The Way The Future Should Have Been (Gunderson, Worldcon, Goats - Oh my!)
by John W. Herbert
It was the event that rocked Fandom to its very foundations – twisted it, shook it, dismantled it, and reassembled it. Paralleling the real-life transformations occurring at the same time in Eastern Europe, another legendary event forced an unexpected, surprising and, ultimately, an unsure and evolving revolution on Canadian Fandom.
For it was ten years ago, as the Soviet Bloc began its disintegration, that Fandom entered into the abyss and emerged as a different creature on the other side. What began as Fandom’s annual party became an epoch-shattering maelstrom of grave soul searching and frantic debauchery. It was simply Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House.
We start at the beginning, and for Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House, the beginning was Robert Gunderson.
In 1952, in a tiny, run-down ramshackle of a house on the wrong side of the tracks, with a leaky roof, cracked window panes, and broken shutters, a lone dog howled under a crescent moon. In March of that year, this poverty-stricken family welcomed a new life into this world. A small, beautiful boy with tiny hands and fingers, but big, bright eyes that shone like blue suns. He was the apple of his father’s eyes, and the baby’s smile warmed his mother’s heart. He was a perfect baby. He hardly ever cried, ate when he was supposed to, even slept when he was supposed to.
Their shack was next to the old CN line, and every night ol’ 342 would come through, two miles of grain cars bound for Vancouver, clickety-clack, clickety clack, sounding a thunderous roar that shook the cardboard shingles off the roof of their shack. After the train had passed every night, Dad would go outside and try to replace the cardboard shingles by stapling them back in place, but most times they couldn’t afford staples so he would just lick them into place. (In the winter, it was easier. Dad would just spit into a bucket all day and come nightfall, he would pour the bucket of spit over the roof and freeze the shingles in place.)
But the next night, ol’ 342 would return, like a mobile earthquake snaking along the ground, tremors rattling, subsonics shaking, and a rumble rumbling that you could hear in your stomach and feel in your bones. But through it all, through the sharp squeals of steel wheels on steel tracks, through the bleating blasts of the train’s horn, through the sudden bright bursts of light as the train’s headlight shone through the hole in the wall where the living room window ought to have been, the little baby slept all night, with nary a whimper nor a dream disturbed. Five blocks away from this family lived ten year-old Robert Gunderson. And it was Gunderson who would eventually take Canadian Fandom down its most wildest trip.
Not much is known about Gunderson’s early years, save that his father installed in him a deep love of goats. In one of his few known interviews, Gunderson described his first encounter with science fiction: “I was at high school one day and my Business Sabotage teacher dragged me into an empty classroom. My first thought was, ‘Oh no, not again,’ but she had a film projector set up and somehow she had managed to obtain a bootlegged copy of 2001: A Space Odyssey. So we watched it. And I thought, hey, here’s a film with no dialogue. Wow, that’ll make writing screenplays easier, not having any dialogue. But the really puzzling thing was that it was, what? 1968? Yeah, 1968, and so here I was 26, eight novels published, and I was still going to high school.” (The Monthly Monthly #25).
He quit school and hit the road, as many young people did in 1968, with Kerouac in one pocket and not a care in the other. He eventually made it to the legendary Woodstock concert later that year where he even managed to emcee the show for a while, using the stage name Lumpy Gravy.
By this time, though it seemed he was young and carefree, Gunderson had already established a considerable literary reputation. “Gunderson [was] one of those unsung outlaw heroes of SF and of modern culture,” observed noted ex-Saskatchewanian Dave Panchyk in Under The Ozone Hole Number Ten. “[H]e spent his childhood at the knee of the aging ‘Great Beast,’ Aleister Crowley, then went on to move in the same literary circles as William S. Burroughs at the end of the fifties, while he was still barely more than a teenager. It [was] at this point he wrote The Space Inside and Mymidon, two seminal classics now out of print.” Clearly, in his youth Gunderson was a talent to watch. But what happened? Panchyk has a theory: “Golgotha on Mars, his stunning third novel, appeared several years too early for him to become a hero of the New Wave. Had he not been more proud than Philip K. Dick, who kept himself alive with pot-boilers, he would have eclipsed that man’s talent.”
