Guest of Honor (abbreviated "GoH" and pronounced “gō”) is the title given to people a convention is specifically honoring. Most cons have both a Pro GoH and a Fan GoH, but "GoH" is also frequently used as a generic term applying to all kinds of guests, including both pros and fans.
A person is usually made a GoH to recognize significant and long-lasting contributions to the SF field, the SF community or fandom. (Of course, conventions hope that having a famous name at their convention will draw more attendees.) Because of this, repeating GoHs is uncommon and generally frowned on.
A common practice is to reserve "GoH" for a pro writer and have other specific GoHships such as Fan GoH, Artist Guest, Filk Guest, etc. If so, this does not normally indicate a difference in ranking. Everyone called a "GoH" of any flavor is equal.
Common GoH Designations
|Can mean a generic (unspecified type) GoH and is also commonly used to refer to the pro writer GoH. It depends on local custom.
|A GoH being honored for accomplishments in fandom, such as conrunning, editing or publishing fanzines, club work, etc. The person might also be a pro, but the honor reflects only fannish accomplishments. Fanartists and filkers are sometimes honored as fgohs.
|Author / Writer
|Always means pro writer GoH.
|Can be a fanartist or a pro.
|Sometimes also used for people in publishing who are not, strictly, editors, but always a professional.
|Always a professional, typically a book publisher; usually does not include editors.
|Always someone being honored for accomplishments in filk, but sometimes “Filk Guest” is a GoH position and sometimes a Special Guest.
|A broader category than filk. A Music GoH can be a filker or someone from the mundane music scene (hopefully with a ties to the sf community and not just entertainment). A few filk conventions (such as NEFilk and OVFF) have a Listener Guest (also called Honored Listener), a GoH who is a person who appreciates filk, but doesn't compose it or perform it.
|Usually a game developer.
|Someone honored for achievements in science or technology. Often, this is a member of the SF community, but it doesn’t have to be. (However, scientists who are not connected to the community are prone to ask for honoraria.)
|Usually used for people from outside the community who work in movies or TV, ranging from actors to producers.
|A very confusing category. Sometimes it effectively means "Other GoH" or "GoH-but-we-don't-have-a-neat-category" and sometimes it means "Not a GoH per se but someone we wish to honor or note." Sometimes used to advertise the expected presence of a potential draw. It depends strongly on local custom. See Special Guest for more.
|A deceased person whose contributions to sf or fandom will be highlighted.
The quality of the honoree’s fanac should always be the first criterion. (This does not preclude that person also being a pro, as long as the honor is for contributions to fandom specifically. Historically, many well-known pros engaged in fanac and have been honored as Fan Guests of Honor — this is less true today, and with so many other opportunities for pros, it behooves concoms to think seriously about whether someone who’s primarily known as a professional merits this honor.)
Past tradition called for a fan goh to be someone from outside the con’s locale, in part as a means of attracting fen from the goh’s hometown to the con, but few concoms still make this a consideration.
Sadly, fewer and fewer concoms are designating fan gohs at all.
“Special Guest” (sometimes “honored guest”) is an oddball category for someone who (usually) isn’t a Guest of Honor, but is still someone a convention wants to host and pay tribute to. This is a convention-dependent thing.
At Worldcon, "special guest" is used to designate someone who is not a GoH but is being brought specially to the con by the convention. (For Worldcons, Special Guest is never a GoH unless specifically designated as such.)
It depends on the convention, however. At some conventions (Boskone, for instance), a "Special Guest" is a category of GoH with equal rank. At others (Minicon, for example), "Special Guest" is used in the Worldcon sense to designate a guest of the con who is being singled out for special notice, but who is not one of the GoHs. There is no algorithmic way to find out which is which: You have to ask.
In general, when fans are speaking carefully, a "guest" at an SF convention is always one of a small number of people who are being specially honored by the convention and whose expenses (but never an honorarium) are paid by the con. When the word "guest" is used to describe someone formally, it never refers to the general run of program participants.
Nonetheless, many conventions use the term "guest" loosely, especially in publications, to mean all program participants. Some use it for a class of program participants whose expenses aren’t covered but whose membership fees are waived.
In other words, the term can apply to almost anybody a convention wants to use in its publicity.
In the 21st century, some cons have used this category as a means of increasing the diversity of their lineups while slating bigger names as GoHs; this has led to charges of tokenism.
