan auction gave us Dawson's Night, the equivalent of November the Fifth in Dark Light by Ken MacLeod: "Guy Dawson paid £45 for the privilege of giving his name to a political or religious faction in one of my novels. The Dawson Heresy, an effigy of whose gruesomely-martyred founder and prophet is still ceremonially burned every winter on a certain imaginary planet, may well have been born right there."

Much more publicity went to Ken Follett's Discworld appearance in Night Watch. It cost him £2,200 for charity, and he publicly expressed hopes that he'd appear as a giant. Instead, Terry Pratchett introduced the sinister Doctor Follett, past head of the Assassins' Guild. Type-casting, no doubt.

In the old days, no money changed hands and authors did this kind of thing for fun. Insiders call it Tuckerization, after Wilson Tucker, who named many characters after SF fans in his 1954 ESP novel Wild Talent.

But Tucker wasn't the first, not by a very long chalk. H P Lovecraft and friends, including Robert Bloch of Psycho fame, wrote each other into 1930s Cthulhu Mythos horror stories. Anthony Boucher's thriller Rocket To The Morgue (1942) features not only murder by amateur rocketry but several SF authors disguised under their own pen-names, including Boucher himself. Anson Macdonald and Lyle Monroe were both Robert Heinlein. Don Stuart, editor of Surprising Stories magazine, was John W Campbell of Astounding SF. Rene Lafayette was one name used by L[afayette] Ron Hubbard ... and so on.

Campbell had already appeared as "Sir Cambell" in the 1940 fantasy "The Mathematics of Magic" by L Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt (later incorporated into The Incompleat Enchanter). In the same story, a gathering of the deeply evil Chapter of Enchanters reads uncannily like an SF convention.

Some sort of record for over-the-top Tuckerization was set by David Gerrold and Larry Niven in their very silly novel The Flying Sorcerers (1971). It's set on a planet with two suns called Virn and Ouells. The vast local theology includes Filfo-mar the river god (Phil Farmer – Philip José Farmer of Riverworld fame), Blok the god of violence (Robert Bloch again), Hitch the god of birds, and Elcin the "Great and Tiny God of Lightning and Loud Noise" (Harlan Ellison is famously neither tall nor quiet), plus many more. A visiting polymath from space has a strange name translating "as a shade of purple grey", which groaning fans eventually realized must be "As-a-mauve".

When John Grant and I wrote our spoof disaster novel Earthdoom, we remembered The Flying Sorcerers and inserted a tribute to Niven, who with his co-author Jerry Pournelle had Tuckerized several SF authors – including themselves – as a world-saving think tank in Footfall. We stole Footfall's Orion spaceship, the one blasted into orbit by successive nuclear explosions, and put mad scientists Dr Nevin and Dr Purnell in charge of the good ship Libertarian.

Next came Earthdoom's slimy alien invaders. For what must at the time have seemed excellent reasons, these were all SF authors whose long, gruelling journey from 61 Cygni had stripped them of both compunction and vowels. The Cygnan starship captain was Sc'smv, and his/her/its crew included Lieutenant Rt'hrcc'lrk, First Mate Stf'ndnl'dsn, Midshipthing M'cffr, and Political Officer Ch'rspr'st.

Little did John and I know that our tentacled horde had anticipated the modern web technique of disemvowelling. This was invented by Teresa Nielsen Hayden (an editor at Tor, the big New York SF publisher) to defuse obnoxious postings at her Making Light weblog. When some troll's abuse gets subtly reduced to, say, "Yr ll jst fckng lbrl sshls," readers who care to make the effort can work out the original profound remark, and those who'd rather not are free to skip gratefully to the next comment. A neat idea.

So, like rthr C Clrk forever moaning about not patenting the cmmnctns stllt in the 1940s, Jhn Grnt and Dvd Lngfrd can now whinge ineffectually about their 1980s failure to trademark the word dsmvwllng ...

David Langford modestly reminds you all that Professor Langford discovered the Stargate.