So Gunderson was too young to be Old School, but too old to be New Wave. Clearly, luck and fate were factors here. But in December 1994 when Panchyk offered the above assessment, it was not known that Gunderson had indeed written more than his share of pot-boilers and novelizations, most under various assumed names: John Norman, William Shatner, V.C. Andrews, Fabio, and Alan Dean Foster. This information has only come to light since his passing by the release of various documents by the NSA and Interpol. (The only novel to appear after 1975 with the Gunderson moniker was Charlie’s Angels: Angels in Chains. This was a printer’s error and recalled immediately, and reprinted with the byline “Max Franklin.” A Gunderson Charlie’s Angels is extremely rare and valuable.)
By the mid-seventies and into the eighties and nineties, he was reduced to writing media tie-in novels (Chekov Must Scream!), and ghost writing novels by others (George Lucas). But why did he fall in with this group of degenerates instead on any other? Again, Panchyk offers some insight. “[Gunderson] was a degenerate, certainly. And yes, he killed.” All the more curious in light of the events that conspired to keep Gunderson from actually attending Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House.
But we are ahead of ourselves. After Woodstock, Gunderson vanished from sight for a number of years, until he turned up in Edmonton in the early seventies. In a profile by Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House alumnus Sally Mander in Under The Ozone Hole Number Five, Gunderson recalls (in his final interview) stumbling into an ESFACAS meeting in Edmonton quite by accident: “Somehow, a rug on the floor got rolled up and I tripped over it.” He also recalled that “…all the famous ESFACASians were there: Silvestri, Williams, Horner, Steiner, Goldenthal, and Badalamenti – before her breakdown, of course.”
This initial meeting which brought together Gunderson and ESFACAS is well remembered in Edmonton Fannish circles. Robert Runté remembers it well: “Gunderson stormed into the room like a race car on nitro. He dominated the meeting. He was one of those people that just drew you in. You couldn’t not look at him. Magnetic. There was a fire behind his eyes that blazed like hot coals that last an eternity. Plus, he could speak Esperanto so we could finally watch our copy of Incubus and figure out what was going on! At least, that’s what Randy Reichart told me that some guy who might have been there said.”
Cath Jackel remembers every detail of that meeting vividly: “I wasn’t there.”
It is interesting to note that Gunderson, who up until this point had kept his contacts with fandom to a minimum, knew of the reputations of the these people, who are the equivalent of the First Fandom of ESFACAS. Obviously he was keeping abreast of the fannish world, even if he himself was not an active participant. This was about to change. He continued, “I suppose none of the young people today remember these guys now, but they started ESFACAS, and they made ESFACAS tick. They were its heart and soul. It’s a good thing I never joined.”
In 1977, Gunderson moved to Vancouver to attend McGill University. Unfortunately, McGill is in Montréal. While earning money to move to Montréal at a lesbian S&M club, Spikes ’n’ Dykes, Robert met Monika Bandersnatch, part-time waitress and full-time deviant. She in turn introduced him to Angst Philben, former CIA weapon specialist, and the three of them discovered they shared two mutual interests: sf and goats.
The three of them bonded instantly, thanks in part to a terrible glue accident, but even despite that, there is no question they were three kindred spirits. Gunderson: “Well, Angst and Monika got on real well, and after I’d been over to their place with my video camera a few times, they let me in on their BCSFA plans. They said fandom needed a place to go to celebrate fannishness and goats. They said BCSFA would be the ideal way to do it! Wow! Our own club! Then they let me in on their plans for having a Worldcon in 1989. They even had a name for it: Worldcon in 1989. So we started having meetings, and formed an arsenal and stuff at their place while we installed the pulleys and winches. It was great! That’s where we met Bill Froog.”
Although Froog was later to play a significant role during Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House, for now he remains a small player in our story. It is Angst Philben, speaking to this reporter exclusively only on the condition that I guarantee his anonymity, who now continues the story. “Someone said that some other group was called BCSFA. So I called up Len and said, ‘Are you gonna give us any trouble?’ He said no, but this other group was already called BCSFA. They had the name first. Well, we were devastated. We didn’t know what to do.”
