Someone else we're looking forward to seeing next year, hopefully at Intersection,
is Walt Willis. We last saw Walt in at the 1992 Worldcon, where he was the
Fan Guest of Honor. This is the fifth installation here in Mimosa of "I
Remember Me", Walt's annotated series of excerpts from his correspondence file that
provides portraits of some of the people, publications, and events that made the
decade of the 1950s such an interesting time; previously, the series had been
compiled some years ago in Richard Bergeron's Warhoon no.28, a huge, 600+
page collection of Walt's fan writings. Bergeron described the series as "...a
relevation of high fannish secrets, low fannish secrets, gossip, eavesdropping,
skeletons, skeleton keys, opened letters, and glimpses into machiavellian
machinations..." This time, we get to learn more about Damon Knight, numbered
fandoms, some famous fanzines, and more...
My Life With damon knight
In my fan column in the Scottish prozine Nebula (which brought Ethel Lindsay into fandom), I instanced some of the concrete rewards that might come from fan activity. They included receiving from damon knight a device for blowing bubbles from the top of one's head. No explanation was given for this, I having assumed that the potential fans of that time would have no difficulty in seeing the advantages of such a contrivance. It consisted of a plastic cap, rather like a helicopter beanie, incorporating a little tank containing bubble-making fluid, from which a plastic tube ending in a bulb operated by the wearer produced a steady stream of large iridescent bubbles, to no little effect. The general impression produced was one of a comic book character being portrayed as Thinking.
The chain of events which led me to receive this unusual headgear started with a suggestion from Redd Boggs that it might be a good idea to send a copy of Hyphen to damon knight. I did so, and eventually received this letter:
Sorry to be so late in thanking you for Hyphen 8, but the truth is the little beast is so meaty I haven't finished it even yet. I keep picking it up to see if there's anything I have missed, and there always is. On the hunch that it will give out eventually, though, I'm forwarding a money order for ten shillings -- a shilling for The Enchanted Duplicator, of which I hear great things, and the rest for a double-barreled subscription. I find I can't stand not having all the back issues.
The magazine's illegibility may be part of its charm, but it was a near thing with me. I read the easy parts, passed over the back cover as totally impossible, and shudder to think what would have happened if Jim Blish hadn't picked it up and started laughing like a maniac. What unsung genius said, "You haven't lived until you've been goosed with a copy of Fahrenheit 451"?
I was going to tell you what I liked, but I liked every damned thing in the magazine, even the verse. Since when has there been readable verse in fanmags? Good lord, I have been out of touch too long. What's Seventh Fandom? Does it hurt? Why aren't A. Vincent and Arthur C. the same person?
"Now about sex and smut" should have been an interlineation. So businesslike.
Down Neptune! Up Uranus!
Just went back through the wilderness looking for something to deprecate and thought I had found it in the serious and constructive reviews, but struck that remark about "the practiced robot-spotter" and gave up.
Resignedly, damon knight
I find that, amazingly, I didn't answer this letter for six weeks. It seems I sent it to my co-editor, Chuck Harris, with a pencilled note asking for it to be returned as soon as copied -- for the next issue, which was to be produced by him and Vince Clarke -- and asking him to say that the Fahrenheit 451 quote was overheard by our agent Terry Carr at a meeting of the Golden Gate Futurian Society.
I apologised for the delay as follows:
Believe me, I'd have replied to your first letter with such rapidity as to alarm the cablegram companies if it hadn't been for my current estivation. (At least it would be estivation if we had a summer in Ireland. I think we had better just call it hibernation.) I found the receipt of word from you as an accolade (you know accolade, Arthur C. Clarke's favourite drink) and nightly I call down blessings on the head of Redd Boggs who suggested I send you a sample copy of Hyphen.
The least I can do is to give you a more adequate reply to your enquiry about Seventh Fandom. Sixth Fandom flourished in 1951 and 1952, and is supposed to have centered around Lee Hoffman, Max Keasler, and myself. It reached its climax in the fall of 1952 when we all met at the Chicon and then suffered a temporary eclipse. (Lee bought a horse, I caught a colt which developed into pneumonia, and Max was draughted.) Just previous to this, Bob Silverberg had written an article in Quandry classifying fandoms, naming the present one Sixth and speculating on what Seventh would be like. When Quandry suspended publication, a horde of brash young neofen arose calling themselves Seventh Fandom as if all they had to do to justify their existence was to call attention to it.
...What I would like would be some original material from you, but I haven't the nerve to ask for it.
This last arose from my request for the loan of some old copies of damon knight's fanzine Snide. In a later letter, which has not survived, he apparently made some comments about TOTO, Hyphen's reprint supplement. I offered to lend him copies of Quandry, and he replied as follows:
Ho. You brightened my morning. Kindred soul, I salute you. (I admire your puns but don't expect any back; I use them instead of story ideas.) Am sending you ten tons of stuff from my memory box... Got the damnedest things in this box. Here's a sheet of paper headed...
The Cosmic XXXX
by Chester b. Conant and Damon Knight
(The missing word was FART. It was in the typewriter when some Chelsea semi-tarts were coming up, and Cohen, who has no inhibitions at all about women except this one, pencilled it out.)
