INTRODUCTION: Twenty-five years ago today MagiCon began in Orlando, Florida. A great con, and I thought it would be fun to reprint the report I ran in File 770. Here is the second of five daily installments.
The Worldcon was held in the Orange County Convention and Civic Center, The Peabody Hotel, and The Clarion Hotel.
PROGRAMMING: Interview With Vincent Di Fate: Questioned about his career by Joe Siclari and Roger Reed, of Illustration House (a coordinator of the Di Fate retrospective displayed in the Art Show), MagiCon guest of honor Vincent Di Fate continued to dazzle listeners with his historical knowledge, critical perception and capacity for explaining technical art matter to everyday fans in understandable terms.
“It was not my intention to go into art,” insisted Di Fate. “It seemed like every artist I ever talked to was angry about something and I didn’t want to spend my life in the visual arts.”
Attracted by the set design of Rocket Ship X-M, the Disney style and the astronomical art of Chesley Bonestell, Di Fate brought to him profession a great deal of intuitive knowledge about the look of spacecraft and equipment.
Part of MagiCon’s bookmark set, with artwork by Vincent DiFate
Di Fate answered his interviewers so candidly that their open-ended questions about doing art drew responses too sophisticated for listeners to fully comprehend without the translations he supplied. For example: A generic question about his reputation as a hardware artist launched Di Fate on a cryptic commentary: “I have found no market for the exploration of the viscous properties of paint.” Said Di Fate, art directors want the images more sharp and hard-edged, adding dismissively, “but that’s what photographs are for.” He has faith the current standard will ultimately be abandoned. “The artist needs to provide an alternative. There needs to be some room left for viewer participation, imagining what those shapes mean.”
Answering another question, Di Fate observed that artists absorb a sense of how spaceships capable of flying in atmosphere must look from the way Cadillacs are shaped and the design of thousands of other familiar artifacts. Yet if the spaceship never needs to fly in atmosphere it can look like anything. One John Schoenherr black-and-white spaceship in Analog was based on a washing machine agitator; the artist created false details simply by varying his brushstrokes.
Like the stereotyped artist, DiFate has never done a painting that satisfies him. “When paintings leave the studio I utterly loathe and despise them, and loath and despise myself.”
Keynote Luncheon: The guests of honor and astronaut John Young were presented at a Friday luncheon. Young’s speech, which was repeatedly interrupted by applause, was all the more remarkable given some of the obstacles he overcame. According to Becky Thomson, Delta canceled Young’s Thursday night flight. Mere hours before his talk he reached Orlando as co-pilot of a military plane. Since NASA had not relayed Magicon’s correspondence to Young he didn’t even know he was appearing at a science fiction convention before talking to Thomson. On the ride from the airport Young pored over the Program Book and pocket program — often uttering things like, “Oh, I’ve read that!” Thomson concluded, “By the time he was done he knew more about last year’s Hugo nominees than I do!”
An inspired track of programming recreated panels from the first Worldcon in 1939 — and even fielded one of the original panelists, Sam Moskowitz. Hal Clement gave a contemporary version of “Seeing the Universe”, Vincent DiFate paid tribute to Frank R. Paul’s 1939 talk “SF: The Spirit of Youth,” and after 53 years such panels as “The Changing SF” (this time with Gardner Dozois and Beth Meacham) and “The Fan World of the Future” have become traditional fare.
Rudy Sigmund and Sam Moskowitz at an ERBdom event in 1990.
Sam Moskowitz delivered two talks at the 1939 con, one of them “The Fan World of the Future.” In concept, he was to deliver his original talk again, followed by a discussion between himself, Bruce Pelz, Wilma Meier and myself. By the time SaM got to the con he still hadn’t found his original text: perhaps it had even been extemporaneous. So he began with his own look back at the way fans lived 50 years ago, a series of recollections that enthralled everyone.
In 1939 many fans still didn’t have phones — including the four who organized the first Worldcon. But in those days if Moskowitz mailed a Special Delivery letter by 6 p.m., the other party would get it by 11 if he wasn’t more than 50 miles away, at a cost of 3 cents. Progress isn’t always progress.
Moskowitz’ own Fantasy Times in 1940 was the first offset fanzine. Early fanzines were often reproduced by hektograph: a process in which a typewriter’s impressions on a purple master were transferred to a bed of hekto jelly, and a careful fan could make about 60 readable copies by pressing down one sheet at a time.
Most early fans didn’t own automobiles or travel by plane, but a legendary trek to the 1941 Denvention involved both forms of transportation. Art Widner owned a 20-year-old car that broke down every 15 miles. He and six friends from Boston and New York contributed $10 each for the round trip to Denver. Moskowitz winked, “Needless to say, there was a bit of thievery along the way.” One of the riders, John Bell, became so disgusted with Denvention he made the first recorded fan plane trip — home.
Returning to the topic Moskowitz said they planned to hold a 1939 World’s Fair Convention. The fair had agreed to give them meeting space, and declare it jointly “Science Fiction/Boy Scout Day.” But the fair expected fans to pay admission: three days at 75 cents, $2.25, was out of the question so “fair” was dropped from the name of the event.
They also shortened it to a one-day con because none of the fans could afford a hotel room. Except Jack Williamson put himself up for $1 a night at Sloane House — sort of like a YMHA — an expense befitting his status as a successful author!
