Brighton WorldCon ‘87: A Slightly Delayed Report

Conspiracy 87 logoBy R. A. MacAvoy: I had thought to begin this trip report with the idea it was something lost in the mail.  Lost for many, many years.  That seemed clever at first, but I realized that my memories aren’t close to clear enough for me to get away with that.  Not even with people who know how muddled my memories can be.  So, instead, this is a trip report to a con that didn’t get written in 1987, but is being written now, in 2016.  In a way, that makes it easier.  I don’t really have to explain getting things muddled.  I can simply be glad I remember anything.

In early 1987 I was between books, and as always in that situation, I felt desperate to do something fannish to keep my hand in until the next idea came my way. And I was reading that the World Con, which was going to be held in Brighton, was having the usual difficulties getting funds together, so I reasoned I could solve their problems and mine with one very long journey, from the West Coast of California to the South Coast of England and back.  This was not really financially responsible, of course.  My income was, at the time dedicated toward building onto our excuse for a house, whilst Ron’s income kept us living in it day to day.  But still, I could take it off my taxes.  Business expenses, or some such.

I went alone, because Ron could not get time off to travel with me. It seems, then and now, the software industry doesn’t allow for holidays except at the most peculiar times, such as when we went to the arctic circle in mid-winter.  But that happened many years later.  To Brighton World Con I went alone.

And going that way isn’t particularly fannish. At the time, it seemed to me that fans travelled in close packs, crept into hotel rooms unnoticed and slept on the floor, hoping not to be noticed.  This might explain why SF conventions, even large ones, were not particularly desired events at hotels around the world.  That, plus the fact that SF fans have an abysmally low bar bill compared with most any other sort of convention, and hotels do depend upon the bar bill when hosting conventions.

So. I arrived alone at Brighton and was put into a room at the Radisson Hotel, which was far above my pay-grade, but also far away from the convention center.  I remember I thought about all the unused space in my room, and wondered if I ought to sneak some more fans of some sort into the hotel.  But I literally didn’t know anybody, and also, I wasn’t confident I could pull it off.

I walked down the road between the Radisson and the convention center, and across the way was the water and the famed Brighton Pier. At the time it was a mess.  There were signs warning of danger and unsafe surfaces.  The Channel itself reminded me very much of Lake Eerie, where I grew up.  As long as one can’t see the other side, any body of water seems to be an ocean.

The lines for registration were very long and registration is more than usually dreary when one shows up alone. When I finally got to registration there was a great deal of ka-tah over which sort of badge I should have.  I was certainly no sort of guest, but I wasn’t to be considered a proper sort of fan, either, as I had, at the time, published six or seven books in the field.  So I was shuffled around until I had some sort of badge with my name on it and something that described me as a writer, but as nothing special.  And that is the perfect description of what I was and what I intended to be at the con.  Nothing special.  No panels.  No responsibilities.  Free.

What does a lonely fan do at a convention, when presented with the leaflet describing the coming programming? I know what I did.  I looked immediately for the dealer’s room and the art show.  And the masquerade, of course. Panels were the last thing on my mind.

The dealers’ rooms were huge, and the art show was glorious. I can say today I’ve never seen the like of the art show at Conspiracy ’87.  I remember especially one man who created art out of skulls he found as roadkill.  These were mostly skulls of raptors, including owls, although I believe I saw a few fox skulls as well.  In the eye sockets of the cleaned skulls he inserted gems, beveled in silver or gold.  Sometimes, he also placed jewels in the foreheads.  They were stunning, and the price was astronomical.  To me, at least, astronomical.  I did set my eye on some of the plaster reproductions of such skulls, which were indistinguishable from the real thing, in my eye.  There was one of an owl’s skull . . . I wondered if I had the chutzpah to wear a jeweled owl’s skull around my neck, once back at the ranch. But more about that later.

The first convention assemblage was a large open forum. A sort of welcome to the convention, I suppose, with numerous speakers from the Brighton Fan Community.  They were all young men and all seemed to have the same message.  It was an angry message.  They said that Americans, (and they made no clear distinction between Yanks and Canadians, so I suppose we were all in that boat together,) had hijacked this British convention.  They were extremely irate.  I was flabbergasted, because the message I had received from my friends who worked at Locus and at The Other Change of Hobbit back in California, had been that we must rescue the convention, which was in danger of bankruptcy.  Since then I’ve learned that every convention is in danger of bankruptcy.  That is a convention’s normal state of existence.  But as I’d come so very many miles with the idea I was helping, I have to say my feelings were hurt.  The other repeated message told us from the podium of that one huge assembly was that Americans did not write proper SF, but instead stories of ‘Red Indians in Outer Space’.  That, like the owl’s skull, will be important to this story later.

