Reprint: Who Knows the Mind of a Skag?

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Sydney's bookstalls, already bursting at the sides with violence, laughter and sex, are now carrying no fewer than 25 kinds of magazine grouped under the general description of "science fiction". A year ago there were only six, and two years ago only three.

This phenomenon, among others, is being discussed by upwards of 200 men and women from many parts of Australia at the third annual Science Fiction Convention, which was officially opened yesterday in Sydney.

Most of the magazines now on sale look as though they have arrived from Outer Space. In fact they have come from the United States, by way of Britain.

Science fiction, broadly, is a story that begins something like this:

"Two hours before the vessel plunged into minus point, building up for a hundred and fifty   parsec jump through hyperspace, Captain Jack Warren was so high on narcol he couldn't read his own manifest . . . it was too late. The skags had taken over control of the ship."

Around the world there are now about 50 such magazines in 15 languages, and about 40 of them originate in the United States.

However, the deluge into Australia does not mean that the number of Australian followers has increased so suddenly.  

There is simply a bigger variety of the magazines available here. The dollar restrictions since 1940 have blocked American publications, but now they are being reprinted in Britain.

An executive of a large wholesale magazine distributing firm in Sydney told "The Sun-Herald":

"We're testing the market. In this State the Westerns are dropping back a bit in sales and science fiction is taking their place in popularity, but not yet spectacularly.

The Professors Can Relax

"A few of the science fiction magazines are really just crude Westerns dressed up in space-suits and swimming costumes. But many are far from moronic -- even some with the sexiest or most gruesome covers.

"Those covers are only a come-on. The writers, it seems, won't pander. Trouble is," he added regretfully, "the readers som times have to be pretty bright to understand them.

"In America the publishers have had to issue a couple of books which are virtually popular science dictionaries, so that new s.f. fans can know what they're reading about."

Some of the Australian readers hardly ever need a glossary, for quite a few are honours graduates in physics, mathematics and engineering.

Professors used to relax with a crime story. Now the hand gropes on the bed-side table for "Astounding Science Fiction," "Galaxy," or "If". After all, this new reading is itself detective fiction of a sort.

An American high priest of the cult declares that it can render a great public service by "pointing out the probable results of present trends in science, and then letting the reader decide whether that's what he wants."

But the British novelist J. B. Priestley, after confessing recently that he had read "a good deal" of American science fiction, went on to denounce a current trend in the stories.

"Having ruined this planet," he wrote bitterly, "we take destruction to other planets. It is a move undertaken in secret despair, in the wrong direction . . .

'The rocket ships no longer represent man's triumphant progress. They merely show him hurrying at ever-increasing speeds away from his true life as a spiritual being."

A reasonable-voiced supporter of science fiction, Mr. Vol Molesworth, director of the Futurian Society of Sydney, makes this reply:

"The idea of embodying scientific ideas in fictional form fills an urgent educative need. It's not new. It started with the Socratic Dialogues."

Purists apparently date the birth of modern science fiction at about 1926. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells, to their mind, were not sufficiently scientific in their predictions.

They declare that fantasy is strictly different from science fiction, and even when they admit that the two are usually merged in the magazines they add that science has had a habit of overtaking intelligently conceived fantasies.

They Exchange Fanzines

In Sydney a small group of the more enthusiastic readers formed the Futurian Society on the eve of the World War I. To borrow one another's magazines and books and hold their abstruse discussions, these addicts met on Thursday nights in a coffee shop.

Last year they made their present clubrooms in an old Darlinghurst factory, visited fairly regularly by about 100 enthusiasts.

Similar groups exist in the other capitals, and there are lesser groups about the Sydney suburbs. Between some rival groups there is even admittedly a certain amount of bad feeling.

This week-end, in Federation Hall, Philip Street, the Science Fiction Convention is fascinatedly tracing out paths man's future may take.

A B.Sc. and two B.A.'s have given addresses in a symposium on The World of To-morrow. ("If you want to see the future, look at yesterday and to-day", was a sober keynote); and to- night there will be a "variety" session.

The membership of the organised science fiction groups in Australia, the convention visitors learned, is still small but it's growing. And there is no doubt about the members' keeness.

At least 15 of the groups circulate their own papers, some roneoed and some printed, containing reviews, comment and amateur science fiction.

"Fanzines" (fan magazines), these are called, as distinct from prozines, or professional magazines.

Yes, they adore new words, these science-minded students of strange goings-on in strange worlds along the time-space continuum -- and not all the words, certainly, are strictly scientific.

Back, for example, to the story of Captain Jack Warren's adventures, which ends:

"When last heard from, K'Gol and his skag companions had settled down to conferring with terrestrial scientists, making and discarding countless plans to revive the Rigel culture, and drinking narcol . . .

"Who knows the mind of a skag?"

First published in The Sun-Herald (Sydney), 18 April 1954

[Thanks to the National Library of Australia's newspaper digitisation project for this piece.]

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 13, 2012 9:36 AM.

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