SWANCON 1 – review by Anthony Peacey

This review was originally printed in SwanCon 1 – Cygnetures, from the collection of Steve Gunnell, and has been reproduced faithfully, with as many of the original typographic conventions (and errors) as possible.

In the deathly hush of early Saturday morning we waited, having laid a minimum of plans (and put into operation some of them) having transformed the house (slightly), having waved goodbye to my wife and kids (except the oldest). Time passed, and one of us in a sepulchral voice asked, “Will they come?” The passage of time continued, then another of us replied, “They’ll come: we’ve got their money.”

For weeks the burning question in our minds had been: are there fans in W.A., out there, each alone, waiting, each with the same question smoulder in both his brain cells: is there anyone else out there like me?

Now the phase one is over (the official title of which was SWANCON 1) that question at least can be answered unequivocally: there are fans in W.A.: there are bigfans and smallfans, fatfans and thinfans, oldfans and nufans, trekkies and erbfans; there are asimovfans, clarkefans, conaufans, hobbitfans; there are litfans and critfans, and illitfans; there are even at least two fans who have read Dhalgren from beginning to end, and by the look of them they understood it. For these and all the other fans who we cannot now remember we are truly sorry.

But in that deathly-hushed Saturday morning hiatus between the completion of preparations (sticking up the arrows to the dunny) and the arrival of the first hesitant conmember (“Er – is this where it is?” he meant the con not the dunny) the actual existence of all these wonderful beings was still unproven. As, for some of them, no doubt was the truth of John Donne’s oft-misquoted observation (in fact I think he even misquoted it himself) “No fan is an island.”

Yes, the first conmember arrived, and after him the second, shortly to be followed by – yes, you’ve guessed it – the third. They kept coming, carrying their trembling egos behind fewer and less massive fortifications than the average human being, as is usual with fans, even those who have not yet recognised their fanhood. The host had when not worrying that no one would turn up, worried that everyone would turn up, and indeed everyone that was destined (or doomed) to appear at some stage or other did so. But the host need not have worried, for no one put his or her stomach on the carpet, and it is not even certain that anyone, in spite of frenzied exhortation from On High, put his or her stomach on the paper, which was distributed on Sunday morning for that very purpose. Let it be for the reader to decide whether any of the literary gems that accompany this account are reminiscent of gastric interiors.

The first Event to appear on the program was one of the very few that took place in its scheduled position, but the Kommittee were not so disrespectful towards the traditions of fandom as to allow it to commence at its scheduled time. Accordingly, half an hour late or thereabouts, conmenbers zealous enough to have arrived already were treated to the spectacle of four ordinary looking guys trying to excuse themselves for having placed four of the many obviously alien plastic chairs in a suburban loungeroom in a position that in our society commonly signifies dominance, and for having occupied same. This event was billed as “Inaugural panel of Kommittee” subtitled “Why we did it – Why you’re here”, and in the course of the next thirty minutes the blame for the whole thing was placed firmly n the Caps of our early birds who were still too bewildered to answer back.

It is extremely unlikely that in future West Australian conventions anybody will arrive on time for the inaugural panel.

(page 2)

However, the bewilderment, or perhaps it was innate audience good manners, did not survive the lunchtime break for refreshments during which a number of perspicacious conmembers obviously reasoning that the Kommittee would at least know the lie of the neighbouring land attached themselves to said Kommittee (or at least part of it) and ended up at a local hostelry. Doubtless other conmembers trusting to their noses made even more satisfactory arrangements in that alternative watering holes would not have been burdened by the presence of any part of the inaugural panel. Be that as it may, no subsequent event was distinguished by audience politeness or unwillingness to participate. Kommittee was naturally delighted by the developing atmosphere of jovial anarchy and the obvious fact that conmembers en masse had realised that they were the convention.

Conmembers with the exceptional memories may recall one Grant Stone whose chief idiosyncrasy was that he was early for everything. This misguided gentleman during th course of the Inaugural Panel claimed that an interest in SF is one of the greatest unifying forces that can act between people. The truth of the mater, that such an interest is in fact an agency of fearful disruption, was demonstrated on Saturday afternoon when Maureen Smith of Murdoch University gave an address of SF, specifically Ursula Le Guin, and Mike Alder of the University of W.A. begged leave to differ upon one or two small points. The fireworks that ensued showed pulp descriptions of cosmic conflict to have fallen short of fact, though true to type the protagonists proven indestructible.

That argument was a memorable Event, not so much for the erudition displayed during its course as for its shaking down effect upon the convention. Reserve and defence patterns having been blown at lunch, something else now emerged, and it becomes difficult to plot the course of the con hereafter since the details of the much-abused program (it was obsolete the day before the con commenced anyway) are lost amid rosy memories of chaos.

