The Great Con

a fable plagiarized by Dave Langford

It is a story that they tell, of how a great Convention Organizer sought to build a convention which should be a monument worthy of his incomparable love for science fiction. A convention it should be of perfect grace and beauty, more marvellous than any other convention had ever been or could ever be, so that to the end of time it should be a wonder, and fans would treasure it and speak of it and delight in its celebration of his love. And this convention he said was to be, because the pearl is lovelier than the most brilliant of crystalline stones, Pearlcon: The Ultimate Science Fiction Convention.

Year followed year as he devoted himself to preparing and adorning Pearlcon. A great hotel was chosen in a place of beauty, amidst snows and hills and valleys and winding rivers and convenient access by road, rail, air or pogo-stick. Here was planned a Guest of Honour speech of cunning workmanship; and about it grew programme strands of strange and lovely originality, and a promised 24-hour bar as exquisite as a jewel.

With every month of effort the Organizer learnt new possibilities, new interests, new features of holistic and multi-streamed appeal. "Those were pretty things," he said of his early plans for quizzes and panels and Women In Science Fiction; and had them put aside into special interest rooms where they would not hamper his main design. Greater and greater grew his cosmopolitanism. With awe and amazement fandom saw the Pearlcon progress reports sweeping up from their specialist beginnings to a superhuman breadth and height and catholic magnificence. They did not know clearly what they had expected, but never had they expected so sublime a thing as this. "Wonderful are the miracles," they whispered, "that love of science fiction can do."

From the central thread of the main programme the Organizer now looked out into a vista of marvellous branching alternatives soaring and floating on either side, of tea parties and soft toys and body-painting and computer workshops and silent movies and self-defence classes and obsolete printing equipment and marshmallow interest groups and mediaeval smithcraft and community singing and Regency history and corporate management strategy and Logan's Runs and construction of orbital lasers and raffia-work, all perfect and unobtrusive in their balance.

Very often would the Organizer look on the planned flow-chart of that vista, deeply moved and yet not fully satisfied. The Ultimate Science Fiction Convention had still something for him to do, he felt, before his preparation was done. Always he would order some little alteration to be made or some recent alteration to be put back again, a Coca-Cola special interest display or an exhibition of dragons in fretwork. And one day he thought that Pearlcon's multiple appeal would be clearer and simpler without the heavy emphasis of the main programme; and after regarding it very steadfastly for a long time, he had the main programme dismantled and removed.

At the next committee meeting he said nothing, and the next and the next. Then for two more he stayed away altogether. Then he returned, and as the subcommittees again stood awed by the serene vastness of their achievement, he saw that only one thing there was to mar the absolute harmony. There was a certain disproportion about the centre of things, the dear immortal cause of all this beauty. A little blot of crudity and bias and parochialism lay incongruously in the glorious expanse of Pearlcon's celebration of the entire universe. It was as if the total summary of human aspiration were labelled, "Made in Taiwan".

Long the Organizer mused, but no one knew the thoughts that passed through his mind.

At last he spoke. He pointed to the phrase that jarred, enshrined in Pearlcon's very name, the phrase "science fiction".

"Take that thing away," he said.

[With profuse and necessary apologies to H.G.Wells and his story `The Pearl of Love'. Copyright © David Langford, 1988, 1994; an earlier version appeared in The Caprician.]