Luckily, I don’t remember a single name of the angry young men who spoke from the podium that day. I don’t think any of them were writers.  Those names I would have remembered. I watched the audience carefully from my position standing near an exit door.  (That is my preferred position at all convention events.)  The people I could tell were American, mostly by their shoes, for at the time Americans wore a sort of brightly-colored trainer than was uncommon footwear to other people, seemed to shrink into their seats.  And I watched for the rest of the convention as the Americans went about their business, getting into and out of lifts, and dodging people in hallways, muttering the word ‘sorry’ almost as a mantra.  I have never seen a less confident lot of hijackers in my life.

I must repeat here that the angry young men of Brighton did not represent anything of Britain, or of England, but themselves. Because the cost of meals at the convention hall was so steep, I began to make a practice of darting out of the building to get my meals at near-by shops, where the locals were so warm and friendly, and so careful to guide a visitor into not buying more food than she could likely afford, that any idea I might have had of extending the distinct feeling of unwelcome beyond the doors of the convention center died aborning.  I also visited a florist and bought daisies, first to have someone to talk to and later to have silly things to give away.

As it turned out, it was not only the Americans who felt rejected by the welcoming speeches. There were Dutch, Swedish, Australian and Italian fans at the convention also.  We met at the bars and in lobby corners and had a fine convention of our own.  And it was there that I met my own Jugoslav translators, who had come with the specific idea of meeting me.  (I never knew I had Jugoslav translators.)  It was flattering and embarrassing to meet them, especially after I stood them up at a meeting we had scheduled the first day, which flew out of my head completely with the overwhelm of the con.  So I spent the next few days chasing them down hallways, constantly apologizing, and trying to explain that yes, I was that naturally disorganized and that I did appreciate them.  I really did.  Finally we all made up.  In years to come, when there was no longer a Jugoslavia, I used to wonder what had become of the two of them.  They were sparkling with enthusiasm and energy.  I know I gave them daisies.

Doris Lessing signs at 1987 Worldcon. Photo by Frank Olynyk.

Doris Lessing signs at 1987 Worldcon. Photo by Frank Olynyk.

During the convention I missed the opportunity to meet two people I would have liked to meet. The first was Doris Lessing.  I stood within three meters of her and said to myself go on. Step forward.  She can only look through you and give a blank smile.  She can’t hurt you.  But I couldn’t.  I was so very intimidated at the idea of being in the same room with Doris Lessing that I couldn’t move.  In the end, it doesn’t matter.  I have often been in the same room with her work.

The other person I didn’t meet was Dave Langford, who was one of the fan GOHs.  If I could have known the future I would have sought him out and said Langford, one day in the future we will be friends, and so I’d like to shake your hand now. But of course, I didn’t know and I didn’t shake his hand.  These days, I post or comment to him almost daily, and I suppose time travel is completely unnecessary to the process.

***

The second morning of the convention I had a most peculiar experience. Even for convention fandom, it was most peculiar.  I was under the awning of the convention center, waiting for the doors to open. (I am incurably early for everything.  That is, when I haven’t forgotten to show up at all.)  I put my backpack and convention bag down and sat with my back against one of the awning posts, waiting for the doors to open.  A minute or so later another fan appeared.  A young man.  Very young.  He stood there and looked down at me.  His eyes narrowed and he asked me where I had gotten that badge.

I thought he was inquiring about registration, but as I opened my mouth I saw he already had a badge. “Where did you get THAT badge?” he repeated, heatedly. “It’s not yours.  Everyone is going to know it’s not yours.”

I had no idea how to answer him. Should I show him my passport? My driver’s license? But then, why should I show this boy anything?  I pointed to the name.  R.A. MacAvoy.  “That’s me,” I said.  I looked at his badge, but I have no memory of what his name was.

With complete assurance, and with fists balled at his side, he told me “I know R.A. MacAvoy, and you’re not him!”

