Brian Aldiss (1925-2017)

Brian Aldiss

Brian Aldiss, who marked the start of his career with a nomination for the Best New Writer Hugo (1959), gained a place in the SF Hall of Fame (2004), and received honors from the Queen (2005), died in his sleep August 19, the day after his 92nd birthday.

Everything in life was a source of material for Aldiss. He served in the British army in WWII in Burma, experience that later backgrounded his “Horatio Stubbs” series of non-sf novels. After demobilization in 1947, he was hired as a bookshop assistant in Oxford, and wrote humorous fictional sketches about his work for The Bookseller, a trade magazine. That material, rounded into a novel, became his first book, The Brightfount Diaries (1955).

By then Aldiss had also started to write sf. The SF Encyclopedia lists his first published sf story as “Criminal Record” in Science Fantasy (July 1954), and other stories appeared in 1954-1955.

But it wasn’t until 1956 that he had his first encounter with fandom. Why did it take so long? He told Rob Hansen (THEN) in a letter:

In the war I received a badly mimeographed flier for a fan group. I must have written for it. It carried a photo of the group. My father seized it at the breakfast table, shouted ‘They’re all perverts!’ and flung the brochure on the fire. So I had no acquaintance with fandom until they got in touch with me in 1956, after I had won the Observer prize for a short story set in the year 2500 AD. My contact then was Helen Winnick, who worked in London in Hanging Sword Passage. We went down to the White Horse, where I met Sam Youd and John Brunner….

The 1957 Worldcon in London was his first convention. The prolific and popular author rapidly became an important figure in sf. He served as President of the British Science Fiction Association (BSFA) from 1960-1964, an office that was an honorary figurehead, and ceremonial in purpose. He gained international acclaim when the five novelettes of his “Hothouse” series collectively won the 1962 Best Short Fiction Hugo.

His “Hothouse” series would be novelized as The Long Afternoon of Earth (1962), and together with his first sf novel, Non-Stop (1958), and Greybeard (1964), ranks among his best sf.

Also highly regarded is the Helliconia trilogy: Helliconia Spring (1982), Summer (1983) and Winter (1985). Helliconia Spring won the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Spring and Winter also received Nebula nominations. All three books won the British SF Association’s Best Novel award.

Aldiss wrote a great deal of important nonfiction about sf, too, such as the memorable Billion Year Spree (1973), which, when revised as the Trillion Year Spree (1986) in collaboration with David Wingrove, won the Best Nonfiction Book Hugo.

He received many career awards. He was named a SFWA Grand Master (2000), was a Living Inductee to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame (2004), recognized with the Science Fiction Research Association’s Pilgrim Award (1978), and with the Prix Utopia (1999) for life achievement from the French Utopiales International Festival. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Literary Society in 1989.

In 2005 he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. He joked with Ansible’s editor:

I was greatly chuffed by the award “for services to Literature” — a euphemism in this case for SF…. But when chatting to Her Majesty, I was disappointed to find she had only got as far as John Wyndham and the triffids. “What do you like about it?” I asked. She replied, “Oh, it’s such a cosy catastrophe.” I blushed.

While many prolific authors with long careers have been frustrated to see their work go out of print, Aldiss was rescued from that fate by former HarperCollins imprint, The Friday Project, which published more than 50 of Aldiss’ backlist works in 2013.

Aldiss was twice guest of honor at British Worldcons (Loncon II, 1965; Seacon, 1979) and toastmaster at a third (Conspiracy, 1987). He reciprocated fandom’s affection for his writing and himself, as Jonathan Cowie (Concatenation) explains:

SF and SF fandom ranked highly in Brian’s life: he liked to say that fandom was the unusual kingdom in which the serfs threw feasts for the kings rather than the other way around.  However family came first which came as a surprise to the 2001 Eurocon organisers that originally had us both down as guests (mine was lowly fan GoH) but I e-mailed him to enquire whether we might travel together: safety in numbers and all that when travelling overseas. But Brian had to decline as his family was throwing him a special get-together at that time.  Rest assured, though family came first, SF fandom as a priority came not long after. At a US gathering he showed an invitation he had from Buckingham Palace for a reception wit the Queen but  that clashed with the US convention: the SF convention easily took priority, no contest.

And at the Loncon 3 (2014) closing ceremonies, which fell on his birthday, August 18, he was serenaded with a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” by the entire audience. For many who journeyed to the con it was also a kind of farewell.

Brian Aldiss being serenaded with “Happy Birthday” at LonCon 3 in 2014.

