The online membership list for this year's Worldcon, Renovation, lists 143 people with British addresses. Of those, 79 had full attending memberships while 64 were "supporters."
Those in the latter group receive all the convention publications, on paper or electronically, as well as nominating and voting rights for the Hugo Awards—assuming the membership was taken out early enough—and the opportunity, on payment of an extra fee, to participate in the site selection ballot for the Worldcon two years hence. Perhaps crucially, for the last few years supporting membership has also given access to the Hugo voter packet, an electronic bundle of Hugo-nominated material including (at least this year) all the short-listed novels as well as works in other categories, including shorter fiction, semiprozines, fanzines, and works by John W. Campbell Award nominated writers.
The attending members got all that lot too, plus admittance to all the public events across the five days of the convention. I doubt that all those 79 British members were able to attend, but most probably did. I wonder just how remarkable that would seem to Ken Bulmer if we could somehow deliver the news to him in the autumn of 1958?
Bulmer was the prolific author of over 160 novels in various genres and under various pen-names, but he was a fan before that, writing and contributing to fanzines from the early 1940s. And in 1955 he was the first delegate to travel to a convention financed by the Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, TAFF—but that probably needs a little context, which Ken helpfully provided in the TAFF issue of his fanzine Steam. It is an all too common tale of events not quite working out as planned while somehow it all comes right in the end.
The roots of TAFF go back to at least 1941, when D. R. Smith suggested in the pages of the December 1941 issue of Futurian War Digest that after the war British fans should club together to bring leading American fan Forrest J Ackerman to the UK. It never came to anything, but Ackerman himself later initiated The Big Pond Fund which sought to bring British fan and New Worlds editor Ted Carnell to the US. It took several years to raise the money, with Carnell paying most of the fare himself according to Bulmer, but he attended the 1949 Worldcon in Cincinnati. His address to the convention was published in the memory book and gave an overview of the science fiction fan and professional scene in Britain for an American audience ("And as you know, we haven't a great many authors in Great Britain who can really write the right stuff. If my memory is correct, I think we only have about nine"). Three years later a similar one-off initiative brought Walter Willis to Chicon II in Chicago, and that plus the Cincinnati Fantasy Group's ultimately unsuccessful plan to bring Norman Ashfield to the 1953 Worldcon was the impetus to establish "a permanent Two-Way Transatlantic Fan Fund . . . to help both British and American fans to attend each other's conventions."
The first trip under its auspices was planned to take a British fan to the 1954 Worldcon in San Francisco, with a delegate to be selected by election. There were seven candidates and seventy-nine votes were cast. The winner was A. Vincent (Vin¢) Clarke, but in the end he was unable to make the trip. A second election was held in 1955 and that was won by Bulmer, who attended that year's Worldcon and wrote about the trip in various fanzines. The articles were subsequently collected by Dave Langford in 1998 as TAFF Tales.
1956 was supposed to see the first delegate travelling to Europe, and it did, sort of. Lee Hoffman won the ballot, but then declined the funding and travelled to that year's British Eastercon at her own expense. The first American delegate travelling on the fund was thus Bob Madle who came to the 1957 Worldcon in London.
Bulmer's Steam carried the results of the 1958 ballot won by Ron Bennett. From this we also learn that Ron's fare, travelling on the Queen Mary no less, was £70-10-0d for the five-day outward leg and another £60-0-0d for the return (because it was off-season by that point) which I think is equivalent to something like £2,000-£2,500 today.
Where all this relates to Renovation and its in-the-region-of-seventy-nine British attendees—setting aside the fact that it's the same number of people as voted in the first TAFF race—is that in 1958 Bulmer could pretty much list every British fan who'd attended any of the fourteen previous North American Worldcons. Aside from Carnell and Willis, Bert Campbell went to the 1953 convention. He was certainly a long-time fan but by that point he was the editor of Authentic Science Fiction and it was primarily a business trip, partly funded by the publishers of the magazine. Pamela Bulmer, a fan in her own right and one of the editors of the fanzine Femizine, travelled with her husband Ken (and at their expense) in 1955. Arthur C. Clarke was the guest of honour at the 1956 Worldcon, and while he was of course a well-established writer by that point he, too, had been an active fan before that. And that seems to be it. About half a dozen people in nearly a decade.
