"MESSAGES FROM MARS MADE
ME DO IT"
Greg Pickersgill, February
published in the Follycon
Program Book - Easter 1988
"It was around midnight, and I was
in my usual confused state. I mean, you know, nothing works right: the women,
the jobs, the no-jobs, the weather, the dogs. Finally you just sit in a kind of
stricken state and wait like youíre sitting on the bus-stop bench waiting for
So hereís our man, and itís not
even midnight, and heís poncing around quoting Charles Bukowski as if heís been
having a hard time of it. Boy, has he ever had it good. Here he is an Eastercon
Fan Guest of Honour well dug in on the lee side of the hill. What, you expect
cans of Guinness brought to you as well?
ďAn absorption in the past is
often a repudiation of the present, not the least vice that nostalgia
encourages, and a repudiation of the present, by distortion and false memory,
is a repudiation of the self.Ē Geoffrey Wolff said that.
Hush! Hush! I Heard Somebody
Calliní My Name!
I used to want to be somebody.
Back then I must have known who. Probably someone who had his name on the cover
of Fantasy and Science Fiction once or twice a year, put out a good fanzine
occasionally, and was Number Four or Five Fan Face (then as now I liked to have
someone to look up to). Whatever happened to that? The first two seem presently
unlikely to say the least, and the third seems to have become more notoriety
than fame. I canít say this is exactly how Iíd like it to be, so even though I
cherish some illusions still, twenty years of anything, especially fandom, has
a way of making one come to terms.
In 1968 I went to my first
convention. It was the second Eastercon ever to have more than 200 members
- and as a newcomer I was just as
ignored at it as newcomers to 800+ member Eastercons are today. I had made a few contacts through the BSFA before that,
though, and they helped me come away with the idea that there was something in
this convention business and it was worth waiting a whole year to try again.
Iíve been to a lot of conventions since then, and though few have been wholly
satisfyingógiving that chance blend of ideas, novelty, and desperate fun that I
think constitutes a truly fine conventionóI still think theyíre a good idea
someone really ought to do something with.
There were less empty barns in
those days, and with only one convention a year fan activity centred around the
fanzine. I did a few, too few to mention, really, though they enjoyed a certain
vogue. There was Fouler
(with assistance from now gone-fan Leroy Kettle), Ritblat,
Seamonsters (with gone-fan Simone Walsh), and Stop Breaking
Down. Nineteen issues. Not much, even with a handful of APA
contributions. Actually, I still think some of the material is good. Much of my
own material is as true to me today as then, and probably better written too.
Then I realised I could talk in
public. Annual visits to the Silicon training farm got me going, arguing from
the front and back in the Ian Williams Debate, a barely regulated shouting
match that is my model for all but the most formal convention programming.
Having run the Fan Room at the 1977 Eastercon, and done a lot of work in the
Ď79 Worldcon Fanroom, I ended up working on both the Mexicons (ingroupish
elitist conventions that run off with the attitude that a couple of hundred
people with an interest in books and fanzines can have a good time without the
benefit of other distractions) and, working under Linda Pickersgill, running
the Fan Room at Conspiracy, which was a real eye-opener, not least in the way
that many fans, including some of the most prominent and American, were such
endless complainers and whingers.
Doesnít seem much to occupy twenty
years. But hey, I do other stuff. Spending a weekís pay on an encyclopaedia of
SF Magazines means Serious Collector to me, especially now I have this nagging
urge to convert the few stray copies of Imaginative Tales, SFS, and Future I
have into complete sets. And Iím still missing a few early SF Book Club
editions too. I dunno, though, is this an adequate interest in science fiction
(which of course it is widely believed no true fan should have, Hah!) or just
what non-collectors call anal-retentive. Who cares. I am what I am and thatís
all that I am.
FandomóAs Serious As Your Life
In a way Iíve been unlucky. By
nature a home-type person and coming originally from a time and place where an
interest in science fiction placed one well outside the norm, circumstances
have conspired so that my entire social life is composed of fans and fan
oriented events. In a way Iíve been lucky, because this means thereís a nice
setup available whenever TV and blues records and old SF magazines and
histories and biographies need a bit of competition. Sometimes I even get to
talk about some of these things too, amidst the gossip, backbiting, and
character assassination that fans do so enjoy. But as unluck would have it,
though, this means one also has to contend with the loonies, schizos,
hyper-active kids of all ages, and gunfighters (ďHah, you think youíre
somebody, Iíll show everybody what a shit you really are ). None
of that makes for happy partying or the deep pursuance of great thought, and
certainly dispels childish notions of the joyful family of friends that is
fandom. The fortunate part, though, is that it is, sometimes.
