Discon 1 Guide: Sunday Evening

[This is Chapter 5 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.]



In the past few years, con committees have chosen to do rather different things with the time immediately following the banquet. One put the costume ball immediately after the banquet - well, allowing time between for folk to change clothes, naturally! Others put the business session there, which at least ensures that the business session will be well attended. Chicon III put Fritz Leiber's lecture, "Fafhrd and Me", immediately after the banquet; it turned out to be the most heavily attended session of that con.

The bit is this: practically everybody goes to the banquet. Immediately afterwards, nobody's going to be drifting off to eat, so they're likely to attend whatever program item comes right there. Chicon III, wisely, put that prize program item in this slot. For the DisCon, we put in what we thought was our own best item, "What Should a BEM Look Like?".

I think we did right. That session was extremely well attended. With the panelists we had — De Camp, Asimov, Ley, Emsh, Leiber, and Brackett — it couldn't help but be successful as well. This panel can be used as a "for example" to illustrate several points on panel-planning.

For one thing, we arranged with the hotel to set up the speakers' table for panels with the podium at one end, rather than in the middle. This proved to be a distinct advantage: the moderator or chairman of a panel will have all of his panel on only one side of him, so he can take in his whole panel with a single glance, rather than having to look both right and left to see who wants to answer a point just raised.

A second consideration in planning panels: don't have too many, and don't have them too close together. We had four during the con (plus the fanzine art panel, which was mostly a questions-from-the-audience affair.)

Another consideration: get panelists who don't have the same outlook on the subject at hand. With this panel, De Camp, Asimov, and Ley could be expected to approach the topic from pretty strict biological points of view. On the other hand, Fritz Leiber started by saying that an extraterrestrial should be beautiful; Leigh Brackett and Ed Emsh also considered factors other than biological probability in presenting their views.

It was just about the end of this panel that I was hit by a horrible sequence of thoughts: first, though I had invited Seabury Quinn to speak, he hadn't sent me an acceptance for the time finally selected; second, I didn't have the least idea what Quinn looked like, except he was well along in years; and, third, there obviously wasn't time to phone him. I got Joe Sarno, who happened to be willing and available (Yesht bless him) to go to the back of the meeting room and ask "all the elderly men there if they were Seabury Quinn". Luck! The first one asked was the next speaker. There were a few awkward moments: Quinn is nearly blind, and had to be helped to the speakers' table, which was on a low platform. And while I was persuading Bill Evans to introduce him (Bill knows far more about Quinn's writings than I do), Frank Dietz almost got Quinn to begin his speech, and was stopped barely in time.

All went well, however. Quinn spoke briefly, contrasting a fantasy horror story and a science-fiction horror story [Dr. Faustus and RUR], and did it effectively. He spoke in a very low voice, however, and it was difficult to hear him, in spite of the microphone system. The audience was dead quiet, but I had to go out the entrance doors and quiet a couple of folk who were shouting just outside, including Walter Breen. (This wasn't our first run-in with St. Bushybeard: during registration, Saturday morning, the Hotel convention manager, Mr. van Buren, spotted Breen eating lunch out of a paper bag in the upper lobby, and asked us to ask him to do his paper-bag-lunching a little less publicly. Bob Pavlat passed the word that time.)

After Quinn, some more auction. And after that, starting a few minutes late, came the Business Meeting, which in an excess of wishful thinking I had scheduled for just 30 minutes. At this juncture, things Did Not Go Well.

The Big Heart Award has, for years, been presented at the banquet, along with the Hugos. Furthermore, this year, First Fandom (a club of old-timers in fandom decided to give an award of their own, and hoped to give it at the banquet. Forry Ackerman, who presented the Big Heart award, though unhappy to have the presentation removed from the banquet, took the change in good grace. Don Ford, who was deeply involved in the First Fandom award (though he wasn't the one to make the speech) was unhappy too. In fact, for a while he was furious, declaring that cutting the First Fandom award out of the banquet was a Pretty Chicken Thing; afterward, though, he saw the point - we'll come to it shortly. He was particularly bugged by the fact that, though one of the reasons given for shifting the award was that we were worried about having enough time for everything in the three hours allotted to the banquet, it had turned out the banquet only ran two and a half hours.

As it was, Ackerman made his award speech; the winner was Jimmy Taurasi, who wasn't there to receive it personally. Then Sam Moskowitz rose to make the First Fandom award speech; the winner was E. E. Smith, Ph.D. Sam's speech, though a bit longer than we had planned for, got a tremendous hand for Doc Smith when he came up to get the trophy; in fact, the biggest hand, I think, that anybody got during the whole con.

This points up the other reason we had for keeping the miscellaneous awards out of the banquet. The banquet is to honor the Guest of Honor first, and the Hugo winners second. A response like the one Doc Smith got for this First Fandom award would have put everybody else - including the Guest of Honor - very definitely in second place, and this would have been embarrassing to everyone.

