Friday, July 12, 2013

Interlude: At the TARDIS Factory; How I Learned to Love Doctor Who

The Naked TARDIS

"All of time and space, everywhere and anywhere.  Every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?"  The Doctor

(all photos by DCF)

Prior to its “modern” incarnation a dozen years ago, I had avoided Doctor Who like the plague.  Some clunky sci-fi TV crap from England?  No thanks.  I was exposed to a few of the newer shows in the mid-oughts, and actually liked them okay, but never really pursued the series, mainly due to a huge lack of time for ANY TV I wasn’t already watching, ya know, the good, quality, non-sci-fi TV, like The Wire and Deadwood and The Daily Show.

Then a few months ago, my son Nick came home from his job at Camellia City Millwork (CCM) and said he had been tasked with helping construct something called a “TARDIS” for this year’s State Fair and had we ever heard of it?  Well, unlike me, DCF IS a Doctor Who fan (Christopher Eccleston’s her favorite), and of course I at least knew what a TARDIS was, and so we were both ecstatic!  “You’re going to make a Time And Relative Dimension In Space machine?!  Is there going to be a Doctor Who exhibit at the fair this year?  When do you have to make it?  Is it going to open up to a huge larger control room like on the TV show?”  Yeah, we were geeked out. 

CCM Owner Angelo B
Okay, for those of you who don’t know: a TARDIS looks like a 1963 (when the series first aired) London Police Box (think American telephone booth, except more square-ish) and is what The Doctor and his companions travel around time and space in.  To research the TARDIS (for Nick’s benefit, of course), we decided to watch a couple of Who episodes.  We stuck with the last few years, and that couple turned into several and several turned into a half dozen and we were off!  I’m now a convert: it’s a quality show and I’d recommend it to anybody.  (Well, I guess I gotta admit, it probably helps if you like sci-fi).  I don’t always know exactly what’s going on, but that’s never been a problem for me anyway, and the pathways the writers take are extraordinary in their imaginative twists and turns.  (If you’ve never heard of the Weeping Angels and you onlywatch one Doctor Who episode, check out “Blink” from 2007.)   

So yesterday DCF and I were invited to the TARDIS factory shortly before it was transported to the fair (which opened today).  CCM did an incredible job; I hope the accompanying pictures give a little glimpse of the superb craftsmanship.  It turns out there is a “Hall of Heroes” at the fair this year, featuring, I suppose(?), Batman, Spiderman, the Doctor, etc, and the entrance into the hall will be through the TARDIS!  Sounds like a great idea; I may have to actually go to the fair this year for the first time in a LONG time.  And it also turns out that the final touches on the TARDIS, i.e, the lettering/signage, etc. will be applied at the fair by Drew, the guy who was one of the leads in the first “Sci-Fi Hotel”!  (SFH is an original musical we wrote and staged many years ago, but that is another story.)

Next up, a return to Westercon, Day 3, where among other things, we attend a panel on Doctor Who Through the Ages.  Seeya at the fair!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Data Speaks (Ten at Fifty)

spreadsheet that I created, using a quick-n-dirty Python script and a variety of lyrics sites, has provided a peculiar view into the twenty songs I had decided to think about for the last couple of months. I decided I was interested in lyrics as data points; where are their repetitions, where are the commonalities, and are there things that correlate well within an era, as well as across the eras.

The "1963" and "2013" tabs show each song's lexicon sorted by frequency. The top of the frequency list provides no surprises, as most are something like definite articles or words from the title. I decided to make a column show the overall lexicon in alpha order, which went a little awry given the oddities of spacing I encountered since I didn't do a lot of cleaning of my cut-and-pasted lyrics. But still, it was sort of interesting that the older "rollup lexicon" ran 675 entries or so, and the newer just a hundred or so more, with similar redundancies of "you" and "what" and arbitrary other words that happened to fall at the end of a line or whatever and show up as distinct. My preconception is that the later songwriters, having overall longer songs, would fill them both with significantly more words, and with a greater variety.

Interestingly, a song from each era established itself as a repetition leader by repeating three words about the same number of times - again, there are minor provisos with respect to capitalization or other factors sometimes - and those three floated to the top of the frequency list. "It's All Right" repeated its title 27 times, and apparently didn't use those words elsewhere, as common as they are. But "Scream and Shout" used "and", "we", and "oh" about 50 times each, far outstripping its nearest competitor, "Suit and Tie" ("a", "you", "and.")

Some interesting 1963 words only used once: "rapture", "aglow", "Haggerty's."

From this year: "compliment", "saints", "doozy."

The "Across" tab showed disjoint words, including "a'married" (you couldn't guess that year!) and "sinner", "bitch", and the usual panoply of rap-related invective.

The average song length obeyed the unwritten rule in 1963, at two and a half minutes, and thanks in part to Justin T., this year's average time was about four. That courtesy the "Master Stats" tab, which also lists the statistical winners of each category that I mentioned along the way, including probably the  biggest stat, the number of words in "Suit and Tie", which correlates pretty well with that outsize running time.

