A Question of Title

by Walter A. Willis

(from Wastebasket, edited by Vernon L. McCain)

In Quandry 8 there was an article about fanmag names. The writer pointed out how lacking they were in originality and inspiration. He called for "sparkling, eye-catching titles". He rightly stigmatised as "dull and insipid" such titles as Fantasy Review, Universe, etc. Altogether there was nothing in the article to which and right-thinking fan could take exception.

But suppose the curious neofan notices the author's name -- Bob Tucker. "Ah," he asks, "what then is the sparkling, eye-catching title this Mr. Tucker has chosen for his very own fanmag? What evocative, glamourous, semantically powerful name has his inventive genius conjured up?" The answer falls about his ears like a soggy rice pudding -- Science Fiction Newsletter.

"No doubt," will say our warm-hearted neofan, "Mr. Tucker was stuck with this title before the light dawned on him, and fears to change it lest he lose his goodwill?" Alas, no. Bob Tucker has changed the name of his fanmag recently, but only like the man in the old joke who went to immense trouble to change his name from Joe Stensch to Harry Stensch. His mag used to be called 'Bloomington Newsletter'. Not an inspired title: it does not sparkle noticeably. But nevertheless it had some merit. It had local colour. It was distinctive. One imagined the inhabitants of the quiet town of Bloomington sitting in their rose-covered cottages listening to the newsboys pattering up the street. "Newsletter ... Newsletter ... Boggs raps Campbell ... Vance is Kuttner ... Read all about it ... All the news that's fit to photo-offset ... Extra ... Extra ... Vance not Kuttner ... Newsletter ... Newsletter ..." As the childish voices fade away into the distance the gentle people of Bloomington say to one another, "God bless Mr. Tucker for bringing such fame to our little town."

And then Bob ruthlessly wipes the colourful name of Bloomington off the map and substitutes the epicine words 'Science Fiction', as if he were afraid the readers might start looking for gossip about the Bloomington Sewing Circle. What possible justification can there have been for this? A small matter, you may think, but how superior was the old name to this new epitome of dullness and insipidity. Bloomington Newsletter. It rolled trippingly off the tongue. It was memorable. It had tradition. And furthermore, it started with the second letter of the alphabet.

This last is a very important fact, as all you Wilsons and Youngs will agree. If your name begins near the bottom of the alphabet your whole life is overshadowed. You sit in the back row at school. Your name is always at the end of lists. It is called last on every possible occasion, from viva voce examinations to firing squads. You follow where the Adams and Bonapartes lead. You assume the role of an onlooker. For your fanmag it is equally serious. If its name begins with a late letter it comes far down the review columns at a point where even Rog Phillips is beginning to run short of superlatives, and where the inattentive reader has already started on the little advertisement offering fancy articles in plain envelopes.

Furthermore, take the case of the neofan sending out sample copies of the first issue of his fanmag. He starts at the top of the column and writes labels for every address. Then he begins to get tired. He starts missing out names. If he is a very innocent neofan he might even miss out Bob Tucker. There may come a day when a new fanmag of promise starts up and Bob doesn't know about it. That will be the beginning of the Dark Ages. If Bob Tucker doesn't know everything in SF, what security is there left in the world? No one will know where he is. The corner stone will have been removed. Fandom will fall into anarchy.

Well may you blench. I trust you now see the importance of having a name for your fanmag which starts near the beginning of the alphabet. And it's not difficult to choose one, when you remember that a fanmag name does not have to shout at the top of its voice that it is connected with sf. No one will be in danger of thinking it is not a fanmag, for no one but a fan will ever hear about it, and he will always hear about it in circumstances that leave no doubt as to the type of magazine it is. No need to assume that your fanmag is going to be put on a newstand and have to distinguish itself from the Poultry Breeder's Gazette.

So let us pick a few names from the first few pages of the dictionary. I hope you don't mind my throwing out a few suggested slogans too -- by the looks of them I'm afraid they should have been thrown out long ago.

ABACUS -- "The fanzine you can count on."
ABASEMENT -- "A really low storey every issue."
ABATTOIR -- "This fanzine will slay you."
ABBESS -- "The Superior fanzine."
ABDOMEN -- "The fanzine with guts."
ABROAD -- "The Femfanzine."
or even
ABSINTH -- "Be conspicuous by your ABSINTH. The fanzine of spirit."

Had enough? But of course there are other things to consider when picking a name for your fanmag. For instance, the name should be very short so that irreverent fans can't make embarrassing abbreviations of it, and so that it doesn't take up space in your reviews which might have been filled by egoboo. It should also consist so far as possible of straight letters, which are far easier to draw and cut in lino.

So you want a short name, one with straight letters, and beginning as near the front of the alphabet as possible. Well, of course you could just call it 'AAA' ("The mag with the indefinite articles") but I feel that the ideal title should have a little more significance. You want a word that fulfills the three desiderata above, and also carries some suggestion of innovation, of mutancy, and if possible of fannishness, or some hint of some typical faned characteristic. There is only one word that answers all these requirements. I offer the ultimate in fanzine titles. The word 'AI'. I need hardly explain to all crossword puzzlers and Lexicon players that this is the name of a three-toed sloth, known for the "feeble plaintive cry which it utters while in search of its kind."

Data entry by Judy Bemis