A Worldcon to Win: Chapter 1
“You’re Milos Savoy, aren’t you?”
Actually, his name was Harold Bramwing. He was thirty-six years old, chief pension actuary for one of the world’s largest accounting firms, and the only man in the lobby wearing a suit. By rights, he should have been psychologically invisible to the swarm of casually dressed men and women - most of them two-thirds his age and three-halves his weight - who buzzed and swirled about him.
Nevertheless, clipped to his breast pocket was a plastic badge that identified its wearer, in bold block letters, as “MILOS SAVOY”. Dangling from it was a pale green ribbon carrying the further legend, “Zephyrcon Guest”.
Despite this evidence, his first instinct was denial. He was not by nature a public man, and coming to “Zephyrcon” had not been his idea. He still brooded on the fact that a show of firmness would have left him with a free weekend in Chicago, rather than entrapment in a strange suburban hotel among what looked like an even stranger assortment of human (ofttimes dubiously human) beings.
On the other hand, once you have been labeled “MILOS SAVOY”, it is awkward to claim to be someone else, particularly if your audience is the inquisitive kind. Perhaps a corporate human resources director or chief financial officer would have accepted a shake of the head and let the matter go, but the youth who had addressed him looked like the sort who would follow up.
So Harold nodded weakly, inwardly resolving that the efficient and officious Marjorie Carrollton, his editor at Empire Books, would get no flowers from “Milos Savoy” next Christmas.
The young man saw in the brief inclination of Harold’s head evidence of cordiality and a desire for further conversation.
“Hey, this is great. Why didn’t they put your name in their flyer? What panels are you on?” Abruptly, he turned and shouted across the lobby. “Dick! Milos Savoy’s here. You got Emperor of the Dust?”
Despite the milling crowd, the shout unerringly found its target. A dignified, white-haired man - in different circumstances and clothing Harold would have pegged him as an insurance company vice president - shouted back. “A couple of copies! There would be more if someone had told me beforehand that Mr. Savoy was going to be here.”
He came toward them as he spoke the last words, which seemed to be directed at a female companion. She answered defensively. “Marj Carrollton said she might talk him into coming but couldn’t promise anything. Honestly, I didn’t know he was here until right this minute.”
The new arrival gave Harold his hand. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. Savoy - though it’s really Mr. - ah - Brennan, isn’t it?”
“Not quite. Bramwing. Harold Bramwing.”
“Ah. And you changed it because you didn’t want to write under what sounded like a pseudonym?”
Harold smiled ruefully. “When I wrote my first novel, I took it for granted that my employer wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea. My editor dreamed up the name, and now I’m stuck with it.”
“I’m sorry we don’t have you scheduled for any program items, Milos.” The woman with Dick was speaking. She was cherub-faced and dumpy, a combination that Harold seldom saw in his workaday world. “I have the pocket program here. Do any of the panels interest you?”
She handed Harold a small booklet that apparently summarized Zephyrcon’s panels and lectures. Feeling that some gesture was expected of him, he peered at charts labelled “Friday Programming”, “Saturday Programming”, and “Sunday Programming”. The layout was little different from that used by the organizers of actuarial conferences. The content could hardly have been less similar.
Potholes in the Information Superhighway
Shared World Anthologies: Sub-literary genre or new art form?
The Future of the Hugos (If Any)
FIAWOL, FIJAGDH or In-Between?
Worldcon Bidders’ Presentations
I Do This For the Egoboo?!! Secrets of Producing a Fanzine
“The Door Dilated”: Sense of Wonder vs. Common Sense
Realization dawned. By “are you interested?”, the cherub meant not, “Do you want to attend any of these oddly named presentations?” but, “Are you willing to be one of the presenters?”
Harold had at least heard the phrase “information superhighway”, and Marjorie Carrollton had once tried to interest him in contributing to something that she called a “shared world anthology”. “Hugo” was, he thought, the name of some award for which his own books were never nominated. Beyond these imperfectly grasped threads, the panel descriptions ranged from murky to incomprehensible.
The cherub was determined to help. “How about tomorrow at one - Start Your Own Galactic Empire? And I’ll make sure that you get onto the autographing schedule.” She made notes on a corner of the booklet. “Thanks a lot, Milos. I’m really glad you could make it. Enjoy the con!”
She was off before Harold had digested his assignments. He looked after her with a scowl in his mind.