Anyway, the awards were followed by a three minute speech by Janie Lamb in which she gave TAFF (in the person of Ron Ellik) $20 from the NFFF, about which I had been warned, and then a five minute speech on behalf of TAFF by Ellik, about which I hadn't. By this time, the business session still hadn't started, we had a potentially long meeting ahead, and we were running about half an hour late. There was, thank goodness, no other award.

The meeting itself was to be run by Robert's Rules of Order, Revised. The order of business, announced beforehand, was: reports by committees; motions submitted in writing beforehand to the chairman; selection of the site for the 1964 World Science Fiction Convention; and other motions from the floor.

We had two committees to report: a committee formed by a resolution (passed by the Chicon III business meeting) to look into the design of the Hugos; and a committee appointed by the chairman of the Discon, me, to look into the convention rules.

The Hugo committee had, during its deliberations by mail, rather quickly abandoned the idea of changing the rocket-ship design that had become traditional, and had concentrated on providing a replacement source for the trophies themselves, since Ben Jason had retired from making them. The Michigan fans volunteered (thru Howard Devore) to take responsibility for the Hugos in the future, and a resolution to that effect was passed.

The next matter was a bit more complicated. The incorporation of the World Science Fiction Society had been thoroughly discredited some years ago, but nothing has really taken its place, as far as a continuing body of rules went. There is now a continuing corporation, but it is an incorporation of the convention committee only, as explained elsewhere. [Ch. IX, 9.01] The rules committee, of whom the most active members were Steve Schultheis, Howard Devore, and F. M. Busby, came up with a proposed constitution, which is discussed in Chapter X.

Now, how was the meeting to handle these matters run? Copies of the proposed Constitution had been available at the registration desk; more were distributed at the business meeting. Steve explained why various parts were the way they were, and then it was up to the chairman.

Now, there are lots of people who think that Robert's Rules of Order are sort of a last resort in case of difficulties. Not at all; Robert devised and revised his rules to take care of all kinds of meetings and business sessions. The rules themselves have all sorts of provisions for short-cutting procedural steps, but always with the rights of everybody to be heard on any subject that is pertinent to the discussion at hand carefully safeguarded. Furthermore, Robert gave the chairman a remarkable lot of powers; for example, the power to refuse to entertain a motion on the grounds that it is frivolous or time-wasting can be used very effectively to shut up compulsive noisemakers. Therefore, we found no reason to run the business meeting by anything other than Robert's Rules of Order, Revised [the 1951 revision, to be exact] since the Rules have all the necessary short-cuts already built in. Too, the chairman has the right and the duty to remind the assembly before him of what motions are appropriate at any time. In this case, a report had been made by a committee. I explained, therefore, that the courses of action open to the meeting were: to debate the report; to refer it to a committee; to implement it by moving the constitution be adopted; or to reject it by voting it down. The remaining possibility - a vote to accept the report of the committee - wouldn't be appropriate.

In the ensuing debate, several minor errors were picked up in the printed version of the constitution which had been distributed. These were all amended by general consent - that is, since no one objected to having the corrections made, there was no formality of a vote on them. Both George Raybin and Dave Kyle spoke in favor of the proposed constitution; since it was well known that the two had been on opposite sides of the old WSFS, Inc fuss of a few years ago, this helped make up the meeting's mind. When nobody wanted to say anything further, I put the motion - that the constitution be adopted - to a voice vote. It passed handily.

Now, note: it was not necessary to "call the question"; unless the debate is unreasonably drawn out, the chairman lets it continue until there is nobody left who has anything further to say, and then puts the matter to a vote. What helped that along was that I kept reminding the meeting that there wasn't an awful lot of time to debate this, and that if things got too drawn out, the matter could be referred to a committee. The biggest thing that allowed a very complex document to be adopted in such a short time was that the matter had been thrashed out in committee beforehand, and that there were written copies of the result available since the beginning of the con for people to think over and digest. I would have liked to call a small meeting some morning before the business meeting for discussion of the constitution with whoever was interested, but I just never got around to it.

Considerable thanks should go to Steve Schultheis, who is the originator of the present constitution. He told me his ideas, I codified them, he made further corrections, and there it was.

The rest of the evening went smoothly, though late. Fred Pohl managed the astounding feat of staying in control of a panel which included John W. Campbell. Then Juanita Coulson, Maggie Thompson, and Ted White answered questions on how to put art work on stencils for mimeographed fanzines; afterward, they gave a demonstration of stencil cutting. The thing that kept the panel from being more successful was simply time; the schedule had slipped back and back (largely because I had underestimated the amount of time for the Business Meeting) until it was so late the audience had begun to dissipate.