There were so many layers of misunderstanding in this I didn’t know how to address it. It did know to slide up the steel post I’d been leaning against, so I’d be on my feet.  I told him my name was Roberta A. MacAvoy.  I hate to say that to people, because the name ‘Roberta’ has always fit me as well as roller skates fit a pig.  But it was the clearest explanation I could give.

His voice rose to a shout. “It’s Robert A. MacAvoy.  What is he?  Your father?  Or did you make up this fraud from scratch?”

It occurred to me that the boy had conflated me with Robert A. Heinlein somehow. Perhaps he was young enough not to know the difference.  But his mental processes had ceased to matter at this moment, as he was approaching me square-shouldered and full of belligerence.  My mind raced.  I was I a foreign country and I did not know what my rights of self-defense were.  I was imagining ending up in jail for hurting this idiot.  I was also imagining my refusing to defend myself and ending up in hospital.

At that moment the big glass doors burst open and two men in convention center security uniforms came to stand between us – between me and the angry boy. One security man quietly asked me what was going on.  I replied to him that I had no idea what was going on, but that I was profoundly glad to see him.  The other security man tried to touch the young fan and was repeatedly brushed away.  A few seconds later I was in the convention hall.  It was almost time to open, after all, and I was very grateful.  The security man even carried my backpack and swag bag into the hall with him.  I might well have forgotten them and left them in the street.

To this day I have no idea why my identity was questioned by the young fan so strenuously. It’s a mystery.  Thank ghod it didn’t become a bloody mystery.

***

That’s about what I remember from Conspiracy ’87. The panels were like panels everywhere.  The running up and down the streets of Brighton was not my usual convention experience, as it took place outdoors.  The masquerade was astonishing. I bought the replica owl’s skull, with silver and garnets.  Between earthquakes and moving house, somehow I no longer have it.

But, if you remember, I began this by saying I had gone to Brighton between story ideas. I came home with a good one. At least I think it’s good.

I wrote a novel about red Indians in outer space. Because the First Nation people are no more red than any other group of humans, I had my protagonist genetically altered to be really red.  And I added in descendants of the people of the subcontinent of India, just to complicate things. It is the only real Space Opera I have ever written.  So I got my money’s worth out of the anger of the young men of Brighton.  In fact, the advance of that book paid for the roof of our house.

“If I Ran The Z/o/o/ Con” Reloaded and Reissued

If I Ran The ZooSasquan guest of honor Leslie Turek is preparing a 4th edition of the Worldcon runners’ role playing game If I Ran the Zoo…Con for delivery in Spokane. The cover illustration is by Merle Insinga, and interior cartoons by Steve Stiles. Preorders are being taken by OffWorld Designs.

First introduced and played at Smofcon 3 in 1986, If I Ran the Zoo…Con lets players lead a committee through the Bidding, Planning, and At-Con phases of a World Science Fiction Convention.

The game has been revised and updated with nine new scenarios, some contributed by Priscilla Olson, Mark Olson, and John Pomeranz.

The new scenarios include a crisis about losing a hotel while bidding, and a thinly-disguised adaptation of the 1997 Disclave flood. Leslie Turek continues: “Other scenarios cover things that are new in Worldcon-running since the 1980’s, such as web sites, social media storms, exhibit space layout, and the Hugo Loser’s party. No, we don’t address the Hugo controversy (too soon), but we do talk about Hugo base design (couldn’t resist the phrase ‘People are losing their balls’ – if you were at N3, you’ll understand that one).”

I was one of the lucky players when the game debuted in 1986.

Here’s is Leslie Turek’s description of that experience from Mad 3 Party #16 (February 1987):

The game was designed to be both an ice-breaker and also something to get people thinking about some of the perennial con-running problems in a humorous setting. (Joe Mayhew referred to it as a consciousness-raising technique.) It’s not clear how many consciousnesses were raised, but there certainly was a lot of hilarity.

First, three teams (known as con committees) were selected by leaders from each region: Mike Walsh for the East. John Guidry for the Central, and Mike Glyer for the West. Game officials were Chip Hitchcock as the SMOF (who read the game scenarios). Alexis Layton as the Independent Accountant (who kept track of the score), and Tony Lewis as Murphy (the element of chance). Murphy was aided in his job by a spinner in the form of a day-glo propeller beanie created by Pam Fremon.

