Sam Moskowitz' Seacon Reminiscence

1961Seacon, Seattle
Heinlein as Host by Sam Moskowitz
From the Noreascon Three PB

September 2-4, 1961, Seattle, Washington, at the Hyatt House. Robert A. Heinlein, Guest of Honor. Wally Weber, chairman.

Robert A. Heinlein was one of the most congenial hosts in science fiction up to that time. The first-floor rooms, facing the swimming pool in the Hyatt House court, had a floor-to-ceiling sliding glass window/door. This Heinlein kept open to all and provided refreshments. In the course of the conversation with him, I learned that the first half of Stranger in a Strange Land was begun in the early forties, about half done, then completed prior to its publication in book form by Putnam in 1961. This novel had marked Heinlein's return to deliberately adult novels, and critical reaction was very important to him. It was a great disappointment when the influential New York Times reviewer excoriated the novel. The hardcover had a limited sale, but as the sixties developed and the book went into paperback, it became a cult novel with the hippies and flower children and sales soared, continuing at a high level to this day. For years it was conventional wisdom that Charles Manson had obtained his ideas for his murderous cult for the book, but when Manson was interviewed he denied ever reading the novel.

Heinlein's Guest of Honor talk was one of almost unmitigated pessimism. He predicted that one third of those present would be dead before too long, as a result of wars and raids by survivalist groups, as well as being worked to death in labor camps. He foresaw a long series of guerrilla wars with communist movements which the democrats would eventually lose and slowly surrender.

When the Hugos were announced, with Rogue Moon in contention and its author Algis Budrys present, there were supporters who grumbled that the best novel had lost. The passage of time seems to have substantiated the winner, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, as being a creditable choice.

There were 270 people at the Seacon, as the 19th World Convention was known, and as had been the case in many previous conventions, I was called upon to introduce the notables. As at previous affairs I had attended, I knew the names of 90% of the faces I saw, and checking the membership there is no question about it. Knowing almost everyone there is a stark contrast to attending current world conventions and admittedly not even recognizing 80% of published authors, the working editors and artists, let alone the fans. There is a sense of family, community, and belonging when you know almost everyone present. This contrasts with the search for a familiar face at some of the larger conventions. For example, at Nolacon II (1988) in Louisiana, the registration was closed when I arrived — despite notice that it would be open at that hour. I found in the hospitality room eight members of the convention committee from whom I tried to get a special pass so that I could participate on an early-morning Clifford D. Simak panel. None of them had ever heard of me, and after avoiding being ushered out, an hour of calling around, they finally contacted someone who had heard of me, knew I was on the program, and got a pass to me. This, despite the fact that I had paid membership in full months earlier, so it was no freebee.

So confident was Chicago that it would win the bid for the next convention, that its pivot man, Earl Kemp, showed up with membership cards already printed and ready for sale and distribution.

As early as the thirties, an occasional episode of drunkenness had been observed (and recorded) among the teen-age fans. Primarily because of their age, this was an infrequent problem. By the late forties and early fifties the mysteries of sex were being frequently explored, particularly at large conventions and at the "community" households set up here and there. It was in the late fifties that the scent of drugs was in the air and defended in print in some of the fan magazines. The drift to drugs was in the air at Seattle, and frequently hinted at between the lines of "enmities" about science fiction that were thrown up more as a smoke screen than from any sort of sense, all leading up to at least one conviction and jail sentence for drug dealing in recent years.