Ice Worms, Snow Monkeys, and Ice Rats. Oh My! Or: a Couple of Fannish Hoaxes

Fannish Hoaxes are a fine tradition, one that Canadian fandom has raised to a high(?) art.

Thought I’d reprint a hoax article by Canadian SF celebrity William Gibson.

No, not the William Gibson who wrote:

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

The OTHER (slightly lesser known) Canadian SF celebrity, William R. ‘Bob’ Gibson, who occasionally contributed art and articles to Canadian fanzines from the 1940s through to the 1980s.


RG Cameron June 27 illo #1 'Bob Gibson'During the war (note portrait in uniform) he was stationed in England where, among other fannish activities, he became the 36th fan to join BFS, the British Fantasy Society. Somehow he found the time (I assume he was actively on war duties and not just lounging about) to send material to the British fanzine FUTURIAN WAR DIGEST (known as ‘FIDO’ to its readers—have no idea why).

For instance, the August 1943 issue (#30) has the following:


By William R. (Bob) Gibson

“Pioneers in the North West Territories and Alaska sometimes tell of the ice worms, creatures made for “Probability Zero”. You can sometimes see the holes they make, sinuous white lines and ovoid areas in clear ice. Perfectly transparent, they are invisible. Brittle, they break with the ice they burrow in. Yet they have saved the life of many a starving man. They make a nourishing soup, with a flavor gourmets would rave over, if they could get any.

To make it you chop out a large piece of clear ice—any ice for they are surprisingly common—and hold it in boiling water just long enough to warm it slightly. This kills and relaxes the worms. (You mustn’t melt the ice—the worms spoil if heated slowly.) Then you shake them out of their holes… they also form bait for fur-bearing fish, but that is another story.

Yet there are—if not ice—snow dwelling worms, and insects and plants. Both the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC and NATURAL HISTORY (organ of the Smithsonian Institute) have in the past published accounts and photos of tiny, bright-red worms—true worms—found in the snow high up in the Californian mountains.

And in northeastern states and in Alberta a small insect lives in alpine meadows above the snow line. The soil never thaws deeper than an inch or so. The insect slightly resembles a long-legged termite, or a young—and pincer less—earwig. Yet it is several years old, and has gone through several metamorphoses, before reaching adulthood. Slow moving. Hold one in your hand and it becomes active, but dies of heat prostration in a few minutes. Several of them, caught this summer, are being kept in refrigerators in Canadian Universities.

To complete the picture, in the far north, over tundra and further south in Europe, North America and probably Asia, “red snow” is sometimes found. It arouses fear or interest according to the intelligence of the finders. A one-celled plant, an alga, causes it.

And so, in the latter days, when the sun has converted much of its available mass into energy and the weakened bonds of gravity let the gelid earth slip further away, its reddish light may still support life forms. Two species of creature and a food plant. And up until the cold, black final days, earth’s sorry history of wars may carry on.”

Well I’ll be darned. I didn’t get it the first time I read this. Not “…Earth’s sorry history of wars…” as in the planet Earth and our human warfare, but “…earth’s sorry history of wars…” as in the continued battle for survival between tiny critters dwelling within our soil. Neat.

Gibson makes a sound, quite reasonable prediction re: life at the end of the world. But the truly nifty part of his article is his tall tale about the Ice Worms which, even though I am a Canadian, I cannot recall ever hearing about. It sounds like something out of the ballads of Robert Service (‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’, ‘The Heart of the Sourdough’, etc.), but I can’t place it. A delightful hoax nevertheless.

Which brings me to a hoax of my own which I published in my SPACE CADET (#2) back in March of 1995. Gibson’s ‘Ice Worms’ is a good lead-in excuse to reprint my article.


By R. Graeme Cameron

“This is a sad, terrible thing to bring to your attention, but it’s a sad, terrible world, and we must face reality, for that’s what science fiction is all about, eh?

RG Cameron June 27 illo #2 'Snow Monkey'

The December 1994 issue of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC featured an article on animals at play, including (as shown on its cover) the endearing habit Japanese Snow Monkey Juveniles have of fashioning snowballs and carrying them around for days, even weeks at a time. One wonders why. Sure is cute, though.

Then the April 1995 issue of Discovery Magazine included an article, sandwiched between one on artic algae and another on rising sea levels, on the subject of the recently discovered Ice Rats (or “Hotheaded Naked Ice-Borers”) of Antarctica, complete with a bloodcurdlingly repulsive photograph (see below).

