Alternate History of NESFA

If We Had Won in '71

by Richard Harter

Just a note of warning. This piece probably won't make any sense to you if you aren't a science fiction fan. On the other hand it may not make any sense to you if you are a science fiction fan.

A Voice From The Past

Hello Eddoreans:

This is really strange. I'm writing a nostalgia piece for people I don't know and people out of my distant past. Still, a lot of you were good friends of mine back in the days when I lived in Boston and was a Science Fiction fan. How strange that sounds to me now - a Science Fiction fan. I don't think I've even read any science fiction in the past fifteen years.

Hello again. My name is Richard Harter. Those of you who were around twenty years ago might remember me. I suppose the fannish (what a strange word) historians tell stories about me. If you don't recognize the name, ask Tony Lewis or Leslie Turek or Suford or Joe Ross or Cory Panshin who I was.

For those of you who do remember me and wondered what ever happened to Dick Harter it's really pretty simple. After Marsha and I got divorced in 1981 I went through some bad times and just split out from everything I had been and done. I went out West and just wandered for a couple of years, drifting around. One day I stumbled into a paleontological dig and signed on as a digger. I fell in love with old bones and have been digging up dinosaurs ever since. I have a trailer in Tucson where I hang my hat when I'm not out in the field, but I'm not there much.

How come I'm writing this? It's like this. I was in San Antonio doing some research. One evening I'm hanging out at a Mexican restaurant having a bite when somebody from a table full of people gets up and walks over and says "Say, aren't you Mr. Harter?" I must have looked real blank but I said, "Yeah." Then it dawned on me who it was. It was Tony Lewis. I asked what he was doing in San Antonio and he said he was at the worldcon. As the editor of ASF it was a business duty for him to be at worldcons. Silly me, I didn't even know he had become the editor of ASF. Like I say, I just don't read the stuff - haven't for years. But I remembered that it was a big deal.

Tony said I should come to the convention. Well I couldn't do that. Can't take crowds. I've been out in the open country too long. I get spooked when there's too many people around. But he arranged a get together for me and some of my old Boston friends. It was a blast, meeting people out of the past, Tony, Joe Ross, Leslie Turek, the Panshins, and Suford. Leslie showed off her brand new Hugo for best novel and I duly congratulated her. They told me all about what happened in Boston after I left, how Boston finally put on a worldcon in 1983, how Leslie became an SF writer and Tony an editor. It was Suford that got me to write this. I gather she is the mother hen of Boston fandom. She insisted that I write a piece for APA:Eddor telling what happened to me.

There's not much to say about me. I dig up bones. Dinosaur bones. It's not very glamorous, really. You're mostly out in the middle of nowhere. It's hot and dry and dusty. You measure a field trip by beer. When you run out of beer it's time to head back to civilization. I've been lucky. In '91 we excavated a T-rex. You might have read about it in the papers at the time. The news media made a big fuss about it. I don't suppose you want to hear about that, though.

Like I say, Suford talked me into doing a nostalgia piece for the APA. (Now there's another strange word out of the past.) I didn't know what to do. I've sort of put all of that behind me - I really don't like to think about my last year in Boston. It's still pretty painful after all this time. To tell the truth I've shut that door behind me and I really don't want to open it up again. I'm sure you're all nice people and it was great to meet my old friends but I'm leading a different kind of life now and I don't want to go back.

So there I was with a promise made, one that I didn't know how to keep. And then I remembered the box. I have this box, see. When I packed up and left Boston I put my memorabilia in a box. It's really just a lot of old paper - technical papers I had written and stuff that I had written for fanzines. I took it with me, just a box in the trunk of my car. When I got the trailer it was just another bit of junk. The trailer is filled with junk, mostly bits and pieces of fossils.

So the idea came to me that maybe there was something in that box that people might like if I just reprinted it. I hadn't opened that box since I left Boston. It was pretty weird. There was technical stuff that I couldn't even recognize. What's an autocorrelation function, anyway? The fanzine stuff was even weirder. A lot of it I just couldn't connect with - I've forgotten what the arguments were about. And some of it I connected with all too well. But I did come across an interesting piece and I thought maybe people would like to read a bit of history.

