Full of Quotations

By John Hertz:  I’m not sure if it’s a classic of science fiction.  But it reminds me of the fellow (in 1875?) who said Shakespeare was full of quotations.

By the time I got to Stephen Vincent Benét’s “By the Waters of Babylon” (1937) I’d read a lot of post-apocalypse stories.  The title recalls one I think is among the best, Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon (1959).

“By the Waters” has Dead Places which are forbidden and a religion of caretakers.  Its boy narrator coming of age finds on a journey a lost place of great riches.  The god who lived there must have been a powerful god.

There was a shattered image of white stone, a man or a god who wore his hair tied back and whose name, on the cracked half of a stone, was ASHING.  You can supply W and TON and so could I.

The boy wants to tell everyone but his father, a priest, says “Truth is a hard deer to hunt.  If you eat too much truth at once, you may die of the truth.”  Perhaps, thinks his son, in the old days people ate knowledge too fast.

Look at the date.  Benét’s story came two years before the Einstein-Szilárd letter, a year before the Hahn-Strassman-Meitner-Frisch discovery of nuclear fission; four years before Heinlein’s “Solution Unsatisfactory”, seven before Cartmill’s “Deadline”.

Scholarship says, as I understand, that Benét was probably moved by the bombing of Guernica, 26 Apr 37.  Picasso finished his painting in June.

“I like the Carpenter best,” said Alice, “if he didn’t eat so many oysters as the Walrus.”  “But he ate as many as he could get,” said Tweedledum.

We’ve anthologized “By the Waters” repeatedly over the years, starting with Wollheim’s pioneering Pocket Book of Science Fiction (1943).

Benét was a fine and maybe a great poet.  During his life he was better known than T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens.

Some prose is poetry.

Some Thoughts on Who Was Really #1

By Rich Lynch: It was 80 years ago that an extraordinary event took place.

It happened on January 3, 1937, in the English city of Leeds.  It was there that a group of science fiction fans gathered for what has been described as the first-ever science fiction convention.

Walter Gillings, Arthur Clarke, and Ted Carnell
at the 1937 Leeds convention.

What records remain of the event indicate there were fourteen people in attendance, several of whom would go on to become luminaries of the science fiction literary genre: Ted Carnell, Walter Gillings, Eric Frank Russell, and Arthur C. Clarke.  It was a single-day conference, hosted by the Leeds branch of the newly-formed world-wide Science Fiction League of fan organizations.  The day featured speeches and testimonials on various topics related to science fiction and after that, group discussions on “ways and means of improving British science fiction” according to a one-off fanzine published soon afterwards which reported on the proceedings.  What resulted was the formation of the Science Fiction Association, a proto-British fan organization centered around the “four Hells” fan clubs in Leeds, Liverpool, London, and Leicester.  It only lasted about two years, due to the onset of the Second World War, but it did set the stage for a permanent organization, the British Science Fiction Association, which eventually came into existence in the 1950s.

That 1937 convention was truly a seminal event, and it helped pave the way toward the promulgation of science fiction fandom throughout the United Kingdom.  But was it really the first science fiction convention?

Maybe not.

Donald Wollheim, Milton Rothman, Fred Pohl, John Michel, and Will Sykora at the
1936 Philadelphia convention.

On October, 22, 1936, about half a dozen fans from New York City traveled by train to Philadelphia, where they convened for several hours at the home of one of the fans there.  In all, there were a similar number of fans brought together as for the Leeds convention.  What made it a convention, in the minds of its attendees, was that a business meeting was held with the host, Milton Rothman, being elected Chairman.  Fred Pohl, who had been designated the Secretary, took the minutes and then subsequently lost them.  But Pohl later stated that no recordable business had been brought up because the event had only been informal in nature, with fans talking to fans about things like which books they had recently read, which authors they liked, and what they hoped these authors would write next.  The most significant outcome was that everyone had such a good time that a follow-up event was held in New York in February 1937 with about 40 fans attending.  This created the momentum for an even bigger event, a bit more than two years later which was held in New York on July 4, 1939 – the first World Science Fiction Convention.

Those first two fan gatherings have been a source of continuing controversy ever since then.  Which one was really #1?  The Leeds convention was the better planned of the two, with groundwork laid for the event several months earlier – the Philadelphia convention was, according to accounts from several fans attended it, mostly spur-of-the-moment with little advance preparation.  There has been speculation that the only reason that the Philadelphia event occurred at all was because of one-upsmanship.  The idea for that gathering was originally put forth by New York fan Don Wollheim, who back then had gained the reputation for being quarrelsome, antagonistic, and more than a bit provocative.  It’s very possible, even likely, that he knew of the upcoming Leeds event, which had been talked up not only throughout Britain but also in some U.S. prozines.  So, supposing the underlying reason for the Philadelphia meet-up was really only to sabotage any Leeds stake to being the first science fiction convention, should that disqualify Philadelphia’s claim for that distinction?