Turns out these hairless 6-inch rodents live in tunnels within the ice. Because of their high metabolic rate their body temperature is 110 degrees, and they have the ability to radiate this heat through the blood-vessel enriched “hot-plate” structure on their heads. They are, in fact, capable of melting their way through the ice faster than a penguin can waddle, with horrifying consequences. To quote from the article:

“A pack of ice-borers will cluster under a penguin and melt the ice and snow it’s standing on. When the hapless bird sinks into the slush, the ice-borers attack, dispatching it with bites of their sharp incisors. They then carve it up and carry its flesh back to their burrows, leaving behind only webbed feet, a beak, and some feathers.”

Well, to tell the truth, I was horrified. I mean, the poor penguins! But then I began to think… the April issue. Could this be a jape? Nah! The photograph is proof. Can’t be an April Fool’s joke. Everyone knows you can’t fake photos… Still, I wondered…

Then I watched the recent C.B.C. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) TV documentary THE SAVAGE ICE RINKS OF SINGAPORE.

Shook me to the very core, it did. Heartily ashamed to be involved, for all Canadians share the guilt. After all, we sold them our Canadian Ice Rink technology.

Surely we’re not to blame? We were under the innocent impression that the sinful sadists of Singapore merely wanted to spruce up facilities for their Olympic Hockey team. (They had previously lacked an ice rink, so the acquisition of such marked a quantum leap forward in the training.)

Alas, we should have known! The specifications called for an ice thickness of ten feet or more! To suggest, as embarrassed Canadian Government officials recently did, that we thought it was something to counteract the effects of a tropical climate, is too much to swallow. No, I’m afraid we must share the blame for the creation of this hideous blood sport.

RG Cameron June 27 Illo #3 'Ice-Borer 'I’m talking about SNOW MONKEYS VS. ICE RATS! Never mind cock fights. Never mind Pitbulls VS. chained, declawed bears. Snow Monkeys VS. Ice Rats is the cruelest sport of all time!

I weep copious tears to think of the thousands of blood-thirsty spectators howling from the arena’s stands as the poor little Snow Monkeys—each in their individually numbered vest—shuffle frantically about desperately seeking firm ice on which to stand, pursued by shoals of relentless Ice Rats.

Millions of dollars in bets are placed. Which Snow Monkey will be the first to be dragged under? Number 32, or 65? Which will be the last? Number 1? To think that something so gosh-darned cute must be eaten alive to slake the gambling thirst of fiendish, frenzied mobs! Oh, the humanity, the humanity!

Mind you, the Snow Monkeys are feisty little devils. They don’t give up without a fight. If they can pack a snowball and hurl it into the gaping maw of the emerging Ice Rat, the latter will choke to death before its body heat can melt the snow.

Trouble is, the ice rink is made of ice. No matter how hard they scrabble at the ice with their tiny little claws, the Snow Monkey cannot make snowballs out of rink ice. They have to wait till the ice around them begins to turn to slush (as the horrible Ice Rats melt up from below), and quickly put together a snowball from the slush, pack it hard, then leap back as the Ice Rats burst into the open, flinging the snowball down an Ice Rat’s gullet with great vigour.

Not an easy thing to do. It’s all a question of timing. What’s more, Ice Rats attack in packs. For this defense to work, the Snow Monkeys have to cluster together, then leap and throw in unison. This is referred to as THE DANCE OF THE SNOW MONKEYS. Considered a beautiful thing to see, I found the footage pathetic and sad.


I’m sorry. I thought I could write about this coherently and dispassionately, but I’m really too wrought up about this. But at least I’ve managed to bring this horrible blood-gambling to your attention. We’ve really got to do something about this, perhaps get Greenpeace involved. Or at the very least, force the Japanese Government to outlaw the export of Snow Monkeys. That would be a start…”

I am proud to say that Harry Warner Jr., the most famous fanzine reviewer in the history of fandom, sent me a letter of comment in which he stated:

For my money though, the best thing in your issue was your piece about the Snow Monkeys and the Ice Rats. This was really a gem, in the best tradition of fannish humor…”

And it really is a tradition. Fannish hoaxes, spoofs, and myth-making go back to the beginning of fandom in the 1930s. It’s the sort of thing liable to crop up at any moment, the product of whim and whimsy. You never know what you’re going to find when you open a fanzine!

(Note: Last illustration, art by Barry Kent MacKay.)

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