The Well-Foreseen Emergency
(First published in Chicon 2000 Progress Report #6)
The following story is true, or so I am assured by someone who wouldn’t lie to me without a solid monetary motive:
The chairman of (Name Withheld By Request)Con was determined that his convention was going to be trouble-free, with every conceivable contingency foreseen and incorporated into a Master Plan.
From the day of his appointment, he mentally walked step-by-step through all phases of the proceedings, pondering what might go wrong. What if the printer didn’t deliver the pocket program until Saturday afternoon? What if there were no chairs for the Masquerade audience? What if the hotel’s fire alarm system proved defective and emitted false alarms? What if rather overzealous fen pounded the marble table in the con suite in a vigorous game of hakosot? What if rather peculiar fen tried to hang heavy objects from the fire sprinklers in their hotel rooms? What if. . . .
And for every “what if”, he devised a response that would forestall or minimize disruption to the con. Having done that, he then devoted endless concomm meetings to reviewing both the potential crises and their solutions, then to investigating the ways in which the solutions could fail and erupt into new crises, then to preparing the next tier of responses.
Month after month, the Master Plan grew more vast and more ramified and more polished. At last, the convention arrived, and there was no possibility of failure. No problem had not been foreseen.
Except, that is, the problem of a chairman who had worked himself into a state of nervous collapse and couldn’t even show up at opening ceremonies.
The moral that this chairman has drawn from that one’s fate is that hypothetical emergencies can do as much damage as real ones, at least to the immoderate hypothesizer. Perhaps it is best to look upon coping with the unanticipated as part of the excitement and challenge (les mots justes?) of organizing the World Science Fiction Convention.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that one should maximize one’s fun by decreasing one’s anticipation to zero. After all, a few crises in every Worldcon’s life come as no surprise. They will, in fact, defeat any and all efforts to prevent their arrival, so one may as well be ready.
The most inevitable of these is the Budget Crunch. Not fewer than five months, nor more than nine, before the doors open, every Worldcon committee looks at its reasonably expected revenue, compares that sum to its absolutely essential minimum expenditures, and concludes that bankruptcy is inescapable unless the latter are drastically cut.
Chicon arrived at that moment in mid-February, when the chairman added up all of the divisions’ budget requests and observed that they totaled twice what Bucconeer, the last U.S. Worldcon, had spent. Naturally, we hope to have a very good convention, but it won’t be twice as good as Bucconner; and, if it were, we couldn’t afford it.
Since this particular crisis was so utterly predictable, it didn’t provide the same stimulation as some that past Worldcons have delighted in. How fondly I recall MagiCon, which, as of two days before Worldcon Thursday, had a fully computerized registration system totally devoid of software. And none of us who labored on Bucconeer will ever forget the first thrilling intimation of the abysmal incompetence of the housing bureau (a failed biotech startup looking for a new line of work) whose “services” had been imposed upon us by the Baltimore hotels.
Ah, those were the days! Chicon has been comparatively boring. True, hotel reservations gave us a flutter of happy anxiety (particularly when we learned that the first version of the reservation form had the rates at one of the hotels wrong), and we basked momentarily in the decorator’s first price quote for chair rentals ($42 per, and we’d asked for 500!). But those pleasures rapidly faded. Hotel booking problems have barely risen into double figures (though that’s more than there ought to be). The decorator cut the chair price to five bucks. A host of other promising catastrophes failed to pan out.
I was, however, talking about money, wasn’t I? Here, too, I have the sinking feeling that Chicon won’t experience the delights of insolvency (much though we’d like to give you 110 percent of the con that you’ve paid for). The Green Room won’t really need $10,000 for program participants’ coffee and danish. We’ll get the Guests of Honor to Chicago for less than a total of $22,000. The Program Book will pay for itself with advertising revenue. In the end, we won’t find ways to outspend any previous Worldcon by two-to-one. Sigh.
Once projected costs are reduced to some approximation of reality, though, we still will face the part of this predicted, foreseen emergency for which none of our predecessors has found a workable remedy. To illustrate, let me draw once again on the history of MagiCon.
A week before the convention, despite frantic cost cutting, MagiCon was in the red. A week after, it had one of the largest surpluses of any Worldcon, because close to a thousand people bought memberships at the door. In a way, that was wonderful, in the sense that having too much leftover cash is one of life’s more endurable misfortunes. But “misfortune” was an apt term. Had MagiCon been able to know that it would receive its at-the-door windfall, it could have done much to make the con more enjoyable for its members. As it was, after everything feasible had been done to upgrade the cuisine in the con suite (well, not everything - my caviar budget was rejected out of hand), the remaining cash might as well have been safely banked on Callisto.
MagiCon’s dilemma wasn’t unique. Every recent Worldcon has asked itself, Shall we spend only funds that we know we have, risking a useless surplus; or shall we count on the last minute rain of manna? Only once in living memory has a concomm chosen the bold alternative, and that turned out to be the one year when the at-the-door take fell below rational expectations.
As for Chicon, we will probably be prudent and timid, while trying to ameliorate our plight in two ways. First, we will maintain a “wish list” of useful, con-enhancing expenditures that can be added on short notice (and we welcome suggestions for what those might be).
Second, we would like to entice those fen who are inclined to put off buying memberships into joining early rather than late. As announced elsewhere in this Progress Report, our membership rate will remain at $150 until mail-in registration closes on July 15th. The at-the-door rate will then be $195. That is a steep differential, but the hope is that no one will choose to pay it. Our preference is to know in July how much we can budget, rather than scramble to match outgo to income in September.
And now let me go back to planning. What if the Big Bar at the Hyatt runs out of beer over Labor Day Weekend?