The Clubhouse; Fanzine Reviews: “Bheer Tower to the Moon” July 10 2015

If Poul Anderson can invent a bheer powered spaceship, SF fans can certainly build a bheer can tower to the Moon!


Innuendo (# 4, 5, 7 & 8), published 1957/1958.

Faneds: Terry Carr, David Rike, Ron Elik, & Carl Brandon (the Berkeley Bhoys). American Genzine.

RG Cameron Clubhouse July 10 2015 Illo #1 'NEUROMANCER'

This column is mostly about Terry Carr, who did most of the work on “Innuendo.” He was one of those fans who burst on the scene like an unexpected supernova and lit up fandom to the point where even the most entrenched fans stopped being jaded (for a while). Sharply intellectual, invigorating, stimulating and innovative, he almost single handily created a fannish renaissance in the late 1950s and became a legitimate legend in his own day, partly by launching one of the longest-gestating and most carefully thought-out fannish hoaxes of all time.

Oh, yeah, and he did all right in mundane life. Published three novels, including “Warlord of Kor” (silly) and “Cirque” (excellent), and a bunch of short stories. As editor of the newly revived ACE Science Fiction Specials, for the first book in the series he chose William Gibson’s first novel “Neuromancer,” published as a pocket book in 1984. He won four Hugo Awards, at least one for his fanac. Sadly, he passed away in 1987 at the young age of (I think) fifty. Probably fair to say he was and is Berkeley California’s most famous fan.

Now, one of the things Terry is noted for is one of those fannish legends, namely the Bheer Can Tower to the Moon. I gather San Francisco fans were holding a party in Carl Brandon’s backyard when the subject of how big the moon actually was led to careful observation and the conclusion it was about six feet in diameter and only a few miles above the rooftops. Someone then suggested an excellent use of the empty beer cans (or “bheer cans” to use the fannish term) they were accumulating would be to pile them atop each other till they were high enough to enable an enthusiastic fan to climb up to the top and become the first man to stand on the Moon.

Some of you may think this a trifle illogical. However this sort of thing happens in real life too, at least back in the 1950s. As a very young lad I once sat at the top of the stairs in my house listening to my father and a gaggle of other inebriated RCAF pilots and officers in the living room plotting to steal an American battleship and sail it up the St. Lawrence River and then the Ottawa River in order to shell Air force headquarters. The 1950s were a peculiar decade.

In INN #4 Terry comments: “The other day the subject of the Tower to the Moon again arose at a get-together, and Carl [Brandon] brought up Bob [Stewart]’s suggestion of making the sun our target instead. ‘Hell,’ he said, ‘the sun’s not so big; I figure that if none of us has the guts to climb on it, we can at least lasso it.’ I said ‘What in the name of Ghu would we want with the sun down here? We want to get Up There! We want to conquer space!’ ‘Why, look at all the things you can do with a li’l old sun,’ Carl said… ‘Why, if we had the sun ourselves, we’d have a monopoly on solar power!’ Carl always comes up with the most impractical suggestions. Monopolies are against the law, for Chrissake.”

RG Cameron Clubhouse July 10 2015 Illo #2 'INN #4'

Also in INN #4, part two of Carl Brandon’s acclaimed spoof of that famously annoying novel “Catcher in the Rye,” here titled “Cacher of the Rye,” in fact a prolonged spoof of fandom itself. Under the heading “Memories of Mental Crifanac,” part two begins:

“Remember how I said before that Acne was a slob in his personal habits? Well, so was Fanletter, but in a different way. He was more of a secret slob… he always looked all right, Fanletter, but you should have seen how messed up and inky his mimeo was. He was always neat himself, though. I guess that was because he was conceited. He thought he was the handsomest fan in North America. He was pretty handsome, too—I’ll admit it. But he was mostly the kind of a handsome guy that if your parents saw his picture among some convention photos, they’d right away say, ‘Who’s this boy?’ I mean he was mostly a con photo kind of guy.”

This is a pretty telling glimpse of a certain type of fan. You know who I mean! (Actually you don’t, because I don’t know either, but I figure it’s got to be true to somebody!)

In the letter column titled “Invective,” Redd Boggs (himself a famous fan, from Los Angeles) writes concerning part one in the previous issue: “I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike Brandon’s opus. Such incidents as the fan having to listen to the crap he’d written for his eleventh hour FAPAzine are wonderful stuff. I’m just sorry that the basic situation doesn’t seem to say anything realistically or satirically about the fan life. Of course, Brandon is the most interesting new fan writer to come along since John Berry…”

(John Berry was a British fan noted for his “Goon Defective Agency” characters in a series of literary masterpieces with titles like “This Goon for Hire.”)

