Gone Interplanetary

Art Widner at the 1990 Worldcon. Photo taken and (c) by Andrew Porter.

By Marty Cantor: This is going on a few lists where there may be some fen who remember this Art Widner board game.

Right, you read the name up above correctly — Art Widner.

Interplanetary is a board game which Art Widner invented in 1943.

From paperwork (which I cannot now find) I believe that there may very well have been several boards many decades ago but I am certain of one board which is still in existence, the board I used when I played the game last night.

Some time after I joined LASFS in 1975 I discovered that LASFS had not only a board for this game but also various playing pieces. And paperwork showing that others had made attempts to make the game more playable than what was apparently earlier versions of the game.

Ted Johnstone, Bill Ellern and Betty Knight demonstrating Interplanetary at the Los Angeles Hobby Show in 1960.

As a seasoned board game player I soon found that the game seemed to need quite a bit of work to make it fully playable and I worked on the game, off and on, for several years. This work required the cooperation of other LASFS’ game players. Finally, in 2007, after many years of not paying attention to the game, I put what I consider to be the finishing touches on the game – and then again put the game aside for about 10 years.

Until last night.

A couple of weeks ago I i/n/v/e/i/g/l/e/d/ convinced three women who were new to the Friday Night Board Gaming Meetup I run to play a Eurogame called Wars of the Roses. This is a longish game of some intricacy. They loved the game so I thought I would introduce them to Interplanetary so I printed the rules and handed them out.

Last night 4 of us played Interplanetary. It is, obviously, not a Eurogame-style game, depending as it does on the rolling of dice. Interplanetary is, though, a game with some strategy and a spectacularly different board than any other game.

We had fun.

Interplanetary game board

Art Widner (1917-2015)

Art Widner at the 2008 Corflu. Photo by Alan White.

Art Widner at the 2008 Corflu. Photo by Alan White.

Always ready to help, never a better friend, opinionated, long on experience and wise about fannish weaknesses (even his own), a fascinating storyteller, organizer and party host, Art Widner passed away April 17 at the age of 97.

Widner wrote not long ago that he had prostate cancer, which had spread to his bones, reports Andrew Porter. He had outlived his children, but is survived by several grand-and great-grandchildren.

Art himself lived two complete fan lifetimes, interrupted by a three-decade gafiation.

His first fannish life began when he discovered fandom through the prozines. And that life was characterized by a zeal for fanpolitics and organizing.

“Like so many fen, I was the Old Weird Harold on my block, carrying home those lurid pulp magazines with nubile bimbos on the cover wearing VW hubcap bras – which was remarkable because Volkswagen hadn’t been invented yet,” he told the audience at the 1989 Worldcon’s “Family Reunion.”

As other proto-fans did in the 1930s, he wrote letters to the prozines reviewing their efforts and criticizing their shortcomings – many of them to Weird Tales.

He helped organize “The Stranger Club” in 1940, Boston’s first science fiction club, together with Louis Russell Chauvenet, Chandler Davis, Gertrude Kuslan, Louis Kuslan, Norman Stanley, R.D. Swisher, and others. He chaired  the city’s first two sf conventions, Boskone I (1941) and Boskone II (1942). He published his first fanzine, co-edited with Earl Singleton and Francis Paro, FanFare.

Along with Louis Russell Chauvenet and Damon Knight, he was responsible for the formation of the National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F). Supporting Damon Knight’s call for a national fan organization, Widner wrote in FanFare  in 1940, “The crying need is cooperation among all fans and this seems an impossible situation at present. Fandom should have some sort of united front to put toward the rest of the world, or it will continue to be regarded as just the juvenile goshwowoboyoboy gang.”

Art Widner and Russ Chauvenet at the 1994 Corflu. Photo by Rich Lynch.

Art Widner and Russ Chauvenet at the 1994 Corflu. Photo by Rich Lynch.

