16

The Infinity magazine of February 1956 contains the short story "A Likely Story" by Damon Knight. The setup is a meeting of "The Medusa Club", ". . . loosely speaking, an association for professional science fiction writers."

Many of the names of attendees at the meeting are clear parodies of names of SF authors, but I can't identify most of them. Some may, of course, just be funny names. Below are the names, and my guesses for those that I have an idea about. Who are the others?

  • Preacher Flatt — Fletcher Pratt

  • Ray Alvarez

  • Rod Pfehl (the P is silent, as in Psmith)

  • Tom Q. Jones went by in a hurry, carrying a big camera.

  • Punchy Carrol, nut-brown in a red dress

  • Duchamp biting his pipe

  • Leigh MacKean with her pale protoNordic face — Leigh Brackett?

  • the ubiquitous fan, Harry You-Know, the one with the glasses and all that hair

  • Dorrance Canning, an old idol of mine; he wrote the "Woman Who Slept" series and other gorgeous stuff — far-fetched, possibly a joke on (from a history of Campbell Soup) "In 1897, John T. Dorrance . . . developed a commercially viable method for condensing soup"

  • Art Greymbergen, my favorite publisher

  • Bill Plass — Phil Klass

  • Asa Akimisov — Isaac Asimov

  • Ned Burgeon, wearing a sky-blue dinner jacket and a pepper-and-salt goatee, played his famous twenty-one-string guitar — Ted Sturgeon?

  • L. Vague Duchamp — L. Sprague de Camp

  • Larry Bagsby

  • Diarrhetics — Dianetics

  • H. Drene Pfeiffer — H. Beam Piper

  • B. U. Jadrys — Algis (A. J.) Budrys

  • Will Kubatius

  • the heldentenor bulk of Don W. Gamble, Jr. — John W. Campbell?

  • Kosmo Samwitz — Sam Moskowitz

  • Don Bierce

  • Lobbard discovering Scatiology — L. Ron Hubbard, and Scientology

  • Werner Kley — Willy Ley

  • Fred Balester

  • M. C. (Hotfoot) Burncloth

  • Ham Jibless' homemade telescope

1
  • Note that most of these, rather than parodies, appear to be anagrams. Some of them are deliberately funny anagrams, but mostly they're just anything that looks like a name.
    – IMSoP
    Feb 15, 2022 at 12:22

2 Answers 2

16

Larry Shaw wrote an article about this story in the fanzine Fan History #3 (April 1, 1956). His assignments were as follows (see page 12). Anagrams (and near-anagrams) are marked with †.

Character Represents
Rod Pfehl† Fred Pohl
Tom Q. Jones George O. Smith
Punchy Carrol1 Judy Merril
Leigh MacKean Kay MacLean
Dorrance Canning Laurence Manning
Art Gerymbergen† Marty Greenberg
Bill Plass Phil Klass2
Asa Akimisov† Isaac Asimov
Ned Burgeon Ted Sturgeon
L. Vague Duchamp3 L. Sprague De Camp
B. U. Jadrys†4 A. J. Budrys
Larry Bagsby Jerry Bixby
Ray Alvarez Lester del Rey
H. Drene Pfeiffer H. Beam Piper
Will Kubatius† Walter Kubilius
Don W. Gamble, Jr. John W. Campbell
Horty Plass Morty Klass5
Jerry Thaw Larry Shaw
Preacher Flatt Fletcher Pratt
Kosmo Samwitz† Sam Moskowitz
Don Bierce John Pierce
Balmer [Raymond A.] Palmer
Phog Relapse Rog Phillips
Werner Kley Willy Ley
Fred Balester† Alfred Bester
M. C. (Hotfoot) Burncloth† C. M. (Hotfoot) Kornbluth6
Ham Jibless† James Blish

Notes:

  1. An allusion to the folk characters Punch and Judy.

  2. Better known by his pseudonym William Tenn.

  3. Possibly an allusion to the artist Marcel Duchamp, as suggested in the other answer.

  4. "B.U." was 1930s slang, standing for "biological urge" and meaning "sexual attraction" (see New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, p. 275). It's hard to tell whether this was intentional or an accident of the anagram, but Shaw does say that Knight was fond of sneaking risqué jokes into his stories.

  5. Mort Klass, the younger brother of Phil Klass (see Damon Knight's The Futurians, p. 185).

  6. A "hotfoot" is "a prank in which a matchbook is lit and inserted into an unsuspecting victim's shoe" (New Partridge Dictionary, p. 1038). Kornbluth's propensity for the prank is indicated by an incident where "At the [1940 Chicago science fiction] convention Bob Tucker paid a 1¢ bribe to Kornbluth in order to escape being given a hotfoot" (The Futurians, p. 83, spotted by eac2222 in comments).