And if there's a clear message in all these stats, it's probably not a code I'll crack. And that'll close the examination of the Top of the Pops for this year.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Report from Westercon 66, Day 2

SASSAFRASSians at Westercon 66 (K Nahigian front/middle)

“For my part Westercon 66 is still all muddled; I am still sorting it out.  I floated through it in a half-daze, drained by heat and sleep debt, and feeling like an anthropologist: unsure, not quite at home, barely catching the humor, peering into the magic lantern from just outside.  Still, I had fun.  Certainly it was far better than the Westercons we put on, 28 and 32 years ago.  Goodgohd, am I that old?  Yes, yes I am.  Like most SF conventions it was an amazing intersect of art and intellect mixed with a fair measure of obsessive schlock, a kind of alchemy that these days seems just a bit out of my reach...Even the schlock has a certain raw, unpolished power.  It's honest schlock, schlock that flows from the heartfelt love of something.”  Ken Nahigian, Editor of 1970s fanzine ANDVARI

Exhausted and Adrift in the Suite Spot

July 5th, 1:45 PM: A late start for DCF and me as we needed plenty of recovery time from the previous day.  First up: the Art Show.  It seems much smaller that I remember from the 70s, but I am probably also throwing in memories from Worldcons, so maybe this wasn’t that different; on the other hand, maybe the shows have just gotten smaller.  There were a half dozen “docent” led tours of the art through the run of the con.  This particular one was led by artist Richard Hescox, who has just finished a heavily illustrated limited edition of George Martin’s A Clash of Kings.   Some of that art was on display, and it was fascinating asking questions and getting insight into how it was working with Martin and the whole Game of Thrones phenomenon.  Hescox had a wry sense of humor, so Happy Jack, DCF and I took full advantage, pushing him to reveal many candid and delightful tales.  There were some great pieces in the show, and the three of us bid on about a half dozen items. 

Atrium, 3:00 PM: A one person steam punk band called Unwoman performed.  She plays an
The Incredible Unwoman
electric cello strapped around her torso, and uses electronics and tape loops in performance.  Her voice and approach are reminiscent of Kate Bush, with a dollop of Nico thrown in, but she has a unique approach that was fascinating, with great stage presence and strong songs.  I purchased a cd but haven’t checked much of it out yet; one song sounds a little “over-produced” to me so far, but without reservation, her live performance is strongly recommended. 

As Unwoman’s set progressed, we slowly began to see various ex-SASSAFRASSians!  As it turned out, there were almost a dozen members who made it to the con.  It seems Unwoman’s performance drew us all out, and we traded tales from the last 30 years.  After that, we spent a little time at the Dealer (Huckster) Room where DCF and I filled our blue bag with more purchases and swag.

The Hospitality Suite, 5:00 PM: Exhausted and famished, HJ, DCF and I decided to go back up to the con’s 12th floor Hospitality Suite.  Sure enough, the huge table was still filled with a generous selection of cheese, olives, crackers, lunch meats, bread, fruits, dips, veggies and more.  HJ and DCF started filling their paper plates; I was feeling a little disoriented, and stared out the window at the cityscape below, marveling at this grand view and this unlikely return to a science-fiction convention.  I’m not sure how long I stood in this transfixed stupor, but my reverie was interrupted by DCF’s question to the adjoining room, “Did anybody leave their purse here?  Is anyone sitting here?”  I snapped out of my daze and looked over to the room, which was stuffed with fans; seats were at a premium and I could see HJ tell her, “It’s okay, just sit down”.  I filled my own plate and went over to where HJ and DCF were sitting.  The seat space on DCF’s chair was very large, and she invited me to sit with her, which I did.  Within a few minutes, an elderly woman came up to us and screamed, “I can see putting your bag down to hold a seat doesn’t mean anything to THIS crowd!” 

DCF and I were stunned.  Then the woman bent over and grabbed the bag at my feet.  Thinking it was our blue swag bag, I grabbed the handles, not knowing why she would want our bag, figuring that after her despicable outburst, she was trying to mess with us!  I held on to the handles, thinking she would quickly let go, but instead she just pulled harder, and for a few seconds we were engaged in a brutal bag tug of war!  She was looking at me like I was Satan; I must admit I was filled with incomprehension and rage!  Finally realizing it was ludicrous to be engaged in a physical battle with a 70-year old woman, I let go, thinking I would be the “bigger” person and end this charade.  She stumbled a bit as I released the bag, and then almost fell into a seat that had just been vacated on the couch across from us.  DCF told her she could have our seat, but by this time she was incensed and just stared at us, holding the bag close to her body.  And it was then I realized that the bag was in fact her purse, and I had mistaken it for our blue swag bag!  Humiliated and incredulous that I could make such a mistake, I looked in another direction, and a bitterly cold frost settled over our side of the room. 

Super Fan Mike Mormon w/original SASS T!
Luckily, within minutes, Laurine White, the SASSAFRASS Angel of Fandom, came over to join us.  I moved to a very high chair by an adjacent door and Laurine took my place next to DCF.  Then Laurine, who had no idea what had just happened, charmed all of us with her stories and recollections about kung fu movies and the kinder, gentler fandom of days past.  Shortly thereafter, we left the Suite and returned to the Dealer room.  We added to our blue bag, caught a bit of the Sneaky Tikis’ sound check for the “concert” later that night, and left fairly early, vowing to make the next two days incident free.

