Since we've often bemoaned that many opportunities for preserving the history of
fandom aren't being taken advantage of, we'll take this occasion to compliment
L.A.Con for arranging the audiotaping of many of their programming events. This
once was a common practice at worldcons, but is now the exception rather than the
rule. Anyway, here's a tale (reprinted from the apa SFPA) about another such
worldcon that had the foresight to tape some of its proceedings, and of a belated
reaction to it, some 25 years later.
If by some remote chance anyone needs proof that I'm a rude and ungrateful person, I might as well provide fresh evidence in that respect. Someone was kind enough to send me, more than two decades ago, a free two-LP set that contained the proceedings during the Hugo banquet at a worldcon. And just the other week, I finally played those records for the first time. I'd been intending to listen to them one of these years, but I kept putting it off. Ingratitude wasn't really the big problem, but rather the fact that I hated the idea of hearing one of the participants.
If everything is foreordained ever since the Big Bang, it must have taken a particularly complicated series of atomic circumstances to cause me to play these two LPs at this particular time, only a few weeks short of the night when the banquet was taped, an exact quarter century ago. Nothing in particular happened to induce me to put them on the turntable at the start of July, 1996. I dreaded listening to myself giving the Fan Guest of Honor talk just as sincerely as I had ever since I received the records in 1973 or thereabouts.
That first Noreascon was not my favorite event in fandom. I'd originally declined with thanks the invitation to be Fan Guest of Honor, and only grudgingly did I eventually change my decision and agree to do it. Early in 1971, I'd spent almost a week in the hospital following an operation and I was still not feeling altogether healthy by the time the Labor Day weekend arrived. I was never instructed fully in what a Fan Guest of Honor is supposed to do, other than to show up for the ceremonies opening the convention and give a talk during the Hugo banquet program, so I had to improvise all during my stay in Boston, and was unhappy with my performance. On the second day of the convention, I got up with a runny nose and a sore throat, which left me wondering if I would be able to give that talk, but this was apparently a very real manifestation of a psychosomatic illness which vanished after I'd decided the show must go on no matter how I felt or sounded. I had never spoken before such a large and national audience before, although I'd gotten along okay during a few speaking adventures in Hagerstown to small groups, and I had successfully done a daily newscast over a local radio station for several years. My main fear of the banquet talk was that I might be heckled, and I didn't know if I could keep my cool if it happened.
But I got through the ceremonies without disaster, and nobody saw or heard about the only unexpected problem I suffered. I was terribly tense after the program ended, couldn't endure the thought of spending hours and hours with fans, so decided to go to bed perhaps an hour after midnight. It was noisy in the hall outside my room and I wasn't sure if I could sleep, so I took a sleeping tablet I had left over from the supply I'd been given for my operation recuperation. After I took it, I jotted down a few notes on what I'd experienced that evening, in case I wanted to write a fanzine article about it, did a little of this and that in preparation for bed, and suddenly I toppled over and burst into uncontrollable giggles. I was high, apparently from the combination of the sleeping pill and the relief that the banquet ordeal was safely past. I've never been drunk, but I faithfully displayed all the symptoms of that condition; I couldn't think coherently, everything seemed funny for no particular reason, the floor was rising and falling and the walls weren't too stationary, either, and I didn't care a bit. I managed to climb into bed and was as normal as I ever am when I woke up around dawn. No, nobody had spiked something I drank that evening, because I had had nothing in any liquid variety from the hands of any fans.
But the next day and in all the days, months, and years afterwards, I fretted about the talk I'd given. Had I mumbled too badly to be comprehended, or had I sounded as singsong as Willy Clinton does when he tries to read something into a microphone, or had my message been so simplistic that people had applauded only out of politeness? The more I wondered, the less willing I was to listen to myself after the records arrived. (The jacket has a 1973 copyright date, so apparently it took a while for the Noreascon survivors to get the tape embodied into recorded vinyl.) I reasoned that I would feel severe although belated despair if I verified a very bad talk by listening to the recording of it, and if I didn't listen, I could avoid a very nasty aftermath of that unpleasant evening. Maybe I grew reckless and uncaring in old age, or maybe that abrupt creation of the universe included time-released instructions for me to listen to myself, some twenty-four years and ten months after I'd spoken.
And the odd thing was, when I prepared for the worst and played the LPs, I decided that most of my forebodings had been unnecessary. Although I'd stumbled over one word in a couple of sentences of adlib talk at the beginning, I'd gone through my prepared speech without any mistakes. My diction was no worse than that of most of the program participants and better than some, and I hadn't sounded nervous. If I were to do it all over again, the only change I would make would be to slow down slightly, because I did seem to be slightly under the influence of Walter Winchell. The text of my talk holds up quite well after all these years. It contained a plea to fandom and prodom to agitate for continued space exploration, and some of the things I said have been proven accurate by now.