Terry fires back by quoting a letter Carl Brandon had written for “The Cult,” a well-known APA group, in which he explains his raison d’etre for his spoof, “The whole idea of my adaptations is to show how ridiculous fandom is, by contrasting the wide variety of things in mundane life in the original stories to the narrower field of fandom, and showing how ridiculous a person would be if they took their closest fannish counterparts as seriously as the characters in the mundane stories take their problems.”

Terry then comments “We didn’t print the portion of this letter which says ‘…Innuendo has sort of an integrated effect…’ but Carl noted it, laughed, and agreed that Innuendo is totally desegregated.”

The reason this would raise a laugh from readers is that, in addition to being 19 years of age and a “moldy fig” (a Jazz fan), Carl Brandon was what—back in the 1950s—white mundanes called when they thought they were being polite, a “coloured boy.” No doubt, in an effort to compliment his phenomenal writing skills, they would also have termed him “a credit to his race.” It is to their credit that most fans desperately wanted to meet him, in part to find out if he was as witty and erudite in person as he appeared in his writings, but, being notoriously shy, he restricted his fannish contacts to the Berkeley crowd. There was some talk, however, of said crowd bringing him along to the 1958 Worldcon. Anticipation was high among fen everywhere.

Also in the LoC column, “&Young” (possibly a fannish pen name) writes “As a scientist I must view with alarm your attempt to reach the Moon. You are, I’m sure, misguided. And everybody knows that you must use Guided Missiles to reach the Moon, so therefore your Misguided bheer cans will never be able to do it!”

Let’s hope Mr. &Young was a better scientist than humorist.

INN #5 has a couple of choice reprints from the fannish past – this was a regular feature of the zine, and a great way of keeping fannish tradition alive.

RG Cameron Clubhouse July 10 2015 Illo #3 'INN #5'

For instance, F.T. Laney is quoted from his article “Dianuts & Dianetics” from “The Unspeakable Thing” Issue #5, published in April 1952: “Very amusing, too, was the attitude of the students towards Hubbard himself. A majority of them plainly regarded him with awe and worship. They’d sit there and watch him lecture with their mouths open and their eyes shining and their souls sticking out like warts on a toad. I doubt if they heard anything he said—they were just soaking up the great man’s miasma.”

(Francis T. Laney’s main claim to fame is “Ahh, Sweet Idiocy,” in which he blew the lid off LASFS (Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society) saintly reputation by exposing its member’s foibles and alleged vices to a frankly uncaring world. Did get some fans riled up though.)

And quoting Cyrus D. Condra from “Shaggy” issue #36 from June of 1947 (“Shaggy” the nickname of “Shangri-L’Affaires, the LASFS newsletter): ”…A. LaVerne Ashley (AA194) recently announced, through the medium of this journal, that should an atomic bomb drop near enough to spill his coffee, he would not be held responsible for any reprisals he might have to make…”

(A.L. Ashley’s fannish nickname was “AA194.” A member of the original Slan Shack in Battle Creek, Michigan, he was reputed to be the most intelligent fan on the planet. This was because when Jack Speer, a famed fannish historian, dropped by the Slan Shack to administer some sort of intelligence test to everyone living there, Ashley scored 194 out of 200, placing him in the top 5% of college graduate scores. However, the rumour quickly spread that the “194” result referred to his IQ. Sagely, he never denied the rumour.)

Now, last issue featured a portrait of Boyd Raeburn. It came with a tiny banner stapled to the cover saying “Boyd Raeburn for TAFF.” For the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund. A very topical and quite hilarious cover. The reason being that highly-opinionated Seattle femmefan (a now obsolete fannish term) J.W. Carr (no relation to Terry) was leading a crusade to prevent Belfast fan Walt Willis (famous for co-writing the fannish epic “The Enchanted Duplicator”) from winning the 1958 TAFF race (depressed by her assault, he withdrew his candidacy). She felt he didn’t deserve to win, he being totally un-American and all. So here Terry was proposing that someone just as unAmerican, Canadian fan Boyd Raeburn, be substituted instead. Trying to get her goat, he was. Her crusade was considered quite a crankish embarrassment by most fans, but in keeping with the MacArthurite tendencies of the era, I suspect.