To Be Continued

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Report from Westercon 66, Day 1

“Thanks so much for yelling at me in the registration line.  I was giving ‘fandom’ one last try.  I’m done now, thanks to that little incident.  You can have it to yourself.”  --anonymous handwritten note found on a table the last day of the convention 

You Can Take the Fan Out of the Con, but You Can’t Take the Outlaw     
Out of the Fan

Prelude, November 2008:  On the 40th anniversary of the birth of radio station KZAP, a gala party was held at the Cosmo Club in downtown Sacramento.  Many disc jockeys showed up, including Gordo, one of the best from KZAP’s 70s era.  Gordo had the quintessential radio voice: deep, sensuous, hypnotic.  His love and knowledge of music was unparalleled and he was a champion of all kinds of new music, including punk and new wave, which he regularly introduced on his late evening shifts.  In the 90s he moved to Astoria, where Donna and I visited him in 2005; he was the perfect host, giving us a grand tour of the city, including his guitar shop, the Columbia River Coffee Roasters (“Coffee that Floats the Arts”) and the community radio station where he dj’d.  For his visit to the KZAP anniversary, he and his girl friend were staying at the Hilton Hotel a few miles from downtown.  The day after the anniversary party, we went to the Hilton for the first time to visit him and pick up some Columbia River Thundermuck! Coffee he had brought for us.  He was staying on the 12th floor; we had a great view and a grand time hanging out in his room.  Four years later he passed away, and the Hilton was the last time we saw him.  He was a generous, compassionate, lovely man, and he is missed.

July 4th, 2013, 2:00 PM:  Happy Jack, Donna CF and I arrive at the Sacramento Hilton Hotel, Westercon registration room.  It’s the first con we’ve been to in over 30 years, and the first that we have paid to attend.  Registration goes smoothly, and we quickly find a table outside the room and begin to strategize our plans.  It’s a pretty big circular table and another con attendee comes over and sits down.  I’d guess she’s in her late sixties and she begins talking to us in that fannish sort of way, friendly but peculiar.  She brings up filk singing.  Those of you who have been reading my posts will know that I have no love for filk music, which as I remember it is putting “fannish” lyrics to already existing music, usually for comic effect.  Except that it’s never funny and rarely musical.  I let her know in no uncertain terms exactly how much I loathe the whole thing, am tell her I’m appalled there is a room that will be featuring this abomination almost 24/7 for the length of the con.  She eyes me with contempt and tells me I shouldn’t be so close minded, that perhaps things have changed in the last THIRTY YEARS, and that much filking today is completely original and highly musical.  I fling a few crafty bon mots, and the three of us leave, off to our first panel.

What I don’t find out till later is that this woman is Lynn Gold, a very well known and awarding winning fan who runs the official Filk Room at this convention.  I am reminded that perhaps I should keep my ancient opinions to myself, expecially if they tend toward the blasphemous. 

4:30 PM, Becoming a Professional Writer or Artist Panel: Panelist Cliff Winnig, who is a writer and musician (a sitar player who studied with Ali Akbar Khan, he will also play a short set the following day), comments that one way to “get noticed” at conventions is to be a panelist, which he did many times before he became a “professional”.  Shortly thereafter, Happy Jack raises a hand and asks the entire panel: “Now that you’ve established a complete lack of credentials to be on a panel, why should we believe or listen to anything you say?”  Now those of you who may know HJ will realize that this was asked with a high degree of humor, but unfortunately none of the panelists made that interpretation.  The convivial atmosphere of the room took an immediate twist, and there was a noticeable physical bristling among the four panelists.  There erupted a low hubbub amongst the 60 audience members, all craning for a look at who would ask such a question.  The panelists began, one by one, “defending” what Mr. Winnig had said, and HJ tried to explain what he had actually meant.  Eventually, Writer Guest of Honor Kelly Eskridge defused the building outrage, and the panel resumed its course.  When it was over, Jack talked to the panelists and it seemed a rapprochement had been achieved. 

5:45 PM, Reading by Writer Guests of Honor Nicola Griffith and Kelly Eskridge (who are
Nicola and Kelley
a couple): Outstanding essay co-written by Kelly and Nicola about being a couple who also are both writers: honest, compassionate, loving, and inspiring, a beautiful reading by the both of them.  Unfortunately, there was a nitwittish decision to hold this right next to the large hall where loud, noisy events were staged, and some the reading was obscured by what sounded like a buffoonish sci-fi recreation of TV’s Match Game.  One mark against the organizers.  Also, NO MICROPHONES at the reading; that makes two marks. 

