For reasons that should be obvious
, this fannish SF tale by Sid Birchby warms my heart. It appeared in Ploy
, edited by Ron Bennett.
The FanHistorian laid down his pen, yawned and reached for his beanie. The day’s work was done, and the great Reading Room of the Fannish Museum was about to be closed for the night. As he gathered his notes together he glanced at the last page he had written:
Origin of the word ‘fanatic’. From the Latin fanum, a Temple, accto. Fuller, “Mis’t Contemplations,” 1660 AD. Defined by Minsheu, “Guide into Tongues,” 1627, as “mad, franticke, inspired with propheticall furie.”
Early English science-fiction. Two books were published anonymously in London in the year 1638, on the brink of the Civil War. They were ‘The Man in the Moone or a Discourse of a Voyage Thither’ by Dr. Francis Godwin, Bishop of Llandaff and Hereford, and ‘A Discovery of a New World in the Moone’ by Dr. J. Wilkins, sometime Bishop of Chester.
Dr. Godwin died some years before his book was published. There is internal evidence that he wrote it while a student at Christ Church, Oxford, between 1599 and 1603. Wilkins mentions Godwin’s book in his preface, but we do not know why the two first major Moon books were both written by bishops and both published in one year.
Some dates. 1642-48 The Civil War
1658 Death of Cromwell
1660 Charles II crowned
The Historian thought: Now why did I put those items side by side? Have I found a clue to the mystery? – He shrugged his shoulders; it’s possible, I suppose. This looks like a job for the Time Travel Dept.
On the way out he stopped a call-box and dialed TIM.
“Well, you can put that jog of ale out of sight for a start, brother,” said the Purifan. “Nasty, sinful stuff.”
I looked suitably guilty and tucked my pint away behind a secret panel in the bar, meanwhile telling the barman to give me whatever my companion was drinking.
“You’ll have to do better than this, you know. We don’t want any of your drunken 20th Century habits here. We’ve turned our backs on all that,” he went on, smugly.
Gingerly I sipped the mug of brown liquid put before me. Whatever it was, it wasn’t ale.
“This tastes vile,” I complained. “What is it?”
He looked around complacently before answering. The bar in which we stood was cold and cheerless. It contained one small bench and a trestle table, on which were the words: For the Aged and Infirm. Everyone else was expected to stand. There were notices everywhere, fluttering in the cold night air roaring through open windows.
“Drink if you must, but don’t make a production of it.”
“Roundheads don’t get Thick Heads.”
“Why drink beer? – We’ll be discovering tea presently.”
There were only six or eight others in the place; all men, all drinking this brown fluid and all long-faced.
My companion was cheered by the sight, however. “Ah,” he said, “this is as it should be. Everything in order, all neat and quiet. Very different from the old days, I can tell you. The things that went on in King Charles’s time! Drinking, laughing, gambling. . . do you know, they used to throw dice in this very room! . . . singing, even, sometimes. We’ve altered all that.”
“You mean this isn’t First Fandom. . . you’ve had the Civil War already? What year is this, then?”
“Why, 1658, didn’t you know?” He passed a hand over his close-cropped hair and peered at mine. “You’ve got a Protectorate Cut. Are you not in the Party, then?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I see. You’re one of Them, are you?” He half-closed his eyes. “Spy!” he hissed, at a distance of six inches from my face. Then he turned and ran out of the door. I thought, I really should have had that clutch fixed. I must have landed well on the wrong side of Cromwell’s victory.
The barman was looking sympathetic: “If I were thee, mate, I’d be off before Our Brother comes back with the Guards. He doesn’t like you.”
“I noticed that. It seemed to set him off when I mentioned beer.”
“The Party thinks beer is sinful. If they dared, they’d make us all drink what they do.”
“Which is. . . ?”
“Dandelion and burdock.”
I reached hurriedly for the jug of ale I’d slipped into the secret panel. The barman went on:
“We peasants aren’t allowed to drink ale in front of Party members, so we have to put it out sight while they’re about. Luckily we have these secret panels everywhere. They were built to hide the Cavaliers, back in the Civil War, you know.”
“How interesting,” I said coldly, taking a nearly empty jug from the elegant hand which had emerged from the panel. There was a muffled belch from the woodwork. “Pardon me,” said someone, as the panel shut.
“Same again,” I said, “and take one for yourself. Mind if I lean on your bar?”
He looked furtively around. “All right, just this once. But if a Party man comes in, straighten up at once. They’re red-hot on that.”
“Tell me more about this Purifan business.”
