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CONRUNNER 14 - Con-Munications

((As you might expect, there was a pretty heavy postbag responding to The Main Event - D West's little effort in Conrunner 13. OK folks, let's get started. After I received the letters printed below I sent copies to D West and invited him to comment on them. His reply is published after the rest of you get your chance to have your say. Almost the first to comment, and certainly the most succinct, was Malcolm Furnass.))

D.West's original article - D.West's reply to these letters

Malcolm Furnass, 5 James St, Penrith

Thank you for Conrunner 13.

Isn't D West boring?

((Well, I'd like to remain neutral in all this, so I'll move quickly on to this letter from Martin Easterbrook who obviously doesn't find Mr West boring))

Martin Easterbrook, 43 Saddleback Rd, Swindon

It appears that in D West's case the whole of gall is divided into three parts. The first part, which extends up to page nine actually contains an extremely valid argument. Basically, why bother to organise conventions any larger or more complex than needed in order to gather the mates you want to talk to around a table in a bar?

Each individual will have their own answer to this but again West is quite right to say that they will all boil down to "I enjoy doing it" and anyone who pretends otherwise is talking rubbish. However, such enjoyment often can be of the form of satisfaction in completing a job reasonably well that you found to be a hell of a lot of effort at the time.

My own favourite conventions have been Tynecon, Seacon '79, Denvention and Mexicon 2 (you could now add Confiction to this list). Tynecon because it was my first convention, and a bloody good one in any case, but the others because they were occasions when I was able to get to know a lot of other people. In the case of Worldcons I got to know them because I was working with them. In the case of Mexicon, because it was the sort of convention D. seems to prefer, a convention where I knew most people before I went. Notice, however, that he and I basically go to conventions for the same reason, to have a good time with friends. We just have different methods of achieving it. The attraction of large conventions was spelt out by that well known conrunner, Greg Pickersgill. What he gets out of it is "the feeling of going over the top with your friends". Thankfully, we belong to a generation and a country where few people have had to "go over the top" for real, but we can still have an equivalent way of getting to know new "mates" through the "game playing" environment of conrunning. Of course, to get the best out of it you have to take the game reasonably seriously. I would suggest that D doesn't know enough about current conrunning to make some of the judgments in his article. Does he really think that all the people running around with titles like "OOPS manager" and screaming into "wallyphones" are taking themselves too seriously?

The second part of D West's article extends to page 16 (I'm sorry about this but unless we get into an exchange of novels an article of this length needs to be answered "by the yard"). This consists of a description of fandom as we know it. Since we do all know it and this section tells us nothing new, it should have fallen victim to the editor's blue pencil, or more probably his delete key.

The last part, from page 16 onwards, is where the boot really goes in. In ringing tones D declares that he would like to see people run conventions "with their own money at risk". I have news for him. The committee of a convention do put their own money at risk. If there is a profit it goes to charities or fannish causes like TAFF, DUFF, etc. but if there is a loss then the committee have to pay it. This is not necessarily just the case in the well publicised but rare cases like CONSPIRACY. The committee of one recent Eastercon paid about 40 a head for the experience of running an Eastercon (some of those committee members were students who could ill afford that much money). Even when a convention makes a profit many of the organisers, including those who are not on the committee itself, will not recover their expenses. These usually include a lot of travel to meetings and phone bill increases running into three figures. After all this the committee have to pay their own memberships and room bills.

Indeed, if D wants to find a genuine problem to worry about I suggest that he consider the difficulties that face less affluent fans when they try to run a convention. This is probably the main problem restricting the number of fans who get involved in conrunning.

Finally D raises the Holy Banner of fanzine fandom and declares that only those who truly believe shall be saved in the times of torment to come. At the head of the Blessed, D himself shall stand in shining, if slightly beer stained, rainment.It is a prediction that ensures its own fulfilment. After such an article D needs only wait for the backlash from the unbelievers and for the fanzine fans to form up behind him in response.

One thing bothers me, though. How did the author of such a turgid, self- important, self- contradictory, humourless and just plain ****ing long piece of crap writing get to be the spokesman for fanzine fandom? It's not as though it's impossible to take the piss out of conrunning fandom. Has D ever heard of John Richard's convention commentaries over the radio net or seen James Steele's "boring old fart conrunners" impersonation? It's true that, like any sphere of human endeavour, conrunning has problems, problems that could be exposed by analytical, funny and occasionally nasty pieces of writing. D's article is not such a piece of writing. It's an incoherent howl of anger from a drunk in a pub who wants to justify himself by picking a fight with someone and doesn't particularly care who it is or what the fight is about. That D used to be an excellent writer just makes the spectacle more pathetic.

A healthy fandom needs both good conventions and good fanzines. You can survive with one or the other if you have to but that's just survival, not health.

Central to D's criticism of myself is that "Easterbrook is not now and has never been a fanzine fan". True I haven't submitted much to them but I have been a fan of fanzines since about 1975 and I've tried to get a hold of as many fanzines as possible from before that period.