The TAFF model continues to this day. 51 races have delivered a total of 53 people (allowing for some joint winners and a couple of people who couldn't make the trip) across the Atlantic. Many of them have written about the experience. These writings have often been serialised in contemporary fanzines and later collected, and some of them are now online. It has also spawned a number of other fan travel funds run along similar principles. DUFF (the Down Under Fan Fund) was created in 1970 to facilitate travel between North America and Australia/New Zealand, and GUFF (either The Get Up-and-over Fan Fund or the Going Under Fan Fund, depending on which way you're going) was launched in 1978 to complete the triangle.
The TAFF delegate to this year's Worldcon was John Coxon, a fan who seems destined to have the word "youthful" bolted on to the front of his name for the next decade or so. (He's 22 and thus, I'm pretty sure, the youngest TAFF winner ever.) Dave Cake from Perth in Western Australia travelled to Renovation courtesy of DUFF and is less obviously youthful, although he's at least as much at home at the Burning Man festival as at a science fiction convention.
Do we really still need TAFF in a world where, as noted, in-the-region-of-seventy-nine—OK, in-the-region-of-seventy-eight, setting aside youthful John—British fans plus numerous other Europeans cross the Atlantic to the Worldcon at their own expense? There are now several grant- or bursary-giving bodies, some one-offs—often using convention profits—and others ongoing, of which the Con or Bust scheme, run under the auspices of the Carl Brandon Society, is a particularly successful example, supporting sixteen people to attend the 2011 Wiscon. Do we really need TAFF's long-winded voting and fundraising process when something like the World SF Travel Fund has a board to select its beneficiary and crowd-sources its first year funding via Peerbackers in about 48 hours?
TAFF has always been one of fandom's more controversial creations. In Steam Bulmer talks about arguments in the early days over whether "Doc" Smith would be a suitable candidate or even whether he was eligible to vote. There was much debate in 1955 about the proposed introduction of a candidate bond as proof of good intent; in 1957 some fans criticised the absence of any qualifying criteria for voters and there were allegations of "vote buying." Terry Carr, who had won TAFF five years earlier, wrote in 1970 that "aside from the fact that it's simply an outdated idea to exchange delegates between European and American conventions as though that were a novelty, there's the fact that we used to elect TAFFreps largely because we wanted to read what they'd write about their trips: in a fandom where it isn't particularly fashionable for mere fans to do anything interesting with words, who cares about trip reports?" I will also note without elaboration that in 1984 and 1985 there were a number of disagreements about the conduct of the TAFF process. Look it up if you're curious—although I suggest you don't.
The fund has weathered these controversies, and the answer to the allegation that TAFF is an anachronism is that there remain enough people out there who seemingly feel that it isn't. There are still candidates coming forward—two people have already declared for the 2012 race to Europe—and usually between 100 and 200 fans vote in each ballot (sometimes more). And people still give money to the fund via voting fees, donations, or purchasing items in fundraising auctions. Nominations for the latest race are open until the end of September, and the winner will travel to Olympus, the 2012 British Eastercon.
The day before Renovation my partner Claire and I were out with fan friends Tom Becker and Spike at Lake Tahoe, where—coincidentally—Tom was explaining to me that this was a good column while very nicely setting out the numerous ways in which it could be better. While we were on a catamaran cruise on the lake itself we saw an enormous cloud of white smoke rising from somewhere beyond the Heavenly Mountain Resort. Back at the Renovation hotel that evening, at a London in 2014 staff party, we learned that John Coxon and Chris Garcia—a former TAFF winner who would later prove to be a dramatic and emotional co-winner of the best fanzine Hugo—had also been in the Tahoe area during the day. We resist the temptation to draw conclusions from this, and there is no truth in the rumour later circulating at the convention that Chris and John had managed to set fire to the lake.
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