7:00 PM, Hotel Bar: Time for dinner and drinks.  The bar is packed, mainly with con attendees.  We get about halfway through our dinner, when Mr. Winnig and another man take a table a little ways across the space from us.  HJ’s back is to them, I am facing them, and DCF is sitting sideways between HJ and me.  I immediately “alert” DCF and HJ that Mr. Winnig has arrived.  HJ winces, still feeling a little guilty about the near brouhaha a few hours before.  He quickly glances back and asks us which one he is.  DCF tells him “it’s the guy in the blue shirt”.  A few minutes go by and HJ announces he is going over to the table and apologize again.  I chuckle, thinking in the first place there’s no real reason to do that, and in the second place that HJ is kidding and is actually going to the restroom.  But in fact, HJ is dead serious, gets up, turns and walks over to their table.  Unfortunately, BOTH men have on blue shirts: Mr. Winnig’s is more of a dress shirt and his friend’s is a t-shirt.  HJ evidently sees the blue T first, for some reason forgets exactly what Winnig looks like, thinks the t-shirted guy is Mr. Winnig, and starts apologizing to the wrong man!  From where I’m sitting, with HJ’s back to me, I can see the complete befuddlement and consternation on this guy’s face, slightly fearful and grasping at what the meaning of this could be, with HJ’s six and a half foot frame looming above him, stark bald head and chiseled features coming out of nowhere with words that have no relation to any reality he currently comprehends.  I glance over at Mr. Winnig and after a few moments, he seems to “grok” the situation and tries to let HJ know that HE is the person who was on the earlier panel, NOT the man sitting across from him.  After a couple of minutes more, HJ returns to our table.  The situation seems to have degenerated into an incoherent quagmire.  And I suppose the tears of hilarity streaming down my face are not helping matters.

9:00 PM, 12th Floor: The con organizers have a “hospitality” suite up here, where food and (non-alcoholic) drink are always available for attendees.  There are also several other rooms along the hallway that will eventually open for parties.  DCF and I realize that this was where we had last seen Gordo, and his spirit permeates the area.  A fireworks display is scheduled to start at nearby Cal-Expo, where the state fair will begin in another week, and these rooms facing in that direction are perfect for a viewing.  We grab some space in the suite and wait, but as 9:30 approaches, so does a flood of fans, all with the same idea.  Now keep in mind that fans, as a group, can be physically large and somewhat hygiene challenged.  Add to that a fairly high number of wheelchairs and other physical transport conveyances, and you may see why we began to want to find another place to view the patriotic celebration.  DCF sent me out to try and “break in” to a party room whose doors were still shut.  I went into the hall, but couldn’t bring myself to barge in; after my brush with the filk organizer, I wanted no more trouble.  Almost immediately after I went into the hall, DCF and HJ joined me, and we began walking down the hall, looking for a possible other room to watch the show.

The rooms were shut tight, people evidently not wanting a replay of what was happening in the Hospitality Suite.  And then at the very end of the hall, we saw a door that was shut, but that had its “lock bar” on the outside, making it possible to walk in.  With 9:30 minutes away, HJ decided to do just that, a move that might bring dire consequences as we had no idea who or what was inside.  As he moved towards the door, DCF cried out, “Ask them if Gordo is in there!”  Jack got the message, knocked on the door, pushing it a little, and said, “Is Gordo there?  We’re looking for Gordo!”  A male voice from inside said, “There’s no one named Gordo in here!”  Jack’s reply: “Well, can we come in and watch the fireworks?”

Who these people were, we never found out.  The voice inside shouted back: “Sure, come  on in.”  We walked in to a completely dark room; there was loud radio station rock music playing and everyone was on the balcony facing Cal Expo.  They were not fans; they were not attending the convention.  There seemed to be a couple of families in there, several adults and about a half dozen kids, waiting and watching for the fireworks.  One of the women on the balcony shot us a concerned look, but before anything else could happen, the radio station announcer, simulcasting with what we were about to see, began introducing the fireworks display.  He didn’t speak for very long, the fireworks and accompanying music starting almost immediately, but I could swear he sounded exactly like Gordo.  Probably just my imagination.

After the fireworks, we stopped by one of the parties, but the “margaritas” they gave us just weren’t up to HJ’s standards and we left, pouring the contents away as soon as possible.  Call us lightweights, but it was almost 11:00 and we were exhausted.  Three more days to go.

To Be Continued             

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

19: SciFi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

(At left)  Tough guy Spencer “Bubonicon” (notice the shirt) Sparrow berates Happy Jack as members of Outlaw Fandom leave a Santa Barbara Emergency Room on the last day of Westercon, 1974.  Rumor has it that HJ, engaged in a Man from U.N.C.L.E. LARP, tripped while leaping over a tall fence, fell prostrate, and was brutally attacked by unknown THRUSH fan assailants, resulting in his broken arm.

When discussing SASSAFRASS and Outlaw Fandom in these posts, I have tried to be as factual as possible, but many of the actual events as they occurred remain murky.  A big THANK YOU to everyone who tried to help clarify matters.  Since this is my last post (at least for the time being), many episodes will remain unexplored for now: the terror drive home from Santa Barbara after Westercon 27; the pitiful attempt to run out on the Los Angeles Airport Marriott bill after Equicon when OF realized it had no money left (Johnny Law eventually reared his ugly head and all accounts were settled); the encounter at Equicon with a drunken George Takei groggily exiting an elevator; a sublime visit to the Ackermansion in the early eighties,
where Forry invited us in to his actual house, showing us usually unseen art and other treasures; Ozzie playing the 34th Westercon in Sacramento.  Here’s to all the incredible written words and authors who wrote them, especially Ray Bradbury and E Hoffman Price, two of the finest people we met. 

And now, on to the putative reason for these posts. 

