Sam Moskowitz' Pacificon II Reminiscence

1964Pacificon II, Oakland, CA
What to Do About Undesirables by Sam Moskowitz
From the Noreascon three PB

The Leamington Hotel, Oakland, California, September 4-7, 1964. Guests of Honor: Edmond Hamilton and Leigh Brackett. Chairmen: Al haLevy and J. Ben Stark.

Time has diminished the most notable aspect of this convention: the committee felt that it needed an endorsement from fandom at large to exercise the right to bar "undesirables" from the convention. The back cover of their third progress report, issued May, 1964, carried a highly unusual advertisement. It headlined: "We Support the Pacificon Committee's RIGHT to limit membership for cause." It was signed by an impressive array of science fiction fan notables. From the Discon Committee (Washington, D.C.): George Scithers, Bill Evans, Bob Pavlat, Dick Eney and Robert A. Madle; from the Seattle group: F.M. Busby, Elinor Busby, and Wally Weber; Earl Kemp represented Chicago; Noreen Shaw signed for the first Cleveland convention and Ben Jason for the second; Detroit had as "delegates": Howard DeVore, Fred Prophet, Jim Broderick, George Young, and Roger Sims; Detroit II contributed Dick Schultz and Dannie Plachta; Jack Speer signed for The Fantasy Amateur Press Association and Dave Kyle for Nycon II, with Sam Moskowitz signing for Nycon I; the Cincinnati Fantasy Group registered en toto; and unaffiliated prominent fans Larry Shaw, Wrai Ballard, Roy Tackett, Don Franson, Janie Lamb, Ron Ellik, Al Lewis, and Joe Gibson were also represented.

What prompted this unusual move was the fact that a West Coast fan had been accused of alleged child molestation and therefore was not really wanted in attendance at the convention for fear of an incident. This opened up a new perspective on the action taken by the committee of The First World Science Fiction Convention in 1939 in barring six Futurians from entry for fear, "with overwhelming cause," that they might disrupt the convention. The situation now was: does a convention committee have the right to limit membership for its own legitimate protection? If it does, then a reevaluation of the action taken at the first world convention in a more positive light was in order.

See Breendoggle for more information on this.

Many of those present had a sense of impending loss when E.E. Smith was unable to appear for his talk "How to Write a Story Around an Idea" and John Brunner, prominent British author, substituted for him. Word was received that Smith was at that moment recovering in a hospital after having had a lung removed. He was to die in 1965, and the final novel in the Skylark series, Skylark DuQuesne, which was serialized in If magazine that year, is believed to have been substantially rewritten if not actually written by Fred Pohl.

A fascinating part of the convention program was the appearance of Dr. Josef Nesvadba, a Czechoslovakian psychiatrist who had published three stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He spoke an excellent English. His book Vampires Ltd.: Stories of Science and Fantasy had just appeared from A. Vanous, New York, and Bill Donaho, a member of the convention committee, was handling them for $7.50. In 1964 Nesvadba told us Ray Bradbury was the best-known American science fiction author behind the iron curtain, followed by Robert A. Heinlein, A.E. van Vogt, and Lewis Padgett. Their stories appealed primarily to the younger crowd. There had been a good amount of science fiction published in the USSR up until 1930, but its publication had been almost eliminated under Stalin, to be granted an immediate revival in 1957 when the Russians sent up the first successful sputnik. There were three or four regular authors of science fiction in Czechoslovakia, Nesvadba said, and a tremendous, untapped potential market.

In 1966 I received a phone call at my New York editorial office (which number I had given Nesvadba) that he was at the Czech embassy on Fifth Avenue and had visiting from Czechoslovakia and avid science fiction fan who was anxious to get my books on the history of science fiction Explorers of the Infinite and Seekers of Tomorrow. The man's name was Josef O(S,ù)kvoreck O(y,«). I dropped down, autographed the two books to O(S,ù)kvoreck O(y,«), and asked him to send me a couple of Czech works in exchange. I spoke with him and Nesvadba for about an hour. He told me the only Soviet-bloc science fiction writer who was comparable with the better American writers was Stanislaw Lem, then almost unknown in this country.

Of the older Czech science fiction writers he singled out Jakub Arbes as historically important, propagating one of his stories, the novella "Newton's Brain" which first appeared in 1877, as his best. It is a story of a space ship that can travel faster than the speed of light and with special instruments it is possible to view events as far as 6,000 years past. He located a copy of the book in Czech and sent it to me. A few years ago, in an anthology titled Clever Tales, published by Copeland and Day, Boston, in 1897, I found the story in English translation. In context the story mentions Cyrano de Bergerac, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne as previous science fiction writers.

I had asked that Skvoreck check my article on Karel Capek, the great Czech science fiction writer, for errors when he went home. He replied: "You asked me to comment on the chapter on Karel Capek. Well, I can tell you, that it is a piece of first rate information and evaluation. To make a comparison: in this long article there are almost no errors (the Capek piece, which had initially appeared in Fantastic in 1959, was the longest known evaluation of that author in the English language up to that time), whereas in the short (a few lines only) article on Capek in the Reader's Encyclopedia by William Rose Benet, there is practically everything wrong." He showed the article to Capek's wife Olga, who was still alive and a leading actress in the Czech National theater. She found that her stage name Scheinpflugova should be spelt with a "v" as shown instead of a "w," which correction appeared in later editions; otherwise she found no errors.

Possibly as a result of some connection with Skvoreck, I received a little packet with a letter from Prague dated March 5, 1967from a Jaroslav Koran. In order to obtain a degree from the Prague Film Academy he had submitted the idea of a thesis on science fiction, the first ever written in Czechoslovakia. He didn't know that at the time, and felt he was doomed until he ran across my books including the anthology Masterpieces of Science Fiction. To express his thanks he sent me an almost mint copy of the first edition of RUR in Czech, printed the year before the first production of the play. Whether he knew it or not, I vastly preferred that to payment.