On that basis I believe the whole fanzine vs conventions argument is just a big con trick. There are bad conventions and bad conrunning practices that should be criticised but there is of course bad and good in fanzines. I suspect that my crime is to suggest just this. I am passionately in favour of fanzines but I commit the heresy of suggesting that many of the current crop of fan writers are not very good compared with their predecessors. Rather than answer this properly it is easier to accuse me of attacking fanzines in general. For several years now we've had to endure writing which is a tired imitation of of the refreshingly vicious irreverence which Ratfandom, particularly Greg Pickersgill and Leroy Kettle, introduced into the excessively cosy fanzine culture at the end of the sixties. D's article itself is such an imitation. By now the shock value has gone and the skillful flick knife has been replaced by the badly aimed cudgel.

I think that I know a lot of people I would expect to become fanzine fans. Their proportion relative to fandom as a whole seems to be no different than it has ever been. What is strange is that few of them have much contact with fanzines. They are putting their talents into conrunning or filk, or tech, etc. I think a lot of them would make excellent fanzine writers but at the moment they either see no fanzines at all or what they have seen did not encourage them. Even a lot of the seventies fan writers, who worry me as much as they worry D, have dropped out of current fanzines almost as much as they have dropped out of convention attendance. True a lot of them are raising kids at the moment but not all!

If conrunning fandom is on the verge of the collapse that D suggests shouldn't we be more worried about fanzine fandom? If people like D were setting an example of more thoughtful and entertaining writing a lot more fans would be putting their time into fanzines rather than conrunning. If that was happening he might discover that a lot of them are worth coming to conventions to talk to.

((One of the newer fans wrote to agree with some of D's points, but then, he does come from Leeds....))

Ian Creasey, 20 Meadow View, Leeds

Some comments on D. West's excellent article.

While agreeing with his general attitude, I think that many of his comments on the conrunner mentality apply more to those who run large conventions rather than small ones. The organisational work involved in running a small convention is not really a major factor, since it doesn't actually take very much work to organise a small (100 members) convention.

One thing I think he neglects is the social factor. Producing a fanzine is a solitary experience; running a convention is a social one. From committee meetings to guest liaison to the event itself, the conrunner constantly interacts with other people. This is one of the pleasures of conrunning, and it is certainly one answer to the question, "Why do you do it?"

But he brilliantly exposes the cycle of ever-expanding conventions and the paraphernalia associated with them. Too often the prospect of attracting more and more members is seen as desirable without considering whether or not it really is, and why.

As a small example of the kind of phenomenon he describes, I'd like to mention that essential convention adjunct: the programme book. Now I'm young and fairly new to fandom so I only know the current situation, but I've been told that there was a time in the dim and distant past when the purpose of the programme book was to inform the members of the programme. Nowadays the programme book is an epic tome which is only read after the convention is over, if at all, and the actual programme listing comes on a separate handout. And what on earth is the point, other than size and verbiage for the sake of it. I have a sneaking suspicion that the conrunners are trying to circumvent the situation D.W. describes: "if they want to be memorialised they have to rely on those dreadful people who write things down, the fanzine fans." By producing a programme book which people will retain after the convention, they hope to have their self aggrandising words incorporated into fannish history.

See you in the committee profiles!

((On the subject of con publications; I feel quite strongly that they should only be done if they have something to contribute to the con and are not simply filled up with Guest profiles and adverts. I like reading good con publications, and hope that people have enjoyed at least some of the Speculation PRs I've commissioned. (PR3, edited by Simon Polleyt is out now, just join Speculation and we'll send you a copy.) Anyway, back to the ring, round 3. Malcolm Furnass had the shortest response but Marcus Rowland was fastest off the mark. I received his eight page response to D West on the Thursday after Eastcon.))

Marcus Rowland, 22 Westbourne Park Villas, London

A Modest Riposte To The Main Event

Let's establish some facts; I'm not a member of the so-called con-running elite, and I tend to enjoy Eastercons. I have been known to run the games room (anathema to D. West, I suspect), but in most other respects I am a typical "consumer" fan who has never been a member of any convention committee. Several friends are conrunning fans; most of them are also active in fanzines or APAs, which suggests that D.W.'s division between conrunning fandom and fanzine fandom is oversimplistic.

I was under the impression that D.W. had been around in fandom for longer than I have, and it worries me when I find him stating "facts" that seem to be false, especially regarding the economics of Eastercons. While I can't hope to comment on every aspect of his presentation, here are my responses to a few of the points he makes.

When I Were A Lad....

D.W. may have started out in fandom with 5 and a bag of sandwiches, but he's evidently accustomed to a style of poverty that doesn't suit all tastes. My first con was Novacon 2 (1972), attended when I was 19 and earning a trainee laboratory technician's wages. It cost me 12 for travel and (I think) 7.50 a night for a tiny room at the incredibly grotty Imperial Hotel. That was a lot of money to me, a substantial chunk of my wages. This year's Eastercon cost me 36 for travel and 25 a night for a single room in the Adelphi (four star), which was also the price of a single room at the last Novacon. This is cheaper in real terms than my visit to Novacon 2, and (even for 3 or 4 nights) is a substantially smaller proportion of the wages that a grade 1 technician (today's trainee technician) aged 19 would now earn.

