SMOFCON 35: A Brief Report

Having been proclaimed a SMOF at some point in the distant past, I presumed to assume that the designation was at least somewhat akin to those honors and recognitions British folk (and sometimes foreigners) give to each other from time to time, allowing them to tack a string of letters after their name and sometimes prefix it with titles.  You know, something like “The Left Honorable Steven J. Davidson Esquire, S.M.O.F.”.  In other words, unless dishonorably discharged from the ranks of fandom, you are entitled to the honor for the remainder of your life.

On this thin premise, I chose to believe that my presence would be tolerated, if not welcomed.

I’m not sure if either of those applied, but I did end up on two panels, proving at least one contention:  our vaunted and frequently under-appreciated convention runners are very adept at utilizing whatever resources are at hand in order to accomplish their goals.

I appeared on a panel addressing Security issues at conventions, a panel billed as part one of a discussion on codes of conduct and how our community is going about not just drafting endless variations on a theme, but on the enforcement and handling of the consequences.

No small amount of time was spent on the lessons we all took away from the “Readercon debacle” (harassment charges were leveled at a fairly prominent fan, the convention committee fumbled a bit with their response, which ratcheted up the upset, some board members resigned and the offender was banned for life).  Our discussion addressed more of the nitty gritty – potential liability issues, when and how to engage with police departments, planning, the essential paranoia that accompanies security work.  We covered a fair amount of ground.

My second panel was “Fandom is Large” and it was originally intended to discuss ways that fandom (traditional fandom, that is) could reach out and touch new generations of fans for whom the “fan experience” is a far different one.

Someone from the audience pointed out about midway through that we were supposed to be discussing solutions as opposed to discussing the issue, but we never really got around to solutions.  We did manage to agree that fandom’s fall-down is in marketing.  There are cultural imperatives, economic factors and societal obstacles in the way towards organizing better marketing, but I suspect that our community is almost ready to embrace some concepts (if only out of a sense of survival) that might have been dismissed in previous years.

I also attended the Welcome to Smofcon (I encourage everyone, new and jaded, experienced and wide-eyed) to attend whatever “welcome to” panel is offered when they are attending any particular convention for the first time.  Such talks are usually delivered by high-profile individuals (at least for that particular con), helping you identify the movers and shakers; you get to see, if not meet, the other novitiates (and if you are feeling that fish-out-of-water feeling, these are your new convention friends), and, if you pay attention, you’ll pick up some history, tradition and a get a good feel for the temper of the convention.

I also attended most of the Fannish Inquision, that event where bid committees (and seated convention committees) sing songs, do dances and are grilled like a cheese sandwich at a roadside dive.

One big announcement:  Dublin in 2019:  An Irish Worldcon and Worldcon 76 San Jose will be offering retro Hugo Awards for 1943 and 1943 (works from 1942 and 1943 respectively).  Worldcon went on hiatus during the peak years of World War II.  Previous Hugo Award rules allowed Retros to be handed out for conventions that had not handed out Hugos, but not for Worldcons that had never been held.  Rules changes allowed the inclusion of those no-Worldcon years.

The Committees from both Dublin and San Jose presented this announcement jointly, along with a well-made video, but here I have to gripe a bit:  the video featured film posters, magazine and book covers for potentially eligible works from the years in question.  I was initially pleased to see an Amazing Stories cover on the screen, promptly followed by an Astounding cover, and another Astounding cover, and another, a Planet Stories cover, Astounding, Astounding, Astounding, Astounding…

We all know that Astounding dominated the field during those years, but there were many other magazines on the stands, most of which managed to publish great artwork and at least a handful of memorable stories.  1941 saw the publication of no less than 26 different titles in the US and the UK – Weird Tales, Amazing Stories, Fantastic Adventures, Fantastic Adventures Quarterly, Amazing Stories Quarterly, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories, Astounding Stories, Astounding Stories UK, Unknown (& UK edition), Tales of Wonder, Marvel Stories, Science Fiction/Future Fiction, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, Startling Stories, Captain Future, Astonishing Stories, Super Science Stories, Fantastic Novels, Science Fiction Quarterly, Comet Stories, Cosmic Stories, Stirring Science Stories, Yankee Science Fiction….

If we are going to vote on stories, art, editing and publishing from 75 years ago, we should at least begin this process in an unbiased manner and I would encourage everyone to remember that.  Please.