The rest of this article is a reprint of a speculative article I wrote back in 1979 called "If We Had Won in 71". It's an alternate universe piece, a bit of speculation about what would have happened if Boston had won the 1971 worldcon. It got to me. I sat up all night wondering what would have happened in that other time line. Would I have stayed in Boston? I suppose I would have. The divorce and all of the feuds were a big jolt to me. I'd probably have kept working with computers. Funny about that. These days even bone diggers have computers. I finally got one last year. It's second hand - paleontologists don't make much money.

And what about NESFA? Now there's a real name out of the past When I left the legal name of the Eddoreans was NESFA. . I wrote Suford and asked about the name. She tells me that they changed the club name legally from NESFA to the Eddoreans back in 1985. I don't suppose anybody except old timers even remembers the name.

According to the piece that I've reprinted "NESFA" would have dedicated itself to running conventions. I don't suppose they would have had literary interests like the Eddoreans. The writers and artists probably wouldn't have hung around. The Panshins would have split. I expect that Leslie Turek would have still become an award winning writer. I don't know about Suford - according to the piece she and Tony would have stayed married. If they had she might not have become a writer - they would have been running conventions.

Would Tony Lewis have become a writer and an editor? Maybe, maybe not. He was always a good writer but he was a good physicist too. Maybe being in the Eddoreans gave him that extra little push.

It's impossible for me to guess. I've been away for too long and I don't know the people any more. Those of you reading this can answer the "what if" questions yourself. What your life be like if there had been a NESFA and no Eddoreans? Would you have even gotten into fandom? Would there have been a split when the fannish types realized that working for NESFA wasn't their cup of tea.

Of course there would have been. These things always happen. A "NESFA" just wouldn't have been enough for the creative types. And you know what? Guess who would have led the split? Tony Lewis, that's who.

Remember, Tony Lewis was the chairman of the 1971 bid, the bid that didn't make it. He would have run his convention and gotten that out of his system. Once he had done that he would have turned to writing. Tony is a leader. When the time for the split came he would have led it.

Enough of this. I don't know what I'm talking about anyway. You fannish types go have fun with your "what if" questions. I'm going to have another beer. I've got bones to dig up.

If We Had Won In '71

This is IF WE HAD WON IN 71, a one shot apazine intended for APA:EDDOR #111. It is written and produced by Richard Harter at 5 Chauncy Street, Cambridge MA 02138, with the amiable assistance of Alphonse, the gentleman's gremlin of typoes.

In view of the recent interest in Uchronias in the APA I thought it might be interesting to apply the techniques of SF to the Eddoreans themselves and speculate on an alternative future for us.

There are many possible branching points one would choose. For example, one might suppose that Tony Lewis had dropped out of MIT or that Ed Meyer had never run for Editor. Obviously many things would have been changed if either of these events had happened. However these are the wrong kind of "What if?" questions. There are strict, if unstated, rules in this sort of thing. The Boston SF scene without Tony Lewis or Ed Meyer would simply be unpredictable. The right kind of branching point is one which is critical, formative, and fairly clear cut. For example, Kennedy not having been assassinated would be an appropriate branching point. However a scenario in which Kennedy died in 1958 in an auto accident would be much muddier. If we want to look at different results in the 1960 election we should look to that election itself. (I grant that I may not have chosen the best example for my point.)

With this rather loose criterion in mind, I think I have identified the key event in the history of the Eddoreans - the ill fated Boston Worldcon bid in 1971. Perhaps 80% of my readership was not around at that time; however I think it is safe to assume that everyone knows that there was such a bid. After all, there are some people who still harp on the subject.

However things were quite a bit different then and there aren't many of us who are still around from those time. The feuds of 1972 and 1976 had a lot to do with that, of course, but ten years is a long time in fandom in any case. As I have said before and will no doubt say again, I still think that the worst thing about the feud in 1976 was that Ed Meyer left us permanently. For all of the problems, we owe a lot to Ed. (Sorry about that, I know I am editorializing, but these things die hard.

To the point; let us cast our minds back into yesteryear, back to St. Louiscon in 1969, when Boston lost by ten votes. To understand what might have been we have to understand what was. To begin with, the bid was not officially a club effort. In truth, however, the bid was so intertwined with the club that it was a de facto club bid. More than that, it was something that many members of the club and invested an enormous amount of time and effort into and with which they were emotionally wrapped. It was this factor of identification that the loss so bitter - a bitterness that has haunted the club ever since. At that time the club really did have a central vision and purpose - a defined destiny, so to speak - and it might have been interesting to see how it would have worked out. But it didn't work out; that purpose and vision was bound up with the bid that was lost.

