Group Dynamics of Conventional Assemblies

1. Eschatological Morphology

The Investigators, hereinafter referred to as 'we', 'us' or 'that deaf twit Langford', infiltrated a typical ethnic gathering of Terrestrials, termed SILICON 4. The highly typical nature of the gathering was confirmed by numerous 'British fans', thus utterly refuting numerical estimates of previous investigators who claimed attendances of several thousand at ritual 'conventions': SILICON was attended by some 60 entities, at times perceived by 'ourselves' as 120 or more (see Appendix A[iii], 'Visual Aberration In Terrestrials: Possible Causal Links With Beverage Absorption'). A standard infiltration was performed, the recording filaments permeating the forebrain of a local entity (see Appendix C: 'That Deaf Twit Langford') whose admittedly sporadic mental processes indicated that it considered itself a wholly normal and typical specimen, all other 'British fans' being eccentric and weird. Investigation later demonstrated this attitude to be characteristic not only of 'fans' but of most other subgroups of Terrestrial 'life'.

The Report is set out more or less chronologically as recorded, any imperfections being due to the chaotic state of the forebrain concerned: see also Appendix A[vi], 'Gonzo Journalism: Possible Causal Links with Beverage Absorption'.

2. Semantic Breakdown at Transfinite Entropy Levels

Approach to the SILICON locus (Newcastle, England, August 1980) was uneventful, apart from a clinically interesting increase in the subject Langford's habitual alarm and paranoia on being confronted with the sign SEMI-AMBULANT TOILET. The chauffeur-being, designated Kevin Smith, displayed similar symptoms on studying a Newcastle route map which later proved to have been copied by one Kevin Williams from the incorrect map distributed two years previously for SILICON 3. (Mr. Williams's response when later confronted with this fact gave our linguistic analysers a ritual form of Terrestrial apology: 'Ho ho.') On arrival at the convention, highly formalized conversation patterns at once emerged:

Of 60 attendees, approximately 75 said to Hazel Langford, 'Why aren't you knitting?' (Fugal variation noted: 'Why aren't you bloody knitting?') A similar number asked one or both Langfords (who apparently awaited deportation under the cruel TAFF regulations – see Appendix G, 'Funny SciFi Words And Their Epistemological Significance'), in the uncouth words of Graham Charnock, 'Why aren't you in bloody America?'

Most attendees also said: (a) 'I must give you some money for Ansible, Dave.' (b) 'When are you flying, then?' (c) 'Not gone to NOREASCON yet you bloody globetrotter?' All these phrases seem frequent enough in their usage to be recommended as standard conversational items on Sol III. The same cannot be said of the following samples, not yet fully analysed by the Linguistics Department:

D. West; 'Yes – I'm starting a course in Interdisciplinary Studies at Bradford U: psychology, literature, philosophy and bloody sociology, making a right Stableford of myself. At least it's better than signing for the dole. And I got a three hundred pound Arts Council grant to write Significant novels, and I'm doing a book on Georgette Heyer for Borgo Press....'

Kevin Smith, subsequently: 'Bloody hell, I'm pissing pink!'

Unknown hotel roommaid: 'I do hope you can keep Mr. Pepper the hotel owner up till dawn every night – it's great, he sleeps to 11 or 12 and doesn't pester us....'

Rob Jackson: 'I still remember your SILICON 3 report, Dave, that bit about me "uneasily fingering a water-filled balloon" ... yes, I was having vaguely mammary thoughts.'

Member of hotel staff: 'Dr. Jackson is needed urgently on the telephone!'

Rob, subsequently: '... my mother wanted to know if I'd be free on Tuesday.'

Mr. Pepper, 5:30 a.m.: 'I think I'd better go to bed ... will you turn the lights out when you've finished with the hotel?'

Kevin: 'D. West's allegations? What's he allegating?'

Dai Price, around dawn: 'I can tell Martin Hoare must be tone-deaf like you. I mean, his singing proves it.'

Far too many entities, around dawn, to the tune of Monty Python's Drunken Philosophers Song (see Appendix F[i], 'Mass Psychoses of Sol III'):

Oh, H. G. Wells made some fearful smells
And Verne was a champion farter
Fred Pohl, Fred Pohl, blows flames through his hole
But he can't out-fart Lin Carter!
Arthur C. Clarke with a single bark
Could demolish half the Gents
And L. Ron Hubbard had to do it in the cupboard
Or he'd overload the vents.