He was also one of the big name fans on the board of directors of the Fantasy Foundation announced at the 1946 Worldcon, touted by Forry Ackerman as a museum of imaginative literature.

As a young man Art was reputed to be Built Like A Gorilla. Robert Madle was grateful to have him on hand at the 1941 Worldcon when C.M. Kornbluth was in a violent mood:

He [Kornbluth] was the arrogant one of the group, the one who had a personality like a snake. Not to cut him down his writings, which are very excellent. But he had a peculiar personality. Like there was that night they were going to beat the shit out of me at one of the conventions.

Fortunately I had with me Art Widner. We used to call him Popeye because he had muscle bulging out of his arms. Kornbluth said, “Hey, I’m going to beat the shit out of Madle,” and Widner said, “Who’s going to beat the shit out of who?”

I think that was the Denver convention. Other than that I had no real problems with Kornbluth – other than that night when he decided to beat the shit out of me.

(From C.M. Kornbluth: The Life and Works of a Science Fiction Visionary by Mark Rich.)

He was regarded a member of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA) Brain Trust, a colloquial name for those who engaged in weighty discussions. On the other hand, nobody liked a good time better.

Widner featured in the 1940 Worldcon masquerade as Giles Habibula, his costume constructed out of “Pogo’s hat, Trudy Kuslan’s pillow, and an anonymous bartender’s wine bottle.” He returned in 1941 as “Old Granny” from Slan.

But often Art was looking for something beyond simple fun. He is credited with creating the first original science fiction board game, Interplanetary (1943), which he described as —

a combination of a standard [auto] “race” game and Monopoly. One had to get to a planet and bring back a cargo in order to finance a trip to the next distant planet where a still more valuable cargo would be obtained, etc., out to Pluto, which harbored “Immortality Dust,” the game winner. The novel aspect was that the planets moved, making it difficult to land on one, plus such hazards as the “negasphere”. (from EESmith epics–now known as a black hole) and pirates, to say nothing of falling into the sun, getting hit with space junk, etc.

With all these complexities, it took 8-12 hours to complete a game. Using a streamlined set of rules, it became popular with fans again in the 1960s. LASFS still owns a giant Interplanetary board and has hosted games in recent decades.

Art’s literary output was limited to a single prozine sale, “The Perfect Incinerator”, under the name Arthur Lambert, that appeared in a 1942 issue of Robert Lowndes’ Science Fiction Quarterly (priced, appropriately, for a quarter.)

Widner was the most inveterate poll taker in early 1940s fandom. The Widner Poll of 1940 included a list of the top ten science fiction pulps voted on by fans. When a gloating reader pointed out to editor Ray Palmer that not one belonged to Ziff-Davis, which published Palmer’s magazine, he dismissed it, saying that although Widner’s poll may have represented a dozen fans, Ziff-Davis circulation figures showed its magazines represented several hundred thousand readers from all walks of life, all over the world.

A few years later Art launched Poll Cat, chronicled by Jack Speer  in Fancyclopedia I:

Originally it was simply concerned with preferences among stf authors, etc. Appeals were broadcast in all leading fanzines for readers to send in their votes on certain questions, and as returns were compiled, they were published, later returns being published later. Then one issue of a fanzine called The Poll Cat appeared, at which time Widner set out to test the thesis that fans are a separate and distinct type (slans or whatever you want to call them)….Looking for unusual average in fans, Widner found several characteristics that looked significant, such as longevity of grandparents, larger hat size, and greater height….

 Art attended the first Worldcon in New York in 1939, and the next four, in Chicago (1940), Denver (1941), Los Angeles (1946) and Philadelphia (1947).

He drove to the Chicago Worldcon in a 1928 Dodge, the Skylark of WooWoo, the last model made by the Dodge Brothers.

He made an epic cross-country trek to Denvention I — the Widneride — in the FooFoo Special, a car without a trunk, accompanied by “Moneybags Unger, Tree Toad Rothman, Pretty Boy Madle, [and] Sourpuss Bell.”