Aldiss’ first marriage was to Olive Fortescue (1948-1965, ending in divorce), and his second was to Margaret Manson, who predeceased him in 1997. He is survived by his partner, Alison Soskice, and four children: Clive and Wendy from his first marriage, and Timothy and Charlotte from his second.

This appreciation has focused more on Aldiss’ connection with fandom. Here are links to several insightful appreciations about his writing and literary impact.

[Thanks to Stuart Gale, Michael J. Walsh, Michael Brian Bentley, Jonathan Cowie, Andrew Porter, Steve Davidson, and John King Tarpinian for the story.]

Peter Weston (1943-2017)

Peter Weston in 2005. Photo by Bill Burns.

Peter Weston in 2005. Photo by Bill Burns.

Peter Weston, a prolific fanzine publisher and convention organizer, one of the most influential British fans during his lifetime, died of complications of cancer on January 5. He was 73.

Weston discovered fandom in January 1963 at the age of 19. Rummaging through the SF books on sale in the Birmingham Rag Market, he found a slip of pink paper in one of them. “Are you interested in SF?” it asked, exhorting him to “Join the Erdington SF Circle.” Weston soon became active in Birmingham fandom and by November 1963 had published the first issue of his fanzine, Zenith.

Evolving through several name changes — Zenith, Zenith Speculation, Speculation – the fanzine became one of the most successful of those devoted to serious discussion of sf, receiving four Hugo nominations and a Nova award. Weston recalled, “I served a long and painful apprenticeship before Speculation hit its stride around the twentieth issue, when I had wall-to-wall professionals jostling for position – Harlan Ellison, Tom Disch, Fritz Leiber, Terry Carr, they were all there, along with Michael Moorcock who wrote a series of incredible columns… Later Mike was joined by Fred Pohl, who wrote a column for a while, and other professionals contributed, such as Greg Benford and Larry Niven…”

In the mid-Sixties, Weston wrote a fan news column for the British Science Fiction Association’s fanzine Vector under the pseudonym “Malcolm Edwards” – which had humorous consequences when, a few years later, a real Malcolm Edwards joined fandom and was greeted by people who expressed their pleasure at finally meeting him. By coincidence, both the fake Malcolm Edwards and the real Malcolm Edwards went on to chair British Worldcons.

In the Seventies, Weston held three Speculation Conferences in Birmingham (1970-1972), science fiction symposia inspired by his fanzine. He co-founded the Birmingham Science Fiction Group (BSFG) in 1971 and helped originate the convention Novacon that same year. He edited three volumes of the Andromeda anthology (1976, 1977, 1978).

Peter Weston and Ron Bounds at Discon II (1974).

Peter Weston and Ron Bounds at Discon II (1974).

Weston was voted Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate in 1974 and traveled to Washington DC for Discon II — even though this meant leaving behind his pregnant wife, Eileen, who gave birth four days after he departed, according to his trip report Stranger in a Very Strange Land. While in America he gathered support for a newly-created British bid for a Worldcon he would end up chairing at the end of the decade, Seacon ’79 in Brighton.

In his professional life, he once owned a foundry that produced the chrome-plated automobile door handles and hood ornaments for Jaguars, a technology he also put to use (beginning in 1984) manufacturing the rockets for the Hugo Awards.

Peter Weston auctioning a Hugo rocket during Noreascon 4 (Boston), the 2004 Worldcon during which he was a Guest of Honor. Photo by Murray Moore.

Peter Weston auctioning a Hugo rocket during Noreascon 4 (Boston), the 2004 Worldcon during which he was a Guest of Honor. Photo by Murray Moore.

Weston was a Worldcon guest of honor at Noreascon 4 in 2004, where his memoir With Stars in My Eyes: My Adventures in British Fandom was released. The volume knitted together several of Weston’s autobiographical articles, including two that held the record for number of views on Victor Gonzalez’s early fannish blog, Trufen.

In 2006, Weston revived his fanzine Prolapse (re-titled Relapse in 2009) after a 23-year hiatus. He concentrated on publishing articles about fanhistory. Issues can be downloaded from eFanzines.

Even this full resume of his activities barely suggests his social impact among his friends in fandom, where he was valued as a raconteur, or diplomatic skills, especially a rarity in early Seventies fandom when it still was an anarchic community largely composed of young men.

Weston’s funeral will be on January 23 at Sutton Coldfield. He is survived by his wife, Eileen, and his daughters.

Weston at the 1987 Worldcon. Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter

Weston at the 1987 Worldcon. Photo by and copyright © Andrew Porter

Update 01/10/2017: Changed year of birth to 1943 per correction in comments.