There was little the group could do. Only a large-scale assault could solve the problem. Angst quickly built up the arsenal, Monika gathered the whips and chains, Gunderson wrote Welcome Back, Kotter: Barbarino Flunks Out, and Bill made cookies. But even though their claim to the name BCSFA was in jeopardy, their Worldcon plans continued unabated. For a while, it seemed that Worldcon in 1989 was going to rest simply on the fannish laurels of the Gunderson name. For although it was clear that Philben was the more heavily armed, it was Gunderson who was the filthy pro. But soon, a slight navigational error was to change Worldcon in 1989 forever.
The night of the raid finally came. BCSFA historian R. Greame Cameron, citing several fannish sources of the era, describes what happened in BCFSAzine #234. “At the time, BCSFA met on the first Sunday of every month. Now for some reason, a group of people in a car drove by the clubhouse on the third Thursday of this particular month. What was really strange was that they had a map out and were arguing over directions. The car sped by quickly, never stopped, and just kept going. William Gibson, who as you recall was a member of BCSFA, just happened to be walking by at the time and said, ‘Hey! Isn’t that the guy who wrote Golgotha?’”
Angst Philben takes up the story: “Finally, we challenged them to a rumble, but they never showed, probably because we made a wrong turn in Delta and ended up on the ferry to Victoria.”
And it was on this simple ferry ride that Robert Gunderson, Angst Philben, Monika Bandersnatch and Bill Froog met their destiny. It was here that fate cast to them both their salvation, and their destruction, a quest they should have refused, and yet a challenge they had to take. It was here, for the first time, that they met Myles Bos, goat farmer.
“We later made up this story about lightning bolts,” said Philben, “and none of that happened but the air seemed charged with electricity when we met. And it was, actually. St. Elmo’s fire. Good thing the ferry wasn’t filled up with hydrogen.”
“It was like people meeting for the very first time,” said Bandersnatch. “You say hi, and then they say hi. And you don’t know what else to say so you say hi again and smile like a moron.”
Gunderson never talked about this first meeting much but clearly the others thought he was excited. Myles was a goat farmer, and Gunderson could now see ways to combine his two passions, sf and goats, in ways that he never before imagined while not sleeping.
Myles was excited, too. In a recent interview in ConTRACT, he said, “My lawyer has advised to make no comment at this time.”
As the group exchanged banal chit chat, Gunderson’s mind was racing. How to tie together goats and sf? Except for those wild parties at V-Con, it had never been done successfully before! But it was when Myles casually mentioned that his family had a small goat farm that he saw it all.
“[Gunderson] suddenly screamed,” said Philben. “I thought he was in pain, like maybe he’d eaten some ferry food or something. But no! He’d had an idea! ‘Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House!’ he shouted. ‘Goats! Goats! Goats!’ When he started shouting about goats, once again I was sure he’d had some ferry food!”
Well-known cynic E.B. Klassen offers a much different version of events. “Look, I started it, okay? I was thinking out loud around a table at Mac’s 24 Restaurant that conventions were just getting too big. 3,000, 4,000 people – who needs that? Why not something smaller, more personal, more intimate? So I thought of having a con in Sooke. And someone else, it may have been Steph[anie Johanson], maybe Karl [Johanson], I dunno – it was four in the fucking morning! – anyway, someone said that Myles had a farm! And goats! Well that was it! We cooked that one for a good couple of hours and then John [W. Herbert] took it all home and made up the original Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House flyer and the rest is history. We made buttons, hats, updates – sometimes we got worried that we may actually have to put this thing on. Eventually we even told Myles about it.”