The game took the committees through three phases: bidding, planning, and at-con. For each turn, the committee chose a chairman and also drew a scenario to play. Scenarios, which were written by a number of contributors, including such titles as:

Bidding:

  • Choosing the Bid Committee
  • GoH Choice
  • Booze
  • Pre-Supporting Memberships

 

Planning

  • Masquerade Length
  • The Big Premiere
  • The “Relationship”
  • Kids’ Programming
  • Ups and Downs (Elevator Management)
  • The Contract

At-Con

  • Turning the Tables (No-show Hucksters)
  • The Lady and the Snake
  • The Ice
  • Keep on Truckin’ (Logistics)

As each situation was read, the chairman would be given a number of options to select from. The committee could be consulted, but the chairman had to make the final decision. In some cases, the next situation was a direct result of the chairman’s choice, but in most cases, Murphy was also consulted. Murphy would spin the spinner and the SMOF would select the next situation according to that result. As the situations progressed, the team would win or lose Financial poings (representing money), People points (representing staff effort), and Goodwill points (representing the reaction of fandom and others whose cooperation is needed by the committee).

Many of the scenarios covered more than one phase. For example, a decision made in the planning phase might have results later in the game during the at-con phase. Murphy played a role here in deciding when each team would have to deal with the consequences of its earlier decisions. Murphy’s favorite line began, “Remember when you decided to….?”

The total game consists of 43 scenarios, and in about 2 hours of play we managed to go through only about 2/3 of them. After the game (which was won by the Central team), each member was given a printed copy of the full game to take home with them.

There were big plans in the 1980s to make a text-based computer game from the script. So far as I know that never happened, but MCFI and NESFA have kept the print version going for nearly 30 years.

My Failed Attempt To Influence The Hugos

By 1981, File 770 had accumulated two nominations for Best Fanzine and I’d been shortlisted twice for Best Fanwriter. I felt I should use that power for good.

Having enjoyed the book tremendously, I tried to get everyone cranked up about nominating Alexis Gilliland’s 1981 novel The Revolution from Rosinante for the Hugo.

I wrote a glowing two-page review for my December 1981 issue with all the buzzwords at my command. For example —

Gilliland weaves a dynamic plot from plausible economic, technological and bureaucratic rivalries. Mundito Rosinante is an asteroid adapted to an industrial space colony. Its economc purpose vaporizes in a series of financial manipulations on Earth, leaving minor investors, workers and some unexpected refugees to fend for survival.

Gilliland’s space colony, complete with schematics and material specs, becomes as dramatic an artifact as a Ringworld, Gaea or Rama. But uncommon to such a story, Gilliland moves things constantly forward with concise prose, and without expository lumps in which the universe stops to explain itself. Strong characterizaton and reliance on dialog express action and motivation so well that the novel’s background assumptions are implicitly explained.

And so on.

It’s been said the way to find out if you’re a leader is to look around and see if anybody is following you. Well, when the 1982 Hugo ballot came out I found nobody was.

But if Worldcon members passed over his novel, they did nominate Gilliland for another Best Fan Artist Hugo, and made him a finalist for the 1982 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer (not a Hugo! as we always say), things no one needed my help figuring out.

In fact, Gilliland went on to win the Campbell, outpolling David Brin, Robert Stallman, Michael Swanwick and Paul O. Williams. If that comes as a surprise, just remember the choice was based on what they had published in the first two years of their careers. Brin’s stellar “The Postman” (1982) and Startide Rising (1983) appeared after his Campbell eligibility expired, while Swanwick had several Nebula nominations early but his awards dominance came later on.

Asimov Still Holds The Record

This weekend’s Nebula ceremony kerfuffle sent ripples in all directions. Even though SFWA President Steven Gould resolved it within hours, on Facebook a few hours is the internet equivalent of dog years, more than enough time for people to replay every gaffe and grievance that ever happened at a Nebula Weekend.

However, nothing can rival Isaac Asimov’s ghastly mistake at the 1971 Nebula Awards ceremony. Nor has any other gaffe worked out better for the injured party in the long run.

Les Champs matchbook coverOn Saturday, April 3, 1971 the leading science fiction professionals were seated around banquet tables in New York’s Les Champs Restaurant watching Asimov hand out the Nebulas.

