This is the text of the speech given by Frank R. Paul at the first Worldcon in 1939, where he was guest of honor.  The speech and introductory remarks are presented as published in The Science Fiction Roll of Honor, ed. Frederik Pohl, 1975, Random House, New York, pp. 223-227.  The talk was also published in Science-Fiction Times (August 1963, #405).


INTRODUCTION (by Frederik Pohl)

1939 was the first Worldcon ever. I have a personal pique about that convention, because with Donald A. Wollheim, Robert W. Lowndes and a few others I helped to conceive and plan it. Those were stormy days in science-fiction fandom, given to vendettas and power struggles, and somehow or other, in the course of a fan feud, our side lost out; the convention was held, but none of us were allowed to attend it. It was a gala affair - so I am told.

And the Guest of Honor was the most uniquely famous artist science fiction has ever produced. Frank R. Paul loved machines, and loved to draw them. Hugo Gernsback discovered this about him early on, and as exciting drawings of strange machinery were what Hugo liked to publish in his magazines, Paul was Gernsback's principal artist for a couple of decades. He was probably the first human being ever to make a living drawing pictures of spaceships, and he did it so well and so persuasively that when in the last few years the human race came to build real spaceships, quite a few of them looked a lot like Frank R. Paul's illustrations.

To represent him in this collection, we have selected the speech he gave at that very first of all Worldcons.



Fellow science-fiction fans: I am mighty glad to be here among as fine a crowd of live wires and go-getters that has ever assembled under one roof.  I always pictured you science fans just as you are. Always ready for any adventure and to argue any question at the drop of a hat.

In every age there have been people whose natural inclination and curiosity urged them on to decipher and analyze the riddles of the universe, notwithstanding the sneers and jeers of the less active-minded. You see, in a well-ordered society you are suppose to think only the thoughts approved by contemporary authorities.

When the earth was considered flat, it was folly to think it otherwise, and to suggest that by some chance it might be round, was nothing less than blasphemy. And since the majority was of the "flat" opinion, inspired by the leading minds of the time, it was much easier, and less dangerous, to be on the jeering side than to profess rebellious ideas.

However, there were devil-may-care free-thinkers who had the audacity to question accepted "facts."

After many of these nebulous "facts" had been proven humbugs, people began to feel more and more tolerant of the rebels, and thanks to that tolerance, the world has seen more progress in research of all branches of science, and utilization of findings for the good of all mankind in the last fifty years than during the preceding five thousand years.

Two thousand years ago a meeting such as this, with all these rebellious, adventurous minds, would have been looked upon as a very serious psychological phenomenon, and the leaders would have been put in chains or at least burned at the stake. But today it may well be considered the healthiest sign of youthful, wide-awake minds -  to discuss subjects far beyond the range of the average provincial mind.

The science-fiction fan may well be called the advance guard of progress. We are the fellows who are willing to give every new idea a chance for a tryout, without ridicule.  We did not mind in the least to be called nuts and hams in the early days of radio, when we were literally relegated to the doghouse with our homemade squealing and yowling sets - but, of boy, what a thrill when we got a few dots and dashes! We are the ones who popularized the new radio vocabulary.

To my mind, a science-fiction fan is intensely interested in everything going on around him, differing radically from his critic. His critic is hemmed in by a small provincial horizon of accepted orthodox and humdrum realities, and either does not dare or is too lazy to reach beyond that horizon. The science-fiction fan, on the other hand, has a horizon as big as the universe itself, and has been known to peek even beyond that -  a fascinating hobby sharpening the imagination and incidentally absorbing a lot of knowledge - and familiarize himself with the scientific terms which so mystify his critics. 

You have often heard them proudly proclaim: "Don't expect me to know any of that stuff" or "I don't want to know anything like that." of course we have no quarrel with that kind of an individual, but it would be rather interesting to find out by what mental process he arrives at the conclusion that it's smart to be stupid.

The science-fiction fan is alive to every new development in every branch of science by hungrily reading everything printed about it. You cannot easily fool him on any subject. I am sure no fan was fooled when they pulled the Martian Invasion stunt over the radio.

to say that by reading science-fiction you become a believer in all sorts of supernatural things is like saying that by frequenting the movies you are bound to become a criminal.

Once in a while we also find eminent scientists throwing cold water on our enthusiasm, for instance, Dr. Robert A. Millikan the other day said we should stop dreaming about atomic power and solar power. Well, we love the doctor as one of our foremost scientists of the day, but that is no reason for us to give up hope that some scientist of the future might not attack the problem and ride it. What seems utterly impossible today may be commonplace tomorrow. I need not cite just such examples, as you know them possibly better than I do.

But I do want to illustrate what I mean. Just suppose for a moment that any of you could by some machine method return, say, only about two hundred years and visit one of the great miniature portrait painters and watch them work.  You would naturally ask him how many of these exquisite portraits he can turn out in a day. You would be told that four or five is the absolute limit, providing the light is right, and so forth.

Now, if you should tell one of these speed masters that you, without being an artist, could produce a portrait, guaranteed likeness in every way, and not only of one person, but two, three, or a whole group of people in one-twenty-fifth part of a second, you would no doubt only be laughed at, but very likely be hustled off to the eighteenth-century insane asylum.

The master would tell you that to pick up his brush would take longer than that, and he is quite right - the only way he could imagine of producing a portrait was the way he knew how. You can readily imagine his amazement if you showed him a photograph, and he would tell you, "Yes, but it's not painted." Of course not, but it's a portrait and more accurate than any portrait painter could paint. And so it is with most discoveries and inventions: it's the results that count.

The science-fiction fan's ideal is Dr. Arthur H. Campton, who sees all kind of forces in nature with exciting and thrilling possibilities which are waiting for discovery and exploration.

Science fiction if the spirit of youth, ever ready to plunge into the unknown for new adventures.

Science fiction is growing up. More and more people are becoming science-conscious by seeing scientific marvels in their daily life, and they can no longer ignore or scoff.

It gives me a lot of satisfaction and pride to be identified with the development of this thrilling and informative kind of reading.

During the past twenty years, which mark the beginning of science fiction in America, my work has been familiar to a great many of you, and I want to thank all of your for taking the lively interest in it which you have shown. I also want to thank you for the kind letters you have sent me and the editors. There have been bouquets and brickbats a-plenty.

Of course, to please everybody is one of the few things that even a science-fiction fan will admit is quite impossible. I have always tried to interpret what the author had in mind, but you'll admit I have never tried to scare you with the purely grotesque. I conclude with the conviction that in the future we will have bigger and better science fiction, with the accent on the science.


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