Admittedly, Speculation is going to be an exception in this respect, if you want a single room in the con hotel; I'm still unhappy about the continuing lack of firm information on rates at the alternative hotel(s). Contrivance was another exception in terms of travel expenses, but many of those attending took the opportunity to combine the con with a few extra days holiday at convention rates, a fraction of normal off-peak rates on Jersey. I sincerely hope that Blackpool will arrange a similar scheme for 1992. Eastercons seem to be quoting single room rates that are rising more slowly than the current rate of inflation. They can do this because they are large enough to demand (and get) extremely cheap rates, often much less than half of normal room rates. On the whole room rates at recent Eastercons have been no more expensive than other British cons, and often apply to much better accommodation.

You can still go along to an Eastercon for the price of your travel and membership; no-one is forcing you to stay at the con hotel or eat there, and most Eastercons are run in large cities. For example, there were at least five fast-food outlets within 100 yards of the Adelphi, which is more than can be said for the current Novacon hotel. I also doubt that it will be hard to find cheap food and accommodation in Glasgow or Blackpool.

I can't make a similar comparison of membership costs, because I don't remember how much my early cons cost. I think that the price change is well below the rate of inflation.

In other words, it's easy to put on rose-coloured glasses and claim that everything was much cheaper in the good old days. The facts don't seem to support this claim.

We Don't Need No Steenking Media....

A few years ago an Eastercon chairman was quoted as saying that he didn't want any "hobbits with furry boots" at his convention, and tried to expunge all fantasy elements from the programme. This was about as successful as an attempt to eliminate "media" would be today.

Let's face facts; despite D.W.'s sweeping generalisations, fans don't fall into narrow little slots, they have interests that often cover a wide range of topics, and may not always be interested in mainstream program items. I got interested in SF via juvenile fiction, comics, TV, and films, and am still at least mildly interested in all of them. I don't think I'm alone in saying that I am occasionally bored by items in the main programme; this was true at my first Novacon, and is true today. I like to have other options available. A separate media program stream is something to fall back on if all else fails, and may occasionally offer a chance to view something that I've wanted to see for years.

D.W. quotes Glasgow conventions which supposedly raised just enough money from walk-in registrations to pay for the media streams that allegedly lured them in. He offers no figures in support of this story, and doesn't seem to have considered the possibility that someone was winding him up. I attended several of these conventions, and believe that the video equipment, TV sets, and the tapes themselves were provided by the media fans who organised these rooms. If so, the sole expense to the convention would be the cost of a few small rooms. This is also true of other specialised programmme streams organised by minority interest groups; for example, games rooms and the art show. I don't hear D. West calling the latter a program item appealing to "narrow, limited and fundamentally low-grade tastes", but I'd guess that at any given time less fans are in the art room than the media room(s).

All Those Expensive Toys....

Unless I'm misunderstanding something, the theme of The Main Event is that con-running fans make Eastercon needlessly big and complex to justify ego-tripping and to let them play with flow charts and expensive toys like computers, sound desks, and so forth.

I don't know much about ego-tripping. I would have thought that a few Eastercon business meetings would shrink most egos down to size. From my experiences with school timetables and resource allocation I'd guess that the "fun" of flow-charting is greatly over-estimated.

The argument about those high-tech "toys" only makes sense if you assume that no con-running fan ever uses such exotic technology.

According to Interzone's recent survey 27% of readers work in computing and other technical areas, and it seems likely that an analysis of con-running fan occupations would show that a much larger percentage are active in these areas, either by employment or as hobbyists. Tech-ops and con organisers often take on jobs that make good use of their work skills, so it's likely that most will be doing boringly familiar jobs, often using equipment that is inferior to the equipment they use in "real" life. For example, I know (because I sold them) that several con-running fans own personal computers costing in excess of 1500, others work for major corporations where last year's ultra-fast computer is now considered slow and outdated. Most cons are run on BBC micros and cheap PCs, hardly the stuff of high-tech wet dreams.

I don't know enough about other equipment to generalise, but I suspect that this is true in all areas. Cons don't get the best possible equipment, they get something portable and affordable.

The Great Two Year Bid Swindle....

D.W. seems to think that two-year bidding was instigated by a tiny minority who imposed their will on fandom. If so, I am one of the illuminati responsible for this sinister plot. Two-year bidding was the result of several years of discussion at various Eastercons. All meetings were publicised, and must have been attended by a quorum or the motion would never have been passed. Since I am concerned about the future of Eastercons, I visited some of these meetings and eventually voted for the two-year system. I may be mistaken, but I think the vote at this meeting was 24 for and 2 against. I still don't think that this was a mistake; the experiences of other conventions (such as Novacon) show that it's a good idea to get your hotel tied down early, preferably with an airtight contract and members of the manager's family held as hostages. The experience of Eastcon shows that two-year bidding can give time to recover from disasters. Of course things can still go wrong, but the extra time seems to stop the con folding completely.

I'm writing this letter immediately after Eastcon, and a hotel booking foul-up which left me (and many others) in an overflow hotel for two days before moving to the Adelphi. If I blame this on the sheer size of Eastercon and bad management by the con committee, I have to explain why exactly the same thing happened at Novacon a couple of years ago. In both cases the convention committee efficiently found rooms for everyone who was affected.