Depending on who you talk to. Fans arenít slans, thatís true, some arenít even
real human beings, but Tony Berry, heís alright.
A fellow called David Piper asked
me at the 1987 Worldcon whether Iíd become a Fandom Is a Way of Life guy
deliberately. Obviously not, though I do believe that all life is fandom of one
sort or another, ours being the only one (probably) that calls itself by that
name. I take fandom seriously enough, thatís true, as seriously as anything
that involves other people deserves to be, What youíre doing, you might as well
do properly, itís as serious as that.
Leader Without a Country,
Prophet Without a Following.
Fan Guest of Honour. Me. Now
thereís a funny thing. Iíve always worried about Guests of Honour. Are
they? What does it mean? Whose choice? What Honour anyway? I dunno. I dithered
and moped about this for months and was finally talked into it by people like
Linda and Martin Tudor and John Jarrold and Anne Hamill, all of whose opinions
I respect. I was made to believe I would be doing something useful and helpful,
that I could carry the flag this time for our small world. I like to be helpful
and do the decent thing, I like heroic gestures. Lilian Edwards, whose opinion
I equally value, thought I was crazy, and was selling out my principles, but by
then that bit of reinforcement was too late. It always seems too late. I hadnít
even been doing much of anything at the time other than frontline Worldcon
stuff, and of course mind-controlling a large segment of British fandoni, all
of whom are too dumb to come up with an individual idea between them. (I masked
this latter pernicious activity by lying around on the floor at home playing
Muddy Waters lps).
Anyway, Fan of What, for godsake?
SF fan, comics fan, media fan, Iím bits of all those. Games fan or computer
fan, certainly not, no more than costume fan or re-creation fan. Fan Fan almost
certainly, but these days the Ďfannishí fans occupy so many tracks I donít have
the wheels or time to cover them all. So what does it come down to. Maybe being
in the same place for so long turns you into a monument. Coelocanth or croc,
me, an old rhino left over from a mythical Golden Age when all people at
conventions were fans and all fans went to conventions. Is this perhaps just a reflex
accolade given because Iíve managed to hang on this long, or what? Are the
criteria for Guest of Honour choices wrong, should someone on the way up, or in
the central heat of their fan career be a better choice of Fan Guest of Honour.
Should we be aware that FGoH might translate as Boring Old Fart?
Who I am or what Iíve done means
little to most of you reading this, other than perhaps a memory of that bastard
who tried to stop you throwing paper planes in the Conspiracy Fanroom. And a
fair proportion of those who do know me are less than delighted to see me in
this position. Iím not so sure about it myself. Fan Guests of Honour have been
scooped from some pretty deep trenches in the course of this decade (and isnít
it peculiar that as the proportion of Ďfansí in the classic sense has declined
within Eastercon membership, so the FGoH, a rarity before 1979, has become a
near fixture) and Iím hardly ecstatic about standing shoulder to shoulder with
a couple of them. It all seems a bit hopeless and futile and a pathetic remnant
of the past, a ceremonial of lost empire, a cheap aristocracy of no real
validity. Itís kind of sad and lacks dignity.
So why did I do it. I donít know.
They asked me nicely. Linda said I deserved it. Jimmy Robertson was doing the
Fan Room. Iím guilty. We all like our heads patted. What can you say, in fandom
success is best measured by othersí reactions, you find where you are by a sort
of radar plot of other peoplesí opinions. You canít be a great fanwriter by
declaiming yourself one. You canít do anything unless other people think your
ideas are worthwhile. You become, god help us, a Big Name Fan because other
people think you are. You canít elect yourself. In my case some people think
Iíve done good, some think Iím an evil bastard, and some used to think I shit
gold and now proclaim I was putting lead in the water supply all along. Oh
well, you know what they say, consistency requires us to be as ignorant today
as we were a year ago. All I did was what I did, anyway.
Despite what Iíve said, I like
fandom. I like a lot of the people in it, and I love a few. Some are my best
friends. A good time in fandom, at a convention or elsewhere, is one of the
best times on Earth, and one reason I sometimes get more than a little harsh about
it is that I canít help wanting to do something about thc things and people I
feel are jamming up the works.
Why am I Here and What am I
Supposed to Do?
Hello, I am your Fan Guest of
Honour, and I will give it all I can. All questions answered honestly. My name
is Greg Pickersgill.
