Up the Garden Pathology

by Walter A. Willis

(from OOPSLA #12 March/April, 1954)

Have you noticed how short-lived BNFs are nowadays? In the old days three years was considered the normal life cycle of a fan, from serious constructivism through BNFdom to permanent gafia, but these Seventh Fandomers seem to have speeded the process up. Nowadays us oldtimers sit back dazed as a bewildering succession of BNFs flash past us almost as suddenly as they appeared. From comet to comatose, you might say.

I have studied this phenomenon and I have come to the conclusion that it's largely the result of a new disease which I have called annishthesia. I know that Professor Boggs in the Vegannish pointed out that annishes are a plague, but as Dean Grennell is my witness I thought of it first, and as the discoverer of Stigwort's Disease I feel that my researches go more deeply into this vital matter.

Annishthesia attacks fans in the prime of life and is so much more deadly on that account, wreaking as it does such havoc among the very flower of fandom. There are two forms of it, primary annishthesia and secondary annishthesia, but the first symptoms are identical. The young and enthusiastic fan publishes several promising issues of his fanzine and a type of euphoria sets in, indicated by an insatiable thirst for egoboo. This in itself is not a serious complaint, being almost endemic in fandom. But often a young fan neglects the most obvious precautions and with a reckless expenditure of energy begins to produce more and more ambitious issues, like a child throwing stones into a pond to make splashes. This can have only one result -- annishthesia sets in. He decides to publish a hundred-page annish.

In primary annishthesia, which is almost invariably fatal, the effort is too much for him and after a short fever he succumbs to permanent gafia. Those with stronger constitutions survive and eventually publish their annish. Haggard, wan, his fingers bleeding from misguided staples, his back stooped from gathering, his pores stopped up with mimeo ink, in advanced malnutrition through poverty brought on by the high cost of paper, the fan stumbles to the mailbox and mails his annish. In his ignorance he thinks his troubles are over. But no, secondary annishthesia has still to strike.

Back at home, the fan eagerly awaits the plaudits of fandom, the prospect which has given him strength to carry on through all these months of toil and strain. He half expects to receive that very same afternoon an enthusiastic telegram from the Postal Inspector. But the days pass and there is utter silence from fandom. But the poor wretch is not dismayed -- rather he is awed at the effect he has produced. Obviously, he thinks, fandom is stunned. All over the world fans are sitting around open-mouthed, numbed with admiration, refusing meals, neglecting their families and jobs while they gaze and marvel at the wondrous thing he has wrought. It is just a matter of waiting until they recover enough strength to crawl to their typers and airmail paeon after paeon of praise. But no. The days, weeks go by, and still no paeon. (That's why it's called annishthesia -- there's no paeon.) Finally, just as he has wildly decided that the Postmaster General is in the pay of rival faneds, two letters arrive. One is from Dave Ish, who says it's not a patch on the Quannish. The other is from Redd Boggs, who says it's not as good as the Insurgent issue of Spacewarp. In another week or so he gets a letter from Vince Clarke saying it's not to be compared with the November 1945 issue of Zenith. He refuses to open the letter from Bob Tucker.

This is the crisis. If the fan survives this he will slowly recover. The treatment is complete rest and frequent injections of egoboo. It must also be patiently explained to him that he has unwittingly run counter to one of the fundamental laws of Fannish Thermodynamics, that comment always flows from a cold fanzine to a hot one. He has made the terrible mistake of publishing something which is too big to be read at one sitting, a zine that fans will tend to put aside to read and comment on adequately later. By which time its priority has been yielded to the latest oneshot.

However recent research has shown that there is new hope for the victim of annishthesia. In the first place, any victim who emerges from the ordeal is the stronger for it. In the second place, it seems clear now that the amount of egoboo resulting from an annish is not in fact less than it deserves. It may even be greater. What happens is that its impact is temporally as well as spatially dispersed. For one thing, dozens of fans now have guilt complexes about not praising his annish. This, like murder, will out; and over the years those fans will keep alluding to his annish in their articles, columns and editorials. It will become a legend. And in a few years he will have the joy of knowing that at this very moment some poor Neofan is being made wretched by being told that his annish "is quite good but....."

Data entry by Judy Bemis and Tony Parker