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A Family Reunion

July 23, 2015 at 11:49 pm
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We are now less than a month away from worldcon. On Tuesday, August 18, Parris and I and some friends will be boarding a jet plane for Spokane, returning the following Tuesday. With the convention — and the Hugo awards — looming ever closer, I have been giving a lot of thought to what this worldcon might be like.

Sasquan will be the 73rd World Science Fiction Convention. For me, it will be the 41st (I just counted). That’s a lot. My first was Noreascon I in Boston, in 1971. I’ve missed a few along the way, most recently the one in Japan in 2007, but for the most part I have been going ever since, and I imagine I will continue going until the year finally comes when my name and picture show up in the “In Memoriam” portion of the Hugo Awards. (Not this year, I trust. Even if my head did get bitten off by a shark. Not for many years to come, I hope).

Truth be told, six months ago I was seriously considering skipping Sasquan. Not something I do lightly, given my history, given how much I have loved worldcon over the years. But I’ve been to Spokane, and while it seemed a pleasant enough town I wasn’t dying to see it again… and I do have a lot on my plate right now. But that was before Puppygate. Once that kerfuffle broke, I knew I could not possibly stay away. When your family is being attacked, lied about, and threatened that’s not the time you want to skip the family reunion.

And fandom is a family to me, a family of friends that I love as much as I love the family I was born into back in Jersey. I realized that way back in 1971, at that first worldcon. “These are my people,” I thought. “This is my world. I belong here. I want to be a part of it.” And so I have been, lo these many years. Worldcon is the annual family reunion, the gathering of all the clans and tribes… and the Hugo Awards are our moveable feast.

The approach of Sasquan has got me thinking about worldcons (and awards ceremonies) past, so I thought I’d share a few pictures from my own family albums.

That picture up above of the goof in the yellow turtleneck is me at my second worldcon, Torcon 2 in Toronto, 1973. That was the first year of the John W. Campbell New Writer Award, and I was a nominee. I lost (so I have that in common with Larry Correia and Brad Torgersen). Here’s the guy who won it, with his plaque:

Note the victory cigar; you could smoke at cons in those days. Also note the lack of the tiara. The Campbell tiara was decades in the future. Also, I pity the fool who tries to put a tiara on Jerry Pournelle, then or now. Vote totals were never released in those days, but it was a close race that year, so close that the Torcon people actually gave a runner-up plaque to the second-place finisher, Geo. Alec Effinger. Nothing for the other four nominees, of course, and Gardner Dozois wasn’t sure that a Campbell Award loser even qualified for membership in his “Hugo Losers Club.” We argued about it the rest of the con, and he finally said, okay, I could be a loser.

((Unlike other, more recent, losers I did not take my defeat as evidence that the system was broken, the vote was rigged, or I was the victim of prejudice against lapsed Catholics from New Jersey. I just told myself to write more, and write better, and maybe I’d win one of those rockets one day. Comes of growing up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan. “Wait till next year” is a saner, healthier response than “I lost, something must be rotten.”))

Next year, 1974, I was nominated for a Hugo, as it happened… but I lost that too. Now, Gardner informed me, I was a real, full-fledged member of the Hugo Losers Club.

But in 1975 something truly strange happened. I was nominated again, and I won, for “A Song for Lya.”

If I happen to look queerly like Ben Bova in that picture, that’s because it’s him. Worldcon was in Australia that year, and I couldn’t afford to go. I was at home in Chicago in my underwear when the phone rang and they told me that I’d won. So Ben accepted for me, and stopped in Minneapolis on the way home to give my Hugo to Gordy Dickson. Who held it for a while, then passed it along to Joe Haldeman when Joe and Gay visited from Iowa. Joe kept it on his desk for a few months but finally brought it to the first Windycon, where I finally got it. (Gardner threw me out of the Hugo Losers Club when he heard).

The Hugo Awards have been an important part of worldcon for half a century… but there’s a lot else that goes on at worldcons as well. Panels, readings, the masquerade, the huckster’s room, filksinging, regency dances, dum-dums (well, not for a while), parties, parties, parties… and yes, romance too. Friendship, flirting, love, sex, skinny dipping (back then, not so much these days), one-night stands and lifelong love affairs. And marriages… including my own.

Here’s me with my first wife, Gale Burnick, at Suncon. That was Miami Beach, 1977, and it rained cats and dogs the whole damn con.

I still have that hat, which I got in Orlando at Disney World on the way to the con. I no longer have that wife, however.

Here’s me with Parris, a few years after my divorce, at LACon II in Anaheim, 1984 (note the rats). For me, the second time was the charm; I got it right.

I met both of my wives at science fiction conventions, as it happens. Love and romance and friendship are all easier when you have something in common, and for us, that was SF and fantasy and fandom. SF cons are a lot more than just the “professional conferences” that some neopros mistake them for; in fact, they are really not professional conferences at all (which is not to say you cannot do business there).

But back to those Hugo awards. Here’s a blurry picture of one of the greatest nights of my life: Hugo night at Noreascon II in Boston, 1980, the night I became the first guy ever to win two Hugos for fiction in a single night (Jack Gaughan had done it earlier for artwork). I won Short Story and Novelette, for “The Way of Cross and Dragon” and “Sandkings.”

I figured that, whatever else might happen, that two-in-one-night record would last a long long time. Hoo hah. Gordy Dickson duplicated the feat the very next year, at Denvention in 1981. I was the presenter who opened the envelope and gave him the first of his two, for Novelette, whereupon we both sat down, and he immediately bounced up again to win for Novella, defeating one of my own stories for the double. I was back to being a loser. But you know, I didn’t really mind. Win some, lose some… then lose some more. The chant of the Hugo loser. But it is a rare and precious thing to be a Hugo Loser.