ďI am tired of sitting behind the
lines with an imperfect recording device receiving inaccurate bulletins...I
must reach the Front.Ē óWilliam Burroughs, the one and only.
from EASTER WINE
a fanthology produced
CLAIRE BRIALEY and MARK PLUMMER
for the 2003 Eastercon.
me, Gregory. What we have here is a two-for-one, a bolted-together pair of
articles, a genuine reprint, but absolutely as originally formed from the
primal thoughts rocketing about in my head. They were written 23 years apart,
for a start.
is, though, that they're deeply connected by a theme that is at the core of
most sf fans (yes, even you who live in the days of the webble and the
instantaneous bookfinder...), and that's finding, buying, and collecting
science fiction. This used to be a lot harder than it is today. Even when there
was actually more science fiction being published.
piece appeared in the August 1977 issue of my fanzine STOP BREAKING DOWN, and
read in conjuction with the second is amazing as it shows how little my writing
style has changed over the years. Is that worrying, slightly?; I dunno.
THINK IíM GOING BACK
A while ago I did something which was pretty much as near to
a holy pilgrimage as anything Iíve ever done. Simone and I just so happened to
be rooting about in Tooting, which is a much better name than the rather dull
and almost completely uninteresting area of London it is attached to deserves.
Itís part of the rough, grubby, nasty, and downright bloody miserable part of
London South of the Thames. Weíd gone there deliberately, working on the
principle that such Ďquaintí little backwaters often have whole rows of
secondhand shops in which one might, one day, pick up for a purely nominal fee
whole runs of WEIRD TALES or SCIENCE FICTION MONTHLY, or complete mint sets of
Lemon Pipers singles or Troggs albums. You know, typical collector's fantasy.
Anyway there we were, rooting, finding nothing but typical
outer-suburban cheap and nasty remaindered-goods shops or places selling real
junk, not the classy esoteric rubbish we were after. Wandering down the road we
found ourselves in a place called Colliers Wood, which isnít a wood at all, but
a horrid windswept plain containing one of the most farflung Underground
stations and a lot of nondescript light industrial sites. Anyway, something
turned over in my mind at the sight of the Colliers Wood streetsign, so at my
urging we plodded on through the light drizzle and driving wind, around corners
and over long-abandoned canal bridges until magically, and for the nth time
proving that Iím Right at least 75% of the time about 75% of things, Colliers
Wood High Street transmuted before our very eyes into Merton High Street. And
sure enough, right ahead, was number 19 Merton High Street, a name and number
which could well raise memories in people who first got into buying lots of sf
in the middle sixties, particularly if I add that the whole address is actually
19 Abbey Parade, Merton High Street. Yeah, right, that Leroy Kettle over there;
it is in fact the home of PLUS BOOKS mail order operation, the outfit you first
discovered (along with L. Walton of Liverpool, and anyone who can tell me what
happened to him will receive his just reward) when you searched frantically for
sf pushers in the book and magazine section of the EXCHANGE & MART.
Well out in the rain whole waves of nostalgia swept over me.
Apart from being a regular mail-order customer I had actually once visited the
shop, a Big Deal as Iíd lived 250 miles away at the time. I can hardly remember
when; Ď69 perhaps, maybe Ď68 or before. But visit it I had done and with great
profit too, coming away with two big boxes of stuff including whole years of
AMAZING and FANTASTIC and generally filling lotsa gaps in my collection. Spent
about £15, which was a Lot in those days. I must have been quite young too, as
I remember the bloke in the shop making some sarcastic remarks about how his
mother wouldnít "have allowed him to waste so much money on a load of
trash". I remember making some feeble rationale at the time, and feeling
obscurely guilty about the whole self-indulgent transaction.
Back in the running world the shop looked just the same;
same flaking yellow paint, same rundown, desolate street, same gray sky
lowering over the oddly small building (South London buildings are short,
hardly ever over two stories), even the same crossing that I unthinkingly ran
across joyfully bearing my scifi booty on that longago day. I was almost run
down by a van driven by a young black guy, who pulled up so sharply he was almost
hit by three cars himself. He wasnít happy about it.
So after dithering a bit we went in. Somehow incredibly it
was just the same. Racks of romances, westerns, glamour mags (as they so
quaintly label them),comics, and right ahead, just where it was before, the
SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY CORNER, labelled in letters just that big.