Things will always go wrong, regardless of the size of a convention. Eastercons just go wrong more publicly, and occasionally on a larger scale.

I have no profound conclusions to draw, except to suggest that things are a lot more complicated than D.W. would have us all believe. Fans aren't usually idiots or addicts; they know how much an Eastercon costs, and are capable of boycotting it if it gets too expensive or boring. If D. West is dissatisfied with the style of current cons, he does have the right to criticise; it would just be more interesting and valid criticism if he put his money where his mouth is, and organised his own bid.

((Jonathan Cowie provided yet more financial insights.))

Jonathan Cowie, [address redacted by request]

Dedicated to small fish who hate big ponds.

D. West's The Main Event presents us with an irritating mishmash. Irritating because though Machiavellianly (is there such an adverb?) misleading, within his wordy contribution there does actually lurk a valid point.

I'll try to cut through the anal detritus quickly.

l) Eastercons are not vastly more expensive today compared to 10 years ago. Inflation between 1978 and 1990 (July) stands at 218.244% (I've just checked with my former colleagues at the BMA's economic unit). Looking at my con files I see that conventions then had an attending registration of about five or six pounds with Eastercons at the end of the '70s costing around 9. In today's money that equates with 19.60. (D.West: consider it that I owe you 50p for Eastcon - which includes 10p to cover Easter to July's worth of inflation). Eastercon's cost (in real terms) the same to register for now as they did then, except that you get more for your money.

2) West's point that today's, "conrunners are not just asking for l5 or 20 registration but whatever you spend on travel, the hotel and [food]," makes me wonder whether fans of yore could teleport home to eat and sleep, so negating such costs? Furthermore, yes, Eastercons will be more expensive than say a regional BECCON or Mexicon by virtue of the fact that, being held over the Easter holiday, they last twice as long. Easters were no shorter in the '70s. (Actually, due to tidal drag, days were a picosecond shorter then but who cares - bill me.)

In short, West's argument that by putting on larger, heavily programmed Eastercons these days is ripping fans off, is fallacious - indeed downright insulting for those who do the hard work.

I will not dwell on West's idiosyncratic perception of fandom, save to point out that his use of terms such as 'fanzine, 'fannish, 'straight SF', 'media', 'sercon' etc, suggests that there are many clans within the SF community. Indeed, there are. I wish to point out that SF, the genre of change, has evolved and that the Eastercon is the one time in the year when all the clans can gather and can see what each other are up to. The rest of the year we can go to smaller, regional and/or more specialised events - and why not? I for one, sincerely hope that the Eastercons of the '90s are as different to those of the '80s as the '80s were to the '70s, but without undue sacrifice of the menu on West's false-economy grounds. Furthermore I trust that Eastercons increasingly provide me with a feel for our genre's scope, and that it's various aspects continue to be explored in depth at more specialised gatherings. This can only serve to enrich the enjoyment of conventions and of the company of our peers.

The one point that I would agree with West is that it is important for conrunners to have their fingers on SF's pulse and to programme accordingly. This is difficult and conrunners run the risk of losing their way. Having managed a student SF group for four years, I know how hard it is to be aware of a disparate membership's needs, but it is possible. In fact it is for this reason that Concatenation regularly conducts polls - with the latest, a fifth of Contrivance's membership was sampled. I admit that such exercises should not be taken as gospel, but surely they can serve as indicators of attitude. I can only trust that such feedback is noted by conrunners.

There are problems with programming. For example, many will be aware of my bug bear, an interest in exotic science fact - an area that impinges on SF. The 1990 Worldcon Confiction was a classic. It had about a dozen science-type items on a programme of over 400. I will not argue with the proportion, but will point out that 7 of the 10 - I exaggerate not - that I attended, did not take place as advertised in the programme book! Now, I had a great time at Confiction. I enjoyed the company of fans from across the World. I loved the Hague. The on-the-day support team of stewards and gophers were superb. Most of the authors were more than approachable, if not interesting on occasion. The tea houses were out of this world. Confiction was marvellous. But it all had little to do with the programme (not just the exotic science dimension) which had some great ideas but was executed, and prepared for, in a sloppy way that got up the backs up of more than one of the many programme participants I met. (Most though, having moaned, were willing to forgive, as everything else made up for this inadequacy.) However, if we are going to put on a programme at these national and international events - let's make it work guys, and, please, think holistically.

D.West's original article - D.West's reply to these letters

David Bell, Church Farm, North Kelsey, nr Lincoln

I don't want to get into a long criticism of D. West's piece. Quite apart from his admitted bias towards a particular single-minded version of fannishness - I like the variety of a modern Eastercon - there are errors of fact, a tendency to misread in the worst possible way, and a general air of sour grapes. It is also far too long.

Despite that, he did manage to raise a few important points. If he had lived up to his reputation for fan-writing he might have made them more visible and argued them better. After Contrivance and with the prospect of another Jersey-sited Eastercon, I too wonder at the motives of some con-runners. It is a form of fannish activity which costs other fans large sums of money, though I wonder if it actually costs con-runners as little as he implies. Similarly, I think he has a point, possibly a rather better one, when he suggests that con attendances may actually fall over the next few years.