No, that’s insufficient.  There have been other conventions that have been organized on little more than a moment’s notice and in any event, overall intent is irrelevant – you can hold a convention for any purpose you want.  A much better reason for possibly honoring Leeds as #1 is that the Philadelphia event was an invitational gathering not open to the general public, with only the New York and Philadelphia fan clubs involved.  But this, too, does not hold very much water as there have subsequently been other, in effect, invitation-only conventions, including the very first DeepSouthCon.  And one other criticism of the Philadelphia event’s claim for being #1 is that there was “no recordable business”, very little reportage after the fact, and indeed, not even a program.  But this is the weakest argument of all, and one only has to point toward the annual Midwestcon conventions, which also have none of these, as a refutation.

And so the controversy has lingered for all this time.  The 1936 Philadelphia event was first chronologically, but was it a convention or just a meeting?  In the end there probably will never be a consensus – after eight decades this is still perhaps the most polarizing topic in all of science fiction fandom, at least from a historical perspective, and people will believe what they want to believe.  But there have at least been attempts at finding some middle ground.  Noted fan historian Mark Olson, in Fancyclopedia 3, has suggested that: “Perhaps it would be fairest to say that the first thing that could be called a convention was held in Philadelphia in 1936, while the first thing that must be called a convention was held in Leeds in 1937.”  And he’s right.

But as for me, I think we are asking the wrong question.  What we instead should be inquiring is: “Who first came up with the idea for staging a science fiction convention?”  That’s really the more important aspect, and the Leeds group was first.  There’s serendipity that they held their event at the Leeds Theosophical Society – the word ‘theosophy’ parses to ‘divine wisdom’, which is an apt description of the concept for the science fiction convention.  And of that, at least, we can be absolutely certain!

2016 Wollheim Scholarship Winners

Elsie and Don Wollheim. Photo taken and (c) by Andrew Porter. Used by permission.

Elsie and Don Wollheim. Photo taken and (c) by Andrew Porter. Used by permission.

The New York Science Fiction Society (Lunarians) has announced two writers have won 2016 Donald A. & Elsie B. Wollheim Memorial Scholarships.

Taimur Ahmad of New York, New York received a Scholarship to attend the 2016 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop in Seattle, Washington.

Matthew Dunn of Stewart Manor, New York was given a Scholarship to attend the 2016 Odyssey Writing Workshop in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Both scholarships are in the amount of $300.

The Scholarship Fund, created in 1989, was renamed in 1991 to commemorate Donald A. Wollheim, legendary sf fan, writer, editor and publisher of DAW Books. The Fund was renamed in 1996 after the passing of DAW Books co-founder Elsie B. Wollheim.

The fund aids students from the Greater New York Metropolitan Area who want to participate in writers workshops such as Clarion, Clarion West and Odyssey.

Much of the money for the fund is raised each year at Lunacon, when books and other materials donated to the Convention Book Exhibit are raffled. Donations are also accepted.

The New York Science Fiction Society – the Lunarians (2), Inc. is a New York State Not for Profit corporation and has applied for recognition under IRS section 501(c)(3).

2015 Wollheim Scholarship Winner

Elsie and Don Wollheim. Photo taken and (c) by Andrew Porter. Used by permission.

Elsie and Don Wollheim. Photo taken and (c) by Andrew Porter. Used by permission.

The New York Science Fiction Society (Lunarians) will provide a grant from its Donald A. and Elsie B. Wollheim Scholarship Fund to Julia Wetherell of Brooklyn, New York to help her attend the 2015 Clarion West Writers Workshop.

The fund aids students from the Greater New York Metropolitan Area who want to participate in such writers workshops as Clarion, Clarion West and Odyssey. It is named in honor of the Wollheims, longtime supporters of Lunarians and Lunacon, and founders of DAW Books.

Much of the money for the fund is raised each year at Lunacon, when books and other materials donated to the Convention Book Exhibit are raffled off to attendees who purchase raffle tickets. Donations are also accepted.

He Was the Dean

Promotional copy for the new Murray Leinster biography says he was known as “The Dean of Science Fiction.”

I should not have been surprised: I read this in Sam Moskowitz’ Explorers of the Infinite: Shapers of Science Fiction way back in the Seventies. However, I’d managed to forget it since. Or possibly repressed it, because as a young fan my fannish loyalties were to that rival claimant of the title: Robert A. Heinlein.

