What Has Fourteen Protons and Lives in Newcastle?
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 Daniken 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.]
NARRATOR [through electronic warbles and "Woo Woo" noises]: This week World Inaction probes the phenomenon of science-fiction conventions such as Silicon 3. Are these events really a forum for literary discussion?
[Cut to MIKE DICKINSON studying Big Isaac's SF Adventure Magazine: he turns paler and paler, and faintly murmurs "Oh my God."]
Or are there stranger goings-on of which the general public knows nothing?
[Cut to Dave Cockfield bestowing a passionate kiss on Dave Cobbledick. Cut to Joseph Nicholas bestowing himself again on Helen Eling. Cut to the next day's News of the World with the headline MY 16-YEAR-OLD HUNK OF MAN, SAYS 33-YEAR-OLD HOUSEWIFE....]
NARRATOR: Some say that curious rituals take place at these secret meetings.
[Cut to Rog Peyton and Helen Eling in destructive frenzy on the dance floor. Cut to Rob Jackson uneasily fingering a water-filled balloon. Cut to Leroy Kettle delivering great chandelier-rattling blows to those who have displeased him, with a whole fistful of balloons, as the manager stands aghast. *]
* Harry Bell's lucid explanation of this was: "An element of silliness crept in." The manager nodded silently, almost as though he understood.
NARRATOR: Some say that mind and body alike can be endangered in the weird initiations of "fandom".
[Cut to Dave Cobbledick's missing finger. Cut to mounds of strange gastric produce dotted about the floor. Cut to Bob Day, who suddenly falls over and is dragged away. Cut to David Wingrove.]
NARRATOR: But what does the typical "fan" think of it all?
TYPICAL FAN [face in shadow]: Well basically it's, you know, a challenge, you sort of pit yourself against it all, I mean, I followed Rob Jackson's directions to the hotel and I felt I'd really, you know, achieved something when I got into an arrival situation only four hours late.
NARRATOR: Did you discuss sf then?
T.F.: Oh yes ... there was a lot of that going on. [He shudders. Fade to crowded bar –]
IAN MAULE [casually]: Bought Andromeda 3 in Newcastle today.
PETER WESTON: Bloody hell, have they published it?
[Closeup of Andromeda 3, showing long uncredited quotation from Dot. Sound of Kev Smith's teeth grinding in background.]
JOHN COLLICK [with an evil and ingratiating smile]: Hey Dave – how d'you kill someone with a laser?
DAVE LANGFORD [hereinafter "DRL"]: Well, you crank it up to immense power and turn it on and allow the searing beam of radiation to blast through the hapless victim's unprotected flesh ...
JOHN: No, what I meant –
DRL: ... crisped and carbonized tissues, the intestines boiling and gouting forth their noxious effluvia –
JOHN: No, Dave, I mean is it efficient, is it economical to kill someone with a laser?
DRL: Of course it bloody isn't.
NARRATOR: I have here a postcard sent by Collick to Langford ... [Reads:] "Our little natter on Friday night was most informative, since then I've managed to kill at least 43 people and haven't been caught since." I think that speaks for itself.
HAZEL: John Collick does look more outwardly wholesome than D. West, but ... [Fade back to bar.]
JOE NICHOLAS: Ah, you've got Lord Foul's Bane.
DRL: No, just a hangover.
JOE [withering contempt]: Don't know why you bothered; it's just another typical fantasy conflict between externalized good and externalized evil ...
DRL: You've read it, then?
JOE: Not yet. Perhaps I will before I review it for Vector.
GREG PICKERSGILL: Look here Dave, your wife has been sitting there knitting and no-one's spoken to her for an hour and a half ... [DRL rushes to Hazel.]
DRL: Greg is worried about you, so I thought I'd come and talk to you. Nice weather, isn't it? What d'you think of the situation in the Middle East? Have you seen Star Wars yet?
HAZEL [eyes on knitting]: Don't want to talk to anyone.
[Meanwhile, a closeup:]
JOE NICHOLAS: We limp-wristed fans ...
[Cut to Joe at breakfast, holding cutlery in limp-wristed mode. The suspense is agonizing as he gradually saws through his bacon.]
NARRATOR: In attendance were outwardly respectable people such as Chartered Accountants and Civil Servants. What did they have to say about it all?
KEV SMITH: I think the neatest review of Canopus would go "Can of what?"
DRL: Gosh, that's clever. I wonder if I could make a joke about how Dave Wingrove's editorials are more to be pitied than censored?
[The scene shifts to Cobbledick and Graham England, who are devouring vile faggots from which spurt clouds of mephitic vapour. DRL, downwind, is talking to Darroll Pardoe....]
