The Ill-Fated Biocell
by Jeff Duntemann
Charlie was a high school buddy of mine. We were both class nerds and hung around together. I was building telescopes at the time and he played with electronics. He went through an alternative energy phase long before gas hit the wrong side of 40 cents a gallon.
Charlie had a ten gallon bluish glass water-cooler jug which his father had brought home from work after the bottled water company which served his office went broke. Charlie had read somewhere of the possibility of generating electricity from sewage. He decided it was worth a try. The active ingredients were cheap, and when you're a 14-year-old nerd, that counts.
All through the long summer of 1967 he had this funnel connected through a piece of rubber tubing to a cork crammed into the neck of his water-cooler jug. Charlie refused to relieve anywhere but into the funnel. I helped fill it a time or two if I recall, but I had my doubts about the whole idea. Come September it was full to brimming, a beautiful cloudy yellow, and visions of kilovolts danced in his head.
The active battery elements were a copper rod and a nickel rod he picked up at the American Science Center, battered through another cork and inserted into the neck of the jug. We measured its current producing capacity at 1.5 volts at 3 milliamps (about the same as your average hearing-aid battery).
He was certain the brew was missing something, and kept adding stuff like copper sulfate and kitchen bleach. The corrosion from the copper rod started turning the jug a pretty green. Still no additional power out of it. Charlie threw an old rug over the jug, put it on the shelf in his basement workroom, and gave up on it.
A couple of months later, Charlie's old man lost track of his electric drill, and went poking through Charlie's workroom. He tried to pull the rug off the jug to see what was underneath -- and pulled the jug off the shelf instead.
Charlie and I were out in the back yard broiling giant water bugs with a magnifying glass when his old man emerged from the basement ankle-deep in ripe fermenting green pee. I left hastily, and it was some time before I saw Charlie again.
There is no moral to this story, other than: Thank God I Grew Up.
- - - - - - - - - -Reaction from readers to our first issue was a lot more enthusiastic than we had ever hoped for -- Kim Huett provided the most egoboo when he wrote us that he "didn't know that fanzines like [Mimosa] existed anywhere but in faneds dreams." And the praise was spread out over the contributors, too -- Avedon Carol wrote wanting to know, "Who is Charlie Williams and where can I get one?"
It would be five years before she found out, however, because that's how long it was before Mimosa 2 appeared. In the early 1980s, we'd both decided to go back to college at night to get degrees in computer science, and it left little time for much else. And back then there was so much nastiness in Chattanooga fandom that it really made us wonder if we even wanted to do anything else in fandom, much less publish a fanzine. It was our friend George Laskowski, at the Atlanta Worldcon in 1986, who finally persuaded us to do another issue; he'd just won the first of his two Hugo Awards for 'Best Fanzine' but seemed more interested in encouraging us to resume publishing than accepting our congratulations.
The second issue finally appeared in January 1987, and once again the contents were a bit of a jumble, but at least it was more upbeat -- it included a humorous Bob Tucker speech about "The Bad Old Days of Science Fiction," a 'radio play' by John Guidry and Justin Winston about the night New Orleans won the bid for the 1988 Worldcon, a really well-written article by Joe Celko (but a bit too explicit for this reprint issue) about his days as co-proprietor of an adult book store, and an article by Charlie Williams about the 1979 Louisville NorthAmericon that packed 17 pieces of his fan art into a 5-page article. There was also an article by Lon Atkins about one of Southern Fandom's favorite pastimes, the game of Hearts. Here it is again:
illustration by Alan Hutchinson