We Interrupt This Program

By Bill Higgins: I’ve learned that an old BBC documentary on Seacon, the 1979 Worldcon in Brighton, is available on Youtube. Dave Nee told Tom Whitmore about it, and Tom posted a link to Making Light, here.

The program itself, an episode of Time Out of Mind, is here.

Let the games begin! On Making Light, Jacque Marshall, P. J. Evans, and Tom Whitmore have been identifying the many pros and fans who appear in the 25-minute video. Any number can play.

Editor’s note: Wow — Gregory Benford is like the second pro shown in the video — at about 2:00.

How the Hugos Avoid Conflicts of Interest

The British Fantasy Awards became mired in controversy when Stephen Jones charged a conflict of interest between the administrator and several winners. That prompted a few fans to suggest fixing the BFA by borrowing rules from the Hugo Awards.

The Hugo Awards do have an excellent reputation for avoiding such conflicts, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s because of the superior draftsmanship of the rules. The real reason is that over the years many different people have steered clear of conflicts that the rules do not prevent.

What Is a Conflict of Interest? A conflict of interest exists when anyone exploits his/her official capacity for personal benefit.

The Hugo Awards are run under a set of rules that is extremely wary of conflicts of interest. The WSFS Constitution excludes the entire Worldcon committee from winning a Hugo unless these conditions are met:

Section 3.12: Exclusions. No member of the current Worldcon Committee or any publications closely connected with a member of the Committee shall be eligible for an Award. However, should the Committee delegate all authority under this Article to a Subcommittee whose decisions are irrevocable by the Worldcon Committee, then this exclusion shall apply to members of the Subcommittee only.

To avoid disqualifying the whole Committee – upwards of 200 people, most having nothing to do with the Hugos – the Worldcon chair generally appoints the fans who count the votes and apply the eligibility rules to a Subcommittee. So if some minor member of the concom wins a Hugo, as I did while serving as editor of L.A.con II’s daily newzine in 1984, it’s no problem.

From the beginning the WSFS Constitution (1962-1963) has banned all committee members from eligibility for the Hugos. To my knowledge, the rule was modified in the 1970s by adding the option of an autonomous Subcommittee. People thought it should have been unnecessary for Mike Glicksohn to resign from the TorCon 2 (1973) committee rather than forego the chance for his and Susan Wood Glicksohn’s Energumen to compete for the Hugo, which they indeed won.

The modified rule has worked to everyone’s satisfaction for a number of reasons having little to do with its precision. Worldcons once were commonly led by people also involved with Hugo contending fanzines, which has rarely happened in the past 40 years. On those rare occasions the people involved have taken it upon themselves to avoid any conflicts.

For example, many fans involved with running Noreascon Three (1989) wrote for The Mad 3 Party in the years leading up to the con. Edited by Leslie Turek, TM3P was nominated for Best Fanzine in 1988, withdrawn in 1989, and won a Hugo in 1990. Noreascon Three did appoint a Hugo Subcommittee, of unassailable integrity — in my mind, if TM3P had competed in 1989 and won a Hugo there would have been no reason to doubt the result. The committee, however, felt they needed to go beyond what was required in the rules to preserve an appearance of fairness and TM3P was withdrawn.

When I chaired L.A.con III (1996) friends reminded me that I could remain eligible for a Hugo by delegating responsibility for the awards to a Subcommittee. I felt invested in and responsible for everything that was happening with the con, so for me it was never an option to act as if the Hugos weren’t a part of that. I did appoint a Subcommittee – and put myself on it, announcing that I was withdrawing from the awards for 1996.

So the anti-conflict rule works because people make it work. It is not an infallible rule. In fact, I agree with a comment made by drplokta on Nicholas Whyte’s From the Heart of Europe that it would be hypothetically possible for something similar to this year’s BFA situation to play out in the Hugos without violating the rule.   

[Hugo Subcommittee members’] partners are eligible though, and I guess if a Hugo subcommittee member ran a publishing house then the books that they publish would be eligible, since the nomination would be for the author and not for the publisher.

In short, it’s a good rule to have, but it’s not all-encompassing as some have assumed in recommending it to fix the BFAs. 

The Hugo Awards Conflict of Interest Trivia Quiz: When I made my decision to withdraw in 1996 I doubted that other Worldcon chairs had ever faced the same choice. But they did. I’ll share what I’ve discovered in the answers to this two-question trivia quiz.

Question 1: How many times has the chair of the current year’s Worldcon won a Hugo?

