The Fannish World of Arthur C Clarke

Notes from reading Odyssey: The Authorized Biography of Arthur C Clarke, by Neil McAleer.

In my ongoing attempt to digitise interesting bits of information recorded on paper and kept by me, before finally sending them on their way, the following text has been transcribed from notes made some time in the late 1990s. I was researching the history of fandom, for my undergraduate dissertation, and took particular interest in “sf professional’s” involvement with fandom, and in the ways fandom and the sf subculture might have influenced life outside itself, while grasping towards a ‘neo-tribal’ (after Maffesoli) interpretation of how and why fandoms form.

Despite a 1950s prudishness with the words fanzine and fandom (enclosing these terms in quotes) the book informs on Clarke’s involvement in fandom. The told story fits the standard pattern; entry via the letter columns of the early prozines, but after Clarke meets friends by chance who are into sf. From couple to neo-tribe, from normal social intercourse to the symbolic perdurability of the ‘scene’ – the BIS and Terra Novae.

Clarke therefore seems constructed by fandom.

Fandom as a pathfinder for capitalism may be suggested by p.83. In the US for the first time, Clarke has cocktails with Clifton Fadiman in the Plaza Hotel (ref: Clarke [ed] 1959 ‘Introduction’, Across the Sea of Stars). Fadiman writes:

Clarke is…otherwordly. He spoke of space satellites…interplanetary cruises as other men would discuss the market or the weather. As he explained how, within a decade, three space stations…would make possible (indeed one fears inevitable) simultaneous world-wide broadcasting, our right-hand neighbor (a V-P of CBS) went into a kind of catalepsy…

To understand a mind like Clarke’s we must realise that during the last 50…especially the last 25 years a new mental species has emerged among us. They are the men who in a real sense live in the future…for whom the present is merely a convienient springboard.

At the first televised political party convention [nationally? – seems to have been the 1952 Republican Convention] Chairman Joe Martin talks of space travel in opening address. Clarke commented: “Maybe one of the elves or gnomes had got Martin’s special ear in a smoke-filled room”. (ref to the Elves, Gnomes and Little Men’s St Chowder and Marching Society, where Clarke had just been).

A Fragmented Tower

la torre, with cat

I confess I hoard information. This fragment of notes comes from my undergraduate days. It occasioned me to perform Old Testament research twice.  Once was related to a 16th century socio-economic pamphlet referencing the Plagues of Egypt. The other came when I was interested in researching the Tower of Babel

So here, transcribed from the original paper, is my note. I’ve transcribed it as it appears on the back of a letter, kept for years in my files, and now discarded.

I’ve added links next to the obscure references, transforming my hand-written note into a hypertext marvel of the modern age. Enjoy!

Tower of Babel

Gen xi, 1-9

KRAMER ‘Man’s Golden Age: a parallel to GEN XI’, Journal of Oriental Studies
pp191-4 [google search]
JAOS 63of [this must be a reference to the Journal of the American Oriental Society]

Parrot, La Tour de Babel 1953 [a facsimile of this book, in English, exists online as a .pdf at the University of Chicago]

ET The Tower of Babel (1955)

Expository Times

Nought is so unintelligent as fear
For, while it speaks with obscure stammering lips,
It comprehends not what is plainly said.
You cannot Parley with it. Thus it will fare
Ever with their temerity who think
To storm and raze the Unknown. Preposterous Towers
Absolute wreck, and tounge’s confusion.-
Such, through all change of circumstance and time,
Will be their brief and doleful history!

Have you no sure conception how the Tower
Was overthrown? Whether a frolic troop
Of Seraphim invisible rode by,
And with the point of their light-poised spears
Tilted, and down it went? Or lightning real,
With thunder in reserve succesive launched
By Heaven’s almighty Captain, smote its front,
And routed its pretenders?
Who shall say? I saw no armoured Seraphim, nor heard Thunders unparalleled or lightnings strange,
But only complete sickness of the air,
Clouds vomiting fire, and with deep rumblings vexed,
To which the Earth responded; and the Tower
Collapsed in their commotion. It may be
that one of Nature’s mindless accidents
The ruin wrought, or that the Unseen Power
Made that loud music with man’s folly chime,
And with a fixed [coinncidence/countenance?] rebuked
[his/this] weak extravagance. We cannot know.
Even in that star whose denizen I was
Ere Earth’s more blest inhabitant I turned,
God’s face was all as dim as seems it here