We hope by now all that our readers have been able to obtain a copy of the recently
published hardcover edition of A Wealth of Fable, an informal history of
fandom in the 1950s, chronicling the exploits of Walt Willis and John Berry, as well
as lots and lots of other fans who were active then. The author of that book, Harry
Warner, Jr., has been a frequent contributor to this fanzine, and we welcome him
back again. This article by Harry originally appeared several years ago in the apa
SAPS, and after that, in a British fanzine Marital Rats of Shaolin. We don't
expect that too many of our readers have ever seen it, so we're happy to give it new
In mid-morning, the telephone rang, beginning one of the weirdest events in all my years in fandom. The caller wanted to know if I was the Harry Warner who was in fandom. I admitted the fact. Then he told me he was glad I was at home, because he was less than two hour's driving time from Hagerstown, and in a moment he would be on his way to come to 423 Summit Avenue and beat me up.
I thought I deserved an explanation and asked a few questions. He identified himself as an individual of whom I'd never heard, a commissioned officer in the armed forces, currently on leave in the United States. He said he had no intention of ignoring the slur I'd written about him, and he was about to teach me a lesson I'd never forget.
I was as mystified as I was alarmed. Further questioning showed the slur in question was a LoC published in a fanzine edited in the nation where he'd been stationed before returning to the United States. I couldn't remember specifically what I'd written in that LoC, but I knew it couldn't be about an individual who admitted he wasn't a fan and whose existence had been unknown to me until that telephone call. I protested that there must be some mistake, but he told me he'd try not to be late, and hung up.
Of course, I suspected a practical joke from someone in fandom. But then I realized a fan would have seized upon something I'd written that could be interpreted in the wrong way. With some effort, I dug out the fanzine in question, read my LoC, and found in it not the slightest reference that my caller could possibly have considered directed at him. All of a sudden, the summer day wasn't so lovely any more.
I wasn't quite sure what I should do. If I simply locked up the house and went somewhere for the rest of the day, it would only put off a confrontation and lengthen my worrying period. The caller's threat could, by the letter of Maryland law, justify my swearing an assault warrant against him, but I had no witness to the threat. It would be my word against his in court, so it would be better to wait until I'd been beaten up and then swear out a warrant for assault and battery. I didn't want to ask anyone to come to my home to be with me if this confrontation occurred, because I might be dealing with a maniac who would pull out a gun or knife if he found himself one against two. The only halfway satisfactory procedure, I decided, would be to step outside as soon as I saw him coming up the porch steps, and let whatever was destined to happen occur outdoors. There would probably be a neighbor or two cutting the grass, or otherwise capable of seeing what was happening, and I thought there was a fifty-fifty chance such a neighbor would call the police in case of violence, instead of helping my visitor.
Then the telephone rang again. It was the same officer. He told me he'd been talking it over with his wife. He thought I sounded like a reasonable sort of person who just couldn't help himself when impelled to write slurs in fanzines, and he'd decided not to beat me up. Instead, he would write me a letter giving me valuable information. Before he hung up, I managed to get enough information from him to solve the mystery.
I'm going to be vague about certain matters, to avoid identifying facts about this officer from appearing here. Basically, what had happened was this:
In the nation where he'd been stationed up to now, he had had a mistress, whose brother was an active fan. As a result, the American officer had had casual contact with the brother and with some other fans, he had glanced at some fanzines, and he had heard some fannish slang. He had found nothing about fandom which he admired and he had decided all fans are communists, because some of those fans he'd met had left-wing leanings.
In the previous winter, just before Christmas, the young woman on whom the officer had spent a lot of money had jettisoned him, abruptly and totally, in favor of some other man. The officer had been so shaken by his unexpected dismissal that he had spent Christmas Eve in a whorehouse. By his standards, it was a normal thing for a healthy young man to have a mistress, but patronizing a whorehouse was a disgrace, a deviation from acceptable conduct that he shouldn't have allowed himself to do. And somehow, the officer thought that these communistic fans had something to do with the loss of his mistress and a more serious event that had occurred later: he'd lost his security clearance -- he could no longer hold the duty to which he'd been assigned, and, after his leave, he would be reassigned to duty in Vietnam.
Early in that year, I received a fanzine from this nation. Each letter in the LoC section was dated and, by coincidence, several of them had December 24 dates. When I wrote a LoC on that issue, I said my concept of Christmas Eve in that nation had changed, with fanac replacing the traditional tree-trimming and gift-exchanging. My LoC appeared in the next issue, which the officer had somehow acquired. His knowledge of fannish slang wasn't thorough enough -- he thought 'fanac' meant 'copulation'. He assumed the unhappy Christmas Eve he had spent had been gossiped throughout fandom so completely that I'd heard about it and I was referring to his whereabouts on that date when I wrote of Christmas Eve Fanac in my LoC.
I don't think he ever believed me when I tried to explain to him my ignorance of the whole series of events involving him, and the true meaning of 'fanac'. I admit that I wasn't entirely fair because fanac sometimes does involve sex, but I didn't try to go into details about the word's definition.
Several days later, a letter arrived with his name and return address on the envelope. This made me apprehensive again because there was a great deal of newspaper publicity about letter bomb episodes in that era, and I wasn't altogether sure he hadn't changed his mind again about me. But the envelope was thin and flexible, so I took a chance and opened it.
It was a nice letter, in most ways. There was no more mention of physical violence. Instead, the officer was going to give me an opportunity to serve my country while retaining my status as a civilian. He was arranging a meeting at which he and I would tell the authorities all about the communist conspiracy known as fandom. I could fill in any of the minor details about this conspiracy after he'd outlined all the major facts, and in this way, I could make amends for the awful thing I'd written about him in that fanzine.
Somehow, I escaped that peril, too. And I've never heard a word since from, or about, that man who had wrecked that perfectly lovely day off, so many years ago.
All illustrations by Alan Hutchinson