Klassen’s revisionist version of events is interesting because this “group” he describes were not the only ones to try and steal credit for Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House, but they certainly were the most famous. In fact, certain members of this “group” (Dan Cawsey, Karl Johanson and John W.Herbert) kidnapped Myles and forced him against his will to appear on The Ether Patrol radio show, where they were interviewed by Barry Rueger. Clearly, this was a desperate act by a bunch of poor, wretched souls who could only gain the most marginal moments of self-worth by attaching themselves to a grand and glorious idea that they wished had been their own. In fact, this group of reprobates were seen at numerous mid-1980s conventions with a flimsy cardboard faux Myles which they attempted to pawn off as the real thing. They even went so far as chair a panel at V-Con 14, where they insisted they were the driving force beyond “Myles-Mania.” (A tape recording of this travesty was made, but, sadly for the lovers of justice, it is said to have gone missing, much like Kennedy’s brain.)
And for those who still believe the fantasy tales of this group of fannish wannabes, it was no less an intrepid journalist than Garth Spencer himself who first broke the story of the cardboard Myles in the almost near legendary Maple Leaf Rag #22. After exhaustive research, he reported: “Through careful investigation, I have found the proof that there are two Myles Boses! Shocking, but true. The Myles we see at school and at official Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House functions is bright, alert and waves his hand constantly. The other Myles, the one we see picking through garbage cans, sleeping beneath park benches, sneaking in the back doors of buses looks like death. He is the real Myles. The other one, the healthy, happy one, is made of cardboard.”
An outrage, to be sure. But clearly the Myles mythos was striking chords in fandom. As the cult of Myles’ personality grew, so did the unsolicited monetary contributions, the publicity, the mania, and the goat cheese. And so did the false claims of creation. But Spencer put most, if not all, of these claims to rest because of his massive effort and undercover work in what surely ranks as the pinnacle of fannish reporting in this country, Maple Leaf Rag #22. (Still, so intrepid were the forces of evil in this country that the story still persists to this day that the Myles-related stories in Maple Leaf Rag #22 was in fact written by John W. Herbert, including a brief quote by E.B.Klassen, as he, as early as 1986, takes claim for the initial creation of Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House: “…But really, the whole thing was my idea.” But we know that this is untrue, that Herbert did not nor will he ever posses the imagination capable of such fabrications, and that Klassen’s comments are only the words of a poor, deluded Albertan.)
It was Spencer who, even at this early stage, sensed the danger ahead and tried to shout warnings. His career is noted for being on the cutting edge of the sf convention subculture, and knowing its ins and outs. Convention organizers from across the nation (and yes, even Ontario) would constantly seek out Spencer for his advice and sage wisdom. His exposé of the Constellation Con affair would be his life’s work, and surely given his reputation, his word must be given credence and precedence over the ravings of nut cases like Klassen, Herbert and Johanson.
Spencer tried to make sense of it all in his editorial in Maple Leaf Rag #22. But he failed. Still, he offered these parting comments. “What really picks my bottom is the sheer stupidity of some people. I mean, I was here. I could have helped. They were flying blind. I have sight. I have vision.”
And now again, we are ahead of ourselves. Now we must turn to Myles: where did he come from?
Like Gunderson, our knowledge of Myles’ childhood years is now lost to the ages. But clearly, he was exposed to goats at an early age. The first Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House flyer describes Myles as “…born into a family of goat herders. He knows everything there is to know about goats. He tried sheep once but it was to no avail. Goats were in his blood.” It is important to remember that Myles had rejected sheep – it is this fact that was to be the ultimate downfall of Myles, Gunderson, and the rest.
We must now look at the Myles/Gunderson relationship. In many ways, they were very similar. They both shared a love of science fiction, and suffered from terrifying bouts of goat lust. Yet they were also vastly dissimilar – Gunderson was nobody’s fool whereas Myles was everybody’s.
But the public was clearly taken with the Myles image. As noted previously, once Gunderson combined the ideas of an sf convention and goats, Myles became the obvious figurehead for the operation.
Worldcon in 1989 became Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House.
And how did Gunderson take this sudden change in focus? With Myles and his goats aboard, Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House suddenly became a viable commodity, whereas riding on Gunderson’s coattails, Worldcon in 1989 was going nowhere mighty fast. Now, it was different. The release of the initial Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House flyer spawned worldwide interest. Letters were received from all over Canada, the United States, England, and even Australia. Everyone was shocked and amazed by the response, and no one more than Gunderson. And one can’t help but believe that he became insanely jealous.