Harlan Ellison does smellies on half a can of beans ...
Asimov himself has a valve let in his jeans.

Arnold Akien at breakfast: 'Have I told you about lumbar punctures? They make you put your knees in your mouth as you lie on your side and they stick this thing like a knitting needle into the relevant place in your spine. If the doctor isn't very experienced that can take some considerable time ... probing....'

Everyone else at breakfast: various indescribable sounds, possibly onomatopoeic.

Brian Smith: 'Alan Dorey hasn't got what it takes any more. Alan Dorey won't be BSFA chairman,much longer. The bar's been open an hour and Alan Dorey is still drinking ... coffee!'

Brian Parker: 'BSFA – they're the famous cassette makers, aren't they, ho ho?'

Alan Dorey: 'Did I ever tell you how I was writing SEWAGE FARM WORKERS ASSOCIATION on the SFWA door at SEACON, and Marion Zimmer Bradley came up behind me and said "I suppose this is jest yore British humour" in a voice of indescribable menace ...?'

Fan whose name (just like the rest of him) was garbled in the record: 'Did you know the Cambridge U. SF Society has a drink called a Bloody Tourist? It's for offering to tourists: coke and tomato juice. CUSFS members have been known to drink this....'

Greg Pickersgill: 'Rob Hansen's an odd lad. He's staying with us, to the end of the year at least – goes around humming to himself with this big inane smile, or he'll be in the upstairs room and go suddenly silent until after a pause he shouts "Ouch!" or "Gosh!" or "Wow!" ...'

Kevin: 'Time for the great fannish football match – going to come and watch and take photos of Me?'

Langford: 'No.'

Kevin: 'Poot.'

Greg: 'I'm not playing. I'm old, tired, ill.'

D. West: 'I'm busy lying down.'

Langford: 'Oh, hello, Mr, Hansen: I thought you were over there.'

Rob Hansen: 'I am over there.'

Langford: 'Did you notice you can see 28 empty bottles of champagne substitute in the back yard if you stand by the bog window and happen to be over six feet tall ... No, you wouldn't.'

Rog Peyton: 'This is going to be the great Space Invaders game of the year. I've spent bloody twenty quid just practising. I tell you, sometimes I wake in the night dreaming of new strategies to zap them all with a single shot....'

Langford: 'Ah, hello, Kevin – as Ansible's new football correspondent, do give me a blow-by-blow account of what happened at the football match.'

Kevin: sound of teeth being reduced to powder. 'We lost.'

Langford: 'Ah, hello, Phil – as Ansible's new aerospace correspondent, do give me a blow-by-blow account of Andy Firth's latest display of mighty home-made orbital rockets on the football field.'

Phil James: 'I turned round for half a second and in that time Wernher von Firth's rocket had fallen over at 45 degrees and gone out. They had to stick it together with Eve Harvey's sticking-plaster when the fins fell off....'

Langford: 'Ah, hello, Rog, there you are again. As Ansible's new Space Invaders correspondent, do give me –'

Peyton: 'I bloody lost by bloody ten points! Knocked out in the bloody third round by bloody Neil Hepple! I'll get him though; he's got a lovely girlfriend, oh those hips, everything's just right. I'm going to seduce her while he's busy in the final....'

Eve Harvey, over curry: 'I knew someone who had an ingrowing hair at the base of his spine and had to have it removed. It's far more painful than it sounds and he couldn't sit down and the hole in him had to be packed with gunge so it could heal slowly from the inside out –'

Kevin, weakly: 'Anybody want my Bombay potatoes?'

Langford: 'You be careful where you dispose of those potatoes, they've got a half-life of 20,000 years and give you ingrowing –'

Hazel: 'Never mind.'

Eve to Hazel: 'Did you know your husband picked up my husband at NOVACON and used him as a battering ram? It ruined his trousers.'

Langford: 'This is a contemptible lie, a calumnious imputation, a –'

Pat Charnock: 'What did his trousers have to do with it?'

Eve: 'Imagine what would happen if somebody picked you up suddenly.'

D. West, falling over: 'This proves it!'

Langford: 'This proves it?'

D. West: 'No. No, you can't say that. It's ... copyrightAstralLeauge1977donotimpingecopyrightortheAstralLeaugewilltakemeasures.... I am the sole prop-pop-pop-pop oh bloody hell. Owner.'