As I recall it (and I admit my memory may be biased) there were three main themes in the early years of the club. The first was that it should serve as a home for a natural social group that had formed around MITSFS a few years earlier - a group that had outgrown MITSFS. The second was a conviction that only those who worked for and supported the club should be entitled to vote. The third was to serve as a vehicle for the bid in 1971. To this end it was proposed that the club take over the Boskones and continue to run them, using them as a training ground for the worldcon.

By now you may have noticed my continued used of the term, "the club". There are reasons for that. First of all, I think that there have only been one club if we had won - hence "the". I also think that the name of this club would have been NESFA and not "The Eddoreans". When the club was formed we had two names, NESFA, which was our legal name, and The Eddoreans, which was our fannish name. In those first few years, however, NESFA was the name which was pretty much used and the fannish name was withering by the wayside. For that matter, our incorporation papers still read NESFA, as Joe Ross and George Flynn are wont to remind us. It wasn't until Ed Meyer founded APA:EDDOR that the name really began to take hold. The founding of the APA marks a clear dividing line; the name quickly became standard after that. Before that there was a deliberate attempt to use the name "Eddoreans" to establish our fannish credentials but it was somewhat half hearted.

In fact there was a lot about the Eddoreans (actually it was NESFA in those days) that was half hearted and psychologically contradictory in 1970. The trouble was that there was an essential respect in which the club was a failure. True, it still served its social function, but it had failed in one of its basic purposes. (This is not a new theme with me but I must ask old timers for their patience - not everyone has read my 24 page essay in AE#17.) When one fails at something basic there are several approaches one can take: One can try again without altering one's approach; one can alter one's approach at random; one can alter it on the basis of analysis; one can deny the validity of the goal; or one can refuse to admit that the failure happened. The normal response is to do all of these things at the same time. Thus the Boston in 1974 Committee. Thus the emphasis on fannishness. Thus the faction that was vehemently against any worldcon bid. (I think, incidentally, that we could have won easily in 1974 if the bid could have held together, but 1972 put an end to that. It does seem unreasonable that Boston has never held a worldcon.)

The important point about all of this is that the loss in 1971 was very traumatic and that that trauma would not have occurred if we had won. There would have been no discredited 'convention faction' to pull out and take the Boskone with them. Instead the convention oriented purpose of the club would have been reaffirmed. There would have been no emphasis on fannishness and, hence, no Eddoreans. The club would not have been split; instead it would have been united. It would have been a success on its own terms.

Provided, of course, that it could have handled the 1971 worldcon. After all, running a worldcon can be a pretty traumatic thing in its own right - Atlanticon in 1977 will do nicely as a grisly example. I think, however, that in 1971 Boston would have done very well and I think that it would have strengthened the club. Remember, in those days the club was a strong and relatively unified social entity with a number of regional cons beneath its belt. It is interesting to speculate if Tony and Sue would have still split up if they had won the bid. After all, more than one marriage has been broken up by putting on a worldcon. Let go out on a limb and guess that they would not have split; I think that it was the loss that led to their breaking up and that putting on a con would have actually strengthened their marriage. (Obviously all sorts of personal relationships would have changed. For example, I might not have married Marsha. Or, if I had, we might have gotten divorced. Who knows? Still, the Eddoreans have had a lot of divorces. Maybe NESFA would have had more marital stability. Probably not. If things aren't fated to work out, they aren't fated to work out.)

A successful worldcon would have reinforced the club, of course. One of the consequences of success is that one tends to emphasize those factors which led to success. For example, we have at least three distinct groups in Boston fandom, Boskone Inc., the Eddoreans, and the Insurgents. Some people are in more than one camp and some people are not exactly in any. If we had won and had put on a successful worldcon I think it is clear that putting on conventions would have been emphasized relative to other activities.

I also think that it is likely that the club would not have split. To begin with, I doubt that Bill Desmond would have been president in 1971. You all know that I think the world of Bill, but even I will have to admit that he was the wrong man at the wrong time. However, for those of you who recall those times, you will have to admit that it would have been well impossible to have done much better. The point is, the factors that led to the split stemmed from the loss in 1971. (Yes, George, I know the voting was in 1969.) No loss, no trauma, no split. Instead, convention fandom would have become the tail that swallowed the dog.