Hearing these records for the first time gave me a good lesson in how badly memory behaves in the course of a quarter-century. I remembered some of the things on the disks, but other portions were totally gone from my recollection. I had completely forgotten, for instance, Lester del Rey's impassioned talk as he presented a posthumous award to John W. Campbell, Jr., from First Fandom. He was easily the most effective speaker on that entire program, in every respect. With that voice, he could have gone far in politics. Then there was the disclosure to me of how time dilation had encompassed me for a while. After I'd finished my talk and had sat down to try to persuade myself that it was really all over and done with, Clifford Simak, as Pro Guest of Honor, gave his talk. I knew I couldn't obey my impulse to get out of there immediately, so I hoped it would be a short one. I remember how I reacted invisibly when he went on and on, and didn't ever seem to be approaching the end of his speech. I would have given anything to look at a clock or watch and make sure it had already been more than a half hour, but I didn't have my wristwatch in a visible position, and I knew someone in the audience would see me turn my arm to stare at it and report it in a fanzine somewhere, so I sat through what seemed like another half hour of his talk. When I listened to Cliff's talk on the records, I checked the time at the beginning and again at the end of it: just thirteen minutes.
A couple of mysteries remain now that I've heard the recording. For one thing, what happened after Asimov announced Ted Sturgeon as the winner of one of the fiction Hugos? On the record, Asimov went on to the next fiction category with no pause and no words indicating that Ted or someone else had come up to accept the trophy. The acceptance event was audible for all other Hugos. It didn't sound as if the tape had been edited at that point (although there are several very audible splices elsewhere during the recording, so I assume some cuts were made to avoid too much dead air or to remove something deemed too embarrassing to perpetuate on the LP). Also unexplained is the identity of the owner of the very first voice on the first side which introduced Bob Silverberg, the toastmaster. I suspect it was Tony Lewis, the con chairman, but it's been a long time since I've heard him speak, so I'm not sure. In several spots there are bursts of laughter from the audience for no apparent cause, apparently because of a facial expression or a gesture from someone at the podium.
One curiosity about Bob's toastmastering is his references to what we now call the Retro Hugos. He evoked a lot of guffaws by pretending that the convention was going to hand out not only the 1971 Hugos but also those for 1954, which the San Francisco convention in that year didn't provide. Then he said that they all had gone to Harlan Ellison, who wasn't in Boston to accept them, so there were more laughs. This encouraged him to bring up the idea briefly, near the end, with a threat to give out the 1932 Hugos. I doubt if anyone in that room on that evening would have believed that belated Hugo Awards would eventually be authorized in real earnest.
It is good evidence of my general state of befuddlement that evening that I learned only this month via the records the identity of the woman who had been sitting next to me at the head table: Robin Asimov. And I think I've already told the story of how after the ceremonies, Marion Zimmer Bradley came up to me and said, "That was really a wonderful talk." I thanked her, and she added "Not your talk. Simak's." The world would never have known quite a few Darkover novels if I'd obeyed my immediate impulse.
My talk had no perceptible influence on the space program, but I learned later that it made me a few enemies. There were fans who had lost money as a result of my talk; they had lost bets on the question of whether this hermit of Hagerstown would actually show up at the convention and really give a talk to it. I'm pretty sure I would have been out a few dollars if anyone had offered to bet me that I would go through with my duty that September weekend. There was one benefit, however. I was inspired to adopt a firm policy toward all future invitations to become the Fan Guest of Honor at cons large and small. I decided I had shot my bolt in this respect and wasn't going to put myself through the conspicuity and nervous strain again, not even on the occasion when the committee of one medium-sized con offered to move it to Hagerstown if reluctance to travel was the only reason why I declined the honor. Several years ago, I was asked to be Fan Guest of Honor at a worldcon by a bidding city; I said no, but I learned later that the bidding group had decided to ignore my wishes and announce me for the post if they won, in the belief I couldn't do anything about it when it was a fait accompli. As it turned out, that city's bid lost to another city, sparing me the fate of suffering headaches every day in the week instead of just most days in the week.
Now that I've played the records, I wonder when I'll be moved to a subsidiary activity; hunting up the batch of souvenirs I brought home from that Boston worldcon. They include, I remember, a beautiful tiny painting on my identification badge by Bob Shaw, a plaque proving to any doubters that I really was Fan Guest of Honor, and a scorecard from the Red Sox-Indians baseball game I attended when I sneaked off from my duties one afternoon. I haven't had the urge to inspect them again during the quarter-century that has intervened, fearing they will reawaken my nerves and maybe even create another psychosomatic cold for a day or two.
All illustrations by Kurt Erichsen