The first SF con I ever attended was the 1971 Disclave in Washington, D.C., and the first person I met there was Gardner Dozois, who was working the registration table. He did not actually have a jellybean up his nose at the time (this picture was taken a few years later), but he knew my name, which was even more startling. Turns out he’d been the fiist reader at GALAXY who had fished my story “The Hero” out of the slushpile. My career as a pro and my life in fandom both began with Gardner.
Howard Waldrop and I began corresponding in 1963. I sent him a quarter to buy Brave & the Bold #28 (first JLA, with Starro the Conquerer), and he sent me a letter with the comic. We were both in high school, me in Bayonne and him in Arlington, Texas, and we both dreamed of being writers.
We corresponded for almost a decade, sometimes exchanging a couple of letters a week (stamps were cheap then, and the postal service was better), but never actually met until 1972. By then I was living in Chicago. Howard was still in Texas, and there was a convention in Kansas City, halfway in between. So he drove up and I took the train down.
The con was the first ever in KC. It was called MidAmericaCon (or Little Mac), not be confused with MidAmericon (or Big Mac), the later KC worldcon, and it was run by a teenaged comic/SF fan named Ken Keller.
Howard and Ken have been two of my closest friends ever since, although I’ve never lived in the same state as either of them. That’s the great thing about SF fandom. The friendships you make there last forever.
Lisa Tuttle and I were both nominated for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1973, the first year the award was given. At the time, we had never met, but we had a mutual friend in Howard Waldrop, who warned me that Lisa was not nearly as sweet and innocent as she looked. Sure enough, when we finally met at Dcon 1973 in Dallas, she attacked me savagely with her vicious karate moves.
Ah, I remember it well.. skinny-dipping in the hotel pools, masquerade costumes that left little or nothing to the imagination, belly-button artwork…
I’m sure there are some who would love to take a bite out of that Sunkist, but I would sooner stop and smell the flowers myself.
Guest of Honor
Solarcon II in El Paso was the first con that ever made me its Guest of Honor. It was 1976 and I had just moved to Dubuque, but Gale and I made our way down from Iowa to Texas and I delivered my first GOH speech. To pay our travel costs, the con had turned to the local college, so I also had to give a lecture on campus and teach several English classes. I drew the line at addressing the Herman Hesse class, on the grounds that I had never read a word of Herman Hesse.
Whenever I hear anyone saying that some recent worldcon was “the worst one ever,” I know they weren’t around in 1977 for Suncon. The fans voted for Orlando and an “all star” committee of experienced con-runners from around the country who called themselves “7 for ’77.” No sooner had they won the bid than the concom started to self-destruct, however. Only one of the seven survived to the con itself. They lost their hotel and host city as well, so instead of a brand new hotel in Orlando we ended up in the crumbling, leaky, roach-infested ruins of the once magnificent Fountainbleu Hotel on Miami Beach. And just for a dash of extra irony, a hurricane was passing by, so we had torrential rains all through the ironically named “Suncon.”
Even so, some of us survived, and Jack Williamson was a splendid Guest of Honor. Fandom is nothing if not resilient, and can manage to find fun even under the most trying of circumstances.
Archon — originally held in St. Louis, Missouri, more recently across the river in Collinsville, Illinois — has always been one of my favorite cons. Maybe the fact that I was the first Guest of Honor at the very first Archon has something to do with it. Archon I was the brainchild of the beautiful and dynamic Barb Fitzsimmons, who co-chaired the con with Tim Hays. It represented a rebirth of sorts for St. Louis fandom, which had suffered a collapse after hosting the 1969 worldcon (St. Louiscon).
Archon I marked the third time in my career that I was asked to be a convention GOH, but the first time they really got it right. At my first two GOHships, I felt somewhat like an afterthought, but Barb and her St. Louis crew really knew how to treat their guests. One of the coolest things they did was commission of series of custom t-shirts from local airbrush artist Dan Patterson, each illustrating one of my stories. Here are three of those shirts, as modeled by Barb (center), her husband Mike Fitzsimmons, and the lovely Mary Mertens. Barb wears “With Morning Comes Mistfall,” Mike is “The Second Kind of Loneliness,” and Mary is “The Storms of Windhaven.”
I loved the shirts, the people, and the con. It was twenty years before I finally missed an Archon, and I still attend whenever I can.