Along with this trend I think that fanzines would have declined in importance. In the early days the club wasn't too fanzine oriented. I am still proud of the issues that I put out but even I will have to admit that it was a very good thing when Ed Meyer ran against me for Editor and won. (In those days you had to be elected to be editor of PB.) The importance of his victory rests not in his Hugo (although God knows it was deserved) but in the fact that he got the club involved with fanzines - something I never really did. Perhaps Ed would not have run if we had won in 1971 - I think not. In that case I probably would have let the whole thing slide. Without any impetus I think Boston would have become a barren place as far as fanzines are concerned. This may seem radical in view of Boston's well deserved reputation for fanzine fanac but it is not; the dominant mode of fanac in a fannish community is very much a matter of established fashion. If we were principally oriented towards conventions, fanzine fanac would die on the vine.

Speculation: If we had won in 1971 we probably wouldn't have bid in 1974. Therefore we would have been a logical bidder in 1977. Tony Lewis was the chairman of the 1971 bid. We have already supposed that Tony and Sue did not split up. Therefore Sue would still be Sue Lewis. It seems only reasonable that Sue should have been chairwoman for the bid. Since the permanent Boskone Executive Committee has seven members, the bidding slogan would have been "Seven in Seventy Seven". (Come to think on it, I'm surprised that no one used that slogan.) Maybe it wouldn't have happened quite that way but I bet it would have been close.

More speculation: Suppose that in that alternate universe in which Boston won that there was still an APA. I think that's almost inevitable. It probably would still have been started by Ed Meyer. (APA:NESFA, of course.) In the natural course of things I'm sure I would sooner or later do an alternate universe about "NESFA". Would I have picked the 71 bid as a turning point? (Can you read your mind in an alternate universe?) Maybe, but probably not. If we had won it would have seemed inevitable - these things always do in retrospect. I suspect that the big, key issue that that other Harter would have picked would have been the election in 1971.

Enough of this. Maybe next time I will make up a speculative alternate history. Right now I'm just trying to identify trends. For example, let me introduce a term which, as far as I know, is completely original with me and has never been used before - the NESFA work ethic. I think there would have been such a thing and I think that is the term that they would use.

Back in the beginning we had this explicit principle that you had to work for the club to be entitled to vote. This is a reasonable idea for an achievement oriented organization. In fact, Boskone Inc. still follows that formula, in effect. We have already established that NESFA would have been a Boskone Inc. written large. Not only would the convention orientation have been affirmed, the work criterion would have been also. This sort of thing is a positive feedback loop. Success in a cause tends to emphasize both the cause and the means used to attain it. The original idea was the simple one that control of the activities should be vested in those who are willing to work on them. It would quickly become, via positive feedback, a matter of "It is good to work for NESFA; you ought to work for NESFA." This is the epitome of the work ethic - I am certain somebody would invent the term. It would, of course, be a two edged sword. Some would take pride in the term; others would mock it.

I think that "NESFA" might have managed the Index better. Given a "work ethic" they could have kept it up - plus, of course, a lack of dissension would have helped. On the other hand, dedicated bibliography is something that is probably best done by individuals and the decision to get it out of the club hands and into the hands of individuals is almost certainly the best choice. Drew and Spike have an international bibliographic reputation. It may be doubted that a NESFA could have done as well. (It occurs to me that the money from Index sales might have been important to the club, but that is a bit of speculation that is too far out for me to indulge in.)

Would Boston fandom have been as faction ridden? For reasons that should be clear from what I have written, I doubt it. The worldcon should have induced an era of good feeling that would have lasted for many years. Dissension in fannish affairs is the rule so I suppose that sooner or later there would be personal conflicts that would wrack the club. However it should have been a long time coming and I think that the troubles, if any, would be surfacing about now. Maybe not. I would like to think that "NESFA" in that other universe presented a shining model of unity to the fannish world. Think of a world in which Tony Lewis and Bill Desmond are on the best of terms!!

Boston is somewhat of a hotbed for writers and artists. We keep losing people to New York but we definitely are one of the places "where it's at". Would that be true in that other universe? I think so. People are going to write if they are going to write; we would still have a number of aspiring pros. They might not, of course, find NESFA as congenial as the Eddoreans but I am sure they would still be there. Who knows? Maybe NESFA would have provided an even more positive atmosphere - one that was supportive instead of being factionalistic.

