The Stranger Club was important in my life from roughly 1943 to 1953. How did I find the Stranger Club? I was twelve and Harry Stubbs was a Leader at Boy Scouts. Even then, he was ‘Hal Clement’ and a staunch advocate of strict, only-one-postulate-permitted science fiction. I admired him. I admired his trunk of science fiction and fantasy mags, particularly the large format Astounding Science-Fiction and Amazing Stories. Further, Harry could not only wiggle his ears, he could invoke a cataclysmic motion in which (if I remember rightly) his whole forehead traveled up his scalp. And he invited me to attend the Stranger Club.
Of the others on the Con list, I remember Chan Davis very well. He made mathematics sound wonderful, and I am sure his classes at Toronto have been great. He was our Liberal. Liberal was perhaps a worse word in McCarthy days than today but I listened anyway. In retrospect, Chan was right about a lot of things. I tended then to take a polyannish view of the capitalist system; I’ve since come to understand that good people can do amazingly stupid things because ‘it’s their job,’ or, for instance, because they believe that reality is the bottom line.
A good Stranger Club Meeting was intensely stimulating, whether about science, science fiction, or politics. We discussed sf critically; most of us knew every story published in the last ten years by author, title, magazine, and often issue.
A.E. Van Vogt’s World of Null-A was published in this period and introduced us to General Semantics. Several of us read Korzybski’s Science and Sanity and came out quite sure that the map was not the territory — that ‘truths’ often were not — that most assertions were better presented as points on a continuum than as yes-no answers. This has stuck with me, though particularly in public speaking, the single-valued, decisive position is often more fun to listen to.
Most members wrote in the professional or fan press. At Harry’s urging, I did too. I think Chan and Harry were the only regulars who earned money. I contributed to the amateur presses and published my own fanzine for a time. I treasure two rejection letters from John Campbell’s Astounding Science-Fiction. On later reading, I thought both short stories were callow. John’s letters were kind. I like to think he saw some promise in them.
The fanzines were my principal contact with the larger fandom of the time. I typed my contributions on mimeograph stencils, then sent off ‘x’ copies, where x might be 50 or 100, to the Amateur Press person in charge of putting together mailings.
Fanzines were the E-Mail of their day, with a 6 week-2 month response time! I belonged to VAPA] (the Vanguard Amateur Press Association) and SAPS (Spectator Amateur Press Society). In Vanguard, I ‘met’ people like Jim Blish and Virginia Kidd (Blish), Damon Knight, and Ted Sturgeon, to whom it turned out I was distantly related. They wrote very good stuff.
I dropped out of SF gradually, with the ‘pressure of other things.’ Later I had the fortune to be associated with the Apollo Lunar Landing Program. The SF became real — but with differences. One of my first assignments was to attend the conference on the exploration of Mars at Virginia Polytechnic Institute (1962)! It may have been here I met Willy Ley and teased him about an article he had written in Astounding, in which he estimated we could put a man on the Moon for six million dollars. The estimate for Apollo was then $20 billion (about what it cost). Willy’s German accent was as thick as his glasses. ‘I did not haf a government project in mind,’ he said.