When I first started going to conventions in the early 70s, Harlan Ellison was the only writer you ever saw reading from his own work as part of the program. Harlan is a world-class reader, of course, and most writers aren’t. Maybe that was the reason the conrunners of the day never asked anyone else to read. I had read a few of my (unpublished) stories to friends in college, however, I enjoyed the experience, and found it valuable as well (it is an especially good way to catch clunky dialogue), so as the 1976 worldcon in Kansas City approached, I suggested to chairman Ken Keller that he add a whole track of readings. “Great idea,” Ken said. “You’re running it.” And so I did. We called it the Author’s Forum. The name did not last, but the idea did, and readings have been a regular part of convention programming ever since. Here’s me giving one at Archon 3 in St. Louis.
Another thing I did at some of those early cons was sell my own books. I never actually rented a huckster table, but I would sometimes fill a bathtub with beer, throw open my hotel room, and invite folks in, hoping that a few of them might feel grateful enough to buy a book. I probably spent more on beer than I made on the books, but the hope was that once they’d sampled my brilliance, the readers would come back for more. Sometimes another starving young writer would go in with me. Phyllis Eisenstein and I co-hosted a lot of these impromptu autograph parties at midwestern conventions in the late 70s and early 80s. This is me holding court at one of them.
Of course, you have to be very careful when getting a book signed. Identity theft existed long before the internet, and there are all sorts of unsavory characters hanging around at cons.
Sci-Fi Guy Discovers Women
And fannish women also tended to be much brighter and better read than mundane women, too. Still are.
Of course, I only attend cons for professional reasons, myself.
People wonder where Gardner Dozois gets all his energy…
Gargy has a lot to answer for. Not only did he fish my first sale out of the slush pile at GALAXY and take my registration at my first con, but he founded the Hugo Loser’s Club, started all the pirate talk at Constellation, and edited ISAAC ASIMOV’S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE for umpty-ump years, winning umpty-ump Hugo Awards. He is also a helluva writer (who does not write nearly enough), the funniest man in science fiction, and one of my oldest and dearest friends in the field. So what if he likes to put stuff up his nose?
The second and third funniest people in science fiction are Connie Willis and Howard Waldrop. Connie is more amusing when presenting an award (unless you are one of the nominees), but Howard dresses funnier. You should have seen him in his zoot suit. Connie is Guest of Honor at the 2006 worldcon in LA. H’ard is overdue for the same honor. Oh, and they both write pretty good, too.
Okay, maybe I don’t have any right to make fun of the way Howard Waldrop dresses.
I got the hat at DisneyWorld on the way to the 1977 worldcon in Miami Beach. I don’t remember where the hell I got the dashiki.
Will the real Ed Bryant please stand up?
… is served every year at worldcon at Keith Kato’s chili private party. No, I can’t tell you where it is. It took Keith years to make his chili hot enough for Robert Silverberg, which means it is almost hot enough for me… and far too hot for anyone who thinks the stuff they eat in Texas and Cincinnati is actually chili.
(Please note: I am talking about chili here. In New Mexico we eat red and green chile. Different spelling, different thing. Never confuse the two).
Edward Bryant was the toastmaster at the 1981 worldcon in Denver, and earned the dubious distinction of being the first (and last, I suspect) person ever to emcee the Hugo Awards on roller skates. I presented the Hugo for novelette that year… but not to Howard Waldrop, as I was hoping.
Rusty Hevelin was the Fan GOH, and was kind enough to let us borrow his suite for the Hugo Losers Party, where I presented H’ard with a consolation prize in the form of a fake F&SF cover painted by Jim Odbert.
And after the con was over, I took Parris home with me to Santa Fe. Small wonder then that Denvention II remains one of my favorite worldcons.
Back when I first started attending SF cons in 1971, there weren’t nearly as many of them. These days every city has its own annual convention and some have two or three. One of the very best is Kansas City’s venerable Memorial Day get-together, which started life as BYOBcon,but had to change to ConQuest when the hotels figured out what “BYOB” meant. The KC fans really know how to party, and their con suite keeps roaring all night long. ConQuest is fannish, and literary, and Calvin Trillin and Robert A. Heinlein both swear by its restaurants. What more could you want? Well, maybe Hawaiian shirts… as modeled by these dubious dignitaries, the guests at one especially memorable ConQuest banquet.
All photographs (c) George R. R. Martin and/or their respective photographers. May not be used without written permission.