The 2013 Hugo nominees that I read, rated (A to F, just like in school) and with very brief comments, all started and completed within the last 30 days:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed: B; recommended if you like sword and sorcery and a swashbuckling good time, especially if you’re a fantasy fan.
Redshirts by John Scalzi: B; recommended if you like sci fi, a hilarious premise, wacko characters, meta-fiction and/or are a fan. 
2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson: A; recommended if you are alive and have the ability to read.  A wonderful book that deserves as much recognition as possible.  Beautifully written and realized.
Feed (instead of Blackout) by Mira Grant (NOT a nominee this year; see previous posts for “explanation”): C+; recommended if you like “thrillers” and/or want a compelling “beach” read.  It’s a new (to me at least) approach to the zombie story with some compelling twists along the way.
Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold: Not Read.

Thanks to any and all who may have joined me, even for a bit, on this journey.  Perhaps we’ll chat at Westercon?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

#1 Tomorrow's Fish and Chips Paper (Ten at Fifty)

"['Sugar Shack' is]  the worst excuse for itself rock and roll had yet produced."

 - Greil Marcus, The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll

Ok, fifty years is a long time, and it was a long time ago. Consider first a top tune from the early sixties, "A Summer Place" by Percy Faith, the essence of 1001 Strings mainstream, then consider a Kookie B-side:

If someone in '63 considered that Kookie song kind of cool, then Jimmy Gilmer's relaxed delivery on this #1 song would be enough to render the not-very-rock band sound somewhat more interesting. (Interestingly, this song has the largest lexicon of the twenty at either end, including, somehow essentially, "girlie".) But then, that kind of Mancini-like arrangement

- was two years before, and, well, not four years later one of the touchstone sounds of that fecund rock era would come out with little fanfare and no chart action:

And so, I suppose, it's inevitable that this light song would be lost in the dust of the British Invasion, and little evidenced on modern playlists, as opposed to the Impressions' #10 entry, not to mention "Fingertips".

(Q:What is it that the #1 and #2 songs of '88 had in common? A:Mining well-worn riffs. "Need You Tonight" from INXS re-adapted Queen's "Another One Bites the Dust" - itself an adaptation - and "Faith" was a George Michael Bo Diddley special. And imitation in both cases won big; a whole generation now 40-ish has these songs under their skin whether they like it or not.)

"And that was a little while ago [that Azealia Banks recorded a vocal over 'Harlem Shake'], and since all this video stuff happened, our plans all changed. Because of that, we decided to just release the song on its own with no vocal version. So we told her, 'Please don't release your version.' And she said, 'Well, I'm going to put it online anyway.' And we said, 'Please don't. We'd really like it if you didn't.' And she did."

 - Baauer, explaining a dustup over the "Banks Project"

How on earth did this get going? A few electronic "wup-wups" which could have been sampled from Grandmaster Flash or Liberace, a world-engulfing belch, over and over, and you suddenly have something that Wikipedia splits into "meme" and "song" entries. And this song wins hands down the award for both fewest lyrics (I puzzled over the "los terroristas" gender mismatch a little while, then let it go) and smallest lexicon among both the '63 and '13 top ten songs.

The vague quirkiness of the #2 song is here absent, you will wait in vain for something unexpected or unusual. And yet, and yet, it's got a thousand, no, way over a thousand, YouTube videos, gangsta, animals, parodies, foreign culture, children:

Is it likely that something that spread this far could be, in a few years, and in the words from the Elvis Costello song which inspired this installment's title, "yesterday's news"?

(Next week: a desultory statistical analysis of the two top tens at either end of the fifty years.)

Monday, July 1, 2013

18: SciFi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

Roman Polanski

Akrabu and the Chinatown Solution

Earlier this morning I went to my final appointment with noted science fiction counselor Dr. Akrabu.  As discussed at the beginning of this blog series, he diagnosed me earlier in the year with Scientifiction Trauma Disorder, and in late May, as part of my “recovery”, told me to read all five 2013 Hugo nominees in one month.  Needless to say, he was upset that I hadn’t succeeded.  He saw fit to initiate a final approach to “help” me.  The following occurred in the ending moments of my session.

Dr. Akrabu: So then what do you call a story set in the future, where a sixth of the United States has become a toxic dump, and portions of the populace are so addicted to television they can die from watching certain shows?
Mr. Fuller: I guess I’d call it science fiction.
DA: Of course you would!  And would you have read such a book ten years ago?
MF: I’ve told you, Doctor, I stopped reading science fiction thirty years ago!
DA: And yet you did read such a book and in fact have told me it’s now one of the best books you’ve read in your life!

I was sweating, my blood pressure was up, and my anxiety level was sky high.  I couldn’t think straight.

MF: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
DA: Infinite Jest, Mr. Fuller!  Your so-called favorite modern book whose name you drop whenever you can, trying to impress people with your erudition and intellect!  Your favorite serious “mainstream” book is SCIENCE FICTION!  You were, have been, and still are a FAN!  Please don’t give me any more crap about this!

I found myself trembling.

MF: No, doctor, you’re wrong, Jest isn’t science fiction and I’m not a fan, I’m a serious reader.

Akrabu seemed charged with anger.  He got up from his love seat, leaned over my chair, and slapped me.  I was aghast.  He has used eccentric methods before, but never physical violence.  The blow brought tears to my eyes.

DA: The truth, Mr. Fuller!  I said the truth!
MF: Okay, I did enjoy the books this month, maybe I still have some fan in me?

The doctor slapped me again.

MF: No, dammit, I’m a READER!

