Let me tell you about a project I've been working on.
Some time ago, way back in Mimosa 4, we printed a letter from Robert Lichtman, who listed titles of some of the books on the history of science fiction and science fiction fandom you'd expect to find in a compleatist's library. Among the books Bob mentioned were Damon Knight's The Futurians, Sam Moskowitz' The Immortal Storm, Fred Pohl's The Way the Future Was, and two books by Harry Warner, Jr.: All Our Yesterdays, a history of science fiction fandom from the late 1930s through the decade of the 1940s, and A Wealth of Fable, a narrative history of science fiction fandom of the 1950s. Unfortunately, not many if any of these are currently in print; to find them, it'll take some effort perusing through used book stores and convention huckster rooms. But for those of you who, like us, are fascinated with what has gone on before, all of these books are still acquirable. Except one.
It turns out that Harry Warner, Jr.'s second fan history book, A Wealth of Fable, has never been published in book form. Up to now, the only version available has been the three volume mimeographed fanzine that was published in the mid-1970s by Joe Siclari.
Well, that's going to change soon. For those of you who haven't already heard, I'm happy to announce that the good people out in Los Angeles who brought us the 1984 Worldcon have decided to underwrite costs for publication in hardcover of A Wealth of Fable. I've been asked by them to he editor for the project. If you're familiar with Harry's other book, All Our Yesterdays, this book will have a very similar appearance; it'll be the same width and height, and each page will have the same area of text. I also expect that the book will have plenty of photographs from the 1950s, which will be inserted into the text as was done in All Our Yesterdays. My intent is to make A Wealth of Fable appear as if it is the second volume in a two volume set. A year (or maybe less) from now, we'll all be able to see if I was successful.
If you're thinking that this project is going to take a lot of work, you're right. It already has, in fact, from both Harry and myself. The way we chose to translate AWoF to a computer disk file involved optically scanning the beat available copy of the original mimeographed edition. To get rid of the errors that creep in from this type of operation, we've gone through a word-for-word check of the entire manuscript. And we're also going back and verifying the accuracy of various sections of AWoF, getting comments from people involved in some of the events described by it.
That part of the project is actually turning out to be interesting and enjoyable, and not just because we've been able to add a few new names to our Mimosa mailing list because of it. Several times, letters I've received in response to queries about past events covered by AWoF have contained descriptions of events not covered by the book. Some of these are pretty intriguing. For instance, did you know that Albert Einstein once had a letter published in a fanzine?
It's true. It was in the 34th issue of Cry of the Nameless, back in August 1952. How it came to happen is at least as interesting as the fact that it did. Wally Weber, then co-editor of Cry, gives this explanation:
"The early Nameless Ones had ties to the University of Washington, and actually discussed matters of science and science fiction openly at our club meetings. Our program at one of the meetings featured Mark Walstead, a (now deceased) physics major, lecturing on Einstein's assertion that nothing could exceed the speed of light. If true, this would hamper our plan to someday have Nameless meetings in distant galaxies, so he was lecturing to a hostile audience. We got Mark to agree that Einstein would permit our hypothetical spaceship to go, say, ¾ the speed of light. We didn't tell him until he had committed himself that our spaceship was carrying a second spaceship that was also capable of ¾ c. Once Spaceship A established a ¾ c velocity to the University of Washington's frame of reference, it released Spaceship B, which promptly attained ¾ c with respect to Spaceship A's frame of reference, or 1½ c to the University's frame of reference. Nyah, Nyah Einstein and Walstead! Mark floundered, but he was sure Dr. Einstein would have an explanation if only he were available."
Jack Speer, who lived in the Seattle area at that time, then wrote a letter to Dr. Einstein, posing the hypothetical question and requesting a theoretical answer but not really expecting a response. According to Wally, "The whole club was stunned and delighted when Albert actually answered the letter." Einstein's note read, in part:
"The argument is faulty for the following reason. The 'earth' is the whole time at rest relatively to an inertial system, the rocket is not; (it is in acceleration before beginning the trip down)."