It was mid-day in Paris when the cloud from space drifted down. People sitting at sidewalk cafes looked up, sniffed the air enquiringly, and then shrugged shoulders, turning back to their demitasses and polite banter.
But the smell grew stronger. It grew, at last, to an intensity that even a Parisian could not stand. With a curious mingling of odours like the amalgamation of the dregs of a thousand sewers, it settled in the chasms of the city streets and seeped through doors and windows into the innermost corners and crannies of the world metropolis. Paris grew alarmed, then outraged, then frantic.
That's all. Cohen was supposed to go on from there, but all he did was correct the title.
All this is in hope of deserving your fantastic offer to lend me fanzines. You ought to be twice shy by now, but good lord, I accept! You mean to say you're going to lend me Quandries? You're mad! I'll guard them with my life.
...Would dearly love to write something new for Hyphen, but am intimidated. Nothing drearier than would-be Hyphen-type wit. Will eat lots of Wheaties and have a go at it.
I replied as follows, after some complimentary remarks about the copies of Snide he had sent me:
Your promise to try and write something for Hyphen fills me with awe. You really have no idea of the ... veneration I have for you, in both your fan and pro aspects ... We don't expect or want "would-be Hyphen-type material" -- we want damon knight-type material, which we think is better.
His reply was swift:
Kindly cut out the goddamn veneration. Am only 32, damnit, and consider myself in the bloom of youth. Have as much hair as ever, and feel twitchier in every way. I venerate you, you bleeding genius. There, how do you like it?
No, seriously, the only thing I am tooled up to do besides fiction is the book review column, which is too serious and constructive, and probably too long as well.
On thinking it over, am more surprised than ever that you have heard of Snide before; one of the old guard, probably. Faintly surprised to discover, a while back, that Harry Warner was still kicking... Then there's Tucker and Ackerman, who go back to the beginning of the world. The odd thing about my generation in fandom -- Joe Fortier, Gerry de la Ree, and a gaggle of others whose names I've forgotten -- is that we all disappeared.
Was in a typewriter repair shop last summer, I guess it was, left to my own devices while the man's wife went to see what had become of my machine, and I read part of a mimeographed circular hanging on a nail behind the counter. It was a testimonial written by a British cigarette card fan who had been visiting in this country and had many nice things to say about American cigarette card fandom. Odd. Would it be fun to dump a bunch of these people into the next convention and see how long it took for anybody to notice the difference.
...Hallohallohallohallo. I just happened to be looking through Hyphen No.5 (honest) and I see where you say, "Not that I wouldn't welcome intelligent literary criticism..." I don't see how you can weasel out of that. About how many pages per issue would you welcome?
And in a later letter:
I saw John Michel a few years ago at a showing of that Russian decapitated doghead film down in Greenwich Village. He had got disgustingly plump and shiny. Mutterings in Grue to the effect that he's some part of Dean Grennell... Warner's notion of writing obituaries on people who have retired from FAPA is the most delightful thing I've heard in years. Didn't know he had it in him. Didn't have much contact with British fandom. Corresponded for a while with Bill Temple. Found him solemn, and all the Temple madness I began to read about later came as a complete surprise to me. Probably we just got off on the wrong foot and he found me solemn.
The fat bundle of Quandries arrived yesterday. Large bite, but I've been nibbling away at it, starting with "The Harp". Now, by god, this is marvellous stuff.
Damon's column in Hyphen 11, November 1954, was well received: DR Smith, the old-time British fan, wrote: "If you and damon knight had striven for years with the sole object of pleasing me, you could not have done better than for him to write and for you to print his comments on some aspects of present-day sf. This indeed I enjoyed. I delighted in every well-chosen phrase of it. This is the sort of thing I would aspire to produce myself had I the talent."
John Brunner said: "Liked knight's masterly exposition of the art of being rude without being impolite."
Chuck Harris wrote: "He's invaluable. Just what we needed. He's not merely picturesque, he's impossible. For years we've been needing a regular fairly serious contributor who has something to say and a smart way of saying it, and knight is truly the answer to our prayers."
I passed these comments on to damon, who himself had written a letter of comment on Hyphen 10, in which he said...
The reason Hyphen is so good, I take it, apart from the accidental assemblage of half a dozen geniuses in Britain, and the reason so many serious and constructive fanzines are so ghastly dull, is that the former is an original contribution, and the latter are self-consciously second-hand. I would like you to ponder this thought though, if it hasn't already occurred to you: it's exactly the fun-loving fanzines like Hyphen, Bradbury's Futuria Fantasia, and Snide (not a plug -- the mag's 2nd and final issue was published 14 years ago) which have profoundly influenced science fiction.
This reminded me of Terry Carr's denunciation of Ed Wood for, by his own admission, destroying his copies of Hyphen unread, the same copies which contained the reviews by damon knight he was going to later reprint professionally. The copies of Hyphen were presumably sent in exchange for Wood's fmz, The Journal of Science Fiction.
Next issue, I'll conclude the damon knight saga and also reproduce the Robert Conquest letter touched-on in the recent biography of Philip Larkin. I'll just mention now that the only complaint damon knight made about my standard of reproduction of his reviews in Hyphen was that I inadvertently reproduced the name of a famous publisher as 'Funk and Wagballs'. I was able to mollify damon by pointing out how much worse it could have been!
Title illustration by Steve Stiles