Another slap.

MF: A fan, a reader, a fan, a reader…

The doctor grabbed my by the new SASSAFRASS shirt I was wearing, and yanked me up, screaming into my face.

DA: I said I want the truth!

I collapsed on the sofa, sobbing.

MF:  All right!  I’m a reader AND I’m still a fan!  I can see it now!  I’ve never really shed it!  It never really left me!

The session ended shortly thereafter.  Feeling humiliated and shattered, I went straight to a Dear Friend’s (DF) house.  Seeing how irrational I looked and acted, he opened a bottle of Crown Royal and I told him about my session. 

MF: That wasn’t right, I’ll kill him!
Dear Friend: Take it easy, take it easy, it was part of the therapy.
MF: Therapy? 

I looked down into my half empty glass, horrified.  I saw the doctor’s face in the whiskey.

MF: Get him away from me!  He’s responsible for everything!  Get him away from me!
DF: Bill, you’re very disturbed.  You’re acting crazy now.  You wanna do yourself the biggest favor of your life?  Calm down.  You can stay here as long as you want.  I’m with you now. 

Then he gave me a bear hug I’ll never forget.

DF: Forget it, Bill.  It’s only science fiction.

To Be Concluded

Sunday, June 30, 2013

17: SciFi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

Bacchanalia Unbound at the Ale-Moot

“Adonie, divine and most horrible of lords, we beseech thee in the name of thy son on Earth, The Emperor, that reigns eternally, Emp Adams, to make of this day a wonder for mortals who worship you…We importune thee, Adonie, on this festive occasion of the first Ale-Moot, to keep our heads together despite what we may quaff…Father of the divine Emp, on thy name grant us a day of beauty and happiness!  Amen, let it be so.”  The Emperor’s Invocation opening the first (and only) SASSAFRASS Ale-Moot, June 1975

“Memories from that time are mostly vague and often are only remembered stories detached from any real personal identification.  I have never resolved what part I played. I usually think I simply identified the core without being a member of it, at best an observer. And so your recollections of the stories/myths from that time evoke a curious nostalgic pathos for whatever I was and probably still am. At the center of the Bacchae is the running away from self to be absorbed into the collective and in the story once joined to the collective the self is torn apart...well, sorry about that, not sure where that came from, let's simply say the Emp never resolved the Dionysian/Apollonian dichotomy.”  John “The Emp” Adams, June 2013

The Ale-Moot, the Con-Dome and Feed

In early 1975, there was a “coup” in SASSAFRASS: Outlaw Fandom managed to convince everyone else in the Society that a different approach would be preferable and new leadership was needed.  So instead of the usually elected “President, Vice President, etc.”, an “Emperor” was somehow “appointed”.  My recollection of these events is almost non-existent, but what we do know from extant club notes is that shortly after the new regime (including a “Lord Prime Minister” and “Ministratrix of Protocol”) took over, an alternative to the annual December Yule-moot was planned.  Instead of being inspired by the Old Norse pagan midwinter festival or the feast of the nativity, it would take for inspiration the Summer Solstice, and celebrate beer, bashing and bawdiness. 

The event started around noon at a park on the first day of summer.  It began with The Emp’s “coronation”, culminating in his invocation/prayer (which is excerpted above).  Next came a fencing exhibition, followed by a banquet and some songs from Happy Jack.  There was bashing, poetry, an auction, and awards for best costumes.  It seems the police showed up toward late afternoon, but the event continued nonetheless.  There were a lot of people; “regular” fans mingled with Outlaw Fandom and it was considered a huge success, paving the way for The Emp’s acceptance for many months to come.  Something even bigger needed to come next.
Art by Jim McLeod; Layout by Terry Whittier

"Con-Dome One will take place in the breathtaking high Painted Desert of Arizona.  There will be no 'organized' huckster rooms, art exhibits or masquerade, although we encourage such events to happen spontaneously.  However, we shall present to those who attend such incredible experiences as the first night's mass pilgrimage to The Dome, planned so that the setting sun will present a spectacular visual display, a visit to nearby Indian ruins where attendees will be able to physically touch the remnants of a civilization that perished 10,000 years before, and a nightly light show consisting of the undiminished glory of 100,000 stars highlighted by a continuing barrage of meteoric flaming stripes."

Emboldened by the success of the Ale-moot, SASSAFRASS decided to sponser its first convention, scheduled to be held on the Ale-moot's one year anniversary.  But of course, it wouldn’t be like any other convention.  Dubbed Con-Dome, this would be held in the desert outside Flagstaff, Arizona.  Some of us knew the owner of a geodesic dome out in the middle of nowhere, and convinced him to host a science-fiction convention.  We threw out everything anyone knew about conventions, and made up a program and schedule of events unlike any other.  We sent out invitations to about 20 writers; about half of them responded: none of them accepted our “offer” and several of them were vitriolic and insulting with what they wrote back.  Of course, this probably had a lot to do with the invitations themselves; they were supposed to consider themselves “honored” to even be invited, and would have to absorb on their own most of the costs involved in making the somewhat difficult trek there.  Needless to say, Con-Dome had to be canceled.