Asimov had been pressed into service at the last minute. While that was not a problem for anyone who loved an audience as much as the Good Doctor, it meant that he had little time to study the handwritten list of results. In those days the emcee was not only given the names of the winners, but the names of the runners-up, which he also announced.

When Asimov came to the Short Story category his eyes slipped over “No Award” and he read the first real name on the list — which was Gene Wolfe, author of “The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories.”

As Wolfe stood up a SFWA officer promptly whispered a correction to Asimov. Asimov went pale and announced he’d made an error. There was “No Award” in the Short Story category. Wolfe sat back down.

Eyewitness Harlan Ellison (writing in Again Dangeous Visions) says everyone felt awful –

Around him everyone felt the rollercoaster nausea of stomachs dropping out of backsides. Had it been me, I would have fainted or screamed or punched Norbert Slepyan of Scribner’s, who was sitting next to me. Gene Wolfe just smiled faintly and tried to make us all feel at ease by a shrug and a gentle nod of his head.

Fortunately, the mistake was eventually redeemed. As the author explained:

A month or so after the banquet I was talking to Joe Hensley, and he joked that I should write “The Death of Doctor Island,” saying that everyone felt so sorry for me that it was sure to win. I thought about that when I got home and decided to try, turning things inside out to achieve a different story.

He did, and his novella “The Death of Doctor Island” won a Nebula in 1974.

Wolfe adds:

After that a hundred readers or so challenged me to write “The Doctor of Death Island.”

Which he also did. The story appeared in Immortal, Jack Dann’s 1978 anthology. (Though no Nebula that year.)

IslandOfDoctorDeathBefore long these stories were gathered in The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories (1980), that delightfully-named collection of Wolfe’s best short fiction.

Nor was he done. Gene Wolfe would write a fourth iteration – “Death of the Island Doctor” – to be packaged with the previous “Island” stories for a specialty edition, The Wolfe Archipelago (1983).

In the end, oyster-like, Gene took a little irritant and turned it into a string of pearls…

Michael Sinclair Passes Away

Louisville fan Michael Sinclair died March 14 after a long decline. His wife of 26 years, Christa Cook-Sinclair and son, Alex, were with him at the end.

Michael Sinclair under attack by Godzilla.

Michael Sinclair under attack by Godzilla.

Sinclair was an avid science fiction reader who got his first taste of fandom at the original RiverCon in 1975, having found out about it from an article in a Louisville paper. That weekend he met John Guidry for the first time – future chair of the 1988 New Orleans Worldcon won in large measure by Sinclair’s efforts as bid party host.

In Sinclair’s fannish memoir at The Thunder Child he claimed to have become involved working conventions as a result of a loc he wrote to File 770 after the 1979 NASFiC:

File 770 (Mike Glyer’s science fiction fan newzine, reporting on fanzines, sf clubs, conventions, fan funds and fanac) [was] whining about something. I think it had to do with [a fan] huckstering out of his hotel room. In any event, I wrote a rebuttal letter to File 770, saying, “The last thing the fannish world needs is either a Con run by or and or/criticized by lawyers.” Cliff Amos saw the letter and called me up to ask if I wanted to work on RiverCon. I said I would like to work on the film program, but would like to have a budget and not depend on library flicks.

Sinclair surely knew the chuckle this would bring from the many friends he made hosting the string of Hurricane-themed bid parties that brought the 1988 Worldcon to New Orleans – a committee chaired by lawyer John Guidry, and with three more lawyers in the leadership.

The New Orleans in 1988 bidders bankrolled the travel of the charismatic Sinclair all over the country to host room parties where he could dispense Southern charm and hospitality, and French Quarter well drinks. He greeted everyone, “Here, have a Hurricane!” and handed them a potent cup of vodka, rum, and fruit juices, mixed with enough grenadine to turn it fire engine red. This was extremely popular.

The Worldcon bidding system is in large measure a test to destruction. Fans want there to be lots of great bid parties anyway, but implicit in that demand is a test of the bid committee’s creative and logistical competence. Unless a group can put together a string of good bid parties, the thinking goes, you can rule out any chance of them coping with the challenge of an actual Worldcon.

So as an audition for a New Orleans Worldcon, Sinclair’s parties led to a ballot box triumph over three competing bids.

However, Sinclair had never intended to be part of running the Worldcon. Once New Orleans won he was done. Ever since then fandom has made sure to ask whether the folks running the impressive parties are the same ones who’ll be running the con.