Eve, overheard in poolroom: 'I can't get the thing out, John!'

John Harvey: 'It's bloody stuck in!'

Rob Jackson: 'Actually, they were talking about a jammed coin in the Space Invaders machine.'

Langford: 'Spoilsport.'

Kevin, 4 a.m.: 'Now let's play Finchley Central –'

Harry Bell: 'It's half-past four, Langford, and you're still making sense. This is not good enough! Hic.'

Langford: 'Look, it's dawn. Time to play Residents and Security Men.'

The Dawn Chorus:

John Brunner, John Brunner, what a drippy old runner
It doesn't sound much, but the stench is a stunner.
When Fredric Brown took his trousers down
He could shatter all the windows for nine miles round.
Jack Vance, Jack Vance blows holes in his pants
And Disch makes a first-class stink
And Eric Frank Russell had a rectal muscle
That could toot through 'Lily The Pink.'

Oh Asimov himself is a man of many parts:
A stinker of a writer and a stinker when he farts.

Stan Eling, over breakfast: 'Peter Weston does nothing these days but grow vegetables.'

Helen Eling: 'He's slowly turning into one, a swede or a giant cabbage.'

Phil James: 'I've been reading a book on strange customs in the desert.'

Langford: 'What do they do in the desert?'

Phil: 'It's not so much what they do in the desert as what they do with their fingers.'

All: 'Eh?'

Phil: 'They wipe their greasy fingers on their beards, or on the tentflap. The greasier your tentflap the more hospitable you are....'

Hazel: 'Of course, the Tuaregs wipe their fingers on their feet.'

Langford: 'Don't look now, but Jim Barker has just come in wearing an Ellison-style glass hand with one of the fingers up his nose....'

Joe Nicholas: 'This is the book, Karma by Arsen Darnay. Let me read you the incredibly awful passage about the giant telepathic rabbit.'

Kevin Smith: 'Of all the harebrained ideas.'

Pat Charnock: 'Here's a copy of the new Astral Leauge cassette for Terry Hughes. You must tell him not to play the Get Down Jacqui track anywhere near Jacqueline Lichtenberg –'

Barman, pointedly, to Langford: 'I suppose you want a soft drink –'

Mr. Pepper: 'Who's written ARNOLD THARG WAS HERE on my roller-towel? How do I get it off, then?'

All, rapidly: 'Been a great convention ... goodbye ... goodbye....'

A logical interpretation of the above terms and phrases is currently being derived by exhaustive computer analysis. Meanwhile, see Appendix F[ii]; 'Mass Psychoses In The Linguistics Department.'

3. Interactive Modal Structuralism

The exosociological team achieved considerably more significant results than the linguistic investigators (see Appendix F[iii], 'Relatively Mild Psychoses In The Exosociology Department') and the following subclasses of ritual activity were isolated:

3.1. The Quiz Game
This is an intellectual struggle between curiously designated teams – in this case 'The Peter Weston School Of Gardening' (members of which wore artificial mustaches of a ritual nature, and on their entry performed the ceremonial dance of the goose-step), 'Welshfandom: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch Division' (it was noted that non-Welsh persons laboured under a taboo against the pronouncing of this name in full), 'The Astral Leauge' and 'L'Academy De La Chronically Effete De La Surbiton'. The holy man presiding over the ceremony puts highly formalized questions to the teams – typical ones generated by our computer from the existing pool of data are 'Who wrote Somtow Sucharitkul?', 'Have you ever heard of John Brunner?' and 'Is there anybody here from Oregon?' – and in due course ignorance and unbelief are ritually defeated and the prize given to the Welsh team. Further attempts to analyse the full religious significance of the questions and responses are discussed in Appendix F[iv], 'Mass Suicide In The Linguistics Department.'

3.2. The Twenty Questions Game
Here a concept is chosen, e.g. 'A Brian Burgess Pork Pie', and contestants attempt to deduce its precise nature by asking up to 20 questions to be answered 'yes' or 'no' only (local terms roughly corresponding to our Altairan phrases 'Your warts ooze with mine' and 'Your spawn is mildewed'). Evidence of clairvoyance in Sol III natives was noted when the subject Langford, watching this ritual, remarked 'I'll bet they'll have to guess my hearing aid next.' Instantly a concept-designation card was held up to the audience, and on it was written LANGFORD'S DEAF AID. The Paraphysics Department is investigating – see Appendix A[xxv], 'Psi Ability: Possible Causal Links With Beverage Absorption'. A further concept, 'Rob Holdstock's Weapon', caused embarrassment during the guessing sequence and may have some painful religious significance.