In a transcript of a discussion in the rare unnumbered issue of Maple Leaf Rag, the stress of suddenly being relegated to number two in the pecking order was plainly evident. Consider this exchange:
Garth Spencer: But what about the Ringworld?
Robert Gunderson: Screw the Ringwormworld! It’s a very nice concept and all, but unless we make it off this dust ball, Ringworlds and Dyson spheres and Imperial stormtroopers and Mork & Mindy aren’t going to mean dick! Do you understand?
Garth Spencer: I’m not sure. I think you just insulted my favorite tv show.
Robert Runté: Has anything Gunderson said made any sense?
Part of this outburst can be explained by the fact that Gunderson was under pressure from Pocket Books whilst writing the Mork & Mindy novelization (under the name “Ralph Church”), but certainly not all. Gunderson’s ego was taking a beating at this time. Consider his comment to E.B.Klassen from the same transcript: “Just don’t preach your commie/left wing politics around us, you pinko.” Clearly, Gunderson was confused and mistaken, as Klassen has always been a well-known conservative, and currently serves as the Agriculture critic in the Reform Party shadow cabinet in Ottawa.
The conflict was taking its toll on Gunderson. In the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House Update #1, Gunderson interviewed Myles and the result was a tension filled and extremely uncomfortable dialogue.
Robert Gunderson: Whose idea was it that Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House should take place at your house?
Myles Bos: Yours, Robert. You know that.
Gunderson: Ah, Myles –
Bos: Why did you ask me that? The whole thing was your idea.
Gunderson: Myles, shut up. You –
Bos: Why are you here, anyway? Who let you into my bathroom? I’m trying to get a little privacy – Is that a microphone?
Obviously, there was no love lost. In an exclusive interview for this article, Myles volunteered to set the record straight. “My lawyer,” he said, “has advised me to make no comment at this time.”
Then, to add even more strain to Gunderson, there was the Lloyd Penny affair. Gunderson had decided to raise money for Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House by auctioning off the position of Professional Guest of Honour (or ProGoH). Penny, a fan from Ontario, claimed to have sent money to the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House organizers (Gunderson) in a bid for the position. Gunderson never received any money. Penney took his complaints public. In the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House Update #4, he wrote “Yvonne witnessed it going in the envelope. What IS going on here?”
It was obvious what was going on. It was another attempt to wrest fame from Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House. The proof was that Lloyd was supporting a rival group from the United States.
“Pennygate” proved to be the final straw for Gunderson. He went to Ottawa for a vacation, claiming he needed rest and recuperation. Instead, it was just another bizarre turn in the life (and deaths) of Robert Gunderson.
Late in the evening August 4, 1985, at the height of the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House feeding frenzy, his rented canoe was found floating upside down on the Rideau Canal. A large piece appeared to be bitten out of it. Gunderson himself was missing and presumed eaten.
Fandom was shocked. Bandersnatch, Philben and Froog were equally shocked. Ichthyologists were shocked that there were sharks in the Rideau. Myles, experimenting with electricity at the time, was shocked perhaps most of all.
Always eloquent, Candas Jane Dorsey perhaps said it best for everyone: “Wasn’t there something in the Globe and Mail about man-eating sharks in Ontario or something? Didn’t I read that somewhere….? I dunno.”
Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House was now in serious trouble. Myles, although immensely popular, was clearly just a figurehead and not capable of taking over the day-to-day operation of the convention. Behind the scenes, Froog, Philben and Bandersnatch bickered and fought. A public façade of normality was maintained, but it was a cheap charade – on the inside, everything was falling apart. Still, Myles struggled to hold it together. He was quoted at the time saying, “My lawyer has advised me to make no comment at this time.”
The stress of it was getting too much even for Myles. In a letter published in Maple Leaf Rag, he wrote “Garth, you’ve got to help me. These people are crazy. They really want to have Worldcon at my house. I’ve tried everything! I’ve tried ignoring them, I’ve tried playing along with them, I’ve tried Zen. I’ve even moved – twice!! Nothing’s worked!”