(Now that Widner has passed away, only four people remain alive who attended the first Worldcon: Dave Kyle, Bob Madle, Erle Korshak and Jack Robins.)

Widner married during World War II, then was drafted into the service. However, because he was “volunteered” to be a technician-guinea pig at the newly formed Climatic Research Lab in Lawrence, MA he still got to go home nearly every weekend.

His fanac slowed while he was in the military and ground to a halt when he moved his family to Los Angeles in 1948. Soon after that he gafiated completely.

Signifying his disappearance from fandom, although Art is constantly mentioned in Warner’s 1940s history All Our Yesterdays, he doesn’t have a single listing in the index of the sequel about the 1950s, A Wealth of Fable.

Widner reappeared in fandom in the 1970s – reminiscing that like Voyager 2 after 10 years he had explored the local system, science fiction fandom, and went to see what lay beyond. “Thirty-five years later I came back to report: it’s pretty lonely out there.” He returned to fandom as an “eo-neo” and bumped into Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden “who knew who I was – or rather, had been.”

Art Widner, Poul Anderson and Charles Burbee at the 1974 Westercon. Photo by Dik Daniels.

Art Widner, Poul Anderson and Charles Burbee at the 1974 Westercon. Photo by Dik Daniels.

His best known fanzine YHOS, first published from 1940 till 1945, resumed publication after a 34 year hiatus and remained a prominent faanish zine into the 1980s and 1990s. (Even Harlan Ellison read it – something Art learned when Harlan phoned his cabin early one morning to take exception to a story Art had run.)

Originally revived as Art’s FAPAzine in 1979, YHOS consisted mainly of personal reminiscences about 1940s fandom and mailing comments.  Then it started to fill out with long travel reports, the kind of thing it was known for in its original incarnation. There was a “special travel issue” about Art’s trip to the ’79 Worldcon in Britain, a report on a trip to China, and another about his visit to Australia.  In time, it took on all the features of a genzine, with a host of original contributions and classic reprints.

Art also visited the Soviet Union in 1978 with a fan tour group that included Forry Ackerman, Joe and Gay Haldeman, Art Widner, Clifton Amsbury and Charles N. Brown.

And he enjoyed sidling up to folks who hadn’t seen him since the 1940s to see if they recognized him:

I believe it was at a Norwescon that I wandered into the SFWA suite and spotted Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm sitting by themselves waiting for something to happen…. We had both changed considerably, and I only recognized him because he was famous and had his picture in Locus. He didn’t recognize me as I sat down nearby. I kept mum and gave him a chance to see past the wrinkles and gray beard, but he apparently decided it wasn’t worth the effort and resumed talking to Kate.

Finally I introduced myself and he cracked up. Turning to Kate, he said, “I’d like to have you meet the guy who helped me start the dumbest organization in all fandom.”

That was the N3F. But when he resumed going to Worldcons Art said he was “quite astonished [to find] that the NFFF was still alive and kicking. Not only that, but the good-hearted fuggheads running the Welcome Room were pathetically eager to induct me into the mysteries of Trufandom about which they didn’t know a blessed thing!”

He attended the first 18 Corflus without a miss. A classic moment at the 2008 edition was Art serenading his fellow eo-fan, Jack Speer, with the first-ever filksong, written by Jack himself.

Although the term “filksong” had yet to be invented, several of these songs were sung at the 1940 Worldcon. Jack created them by setting new lyrics with a science fictional theme to familiar tunes. A snippet of one goes:

We’ll build a tempo-ship
And we’ll take a little trip,
And watch a million years go by.

You can still hear Art Widner’s mellow tones in Bill Mills’ Voice of Fandom podcast #16.

The 2007 Ditto was organized around Art’s 90th birthday and held in his hometown of Gualala, California. “I have never seen that much alcohol in a con suite, maybe even counting Midwestcon,” recalled Hope Leibwoitz in her conreport. “At the birthday party, there were 15 bottles of scotch on the table.” Art was a great fan of good scotch. People toured his eight-sided green-painted house. At one point in the con, Art read the 10 things it took him 90 years to learn, eventually published in Yhos.