As he meanders over the pages of Conrunner I wonder a little if he realise how ridiculous some of his arguments look. For example, his criticism of media-SF fans. Things like "Star Trek" are the obvious face of SF, there is no arguing with that, so they are going to attract people with less interest in other forms. His argument though takes the line that because all the cats he has seen have tails then all cats have tails. Has he been to the Isle of Man, or seen how many people at Eastercons take advantage of the variety offered?

It appears to me that he has failed to notice many of the changes which have taken place in fandom. Had Eastcon taken place ten years ago his complaints would have been more relevant, and maybe even more pointless. Today there are many conventions. Some are highly specialised in the interests they cater for - Mexicons come to mind, and also many of the media cons - while others are not. Some are aimed at a national audience, and others are not. Novacons are a bit of a mixture perhaps nearer to the traditional Eastercon.

In short, he can go to conventions that deal with his particular interests. He can be sure his money isn't being wasted on a wide range of programming he isn't interested in. Meanwhile, those of us who have open minds and more varied ways of expressing our fannishness can go along to Eastercons. If that's your preference it makes D. West's more segregated view of what conventions should be extraordinarily expensive.

Briefly, on other matters, Tim Illingworth was informative. I don't think that it deals with all the problems either of us have mentioned in the past, but it is a start. The Creche article is just the sort of thing you ought to be publishing more of.

One of the colleges at York University is building a new accommodation block. In an attempt to get more income from the conference market it is being built to hotel standards, so if a con is ever held there James White and Ethel Lindsay won't have to worry about sharing a bathroom. But it is a long way from the town centre.

Helen McCarthy, 147a Francis Rd, Leyton, London

Thanks for the Easter CONRUNNER - which was its (and your) usual interesting, lively, substance-stirring self. I had a copy of a card Dave Langford received from Jenny Glover a couple of weeks after the con which seemed to indicate that others don't share my awed respect for the Tall One - shame on you Jenny, how can you be so flippant about the nearest thing British sf has to that priceless Japanese cultural institution, the Living National Treasure?

As for being as pleased to be noticed by D West, I'm sure I would be if I knew him or his writing. I believe he was a famous fanwriter in the sixties and seventies and I assume he still is, but, not having seen anything he's written that I can recall, I'm afraid I must continue to reserve my breathless admiration for people whose work I've actually read and remembered.

On the strength of the CONRUNNER piece I would guess he's no longer a very active beast of prey - either that or he went to the same savagery tutor as Jim Callaghan. Perhaps it was the fact that he referred to all the objects of his scorn throughout by surnames that gave me the feeling the whole piece was steeped in the best traditions of all those boys' boarding school stories current in the Thirties. One thing I've never experienced in fandom before reading his epic is the sensation of being transformed into a naughty thirdformer hauled up before the housemaster for messing up my prep. Of course in D's (or may I call him Donald's?) heyday fandom was much more a boys-only club so maybe I simply don't understand or respect the proper historical traditions. Am I really just a grubby little third-form oik, prole who went to the wrong sort of prep school?

His somewhat outdated strictures on media sf enhance the Thirties atmosphere even more. He doesn't like it - fair enough. He finds it underdeveloped as an art form in comparison with literature - also fair enough, though failure to take into account that fact that cinema, television and generally available recorded music are all forms with less than 120 years' development behind them, while the written word in English has a millennium of its own history and cultural roots going as deep again to draw on, does seem to indicate a certain level of chauvinism. One wonders whether, had he been a Tudor, Master West would have pronounced Shakespeare to be merely a populist crowdpleaser who was content to fill the theatres with meaningless, insubstantial folly for the masses but had no real literary gift, and the theatre the diversion of bawds and idlers, not fit for a man of intelligence?

Donny dismisses, in one terrifyingly predictable paragraph, every product of sf in every other medium as unfit to stand beside the pure intellectual grandeur of the literary form, which has given us Perry Rhodan, the Gor saga and Doc Savage - Man of Bronze, to say nothing of the mighty works of L. Ron Hubbard. It would be pointless to question his taste (de gustibus non etc) but one can reasonably speculate on his judgment and the fairness and balance of his point of view. I don't find the wealth of sub-intellectual snobbery employed in such a sweeping statement of contempt offensive, but nor do I regard it as part of a reasonable argument.

Unfortunately the rest of his arguments seem to be similarly flawed, sometimes by sweeping statements and sometimes by simply ignoring what was actually said or planned in favour of what better suits his thesis. To take just one example, he avers that after reading the publicity for EASTCON 90 a Star Trek fan could justifiably complain that he had been misled into coming to the con because he was led to believe there would be a large Trek content to the programme. I've never judged people's ability to comprehend information by their taste in entertainment and so I don't automatically assume that "something for everyone" followed by a varied list of items is generally interpreted as "everything you want" by readers of convention publicity, whether or not they are Star Trek fans. Dee evidently does, and what's more he seems to think this assumption is perfectly justified.