Fantastic. I was amazed. Just like Iíd never been away. Thereís a great feeling
of permanence and stability comes over you at times like that, gives you the
feeling that you actually know what is going on, and that everything will work
out alright after all. Knockout. And stap me if it wasnít the same feller
running the shop too; bit balder, his remaining hair a. bit longer, a bit
paunchier (I let comparisons with Roger Peyton, purveyor of Fantastick
Literatchur to the Gentry cross my mind) but himself nevertheless. Even as I
rooted through the racks my mind raced through possible scenarios; ďHi, Iím the
kid who came in here years ago and spent a lot and you said...Ē or even a line
Iíd seriously considered on that longago day when I almost truly believed that
anyone doing such a public work as selling sf would be only too pleased to meet
his customers and bandy a little repartee and reminiscence with them: ďHello,
Iím G.F. Pickersgill, of The Pines, Haylett Lane, Merlins Bridge,
Haverfordwest, Pembs, and I send you orders every fortnight". Naive and
foolish okay, and I never tried it either time, but maybe as Simone said when I
explained the thought to her (in a voice just loud enough for the Man to hear
just in case he was listening and .could be entranced by my memories
too - truly, I am starryeyed to the last) just about anyone would remember a
name and address like that, even decades later. However, he wasnít listening
and didnít care even if he was, and there wasn't even much worth buying. Good
things can't last. I bought a few things; a copy of the passably rare Philip
Dick collection A HANDFUL OF DARKNESS which I gave to Malcolm Edwards as a
bribe for something I've long since forgotten so it can't have worked, a copy
of NEW WORLDS 72 which I later discovered I'd already got, SCIENCE FANTASY 22
which I did not have and was a true find, and the latest issue of FANTASTIC
which I got more for old times sake than anything else as it was as dull an
issue as usual these days. No sets of WEIRD TALES, not even a decent clutch of
Ziff-Davis AMAZINGs. Even the porn section wans't worth more than a quarter of
a hour's casual glance.
Still, it was nice, good memories are hard to find.
bit was written on the 23rd November 2000 for the Memory Hole Mailing List (oh,
see how we transfer so easily from manual typers, handcranked duplicators, and
postage stamps to the science-fictional world of the internet!) and is really a
continuation of the same story, even though the events detailed actually
happened BEFORE those recounted in the SBD piece. It's a Stephen R Baxter
could do with substantial annotation - after all how many know of Les Johnson
(wrongly referred to as L Walton in the SBD piece) these days, but he was an
important person in British sf before the Second World War (and in my youth,
somewhat laterÖ) - but then we'd have the problem of rewrite over reprint, and
that's not what this anthology requires. But it is wanting to know the stories
behind such asides and allusions that entranced me on my first encounters with
science fiction fandom back in 1966.
Maybe the trick will work for you too.
Subject: Re: [memoryhole] A
FANNISH ROMAN A CLEF - Fanhistorians and Arthur C Clarke f...
Date: Thu, 23 Nov 2000 11:11:00 GMT
On Wed, 22 Nov 2000 15:08:03 EST, Jhim Linwood wrote:
>Bill's daughter married London fan Alan Bale and they
lived with their baby over the Chiswick High Street branch of the Popular Book
Centre in the 60's which he managed with the assistance of Bram Stokes who
went on to higher things. Incidentally, "Arthur Sellings" (Robert
Ley) managed the Caladonian Road branch. >
>Anyone know what happened to Alan? >
Arga warga - this is going to be about as offtopic as you
can get and still be on the same planet. I'm (not) ashamed of myself! Oh well,
it's all skiffy stuff anyway...
Incredible as it may seem the name Alan Bale is seldom far
from my upper consciousness. When I was a young and serious sf reader and
collector, back in the old days when hardly any sf existed and you just bought
everything on the offchance it was worth reading, I was a big fan of the
Popular Book Centre. I'm sure I was totally unaware that it was part of a chain
(no matter how short) but somehow I'd come across an announcement that they
were doing US-import sf by mail order from the Chiswick address. All this is
over thirty years ago now but I still have vivid memories of getting their
regular (duplicated on foolscap) lists with all those authors and publishers
(Piers Anthony! Ballantine!) that you just didn't see in the shops round
Merlin's Bridge. Hah, you didn't see them in the shops anywhere on the island
at that time, probably.
I'd spend hours reading and rereading those lists making
endless tickmarks and corrections as I worked out how to balance what I
Absolutely Must Have against the actual pitiful sum of money available. Then
the endless agonising wait for the package to be delivered, rushing out to the
garage every morning to check (we did things differently back there and then!)
until it actually arrived.
Wow, you can't believe how New and Alien it all seemed; US
paperbacks seemed to be made of different stuff to your standard British Corgi
or Panther, with brighter covers (not necessarily better - the Panthers of the
midSixties with the 'melted glass' covers and the Penguin Surrealist detail
series are still design classics), tighter binding, even the paper felt
different. And that's not even getting into the sheer wonderment and novelty of
knowing I'm reading something new and rare. The idea that I was into something
that very few people in the British Isles were party to might have been
slightly illusory, but also somehow powerful; way back then I used to be a
determined proselytiser for sf, but at the same time there was something
peculiarly fascinating about being possibly the only person in Wales with a
copy of CHTHON or whatever. Daft.
