Bewildering Stories

Change the color of the text to:

Change the color of the background to:

Does DNA Mean “Do Not Answer”?
A Rejection-Slip Subculture

by John Thiel

Science fiction has included stories about genetics since before the publication of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, wherein existed a total gene control of life. Some would have it that way, others would not, and the book was controversial, but the tumult and the shouting about it had no effect on genetics or on the general public, and any effect that was had by the controversy was had on the book, its author going into the writing of essays on that and other topics as a way of life. Genetics continued to develop as it had been doing, and science fiction continued to write stories about genetics.

But if all this writing has no effects on the public at large (as they seemed to be in Brave New World), it does affect people within the field and appreciators of SF. Sometimes conventions get to looking like genetic experimentation labs, and occasional new books of multiple authorship give the appearance of having been bred, and are even referred to as progeny, offspring, or babies. And how about science fiction fandom? It’s been a little bit out of sight as the professional magazines ignored it, but it hasn’t been absolutely idle. It may be a truism to say “The modern sf fan is bred, not born.”

Take, for example, the Zenebre. This seems to me the closest science fiction fandom has come to genetic success, and it has a history. William Hamling, the editor of Imagination, used to say “Welcome to the fold!” over and over again in his letter column as new readers wrote in describing themselves as such, and some people wondered what a fold was. Well, it’s a sheepherding term; a large holding of sheep is referred to as a “fold.” Learning this is wondering if Hamling actually had a fold, but whether he did or not, it seems evident that fandom was being gathered together by herdsmen who were wanting to develop them.

But the gathering was difficult and once accomplished to any extent, it was difficult to determine what to do with them. In what ways should they be developed? There had been ideas, but the roundup had been so difficult that the effectiveness of the ways and means still existing was questionable. Nevertheless, there were attempts, ranging from “The Starbegotten” to “The Little Men” and “The Beanie Brigade,” all of whom were put into a primitive and non-laboratory regimen as much as possible: crude and elementary genetics.

The Zenebre had been so unwise as to criticize Geoff St. Reynard and Dwight V. Swain as “zoologists,” which he called “the most uninteresting and unscientific of the sciences that there is.” Actually both authors regarded what they were writing about as genetics. Since he had expressed interest in zoology, he was referred to at first as “The Zebra,” and excluded from fandom as much as possible, but he ended up in the Cult, where Zen Buddhism was being discussed, in consideration of the fact that it was world-transcendent and escapist, like science fiction. Zen sounded like good enough training for him; perhaps he’d selected his own niche. So he was reinforced as a Zen Buddhist and given the name “The Zenebre.”

A mythos was built around him. He was considered to be “an enemy of Yaos” and he had an arch-foe named Walrus who called him the “Foonrig Zenebre.” Walrus had come from the campsites of the fannish ghod Roscoe, who was himself represented by a beaver icon and said to be at war with his nemesis, Oscar the Malevolent Muskrat. The Zenebre was granted a ghod to follow, Roscoe being named as the ghod to whom he made his obeisances. With him set up this way, his Masters plotted that he would battle with The Mule, as soon as he’d finished his training.

This actually wasn’t very successful in a practical sense. As he’d been doing from the start, the Zenebre resisted this, and so, highly developed and complex as the scheme may have been, its results were chiefly academic. The Zenebre was last seen trying to scrounge membership in the Foonarian Society, which he had been informed was in New York City, where he could go and become urbane. Actually he abhorred Zen and wrote diatribes against it, and as to the feud that carried him out of science fiction fandom and into the realm of gafia, it was with a Starbegotten Superman.

Genetics has thus been successful in science fiction fandom in the sense of being a hot topic and a source of literary absorption and study, but as to its developmental results, they are practically nil, although some people call United Mutations and the Little Monsters of America a tangible result. However, these resemble the results achieved in satires on genetics, rather than legitimate results. Probably we will have to see what the future has in store if we are to look to science fiction for actual results. The new virtual and war-gaming procedures may have some developmental results, but probably nothing can replace good old fashioned laboratory work. Well, something completely different could.

Copyright © 2003 by John Thiel

Home Page