EUCON: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention Nobody Expected

May 13th, 1983 was a Friday. Friday the 13th.

It was also the first day of Eucon, a science fiction convention that I’d been obsessively putting together for a year-and-a-half.

I still don’t know what possessed me to think I could organize a con in the fall of 1981 when I wasn’t even quite 20 years old. I’d only ever been to a handful of conventions — a couple of Orycons in Portland, and maybe a Norwescon in Seattle — but I’d never worked on one as a volunteer, much less done of the organizing work. I hadn’t even organized my life.

Norwescon V badge from March 1982

I remember at the time it felt like I was in the middle of a science-fiction/fantasy nexus, which was great for nerd-boy Darrel. I’d been working for a couple years already at Gandalf’s Den Fantasy Gallery, which put me in the center of the things — speculative fiction-wise — in Eugene.

Gandalf’s had opened up in the mid-70s downtown in The Atrium Building (now full of city offices) as a shop selling f&sf books and games. Its opening coincided with the initial release of Dungeons & Dragons, as well as my freshman year of high school, and I traversed downtown daily on the city bus to get to school.

By my senior year (I turned 17 in the middle of that), I’d been hanging around so much that the owner offered me a job, so I worked there through the summer until I went to Corvallis for college, worked at the newly-opened satellite store in the Old World Center there for a couple months until they sold it out from under me, then got back in at the Eugene shop after I ran home to Eugene with my tail between my legs after six months of electrical engineering school (we still used slide rules!)

My dad’s slide rule, which I took with me to Oregon State University in 1979. It’s bamboo with white celluloid, according to its page in the Smithsonian Institution! If you squint, you can just make out “MADE IN OCCUPIED JAPAN”.

One of my friends through high school was a kid my friend Jon Pitchford introduced to our D&D group. His parents were Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight, who — in addition to being authors and editors and involved in the Milford and Clarion writing conferences — knew everyone because they’d been in the business for so long.

There were a couple of other big names in sf&f that lived in Eugene at the time. Dean Ing was there (until he moved to Ashland), as well as the hot property of the moment, John Varley, who was just off of his a Hugo Award/Nebula Award/Locus Award triple crown1.

Because Kate and Damon and Dean and John were there, a fair amount of author traffic came through town on its way north to Seattle from California or vice versa. And they often stopped in for signings at the store. Ted Sturgeon moved to the area a few years before he died in 1985.

With that much author firepower in out little burg2, it seemed odd that there wasn’t a science fiction convention. They were all always going off to other cities’s conventions. Why not ours?

So I started laying out plans. The name was easy. If there’s one thing I’ve always been good at, it’s titles and slogans (admittedly, “Eucon” isn’t exactly rocket science level naming for a convention in Eugene). It’s the follow-through that always gets me.

Where would we hold it? Well, right in the center of downtown, the city was building a new performing arts facility (the Hult Center) and a neighboring hotel (the Eugene Hilton, now the Graduate Eugene?).

At the infamous Springfield Public Library D&D/RPG seminar when the Christians threatened to cancel me if they didn’t get to speak before I did, which did at least get me a bottle of wine as thanks from the children’s librarian (I was still under the legal drinking age) and a letter from Gary Gygax.

My mind reels at what they must have thought at the Hilton booking office when I showed up for my first meeting. The building was still under construction, and I got a tour through the ballroom convention spaces and up in the tower where the guest rooms were, but even with a beard I was at best a cheaply-dressed 20-year-old, looking to rent a good chunk of their new conference facilities for three days. I mean, I didn’t even have a car3.

And for a science-fiction convention? They were obviously desperate to get the place ramped up once it opened.

We needed someone as a headliner who’d be a draw. The local authors were already well-exposed in the Pacific Northwest. I reached for the brass ring, which was, for me, Spider Robinson, at the time well-known for a decade’s worth of stories and collection about Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. He lived at the time in Nova Scotia, and I don’t believe he’d made any West Coast appearances at that point. So Spider was my man.

I think it was John Varley who reached out to him and got him to agree to come. After that it was a matter of getting him a ticket with money I didn’t have, and a travel agency came through with the ticket on credit. No idea how I managed to pull that off; it’s probably cheaper to fly from Halifax to Portland or Eugene now than it was then. And someone had to pick him up, I didn’t have a car.

Charles N. Brown, a co-founder of Locus magazine had been sole publisher and editor there for a decade. He was the other majorout-of-town guest we had, coming up from the Bay Area. Everyone else on the flyer above came from Eugene, Salem (at least I think so, Lou Goble was a professor at Willamette University a couple years later), or the Oregon coast (M. K. Wren). I had no pull with any of these folks and no money to offer; their appearance at the convention was solely due to their commitment to fans and friendships with people like Kate and Damon.

The badge I wore on my Mountie uniform as the convention organizer. As you can see, no expense was spared for our name tags.

I wish I could say I had a great time running Eucon. The truth is, I really don’t remember any of it. I rented a Mountie costume (my official title was 1st Sgt. Preston of the Eucon). But apart from that I have no recollection of the three days at the Hilton. I don’t think it was a blackout situation, but somehow the entire thing is gone from my mind; I don’t even remember talking about it for years, and then it was mostly to wonder how — despite having moved into the house I still live in with all my junk just seven years later — all I’ve got left of the convention is a couple copies of the flyer the backs of which I apparently used as scratch paper, the name badge above, and a card I only found a couple of years ago that was given to me by a number of the guests and attendees at an afterparty (which I don’t remember).

Interior of a thank you card with the signatures of Charles N. Brown, Kate Wilhelm, Damon Knight, John Varley, Dean Ing, and others,

As mentioned when I wrote about finding the flyers in a folder in my garage 15 years ago, once upon a time I came across a listing for a copy of the program (which I must have produced because I did all the printed materials) with a “riddle game by Spider Robinson” in it. For $20! If you’ve got one, send me scans or photos.

1 In 1980, at the monthly party Varley hosted at his house, I met my wife Barbara Moshofsky, who I started dating in 1986.

2 These days, it might not seem that strange to some that there were a bunch of science-fiction and fantasy authors in one place, but the landscape in 1983 was a lot sparser. Sf&f movies hadn’t taken over the movie theaters yet, Graphic novels weren’t really a thing (at least not in the US). Video games were chunky blocks of color (if you were lucky) without much in the way of story. The number and range of venues was far more limited: genre magazines, genre books, far more occasional screenplays. For a small city of about 100,000 residents, 4 major genre authors was a lot.

3 This was in the days before not having a car was cool.