DRL: You know, [sniff] there's something [sniff] ... oh, I see. For a moment there I was afraid you had bad breath.... [They turn to survey the sulphurous faggots.]
MARTIN HOARE: Close encounters of the turd kind.
NARRATOR: Let us move very quickly to the serious programme items in which world-famous sf pundits Mike Dickinson, Evel Yn-Harvey and Kevins Williams and Smith will expound something or other. Another famed pundit, Greg Pickersgill, has chickened out and can be seen sitting halfway down the room.
DRL: [sotto voce, in front row of audience]: Glad I'm not up there, I'd only make a fool of myself – as, with luck, Kev is about to....
KEV [the rat]: ... But I think Dave Langford can tell us something about Isaac Asimov's Rejection Slips Magazine.
DRL: Bloody hell. Well, I've got this vast collection – they send you three or four big sheets of paper every time they reject something – you get a special envelope for subscribing to IASFM, and an essay on how to type manuscripts – good stuff that is, full of hints like putting in a ribbon and how it's essential to use symbols not found on British typewriters.
MIKE DICKINSON: I especially liked their useful tips about stopping typing before you reach the bottom of the page.
DRL: The best thing is their essay on "Futility." It seems that all the readers are typical Americans with huge mortgages and acute depression who've just paid for expensive car repairs and whose wives don't sugar their coffee properly, so when they read IASFM they only wish to hear of rich future people whose spaceships run well and whose wives sugar the coffee properly, and stories where everything doesn't go right for the hero are called futile and get rejected.
SUSAN WILLIAMS: Why don't they sugar their own coffee?
DRL [nonplussed]: What kind of wish-fulfilment fantasy is it where you have to sugar your own coffee? ... Anyway, IASFM also has special little slips for special cases. I sent this Frank Herbert parody which Joe Nicholas liked, so it can't be much good; it started with the quotation Versatility is the ability to swim on unknown ground ...
[Baffled laughter; perceptive murmurs of "He's pissed."]
DRL: ... The rejection said OPAQUE, meaning they couldn't understand it at all. Maybe they'd never heard of Frank Herbert.
UNKNOWN VOICE IN AUDIENCE: Wish I'd never heard of Frank Herbert.
SIMONE WALSH: This is boring, let's talk about the BSFA.
[Confusion. Frenzy. Whetting of knives in background. Cries of "Silence for the BSFA!", "Death to the BSFA!", "What's the BSFA?", "I'm going for a drink", etc.]
MIKE DICKINSON: That's no good, we can't say rude things behind their backs when some of them are here.
NARRATOR [as fighting breaks out and chairs begin to fly]: This exemplifies the taboos of this strange folk. To utter the fatal name is (as John Dickson Carr put it) like whispering "Asbestos!" to a gang of pyromaniacs. Yes, the very mention of the BSFA –
[A weighted balloon strikes him and he falls unconscious.]
ROB JACKSON [sitting on floor at front]: No, wait. We've got some quite sensible BSFA people here – there's Dave Cobbledick and Dave Wingrove, both of whom will listen to every criticism we make and will surely be as putty in our hands....
DRL [calling to Dave Wingrove at the back]: That's Rob Jackson talking about you, Dave, in case you were wondering.
DAVE W: Thanks. I recognized the voice.
DRL: Bland, isn't it?
[Slow fade to black. A message appears.] IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENT: THE ROLE OF DAVID LANGFORD IN THE EVENTS OF SILICON 3 HAS BEEN GROSSLY DISTORTED BY HIS INABILITY TO RECALL THE COUNTLESS BRILLIANT THINGS SAID BY OTHER PEOPLE. THIS SLANTED PRESENTATION CANNOT BE HELPED. DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET. DO NOT ADJUST YOUR CLOTHING. DO NOT PASS GO –
NARRATOR [with bandaged head]: Well, what makes these fans tick? Their ways are strange: for example, after Isaac Asimov's SF Adventure Magazine had been denounced at length by the panel you have just seen, Roger Peyton's stocks thereof sold out at once. This is what psychologists have called the "nerd instinct". And anthropologists have still not fully analysed fans' curious rites, their perverse humour and warped ideals ...
[To the bar –]
SIMONE: I still think there's hope for Ian Garbutt. I mean, he's only sixteen or something. Now there's no hope at all for Robin Hughes, he's twenty-five ... [A shudder runs through her at the mere thought of such age and decrepitude.] ... and he thinks Greg is some sort of barrier between him and fandom, he's hardened in his attitude and despises John Collick for being accepted in fandom ... but Garbutt's practically adolescent, he can still grow up and become a real fan ... surely ...
JIM BARKER: I met Ian Garbutt at Faircon.
ALL: No! Good grief! What's he like?
