Even the most superficial study of fan history will demonstrate that there have
been many, many notable and noble fanwriters in the history of fandom, but the
noblest fanwriter of them all could very well be the writer of the following
article. Walt Willis now continues his look back at the fabulous year of 1954 with
the discovery of another amazing fan writing talent, some unabashed praise
for two of Walt's most famous works, and more...
I see that on the 23rd of March 1954, I was confiding my inmost thoughts to Chuck Harris on the question of nationality:
You know, I think [Vernon] McCain had something there when he talked about this part of Ireland inducing schizophrenia. Can you imagine what it's like to be torn always between two rival patriotisms? Three, rather. Ireland, Ulster (which has a national mythos of its own), and England. We accept English standards of conduct and find ourselves supporting them in cricket test matches and so on, and yet we're ambivalent about them. The ones we have experience of here, of course, are the ruling classes, the hunting and shooting types, and a more obnoxious crowd of bastards you never met, and yet you've got to respect them. There's a curious mixture of hate, envy, and amusement in the Irish attitude to them, and even I feel a vague inherited sense of inferiority when speaking to someone who talks like Vince [Clarke].
Then, on the other hand, we like to think of ourselves as Irish, and we appreciate Irish folk music, etc. Yet we reject unity with the rest of the country because they are dupes of the RC Church. We could build up a national mythos on Ulster itself -- the Cuchulain saga and so on -- if it weren't for the fact that we know quite well that we are descendants of the Plantationists who drove those people out. Many people here dispose of the problem by frankly claiming allegiance to Scotland.
This country is a godawful mess of contradictions.
One thing though. Belfast girls are not only more highly sexed than Southern drabs -- we have the highest illegitimate birth rate in the British Isles -- they are the best looking ones I have found anywhere. That's counting America. I've never been anywhere else where you can walk through the city just admiring the scenery walking by.
In a postcard no bigger than a man's hand there now appeared on the horizon the first Englishman to manifest himself in Irish Fandom:
5th July, 1954
31, Campbell Park Avenue
Dear Mr. Willis,
I would be obliged if you would kindly forward to the above address the latest copy of Hyphen, which I note is mentioned in Authentic Science Fiction No. 46. I enclose PO for 1s 9d, including 3d postage.
John E. Berry
The first thing I did was to look up the address in the Belfast Street Directory, of which there was a copy in my office. I noted that the occupier of the address given was a policeman, and a small warning bell rang. (I had recently fallen for a hoax by Vince Clarke in which he sent over Mike Wilson to represent himself as a neofan.) However, my office was empowered to send for police files and within a couple of days I had before me the file on Constable John E. Berry. It disclosed nothing suspicious about him, so I invited him to call at Oblique House. He turned out to be friendly, congenial, and enthusiastic, so I invited him to come again the next night there was a regular meeting of Irish Fandom. Again, he proved very congenial and I reported on the new acquisition to Hyphen co-editor Chuck Harris, who responded prophetically...
Berry sounds all right. I'm already wondering what he'll turn out to be a genius at. It would shake fandom rigid if a wheel of IF turned out to be just mediocre.
I was also breaking the news to Dean Grennell...
We now have a new member of Irish Fandom, and a prolific one. The third time he came up here he produced a top drawer fannish type article which will be in the next Hyphen, and he's written enough for the next two issues already and shows no sign of slowing down. His latest project is a series of studies of the Old Guard of Irish Fandom. (He has uncanny powers of observation and also I learned today has been in the habit of taking notes of the conversation here when he gets home.) We think it would be egotistical to publish them in Hyphen. Would you like them for Grue? Oh, the name of this latter day genius is John Berry.
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I have been criticised for including praise of myself in these memoirs, and I can understand why. But I ask you to understand my feelings at being expected to throw away this letter of comment by Robert Bloch on The Enchanted Duplicator. I think it deserves to pass before your eyes on its way to the waste basket.
I have never read a finer piece of fan writing than The Enchanted Duplicator.
It is the most delightful, whimsical, provocative, wise, witty work I've ever had the pleasure of reading... and re-reading. You and Bob Shaw have immortalized yourselves in this effort... and reflected a radiance of spirit which redounds to your mutual credit.
Let Laney quibble about the presence of a Fairy in the story... let Clean Fandom shudder in horror over the dreadful word ending Chapter Eleven... I can only say that this, for me, is the epitome of fan-fiction. Thank you for sending me a copy... and over and above that, thank you both for having written it. The Enchanted Duplicator is truly and evidently a 'labor of love' in every sense of the phrase. And I loved it!
I might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb, so here's a letter of comment from Chuck Harris on my report of Chicon 2. It's a very model of what a letter of comment should be like, and I defy anyone receiving such a letter to willfully destroy it without regret.
This Convention Report is wonderful. It took me an hour to read and I finished it just three minutes ago. I've made a cliche out of the best thing you've ever written' during the last couple of years, but I'm in grave danger of becoming a sincere acolyte of yours. Look, forget everything nice I've ever said about your stuff. Forget that I'm a friend of yours. Forget that I know all these fannish names and references. Ready? Walt, this was the best thing that you've ever written -- it's the best thing I've seen in any fanzine anywhere. I'm still full of the sort of exhileration that I get after reading Sturgeon or Heinlein. Whilst reading it I felt that I was making the trip with you and meeting all these people, just as if I had been in Chicago too. I think the biggest compliment I could pay you was that after deciphering twenty-five pages, I felt bitterly disappointed when I reached the end because you didn't carry on with a report of what happened afterwards.
I'm more than a little awed with you just now -- it's as if Vince had suddenly become a better writer than Heinlein, or James [White] blossomed out as a second Messiah. Do you remember talking about how you intended to get a sort of monopoly on conreports so that any future conmittee would automatically put aside your retainer before planning anything else? With stuff like this you stand a damn good chance of pulling it off. It's true that I'm the world's No. 1 sucker for any sort of conreport, but this was different. I was quite excited and kept trying to read faster than I could absorb the words in a sort of over-eagerness to find out what the holy hell was going to happen next. I was so interested that I even forgot the cup of tea that was standing on the mantlepiece. Tonight I'm too effusive to comment on it. I've got little word pictures skidding over my cortex and I'd rather wait until I come down to earth before making with the fearless comments.
If Lee [Hoffman] drops dead before this coming issue [of Quandry], remember that Hyphen is first in the queue for this report. In fact, I've a good mind to write her trying to persuade her that it's crap so that she'll reject it, and then I can earn undying egoboo as its publisher.
I feel very proud of you. Please keep your clay foot out of my eye. I shall probably address you as 'Sir' when I see you again.
Title illustration by Julia Morgan-Scott
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