Anyway, there seemed to be a very personal hand at work on
the other end - there'd be occasional notes and information tagged onto
catalogs or with packages. I felt I was dealing with a fellow fan in some way.
(At much the same time as all this I was also buying books
from the mail-order arm of Plus Books, just like PBC a secondhand
book&magazine shop chain with an import sf line - I wrote up a bit about
this in an issue of STOP BREAKING DOWN about twenty-odd years back and it's
possibly my favorite bit of my own fanwriting (ought to be reprinted...) but I
never got the co-conspirator feel I got from Popular Book Centre.)
Anyway, time went on and at my second convention in Oxford
in 1969 (Galactic Fair! Gerry Webb! John Brunner! - and Joe Mugnaini's
animation HEAT OF TEN THOUSAND SUNS, one of the most remarkable short films
I've ever seen - whatever happened to it?) I met Roy Kettle. Had I But Known,
indeed... . However it all seemed quite wonderful at the time, especially as he
was also a PBC customer. Wow, commonality! To cut to the chase this all led to
my one and only visit to the shop. I'd gone up to Coventry where Kettle was at
university and stayed with him for a couple of weeks (this should have proved
quickly enough that we didn't have that much in common or even an awful lot of
friendship, but somehow we both persisted with the illusion for far too many
years thereafter) and one of the things we did was take a day trip to London
specifically to go to the PBC.
When we eventually got to Chiswick High Road the shop was
shut. This seemed disastrous - neither of us had had enough sense to phone
ahead and check on opening times. For some reason that eludes me to this day we
endlessly hung around outside rather than simply going to a nearby pub and
coming back to check occasionally. Probably lack of money, if the truth be
told. It seemed to be hours before anything happened and then this rather
fannish looking type (glasses, untidy, you know...) wandered along aimlessly
and opened up. Alan Bale.
I'd love to be able to recount the next hour or so in detail
but I can't. All I can recall is sifting through masses of books and magazines
of all kinds, endlessly computing how much I could afford to buy, and
exchanging comments about books and so on with both Kettle and Bale. Two things
stand out - the first haunts me to this day. In a pile of boxes along one side
of the shop was what Alan claimed was an almost complete set of WEIRD TALES. I
opened a couple and was appropriately amazed - these were things you only read
about if you lived in West Wales - it seemed almost beyond understanding that
anyone would actually be selling them, they were so rare. It transpired that
Alan wanted £75 for the lot - a fantastic sum of money in those days, well over
a month's salary for most people. But at the time my brain almost exploded with
the sheer cheapness of it, the fact that you could get them at all, the chances
of borrowing, stealing, selling something, to get that 75 quid.... . All came
to nothing, of course, but I lived a dozen complex scenarios in my head within
two minutes of him saying how much he wanted for them.
Anyway, I bought a bagful of FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION and
some other recent magazines and was bloody glad to get them, and we left.
The other thing I recall about Alan was that he was
seriously interest in Japanese culture, particularly the samurai (something of
a common thing at the time - one time fan and present Fortean BNF Bob Rickard
was also a Japanophile). Alan though seemed to be taking it seriously to the
point of wanting to emigrate to Japan, in those days a fairly unusual concept
as there was still a certain suspicion of the Japanese due to the Second War,
and all of the disparaging beliefs that accompanied that; even Honda
motorcycles were viewed with deep suspicion, and there was no concept at all of
the coming Japanese domination in electronics!
I met Alan a couple of times after that at conventions (a
couple of Novacons in the very early Seventies, maybe also Eastercon 22 at
Worcester in 1971) - we weren't friends or anything but he was a pleasant and
interesting person. I'm sure that he did say he positively intended going to
Japan with his family but as to whether than happened I don't know. Like Jim
Linwood I'd certainly like to know what happened to him - for a while he was
important in my life.
As to why he often comes to mind these days, well, apart
from my usual wallowing in nostalgia for the Good Old Days of being a neofan
and that fabulous Back When sf was a rare and prized thing, I pass down the
Chiswick High Road surprisingly often. Catherine's sister lives in Chiswick and
when we visit we drive down the High Road and I invariably try to remember and
locate that once-important shop. It doesn't help that I can't remember the
number (386? 485?) but anyway it's probably a coffee shop today, Chiswick's
become that kind of place.