A group of us did find our way to Peregrin’s Pancake Parlour or some such dump for dinner, much to your chronicler’s disgust, where bouncy waitresses plied us with a variety of unappetizing variations on a theme. Sweets and savouries were in evidence, but Cliff the Yoken Tank was unable to distinguish between them. When accused of abusing his stomach (perhaps in preparation for an ultramasochisitic attempt to out Ellison Ellison) he told the company airly that to mix the two was a time-honoured Tank custom, and back home in Tankland they regularly inundate their fish and chips with maple syrup. Grant Stone actually spoke less than usual during the “meal” as he was busy engulfing quantities of food that the rest of us had misguidedly ordered only to find that our appetites deserted us after a few mouthfuls. But in spite of its failure as a haven for the hungry, the place did have a certain joviality, or more likely, against all odds, we managed to carry to it a massive spinoff of that commodity, so that the plebs who lined the wall behind us waiting for seats (we had just beat the rush: Ghod knows why the joint is so popular) were obviously astonished if not amused by this table of maniacs.

At some time during Saturday evening the convention gathered for a debate originally suggested, it may well be, to round off the theme of the day (which may have been something to do with the appreciation of SF). The title of the debate was “Have the intellectual ramblings and hot pursuit of the last 9 hours annihilated your latent love for SF?” To be honest your chronicler seems to remember watching the bubbles rise in a misting glass (possibly misting glasses) of beer in an atmosphere of jollity, but he remembers little of what was said.

(page 3)

Except perhaps that the afternoon’s argument was revived, and wasn’t that something to do with the rival merits of just breezing through your SF reading for a turnon, having left all your intellectual equipment (if any) in the cupboard, as against reading the stuff perceptively in the context of Literature? For my money do whatever you like with it, as long as you keep buying it (speaks the would-be pro).

Ah, there were films – lotsanlotsa films. Bloody good films. I don’t know that much can be said about films, except that they did show us the faces of that belong to some of the names: Poul Anderson, Ray Bradbury, Harry Harrison, Gordon Dickson, and who was that little fella? Ghod damn it, what was his name? Something to do with Stomach? Anyway, the films were a Good Thing, taking the con far beyond the walls of a suburban house in Bayswater, W.A. Most conmembers must have thought most of the films were worth seeing, anyway, because they saw them. There was one group, however, who had better things to do: the Wargamers.

The uninitiated among us were astonished at the variety and complexity of the games they brought along, and at the fervour with which they spoke of nothing else, and at the fanaticism with which they fought off sleep in the middle of the night in order to fight each other over the board, and at the dedication to the same fight which prevented them from helping with a modest tidying and washing up program each morning. This for many of us was an education, and on Sunday night at midnight I myself, together with a number of others some experienced, some not, descended into the Dungeon to do battle with vampires, skeletons, giant snakes, the dreaded green slime and other horrors. Yes, the game fever caught me, but the con had been running for two days and a night then, and I usually go to bed at half past eight, and the beer I took with me into the games room was not the first of the evening, so I can remember few details of that game. I do recall, however, that I did not win, though not precisely how I came to lose – probably got sat on and squashed by a black pudding down in the sixth level.

I notice that somehow I have managed to skip Sunday. Well the con was certainly rolling along that day, films, discussions, arguments, duels. The theme of the day may have been “fandom”. For many, fandom was a newish concept, but for the most fannish cap seemed to fit well. In the morning Grant Stone was back, minus-half-an-hour early as usual, to give a pyrotechnic address on the chronic fannish disease of writing and publication. Such was the effect of his display (which included impersonations of various copying, enlarging reducing and printing mechanisms at Murdoch University, all of which seem to have incredible staring eyes and electrified hair), that a roomful of fledglings in the noisy process of taking their first steps into the great wide world of fandom was converted on the instant to a roomful fannish authors labouring in the throes of the creative act, silent but for the tap of typewriter and the scratch of pencil.

That day for dinner your chronicler found himself with section of the convention at a chinese joint where as well as the now customary hilarity he was able also to enjoy an excellent meal.

In the evening the debate was around the title “Has the verbiage and offal of fandom insulted your Aussie sense of reality, to the point of action yet?” Cliff the Yoken Tank claimed that he was not burdened with an Aussie sense of reality, but he let slip that at one time he had been an inner-circle member of the Gafia. A cetain offslinging at various nationalities occurred around this time, and apposite to nothing Cliff the Yoken Tank offered in extenuation that he is at present taking a course of antigafia pills which some unnamed person or persons is smuggling in from South Australia in the heels of platform shoes for kangeroos.

(page 4)

Adam Jenkins summed up the mood of the gathering when he announced “I am a science fiction fan first, and an Australian second.” Damian Brennan, the official applause leader, lead the applause.

What else happened that night? you may ask. Well towards the end of it your chronicler got sat on by a black pudding, and at the end of it all he almost made his normal bedtime, except that he couldn’t quite stay awake long enough, and if he had it would have been 8.30 a.m. not 8.30 p.m. But what happened in between your chronicler cannot remember.

Monday was a quiet day, in which those diehards who did not have to work and did not want to be anywhere else sat around and perhaps read, or wargamed, or listened to Asimov talking about Asimov (and en passant about SF) on tape. Officially the con ended at noon, but it was 6 p.m. before your chronicler sadly bade farewell to the last departing conmembers.

And your chronicler, who had been one of the instigators of W.A.’s first science fiction convention, said to himself, “Well, I think it was a success. Anyway, I had a helluva lot of fun.”


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