JIM: Well, he's sort of ... um, well, you know ... Tell you what, I'll draw him.
[He draws him.]
ALL: No! Good grief! He can't be like that!
DAVE WINGROVE: No, that's pretty flattering. [He rushes off to denounce Ian Garbutt to the BSFA High Praesidium.]
DRL [rapidly]: Make a good filler for TD, that picture –
ALAN DOREY [more rapidly]: I'll be publishing sooner than you!
DRL: Oh yeah?
ALAN: Have a pint.
DRL: The picture's yours.
JIM: Don't I get any say in this, then?
ALL: No. [Little do they know that although the wretched Dorey will rush out a Gross Encounters within the month, he will utterly fail to include Jim's priceless artwork. Next time DRL will be less indulgent.]
[Fade to charades, with well-known cretins miming other well-known cretins. Rog Peyton has just borrowed a comb with which he simulates a starkly rectangular moustache. He clicks his heels – raises a clenched fist –]
ALL: Peter Weston!!!
[In another part of the bar:] DRL: Hey, Harry, remember that when you were pissed at our party you promised a TD cover?
HARRY BELL: No.
[Fade to Intellectual Quiz:]
QUIZMASTER COCKFIELD: And that picture came from the cover of Philip José Farmer's The Mad Goblin! [Tumultuous shouts of hysterical laughter from all present.]
NARRATOR: This quiz was largely about sf films, music, artwork and the like, causing such authorities as Kev Smith to dismiss it as a sci-fi quiz.... [As he speaks the fatal words a bound volume of Tangent strikes him down.]
[Fade to an Indian restaurant filled exclusively with ravenous fans. A fear-crazed Rob Hansen flees to eat Chinese nosh with his fingers on a draughty pavement –]
HAZEL: Thank you – that was very nice food indeed.
INDIAN WAITER: Oooh ... say that again!
HAZEL: Very nice food.
WAITER: I like the way you say that.
HAZEL [outside]: I suppose he doesn't hear many cultured southern voices up here.
[Fade to a damp and insalubrious park, where football is being played. Disapproving figures watch from nearby allotments. Dave Wingrove looks peculiarly fetching in a slinky football jersey which, totally concealing his shorts (if any) gives a mini-skirted appearance. John Collick falls over with unusual adroitness and frequency. Jim Barker hefts toilet-rolls, but has no notion of the subtle physics of actually throwing them, which is expounded at length by a passing Twll-Ddu editor. Eventually a direct hit is scored on Ian Maule, who unsportingly does not fall over. Limp wrists abound.]
[The football game mercifully over, the Gannet Surprise is unveiled, Wernher von Firth producing home-made plastic rockets which will symbolize the soaring intellectual power of sf as they zoom high over Newcastle. The second missile is the most successful, actually twitching whole millimetres into the air before it melts and droops obscenely. Certain fans leave in haste –]
SIMONE: It's disgusting. They could come down on anybody.
HAZEL: Dave thinks that if the police turn up they'll arrest him.
DRL: Well, one's practically bound to shoot through the window of a passing police-car if I'm in sight. And they always do arrest me. Mind you, I think I know what's wrong with those rockets ... the solid fuel's probably damp and needs to be dried out. Now if they put them in the hotel oven –
ALL: Shut up.
[Cut to Bar. Silicon is nearly done. Fans about to depart are studying photographs from America with confused remarks:]
"Gosh, aren't they all huge."
"Look, that's Joyce Scrivner. Looks like Pat Meara inflated with a bicycle-pump."
"And there's Terry Hughes. Christ, he looks like a male Joyce Scrivner!"
"Who's that other huge fellow?"
"Ssh, that's Rob Jackson!"
DRL: What is Ian Garbutt like?
DAVE WINGROVE: Well, don't quote me, but ** ** *** **** ********* ****** *** *** **** *** [etc*t*r*, etc* t*r*].
SIMONE [aside]: Wingrove is but a flea on the dog of humanity.
[Brief flash of the Narrator being wheeled off with concussion, culture-shock end alcoholic poisoning, before the credits begin to go up over Mike Dickinson's quintessentially fannish summary ...]
MIKE DICKINSON: I've just woken from a dream of Ian Williams being whipped by marmosets.
ANNOUNCER: The next item will be a party political broadcast on behalf of the BSFA Committee.
SOUND HEARD IN LIVING-ROOM: *click*
What The Critics Said
BOB DAY: Certainly, there was plenty of falling over; and that even before Roy Kettle arrived! Of that, the less said the better.
JOHN COLLICK: Did you know that in the trial flying bombs, that used test pilots, a break in the fuel lines during flight produced an acid or enzyme which totally dissolved the poor Luftpilot? Not a lot of people know that.