The crush around him had dispersed, except for the sympathetic-looking “Dick”, who uttered the welcome words. “Suppose we get a drink. The bar is one place where you won’t find fans.”
“At this juncture, that would be a great relief.”
The hotel had a quiet, ill-lit, uncrowded cocktail lounge, where it was easy to procure a distant table, out of sight of passers-by.
“I take it that you don’t come to many science fiction conventions,” Dick began while they waited for service.
“None, to be precise, until I let myself be browbeaten into this. You have to get out and meet your public, Marjorie said. You have two books coming out next year, and sales of the last one weren’t so hot. Then I made the mistake of letting her know that I’d be in Chicago on business this week. Marvelous, she says, Zephyrcon’s that weekend. Biggest convention in the Midwest. Lots of other authors. I’ll take care of the details. You just show up. All in that soft, motherly voice of hers, as though you were her only child and she will be so disappointed if you’re disobedient.”
“I hope that it’s not too much worse than you expected.”
“Frankly, I had no expectations at all. I know that the science fiction magazines have listings of upcoming conventions, but I never paid attention. Much less tried to figure out what might go on at them.”
This was not quite candor. From time to time, he glimpsed newspaper accounts of such events, invariably featuring photographs of exotically undressed young women. From the accompanying stories, he gained the impression that the principal activities were wearing costumes modeled after characters from science fiction films and bemoaning the demise of the Star Trek television show.
Happily, his companion looked quite normal, even stodgy, and it is hard for an author to think ill of a gathering where people want to buy his books. As the waitress arrived to take their order, Harold felt less pessimistic about the weekend.
Glancing up when his Heineken and Dick’s Michelob arrived, he noticed that two women had taken the table behind them. They were talking earnestly in tones that threatened soon to become audible.
Dick’s back was to the newcomers. He resumed his side of the conversation. “It should seem less alarming once you acclimate yourself.”
Harold emitted a mock sigh. “My being here shows the fallacy of free will, I suppose. No doubt the Spirit of Zephyrcon wanted me for some purpose and drew me to its dwelling place. Well, if I can’t fight Fate, I may as well understand what’s happening. How about explaining the jargon to me?” He fished out the program list and pointed to one of the titles that had puzzled him.
“Worldcon? Short for World Science Fiction Convention. It’s the big edition of this. Held every Labor Day weekend.”
“Zephyrcon’s attendance is two thousand or so. The Worldcon will draw triple that.”
“Good grief. Where is it held?”
“It rotates. Committees from different cities bid to sponsor it. The winner is chosen by voting at the Worldcon three years beforehand.”
“Ah, ha. So this refers to bidders for the Worldcon; they make campaign speeches or something like that. Right?”
Dick nodded. “It’s like a presidential debate. A rather undisciplined presidential debate sometimes.”
“Okay. Now, what is this ‘FIAWOL’?”
But he was not to learn at this point what the acronym stood for. The nearby conversation had been steadily rising in vehemence. Now one participant finally raised her voice above the threshold of Harold’s hearing.
“Dammit, Melisande, it’s a computer error! Am I responsible for everything anybody does to my disks? Besides, you’re the one who did the copying, not me.”
The reply was in a slightly softer voice, just soft enough that the tone was clear but not the words. Dick swivelled sharply at the sound.
“That’s completely unreasonable, and you know it!” was the audible speaker’s response. “We’ll talk about it tomorrow! Maybe!” Brushing aside a conciliatory pat on the hand, the woman stalked off, whipping a furious storm cloud of pale red hair behind her.
“Jody. . . .” The plaintive word drifted in the air, unheeded.
“Trouble, Melisande?” Dick leaned in her direction as he spoke.
“It’s nothing serious.” The woman’s voice was flat. Then she looked up, and sunshine broke through. “Dick! Where have you been hiding?”
“You could have found me in the dealers’ room any time and bought something. Honestly, you smofs think that you can get away without spending a cent.”
“Sorry, Dick. The committee had me running around all day. This was my first chance to talk to Jody, if you can believe that.”
“Well, come join us. I have a treat for you. This gentleman is Milos Savoy.”
“Omigod! Everybody knows he never comes to conventions.”
“He made an exception for this one. No doubt because you’re the Fan Guest of Honor.”
“All right. His editor made him come.”