The night that Gordy won the double will always be legendary in worldcon lore. Edward Bryant was the toastmaster that year, and decided to present the Hugos on roller skates.

Ed’s bit was very funny… though maybe less so for Ed, since the stage tilted a little and he was always rolling forward and threatening to go off the edge. Maybe he should have gone with his first notion, and made his entrance on the back of an elephant.

See, here’s another secret about the Hugo Awards that the Puppies don’t seem to get. They are supposed to be FUN. Win or lose, it is a celebration, not a war.

And sometimes the losers have the most fun. Which brings me, in a round-about way, to the Hugo Losers Party, a worldcon tradition since Big Mac in 1976.

Up above, I made mention of the Hugo Losers Club that Gardner Dozois had started. Until ’76, this organization existed only in Gargy’s fevered brain. But at Big Mac, four years before that magical night when I would win two Hugos, I lost two in a single night. One to Larry Niven, one to Roger Zelazny; I like to lose to the best. Afterward my friends patted me on the back and told me I’d been robbed, which is what friends do, and Gardner said he’d forgive me for winning that Hugo the previous year in Australia and let me back into the Hugo Losers Club.

And somewhere in there, between the third beer and the fourth, we decided the Hugo Losers should have a party. My hotel room was chosen as the venue, Monday night for the time (later the party would always be on Hugo night, but that first one was more of a dead dog). We scrounged our booze by going around to all the other parties and begging leftovers, so we had some box wine and a lot of Old Milwaukee beer and some smuggled Coors. Gardner took on the role of doorman, so only true losers could get in: winners who dared appear were pelted with cheese doodles and booed lustily. I got as drunk as I have ever gotten and ended up standing on the desk, leading the losers in a LOOOOOOOOOSE chant modeled on Bob Tucker’s famous SMOOOOOOOOOTH. But Bob always passed around a bottle of Beam’s Choice, and we were passing Boone’s Farm, I think. (Good enough for losers).

Ah, that was an epic night. The stories I could tell. (And will, if you ply me with booze at Sasquan, but it had best not be Boone’s Farm, I’m not as desperate as I was). LOCUS wrote us up as the best party of the convention. The Hugo Losers Party became a legend.

Then, of course, it became a tradition. Gardner and I ran another one at Suncon in 1977, and yet another at Iguanacon in 1978 (I lost my first novel Hugo that year). I don’t think there was one in 1979, but don’t know for sure… that year worldcon was in England, and I didn’t have the money to go. But the Hugo Losers party came back big in 1980, at Noreascon II. That blurry picture up above? That’s me, entering the Hugo Losers Party with two Hugos in my hands. Such hubris cannot go unpunished. Nor did it. Please note the man lurking behind me. That’s Gardner, smiling innocently. A few moment later, when my back was turned, he produced a can of whipped cream and sprayed it all over my head. Sic Semper Victorius.

I was hoping to be sprayed again the following year, at Denvention… but damn it, I lost again, this time to Gordy, as related above, so once again I became a Loser in good standing. I did get to welcome my old friend Howard Waldrop to the club, since he lost his first Hugo that night, also to Gordy. (Howard has in fact never won a Hugo, so if he’s not the current Bull Goose Loser, he is surely close). Here’s me presenting a consolation prize to him at that year’s Hugo Loser Party, a faux “special issue” F&SF cover (some of the stories illustrated there had not even been written yet, but would be). ((One of these years F&SF should do a real Howard Waldrop special issue, he surely deserves it)).

The Denvention Hugo Losers party was another of the legendary ones. Rusty Hevelin was Fan GOH and he let us use his suite, which was huge… but so many losers packed in that you could hardly move, so we had to pretend to close the party and throw half of them out. (The ones who left were the real losers, heh heh).

Sometime after Denver, the Hugo Losers Party passed into other hands. It continued to be held, but slowly, as years and decades passed, it changed. It became quasi-official, held every year immediately after the Hugos. Somehow the tradition developed that the party should be hosted by the next year’s worldcon. The event got fancier and more upscale, sometimes held in suites, but more often in convention center or hotel function rooms, with hors d’oevres and cash bars and a list of who could be admitted and who could not. Some years only the current year’s Hugo losers were allowed in, while past year losers were turned away… and… shudder… WINNERS were admitted with nary a boo, and nary a cheese doodle tossed in their direction.

People still did anything to get in. Look:

I don’t know if the disguise worked. But I do know that in other years, even Gardner was turned away from the party he had founded. For shame, for shame.

Even more shamefully, a few years back some irony-impaired nominees decided that they did not like being called “losers,” and to soothe their sensitivities the party was renamed “the Post-Hugo Nominees Reception,” or something similarly lame. (Everyone but the terminally humorless still calls it the Hugo Losers Party, of course). And so it went and so it went, right up to LonCon, where Sasquan hosted what had to be the lamest, dreariest, more boring Hugo Losers Party of all time. Or should I say, the worst Post-Hugo Nominees Reception.

Which brings me back to Sasquan. Following the current tradition, next year’s worldcon has to host a party… and I know the KC folks know how to throw a party, so I have no doubt their bash will be a lot better than the dreary one in London. But it will still be a Post-Hugo Nominees Reception.

Worldcon deserves better. Especially this year, after Puppygate and the deep wounds that Puppygate has inflicted on fandom, our genre, and the Hugos. So it’s time for the trufans to do what we do best…

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I am taking back the Hugo Losers Party. It’s gonna be EPIC.

Fuck 1999. Let’s party like it’s 1976. ]]>