The Feud of the Century
Marion Zimmer Bradley, best remembered for her Darkover novels and other works of fantasy, had a notable career in SF fandom. She was the first female BNF who found fandom on her own, without the mediation of a brother, boy friend or husband, and the second femmefan (after Judith Merril) to emerge as a successful pro. This piece, from Bill Meyers’ Spectre, is an example of her faan fiction, recounting what would have been a truly memorable fanzine feud, if it had ever happened.
They were just pinning on the badge that said GARY CRAIG, Nebraska, when somebody rushed up to me. His badge said TIM CONWAY, and all I knew about him was that he had that wonderful column in FANDOM’S CRY. He was a bright-eyed teenager with huge hornrims that balanced a little precariously on his nose, and his voice sounded queerly uneven. “Listen, Gary -” he started, “Listen, I just saw the sign-in sheet. You know what? Buck Turner just turned up.”
“Oh, my God,” I muttered, “that’s all we need around here. I don’t have to meet the guy, do I?”
Tim Conway looked around, somewhat warily. “I guess not. Unless he comes looking for you.”
“If he comes looking for trouble,” I said quietly, “he might get it. But nobody wants trouble at a convention. I think I know how to behave in a public place.”
“Yeah,” muttered Tim, “but what about that creep? Shooting off his mouth all over FAPA -”
“Now, look -” I said uncomfortably, “I’ve had plenty to say about him, too.”
“I was always on your side,” Tim said, and I sighed.
“Look, Tim. All these fannish feuds - they don’t really mean anything.” And then, more to myself than him, I said, I hope.
I wasn’t nearly as calm as I looked. I’d tried to keep a cynical attitude about Buck Turner, but I admit he got under my skin. There had come a time when I couldn’t even read that FAPA rag of his, that crudsheet he had the nerve to call VD. Of course it meant “Veteran Display”, but he printed it in little letters and you could tell he thought the innuendo was hilarious. It gripes me to have to explain things like that to my wife. God knows she has a bad enough opinion of fandom to start with.
I wrote him a letter about it - a decent letter, I’d say, just a suggestion that I didn’t think it was in such good taste - and the thing I got for an answer - well, I have a temper of my own, and I guess I blistered the paper. I should have cooled off before I mailed the damn fool letter, but by the time I stopped to think better of it, the letter had gone off. And of course he printed the stupid thing in VD, and by Ghod we were off on the feud of the century. The whole FAPA got into the act before we were through. The rotten part of it was, most of our friends were mutual friends. Kerry Benteen, who’d co-published with me back during the war, took Buck’s side, and we exchanged some fairly bitter letters. And then there was the car crash when Kerry was killed, and I knew I’d never have a chance to set things straight. I blamed myself for that, and I had another row with my wife because she couldn’t understand it. She kept saying she couldn’t understand why I’d get so upset over a simple little hobby, or a guy I never met in my life. So I stayed away from the Solacon just to calm her down: She was sure that all I wanted to do was go and get roaring drunk and shack up with some femmefan. (I kept telling her she ought to see some of the femmefans, but it didn’t do any good. Wives never believe things like that.)
I’d pretty well gotten over it, and after Buck dropped out of FAPA, I could even manage to swallow some of my bile when a Buck Turner article turned up in a fanzine I liked. The guy had talent, you had to admit that, and he had humor. But he was so damned something-or-other.
It wasn’t all on my side, either. He had called me a talentless crud and a fugghead, and implied that my fanzines were a public leaning-post for all the worn-out deadwood in FAPA. I hate to admit it, but I’d got into a state where the name of Buck Turner started to bring a funny taste up under my tongue, and my hands felt a little cold, not exactly shaky but that queer feeling you get just before you start to feel shaky enough to hit somebody.
Over in the corner, Tim pointed to a turned-away back in a blue suit. He muttered, “That’s Turner. I guess they’re telling him you’re here.”
I heard a sudden rousing laugh from that corner. It was just the kind of laugh I ‘d expected Turner to have. Now don’t get paranoid, I told myself; he isn’t necessarily laughing at you; maybe he doesn’t even know you’re here.
But just then Buck Turner turned around and looked at me. His face was something of a shock; it was a young face, not the pasty, unhealthy face of a creep with a degenerate sense of humor, but a face like any other face. I guessed he was about my age, and if he was taller than I was, I could have given him twenty pounds. He looked across the room and I saw him grin when his eyes met mine. I managed a rather flippant, ironical nod.
“Hey,” one of the teen-age fans said, “Gary, he’s coming over here!”
The Convention Chairman blinked and started to thrust his way through the crowd. All of a sudden it was quiet in the room, and it seemed as if everybody in the hall was looking at me, and at Buck Turner crossing the room, quietly, decisively. Suddenly I realized I wasn’t just going to stand there and let him come and start needling me as he had done in FAPA. Maybe I could avoid a fight by walking out of the room, but blast it, I wasn’t going to do that, either. I’d go up to him and say something neutral and see if we couldn’t behave like two adult human beings. But by heaven if he wanted to fight, we’d make this into really the feud of the century, because if he made any more damn wisecracks, I’d haul off and hit him.
I took a half-dozen steps forward. The Convention Chairman said, “Listen, you two -”
Tim put a hand on my arm. I pushed it off. I said in an undertone, “Thanks, Tim, but this is my business now.”
There were whispers now all around the room, and I felt my fists clench at my side. Suddenly it seemed so damned nonsensical. The other fans had prodded us into this feud because it made the fur fly, because it gave them something to get excited about and something to take sides on in FAPA. A little decency, a little common sense, and we two grown men wouldn’t be striding toward each other through a gang of gaping teen-agers waiting for something to crack, even if it was only our decency.
He was only a step away now, and I stopped. He coughed slightly. He said, “You’re - Gary Craig?”
I felt a sudden need to clear my throat, but I didn’t. I only said, “Yeah. You’re Buck Turner.”
I haven’t the faintest idea which of us moved first. Suddenly my right hand clasped his and we shook hands. His grip felt firm and friendly and in one of those crazy simultaneous things we said almost in identical cadence:
“Glad to meet you. Let’s go have a drink.”