Writing Contest! $500 in Prizes!

A classic Gernsback contest, from Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929

Hugo Gernsback was a master promoter. He often used contests to engage his reader and drive subscriptions to his publications. Early fans eagerly submitted their credentials and stories in the hopes of recognition by the “pros” — or at least gaining esteem in the eyes of other fans.

First Fandom Experience is so-named because we hope to capture — or even recreate — the sense of what it was like to participate in the inception and early growth of organized fandom. To this end, we’re pleased to announce our first writing contest.

Announcing: The Cosmos Prize

Cosmos was an ambitious serial novel orchestrated by the staff of Science Fiction Digest (later Fantasy Magazine) beginning in June, 1933. The story of Cosmos spanned 17 chapters written by 16 different authors. Raymond A. Palmer drafted the plot outline and coordinated the work of the writers. The young fanzine editor was able to convince many of the prominent professionals of the day to participate.

You can read the entirety of the novel and explore the full history of the event at The Cosmos Project web site.

As you can imagine, making this all work was a major challenge. The results — not surprisingly — are a bit of a hash. Still, Cosmos represents an iconic event in the early history of science fiction fandom, and deserves remembering.

Even more than remembering, Cosmos deserves a better ending than it got. In this writer’s humble opinion, the final chapter utterly failed to capitalize on the potential of the installments that preceded it. Penned by no-less an esteemed professional as Edmond Hamilton, the concluding Chapter 17 — Armageddon in Space — seemed to ignore much of what came before. This has always bothered me. The Cosmos Prize is our attempt to right (or re-write) an historic tragedy.

First Fandom Experience will award prizes, both cash and merchandise, to selected writers who submit alternative versions of Chapter 17 of Cosmos.

Prizes

  1. One Grand Prize consisting of $300 in cash, as well as copies of FFE’s publications: The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom: A Tour of the 1930s; The Complete Science Fiction Digest and Fantasy Magazine, a three-volume set including Cosmos.
  2. One Second Prize consisting of $100 in cash, as well as a copy of FFE’s publication: The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom: A Tour of the 1930s.
  3. Two Third Prizes, each consisting of $50 in cash, as well as FFE’s publication: The Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom: A Tour of the 1930s.

All prize winners will also receive an FFE T-shirt and lapel pin. Prize-winning submissions will be published on the FFE website and may also be included in future print and digital publications.

Contest Rules

  1. Submissions must be received by January 15, 2020.
  2. Submissions should be sent electronically to CosmosPrize@firstfandomexperience.org.  Text, Microsoft Word or PDF format only.  If art is included, a 300-dpi JPG or TIFF file should be provided for the graphical elements. Include your name and email address at a minimum.
  3. By submitting an entry, you agree to grant FFE the right to use your submission henceforth, in both print and digital form, in whole or in part, for the purpose of promoting FFE and its works.  You retain copyright to your submission and may use it in any other way you choose.
  4. Prizes will be determined solely by the FFE team.
  5. Successful submissions will:
    • fit with the overall narrative of Cosmos
    • bring the story to a compelling, meaningful, exciting and/or evocative conclusion
    • capture the style and sensibility of science fiction of the 1930s
    • show originality, coherence and strong expressive force
    • focus on replacing just the last chapter of Cosmos, Chapter 17 – avoid the temptation to rewrite the entire novel
  6. Prizes will be announced on February 15, 2020 at the Boskone 57 convention in Boston, Massachusetts.  You do not need to be present at the convention to win a prize.

Additional Notes

These are responses we’ve offered to questions submitted by potential content participants, shared here so that everyone has the same information.

Q: I am considering trying my hand at chapter 17, but to do it properly will take a lot of effort – probably more than can be justified by chasing a $300 prize.

A: Understood.  We see Cosmos more as an important event in the history of fandom than as a piece of quality literature.  We also recognize that the prize is nominal, and hope that people will respond based on a combination of fannish interest and desire to connect with a community that shares interest in this period of history.  We do intend to promote the contest and winners quite broadly, so there would be potential for you to build your brand. We’re also including a full set of our Visual History and SFD/FM/Cosmos facsimile volumes in the prize.  The facsimile books sell for $300, and we expect the full 1930s Visual History to sell for $200.

Q: The authors’ voice/tone is, understandably, quite different from one chapter to the next. Do you anticipate the new chapter 17 to be a blend of the preceding tones, or wholly new? I feel like a modern voice would feel inappropriate. Is there a particular author that you think it would be best to emulate?

A: Up to you.  If you choose to emulate Hamilton’s style, that could be interesting.  Your own voice might be more genuine.  We are looking for submissions that feel like they “fit” — admittedly this is subjective.  Merritt’s chapter is viewed by many as the best-written, but not sure the lyric style used there is appropriate for the wrap-up installment.

Q: Part of the problem with the ending in chapter 17 is that a single chapter simply isn’t enough space to resolve every storyline introduced in the preceding chapters, even though it is a bit longer at ~7,000 words. Would you consider more space to wrap things up? I could envision chapter 17 just focusing on the inner planets, a chapter 18 on the outer ones, and a chapter 19 that goes back to Lemnis.

Yes, we’d be open to a submission that spans multiple chapters.

Q: What specifically are the flaws in the existing final chapter? Is it simply too short? Should a new ending include the elements of the existing chapter 17 (such as the destruction of certain planets) or can/should it be made of “whole cloth”?

A: We’d like to allow the writers to make their own judgment on why the last chapter wants re-thinking.  We expect the main issues we have with it will be pretty obvious to most readers.  Same guidance on the key elements of the ending — take the path that you feel brings the story to the best conclusion.

Q: The plot reminds me a bit of Game of Thrones (many different factions with internal conflicts and old rivalries threatened by a new outside force) and part of my difficulty with that series is keeping track of the large number of characters, places, relationships, and technologies. In order to tackle a new ending, I would want a spreadsheet that includes <a bunch of stuff…>

A: Again, we’d not want to constrain authors by providing guidance that’s too specific.  There are clues to most of your questions in the text.  We can potentially work on assembling facts such as these that are stated already, but wouldn’t want to extrapolate.  If you’ve collected some of this information through your reading and would be willing to share, we’d be happy to make it available to other participants.

Q: The spirit of Cosmos was to be crowd-sourced. Might the best approach now be to crowd-source the writing of a new ending? Not via a contest, but by collaboration on a plot structure which is then written in pieces?

A: First, we love this idea.  This could well be our approach to next year’s Cosmos Prize. We do intend that it continues in some form after this initial iteration. The original Cosmos wasn’t really “crowd-sourced.”  It was a round-robin.  Palmer gave the chapter outlines to each author separately.  (See this page for an example of the correspondence.)  The authors never collaborated with each other.  No doubt the result would have been better if they had :).

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