Shaw also commented:

… plus a ubiquitous fan known as Harry Somebody; many people have taken the model for him to be Harlan Ellison, but I'm sure it was actually Joe Fann that damon had in mind.

(I honestly don't know just how Joycean damon was being in some of these cases. Ham Jibless is a lovely anagram of James Blish, but it could be even more than that: Ham Brooks, in the old Doc Savage stories, was a dapper character who carried a sword-cane; James Blish is a dapper character who used to carry an umbrella-cane.)

I guess the joke in "ubiquitous fan, Harry You-Know", is that Joe Fann was a fan by name as well as by nature.

It's not mentioned in Shaw's article, but the "Medusa Club" of the story represented the Hydra Club, many of whose members appeared in this group caricature by Harry Harrison, published in Marvel Science Fiction, November 1951.

3
  • Great! It had occurred to me that someone might have published a key to this story in a fanzine, but I didn't know how to look for it. How did you find it?
    – user14111
    Feb 15, 2022 at 23:57
  • 1
    "M. C. (Hotfoot) Burncloth" for Kornbluth may refer to the incident in Knight's The Futurians where ". . . Bob Tucker paid a 1 cent bribe to Kornbluth in order to escape being given a hotfoot" (page 83).
    – eac2222
    Feb 16, 2022 at 0:51
  • @user14111 Nothing clever! I did a Google search for one of the names from the story, I think it might have been "punchy carrol", and Fan History #3 showed up on the first page of results. Feb 16, 2022 at 9:22
15

Preacher Flatt — Fletcher Pratt

Ray Alvarez — Lester del Rey

Rod Pfehl (the P is silent, as in Psmith) — Fred Pohl

Tom Q. Jones went by in a hurry, carrying a big camera. —

Punchy Carrol, nut-brown in a red dress — Possibly Carol Emshwiller? She was writing in the 1950s.

Duchamp biting his pipe — If this is a different Duchamp than the one referencing L. Sprague de Camp, then it is almost certainly Marcel Duchamp, but it wasn't really a pipe.

Leigh MacKean with her pale protoNordic face — Leigh Brackett

the ubiquitous fan, Harry You-Know, the one with the glasses and all that hair — likely Harlan Ellison, whose antics as a fan in the 1950s are the stuff of legend.

Dorrance Canning, an old idol of mine; he wrote the "Woman Who Slept" series and other gorgeous stuff – The "Woman Who Slept" is a reference to The Man Who Awoke. — Laurence Manning

Art Greymbergen, my favorite publisher — Martin Greenberg

Bill Plass — Phil Klass (a.k.a. William Tenn)

Asa Akimisov — Isaac Asimov

Ned Burgeon, wearing a sky-blue dinner jacket and a pepper-and-salt goatee, played his famous twenty-one-string guitar — Ted Sturgeon who did indeed wear a salt and pepper goatee at some point

L. Vague Duchamp — L. Sprague de Camp

Larry Bagsby — Jerome ("Jerry") Bixby

Diarrhetics — Dianetics (authored by L. Ron Hubbard)

H. Drene Pfeiffer — H. Beam Piper

B. U. Jadrys — A. J. "Algis" Budrys

Will Kubatius — Walter Kubilius

the heldentenor bulk of Don W. Gamble, Jr. — John W. Campbell, who also wrote under the name "Don A. Stuart."

Kosmo Samwitz — Sam Moskowitz

Don Bierce — John Pierce, inventor of the transistor, and an author of science fiction under the pseudonym of J. J. Coupling.

Lobbard discovering Scatiology — L. Ron Hubbard, and Scientology

Werner Kley — Willy Ley

Fred Balester — Alfred Bester

M. C. (Hotfoot) Burncloth — C. [Cyril] M. Kornbluth

Ham Jibless' homemade telescope — James Blish

Balmer — Ray Palmer

Phog Relapse — Rog Phillips

Jerry Thaw —

5
  • This has (like the question) Duchamp twice.
    – SQB
    Feb 14, 2022 at 16:35
  • @SQB I think it might be reasonable that they are different Duchamps? I have made a clarifying edit to the possible Marcel Duchamp answer based on your input.
    – Lexible
    Feb 14, 2022 at 16:36
  • The Treachery of Images was actually by Magritte, not DeChamp. Feb 14, 2022 at 21:43
  • Tom Q. Jones = Raymond F. Jones?
    – user14111
    Feb 15, 2022 at 2:10
  • Since most of these are anagrams, I suspect the double-r in "Punchy Carrol" is no accident. One name you can get from that is "Charly", leaving "puncro" to make a surname. "Paul" is also in there, but that leaves you "nchycrro", which looks less likely.
    – IMSoP
    Feb 15, 2022 at 12:31

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