Toastmaster Pat Cadigan

Forty years ago, in the spring of 1976 in Lawrence, Kansas, the phone rang in the late afternoon, about an hour and a half before I had to go and teach a belly-dance class. When I picked up, a deep, warm-as-a-woolly-blanket man’s voice said, ‘Hello, Mrs. Cadigan. This is Robert Heinlein.’

And I freakin’ died.

Seriously; I died. This is my afterlife. Isn’t it great?

Okay, let me back up a little.

A little over forty-one years ago, I found out that the world science fiction convention was being held in Kansas City, MO. I was, of course, taking James Gunn’s science fiction class at the University of Kansas, and I asked me for contact information for the worldcon committee. At that point, I had never had any contact with fandom. I’d never known exactly what it was. I had a vague idea that there were these awards given for books or something, but I didn’t know who gave them out or what they were. But now I had an extra incentive––Robert A. Heinlein was the Guest of Honour. I’d read everything he had written and it was my life’s ambition to meet him and tell him…well, I don’t really know. Every time I thought about actually speaking directly to him, my mouth went dry and my my mind went haywire.

Anyway, in late 1974 or early 1975 I wrote the worldcon committee chair, some guy named Ken Keller, and begged him to let me come and help out. I would mop floors, I said; I would clean bathrooms. I would fetch coffee. Just please, please, please, let me help out, okay?

It wasn’t long before I understood why that was so funny. I still laugh about it even now.

Ken finally got around to answering my letter and what with one thing and another, I found myself helping out at my first-ever science-fiction convention: BYOBCon, 1975. GOH: Robert Bloch, TM Wilson Tucker. Special Surprise Guest: Harlan Ellison.

I would have died then but I was working security at the art show; it would have been tacky.

Someday, maybe I’ll have enough time to write about the sea-change I went through at that time. I remember Parris McBride talking about what happened when she finally met fandom. If I remember correctly, what she said was, ‘My people! Where have you been all my life?’ I wasn’t so articulate. But one moment that encapsulates it for me came during the middle of BYOBCon. I walked into a room party––it may have been in the con suite––feeling tired and droopy. Robert Bloch looked up at me from where he was sitting, smiled, and said, ‘Hello, dear.’

I don’t think I had any doubts I was in the right place but if I had, that sweet greeting would have wiped them out.

Fast-foward a year and a couple of months to the night of the Hugo Awards. Robert Heinlein was scheduled to give his GOH speech immediately after the ceremony, on the same stage. I know how weird that must sound, but wait––it gets weirder.

As Toastmaster, Wilson Tucker was presenting and I was the woman who brought out the envelopes with the winners inside. Early on in the ceremony––after I’d brought out maybe one or two envelopes––Tucker pulled me into an embrace and whispered in my ear, “Follow my lead. We’re running short.”

I warned you it got weirder, didn’t I?

In those days, the Hugo ceremony barely lasted an hour and Robert Heinlein had asked not to speak before 9 or 9:30 pm (I forget which). Tucker began improvising a comic routine for each award announcement and I did my best to go along with it. Somewhere, there are videotape recordings of most of what happened that night––MidAmeriCon was, I think, the first worldcon to be at least partially videotaped––including the close of the Hugo Awards ceremony, when Tucker gave me a final, passionate kiss and then left the stage to let me have the last word. Which also happened to be my first word from a worldcon podium of any kind.

There was a lot more to the weekend. That wasn’t the hardest either Tucker or I had to work and not the only time either of us had to think fast. What I remember about Wilson Tucker as Toastmaster was his working as hard as the committee members to make the convention good for everyone.

Now it’s forty years later and jeez, I’ve got big shoes to fill. And I’m honoured more than I can say.