“Well, mate, it all started when Soapy Godwin and Doc Wilkins were running the Fanatickes’ Club. These two gents had known each other as students, and they’d been trying for years to get their stories published. They were authors, you see, in their spare time, there not being much money in being bishops.”
“What was this club again?”
“The Fanatickes. They were all interested in this new sort of fantastical fiction, and they used to meet here in my pub every week; that is, until the Big Feud started.”
“What was that?”
“Why, both these gents claimed that he alone was the Father of Fantastical Fiction, or FFF, as they said. Sometimes they’d argue all evening about it. Both had their followers, and both sides kept trying for an advantage over the other. Finally, one side. . . I forget which. . . broke into print with the first hard-cover fantasy of all time, only to see the other side do the same almost immediately. To make matters worse, both stories used almost identical plots.”
“And what happened?”
“Surely you’ve heard of the Civil War?”
“Oh. . . yes! I’d never looked at it that way. Then which side won?”
“Neither side. There was a third group, consisting of bogus fans, and when the war began, they broke away and started calling themselves the Purifans. One day, after the War had ended, they marched into this taproom, led by that one who calls himself Our Brother. He waves a paper under my nose, saying that from now on he has a solemn duty to clean up and reform all the haunts of layabouts, lushes and fans, and that I must take my orders from him. That notice was signed by Cromwell himself. I saw it.”
He sighed and pointed at the glum knots of men huddled in the shadows. “Look what happened. No fandom, no fanzines, no snog. Precious little beer.”
Like a mournful echo, a whisper went around the dingy taproom: “Woe to First Fandom!”
The barman nudged me. “They’re mostly ex-fans. Tonight would have been our club-night. They still come out of habit, though there’s not much to come for. Female-type fans aren’t allowed in, now.”
“Shame!” I cried in a loud voice. “Treachery to fandom!” I turned to the miserable creatures in the corners.
“Listen to me! I am a time-traveler from the future, and I have a message for you.”
To my surprise, an old man in knee-breeches hobbled forward and peered at me. “Not original,” he wheezed. “Soapy used that plot in 1621, and even he cribbed it from Francis Bacon. Anyway, go on, go on. It’s good to hear anyone speak up for Fandom, these days.”
“You are a lot of sheep!” I cried. “Fancy sitting back and letting the Purifans debar women from Fandom! Why, they’re the heart and soul of the thing in my age. They run fanzines, write articles, edit prozines. . . . They even helped to run the last Worldcon!”
There were murmurs of surprise. By now, I had everyone’s attention.
“I’ll tell you how things are with Fandom in my time,” I said. “But first, barman. . . ale all around!”
The barman turned white and looked wildly towards the door. “But. . . but. . . but. . .!”
“Never mind the Purifans. Two of you bar the door and stand by it.”
A subdued cheer went up. Everyone pressed forward to the bar, and the barman, though still pale, began to pull tankards off the shelf. I grabbed a full one, took a deep swig, and began again.
“I’ll tell you a story with a moral. Once upon a time, in the Land of Mundane, there lived a youth named Jophan. . . .”
Half an hour later, I finished, hoarse but triumphant. It seemed the least I could do for these downtrodden remnants of Fandom. After all, I had solved what I had set out to do, and I owed them something. I must say they seemed to take well to what I said. The noise was terrific, and I was surrounded by dancing, cheering men. There evidently hadn’t been such a fannish occasion for years. Some of them brought out old, half-forgotten beanies and were wearing them defiantly. Others were scribbling editorials for revivals of their fanzines. All had the light of hope and enthusiasm in their eyes.
At the height of the rejoicing, there came a hammering at the door. “The Purifans!” gasped the barman. “We’re done for.”
But by talk had done its work. A roar of laughter went up: Shouts of “Pui to the Purifans!” and “Down with the Purifans!” could be heard amid the revelry.
The long sour face of Our Brother appeared at the window. “What does this mean!” he screamed. “Treachery! Backsliding!”
A wet bar swab hit him in the face, and he vanished from sight. Forming a long column, the fans marched round and round the taproom, chanting an ancient war-cry: “We won’t. . . we won’t. . . we WON’T be beggared about! We absolutely bloody refuse to be beggared about (unless we choose). . . we won’t. . . we WON’T. . . !”
“Somehow,” I remarked, leaning out of the window and addressing a groaning figure below, “Somehow I don’t think they choose any longer.”
I slipped out of the throng, unseen, and headed for the carpark and my time-machine. The First Fannish Revival was well under way, and the end of Cromwell was due this year. In two years time, the Reign of the Merry Monarch, Charles II, would begin.
Curious, I thought, I wonder what made me think of those things all together. Could there be any connection?
I shrugged. That was a job for the Fan Historians.