Worldcon Wayback Machine: Monday at ConFrancisco (1993) Day 5

ConFrancisco Souvenir Book cover by Alicia Austin.

Worldcon Wayback Machine Introduction: Thirty years ago this weekend ConFrancisco, the 1993 World Science Fiction Convention, was held in San Francisco, California. I thought it would fun to compile a day-by-day recreation drawing on the report I ran in File 770, Evelyn Leeper’s con report on Fanac.org (used with permission), and the contributions of others. Here is the fifth daily installment.

The Worldcon was held in the Moscone Convention Center, ANA Hotel, Parc Fifty Five, and Nikko Hotel.


Diana Paxson, left, and Jerry Pournelle, right, at the 1993 World SF Convention, ConFrancisco. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

[Mike Glyer] Thank You For Your Support: The lifeblood of the con, its volunteers and staff, earned the right to wear official t-shirts, each with a unique Teddy Harvia cartoon. The staff’s white t-shirts had red cartoons of a bridge, with three characters having this exchange: The Sun asked, “Think anyone’ll notice all the work we put into the bridge?” A rocket in flight answered, “With thousands crossing it, someone’ll notice.” A giant squid wrapped around the bridge agreed, “Wow! Look at all the work someone put into this bridge!”

[Mike Glyer] The Blue Riband: Sharon Sbarsky ordered 41 types of standard ribbons, the kind with double-sided tape for attaching to membership badges. They ranged in purpose from simple descriptions like “Committee”, “Staff” and “Hugo Award Nominee” to the truly whimsical: “Jumping Thing Contest”, “Hoax”, “AntiRibbon”, “Generic” and “Set Completer”.

“Set Completer” hints at the ferocious competition to accumulate the widest variety of ribbons. One aspirant for the title at ConFrancisco, Kevin Standlee, put it this way: “I’m Bruce [Pelz] this year. Bruce was Tim Illingworth last year.”

Bruce Pelz’ passion to be a completist collector of things ranging from fanzines to worldcon paraphernalia has inspired several affectionate and humorous efforts to frustrate him. Years ago the Lupoffs published an anticlimactic issue of their fanzine Xero containing a satirical prediction that Pelz would be shattered to see another issue appear after he’d sent his run of Xero to the bindery. When Bruce supervised the History of Worldcons exhibit for Noreascon 3, collecting committee ribbons for the display became his latest crusade, and inventing one-of-a-kind, unattainable ribbons became a game for Bruce’s friends.

ConFrancisco escalated the absurdity to new levels by authorizing a horse-collar-sized blue ribbon stamped “The ribbon Bruce Pelz doesn’t have” to be worn by a succession of fans including Rick Katze on Saturday night and Danny Siclari on Monday afternoon. Bruce Pelz said he finally got possession of it Monday night in a ceremony where he assumed the identity of its last wearer, Dave Kyle.

[Mike Glyer] Not According To Hoyle: Bruce’s other passions include playing bridge, and Gary Anderson attempted to give Bruce the biggest bridge he’d ever played with: the 24-foot-long replica Golden Gate bridge that was on the Esplanade Ballroom stage all weekend to symbolize ConFrancisco’s “Building Bridges” theme.

“The thought of the look on Bruce Pelz’s face when informed, especially in some ceremonial manner, that we were now bequeathing it to him for the Worldcon Exhibit was a point of much humorous discussion among the bridge building crew. Gary Louie had seen it and looked properly horrified when he was over here working on the 40 Years of Hugos show, precon.”

Anderson snickered, “I mean, here is this bridge, a tiny bit of fannish experience. How could anyone turn it down for exhibit purposes? It loomed over several events of memorable fannish history: Andy Porter’s Hugo, the 40 Years of Hugos show, a nice Masquerade, really pizzazz opening and closing ceremonies. Obviously it should be in the exhibit! There were only a couple of minor logistical details: we finished assembly on the thing inside the Esplanade, and it wouldn’t fit out any of the doors. We did it with hot glue, and try as one might, it would not fit back in the box. And then, space for the ride home, not to mention the virtual entirety of someone’s garage in perpetuity….”

Anderson’s team did a first-rate job building a replica of the trademark bridge, and did it quite cheaply. “Materials cost about $330, all told, plus about $70 worth of flameproofing…. We did it ourselves, with the Fabrication Bridge Crew (in our back yard) and the Assembly Bridge Crew (at the con). We had the thing flameproofed to the point where we were hoping the fire marshal would run the flame test on it — 20 seconds with a butane torch never even touched it.”

[Mike Glyer] Numbers: Fans were amazed to hear the con sold 8,228 memberships of all types, and waited for the final word about how closely ConFrancisco approached L.A.con Il’s record of 8,365 attending members.

