The End of Worldcon As We Know It

Some of you may not be aware that there’s a lot of feuding, fussing and fighting going on in science fiction right now, centered on this year’s Hugo balloting. It got so loud that it even came to the attention of such diverse news sources as Britain’s Guardian and our Wall Street Journal. So, since I’ve been attending Worldcon since 1963, and have appeared on more Hugo ballots than any other writer in science fiction’s history, I figured it was time to address the subject. The following is my editorial from the current (July/August) issue of Galaxy’s Edge.

The End of Worldcon As We Know It

The recent brouhaha (a much better word than kerfluffle) over the Hugo ballot has caused a number of people, online and elsewhere, to proclaim that this is The End of Worldcon, or at least the End of Worldcon As We Know It.

So it’s probably time for a little history lesson, because you know what will actually cause The End of Worldcon As We Know It?

Peace, camaraderie, and tranquility.

You think not?

Do you know what Fredrik Pohl, Donald A. Wollheim, Cyril M. Kornbluth, and Robert A. W. Lowndes have in common? I mean, besides their positions as giants in the annals of science fiction, with Wollheim and Pohl being Worldcon Guests of Honor, Kornbluth being still in print six decades after his premature death, and Lowndes editing for close to half a century?

They were all stopped at the door and not allowed to attend the very first Worldcon back in 1939.

No kidding. It was clearly going to be the End of Worldcon before it was even born.

It’s all there in The Immortal Storm, the history of science fiction fandom in the 1930s, written by Sam Moskowitz, the guy who turned them away. (It seems they wouldn’t sign a pledge to behave and to not distribute Futurian John Michel’s Communist diatribe at the convention. Of course, while these four and Michel were being refused entry, Dave Kyle quietly brought a bundle of copies of Michel’s tract, Mutation or Death, into the con.)

It has become known in the field’s history books as The Exclusion Act. Well, in those histories written before 1956…after which it is known as the First Exclusion Act.

Move the clock ahead and stop it in 1964, the year of the Breendoggle.

You don’t know about the Breendoggle?

It seems that the Pacificon committee decided to bar the spouse of a major writer from attending, and this caused quite an uproar, to the point where literally half of fandom was threatening to boycott the convention if he came, and the other half threatened to boycott it if he was not permitted to attend. It was certainly going to be the End of Worldcon As We Know It.

At the last minute, the spouse elected not to attend, and the Worldcon went off as scheduled. (So who was the spouse, I hear you ask? Walter Breen, the husband of Marion Zimmer Bradley. And why didn’t the committee want him to attend? If I tell you that he’d been arrested for pederasty in 1954, and died in jail in 1990 while serving time for child molesting, I think you’ll be able to intuit it.)

Clifford D. Simak was not only a fine writer, but probably the most decent and gentle man ever to appear in this field. He was the Guest of Honor at the 1971 Worldcon, during the height of the truly acrimonious Old Wave/New Wave war. He spent most of his Guest of Honor speech talking not about himself, or his writing, or even science fiction, but rather attempting to make peace between the warring sides. Alas, he was too rational and made too much sense; the war continued unabated.

But (I hear you say) this End of Worldcon As We Know It is being caused by Hugo balloting, not all that other stuff that delights fannish historians every few years. Surely there’s never been a problem with voting before!

OK, guys – come back from Barsoom and Mesklin and Hyborea, and spend a little time in the real world again.

Not that long ago, in 1989, the Hugo Committee received a number of ballots for a certain up-and-coming artist. Problem was, most of the voters’ memberships were paid for with consecutively-numbered money orders from the same post office. The committee decided not to allow his name on the ballot, though he had enough paid-for votes. (I am told that some people are publicly buying and giving away a number of memberships to this year’s Worldcon. I have no idea what the Hugo committee plans to do about it.)

Of course, that’s far from the only “irregularity”. Remember a couple of years ago, in 2013, when there were only three short stories on the ballot? The reason for that is embedded in the Hugo rules: to make the ballot, a nominee in any category must receive at least 5% of the ballots cast.

Now remember back to 1994. Not the same situation, you say? You just looked, and there were 5 short stories nominated.

Well, you’re almost right. Only 3 short stories received 5% of the nominations. So the Hugo Administrator, in his infinite wisdom, added 2 novelettes to the ballot to fill it out – and sure enough, a novelette won the 1994 Hugo for Best Short Story.

Ah, but this year will be different, I hear you say. This year we’ll be voting No Award in a bunch of categories, and history will thank us.

Well, it just so happens that No Award has triumphed before. In fact, it has won Best Dramatic Presentation 3 different times. (Bet you didn’t know that Rod Serling’s classic “Twilight Zone” series lost to No Award, did you?)

But the most interesting and humiliating No Award came in 1959. The category was Best New Writer, and one of the losers was future Worldcon Guest of Honor and Nebula Grand Master Brian Aldiss, who actually won a Hugo in 1962, just three years later. That No Award was so embarrassing that they discontinued the category until they could find a sponsor eight years later, which is how the Campbell Award, sponsored by Analog, came into being.

Please note that I’ve limited myself to Worldcons. I haven’t mentioned the X Document or the Lem Affair or any of the other notable wars you can find in various pro and fannish histories (or probably even by just googling them). This editorial is only concerned with The End of Worldcon As We Know It.

And hopefully by now the answer should be apparent. You want to End Worldcon As We Know It? Don’t feud. Don’t boycott. Don’t be unpleasant. Don’t be unreasonable. Don’t raise your voices in mindless anger.

Do all that and none of us will recognize the Worldcon that emerges.

About Mike

According to Locus, I am the all-time leading award winner, living or dead, for short fiction. I have won 5 Hugos (from a record 37 nominations), a Nebula, and other major awards in the USA, France, Japan, Spain, Croatia, Catalonia, and Poland. I'm and author of 74 novels, over 260 stories, and 3 screenplays, and the editor of 42 anthologies. My work has been translated into 27 languages. I am currently the editor of the Stellar Guild line of books, and Galaxy's Edge magazine.
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