It also seems to me that by focussing exclusively on financial values when saying others pay for conrunners' pleasures while fanzine editors or writers are pure and untainted by such things, Mr. West overlooks the truth that money is only one of the coinages in which pleasures are paid. My moment of lucidity, which he quotes, was an attempt to clarify this fact - most of us, fanzine editors not excepted, do indeed expect (or hope for) others to pay for our pleasure, and some forms of payment mean more to the recipient than money, or come at greater cost to the payer.

I've always regarded those who go up to the bar and get the drinks in as performing a courtesy or offering a friendly gesture to their fellows, not drawing the short straw that assigns them the duty of fagging for the rest of the party. People go to the pub with friends because they like the friends, and maybe even the pub, and they like having a drink and talking together: they are therefore prepared to go to the small trouble and greater or lesser expense of getting a round in occasionally so they can share an activity they enjoy with people they like. For the same reasons, conrunners run cons. In the same way, conrunners also pay their own way as round-buying members of the group.

Conrunners run a wide variety of cons - Trek cons, Mexicons, Novacons - all for their various specialist groups plus anyone else who might be interested - tied houses, as it were, sometimes with a few "extras" on tap, sometimes not. One con a year, the Eastercon, should in my opinion be a free house where most people can find something they enjoy and drink it with a wider group of friends and acquaintances than they encounter in their local. The conrunners of an Eastercon therefore have a slightly different objective from other conrunners - their bar has to be well-stocked enough for the general public but still contain a few esoteric goodies to tempt the specialist drinker. In order to keep the pub open year after year, with a different management team each year, the Easterconrunners need to know what people want, what they'll pay for it, and on what terms they'll support the venture. Without at least that level of commitment and interest, the Eastercon Arms may one day close its doors. Of course, those who never want to leave their local or try out anything new may not see the point of going there in the first place, but that's another issue.

I could go on, but Don has already gone on (and on) for longer than anyone else in CONRUNNER (is this the literary equivalent of the Pickersgill Heckle Technique?) and in any case I can't argue with such a sublimely closed mind as is evidenced in all those weary pages. Conrunners and fanzine editors alike can only offer what they think will work, and then await the verdict of their self-selected market. If fandom doesn't like what they do, or isn't willing to pay the asking price, it will vote with its feet. I must confess I find this infinitely preferable to 24 pages of D West voting with his mouth. The pen may or may not be mightier than the sword, but with the wrong refill it goes on for much, much longer.

By the way, I was glad to hear Elydore went well. Two good Eastercons may be two too many, or even two too inconceivable, for Don West, but it seems that a lot of people had a good time at both of them.

Yours in the interests of Love, Peace and Tolerance.

((Now we hear from that well known advocate of tolerance, Joseph Nicholas. I remember the old days when Joe's fanzine reviews had to be printed on acid proof paper, but that was in a different decade.))

Joe Nicholas, 5a Frinton Rd, Stamford Hill, London

It's probably superfluous to say that West's article was the highlight of Conrunner 13; after all, it comprised the bulk of the issue's content, and it's very unlikely that anyone will respond to anything else. One thus looks forward with interest to see what proportion of that response will be from conrunners vehemently denouncing him as a rotten elitist fanzine fan out to spoil their fun, and what proportion from rotten elitist fanzine fans endorsing his own denunciation of the conrunning mentality....

And as a rotten elitist fanzine fan myself I do have to own that I agree with a fair amount of what D. says, and in particular with his description of what he calls the general election mentality of convention bidding: the belief that, having won their bid, a convention committee has the right to speak for all fandom and impose its will even on those who won't be going to their convention. I for one was hugely amused by the tiff between the Eastcon and Elydore committees, and at the shock and outrage expressed by the former when the latter refused to distribute its publicity: after all, why shouldn't media fans have a convention of their own to attend, at whatever time of the year they like, and instruct everyone else to get stuffed if they didn't like it? Never mind that, after years of seeing fanzine fans denounced by conrunners as rotten elitist etc. etc., it was something of a pleasure to see the conrunners denounced in their turn!

But at the same time as endorsing some of what D. says, I have to disagree with other parts of his argument; in particular, his refutation of Martin Easterbrook's comments on what happened to fanzine fandom in the wake of the 1979 Worldcon. Martin's claim that fanwriters quit in defeat is certainly wrong, but D.'s claim that all who left were replaced by new fanwriters is (if such a thing is possible) even more wrong.

Some more history is called for here, starting with the actual nature of the fanzine fandom of the seventies. It was, in the middle and later years of the decade, primarily a fannish fanzine fandom, and one that was vigorous, articulate, seIf-confident, and above all possessed of great ideological cohesion and drive. But somewhere in 1978 a few doubts began to creep in, and there grew up a very distinct feeling, much discussed in the fanzines of the time, that fannish fandom had "lost its way", perhaps taken a wrong turning at the beginning of the seventies; and that having founded itself on a convenient myth of single-handedly overthrowing the previous order in order to clear the ground for the establishment of an indigenous British fan culture that owed nothing to any previous era -- what we would these days recognise as a hegemonic project -- it had begun to realise that it had no idea of what do with that culture. What, in other words, had all that effort really been for? By the time the 1979 Worldcon actually arrived, fannish fandom felt itself to be under enormous pressure from both within and without, to relegitimise itself to its members so that it could then rejustify itself to its critics; and managed neither. Its ideological cohesion gone, it slipped rapidly from its former position of dominance, leaving the field (God, I'm even beginning to talk in terms of the military metaphors D. so rightly deplores) to a swarm of other fictions -- conrunners, computer gamers, media fans, and so on. The fragmented fandom that thus came into being has persisted to this day, and is characterised if anything not by the dominance of any one faction but the absence of any such domination: each faction can be said to be in competition with all the others for new members and supporters, but their agendas are driven by internal rather than external factors and motivations.