Wally remembers that, "I'm not sure that any of us understood the answer. In my case, I thought he answered an entirely different question than we had asked."
Jack Speer evidently thought so, too. His postscript to Einstein's letter in Cry read: "I wonder why we can't get some of our geniuses who are taking physics to apply the equations and tell us what really happens when a spaceship approaches the speed of light."
Another reference to Einstein appears later in AWoF. This also related to hypothetical implications of the Theory of Relativity, apparently a popular topic back then, but it involved Sam Moskowitz this time: In Chapter 21, reference is made to the second Disclave convention (of 1952) where SaM, pressed into service at the last minute, "told about corresponding with Einstein over faster-than-light travel."
Information on this one turned out to be even easier to track down, as SaM had written about it in the Spring 1953 issue of Fantasy Commentator. He had read a magazine article which stated that galaxies at a sufficiently far distance from us would have speeds of recession exceeding that of light, something supposedly prohibited by Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, but permitted in the General Theory of Relativity. So he dashed off a letter to Dr. Einstein to inquire about this, since there were possible stf implications. Unfortunately, Einstein was not a science popularist; his response talked about coordinate systems and inertial systems, and in general made little sense to the layman. However, as Sam relates, "I became a sort of celebrity over this. The local press decided I was challenging Einstein, and devoted a full column to the matter with a photograph of me and part of my science fiction collection."
Just as interesting, albeit less theoretical in nature, was information in correspondence received that sheds new light on more fannish matters like Worldcon site selections. Chapter 23 of AWoF provides the following information about the contest staged at the 1953 Philadelphia Worldcon between Cleveland and San Francisco, for the right to hold the 1954 Worldcon:
"There was jockeying for votes on opening night between the only two groups known to be seeking the next year's convention, San Francisco and Cleveland. The California city had a problem, the presence of only one representative in Philadelphia, Hans Rusch, who was not one of fandom's biggest names. The Cleveland propagandists didn't seem to consider it necessary to devote all their energy to the con bid, because they were also passing out propaganda leaflets involving a different project, that of putting Bob Tucker and Randy Garrett into the White House ... Eventually, San Francisco defeated Cleveland on the final ballot, 187 to 157. A late start on preparations by Cleveland fans and the fact that three straight Worldcon had been held east of the Mississippi were generally considered major reasons for the outcome."
It turns out, though, that there was more to it than that. San Francisco's bid was almost not even entered at the business session. Howard DeVore gives these details:
"At Philadelphia, the word was that San Francisco deserved to win; because they'd been shafted the previous year. Apparently only one Frisco fan was in Philadelphia, and when the voting started he could not be located, so Don Ford of Cincinnati made the bid for him. The fan's name was Hans Rusch, who may not have been on the committee. He'd played poker till daylight and was in a nearby hotel, but no one knew where. When he finally showed up, San Francisco was already the winner." Howard, it might be added, was part of that poker game, and was probably the person who convinced Don Ford to make the proxy bid for San Francisco.
Then there was the episode from the second Midwestcon (1951), recounted in Chapter 21 of AWoF:
"Fans bought or pretended to buy a tiny patch of ground on which a tree grew, dedicating it as a shrine to a fannish couple who had found true love under its branches the previous year." Howard DeVore was able to, er; flesh out this escapade as well:
"The 'shrine' was dedicated with an imitation bronze plaque reading 'Under This Bush a Great Fan Love Was Born', with the previous year's dates, and initials of Ben Singer and Nancy Moore with intertwined hearts. Singer claimed it was the wrong bush."
It's only too easy to get carried away in ail this; research into the past doings of fandom is, well, fun, and I find that all too often I'm getting lost in the `50s when I should be devoting more time to doing other, more pressing matters. Like finishing this fanzine, for instance.
So I'd better get at it. Midwestcon is only a few weeks away as I type this, and we want to have most of the work on this issue done by the time we leave for Cincinnati. This year's convention might even turn out to be more memorable than most. You see, Ray Lavender is driving in from the west coast. And when you get him and Tucker in a room together talking about fandoms past, just about anything is likely to happen...
All illustrations by Sheryl Birkhead