Myles was clearly being pushed to the edge by forces beyond his control. His mind was snapping. “They know where I live and where I go to school and they always follow me. Sometimes they hide in the shadows or trail behind me at a discreet distance. Sometime they don’t hide at all! They brazenly walk out in daylight and everyone knows they’re following me but no one helps me. And sometimes, I never see them at all. But I know they are out there…. watching…. waiting….”
Myles abandoned the project. Saving his money, he stowed away on a passing cruise ship as it sailed to Nepal.
The internal struggles continued, and finally it was Froog who emerged as the head of the survivors, who now maintained an uneasy alliance. But a rival group, working all this time behind the scenes, were now ready to make their move.
The rival group of science fictions fans was called the IFS. This moniker, they claimed, stood for “Imaginative Fiction Society,” but secretly it stood for something more sinister. For this group harboured a dark, dank secret. They were sheep lovers. They loved sheep. A lot. An awful lot. You could say they were close to sheep. Very close. Whenever they could. Without getting caught.
The IFS group, lead by a Scottish sheep farmer, whose initials were David Gordon-MacDonald, were fanatical anti-Goatists, and they stopped at nothing and stooped to anything to discredit the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House endeavour.
They attempted to recruit Adam Charlesworth to their ranks. He recently recalled, “No, John, I have a life. I’m not going to talk about this anymore. It’s over. I’m out of fandom. People can make the break and carry on. You don’t see E.B.Klassen’s name in fanzines anymore, do you? He did it. He made it back. You should be following his example.”
E.B.Klassen also recalls, “The IFS sabotaged everything. Once they got that after hours petting zoo going, well, Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House was toast. Nothing got done because Froog and Philben were spending all their time at the petting zoo.”
And so Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House petered out and faded away, a victim of entropy and ennui. And where are they now? Bill Froog invested in Netscape and made a fortune. Then lost it. Monika Bandersnatch changed her name to Kim Campbell and went into politics. Angst Philben played steel guitar in Tommy Hunter’s band for a while, but then moved into the gold-mining business with a company named Bre-X. Currently, he is living under the name “Brian Mulroney” somewhere in the Cayman Islands. Myles, as noted, eventually settled in Nepal, and now makes a meager living there as a part-time yak racer and a Microsoft network technician. (Despite what transpired, today he has only kind words to say about the whole affair: “My lawyer has advised me to make no comment at this time.”)
And how has the Worldcon ’89 At Myles’ House affair affected the next generation of Fandom? Roy Fisher put it most succinctly: “Well, I didn’t know any of those guys, and really, I’d never heard of any of it. It had no discernable effect on me at all. I have nothing more to add. I just haven’t heard of it. Who are you, anyway?” Michelle Wilson remembers her family gathering around the fire, once a year, as the tale was told and passed down through the generations. “Yes, my family sure loved A Christmas Carol. But who was this Myles guy?”
And the whole affair still resurfaces occasionally in the fannish media. “You are NOT going to like what I will be saying about it,” John Mansfield recently told the editors of Under the Ozone Hole.
But the final twist of our tale is the strangest of all. In 1991, Robert Gunderson resurfaced, apparently alive. In Under the Ozone Hole Number Five, he was reluctant to discuss the incident, claiming that when he was attacked in his canoe, he struck his head on something underwater and developed amnesia. “The next thing I remember is waking up in 1991 as the Progressive Conservative MP from High River!” He denied rumours about being involved in a nefarious plot in Central America, insisting that all those pictures of himself with Oliver North were fakes.
Fake pictures or not, the rise of poorly written media tie-in novels during Gunderson’s disappearance suggests that if he was in Central America during that time, he was continuing his chosen career as a writer. He continued writing until his untimely death in June 1994, in a strange and as yet unexplained inner tube rafting accident in the Gorge waterway in Victoria, BC. His body was never recovered. Only the inner tube was found. It was damaged and torn with what appeared to be strange bite marks....