He later added a new #3, in “R. Twidner”-style:

It’s specificly directed at the Religiosity Ryt.  ‘Forget John 3:16.  Read Matthew 23’  It’s what Jesus thot of the Philistines, scribes & harisees, i.e., Big Time Hypocrits.

(Michael Ward’s  photos of Art’s 90th Birthday party are online: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, plus Saturday Dinner at St. Orres, Art’s House, a visit to Bowling Ball Beach, and Picturesque Scenes from Gualala, California, and The Breakers Inn.)

Art was a guest of honor at many other conventions: Boskone IV (1945), Noreascon 3 (1989, as part of The Strangers Club), Norwescon VI (1983), Westercon 43 (1990), Minicon 25 (1990), Corflu 16 (1999), Ditto 19 (2007) and twice at BayCon.

A member of First Fandom and the First Fandom Hall of Fame, he was honored with the Big Heart Award in 1989, and in 2001 was selected at Corflu as Past President of the Fan Writers of America for 2000. Along with the other members of The Stranger Club, he was Fan Guest of Honor at Noreascon 3. He was nominated for the 1946 Best Fan Writer Retro Hugo at L.A.con III in 1996. He received a Special Lifetime Achievement Award at Corflu in 2011.

He was voted Down Under Fan Fund delegate in 1991 and attended the Australian NatCon.

Glenn Glazer aptly commemorated Art Widner’s passing with this quote from The Hobbit:

‘No!’ said Thorin. ‘There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

Freed of the ambitions of his first fannish life, the second time around Art knew exactly how to make this a merrier world. He set a great example for the rest of us.

Update 04/27/2015: Added Jack Robins as a surviving fan who attended the first Worldcon in 1939. Thanks to John Coker III for the correction.

Widner Named First Lifetime FAPA Member

Art Widner at Torcon III in 2003.

Art Widner at Torcon III in 2003.

Robert Lichtman, Secretary-Treasurer of the Fantasy Amateur Press Association (FAPA), has announced that Art Widner is the organization’s first Lifetime Member, “forever freed of any obligations to pay dues and/or to contribute to the mailings.”

FAPA is fandom’s earliest apa, founded in 1937 by Donald Wollheim and John Michel. (An apa works this way: Members send their printed zines to the OE, who sends back a bundle containing a copy of every contribution. FAPA has a quarterly cycle.)

How did Art Widner qualify for this honor? Lichtman explains –

First, it helps to be 97 years old.  And having a longtime membership doesn’t hurt.  Art first joined FAPA in September 1940 and left in November 1950.  In the Fantasy Amateur for that mailing (the 53rd), it says he was dropped for “dues, activity and square dancing.”  (I take the latter as code for “raising a family and having a career.”)  He rejoined in May 1979 and has been with us ever since.  That’s a total of 46 years, more than half the life of the organization.

This was a surprise for Art, who wrote back —

“Thank U Robert & Happy New Year to all the members.  I will try to be worthy of the honor.  I want to say ‘humble’ but that’s a tricky one — the moment u say Ur Humble — U arnt.  R!”

[Thanks to Robert Lichtman for the story.]

Lifetime Achievement Awards Given

Earl Kemp and Shelby Vick received Lifetime Achievement Awards at the Corflu Glitter banquet on April 22.

The Lifetime Achievement Awards “salute living fans for their excellent fanac over a long career in Fandom,” Arnie Katz explained in Glitter #61.

Convention chair Joyce Katz presented Kemp and Vick with framed certificates featuring art by Dan Steffan.

The Lifetime Achievement Awards were given for the first time in 2010, to Ted White and Art Widner.

A judging committee selects the winners from among nominations submitted by fans. The committee is made up of the two most recent Corflu chairs, the current Fan Achievement Awards Administrator, and any past Lifetime Achievement Award recipients who want to participate.