A good way to judge if an ambiguously designated person is a real GoH or simply an important person whose presence is being noted is to count the other guests. If there's reasonably full slate of GoHs without the ambiguous cases, they are probably not GoHs.
In general, a "guest" at an SF convention is one of a small number of people whose expenses (but never an appearance fee or honorarium) are paid by the con. When the word "guest" is used to describe someone formally, it practically never refers to the general run of program participants. Nonetheless, many conventions use the term "guest" loosely, especially in publications, to mean all program participants.
Commercial gate shows and media conventions do not follow these rules and frequently have either no GoHs or a plethora of them. While many of their practices were adopted from fandom's, they are not longer part of the community and are not further considered here.
Ghost of Honor
It is moderately common for conventions to deliberately list a deceased person as a GoH with the intention of drawing special attention to that person's contributions to the field.
This is slightly controversial — a few feel that it is always tacky — but the majority opinion seems to be that if done with dignity, it's a Good Thing. Unfortunately, the most common title used is "Ghost of Honor," and many people who approve of having a posthumous guest object to the punning title. As you might expect, the temptation to pun "ghost" for "guest" is nearly irresistible, so we also see "Honored Ghost". Less punny terms like "Memorial Guest," "Historical Guest," "Posthumous GoH" and "Dead GoH" are also used and produce (somewhat) fewer objections.
This title is never used for a GoH who died after being invited. The normal practice in a case like that is to continue to list the person as a GoH, but to note that they are deceased. Often, special exhibits and programming honor the deceased. Sometimes an additional GoH is invited and added to the list; sometimes not.
But it's hyper-tacky to delist a GoH for any reason other than their own choice, and most particularly to do so because they died.
The ultimate GoHship is, of course, being GoH at Worldcon — it's fandom's equivalent of a Nobel Prize. There is a sensible and long-standing rule of thumb that a Worldcon GoH should have at least thirty years activity in the field before being honored. (The thirty-year number is arbitrary, but has proven to be about right — there are always many potential deserving guests with at least that length of activity — and does an excellent job of discouraging the honoring of one-hit wonders and charismatic flash-in-the-pans.)
A Worldcon GoH is a member of the sf community whose contributions have had a substantial (positive!) impact on the community. A GoH should be one of the people who made us what we are.
The Worldcon Fan GoHship is the ultimate accolade and as such has a much higher standard than FGoH at a regional convention. A Worldcon FGoH should have been active in fandom for at least thirty years and should have made major (positive) contributions in more than one area of fandom. It should never be given for sheer longevity, and not normally for someone who excels in only one thing.
The oldest Worldcon tradition was to have a single GoH. A second, a FGoH, was added in the 50s and the number of GoHs at a typical convention has gradually increased. More than about five (even at a Worldcon) is considered crass, though, sadly, some conventions go much further, greatly diminishing the honor. (As a rule, Guests of Honor are individuals, but sometimes a couple will be honored and occasionally a group (e.g., The Stranger Club at Noreascon Three). Those cases are generally counted as a single guest, albeit one with multiple heads.)
A speech given by a GoH at a convention. For the first few decades of conventions, the GoH Speech would often be the high point of the convention's program. It was not uncommon for the speech to be carefully prepared and later published. At Worldcons, it, not the Hugo Awards was often the centerpiece of the banquet.
As conventions grew larger and more complicated, and as the program became multi-track, and especially as the custom of holding a banquet declined, the GoH speech came to be simply a program item, albeit an important one. (Much to the relief of guests who were not skilled speakers!)
The all-time record for GoH speeches must be Philip José Farmer’s speech at Baycon in 1968. Several geological epochs passed during the speech. By the time it ended, new mountain ranges had risen, and new ocean basins had opened up....
At fan-run conventions, gohs are not paid any fees or honoraria, but all of their expenses to attend the con are usually covered, typically including travel, lodging and a per diem for meals. Spouses or regular companions are usually covered, as well. Large cons that can afford to often provide their gohs with suites or other upgraded hotel rooms.
Many cons designate a goh liaison to work with guests on both their travel arrangements and program schedule. For guests from outside the local area, it’s a good plan to have someone who can make sure they have local transportation and, if desired, company for meals and other outings.
|This is a conrunning page.