Say Da to Moscow bid passport.

Say Da to Moscow bid passport.

Before long the Sinclairs found they missed the fun of those bid parties. Casting about for inspiration, Christa and Mike created a “Say Da to Moscow” Worldcon bid. Because their idea germinated in 1989, two years before the Soviet Union fell apart, they didn’t have to worry about winning, only about having a good time. The bid theme was a satirical play on the idioms and symbols of the USSR’s Communist Party.  Led by “Mikhail Sinclair,” Party Theoretician and General Secretary, the bid’s Central Committee included the late Bruce Pelz, Hotel Liaison; Tony Ubelhor, Minister of Propaganda; Maureen Dorris, Minister of Defensive Camouflage; Jack Reed, Chronicler Emeritus; and miscellaneous Party Members and agents.

Bid parties were paid for by the sale of $5 presupports, which came with a convincing looking passport with all kinds of stuff in Cyrillic lettering.

Christa and Mike soon shelved the party scene as their son Alexander came along in 1990.

The family’s memorial plans are still to be made but, as Mike wished, he will be remembered with a wake later this year at Midwestcon.

Alan Rodgers Photos

By Andrew Porter: The photos of Alan Rodgers I’ve seen attached to his obituaries bear little relation to the author I knew in NYC in the 1980s. So, here’s my photo of Alan, upon winning his Bram Stoker Award for 1987’s “The Boy Who Came Back from the Dead”, plus another, from 1990.

Alan Rodgers in 1987. Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter.

Alan Rodgers in 1987. Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter.

Alan Rodgers in 1990.Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter.

Alan Rodgers in 1990.Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter.

Starlog Magazine Free Online

Now you can read Starlog for free over at the Internet Archive. The magazine began in 1976 and its heyday was in the 1980s although it continued to appear until about five or six years ago.

I egoscanned the site and – hooray – found two pieces of mine Starlog published once upon a time.

In Issue #110 is my quiz “No Trivial Pursuit: The Hugo Awards” (page 19). Despite so many of the answers being obsolete it’s still a fun read.

And my Science Fiction Clubs list was serialized over six issues, #122, #124, #125, #126, #127 and #128. Mainly of interest if you are looking for your name in print. (This was definitely the peak of Baby Boomer generation fandom. How sobering to realize just 10 years later I was writing “Is Your Club Dead Yet?”)

[Via Robert Sawyer and io9.]

Kickstarter Funds Comic-Con Book

Alan Moore and Jack Kirby in 1985.

Alan Moore and Jack Kirby in 1985.

Jackie Estrada needed $18,000 of pledges to publish Comic Book People, a hardcover photo tribute to 40 years of Comic-Con. Her Kickstarter appeal was a complete success – by yesterday she’d received $28,360 in pledges from 438 backers.

Estrada has been taking photos at comic book conventions for decades. Comic Book People will publish 600 shots of comic creators and other notables from the 1970s and 1980s. Most will be in black-and-white, but there will be a 16 page color section.

Here are just a few of the people she plans to include:

Golden and Silver Age greats like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Carl Barks, Bob Kane, Harvey Kurtzman, C. C. Beck, Murphy Anderson, Jules Feiffer, Gardner Fox, L. B. Cole, Alex Schomburg, Mike Sekowsky, Curt Swan, Jack Katz, Joe Kubert, John Romita, Alex Toth, Al Williamson, Bill Woggon, [and] Wally Wood…

SF & fantasy authors, such as the great Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Harlan Ellison, Leigh Brackett, George R. R. Martin, Theodore Sturgeon, Clive Barker, Douglas Adams, Larry Niven, Walter Gibson, Jerry Pournelle, and many more…

Her goal is to have the 160-page book ready for Comic-Con this July.

Happy Birthday Dave Kyle

Dave Kyle

Dave Kyle

The legendary Dave Kyle is 95 today. History has been kind to him for the same reason as Churchill – because he has written it (mostly for Mimosa.)  

One cannot fail to be impressed by the realization that a fanpolitician who has been in as much mischief as Dave nevertheless was made a Knight of The Order of Saint Fantony, won the Big Heart Award, and became Worldcon fan guest of honor (1983).

What mischief is that? Here are a few examples —

He attended the 1936 meeting of New York and Philly fans which decided to dub itself the first science fiction convention in advance of the Leeds event announced for 1937.