The reason I bring up the cover now and not earlier is because INN #5 contains Boyd’s indignant response: “Dammit, I do NOT wear a cap like that. The fact that I don’t look a bit like that illo is of small consequence, but I would never never wear a cap like that. Wild One-type motorcycle cap, yes, but not a horror like that. Another point, one just doesn’t hold a knife that way. It may be o.k. if one is planning on sneaking up tippy-toe behind victim and stabbing in the back, but never NEVER if one is facing opponent.”

(A member of “The Toronto Derelicts,” Boyd Raeburn was renowned in fannish circles for the quality of his writing in his zine “A’Bas.” Sort of a Canadian Terry Carr, in fact.)

And in the same issue John Champion (about whom I know nothing except that he lived in Oregon and later moved to California) wrote: “Reading about your Tower to the Moon… whathell do you want to go to the Moon for? While I admit the method of reaching it will prove very constructive and worthwhile, really what can you do on a six foot sphere? It’s too small for putting up any sort of building, and while I admit there would be much egoboo involved in distributing the first fanzine published on the moon, still…”

In INN #7 Terry asks for help, explaining “Now all of us have moved here to Berkeley, and we feel it would be advisable to move the Tower over here. And therein lies the problem: How the devil do we transport a ten-mile-high Tower of empty bheer cans across the San Francisco Bay?”

You’ll be glad to know many a fan came up with suggestions by the next issue (#8). Rick Sneary (a prominent letterhack and described by Harry Warner Jr. “as one of the best-liked individuals in fandom,”) wrote: “Regarding the Tower. Seems to me the best bet is to tie it all together, and attach a number of Sky-Hook balloons (surplus) filled with hot air from the last meeting, and float the whole thing across the next foggy night. The fog would ground planes, and you wouldn’t have to worry about being reported as a ten-mile-high UFO.”

RG Cameron Clubhouse July 10 2015 Illo #4 'INN #8'

Walt Willis wrote: “That’s quite a problem you have there with those bheer cans. Only thing I can think of at the moment is that you get the Earth shifted round underneath them. I’ll give you the phone number of a firm in Belfast here who advertise themselves as Earth Movers if you’re stuck.”

Larry Shaw (who produced four issues of his fanzine “Leprechaun”in the early forties while in the process of becoming a professional editor who remained in touch with fandom throughout his life) wrote: “Your problem concerning the Tower is, I admit, a worrisome one. But why not plug up the holes, pump the whole thing full of helium, and float it across? Of course, you could always organise a Society for the Preservation and Enlargement of the Tower of Bheer Cans to the Moon, with fancy letterheads, and collect enough contributions to buy a used steam engine and flatcar.”

Dick Ellington (who originated the term FIJAGH—Fandom is just a goddamned hobby—in 1958) wrote: “Your problem regarding the Tower to the Moon is quite pressing and obviously deserves serious consideration. I would suggest a troller arrangement and holes punched in the cans or better yet a pneumatic tube set up like in Department Stores of note, with tubes especially channeled for Bheer Cans. But probably the best solution, considering all factors, would be to abandon the whole pile over on the other side and leave it as a ghastly monument to Scientific Progress and start all over again in Berkeley. After all, getting there is half the fun.”

And British fan Archie Mercer (who invented April 31st as a substitute for May 1st in order to prevent May Day demonstrations, consequently dubbed “Mercer’s Day by admiring fen) cautions “On the Tower to the Moon business. Surely San Francisco is somewhat nearer to the Moon than Berkeley is, isn’t it? So if you move it to Berkeley, you’ll be automatically set back some way…”

Other fen suggestions included first building the San Francisco bheer can tower up to the Moon and then back down to Berkeley, utilising flying squirrels, filling the bheer cans with vacuum, and sundry other clever suggestions. An inventive lot, fans are.

RG Cameron Clubhouse July 10 2015 Illo #5 'TOWER'

Oh, and what about the hoax? Went by the name of Carl Brandon. No such person. When this was revealed at SolaCon, the 1958 Worldcon, some fans refused to believe it because “obviously” Carl Brandon was a far better writer than Terry Carr, so “no way” could Terry have carried out the hoax. Just not credible.


You can find a fantastic collection of zines at: Efanzines

You can find yet more zines at: Fanac Fan History Project

You can find a quite good selection of Canadian zines at: Canadian SF Fanzine Archive

And check out my brand new website devoted to my OBIR Magazine, which is entirely devoted to reviews of Canadian Speculative Fiction. I do a daily blog for it. Expect something different. Found at OBIR Magazine.

And take a gander at the Carl Brandon Society whose mission is to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the production of and audience for speculative fiction. CBS here.

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