Discon 1 Guide: Last Session

[This is Chapter 6 from George Scithers' Con-Committee Chairman's Guide, the story of Discon I, the 1963 Worldcon. Retyped in 2001 by Tim Illingworth, from a copy of the original 1965 publication.]

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VI. LAST SESSION

Monday of a science fiction convention is supposed to be fold-up day, when everybody's busy packing and saying goodbye and starting home early. For us, Monday was as well-attended a day of program as any, which goes to show just how far you should trust advice based on previous cons. [Though of course "come early and stay late" has been a growing trend for several years now — FMB.]

Our Monday started with an auction session at 11:30, devoted mainly to spreading the black-and-white art work out among those that wanted it. At 12:00, there was an Edgar Rice Burroughs panel. Alan Howard was moderator; the participants included Dick Lupoff, Sam Moskowitz, L. Sprague de Camp, and Alan Howard. In a way, it was a continuation of a panel with many of the same participants that cut off for lack of time at the last Lunacon. Considering the strong feelings that Burroughs arouses, it's surprising that things went as smoothly as they did, even tho someone innocently asked, "Is it true that Burroughs was a racist?" (17). [17. Not "innocently; I did it a'purpose RE] Sprague saved the reputation of the wizard of Tarzana on that one, by explaining that Burroughs was no more, and perhaps less, racially tilted than other writers of his time.

The next item on the program was one that had been invented specifically for Tony Boucher to moderate. The subject: Life with a Stf Writer. The participants: a choice selection of wives; Carol Pohl and Edna Budrys, wives of combination editors-and-writers; Barbara Silverberg, wife of a writer; Carol Emshwiller, wife of an artist, and a writer herself. Well. Boucher couldn't make it to the Discon, so I arranged to Ted Cogswell to take the panel instead. Unfortunately, when 1:00 PM came, Cogswell couldn't be found. There was a moment of indecision; here were these lovely wives, without a chairman to run their panel. But no more than a moment, before I dashed to the microphone (before anybody else could) and announced that I would run the panel.

It was fun. The basic theme was, "What should a young girl expect to have to put up with from a writer (or editor, or artist) husband?" The questions ran from "How do you know he's working?" on to "Are you allowed to dust his typewriter or paintbrushes?" After I ran out of questions, I let the audience ask theirs, limiting the questions to those from ladies in the audience. Finally it was over; too soon, but after all the fuss I'd made about other people running on time… Anyway, I kissed each of the wives, gave the husbands a bottle of Hudson's Bay scotch to share, and it was over. Being chairman is sometimes a cruelly demanding chore…

There was an intermission, with another short bit of auction

Oh yes, the reason that conventions seem to spend so much time on auction. It is that chairmen and program planners usually underestimate the amount of time the auction will require, so that every extra squitch of time is turned over to the auctioneers. The best cures: (1) limit the auction material, and (2) allow plenty of time for the scheduled auction period.

Hal Clement and P. Schuyler Miller were next, with a topic that Hal had thought up: "Is the Science Fiction Story a Mental Exercise, Like the Detective Story?" Hal took the affirmative, Schy the contrary. They came to no definite conclusion, but they (and the audience, who joined the discussion) had fun trying.

The skit, whose principal instigators were Judy Merril, Fritz Leiber, and Gordon Dickson, wasn't ready yet. The skit was still collecting props; white lab coats, bottles, a table lamp, signs. For a while the hotel was overrun with a sort of stefnistic scavenger hunt. Anyway, the schedule was switched; the skit was postponed, and the item rather ambiguously titled "The Fourth Convention" went on next.

This was based on a concept I invented some years ago, in an article in Sphere, that there are really three conventions going on at once: a convention of pro authors, a convention of stf readers, and a convention of fans, and the three cons operate pretty much independently of each other. Ted Sturgeon used the idea in his Chicon III speech. Shortly after the DisCon committee got to work on preparation, we realized that there are not three but four different cons. The fourth is the one the con committee sees - the behind-the-scenes work. So, for "The Fourth Convention", the panel consisted of all the members of past con committees that were attending the DisCon, from NYCon I on to the DisCon itself.

It was quite a crowd. There was a dismaying tendency for the old con committee members to fall off the speakers' platform; as one was picking herself up after tripping, Dave Kyle (of NYCon II fame) remarked, with a sad shake of his head: "There goes a former con committee chairman. See what it does to us…?"

The group discussed past cons briefly. Then deCamp summed up the advice for future cons neatly: expect that everything will take twice as long and cost twice as much as you had planned, and be sure the chairman is in reasonably robust health. Dave Kyle said that the present custom of buying membership in a con well in advance of the con date was a life-saver for the con treasuries; Will Sykora apologized (or was it Sam Moskowitz?) for the famous exclusion act at NYCon I and explained that it was chiefly because the con committee were inexperienced and afraid something would go wrong, politically, if they didn't exclude. And finally Ben Stark, a chairman of the Pacificon II, was dragged bodily up to the platform by Evans and deCamp and presented with the World Science Fiction Society gavel and a promise of a check for $300 from the DisCon treasury.

The skit came next; though poorly heard (as all such things are, because of the difficulty of getting microphones to cover the actors' lines), it was fun.

And suddenly the skit was over. The Discon was ended, and the members, fans, pros, readers or what you will, were beginning to drift away. Not so the con committee; it wasn't until Tuesday noon that we had the last of our stuff packed away. And again, it was our very good fortune that we had assistance, notably Ron Ellik and his group, to help us with the packing and moving of stuff from the convention suite down to our automobiles. (Of course, Ellik did mistakenly pack the con-committee correspondence file and cart it off to Los Angeles.)

The aftermath - beyond Tuesday - took months of rather leisurely work to finish off. Bob Pavlat took the address list and the left-over program books and give-away material, and mailed a set out to each con member who didn't attend. Bill Evans had the finances to complete and the bills to pay. Dick Eney had the Proceedings to edit [Ahahahahaha! — RE] I have been writing this report.

A minor point — perhaps even one that is so obvious it should not be covered here - is nonetheless a very necessary extra. You should assign one member of your committee the task of saying "Thank you". This job is especially good if you have a shut-in committee member, a housewife who can't spend too much time at committee meetings, etc. Every contributor of auction material, every person who accepts a program commitment, etc., should receive a letter of acknowledgement with a prominent, explicit "thank you" in it somewhere. It does not matter if they get more than one expression of thanks. But it might very well matter, the next time they are asked for their assistance and co-operation, if their last efforts on behalf of out conventions were apparently overlooked.

And meanwhile, in Berkeley and London, other conventions are being organized, programs are being lined up, plans are being laid for the banquet and ball, and the next World Science Fiction Conventions begin to take form. It'll be fun to watch this one from the sidelines.

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