Heinlein acquired the title “Dean of Science Fiction” sometime around 1960, says J. Daniel Gifford in Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion.

How? Thomas Clareson suggests in his essay for Voices for the Future (1976) that whoever wrote the jacket copy on his books was responsible:

Today Heinlein is known to many, thanks to paperback advertising techniques at least, as the “Dean” of science fiction writers, not so much because of his length of service as because of his relationship to the corporate body of science fiction.

Certainly a book cover was the first place I saw Heinlein called “Dean.” On the other hand, Leinster was called “Dean” in 1949 by no less an authority than Time Magazine

In the U.S., Will F. Jenkins, a 27-year veteran, who also writes under the pen name of Murray Leinster, is regarded as the dean of writers in the field.

Leinster was rather humble about the whole thing. In his introduction to Great Stories of Science Fiction (1951) he explained that he was sometimes called “’Dean’ of science fiction writers by virtue of my having outlived a number of better men. This wholly accidental distinction is perhaps the reason I was given the opportunity to compile this book.”

And as Leinster makes clear, the term “Dean” was primarily associated with seniority, length of service in the sf field. Lester Del Rey in The World of Science Fiction, a survey of the genre published in 1980, echoed the choice of Leinster:

…Murray Leinster, whose work remained popular in science fiction for more than fifty years and who was rightly named “the Dean of science fiction writers.”

I don’t know whether Heinlein liked being called “Dean” or thought it mattered at all. Maybe Bill Patterson can answer this in a later volume of his Heinlein bio. From a fan’s viewpoint I thought the name suited RAH because so many of his stories involved mentoring, the acquiring of self-discipline, or were delivered in the voice of a respected elder who has things to say about life, like Lazarus Long.

After Leinster died in 1975 some of the writers who acknowledged him as the “Dean” thought the title deserved to be perpetuated, which meant picking a successor. Isaac Asimov made it clear he preferred length of service as the criterion for naming someone the “Dean.” In his 1979 essay for IASFM “The Dean of Science Fiction,” Heinlein was not a finalist. Asimov listed Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague de Camp and Lester Del Rey. And just a few years later – even while all four were still alive – Asimov seemed to have narrowed his list to two, saying in The Hugo Winners: 1980-1982 (1986) “the only writer who can possibly compete with [Clifford D. Simak] as ‘dean of science fiction’ is Jack Williamson, who is four years younger than Cliff but has been publishing three years longer.”

Both Simak and Heinlein died in 1988. Del Rey died in 1993. De Camp died in 2000.

Williamson seems to have been the writer most people felt comfortable calling the “Dean” in later years. Several of his peers labeled him by some version of the title both before and after Heinlein died. Interestingly, when Algis Budrys dubbed Williamson the “Dean of Science Fiction” in a 1985 essay for The Science Fiction Yearbook the usage even passed muster with the volume’s editor, Jerry Pournelle, a good friend of Heinlein’s. Williamson lived on until 2006, continuing to produce, his last novel The Stonehenge Gate published just the year before he died.

Some others regarded Arthur C. Clarke as the true heir to the title. Gerald K. O’Neill in The High Frontier (1989) called Clarke the dean of science fiction, and so did a contributor to a 1989 volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association. Clarke passed away in 2008.

People outside the field have always bandied the title about – Ray Bradbury was called the Dean on a TV show in the Sixties. Now he practically qualifies, though not quite – I imagine Fred Pohl has the edge in years as a professional writer.

Other specialties in the science fiction field have their “Deans.” Google tells me Frank Kelly Freas was called the “dean of science fiction artists,” though I must say I managed to go my entire time in fandom up to today without ever hearing him called that.

The New York Times once referred to Donald Wollheim as the “Dean” of science fiction editors, according to a 1981 article in The Bloomsbury Review.  Campbell had been so-called at least as early as 1947 — in Samuel Stephenson Smith’s How to Double Your Vocabulary, of all places — but he’d been dead almost ten years before The Bloomsbury Review took up the subject.

And let’s not forget that in Ann Arbor in 1975, Dean McLaughlin, author of “Hawk Among the Sparrows,” was who trufans called “Dean of Science Fiction.”

Of course, many will have become aware that no woman author’s name has been mentioned at any point, even in touching on the most recent decade. Ursula K. LeGuin regularly offers wisdom about topical issues in the field, and until death ended her long career Andre Norton was respected and influential, so there are women who might have been nominated to the role. However, I suspect the whole notion of a “Dean of Science Fiction,” which was never more than of anecdotal significance, is fading from fannish awareness too rapidly for a real sense of injustice to take hold.

[Thanks to John Lorentz, Google Ngram and Steven H Silver’s SF Site for help with this story.]