She had already slipped into the chair between the men. The ambient light, inadequate as it was, could not obscure remarkably pretty features and a slender figure. As informal as the other attendees, she wore blue jeans and a T-shirt silk-screened with a colorful view of a dragon swooping down on the ramparts of a castle. Pinned to the shirt were a badge like Harold’s - reading “Melisande Thomas” and festooned with white, red, yellow and green ribbons - and a pair of calligraphed buttons, one bearing the words, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood” and the other “Intuitively casual to the most obvious observer.”
Harold guessed her age as about thirty. Translated into business garb, she would have fit well, he thought, into the executive suite of a Fortune 500 company. Every day he saw dozens of similarly trim, elegant young women working their way up the corporate ladder. Maybe this was how some of them spent their noncorporate hours. It was a mildly disorienting thought.
While he was summing her up, she was looking at him with unconcealed admiration. “I’ve wanted to meet you for years, Mr. Savoy. Ever since Wars of the Cosmic Amoebas.”
Not even Marjorie Carrollton had the nerve to allude to that work in Harold Bramwing’s presence. Every author has a secret shame, and Wars of the Cosmic Amoebas, a comic book treatment of a theme that was too silly even for comics, was Harold’s.
“I bought two of the original pages at an auction a couple of years ago. Dick, you don’t have a copy of the book, do you? For Mr. Savoy to autograph?”
Harold hoped not and was relieved when Dick shook his head. The thought flashed in and out of his mind that the young woman might have a gift of subtle sarcasm, though she seemed entirely open and sincere.
The waitress interrupted. Harold and Dick ordered a second round of beers. Melisande asked for a “Smith and Kerns”, a drink that Harold had thought existed only in recipe books.
“This is my fourth Zephyrcon,” she explained when he said as much. “I’ve finally trained the bartender here to mix it.”
“I take it that you’re having problems with your second-in-command,” Dick said after the waitress had been disposed of.
“Oh, it’s nothing, really. There’d be no problem at all if only this would cooperate.” She fished a computer diskette from her purse and thumped it on the table top. “It’s supposed to be a set of financial records for Lars Gleason to look at. But I must have done something fatally wrong when I copied it.”
“If I were you, I’d welcome any fatal error that kept my records away from Lars Gleason.”
“He’s trying to put together a budget for the Seattle Worldcon. I’m willing to help him with that.”
“Shouldn’t he catch his convention before he makes up its budget?”
“Oh, I don’t think he has much to worry about at this point. The only way that Las Vegas could win is by killing him and Deno -“
“- or inducing them to kill each other.” Dick turned to Harold to explain. “You asked about Worldcons? Well, Melisande is the One Who Knows. She’s chairman of next year’s, in St. Petersburg. The one in Florida, not Russia.”
“You’re in charge of a bigger edition of this?” Harold queried.
She sipped her drink and nodded, somewhat shyly.
“Who hires you to do it? There’s a parent organization for these activities, I assume.”
“That’s funny. A parent organization in fandom? An organization in fandom? Surely thou dost jest. No, all the work is done by volunteers, and every con is its own parent.”
Harold knew something about how much effort went into the annual meeting of the Society of Actuaries. “I wouldn’t want to be responsible for a six thousand person meeting without any professional staff.”
“It’s not a piece of cake,” Melisande agreed.
“Why in the world do you do it? Is there money involved?”
“Quite a bit,” said Dick. “The Worldcon grosses over half a million dollars, and the net has been as high as two hundred thousand.”
“But nobody gets to keep that,” Melisande quickly interjected. “It’s always run as a not-for-profit corporation.”
“Which means that the committee can’t openly take the profits, but they usually manage to find plenty of ‘legitimately reimbursable’ expenses.”
“Dick is a cynic, Mr. Savoy.”
“And Melisande is an idealist. Just because she started her bid from purely disinterested motives, she gives the Lars Gleasons and Genie Galens of the world the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure that Lars didn’t pay for his ticket from Seattle.”
“As a matter of fact, he didn’t, but neither did the Seattle bid. His girlfriend bought the ticket for him.”
“His girlfriend? I can’t imagine any woman -“
“Actually, I can’t either. Women do crazy things when they’re in love. But getting back to the subject, I don’t think that Lars cares about making money from a Worldcon, and I’m sure that Genie Galen doesn’t. It’s more like - I can’t think of a word - being caught up in something, feeling that you’re identified with it, that whether you win the bid and run a good Worldcon tells what kind of human being you are.”