I hope you all enjoyed my little essay into Uchronian speculation. One of the problems with this sort of thing is that there is no way of knowing how well we did. Some of one's wildest guesses will be too conservative. Unpredictable accidents will wrench history out of its natural course. One will miss important trends that appear to be minor at the time. And, of course, one always brings to these things one's own biases and preconceptions that rooted in what is, rather than in what might have been. It would be nice to know the mistakes you have made. OK, it's all yours. Take it from there.

What is all this Nonsense?

Confused? That's understandable. What is all this nonsense? Tony Lewis as editor of Analog? No NESFA? Richard Harter digging up dinosaurs? Tony and Suford getting divorced? Leslie winning the wrong Hugo? Boston putting on a convention in 1983? What's going on here? This is crazy.

It all started when I decided to put together the web site from Hell with a home page that proudly announces itself as "Slum city of the mind" and "This site is best viewed with a bottle of scotch." I've been reformatting all of the crap that I've written over the years into web pages and have been adding a lot of new stuff. The site is voluminous and varied. The stated objective is to create a junk shop of the mind.

As part of this effort I pulled out my file of old APA:NESFA's with a view to mining them for articles that I could put up as web pages. I came across "If we had won in 1971". The story behind this piece is that AN #111 was supposed to be a hoax issue. For my contribution I did an alternate history of Boston fandom, written from the viewpoint of myself in that alternate universe, in which I tried to guess what Boston fandom in our universe would be like.

So here I had an alternate universe essay written in 1979. What should I do with it? I could just reprint it with a note of explanation but that wouldn't be sporting. It isn't 1979 anymore, now is it? So I decided to fast forward the alternate universe and start out in 1997. Since the essay is set in 1979, eighteen years ago, and references events of 20 and 30 years ago a few notes of explanation are in order.

In our world Boston did win in 1971 (and in 1980 et cetera). Tony and Suford are definitely still married and have a delightful daughter who is much too good for them.

In our world Don Lundry chaired Suncon in 1977. Suncon was held in Miami. However the bid actually was a floating bid; it could have been held in any of several cities. In that other universe it was held in Atlantic city and was a disaster. And, yes, the slogan for Suncon was "7 in 77".

Bill Desmond and Tony Lewis were not fated to be fast friends in any universe.

Bill Desmond, Ed Meyer, Drew Whyte, and Spike McPhee were all important figures in the early years of NESFA. Drew Whyte died a few years ago. The other three have gone their way; I don't know where they are or what they are doing.

Marsha is Marsha Elkin, well known femmefan and delightful person. We lived together for a few years. We might have gotten married but didn't; in that other universe we apparently did. In this universe I moved to Concord Mass in 1976. In that other universe I didn't move from Cambridge.

The Panshins are Alexis and Cory Panshin. Cory Panshin nee Seidman was the first editor of PB. The Panshins were part of the Boston scene for a while but eventually moved to Pennsylvania. In that other universe they remained in Boston along with a lot of people who became artists and writers.

In this universe I was the president of NESFA in 1980/81. I dropped out of NESFA when I started a software company. In that universe I dropped out of everything and became a paleontologist. This is not as strange as it sounds - I do in fact have a strong interest in paleontology, evolutionary theory, and dinosaurs.

Part of the fun in doing something like this is having your counterpart guess what our world would have been like and getting it subtly wrong. For example, in the essay he (my counterpart) guessed that Index sales might be important to NESFA but dismissed the idea as far out speculation. It turns out that he was wrong in 1979 but right in the long run - there was a time when sales of the index was financially important to NESFA. He got the "work ethic" right but missed the "class consciousness" implicit in two classes of membership. And he got the "era of good feeling" wrong - in our world bad vibes exploded in 1975. To keep the ball rolling I let him speculate that Tony Lewis would have walked out of NESFA, leading the fannish contingent.

What is more amusing is to check out some of the implicit assumptions about NESFA that this Richard Harter made in 1979. For example, the essay pretty much wrote off Boston fanzine fandom. I would have in no way predicted that Leslie Turek would win a Hugo for best fanzine. Likewise the Richard Harter of 1979 had no inkling that NESFA would become a major small press.

The Eddoreans, by the way, were modeled after LASFS, at least as it was 20 years ago and more. Los Angeles fandom produced numerous SF writers and artists over the years.

And what would have really happened in that other Boston, the Boston of the Eddoreans? Would it have gone anything like the way I wrote? I doubt it. We can't even predict our own future, let alone somebody else's. But it's fun to speculate.