I had dinner with the talented and lovely Regina Kanyu Wang, a contributor to these pages, one of the actifans of China’s largest fan group AppleCore and the Executive Editor of Storycom, that has, among other things, worked with Clarkesworld magazine to bring translated Chinese SF to the west.

We talked about the cultural revolution, the reception of science fiction in China, censorship, the possibilities of a Chinese Worldcon, the fact that fans are fans the world over, different strains of “Asian” science fiction (the differences between Japanese SF and Chinese SF:  Japanese SF is far more influenced by western tropes than Chinese SD) and I felt like I took a crash course in the subject.  I’ve a lot more to learn, as do we all, but my prediction is that in not so many years, China is going to be dominating this market.

I also spent a fair amount of time helping out with the NASFiC bid for Utah in 2019.  They joined a wine and other liquors tasting party on Saturday evening (I don’t imbibe, but I sure as heck can carry cookies and danish to the room).  As a result of my generosity, I have been allowed to purchase a supporting membership (Grabthar’s Hammer level) and have been volunteered to run the bid table at the 2018 Boskone in February.  (An actifan’s reward is more work!)

I was also able to meet briefly with John Scalzi (unsurprisingly we talked fiction), and say hi in person to a number of fans I have been engaged with and working with online for years – Steven H Silver, Kevin Standlee, Elspeth Kovar, and many others whose names memory fails at the moment.

I’m not a drinker, so my evenings were spent collapsing in my hotel room.  I’ve heard that everyone had a good time with the alternative programming.

Various seated and bidding convention crews could be seen at all hours networking, planning and making arrangements for our annual get-togethers.  It’s a little known secret, but SMOFs take this convention running thing very seriously and should be commended for their dedication.

Yes, I did spend a fair amount of time filling folks in on the latest news concerning the Amazing Stories television show.  Owing to elements now contained in the draft amendment I had to be a bit more circumspect than previously (this is a read-between-the-lines moment), but I was very pleased to receive a tremendous amount of support on this subject.  I think what pleased me even more was to find out just how closely the fannish community is following this.  If Amblin and Apple manage to present us with some killer SF TV episodes, they’ll find an eager and receptive audience in the fannish community.

To SMOFCON 35:  I had an excellent time.  I know you all had some issues requiring rescheduling and re-locating, but you all did what a good committee does:  kept it (mostly) from impacting the attendees.  Every fan who considers themselves a fan, SMOF status or not, should give serious consideration to attending a Smofcon at some point during their convention career.

Below, a handful of hastily taken photos from the hospitality area of the convention.

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  1. Hi Steve — as the person who assembled the images for the 1942 “sampler” video, I just went back and double-checked my files. I supplied 33 images of which 23 were used. Those 23 in the video included 9 magazines: 4 issues of Astounding, plus Captain Future, Amazing, Unknown Worlds, and Planet Stories.
    One reason there were more Astounding covers was the quality of the images I could access; another was looking for magazines that featured works featured in modern articles reviewing 1942. I didn’t notice the multiplicity of Astoundings until you pointed it out here.
    I was certainly *trying* to include a wide variety of periodicals; I suspect because Astounding was a monthly the odds favored it popping up more often in my searches.

      1. I strongly suspected that “image quality” was the suspect and carefully did not accuse anyone of deliberately creating bias in the video.

        However, given how far in the past voters are being asked to look, I wanted to make it clear that Astounding is not the only contender for those years.

        In past retro award years, when we here have had the opportunity, we made sure to include everything eligible that we could identify (providing separate articles related to Amazing Stories alone.

        (Here’s just one example – the featured image used for a series of articles on 1940’s eligible works:

        I objected to the video presentation because A: it is being presented to groups of very influential fans and specifically groups of fans who are known to participate in Hugo Award nomination and voting, and B: because, visually, it strongly promotes Astounding when, as I pointed out elsewhere, there were some 24-26 different magazines on the stands during the years in question.

        Further, Amazing Stories was a “monthly” during the years in question, as was Fantastic Adventures in ’42, (ten issues in ’41) and yes, the other magazines ran bi-monthly or quarterly during those years.

        I don’t expect you to have researched the history of the magazines for the video, but I do remain convinced that in its current form, it offers Astounding a “leg up” in consideration.

        If there are plans to re-edit that video, I can find quality scans of most, if not all of the magazines for the years in question.

        (And I’ll also note that covers from other years could have been used, especially given that dates on covers couldn’t be read and they were on the screen so briefly that only someone intimately familiar with the magazines would have been able to say “that’s not a 1941 or 1942 cover!”)

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