All Our Yesterdays 31
by Harry Warner Jr.
I’ve been reading for the first time ‘To Live Again’. It’s a story of a type you don’t find frequently in the science fiction field: grim in its implications of how humanity might misuse one form of immortality, possessed of no character with whom the reader can feel real sympathy or affection. It’s more frightening in its way than most atomic doom stories, and it’s a splendid novel. It sent me to the attic. I wanted reassurance that the Bob Silverberg who wrote the novel really had been a neofan once, creating goshwow fanzines. Sure enough, I hadn’t dreamed that Bob Silverberg had once published a fanzine named Spaceship which grew as impressively in quality as his professional science fiction has gained in lasting worth over the years.
I suspect that a lot of people in fandom and prodom are unaware that Bob continues to publish a fanzine. He bobs up in FAPA a couple of times every year with a personal-type fanzine that isn’t much known outside that organisation. Moreover, there have been other fanzines in Bob’s past. He was even a SAPS member at one time, producing for it a journal with the amazing title of Z Prime. But let’s stick to Spaceship this time, as the subscription fanzine that introduced the Brooklyn youngster to the delights of writing about the future and seeing what you write in print.
The Earliest issue I’ve succeeding in unearthing today is the fourth, which was distributed in late 1949. It looks like an unadulterated crudzine at first glance. The format is unusual: half-size pages created by splitting standard paper down its short axis, and bound with one staple in the upper left-hand corner. It’s illustrated by a very young Robert Silverberg in a way that doesn’t help the first impression it makes on the eyes, although one full-pager depicting an alien world seems prophetic of the crumpled fender school of three-dimensional art that later became notorious. This issue is interesting as a display case for the kind of fiction Bob was writing at this very early date. The lead story was “John Brown’s Cellar”, which is something like Damon Runyon crossed with Weird Tales-type fiction. The youthful author seemed to sense even that long ago the usefulness of attracting the reader’s interest near the start of the story, for on the first page we find:
It’s not a particularly good story and the editor shows better success in handling words in some of his non-fiction remarks: “The recently revived Super Science has to learn to walk again. It’s crawling now.” for instance, or a description of Amazing as possessing “a mongoloid collection of tales.”
At that time, Spaceship was co-edited by another Brooklyn fan, Saul Diskin. He disappeared from the masthead to go to college in 1951. The final issue on which he helped was a great improvement over those first few semi-botched editions. The fanzine used full-sized paper now, and you could show its illustrations to a hundred fans before you found a correct guess about the identity of the artist. It was Lee Hoffman, before she had evolved the distinctive stylus style. This 12th issue also leads off with a story. It’s credited to James A. Adams, whom I don’t recall as a fan of the period. Certain internal evidence causes me to suspect that it’s Agberg under a house name. It’s a very good little story about a man with unprecedentedly acute hearing which develops several surprising twists as it goes along to a climax akin to the conclusion of “John Brown’s Cellar”. But this issue is interesting mostly for the unknowing way in which several fans make remarks that seem much more striking today than they did at the time. For instance, someone named B. Chandler wrote an article giving cautious approval to the use of dianetics, after 23 hours of processing; his recommendations to other fans to try the discipline with care are strangely akin to the things several fans have written in the past year or two about the use of LSD. I had an article in this issue, comparing fandom of the day to the fandom I’d found when I entered the field. I marvelled at the way fandom had mushroomed in size, the high prices that were being asked for collectors’ items, and the high proportion of fans who were eager to make money out of science fiction by becoming authors or editors. So what else is new in fandom.
Silverberg as a writer is definitely represented in this issue with a discussion of the lunatic fringe, 1951’s popular description of Forteans, Dianeticians, Korzybski-worshippers, and various other people obsessed with some unaccepted way of life. “The lunatic fringe is here in fandom, and we’ve been forced to put up with them and laugh at their antics,” Bob wrote. Of Shaverism, Bob called the first cave story, ‘I Remember Lemuria’, “readable and fairly entertaining. At least it was something new, which war-jaded fandom needed badly.” But he criticised Palmer for turning Amazing Stories into “a haven for a group of neurotic and psychotic imaginers who were paid for scribbling down their imaginings.” Bob sounds just the least bit envious as he also condemns the “tongue in cheek” authors who made small fortunes by toeing the Palmer line.
The July 1951 Spaceship contains a discussion by Redd Boggs of ‘Destination Moon’, which reads strangely today, in light of the way things actually happened. Redd’s prophetic paragraphs stand up fairly well, when he predicts that this film would not have as much survival value as ‘Things to Come’: the latter definitely receives more attention today from film historians and festivals. I’m pretty sure that the summer of 1951 was before the era when Hollywood began to release large quantities of movies for television showing, so Redd couldn’t have foreseen ‘Destination Moon’s survival on the late show. In general, Redd felt the film “will be forgotten except by science fiction fans” after man really reached the moon, because its Technicolor effects might lose their brilliancy over the years, and because its characters weren’t larger than life and didn’t have very spectacular crises. “The only genuine idealistic touch in ‘Destination Moon’ was the scene in which the crew solemnly took possession of the moon “in the name of the people of the United States” and planted a flag in approved explorer tradition. This touch was in such ludicrous contrast to the realism dominating the rest of the picture that the audience laughed.” Boggs also turns up in the letter column, delivering a lament that fans are making today as if it were brand new for fanzines: “The forte today seems to be specialising for particular groups... Quandry isn’t quite as generalised as fanzines of ten years ago. I doubt if any fanzine is.”
A couple of years later, Spaceship had become a fanzine capable of holding its own in any collection of the leading fanzines of any era. The 23rd issue, dated October 1953, is noteworthy for an essay by Harlan Ellison on Harlan Ellison. The author and subject was still a fan at the time, but he sounded identical with the Harlan Ellison of today in respect to the quantity of energy emitted and ideals. A now-forgotten fan named Bert Hirschhorn had been rash enough to refer to Harlan’s editorial pronouncements in Science Fiction Bulletin as “raucous bellowings”. Harlan wrote about himself in the third person:
Ellison, as if he were already thinking of Dangerous Visions, claimed that SFB had discovered over thirty new talents in its first year. He’d “gone and purposely struck out in new directions to widen the scope of the amateur science fiction field with new viewpoints and new talents.”
The recreation of hopping on Campbell, which is not yet obsolete, was quite well established in the Spaceship era. In this same issue, for instance, Redd Boggs was wicked enough to devote part of his ‘File 13’ column to this quotation from Campbell’s June 1945 editorial: “Television, my own guess is, may never reach the stage of being in everybody’s home, as radio receivers are now.” Silverberg was a much more foresighted editor. In this very same issue, he seems to have sensed that the whole publication picture was changing for science fiction. “Despite the vast quantity of high-grade stories being brought us by ASF, GSF, F&SF, SS, TWS, the ex-de Ray mags and many others, the best s-f of all those days is coming from Ballantine Books, the exciting new firm which began publishing last fall.” Titles that Ballantine was issuing around this time included ‘The Space Merchants’, ‘Childhood’s End’, ‘Bring the Jubilee’, ‘Fahrenheit 451’ and a Kuttner collection. From this perspective I don’t know whether to be more regretful at the fact that Bob didn’t start writing fiction of that quality for another dozen years, or at his failure to continue publishing Spaceship until he found in recent years his full abilities as an author.
Last revised: 1 March, 2006
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