During the first Worldcon, fans took the opportunity to visit Coney Island where this foto-op took place: Front: Mark Reinsberg, Jack Agnew, Ross Rocklynne Top: V. Kidwell, Robert A. Madle, Erle Korshak, Ray Bradbury Coney Island, July 4, 1939)
A Talk With Walt Willis: Ted White conducted an interview with fan guest of honor, Walt Willis. It took a moment to pick up Walt’s lilting Irish accent in the room’s bad acoustics — but once anyone did he was likely to keep it! (Later in the weekend Art Widner explained the odd diction of his First Fandom award acceptance speech as the product of listening to James White for hours.)
The health and age of guests Vance and Willis contributed to each man’s decision to be interviewed rather than give a GoH speech. This was certainly a successful choice for Willis who sat surrounded by an audience of fanzine readers who were encyclopedically familiar with his work and offered questions more to express their appreciation than to learn anything new. For example, Moshe Feder recalled, “I embarrassed Walt at Tropicon by saying it was like meeting somebody out of the Bible.” Then Feder asked who Walt admired in fandom. Willis answered that he admired Charles Burbee for his versatility, and Bob Tucker for his faanfiction.
Ted White interviews Walt Willis. Photo by Carol Porter
THE JACK VANCE FESTIVAL OF ALL WORLDS: Answering a call for jugglers, mimes and “balloon zoologists”, fans instigated an indoor street fair Friday night in honor of GoH Jack Vance.
Martin Morse Wooster walked about in an orange and red balloon headdress looking like he’d survived a bungee jump into a vat of giant Life Savers. He called it his idea generator. “I go out and stand in the crowd and ideas come to me.” I agreed, “People passing by will shout them out at you!”
ALTERNATE AWARDS CEREMONY. Guy Gavriel Kay emceed a Friday event set aside for groups who wanted their award announced at a Worldcon. He said, “All these awards show the diversity and scope represented in the field of science fiction.”
Jerry Pournelle at MagiCon. Photo by Lenny Provenzano
The non-Hugo awards ceremony suffered a notorious glitch because Brad Lineaweaver sent Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle to the wrong building. Together with Michael Flynn, they were to receive the Libertarian Futurist Society’s prize for Best Libertarian Novel of 1991: Fallen Angels. Making the mistake memorable for photographers, Niven and Pournelle later posed driving the award plaque through Lineaweaver’s skull at a 45-degree angle…
- Electric SF Award (from ClariNet Communications): Geoffrey Landis, “A Walk in the Sun”
- Prometheus Hall of Fame Award (from the Libertarian Futurist Society): Ira Levin, This Perfect Day
- Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian SF Novel (from the Libertarian Futurist Society): Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn for Fallen Angels
- Golden Duck Award for Best Children’s SF Book (from DucKon): Bruce Colville’s My Teacher Glows in the Dark
- Golden Duck Award for Best Children’s SF Picture Book (from DucKon): Claire Ewart (illustrator), Time Train
- Golden Duck Honorable Mention (from DucKon): Monica Hughes, Invitation to the Game
- Seiun for Best Foreign Novel in Translation: Charles Sheffield, The McAndrew Chronicles
- Seiun for Best Foreign Short Story or Novelette in Translation: John Varley, “Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo”
Peabody Hotel. Photo by Carol Porter
PARTIES: The Peabody had been designated the ‘party hotel’ so that hosts would reserve their rooms in a central location. Lloyd and Yvonne Penney brought their 14-year-old niece Nicole with them to the con who discovered the heavy-metal group Metallica was staying on their floor at the Peabody when she met them in the lobby.
Over the weekend the Peabody boasted 10 to 20 open parties each night, plus the invitational receptions held by publishers. Crowds were rationed into the elevator cars a dozen at a time by monitors doing the second-most-thankless worldcon job (emcee of the meet-the-pros being first, of course…)
Counters at the “Slightly Higher In Canada” party said over 1000 fans came through in just one night. That made them better off than the Atlanta in ’95 bid party: I think when the thousand fans got there, they just stayed. Pressing through a solid wall of flesh to enter the party made me so claustrophobic I promptly shoved my way out again. According to Kurt Baty, Atlanta bidders kept a quiet VIP room in the rear of the suite and steered guests like Kelly Freas and Dave Kyle there to comfortable seats and the hospitality of a well-stocked bar.
New Orleans’ favorite son, Joey Grillot, visited the LA in ’96 party. Joey laughed about confusing the hell out of somebody at a party he’d just left when he told him, “I’m going to LA.” The other fan said, “But LA’s in California!” Joey said, “No, it’s up on the ninth floor.” His slower companion asked, “How’d they get it up there?” Joey smiled, “They got everybody out, then folded it up REAL SMALL.”
At another point Joey remembered John Guidry’s announcement to New Orleans fans they had won the 1988 bid. Guidry told them the rules required the committee to do certain things, like present the Hugos. “What’s that?” Joey asked, wondering if he’d heard right. Said Guidry, “That’s the science fiction award we give every year.” Joey was amazed. “John, how’re you gonna get 26 of those Hungarian automobiles in the grand ballroom of the Sheraton?”
CONTINUES: Worldcon Wayback Machine: Saturday at MagiCon (1992) Day Three