Harry Warner Jr., Need Never Die!

by Gary Farber

MAINSTREAM 11, January 1986

John Carl, Carl Juarez and I were sitting about the office of RocketType, the typesetting shop of the fabulous not-so-world-famous Seattle Rocket, said shop being under the charge of Neil Kvern and John Carl. It was approaching 4:00 a.m. and we had all been working on being as sercon as possible for some hours. Being Fans Of The Eighties, our conversation had been touching on the subjects of biotechnology, politics, computers, typesetters, word processors, and so forth when The Insight suddenly struck me. The Spirit of Fandom had come flitting past me on her nightly world-wide rounds, and given me, again, the briefest touch of her Wand of Fanac.

I jerked myself upright from my reclined position in the chair, and said "Harry Warner, Jr., need never die!" Carl and John looked at me oddly, which is what people usually do when I say things like that. "No, really," I went on. "You know how Harry has been announcing his probable imminent departure from this vale of reality since about 1936. And we all love Harry, but it has been a running joke for years about how as soon as anyone announces thqt they've just contracted Tanganyikan Flowering Rat Disease, Harry will respond by saying he thinks he might have that too. This is the man who avoids taking half an aspirin so he won't get high."

"Have you heard this tape, Carl?" said John, putting another one into the player.

"Well, despite all this, we all -- yes, even Harry Warner, Jr. (now, don't cry here, Teresa) -- are indeed mortal and will sooner or later be taking the Great Gafiation. This is a very sad thought indeed. It's sad for all of us, but the idea of a fandom without Harry Warner, Jr, is just mind-boggling. Sort of like science fiction without Isaac Asimov (but that's another story)."

"I really like the rhythms there, John," said Carl.

"At work I use a fairly powerful word processing program on a fairly powerful DEC machine. We have hundreds of accounts on it, 99 user-defined keys for each account, hundreds of paste buffers, room for thousands and tens of thousands of library phrases, etc."

"Thinking of going to the REM concert?," said John Carl. "Yeah, maybe," replied Carl Juarez.

"We were just talking about Turing programs, and, of course, everybody knows what they're doing with 'expert systems' now -- programs to mimic by axiom the decision splits of an expert, and do what they would have done under these defined circumstances." I waved my arms.

"Pass that over here, will you?" asked John..

"Oh, right, sorry. But anyway, if (cough, cough) you take into account what we know about these things right now, let alone what we're obviously going to be able to do in a few years, the answer is simple insofar as fandom is concerned! He can live, he can write, he can last a thousand years!" "Your eyes are glowing funny, Gary." "Now, don't get too excited, Gary -- remember your old war wound."

"Sure, sure. But all we've got to do is start typing in some of the tens of thousands of letters Harry has written over the years, code paragraphs by subject, adapt a few of Harry's patented transition phrases ('that reminds me of the time I went to Fenway Park, and...'), write a program to package it, and that's about it. The Harry Warner Software Package will live as long as there are computers and fans. Harry's voiced an opinion on almost every subject. At a later point, we can reword a few of his early statements to handle any possible new subjects that will come up ('your editorial about the New Wave in sf/music/Britain/surfing/sf/feminisim/computers/conventions/sf/fanzines/newspapers/sf...reminds me of...'). We can even put in a variable random crankiness factor so we can be as realistic as possible."

John looked interested, for the first time. "We could start inputting right now," he suggested. "I'm kind of sorry this won't do much good from Harry's point of view," I said. John moved over to the typesetter. "Shall we begin?" asked John. I looked at Carl. Carl passed me something. I passed it to John. We all looked at each other and breathed deeply.

"Naaaaahhh," we all said.

July, 1984