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Monday, July 18, 2011

"It is a proud and lonely thing" To Help the Internet

In the course of editing a bunch of stuff, a question arose regarding the origin of a saying that has typified the lives of some devoted to a variety of obsessions: "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan." The writer had hunted here and there on the Internet and found only what amounted to shoulder-shrugging, with attempts at the origin even winding up with a guess at a reference to A.E. van Vogt's novel Slan. "But, hey," I said, "I know the references involved. They were common knowledge in the world of science-fiction fandom in the 1950s!" Weird thing: Apparently, common knowledge to a generation of people devoted to the wonders of the future has not been universally transferred from survivors of that generation to the future that is our present. Or, at least, not transferred so that it pops up handily in a Google search. So here's the thing:

First was a story by Walter Macfarlane, "To Watch the Watchers." It appeared in the June 1949 issue of Astounding Science Fiction, the most influential of the science-fiction magazines of that time. The story is told with a breezy confidence that leads me to suspect that Macfarlane may have been a penname; it only appeared in one other issue of Astounding and no other SF magazine of the day. But maybe I'm being unfair to a writer whose story I so enjoyed. At any rate, its presentation was a bit dodgy: Its punchline is published on the second page of the eight-page story of spaceman Tully Kloote, in the illustration by Orban. Or, as it appears at the end of the tale, "On the base, in exquisite, mathematically exact letters are these words: Tully Kloote It is a proud and lonely thing to be a man."

If you were a science-fiction reader in those days, you were almost certain to read Astounding, and the story was effective and affecting. So most readers would get the closing gag in a Robert Bloch short story in the October 1956 Fantastic Universe, even seven years later. While Bloch's most famous work today is probably the novel Psycho, he wrote terrific stories over many years - and is noted for such remarks as "I have the heart of a small boy. I keep it on my desk." So it was no surprise that his 16-page "A Way of Life" involved a post-Apocalyptic future in which all of society evolved out of the world of science-fiction fandom - and the 1956 reader was expected to moan over such concepts as "religious Kyrie Ellison" music and "peering up at the planets from the Mount Richard Wilson observatory, creating new developments like the Bradbury Ray." And the story's capper was its last line: "It is a proud and lonely thing to be a fan."

1 comments:

Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey October 25, 2012 at 11:13 AM  

Thanks! I was looking up this phrase and your lucid account of its origins was very helpful.

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