Happy Birthday, Art!

Faneditor and past Worldcon guest of honor Art Widner is 92 years old today. Best wishes to you!

Art was born on September 17, 1917 – just the same as June Foray, the voice of Rocky the Squirrel, also celebrating her 92nd birthday.

Others who share this birthdate include the Emperor Trajan, lexicographer Samuel Johnson, physicist Leon Foucault, and actress Greta Garbo.

Art’s birth probably didn’t make headlines because 1917 was a busy year. World War I, you know. Also, Montana’s Jeanette Rankin, the first woman elected to Congress, took her seat. That was just four days before Congress voted to enter World War I. Rankin voted no, and when returned to Congress years later she famously cast the lone vote against entering World War II.

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Jack Speer (1920-2008)

Jack Speer at Bubonicon 36 (2006)

“First Fandom member and writer of the Fancylopedia Jack Speer passed away this morning [June 28],” writes Patricia Rogers.

Speer’s famous Fancyclopedia, published in 1944, formalized definitions for hundreds of terms in use by fans.

Prior to that, in 1939, he wrote the first history of science fiction fandom, called Up To Now. It was very hard to find copies until just last month when Robert Lichtman recreated it as a PDF edition and posted it at eFanzines. In this zine, Speer first articulated the idea of Numbered Fandoms (fannish historical epochs), which ever since has occupied many a fan’s idle hours.

Speer also innovated several indispensable bits of faanish typography, including the quasi-quote mark and the interlineation. He contributed to faanish cosmology by inventing FooFoo, the ghod of mimeography, fearsome foe of Ghu.

According to Don Fitch, Speer was diagnosed as terminal some weeks ago. Still, Jack had managed to attend Corflu Silver in April, making his way around with the aid of a portable oxygen supply, attentive to everything going on. The con’s classic moment was when fellow eo-fan Art Widner serenaded Jack with the first-ever filksong, written by Jack himself.

Although the term “filksong” had yet to be invented, several of these songs were sung at the 1940 Worldcon. Jack created them by setting new lyrics with a science fictional theme to familiar tunes. A snippet of one goes:

We’ll build a tempo-ship
And we’ll take a little trip,
And watch a million years go by.

In 1995, Speer received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award. In 2004, he was Fan Guest of Honor at Noreascon 4. His collection, Fancestral Voices, was published by NESFA Press for the occasion.

Having spent decades thinking of Speer as a distinguished founding father of fandom, as he certainly was, I’ve tended to overlook that he was having a helluva lot of fun while making history. This point is brought home by Harry Warner’s anecdote about Speer at the 1947 Worldcon in All Our Yesterdays:

From time to time that Saturday night, the happy fans were vaguely aware of the existence of loud, intermittent noises. Several Philadelphians explained them away as a local phenomenon that occurred when sewer gas caused manhole lids to lift violently in a sort of municipal burping. However, the real facts were not at all like that. During a late drinking session…Speer had suddenly remembered the existence of fireworks in the hip pocket of the Quintessence of FooFoo, his current auto…. Several roman candles later, policemen in a squad car gave [Speer and other fans] a warning about discharging fireworks within the city limits… [Afterwards], Speer and Davis seem to have taken up strategic posts on upper fire escapes [of the con hotel]… Firecrackers and skyrockets were alternated to provide variety… When the police returned… they paid $5.00 apiece at the 21st District Station for disturbing the peace. The investment was at least partly justified because the pyrotechnics had helped Willy Ley find his way to the hotel.

A later e-mail from Patricia Rogers concluded with this request: “I talked with Ruth [Jack’s wife] for around an hour this evening. The memorial will probably be on July 8 or 9.  She has asked me to speak about Jack and his role in SF/Fandom at the service. I know a fair amount but if you or anyone you can think of has anything they would like to add – I would be happy to – just let me know.”