As was mentioned earlier this month, I chose not to read Mira Grant’s Blackout because it was the third in a trilogy, so instead I’m reading the first in that trilogy, Feed, which was nominated for a Hugo when it first appeared.  I knew my idiot glee regarding the three nominees I already read couldn’t last, and that seems to be the case here.  Which is not to say I don’t like this book, or don’t want to finish it, or even that I won’t read the next two books, but it is a “letdown”.  I’m almost done with it, and will most certainly complete it before Westercon starts in four days, and so will hold off with comments for another day or two.

In any case, after a month, tomorrow is my next scheduled appointment with Dr. Akrabu.  I was supposed to be done reading all five 2013 Hugo nominees, but as suspected, was unable to complete what he prescribed.  It remains to be seen how the good doctor will take this, or if he will be able to help me further.   

To Be Continued        

Saturday, June 29, 2013

16: SciFi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

E Hoffman Price with SASSAFRASS shirt

“The solicitude of Linda’s voice, the seductiveness of her perfume, her very presence as they sat in the artificial twilight of the Domes of Venus, tempted him to abandon his plan to sail at once for Terra, venture among the savage Terrestrians, and get possession of that enormous ruby they called the Fire of Skanderbek.”  E Hoffman Price, “Exile From Venus”, Planet Stories, May 1951

On the occasion of SASSAFRASS’ fifth anniversary, Happy Jack designed a commemorative t-shirt.  Across the top were the words “Outlaw Fandom”.  Below that was the yin/yang circle with SASSAFRASS scrolled across the middle.  A vertical sword blade was visible behind these images, with a line on the blade, representing the “fuller”, or groove down the center of the blade (sometimes called a “blood groove”).  To the right of the blade’s tip was a foaming beer mug with the number one, representing the Society’s victory over LASFS at the 1975 Westercon’s beer drinking smackdown.  To the left of the blade’s tip was the Ozzie “axion”, a symbol representing their 1978 science fiction punk rock opera. 

Berlin 1990: Cindy "Princess Violetta" Rushkin

Three members of Outlaw Fandom were in Ozzie (named after the big band leader/’50s sit com star, NOT the heavy metal dude), and though the band was not a “sci fi” band, many of its songs had sci fi subject matter, including its biggest hit, “Android Love”.  As part of radio station KZAP’s 10 Anniversary, Ozzie took these tunes, wrote a half dozen more, and bundled it all together for Berlin 1990: “The world was crumbling into ruin.  The terrorist nuclear device that obliterated the first and last of the deep-space habitats was the match igniting the overpopulated and impoverished Earth to flame…In all the black and bloody world there was but one small place that did not stink of the corruption of death…Behind The Wall lay the last city of the world.”

Planet Stories: Exile From Venus 
Outlaw Fandom found a fellow traveler in pulp writer E Hoffman Price, who was generous with recollections of his exploits with friend HP Lovecraft, including their ill-fated, fetid days in New Orleans.  At a con around that time, OF was proud to present Price with a brand new SASSAFRASS shirt, little thinking he would immediately excuse himself and  return shortly thereafter with a drink in his hand and the shirt on his back!  We all toasted the pulps, SASSAFRASS' newest member, and fantastic literature.  RIP, E, seeya down the road, you are the best!

As explained before, because Mira Grant’s Hugo nominee Blackout is the third book in the Newsflesh trilogy, I opted to read the first in that series instead.  I’m over halfway through Feed, which was also a Hugo nominee in 2011.  More on that later.

To Be Continued      

Thursday, June 27, 2013

#2 Baggies and Furs (Ten at Fifty)

You'd see 'em wearin' their baggies
Huarache sandals too

"Surfin' U.S.A." - The Beach Boys

The Beatles had probably already covered "Roll Over Beethoven" on the BBC before Brian Wilson conceived the idea of having a "listing song" like "Land of a Thousand Dances" or the later "Dancing in the Streets", but focused on surf culture. But he focused on another similar Berry song, "Sweet Little Sixteen", to be the engine of those lyrics. The song diverged somewhat from the jangly style of Dick Dale or The Ventures, which were associated more with the early surf sound, but had no little relationship with Jan and Dean's "Surf City" from the same year, focusing on tightness in both the harmonies and the driving rhythm.

The Beach Boys have recently proved they still have the chops:

The surf sound this song exemplifies didn't prove to have a lot of staying power, but definitely established the cultural imperative that keeps many non-surfers wearing "baggies" and flip-flops in the Western States to this day. And the likes of "Surfin' U.S.A." and "Surf City" are almost certain to be played on some stations for another fifty.

Dressed in all pink, 'cept my gator shoes, those are green
Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin' next to me
Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly's sheets

"Thrift Shop" - Macklemore

This is yet another collaboration between a rapper and, sort of, a pop singer, but it's reversed relative to "Suit and Tie" or "Scream and Shout" - the nominal artist is the rapper, and the guest, Wanz aka Michael Wansley, is the "singer". Wansley is an unusual case as well, since this collaboration catapulted him into stardom, after years spent as a Software Quality Assurance Engineer (something I happen to know about) while moonlighting as an R&B singer.

"Thrift Shop" appears to have gathered more than its share of scorn, including this observation from one blogger:

Undoubtedly, “Thrift Shop,” which also features the singer Wanz, is a hip-hop song, though one that bears almost no connection to hip-hop as a living genre.