The committee’s tentative figure for attendance is 7,455, the sum of full attending memberships, childrens’, press and complimentary memberships, plus one-third of the daily memberships (their equivalence to full attending memberships). ConFrancisco ranks as the third-largest Worldcon in history, just behind Noreascon 3’s 7,700 attendees.

[The Norton Reader] Largest Typo Award Although this zine may have had its share of typos, we would like to award the Largest Typo of the Con Award (Punctuation Division) to the sign in the Moscone Center North. The sign above the main doors reads “ConFrancisco Loves It’s Volunteers.”

David Gerrold at the 1993 World SF Convention, ConFrancisco. Photo by © Andrew I. Porter.

[Mike Glyer] Closing Ceremonies: Fans taking their seats for Closing Ceremonies found a lyric sheet for the closing chorus of “ConFrancisco, Here We Come”, and a piece of chocolate candy bribing them to sing it.

This was my first chance to see the parade of flag-waving fans, or the ceremonial entrance of Emperor Norton who walked ahead of a giant yellow banner monogrammed with a blue “N”. Guests of honor followed, with Tom Digby blowing bubbles at the audience.

After many thank-you’s came the most wonderful practical joke ever pulled at a Worldcon. Obsessive ribbon collector Kevin Standlee was introduced, then a team of fans carried out a giant replica name badge and tried to give it to him. The badge would have been too large for anyone but the Statue of Liberty, and Kevin pretended to stumble backwards, crushed under its mass, while the audience yelled, “Put it on! Put it on!”

Adding a classy touch to the list of thank-you’s, chairman Dave Clark and his division chiefs recognized people who’d worked heroically by awarding them “Golden Bear” medallions. (These were white enamel medals similar to the “Hero of MagiCon” design.) The list of winners unexpectedly included Jerry Pournelle, who was named as an expression of thanks for his graciousness in the face of a series of mishaps affecting his appearances at the con.

Dave Clark passed the gavel to John Mansfield, chairman of Conadian, the 1994 worldcon in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg committee made a very showmanlike introduction of its staff, and officials from their hotel and convention center. One of the officials scored minus points with locals by harping on the comparative safety of downtown Winnipeg, not to say fans aren’t happy that it’s so.

Mansfield told everyone that Winnipeg attendees will get a visa booklet for collecting the souvenir stamps that they’ll distribute throughout Conadian. The very first stamp was distributed by his crew as people left ConFrancisco’s closing ceremonies.

[Evelyn C. Leeper.] Gripe Session: (Monday, Noon) Panel: Gripe Session Monday, 12 noon Much of what I learned or heard about different aspects of the convention has been expressed in the appropriate section of this report; most of my gripes have been expressed already as well. But a few random items belong here, I suppose. Several people said that they had been contacting the convention with program ideas and offers to work, but never got any response, or got a response just a few weeks before the convention (when they had first written over a year earlier). One problem seems to be that it someone suggests something that doesn’t clearly fall into one particular section (for example, something that isn’t quite programming, and isn’t quite exhibit), then it gets batted back and forth and no one wants to take responsibility to follow up on it.

The claim was made that using the larger hall in the Moscone for the Masquerade and Hugo Awards Ceremony would have added at least $20 to each membership in the convention. This seems hard to believe, but it underscores the fact that Worldcons are getting too big to be handled in any reasonable and cost-effective way by more than a handful of cities. (Exercise for some Worldcon historian: how many cities which have previously hosted Worldcons are no longer able to do so, from a facilities stand-point?)

Ellison’s panels were in such small rooms, according to the committee, because Ellison came to the committee two and a half weeks before the convention (after all the programming had been laid out) to tell them that he was attending and what time-slots he wanted to speak in.

There was a lack of intermediate-sized rooms: Larry Niven’s Guest of Honor speech was in a room holding about 140. The next largest was one holding about 1500. It was decided that it was better to have him speak to a crowded room than a half-empty one, but future conventions should make sure they have at least one room for mid-sized events.

The letters to people who volunteered to be participants but were turned down was a point of contention. No matter how delicately they are phrased, they still will sound like the recipient is being told he or she is not important enough. As it was, ConFrancisco said they had more participants than MagiCon, and possibly more than Noreascon.

People were encouraged to volunteer; the committee claimed it took 10-20% of the attendees to help run a Worldon. For their part, committees are reminded to touch base with volunteers at least every three months, even if only to say, “Yes, we have your name and will be sending more specific information soon.”

The daily newsletter should carry all the various awards presented at the convention (see my notes on “other awards” above), and obviously this means that the presenters of awards must have press releases or the equivalent to give the editors of the newsletter.

[Evelyn C. Leeper] Miscellaneous: At each of the last three conventions I’ve gone to, someone has mistaken me for Connie Willis. I almost got through ConFrancisco without this happening, but just as we were leaving the convention center for the last time, someone passing us asked his friend, “Do you have Doomsday Book?” and when she handed it to him, held it out to me. I probably just should have signed it, but instead I said, “I am not Connie Willis. I am not as tall as she is, I do not have the same hair color as she does, and I didn’t win two Hugos last night.” Maybe I’ll have a button made!