Thus what I believe to have then been the true position; we must now bring matters up to date. Some fanzine fans did gafiate in the wake of the 1979 Worldcon, and the number of fanzines being published did fall off quite sharply -- but, bearing Martin Easterbrook's claims in mind, this is attributable at least as much to the pressure of other activities (marriage, mortgages, professional careers, children; many of the prominent fanwriters of the day were in their late twenties or early thirties, and so at precisely that age where real-world life-choices start to become paramount) as to a loss of confidence and a desire to avoid confrontation. In retrospect, what was most noticeable about the fandom of the early eighties was the rise of the apa, a phenomenon hitherto almost unknown in Britain but one which presumably attracted a large number of pre-1979 fanzine fans because it did offer them a means of avoiding any engagement with the groups that had moved onto the terrain they had recently vacated (although these military metaphors have as much to do with Gramscian notions of the "war of position" versus the "war of movement" as anything else). Thus fanzine fans could ignore the hostility expressed towards them by members of the other factions (a hostility derived almost entirely from the fact that throughout the seventies these factions had been quite marginalised, and their presence sometimes blotted out entirely, by the dominance of the fanzine fans) -- a stratagem which looks from one perspective like a retreat (Easterbrook's slinking off to die), but from another like a determination to carry on doing whatever they wanted without having to go through the tedious business of explaining it all to everyone else. (It's also worth pointing out that a good part of the fanwriting of the early eighties was devoted to fanhistory, almost as though the fanzine fans who had dominated the seventies were attempting to uncover where they had erred and reconstruct for themselves a better, more tractable past.)

But if this answers Easterbrook, it does not answer D.'s claim that the fanwriters who gafiated were replaced by others. Indeed, they have hardly been replaced at all, and a reason may be found by comparing the relative vigour and cohesion of fanzine fandom with that of other factions; one will then realise immediately that whereas these have grown steadily throughout the eighties, fanzine fandom has been struggling just to maintain a constant level of activity (and in my view has failed, and been in gradual decline throughout the decade). Such activities as conrunning, filk-singing, masquerade costuming et al have been perceived for much of the past decade as "growth areas", and on the principle that people tend to go where all the action and interest may be found these factions have naturally tended to attract the bulk of the new fans. One must also consider the changing function of fanzines, and indeed whether they still have one at all -- as D. himself remarks in another- part of his article, active fans were once almost all fanzine fans because there was little else to do and little financial scope to attempt anything else; but the relative rise in fans' general level of affluence and the expansion in both the range and ease of opportunities for travel have naturally enhanced the possibilities for face-to-face contact. There is, in consequence, far less need than hitherto to actually write things down in order to get them said -- albeit that saying them in conversation or from a convention platform may not result in them being stored in a permanent form, or at all; but why should that provide any impediment, if personal interaction is valued more.? Never mind, of course, the wider range of activities available to contemporary fans, as D. himself must have realised even as he typed the remark: if they can run a convention or strum a filk, why should they feel any need to write anything for fanzines?

Thus the day of the fanzine may be almost done; unless, perhaps, the gloomy prognostications in the final paragraphs of his article come to pass, and purely economic considerations drastically reduce fans' disposable incomes and drive them back to publishing fanzines because the scope for other activities has been vastly constricted or even driven out of existence. We can, presumably, only wait and see....although even in deploying the collective pronoun I'm reminded that throughout this letter I've tended to do what D. has criticised conrunners for doing, and treated fandom as a collective rather than a set of individuals. Thus, perhaps the limitations of the terminology I've been using: that it inevitably regards history as something involving groups and movements rather than people and their ideas. No doubt some clever conrunning sod will come up with a means of re-attributing the foregoing to a set of strong-willed individuals and recast the seventies and eighties in their light -- and then perhaps both D. and I can denounce him for attempting to re-impose a "history from above" over our rather different "histories from below"....

Pat Brown, 104 Pretoria Rd, Bristol

Yet again somebody is complaining about the "professional" attitude of con-runners (D. West, last issue). I completely fail to understand why this complaint continues to be expressed. If by "professional" the critics mean that the job is done efficiently, then I must plead guilty to the charge. To me it is quite unthinkable to do a job badly through careless, slapdash organisation. The corollary of course is that inefficiency and (occasionally) incompetence must be seen as a virtue by the complainers! It is, however, interesting to note that those who shout loudest about "professional" conrunners are also amongst the first to complain when e.g. their hotel booking is incorrect or the programme fails to run to schedule.