3.3. Presenting 'The Richard E. Geis Memorial Award'
This involved a convention member, Alan Dorey, asking for votes for this possibly coveted award and in the same breath murmuring 'The fix is in for Joe Nicholas.' In due course the native called Joseph M. Nicholas was required to receive his trophy (an ornamental bust carved with great artistic inability, the property of the hotel); he demurred, pretending he was not worthy; there were ritual cries of 'Is there anyone here from Pimlico?' and the entity D. West took Nicholas symbolically by the forelock and dragged him to the waiting cameras for the presentation. The trophy was slowly brought down upon the head of J. Nicholas amid much camera-flashing. We have not fully analysed the motives and prestige associated with this award.

3.4. Charades
The natives of Sol III have brought the art of mime to a high level of ineptitude, and this was demonstrated in their 'charades'. The creature D. West, for example, enacted the phrase The Fallible Fiend by first falling over a good deal and subsequently making hideous faces and gibbering at his interlocutors. It later transpired that this formed his entire repertoire of mime, though sometimes it would be interspersed with vicious kicks aimed at some suitably small and helpless victim (Graham Charnock). We are uncertain of the symbolism by means of which the entity Jean Frost eventually conveyed the phrase 'Sex Pirates of the Blood Asteroid': in passing we note that when she'd succeeded in doing so, the subject Langford's wife instructed him to 'apologize to Jean Frost for writing that story!'

3.5. Finchley Central
An informal game of skill and strategy wherein several natives sit in a circle uttering in turn the names of London Underground stations which may or may not possess religious or sexual connotations. The first person to say 'Finchley Central' wins. To say 'Finchley Central' too soon in the game is to lose face and become the object of withering scorn. The as yet unfathomed strategy of this game appears to involve great subtlety, or – to verbalize our alternate hypothesis – no subtlety at all. A variant version, 'Heinlein', substitutes the names of works by the Sol III artist Robert A. Heinlein (whose art involves the making of marks on 'paper', a disposable form of cloth) for those of stations; to win one must say 'The Number Of The Beast –'. To refrain from saying this is a great point of honour among natives.

3.6.Polymorphous Perverse Activities
We merely record pool, drinking beer, darts, drinking gin, football, drinking whisky, rocketry, drinking rum, watching illicitly made recordings of Demon With A Glass Hand and The Peter Weston SEACON Show (edited version, without Peter Weston), drinking lager, conversing (see section 2), drinking water to wash down aspirins (the only use of this unclean fluid permitted by the religion of 'British fans') and playing Space Invaders – a species of war game not likely to promote good relations between Terrestrials and we natives of Altair 5. For notes on the beverages mentioned above please see the 500-page Appendix A[i], 'Drinking: Possible Causal Links With Beverage Absorption'.

4. Conclusions

The planet is unfit for colonization.

Study of behavioural patterns at SILICON 4 suggests that we should proceed with caution, since several alien infiltrators are obviously conducting investigations similar to our own. The most blatant of these is the entity D. West, whose aspect and activity most closely resembles that of the native form of we Toads of Altair 5.

No rational reason for the natives' attendance at these enfeebling and soul-destroying 'conventions' can be advanced.

Very much more research is needed. See especially the whole of Appendix A, 'C2H5OH For Fun And Profit'.

The author of this paper therefore requests permission to conduct further investigations at SILICON 5, SILICON 6, SILICON 7, SILICON 8, SILICON 9 and SILICON 10, to begin with.



BSFA: British Science Fiction Association; Bromley Silent Farting Association; Brian Stableford Fanzine Article.

FINCHLEY CENTRAL: Found on the Northern Line between West Finchley (to the north) and East Finchley (to the south).

THE FLATULENT SF AUTHORS' SONG: by Nick Lowe, who is not responsible.

THE PETER WESTON SEACON '79 SHOW: see Peter Weston, now to be found on the BBC's cutting-room floor.

PIMLICO: London district now largely inhabited by Joseph Nicholas.

SURBITON: London district notorious for pub meetings of that almost famous fan group the Surrey Limpwrists.