The WSFS Business Meeting was at noon instead of the traditional 10 AM on the days it was held, and at the ANA Hotel, making it very difficult to get to. As a result, attendance was down. The Northwest Territories Division Amendment, the amendment clarifying the best fan writer definition (making it clear it is for work in the previous year), and the amendment reducing NASFiC lead time passed. These had previously been approved at MagiCon, so are now adopted. Passed and passed on to Conadian is an amendment authorizing retrospective Hugos for 50, 75, or 100 years previous to a given convention, so long as Hugos were not awarded for that year already.

[Mike Glyer] Postscripts: Dean Dierschow was ready to head home after ConFrancisco, his Subaru wagon fully loaded with his and friends’ belongings. He pulled up behind his hotel and went to pick up his children. When the three came downstairs they discovered the Subaru’s rear window had been smashed with a brick. Among the items stolen were artist Erin McKee’s cash box, art supplies and an unfinished artwork, Dave Clement’s guitar case, accessories and satchel and wooden boxes and calendars belonging to Phyllis White. The loss amounted to $2,600, much in cash. Friends of the Minneapolis fans raised money to help the burglary victims. Musicians in the fannish community also held a benefit concert at Dreamhaven Books, headlined by Cats Laughing, Piebald Dog, Decadent Dave Clement and Sneaking Suspicion.

[David Langford] Ansible 76: “Worldcon post-mortems go on and on. The curse of fame hit your editor in October, with the arrival of ConFrancisco’s ‘follow these easy instructions to complete your Hugo!’ kit — little pewter plaques to be stuck around the base, depicting dead sf notables from Mary Shelley to Isaac Asimov (glue not supplied). Less unworldly fans might have written GIFT – NO COMMERCIAL VALUE on the customs chit. Instead, I was amusingly landed with over 15 [pounds] in duty, VAT and UPS penalty charges for collecting same.”

1993 Hugo base designed by Arlin Robbins. Photo by Sheila Perry.

[Mike Glyer] Overall Critique: When workmen rolled up the blue carpet that had been the intersection of El Camino Real and Emperor Norton Boulevard, I saluted the con’s ending with a mock complaint, “Some town this is, they roll up the sidewalks at 3 p.m.”

Truthfully, ConFrancisco ran around the clock — if you count the fuzzy sunrise hour when people returning to their beds after partying ’til dawn passed early-rising committee workers on the way to reopen the convention. Beyond any individual’s ability to sustain the pace, the 1993 Worldcon was also too multifaceted for any individual to enter into all its experiences.

The current group dynamic encourages people to frame individual disappointments and complaints as across-the-board conclusions about the con, however unjustified. This dynamic grew out of ConFrancisco’s hard-luck history: their bid was ridiculed by the Hawaii in ’93 write-in campaign; they lost their headquarters hotel; Sue Stone and Terry Biffel, two ConFrancisco chairmen, died. When people start expecting bad things, anything that assists the self-fulfilling prophecy is likely to be plucked out of context and made part of the illusory mosaic of disaster.

More likely to be typical attendee opinions of ConFrancisco were the conversations overheard by the ANA’s convention manager and related to Crickett Fox, such as “Isn’t this convention well organized” and a variant, “You know, this con is so well organized that it’s not even like a Worldcon!”

ConFrancisco fulfilled the international vision of the late Terry Biffel, and surely has sown the seeds of an entire new generation of Bay Area fandom.

4 thoughts on “Worldcon Wayback Machine: Monday at ConFrancisco (1993) Day 5

  1. The convention gave me the giant badge, which lived in my storage locker for a while, then ended up in the Worldcon history exhibit, then was part of the Fan Guest of Honor exhibit about me at the 2005 NASFiC in SeaTac, Washington. However, to my disappointment, it appears that CascadiaCon lost the badge, because when I later inquired about getting it back, nobody knew where it was. I fear that it was put back in its cardboard packing box and then was discarded. I’ve not seen it since the end of CascadiaCon, which is a pity.

  2. Thanks for this lovely look back!

    As I was busy hosting another personality at the convention, I managed to miss an awful lot that my usual consciousness would have enjoyed. However, Mr. Twain assured me at the end that he enjoyed it tremendously, especially the calabash pipe that the con committee provided him. It lasted for several years, but those things, in addition to being an excellent smoking instrument, are incredibly delicate. It’s third incarnation has not yet been replaced.

    However, Mr. Twain did relay to me an incident that happened to him one day on his way to the convention from the hotel.

    He was peacefully puffing on his pipe and someone yelled from a bus: “Old man, you are gonna die from smoking!” To which he replied: “Young man, you are going to die as well, but at least I will have some idea as to why.”

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