Time Capsule Book

I found a treasure recently at a place called ThriftBooks–a 190-page book titled The Proceedings: DISCON. What it was is transcriptions from tape recordings of speeches, panels and other parts of the 21st World Science Fiction Convention held in 1963 in Washington, D.C.

First, some backstory: When I got out of the service in 1963, my friend, Norm, knowing my interest in science-fiction, gifted me with a subscription to Analog magazine. I got the first issue before my separation and, in the back, it advertised the WorldCon, something I had never known to exist. And it was being held within 100 miles of my home, so driving there was feasible.

I had been accumulating SF paperbacks since sixth grade, mostly purchased from the single spinner rack at my hometown newsstand. I continued the habit through college and the Army, and developed a growing recognition of many favorite authors.

This was my chance to actually see these icons, in person. I had landed a job with a daily newspaper where I would end up spending a 40-plus-year career in various reporting capacities–but when I was asked to report Sept. 1, I risked losing out on the job by saying I could not do so until after Sept. 2, the last day of the convention. That’s how much attending it meant to me.

The convention was everything I’d dared hope. I checked in to the hotel the night before (Aug. 29) and did not leave the building for the next four days, except briefly when an uncle who lived in D.C. came by to take me out to dinner.

On that first night, I stood in a hallway no doubt gawking at some of folks I’d been reading all those years. David Kyle, whom I would later learn had been an active fan since the earliest days of organized SF, a member of The Futurians (a New York fan group out of which came many writers and editors) and the founder of Gnome Press (a small press which first brought out many SF classics), spotted me as an obvious convention neophyte, and introduced me to Cele Goldsmith, the editor who had purchased my only (at that point) SF story for her magazine, Fantastic. Cele, in turn, introduced me to Isaac Asimov, who was holding forth in the hallway. ***Isaac Asimov*** His first novel, Pebble in the Sky, and his pseudonymous David Starr, Space Ranger, were among the first SF hardbacks I had read (pushed on me by a school librarian/aunt who worried that I was reading too many comic books. She had no idea what she was starting.)

In the days that followed, I sat with other small groups of attendees chatting with folks like supreme fan Forrest Ackerman (who showed us his Dracula ring from Bela Lugosi), L. Sprague de Camp, and others. This was back in the days when such conventions drew maybe 600 people altogether, and panel attendance barely filled some of the rooms where they were held–some years before Star Trek and other media took SF “out of the gutter” and made it mainstream with literally thousands of convention attendees.

In the coming days, I would listen avidly to talks and panel discussions by James Blish, Robert Silverberg, Lester del Rey, Katherine McLean, Fritz Leiber, Richard Lupoff, Willy Ley, Fred Pohl, Judith Merrill, Randall Garrett, Theodore Cogswell, John W. Campbell, Jr., E. E. “Doc” Smith, Hal Clement, and on and on–people who, until then, had been printed names on books and in magazines to me. If only I had known as much about them then as I do now, I might have asked some intelligent questions. But basking in their glow was enough at the time.

I’ve dined out on stories picked up at that convention in all the years since: how pulp publishers used to show their covers to writers who would then say, Hey, I have a story that would fit that perfectly, and then run home to write it (artist Ed Emshwiller, whose trademark was putting “EMSH” somewhere in all his art, had it on part of a spaceship that the writer converted into the “Remshaw Drive” for his story); John Campbell arguing that there had been no “breakthrough” story in the SF field since “Doc” Smith expanded its horizons from interplanetary to interstellar tales; Isaac Asimov as a hilarious toastmaster at the awards banquet lamenting that he had never won a Hugo, only to open the last envelope to discover he had been awarded a special one, Dick Lupoff on the history of SF comic books, Sprague de Camp and Bob Silverberg comparing their beards…

It was the best SF convention I ever attended, hands down, and I have treasured every memory from it since. Recently I discovered a book at ThriftBooks, ordered it and have devoured it. Not only was I able to relive every panel discussion I remembered, I was able to “attend” all those I had missed, as well. Dick Eney, who had been secretary for the convention, lovingly typed out every word that had been recorded and added his own descriptions of what was going on where necessary.

So that’s my story of a book that, for me, was a time capsule, a blast from the past, a rekindling of being able to see those literary giants through the eyes of that 25-year-old SF neophyte.

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