“It’s amazing what men will throw their lives into,” mused Harold. “In my books the hero’s passion is usually to save civilization from the barbarians at the stargate. I wonder what the readers would think if Galactic Prince Igor’s burning ambition were to organize a science fiction convention.”
“If you’d like to see some role models, the bids are throwing parties tonight. If you don’t mind being chauffeured by someone who owns two original pages of Wars of the Cosmic Amoebas. . . .”
“As long as you don’t ask for a sequel.”
Dick peered at his watch. “If you’re really interested, the Seattle party should be opening about now. Las Vegas and Portland are later.”
“I’m fascinated. This is a whole new realm of experience. What’s the point of being a sci-fi writer if you don’t explore strange new worlds? What’s wrong?” He noticed that Dick and Melisande had winced in unison.
“Sci-fi,” said Dick, with not-quite-mock severity. “No fan ever refers to science fiction as ‘sci-fi’. If you must employ the term, the correct pronunciation is ‘skiffy’.”
“Sorry about that. So I’m a ‘skiffy’ writer off to boldly go where no neophyte skiffist has gone before.”
The crowd in the lobby had grown thicker and slower during their absence. There were many clusters, some animated, some quiet, and a proportionate number of solitaires, reading, meditating, staring, wandering from one cluster to another, or forming a new cluster’s nucleus. Harold envisioned for a moment a viscous gas stirred by a languid Brownian dance. Then he and Dick and Melisande emerged fully from the twilight of the bar, and the illusion of a physical system gave way to the chaos of free will.
Someone rushed up and hugged Melisande. She waved across the lobby to someone else. Dick attracted three conversations at once. Harold heard his nom de plume echoing faintly in the distance. They reached the elevator at the center of their own, newly condensed cluster and found themselves crowding into a claustrophobic compartment. Melisande dug her fingers into Dick and Harold’s arms. Her face had gone pale.
Happily, the elevator ride was short, and the mob seemed to dissipate as they stepped out. The sixth floor corridor was spacious and calm. Melisande stopped for a moment to recover herself.
“Nothing’s wrong,” she answered Harold’s look. “Narrow, closed spaces make me nervous. . . . So do wide, empty ones.”
“Melisande is ecumenically phobic,” said Dick.
“I have an anxiety syndrome. It’s under pretty good control, most of the time.”
She still had not let go of Harold. “Anybody would be anxious under those circumstances,” he said reassuringly. “The transition was too quick for unprotected humans.”
“Let’s wait just a second.” The elevator foyer was furnished with plush chairs. Melisande sat down in one. “I must be behind on my medication. That’s why I had such trouble coping.”
She extracted a container, a long box divided into a week’s worth of square compartments, from her purse. Lifting the lid on a middle compartment, she counted the tablets inside.
“Yep. I must have missed one at dinner.” She daintily dropped a tiny, chocolate-colored pill onto her tongue, swallowed, and reclosed the lid. “In a couple minutes, I’ll be all right.”
In fact, the glow was already returning to her face. She positioned herself between Harold and Dick, took each by the arm and moved forward.
At the very end of the corridor, a door stood open, propped with a washcloth doorstop. Desultory talk drifted into the hall.
Behind the door was the parlor of a suite. Harold counted seven people present, not including the new arrivals. Neatly arranged plates of snack food sat on the tables, interspersed with stacks of leaflets. On the walls, the hotel’s generic art prints had been covered by posters, some of them instantly recognizable as landmarks of the Pacific Northwest - the Space Needle, Mount Rainier, an island in Puget Sound, an erupting Mount St. Helens; others more closely related to a science fiction gathering - space shuttles blasting off, astronauts floating over the earth, two comically clumsy, robot-like figures, parading on the Moon.
An energetic volunteer in a T-shirt decorated with the image of the Space Needle greeted new arrivals and pressed small, round stickers - drawings of the Needle encircled by the text “Seattle - Don’t Gamble With Your Worldcon” - onto their convention badges.
Melisande detached herself. Dick moved off in her wake. Harold found himself isolated. Before he could act on his own initiative, a voice arched above the background chatter, tantalizingly familiar but impossible to place.
“You’re Harry Bramwing, aren’t you?”