He wrote the “Yellow Pamphlet” that helped inspire the “The Great Exclusion Act of 1939” but, unlike his fellow Futurians, was not kicked out of the First Worldcon. As Joe Siclari explains

Some bitter feuding between the Moskowitz-led convention leadership and the New York Futurian group led by Donald A. Wollheim, who had originally been tasked with running the convention. This erupted in an argument at the convention which led to the first great “Exclusion Act.” Wollheim, Fred Pohl, John Michel, Robert W. Lowndes, Cyril Kornbluth, and Jack Gillespie were ejected from the convention for distributing a brochure titled: A Warning. The booklet had been published by Kyle. He told me he stashed the copies behind a radiator where Michel found them. Michel and the other Futurians were giving it out when Moskowitz and Sykora found out about it and banned them from the convention. Meanwhile, Kyle was inside, blissfully attending the proceedings.

Arthur C. Clarke received Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

In 1956 when Kyle got to chair a Worldcon he enhanced his legend by awarding Hugos made with Oldsmobile hood ornaments, and having banquet speech freeloaders run off with the ever-after famous message “Dave Kyle says you can’t sit here.”

At about the same time he also got involved as a director of WSFS Inc. In the falling-out among its founders Kyle sued some of the others for damage to his reputation.

Yet time does heal all wounds. Three decades later Dave’s reputation was greater than it had ever been – to the degree that in 1985 Starlog Magazine listed him among the 100 Most Important People in Science Fiction/Fantasy alongside Heinlein, Tolkien, Shatner and Nimoy.

Well, there’s greatness and then there’s greatness…

Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

Doris Lessing passed away at home November 17. She was 94. Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, she was also a past Worldcon guest of honor, at Brighton in 1987.

Lessing authored more than 50 novels. Beginning with Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971), she began to write what she called “inner-space fiction.” Then, in the novel series Canopus in Argos: Archives (vol. 1–5, 1979–1984) Lessing wrote about the post-atomic war development of the human species.

“Lessing’s central sf achievement, the Canopus in Argos: Archives sequence places the crises of human self-striving – and the crises facing the planet of our birth – into a metaphysically conceived interstellar frame,” John Clute wrote in the Science Fiction Encyclopedia. “Everywhere the drive – sometimes thwarted – is towards literal union with universal principles (or God). The series exudes, at times, a piety not normally associated with sf; but at others the perspectives it opens are illuminating. In Lessing’s hands, the instruments of sf become parables: lessons in finding paths that may lead us out of the sour muddle of unenlightened worlds.”

2_61_lessing320When Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, the citation called her “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny.”

Not that she was impressed. She told the reporters who brought her the news, “Oh Christ, I couldn’t care less.” (Which may have been the very same thing Chesley Bonestell said about a Special Hugo Award he was given in 1974, before relegating it to his bathroom to sit on the lid of the toilet tank.)

Nor did that mean the literary world had finally relaxed its prejudices against the SF genre. Critic Harold Bloom belittled her selection for the Nobel Prize to a wire service reporter: “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.”

In 1999 the Queen appointed Lessing a Companion of Honour, an exclusive order for those who have done “conspicuous national service.” She’d previously turned down the offer of becoming a Dame of the British Empire “because there is no British Empire.” Being a Companion of Honour, she explained, means “you’re not called anything – and it’s not demanding. I like that.” Being a Dame was “a bit pantomime.”

The text of her Conspiracy GoH speech is available in Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches, edited by Resnick and Siclari. She also wrote a sidebar for the 1987 Worldcon souvenir book about how watching a TV documentary about nudism led her to think about the original creation of clothing, culture – and science fiction stories. It closed with an example of one of these ur-stories.

The storyteller said, “People, listen. One night the bravest young man of the tribe summoned Heru the owl and said, ‘Take me up on your back and fly with me to that floating ghost up there, just above the trees – quick, before it crosses the sky and goes down over the mountains. I want to ask it some questions. I want to say “Who are your people who grow slowly fat and then grow slowly thin? Where do you live? Why do you send one of you every night over our valley to watch us? We want to know who you are, what you are…’

“Very well, says Heru, I’ll take you but what will you give me in exchange?

“I’ll tell you a story as I sit on your back and we fly together, will that do?

“That will do, says Heru, and the brave young man climbs on his back and….”