Bill and Mary Burns

I can easily imagine a conversation at an Eastercon some years hence. It’ll be one of those bar room debates where people are kicking around ideas: how did the Pringle-era Interzone compare with the Campbell-era Astounding, do you remember what science fiction was like before Charles Stross, that sort of thing. And we’ll fall to testing one another with puzzles such as, setting aside fan fund delegates, who were the first American-resident Eastercon fan guests of honour? And somebody will advance the names Bill and Mary Burns and you’ll be thinking, yes, I remember Bill and Mary being guests at the 2009 Eastercon — and jolly good guests too. Bill and Mary, they always come to Eastercon… but Bill and Mary, Americans? True, Mary does have an American accent, but Bill doesn’t — and most importantly, they can’t be American residents, surely, because, well, they always come to Eastercon.

And they have, every year since 1971 — and every year since 1972 they’ve come over together from New York to do so. In fact, Bill’s been attending Eastercon since 1965 — although for those first few years he was still resident in the UK — and they were both at the 1967 Worldcon, Nycon III (this was Mary’s first convention), although they didn’t actually meet. That didn’t happen until Mary came to Europe in 1970 for the Heidelberg Worldcon.

But the longevity is only part of it, and a slightly implausible part because neither of them actually look old enough to have lived through their own back-stories. You probably know Mary as one of the regular art show workers and organisers, and on line you may know Bill as the host of the website while those with longer memories will remember him as a committee member for several Eastercons in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But the thing that for me makes them absolutely the ‘Right People’ to be Eastercon fan guests of honour is that they embody that real old-time sense of what the Eastercon’s about: that once-a-year gathering of a community. At the time that Bill and Mary started to attend the Eastercon, it was still the only British convention; Novacon didn’t come along until the end of 1971. Now there are many conventions each year, specialist and generalist, large and small, yet the Eastercon remains our annual tribal round-up. And so I think it’s a fine thing to honour two of the people who are so central to the Eastercon experience at LX, this sixtieth anniversary of the British National SF Convention.