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I'm sure my estimable editors haven't done this to me deliberately, so I will not be too despondent that my deadline for delivery of this fan column is 27 August, the day I fly to Chicago for this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Inevitably its publication date is sometime after the convention has concluded.

There is some degree of precedent for arguing that this needn't prevent me from saying anything about events at the convention itself. A diarist for a British newspaper was once challenged by a fellow journalist over a column that purported to report a conversation, even though the press deadline meant the copy must have been submitted before the conversation in question could have happened. The diarist's response was that he was nevertheless able to ensure that the conversation did happen roughly as reported, and thus the piece became true.

A more fannish example comes from the fiftieth issue of Ron Bennett's Skyrack and a review therein of the eighteenth issue of BSFA's journal Vector. This included "a story by Robert Presslie, who was one of the personalities at this year's Peterborough Convention." Skyrack was the UK's key source of fannish news in the late Fifties and Sixties, with 96 issues appearing between April 1959 and July 1971, although it slowed down notably after 1966. Ron would sometimes produce two or even three issues a month, which probably doesn't sound all that much by modern standards where some blogs are updated several times a day; but, at the risk of implying that the Strange Horizons readership is entirely ignorant of the mechanics of the pre-Internet world, I'll note that Skyrack had to be typed onto stencil, duplicated, collated, and stapled by Ron himself, and then sent through the mail. Occasionally, issues would be rushed out when a piece of news demanded it, but with this issue Ron exceeded his news remit by reporting something that had yet to happen. Skyrack #50 was dated 4 March, but "this year's Peterborough Convention"—there was only one convention in the UK in 1963—took place over Easter weekend, Friday 12 April to Monday 15 April, as reported in Skyrack #53, which is dated 20 April 1963.

In homage to Ron, then, I could tell you about a few of the highlights of Chicon 7. Perhaps Chris Garcia and James Bacon's wholly unexpected Hugo win in the Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form category, and their consequent acceptance speech which is widely regarded as a shoo-in for next year's Best Dramatic Presentation: Long Form? Or that charming moment when Niall Harrison got his foot stuck in a spittoon as part of his "Doc" Lowndes tribute act?

But no, I will leave Chicon 7 in the future where, for the time being, it belongs—although I will note something that's just occurred to me about Chicagoans and numbered sequences. The band Chicago is known for a paucity of creativity in the names of their records. For anybody unfamiliar with their extensive discography, I need only note that their third album was called Chicago III and the nineteenth was Chicago 19 and you can probably guess the titles of most of the intermediate recordings with the only challenge being whether they used Roman or Arabic numerals. But they did occasionally divert from the tried and trusted formula—the twelfth album was Hot Streets—and so do the Chicago Worldcons.

Chicago has hosted more Worldcons than any other city, seven out of seventy so far. This puts it on a level with the entire eastern hemisphere (four in Australia, and one each in Germany, Holland, and Japan) and slightly ahead of the UK, which is still on six.

The first Chicago Worldcon was, predictably enough, Chicon I in 1940. It was only the second Worldcon, following on from New York in 1939. Technically there was no Chicon II, as the 1952 convention styled itself TASFiC, the "Tenth Anniversary Science Fiction Convention." Fans tended to refer to it as Chicon II anyway, perhaps as an indication that they knew best and perhaps because while it was the tenth Worldcon it wasn't really the tenth anniversary of anything much at all apart from 1942, a year in which there had been no Worldcon. With 870 members, it was more than twice the size of any previous Worldcon; it was also the first to be chaired by a woman, Julian May. Harry Warner, writing in A Wealth of Fable (1992), noted that, "By the time the con was ending, there was a general suspicion that fandom had turned an important corner which might lead to a less desirable neighborhood," which probably isn't the first manifestation of fannish things-aren't-what-they-used-to-be-ism and certainly wasn't the last.

Chicon III followed ten years later, having learned a lesson about the name, and Chicon IV came along twenty years after that. Chicon V's concession to quirkiness was to run in 1991, only nine years after its predecessor, although I assume that was dictated by the now repealed zoning system then in force, which defined which parts of North America could bid for Worldcons in which years. It was the sixth Chicon, though, which really stood up against the forces of tradition by taking the name Chicon 2000. This year's Worldcon brings things back on track, although it's Chicon 7 rather than Chicon VII. I did wonder whether this might be because of the demands of URLs and a consequent desire to avoid the impression that the event is called Chiconvii, but as they're just, perhaps not. Chairman Dave McCarty claims he'd lobbied for the name TASFiC 3.

That first Chicon in 1940 has only a few superficial points of contact with its latter day successors. Harry Warner again, this time writing in All Our Yesterdays (1969), reported that the whole enterprise was staged for $145, an amount that does seem to have been notably economic even compared to the previous year. Chicon III would spend more than that on stamps.

There was no membership fee; people just turned up and signed in. The official long-list of Worldcons puts Chicon's membership at 128, but even that is a slight overstatement according to convention director Bob Tucker, who claimed that four of those were pseudonyms of Ray Palmer. There was nothing about the membership to justify the term "world." Warner suggests that the longest journey was that of Forrest J Ackerman and three friends who travelled by rail from Los Angeles. Two fans rode the boxcars from Denver—and presented a successful bid to hold the 1941 Worldcon in their city—while others travelled by road from New York, overturning one car along the way. As best I can tell, none of the attendees came from outside North America—in September 1940 many fans in Europe and elsewhere were otherwise engaged, and they probably couldn't have afforded the trip anyway—and I doubt there was even anybody from outside the US. Apparently nobody was prosperous enough to fly. Remarkably, at least three of those 128—Erle Korshak, Dave Kyle, and Art Widner—were also at last year's Worldcon in Reno. If only Ray Palmer hadn't died in 1977, there might have been eight.

The 1940 programme was a single track, and seemed to mostly consist of a business meeting and a few speeches, something that may make the latter-day denizens of the WSFS business meeting believe that theirs is the one true fannish way. I wonder what guest of honour E. E. "Doc" Smith would have thought had he known that we would still be discussing the topic of his speech—"What does this convention mean?"—72 years later?

I noted earlier that the city of Chicago has staged one more Worldcon than the entirety of the UK. By the time you read this, the UK may have moved a little closer to level-pegging, although even the lack of opposition to the 2014 London bid won't entice me to anticipate its ratification on the morning of 2 September. And anyway, I'm sure that even now somebody somewhere is making plans for Chicon 8. Or maybe Chicon VIII.

Mark Plummer wonders how he will fill the days now he no longer writes a Strange Horizons column. He suspects something will turn up.
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21 Jun 2021

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