A Lot of Fog
Ian Watson

My own first contact with New Era was when I realized that I hadn't enough sponsorship money for the SFWA hospitality room which I was organizing at Brighton – owing to the lunatic corkage charges and iron security fist of the hotels. So, approaching the eleventh hour, I phoned around other UK publishers whom I hadn't already solicited money from, and cried, "Help!" Robert Springall kindly carved £200 out of his own New Era budget to support the SFWA room. He didn't ask for any publicity or for any Hubbard/Writers of the Future promotional material to be on hand in the SFWA room, whatever.

Lisa Tuttle had already asked, on behalf of New Era, if I would be one of the writers who spent a couple of hours at the WOTF stand simply to advise any novice writers who came to meet a professional and ask for advice; and I'd agreed, for the offered fee.

When talking to Robert on the phone about the SFWA funding problems, he asked if I would be a tutor along with Algis Budrys for the WOTF workshop preceding the convention, held in Charles Dickens House in Doughty Street; and I accepted. At the workshop Algis emphasized that the WOTF programme was being run absolutely separate from any Scientology connexion, and that none of the participants would ever be contacted by the other side of the Hubbard organization. As opposed to other writing workshops where all participants chip in with their penn'orth, this one was based on a structured manual abstracted from Hubbard's own essays on how to write stories (published in the 1930s in U.S. writers' magazines), plus Algis's own practical experience, and whatever I chose to in-put from my own point of view.

Regarding the Hubbard (pre-Scientology) bedrock of the workshop: based on Hubbard's experience as a pulp writer, Algis asked participants to suspend their disbelief and simply try the method out as a discipline. Go away afterwards and ignore it, if you choose, but maybe you'll have picked up something useful about how to structure stories that sell. Nothing malign going on here. One may or may not want to utilize Hubbard's story methods on an experimental basis – as guest tutor I wasn't asked to push them – but I can't see the rationale of these WOTF-sponsored workshops without that basis; nor can I see the generation of Hubbard clones as the outcome. True, the person who leads such workshops is obliged to stick to the manual, and prove that they have stuck to the manual (by the initials of the "students" against each item in their copies), but this isn't quite the same as signing one's soul over in blood; nor is Mission Earth a set text.

Nothing malign about the WOTF stand at Brighton, either. The points at issue, as I see it – the suspicion of an invasion of the SF heartland by a well-heeled, sinister organization – pivot upon three events. One is the sheer presence on the Hugo ballot of Black Genesis. Though this would be time-consuming (and I don't know how practical it is) I would be interested to know how many of the people who nominated the Hubbard novel in the first place are identifiable as known SF fans and/or regular convention attendees. If this is too onerous or impossible a bit of research, then: Did all those who nominated BG in the first place merely have supporting memberships – suggesting that the only reason for buying the membership was to nominate BG? Furthermore, how many of the people who nominated BG only nominated BG and nothing else? If we could discover this information from Paul Kincaid then we might have an indicator of whether BG was in fact "bought" on to the ballot. Until we know, it does remain possible that legitimate fans actually did nominate and vote for the book. Surprising, perhaps, but always possible. I think one should avoid a witch-hunt based on surmise. Conspiracy '87 should be asked to provide as detailed an analysis as possible of the nominations and final votes for BG along the lines I'm suggesting – not just a bald statistical analysis of the progressive arithmetic of the Australian voting procedure as published in Locus. Since a good deal of controversy has been stirred up, and since the Hugos should be "sacrosanct", I believe this should be done. Let's have some concrete factual evidence.

The next point at issue is Algis Budrys's use of his keynoting of the Hugo ceremony as a commercial for WOTF and Hubbard. This was a Bad Idea. Question: when Conspiracy accepted a lot of money from New Era to completely pay for the programme book, was there a quid pro quo that Algis Budrys, as masthead of WOTF, would keynote the ceremony? Or was he invited to do this simply because it was the first time he had been able to travel abroad, and thus as a nice gesture? – which, alas, he misused, in my view and in the view of many people present. Equally, did Algis do so sinisterly (when he is so emphatic about keeping WOTF decoupled from the other side of Hubbard) or was he motivated by sheer gratitude to the WOTF programme which has given him a considerable role in fostering new talents such as this year's Campbell Award winner, Karen Joy Fowler, and which has also given him a lifeline to conventions, and in this case brought him abroad at long long last out of his Lithuanian confinement within the borders of the U.S.A. An emotional moment, then. Did he just goof?

I hear that Scientologists were approaching fans on the sea front, though not in the hotels, with a view to recruitment. Last time I was in Brighton, pre-WOTF and Mission Earth, I recall being approached by a Scientology scout in the street; no connexion, on that occasion, with SF whatever. Is there a Scientology base operating in Brighton? Did Scientologists ship themselves in specifically to target fans, or not? If the approaches that were made to fans were routine and random ones, do we blame New Era/WOTF for these? Could we expect New Era/WOTF to have told resident Scientologists to take a holiday elsewhere during the convention, if in fact New Era/WOTF are not in direct cahoots with the mainline Scientologists?

Finally there's the matter of the Hugo winners photo session at Brighton, which I hear of as being "hijacked" by New Era. I don't know the ins and outs of this at all (though I'm aware that some photographers were apparently excluded), but in this instance I'd like to know from the Conspiracy organizers why the venue was being chopped and changed at the last moment (various notes to this effect were passed to Peter Nicholls during the course of the ceremony itself) and at whose initiative? I'd be a bit wary of blaming New Era for circumstances which New Era was actually invited to set up – and then by extension crying, "This is exactly how Scientologists behave!" New Era is likely to use the opportunities to advertise Hubbard and WOTF, where the ghost of Hubbard acts as a patron to upcoming writers. (Though in the case of the SFWA room, New Era didn't make the slightest attempt to exploit their shared sponsorship, like some invasive virus.) And New Era has ample money, from we-know-where, though apparently with binding guidelines not to let Scientology and SF interpenetrate. But what would we expect New Era to do, other than to promote Hubbard as author and Hubbard as patron of talent. Keep quiet about him? Murmur embarrassedly, "Here's a few thousand quid, but let's not mention Hubbard, hmm?" And are we to regard New Era's money as being "laundered", as I've heard said? As well as being a Scientologist, Hubbard was an actual SF writer, and eleven giant novels (whatever we think of their quality) say that he still was. Rather an energetic laundry exercise, this. We surely know the saying about something making a good servant but a bad master. So, as regards the whole photo session, how much rope was New Era given, and by whom? Before hanging them, let's know all the actual facts from the Conspiracy committee. Meanwhile there's a lot of fog about.