- and he says that like it's a bad thing... the comment "for people who don't like rap" keeps surfacing, among those who blog about hip-hop, in connection with this song. It is built on a very repetitive, but pleasantly angular, sax riff, and decries the materialism of rap culture, making the point that recycled clothing can be as much a statement as new, and perhaps with more creative potential. It spawned a substantial fad of thrift store buying, not a new thing though:

And in fact, Barbra Streisand's cover of the flapper era song generated its own Goodwill Fandom. But I suspect that this song's divergence from whatever might be construed the hip-hop center will not represent any direction that will last even as long as surf music.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Blog: The Long Con and the Short Grift

(or:Two Cents from Happy Jack)

Part 1 – Down Where the Drunkards Roll

You can be a gambler
Who never drew a hand
You can be a sailor
Who never left dry land
You can be Lord Jesus
All the world will understand
Down where the drunkards roll
Down where the drunkards roll
-     Richard and Linda Thompson

 “Fandom is not a normal hobbyist group. It has been suggested that, if sf ceased to exist, fandom would continue to function quite happily without it.”
-     John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1995)

“Look carefully at the differences between a reader and a fan, terms that are used almost interchangeably in much of the available work on sf reading.  A sci-fi reader is someone who likes to read sci-fi.  An sf fan is someone for whom sf is a facet of his/her social life or of his/her identity.  Not all readers are fans.”
-     SCI FI 101, Kim G. Kofmel, Library Journal, September 1, 2004

“I would never join a club that would have me as a member.”
-     Groucho Marx

William Fuller has been writing very eloquently about our adventures in science fiction fandom and the conventions of the 1970s.  I’m not sure what I can add to the tale but, then again, why should he have all the fun?

Yes, I am a reader, an addict of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Although my literary diet is not exclusive to speculative fiction, it contains a distinct preference toward it.  It’s been that way for a very long time.  But I am not a fan, I am areader.  I thought I wanted to be a fan when I discovered fandom existed but found out fairly soon that I wasn’t cut out for it.  And fandom, I think, soon felt the same about me.  Fandom, like religion, is another example of what happens to people when they believe in something and get together to celebrate it. All too soon, it is no longer about the object of admiration, adoration or worship but more about recognition and status within the community, bureaucracy, politics, turf wars and schisms. 

During the 1970’s I and my friends had a great time approaching fandom in much the same way the Visigoths approached the Roman Empire; as rude and raucous barbarians at the gates.  From my current perspective, “Outlaw Fandom,” which WF has mentioned previously, was a foreshadowing of the punk movement just then lurking over the horizon.  Influenced by Hunter Thompson, Charles Bukowski, The Merry Pranksters, The Yippies, Frank Zappa, Carlos Castaneda, Captain Beefheart and whatever drugs and alcohol could be had, we were seized with an absolute determination to rock and mock the complacency of the established order.  Fandom had rules and rituals that clearly separated those on the inside from those on the outside.  And we never liked to be merely “outside.”

And so we wandered the halls of anonymous looking hotels, passing ourselves off as rogue journalists and often making a nuisance of one kind or another.  One thing we found absolutely remarkable about science fiction conventions was the accessibility of the authors to the fans and the readers.  I am in awe of writers.  And I am always grateful for the worlds and people they have painted my imagination with.  Going to Baycon in 68 was like going to a convention of rock stars without needing a backstage pass. 

"... don't drink too much, and if you drink too much go to your room ..."
- Mary Kay Kare, the "Miss Manners" of fandom,
Science Fiction Culture by Camile Bacon-Smith

But, of course, it wasn’t too long before we abused the privilege of that accessibility.  We, SASSAFRASS, had arranged for a drinking contest with LASFS to be held at the Westercon in Oakland in 1975.  Was it a scam to get free beer?  I can neither confirm nor deny that allegation.  Despite our best efforts, which included one of our team pouring beer into his boots, we were soundly trounced by the Southern Californians, championed, in the end, by a woman with truly prodigious capacity.  There’s a bit of a blur following the conclusion of the contest but I do recall finding myself in a hotel room, ranting and raging at Poul Anderson and Larry Niven.
I asserted that they couldn’t write about war because they hadn’t served; they hadn’t experienced the blood and the mud and the jungle like I had in Viet Nam.  Of course, I had never been in the military, never been farther West than Catalina Island nor further East than Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure if I was ejected or staggered out but it’s a miracle I wasn’t tossed out of the con altogether. I would like to believe that maybe I was entirely incoherent and that the exchange was more hallucination then sodden performance.  But I’m pretty sure it happened exactly that way.

And of course there were other incidents, like pissing off Ray Bradbury by going on and on about Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 which Bradbury absolutely loathed and praising Rod Steiger’s performance in The Illustrated Man (equally despised).  I saw the literal truth of the old saw, “hot under the collar,” as Bradbury’s fury slowly rose and reddened his face starting from the neck and moving up, just like in the cartoons.

Then there was the time that I was excoriated by Harlan Ellison for snidely inferring that his attention to the business side of things somehow lessened his worth as an artist.  “You’ve got to bare your fangs, motherfucker,” Harlan shouted at me, followed by a full serving from his extensive buffet of insults. 

Valuable lessons learned at the feet of the masters.  That’s what it was all about.
[to be continued]