Visions of Paradise

Saturday, August 08, 2009

St. Louiscon 1969

This weekend the annual World Science Fiction Convention is being held in Montreal. I have not attended a worldcon since 1980 in Boston, primarily because my wife is a non-fan and was bored that entire weekend. The 1970s were my worldcon-going years, and I attended seven of them, skipping the west coast and overseas worldcons because of traveling expenses. This year is the 40th anniversary of the first worldcon I attended in full (I spent a single day at Nycon 3 in 1967, my first exposure to fandom which convinced me it would be very good to participate further). I was a college student at the time, and I flew to St. Louis for Labor Day weekend. While I don’t have a lot of memories of that weekend, some of them still stick in the back of my head:

• the huckster’s room (dealer’s room) was the highlight of the entire weekend, row upon row of new and used science fiction books. In subsequent years, the percentage of books declined, replaced by more and more arts and crafts, but still there were always more books than I could possibly have wanted at any worldcon;

• the art show was absolutely spectacular, so I always spent a lot of time browsing the art at worldcons;

• some of the panel discussions were fascinating, while others were boring. It was not so much the topics which determined the quality of the panels as the panelists themselves;

• I saw many of my favorite sf writers for the first time. Alas, I was much too shy to speak to any of them;

• I enjoyed the Hugo Awards a lot, including all the speeches. The Best Novel went to John Brunner’s Stand on Zanzibar, but I was most excited by Best Novella going to one of my very favorite stories, Robert Silverberg’s “Nightwings”;

• it was the 1960s, after all, so there was skinny-dipping in the hotel pool. I had not expected to see that, however, my hotel room looked right down on the pool and I was very surprised one night to look out my window and see dozens of nude people right below me. No, I did not join them;

• one clumsy fan tripped and tore the movie screen in the main auditorium of the convention. Harlan Ellison immediately took up a collection to repair the screen, but the money collected was far in excess of what was needed, so Harlan unilaterally decided to donate the excess to Clarion, the writing workshop for fledgling writers which was so new at the time that it was actually being held in Clarion State College. However, Clarion was viewed by some fans as a “new wave” training ground, and they resented their money being given to an organization of which they disproved, which caused a bit of a controversy at the convention. Ultimately the money was used for another cause.

My main regret about St. Louiscon is that I did not speak to anybody the entire weekend since I was both too introverted and too shy to think of anything to say to strangers, even though we had mutual interest in science fiction. Actually, I never overcame that fear at all, even into this decade when I attended a local regional con and spent most of my free time observing other people socializing while feeling somewhat left out. But the pleasures of a worldcon were still many even for a wallflower like me.


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