Fanorama by Walt Willis


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A couple of months ago I was a guest at the biggest science fiction gathering of all time, the Tenth Anniversary World Convention in Chicago. The hotel where it was held—or rather where the organisers tried to hold it, for sometimes it seemed to be getting away from them — was one of those places where you change from 'local' to 'express' elevators at the 20th Floor, and so vast, that there were two other conventions going on in it at the same time as ours. Milling around in this metropolis were nearly a thousand science fiction writers, editors, publishers and fans, all as anxious to meet and talk to one another as to attend the official programme. It's no wonder the Convention Committee were almost overwhelmed, but, given that hotel—or rather, to judge from the bill, having bought and paid for it—no one could have done a better job. Their star-studded programme was put on with no more unpunctuality than seems to be traditional at sf conventions, whether in London or America, and very few items had to be left out. It might have been better if some of them had, because the only people at the morning sessions seemed to be the few who had had their all night parties closed down by the house detectives or who had finally broken themselves of the habit of sleep.

The main feature on the first day was a debate on flying saucers between Willy Ley and Raymond Palmer which ended with the subject still very much in the air but still unexplained, and a lecture on 'Life — Elsewhere and Elsewhen,' by Nobel Prizewinner, H.J. Muller.

Next day there was a discussion among the editors of the main American sf magazines, all patting one another on the back with only occasionally a knife concealed in the hand; and a banquet at which the speakers were Hugo Gernsback, Sprague de Camp, E. E. Smith, Clifford Simak, me and Anthony Boucher. Even these brilliant minds were outshone however by the wit of toastmaster Robert Bloch, who seems to be America's final answer to our William F. Temple. After this there was a Masquerade Ball lasting until dawn, at which half the fans seemed to be disguised as extra-terrestrial monsters and the rest as human beings.

On the third and last day everyone who was still conscious crowded down to hear addresses by John W. Campbell and Robert Bloch, each brilliant in their own way. A surprise item was a 'Lecture on the Atom' by one 'Professor Updiddle,' which turned out to be an excellent music-hall act by 'World Citizen' Garry Davis, whom few of us had known to be both a science fiction fan and an accomplished comedian.

Other odd items scattered through the three days' programmes were talks on various subjects, a debate on the importance of fandom, a book publishers panel, a guitar and song recital by Ted Sturgeon, an auction, a play, some TV science fiction films and a science fiction ballet. No one could have said the programme lacked variety.

In those three hectic days I met just about everyone in American science fiction, and came out of the whirlwind with pleasant memories of many interesting people and a few general impressions. For instance. Famous authors, there, as here, are just ordinary people, who have never quite recovered from their astonishment at finding themselves revered by young fans, but who rather like the sensation all the same. Professionals and fans mix less with each other than we do in Britain, probably because there are so many more of both. Reports of rowdyism at American conventions are greatly exaggerated. American fans are more enthusiastic and less self-conscious than British fans, which is maybe why they enjoy their Conventions more.

I found both them and the pros very likeable and friendly people, less 'foreign' in outlook than non-fans at home. It's nice to feel you can go nearly anywhere in the English-speaking world and find people who are already friends.

One item of topical interest to us was the voting for the site of next year's convention. This really was fiercely contested, and the San Francisco group spent some $800 propagandising their cause only to see the nomination go by a narrow majority to Philadelphia. I can't imagine this happening in Britain, where there's neither the enthusiasm nor the money, but we are beginning to have the same problem since the rise of powerful fan movements in the North of England. The trouble here is that while the Northerners have the energy and the ability to put on a convention, their cities lack the tourist attractions of London and the fan attractions of its famous authors. And that it seems as hard to bring one up North as the other. At any rate no Londoners showed up at the recent Manchester Convention.There's been some resentment about this in the North but the reason was nothing more than London lethargy plus the firm conviction that there was nothing up North that there wasn't more of at home.

However as a local gathering the Mancon was a success. About 80 people attended, mostly from the Liverpool and Manchester areas. The lion of the affair was John Russell Fearn, who very sportingly, came out of his den to be bearded. In a lively question and answer session Fearn, who is also Vargo Statten and some fourteen other pocketbook authors, frankly admitted that he wrote down to his audience because he didn't believe there was a market in Britain for good science fiction. It's up to us to show him otherwise. Fearn also showed a film he had made and acted in himself, and generally heaped coals of fire on fandom's head for some of the harsh things it has said about him. The only other professional author present was eighteen year old John Brunner, who has just sold a thousand dollars worth of fiction to American markets since his first story appeared in SLANT a year ago. He reported on the progress of NEBULA to an audience eager to do all they could to help.

The rest of the Mancon programme was put over with such efficiency as to prove that the organisers are quite capable of putting on a National Convention and need only the material to work with. Whether they get this or not depends on the London Circle, who will have to make up their minds soon whether to continue to hold the Convention themselves or give their wholehearted support to the North.

NOTE.—In fairness to all concerned I'd like to make it clear that all credit for the title 'The Electric Fan' should go to your editor.

from Nebula No. 2, Spring 1953


Last revised: 1 October, 2006

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