CYRIL "BOGMORTON" SIMSA: My best rejection slip came from Ian Garbutt. It said: "Tangent is not a market for crap writing or literary masturbation."
IAN GARBUTT: It was interesting to see you refer to me as Ian Grabbutt, such fannish humour, Mr Pongford, is seldom to be found in British fanzines ...
DRL: My apologies, Ina – but surely the ironic tone must have hinted that I was wittily quoting Kev Smith?
JOE NICHOLAS: I enjoyed Silicon, although I have to confess that I didn't feel myself to be enjoying it as much as last year. Why, I have no idea – perhaps it was because it was the second Silicon I'd been to, and a repeat of a particular convention is never the same as the first. And perhaps it was because I had less money to spend than last year, which is always something of an inhibition. It certainly didn't have anything to do with being parodied by Rob Hansen in the charades; I did, in fact, have a sneaking suspicion that I might be due for such treatment long beforehand. After all, anyone who wears crepe gorgette scarves, uses lip
sticksalve and drinks Cinzano must be pretty fair game for that sort of thing. The only trouble was that I missed it! I went out to the bar to get drinks for myself and Paul Kincaid during the intermission, and the very first thing he said to me on my return was "We've just done you." *Wordless snarl of rage* Although I understand that somebody else's (was it Alan Dorey's) mime of Malcolm Edwards was at first mistaken for a mime of yours truly. Poot. I wish to state, quite categorically, that there is no resemblance whatever between myself and David Pringle. None! None! (Shrieks of limpwristed hysteria, and all that.)
DRL: New that's odd about the con: I enjoyed it much more than Silicon 2. A really good weekend ...
NUJ REPRESENTATIVE: Excuse me, Mr Langford, but this section is quite clearly for TD critics and correspondents. You are a mere editor and should know your place.
HARRY BELL: I still don't remember promising to do this cover ...
The Isotope Man
Solicitous correspondents have enquired about my part – if any – in the recent upsets at Aldermaston. (The problem, for the benefit of overseas readers, was the distressing tendency for plutonium workers to glow in the dark.) I was particularly moved by the gentleman who "hadn't previously thought Pu poisoning caused brain damage". Fortunately all is well. I have a highly hazardous and responsible job making tea for thousands of Aldermaston employees, but though this necessarily exposes me to risk I am protected by stringent safety precautions, such as not drinking the tea. The Official Secrets Act forbids comment on the rumour (prevalent at Silicon) that I am followed everywhere by IRA men who studiously collect my turds in the hope that they may amass sufficient plutonium to construct a small doomsday weapon. They may have been misled by the following notice, which appeared in the AWRE library one morning and within half an hour was removed by radiation-shielded workers using special tongs ...
In order to avoid assembling a critical mass, personnel are requested not to gather in groups of more than 5 and to stand at least 0.6m apart (1.2m if wet).
I wish I'd said that.
Fans will remember that in A Clockwork Orange the reader was indoctrinated with a sort of Russian slang, ultimately emerging (or so Burgess claimed) with some rudimentary knowledge of that language. This approach has now been adopted by an as yet unsung hero of linguistics, through the unexpected medium of a fanzine....
However indless and stupi evrything in Gross Enounters is though by inumerable BSFA chieftans, it posesses appreiators in the intelligencia. Arabid reviwer whom we interviwed said: "Only suare and unhygenic peopl call it stupi, thus losing thei creibility: non-appreiators have entred a state of rigamortis. Evertime on reads it, espeially in the evning after inumerable Guinesses for sustainess, on falls aroun laughin at the ver strange reviwing and evnts."
Readers are invited to calculate how much more space would have been wasted if this sample passage had been printed without using Alan Dorey's admirable contractions (culled from his linguistic-reform tract, camouflaged as Gross Encounters 4). And this is but the beginning: in GE4's 77 neologisms we are privileged to glimpse the white-hot crucible of language in the making. Primordial forms appear, contractions as yet unevolved like revi ws and su ely. In such Joycean exuberance it's not surprising to find occasional wittily retrograde steps – tha t, no where, what so ever – and bizarre mutant forms defying comprehension: tazis, wnat, olf, ir, guve, fis, dort and holdtsock.
Thus we begin to lose contact with English itself, drifting out into chaos. From the simple elisions and pleasing ambiguities (e.g. viscious as applied to Ritchie Smith's stomach tackles) of elemental Doreyspeak, one is lured into a maelstrom of half-understood concepts like reoad and repsonse and Koe Nicholas. On has thw feeling of being incesaantly watxhed, on's imformal converstaion id tunred to farntically corruscating indlessness... as evrything goes black, on optomistically feels on kight almost guve an interpretation of such words as guve....
Unfortuantely on can continue incessaantly in this dispicable veign.