Sam Youd is, of course, better known to fans today as "John Christopher," under which name he's written a number of excellent s-f novels and short stories. He has a long background as a fan, however, and in the following article he recalls some of his earliest fan-memories. The article has both a sense of humor and, for those of us to whom the fan-world of the 1930's is strange and a bit alien, a sense of wonder.

(A sidelight: When I was working for the Scott Meredith Agency, which represents Youd/Christopher, I ran across this article among a group of manuscripts which hadn't yet sold but which were awaiting new possible markets for submission. It had been turned down by everyone from Lowndes to Davidson, undoubtedly because it was a bit too esoteric for the general s-f readership. I suggested that I'd be glad to publish it in a fanzine, but was told that Youd wouldn't go for that sort of thing. While researching back-issue fanzines for this issue of Entropy, however, I found that Youd had allowed it to be published in Geoff Wingrove's Fission back in 1955, so I'm delighted to have the chance to present it here.)

 

THE SCIENCE FICTION LEAGUE

 

UPPER FIFTH BRANCH

 

BY SAM YOUD


The only academic distinction I ever remember pining for was the degree of Bachelor of Scientifiction (B.Stf). This, of course, was a product of Uncle Hugo's imagination, and Uncle Hugo's imagination was typical of the science-fiction field, being vulgar as well as wild. As it happened, I never became a B.Stf. I never even got to the point of submitting my carefully compiled papers on what Ed Earl Repp wrote in 1928, because there would have been no point. By the time I had got my third-hand copies of Wonder Stories, the closing date was long past. I had to resign myself to a prospect of remaining perpetually unqualified.

But there was another way to win glory in those halcyon days of the S.F.L., and that was to form a chapter. I, too, could have my name in six-point type, as the founder of the Eastleigh-Winchester group. The only difficulty was finding three others to stock it. (I believe four was the minimum number that would win Uncle Hugo's blessing.)

The obvious -- in fact, the only -- possibilities were my companions at school. They, at times, would graciously borrow copies of my magazines, returning them sadly the worse for wear. Right! They could join me in the S.F.L.

It was bad luck, perhaps, that I was running that year with a hooligan pack. The intellectuals wouldn't have me (I've continued lucky that way) and I had just begun to realize that my earlier ambition of being a professional footballer and/or cricketer was no better than a pipe dream -- the athletes wouldn't have me either.

I put my suggestion to the rest of the pack -- Jock McDowell, Freddy Heath and Chunky Wells. They were at first dubious.

"To hell with that for a lark," Freddy said. "Sit about gassing over that tripe when I could be chasing the skivvies?"

(Freddy, at fifteen, had a remarkably fevered imagination, and had been told some kind of tale, by one of the boarders, about a maid at the School House. As he wasn't a boarder his chances of getting anywhere were very remote, but not for want of brooding on them.)

Chunky said thoughtfully, "Of course, we wouldn't be fool enough to do it in our own time. But what about Hoofer's period?"

Hoofer, it should be explained, was the geography master. After thirty years of teaching he was interested only in steady drinking and the avoidance of actual work. He was always at least twenty minutes late for the Tuesday afternoon class. He didn't leave the Green Man until ten past two, and it was a ten minute walk to school.

"What about the poker school?" Jock asked.

"Browned off with it," Chunky said. "We'll form this society Sam's after, and have our names in print."

*** *** ***

The following Tuesday I took a selection of recent issues of all the science-fiction magazines to school with me. (All? All three of them. Eheu fugaces!) My intention was that the inaugural meeting should provide a scholarly discussion as to the relative merits of the cover paintings. I had no doubt myself that Wonder Stories provided the best, and if, as was probable, my superior knowledge carried the day, I could see in my report on this great event being reprinted in full, perhaps even in seven-point type.

We sat at the back, because we had found that from that position we could continue our poker school, although more quietly, even when Hoofer was in the room. So sitting on my desk I rapped it with a ruler, and called to order the first meeting of the Science Fiction League, Upper Fifth chapter.

Lucas, the form prefect, said, "Cut it out, you chaps."

Lucas' trouble was that he was civilized. He could never believe that gentle admonitions to play the game would have no effect.

Chunky said pleasantly, "Go find the tin, Lukie."

He fell. "What tin?"

"The tin that Rin-tin-tin ..."

Well laughed uproariously at the wittiness of this repartee. When the laughter, sustained over Lucas' feeble protests, had died, I started again:

"Now the first item on the agenda is a comparison of the covers of these three magazines. I'll pass them round for you to have a look at."

Alas, one of the covers had a girl on it, in less than full dress. Freddy fell on it.

"Coo!" he said. "Watch me drool. By God, look at that -- the left one's almost with us. And look at that ape that's after her. Look at the expression on his face!"

"We're considering the covers from the artistic point of view," I said.

"Nark it. What a filly! Let's have a look at the story -- does it tell you what happens when he gets her?"

"He doesn't get her."

Freddy shook his head. "He would if I'd written it."

Jock said, "Sugar this. I'd rather play poker. It's all a lot of crap."

"The trouble is that it's all beyond your intelligence."

"I like that. Who cribbed my Greek last Friday?"

"That's not the point. These magazines are based on science. They educate you."

Lucas called, "Please keep quiet, you chaps."

"Educate be sugared," said Jock. "So does the Hotspur."

"The Hotspur!" I said, "is suitable for mentally retarded children. Scientists read this magazine."

"Yankee spheroids," Jock said. "It only comes into this country as ballast. Ballast!"

I contested this hotly. "It's not ballast. They're remainders. Unsold copies -- they're specially shipped over here."

"Look at this! Recognize it?"

"It" was a monster, supported on various tentacles. What passed for its face was an irregular oval bearing in the center a great scarlet splotch.

"By God!" Freddy said. "It's Hoofer!"

Hoofer's nose was not as red as that, but it was easy to see the connection.

"Let's have a look at that," Jock said.

He grabbed the magazine and the cover, not too secure in the first place, came right away. I howled with indignation.

"Don't tear it, you B. F.!"

Lucas said "Oh, really, you chaps."

"It is Hoofer," Jock said, holding the cover at arm's length.

"I know," Chunky offered, "let's stick it on the blackboard. I've got some sticky paper."

The three of them marched out to the front of the class. I followed them, hoping to retrieve the cover. Lucas stood up uneasily from where he had been drawing a map of the current watershed.

"He may come in, you know," he told us.

"Spheroids to you," Jock said.

Chunky announced, "Gentlemen, I give you the redoubted Hoofer!"

"It's not time for him to come in yet," Freddy said. "Only ten past. He's not left the Green Man yet."

"That's it," Chunky said. He took a piece of chalk and scrawled on the blackboard in straggling capitals: HOOFER LEAVING THE GREEN MAN. He fixed the cover of the monster just above this. The three of them stepped back to admire this handicraft, preventing me from getting at it to regain my property.

"There's someone coming!" Lucas said. "Chuck it you chaps."

"Spheroids, spheroids, spheroids," chanted Jock. "He'll be another ten minutes."

Then the door opened.

Chunky turned pale; I suppose the others did too, but they weren't in my line of view. Personally, I turned yellow.

"It can't be the Hoofer," Chunky muttered.

It wasn't. It was the Head.

*** *** ***

Thus ended the first, last and only meeting of the Upper Fifth Branch, Science Fiction League. I never got my name into six-point type after all. But it was an occasion to remember.

(data entered by Judy Bemis)