Monday, June 9, 2008

Review - Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches

Worldcon Guest of Honor Speeches
Edited by Mike Resnick and Joe Siclari

As mentioned there will be at least another week before I start up the Nebula reviews again since I am still waiting on The Book of the New Sun. For those desperately seeking information on Timescape I strongly disliked it but I'll save that vitriol for the review.

This book collects thirty-one of the now sixty-five Worldcon Guest of Honor speeches. The ones that are missing for the most part are not included due to a copy of the speech not being available or they were unable to obtain permission to reprint it. Two of the "speeches" were actually interviews but in the case of the Strugatsky brothers that was a natural solution since they only spoke Russian. And in one case it's actually a published essay by Harlan Ellison with a short introduction apologizing for the fact that the real Worldcon speech he gave was unavailable. In several cases it's clear that the speech is reproduced from notes rather than a transcription of the actual speech.

And yet I can hardly blame Resnick and Siclari for the inaccurate title. There were lengthy periods where no one bothered recording or capturing the original speech (at the end of the book they have a plea for recordings or transcripts of missing speeches which includes ones as recent as 2004, and just about every speech from the 90's is missing). When the format deviated it was because that was how the guest of honor delivered their speech that year. Managing to get even thirty-one of these bits of science fiction history together into one book is worthy of praise.

The speeches themselves are a mixed bag. A common repeating theme is praising the audience (always a crowd pleaser); fans are told that science fiction fans are smarter, more clever, handsomer, and all around better than the average Joe and that science fiction is the guiding light of the future. The more personal speeches are the ones I enjoyed the best and they tend to be the more recent ones perhaps due to the guest of honor recognizing that telling the audience how great SF fans are was played out.

Even the weak speeches are important; they're the words of the elders and say quite a bit about the state of science fiction at the time they were given. Robert Bloch, for example, is the only person to have two speeches in the book and they were given twenty-five years apart: before and after his Hollywood success. Hugo Gernsback's speech that triggered his final attempt at publishing an SF magazine is included as well.

That sums up the book; there's a lot of history, some interesting speeches, and a few that are better for the personality that delivered them than their content. The book is unique; I am unaware of any attempt to collect historical information on Worldcon like it. For that reason if you have any interest in the history of science fiction I strongly recommend it; at the very least I can guarantee that you'll find at least something in it by an author you like.