Dave Kyle's SunCon Reminiscence
SunCon was controversial almost from the beginning. The planning began four years earlier, in 1973, with Orlando as the site. Orlando was the fastest growing city in central Florida and next to Disney World, but, though in the eastern rotation zone, it was far removed from the eastern fan population centers. A new hotel under construction, the Sheraton Towers, was very interested and a contract of intent was signed. There was, however, no Orlando or Florida group in place to make the bidding. The prime movers were non-Floridians; the bidding committee had virtually no Florida fans. The "7 for 77" campaign was not taken seriously by some and many fans were surprised and irritated when the hard-working Orlando bid actually won. "They shudd'na won," was heard. And then, when a switch was make unexpectedly from Orlando to Miami Beach, the I-told-you-so's were convinced that they were right. An opposition, encouraged by former supporters (fan feuding never dies), developed which bad-mouthed the SunCon. In the later stages, a not-very-sub-rosa boycott was organized. The year of 1977 was being considered as a lost year for fandom by a minority and many believed this so.
The chairman, Don Lundry of New Jersey, explained the problems succinctly in the first progress report. The hotel found it had a commitment it couldn't meet when it revealed itself to be in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Room rates and miscellaneous charges were to be increased by the hotel. Renegotiations were demanded. The exhibit hall now had to be cleared by Sunday noon instead of Monday evening. Unanswered letters, verbal waffling, unethical changes representing bad faith left the committee helpless. "Suing a bankrupt business," Lundry said, "is an exercise in futility." General consensus on this problem led to a move southward -- to Miami Beach. The move was possible because the Fontainebleau, a huge faded glory, was renovating its way back to preeminence. The equally famous Eden Roc next door was also available -- and indeed much used in tandem. The Fontainebleau was able to offer as much or more as the original Orlando choice. Rumors spread that it, too, was going bankrupt, but in actuality it was a nasty local problem of high finance versus municipal unions. Disgruntled pre-con registrants were offered their money back. Lundry was right when he understated that "There seem to have been more than the usual number of disappointments and frustrations." The outcome? An unexpectedly low attendance. However, the convention was well run by a nationwide staff and successfully, but to this day some say (usually those who didn't attend) that the SunCon was one of the worst. I worked there as part of it, as so many other fans around the country did, and I certainly believed, as many have, that it was the FunCon.
The GoH was beloved Jack Williamson, SFWA's Grand Master and whom Bob Heinlein called the Dean of Science Fiction. Incredible as it seems, it took the 35th Worldcon to honor him. And even today at the age of 81, Praise the Lord, Jack is still going strong.
SunCon had its share of new ideas, diligently searching for new ways to serve fandom (like an 800 phone number). It reinstituted the Hugo Awards Banquet. Perhaps the best progress reports published by any con to date were the series of four in large size under the identification of "Convention Journal." Also a serious attempt was made, and in good measure successful, to unite fandom into a national body under the name of the World Science Fiction Society, with incorporation again being seriously considered. For a dedicated con fan, the Journals are worth reading (consider the definition of the amateur fanzine eligible for a Hugo and the articles on "filksinging" and "potlatch"). For the knowledgeable science fiction fan, the Program Book is a masterpiece, with a wraparound Vincent DiFate cover featuring a wonderful portrait of Jack Williamson. There were in-depth articles about, for, and by Jack Williamson -- and equally full and interesting material about, for, and by Bob Madle, Fan GoH. Even Bob Silverberg, the Toastmaster, was extensively covered. We who attended had the pleasure of spending a weekend with them. With all the whirlwind of activity, no wonder that weekend also produced a genuine, tropical, near-miss hurricane. What an appropriate conclusion to the controversial SunCon!
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