Perhaps an example might be interesting. "Conrunner" is well produced, well presented and well printed. (Alright Ian, I'm flattering you.) In other words Ian has a "professional'" attitude to its production and takes the trouble to get it right. If he did not we would be reading - or attempting to read - a scrappy, badly spelled, badly printed, inaccurate bit of tatty old paper. I know which I prefer.

There seems to be a feeling that conrunners, techies etc should not get any pleasure out of their activities. D. became quite incensed at the idea of techies actually enjoying themselves at a convention for example. Most conrunners don't make any claims to altruism. We do it because we enjoy it, for all sorts of reasons. I suspect that the main grumblers have no comprehension of the pleasure that seeing all the hard work come to fruition can bring, nor of the satisfaction of doing a job well. For most of us there IS an element of altruism and also an element of self-aggrandisement. It is very rare that the reason for getting involved in running cons is a desire to control other people however. People management is a means to an end, not an end in itself, as anyone with any management experience whatsoever could tell you.

This of course leads on to the question of security, about which D West was particularly scathing. He perceives Security people as a group of little dictators who enjoy telling people what to do, which makes it quite obvious that he has never looked beyond the obvious. In an ideal world security wouldn't be necessary. Unfortunately this is the real world (or a rather strange subset of it anyway) and there are occasions when it is necessary. Checking badges may seem to be an unnecessary piece of officious nonsense, but had D. observed the number of people attempting to gatecrash at Eastcon on the Saturday afternoon he might see the necessity for it. This is not the only function of security, however, and security usually only becomes obvious when they get it wrong. How many people noticed Security at Frontiers checking on a reported break-in to the dealers' room for example? Or seeing off a suspicious person trying car doors in the car park? The point here is that both incidents were dealt with and sorted out before most congoers had even realised that anything was wrong.

As for the radios that D. sees as a sign of egotism, the glamour soon wears off when you are called from your breakfast/bath/sleep/anything else for the fifth time in quick succession to deal with some problem. On a large site radios are not a luxury; they are a necessity for efficient communication. If you have a large number of gophers you may be able to do without, but, for example, at Frontiers recently I was running the sound desk for much of the time, and unless I had had a dedicated runner with me I would have had no means of communicating when problems arose, e.g. the time when the hotel electrical system in part of the hall failed.

That leads on to tech. Here again D. seems to take umbrage at the idea that the tech crew should (Shock! Horror!) ENJOY themselves at the convention. Why else would we spend many hours per day working (I actually spent 14 hours continuously at the sound desk at Frontiers on one occasion), crawling out of bed at 5.30am to show films (as I did at Eastcon on 3 successive mornings) and other such activities? We enjoy ourselves, the Convention gets the benefit of our skills. What's wrong with that? It seems like a fair deal to me. If you want a sound system and a film room then you need the people who have the expertise and the inclination to run it for you. Furthermore far from the techies having fun at the expense of the Convention, a great deal of the technical equipment you see at Cons is actually owned by various members of the tech crew. e.g. at Eastcon the only piece of equipment in the film room NOT owned by one or other of the film crew was the video projector. ALL other film equipment - projectors, screen, sound system, stands, cables etc. were owned by the film crew whilst the VCR was owned by one of the Eastcon committee. The only cost to the convention was the transport of the equipment and the hire of the films. In this instance the tech crew subsidised the Con rather than the other way around. The point here is that we are interested in our subject outside conventions as well as inside, conventions are simply one outlet for our interests. Some people write fanzines, make costumes, paint, write we make films, record music, build interesting electronic gadgetry.

This comes back to the point I argued in a previous edition of Conrunner. Congoers must decide just what level of tech they require, bearing in mind that at a large venue a certain amount of at least sound equipment really IS necessary, accept that there will be some costs involved in providing that, and people required to run it. You might just as well use the people who enjoy doing the job!

If D. wants to complain about money being spent on minority groups perhaps he should also look at parents (the creche which has become usual at large cons is expensive to run and never covers its costs), the fan room, even those who come to the con to see the guest of honour! After all, a large number of people don't go to the Con to see the GOH at all - why should all that money be spent on a guest whom only a proportion of attendees are interested in seeing?!?

The fact is that to run a convention requires a certain amount of organisation, particularly on the business side. The amount of formal organisation depends on the size of the con, but without it the whole thing will descend into chaos and potentially into serious legal and/or financial problems. If you think about it, even holding a party at your own house requires a certain amount of organisation, and most cons are rather bigger than a one night party. If you are going to run a con at all you might as well make a good job of it. Efficient organisation is in any case usually less obtrusive and ultimately less wearing on the nerves of the organisers than bungled chaos.

Isn't it then a good thing that some people actively enjoy the administrative side of conventions, leaving those whose interests lie elsewhere the opportunity to do the things THEY enjoy, eg gathering in the bar to grumble?

((OK, so now you've read the charges levelled against him, here's the man himself exercising his right of reply. Somehow I don't think he's going to smooth any of the feathers that were ruffled last time.....)

D.West's original article - D.West's reply to these letters


This page updated on 09 July 1999