(a) Once
(b) Twice
(c) Never

There’s been such controversy about the chair of the British Fantasy Society’s close association with 5 of this year’s award winners — for example, he is a partner in the publisher that won Best Small Press – that you’d have to assume it would be impossible for a Worldcon chairman to win a Hugo at his own con without raising a historic stink, right? Wrong.

Answer to Question 1: Once. Loncon I (1957) was chaired by Ted Carnell. The winner of the Hugo for Best British Professional Magazine was New Worlds edited by John Edward Carnell. The same person.

Ted Carnell is the only chair to win a Hugo at his own Worldcon. And it appears everyone was content. Harry Warner’s history of Fifties fandom, A Wealth of Fable, doesn’t contain the least hint of controversy. Neither do any of the conreports from Loncon I collected on Rob Hansen’s website.

Sometimes in the award’s early days the chair of the Worldcon administered the Hugos and counted the votes. That may not have been the case in 1957. The progress reports directed members to send their Achievement Award ballots to the convention secretary Roberta Wild. The chair winning a major award might still have been questioned but I’ve found no record of any complaint. In all my time in fandom I’ve never heard anybody say a bad word about that having happened.

Ted White, the 1967 Worldcon chair who responded to some questions for this article, agrees: “I have never heard anyone say anything disparaging about it either.  It was a bit too obviously deserved. Fandom was a lot smaller then, and even smaller in the UK.  Carnell wore several hats.  I met him in 1965. A quiet, unassuming, gentle and generous man.”

Question 2: How many times has a Worldcon chair won a Hugo the year before or after their con?

(a) 2
(b) 4
(c) 8

Answer to Question 2: 4 times.

Many Worldcon chairs and their committees were connected with award-winning fanzines over the years. Before the Internet that was the best medium for building fannish communities and wooing voters.  

(1) Wally Weber was a co-editor of Cry of the Nameless, the Best Fanzine Hugo winner in 1960, the year before he chaired Seacon (1961). Cry was not a nominee in 1961 but was back as a finalist in 1962. So was the zine kept out of contention the year they hosted the Worldcon? Wally Weber isn’t certain but he thinks they might have:

As for the 1961 Hugos, I remember a discussion and decision that Cry be disqualified due to the unusually large percentage of the eligible voters being from the Seattle area and who had never read a fanzine other than Cry. Unfortunately my memory is often more creative than accurate and I have no documentation to back that up. I do not even remember who participated in making the decision. I don’t even remember how the voting was done or who counted the ballots. Did we have official ballots? I would think such a decision would have been mentioned in one of the progress reports if, indeed, there actually had been such a decision. Maybe votes for Cry were just discarded during the counting processes.

(2) The 1961 fanzine Hugo winner was Earl Kemp’s Who Killed Science Fiction. The next year Kemp chaired Chicon III (1962). However, as I’m sure you already know, Who Killed Science Fiction was the most famous one-shot in the history of sf. It obviously wasn’t a factor in the Hugos when he chaired the Worldcon.

(3) George Scithers chaired Discon I (1963) in Washington, D.C. He edited Amra from 1959 to 1982. It won the Hugo in 1964. Since it had never been nominated for the Hugo in any prior year it’s difficult to guess whether he took any special steps to keep it off the ballot when he chaired the Worldcon in 1963. None of the committee members who might know are still with us – Scithers, Bob Pavlat and Dick Eney. One thing we do know is that he wouldn’t have permitted his zine to be placed on the ballot because he’s one of the people who helped write the anti-conflict rule into the original WSFS Constitution of 1962-1963.

(4) Ted White co-chaired NyCon 3 (1967), the Worldcon which originated the Best Fan Writer and Best Fan Artist Hugos. He also worked for F&SF at the time. Ted says: “F&SF withdrew itself; this was not a NyCon3 committee decision. Ed Ferman [the editor] had a nice sense of propriety.”

Ted says he didn’t take any steps to stay off the ballot in the fan categories the year he chaired the Worldcon. “I did not withdraw myself from the Fanwriter category (nor make any announcements to that effect) because I did not regard it as necessary. I wasn’t nominated that year, obviating the question.  My win the following year surprised me.” However, he probably did not need to make any announcement: people would have been aware of the anti-conflict rule in the Constitution.

White and F&SF both won Hugos the following year, 1968.

[Special thanks to Robert Lichtman and Ted White, as well as Darrell Schweitzer, Peggy Rae Sapienza, Michael J. Walsh, Elinor Busby and Wally Weber for their assistance in researching this article.]