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] 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

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

Wrap-around Program Cover by Russ Manning
“western tanagers yellow and black   red heads   scrabbling for spilled popcorn   their movements take milliseconds   followed by frozen moments two or three magnitudes longer   sometimes four or five magnitudes   thus a visual illusion of  instantaneous motion between one stillness and another   for each ecstatic instant   we must an anguish pay”  2312

“Our stories go on awhile, some genes and words persist; then we go away.  It was a hard thing to remember.”  2312

The first Witchcraft and Sorcery Convention in October, 1971 at the Los Angeles Hilton Hotel was monumental for Outlaw Fandom.  It was there that we met and/or, for Reality News, interviewed Ray Bradbury, Forrest J Ackerman, Jack Kirby, Robert Bloch, E Hoffman Price, and others.  Price was the shiniest, craziest diamond in this solid sack full, overflowing with stories and memories regarding his days writing for the pulps, and especially those days with his friend, HP Lovecraft.  Bjo Trimble, this year’s Westercon Costuming Special Guest (along with husband John), was in charge of the art show, and it was at this con that a séance was held to contact Bela Lugosi.  Unbelievably, we were actually embraced by a host of fans and guests; Price would become a life-long friend who we would stay in contact with and run into several times in the years to come.

It was also at this convention that OF stalwart Macho Marty was “seduced” by a fan predator who we nicknamed El Bastardo.  Bastardo was a sleazy pseudo-“fan” who evidently hung out at conventions preying on attractive young women.  He was pretty disgusting in his own right, but the fact that he was married only made it worse.  That first night, he brought us to his home in Newport Beach, where his utterly charming wife gave us our first taste of Jack Daniels, which she affectionately referred to as her Tennessee sippin’ whiskey.  This of course only endeared her to us, but while we were sippin’, El Bastardo was making his moves in another room.  MM, though pretty tough on many levels (hence her nickname), was no match for this privileged, deep pocketed lothario.  Things just got worse in the following days; needless to say, just before we left LA, unbeknownst to MM, El Bastardo endured some very deserved “unpleasantness”.

I have finished reading my third Hugo nominee, 2312.  It is without a doubt not only one of the best sci-fi books I think I’ve ever read, but just an outstanding achievement, well written, great pacing, fascinating characters, an “experimental” approach to story-telling – I know, I’m just repeating stuff I’ve said in previous posts, but I’m here to tell you it holds up extremely well through to the end.  I have not read any other Robinson, but that will change, and I would LOVE to enter this world he created again.  HIGHLY recommended.

And now it’s on to 2013 Hugo Nominee number four.

To Be Continued

Saturday, June 22, 2013

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

The Queen of Sacra Fandom: Laurine White

Jim McLeod: Mr. Mcleod is probably not a new name to people who have been reading or looking at science-fiction fan publications.  His artwork illustrates many zines, and will also be prominently displayed at this year’s Worldcon.  His fanzine, Interplanetary Cornchips (co-edited by the indubitable Dale Goble), is in its seventh issue, with an eighth planned for September (expect it in December!).  SASSAFRASS, the science-fiction society he spearheads, plans to hold a convention in Sacramento in a few years, despite its entire membership being almost thrown in jail three months ago (admittedly, most likely because of Outlaw Fandom).  With a can of Coors in one hand (which we do not hold against him), a Rapidograph in the other, and a befuddled, dazed haze in his eyes, Mr. McLeod unleashes a steady stream of fine art that T!L!R! is please to be a part of.”  Contributor Note from True!Lust!Romances!, The Journal of Outlaw Fandom, Premier Issue, September 1972

Extracts (SASSAFRASS) (with apologies to Kim Stanley Robinson)

were evidently gathered together at the home of Jim McLeod for their first meeting.  Exactly when this occurred is disputed, but 1972 or ’73 seems to be the year.  The founders appear to be McLeod and Dale Goble, who brought in about a dozen other fans, and Jack Hastings (who McCloud and Goble had met at a convention), who brought along a few friends.  Ideas were exchanged and goals established, including a regular monthly meeting schedule.  According to various accounts, the alcohol consumption at that first meeting

soon became apparent that standouts included Laurine White and Ken Nahigian.  These were fans of the purest, most intense nature, “true fans” who loved and lived science fiction in a way most of the others could only dream of.  Bright and attractive, with minds that were forever flying in imaginative winds, they led most of the discussions and had the greatest insights into the sci fi world.  Ms. White was especially provocative and innovative; she was probably the first person in Sacramento to delve into “kung-fu Hong Kong movie” culture almost 20 years before it became “fashionable” in the Nineties, hosting her own gatherings/film showings at her house.  She without question earned her nickname as the Queen of Sacramento Fandom many times over.  On the other hand, she and Nahigian’s view of splinter group “Outlaw Fandom”

invited for the first time to the annual Yulemoot.  Unfortunately, during the mathom exchange, the Emperor, who had just recently been “elected” by Outlaw Fandom to “lead” SASSAFRASS, upset with the gift he had received, began loudly cursing and threw his gift across the circle of celebrants, which was almost as large as the room where it was held.  Several large gentlemen, probably members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, sprang up from their chairs and headed in his direction, as the other Outlaw Fandom attendees

even though the Alemoot was intended as Outlaw Fandom’s answer to the Yulemoot.  Held on the first day of summer, it was a ribald, bacchanalian gathering of OF, others in SASSAFRASS, bashers from the

SASSAFRASS and the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society should strictly follow these rules:
  1. One beer to be consumed every 15 minutes until only one team remained
  2. Puking would result in that participant's disqualification
  3. Five members per team
  4. Two appointed, impartial monitors would accompany any participant who left to use the bathroom
  5. Foul language and/or
To Be Continued

Friday, June 21, 2013

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

Self Portrait
Interlude: Living Science Fiction, Dhalgren, and Summer Solstice in Stockholm

“He shrugged. Confusion was like struggling to find the proper way to sit inside his skin.” Samuel R. Delaney, Dhalgren, 1975

(Note: In commemoration of this first day of summer, the author takes a break from what has come before and what will follow.  Below are two entries from the author’s daily journal of his European journey in 1979.  Drawings are also by the author from his journal.)

May 9, over the Atlantic Ocean: Am about halfway through Dhalgren on this seemingly never-ending flight to Amsterdam.  Have been reading it for five or six hours, seeping in its intensely unpleasant brew of disturbing images and actions.  Can feel myself undergoing some kind of transformation, like we’re on the way to Bellona and The Kid is waiting there to take me on some unspeakable journey.  Is this “living science fiction”?  Got to stop reading, but I can’t.  Is it the book, my exhaustion, something else?  My skin is crawling.

June 14, Koln, Germany: We awaken around 9 AM and take our leave of the Hotel Dom.  We go in search of food and discover we are once again unwittingly in the middle of another holiday, a Christian celebration only observed in some parts of the country, clergymen in their finest leading hordes of Germans down the main streets, a lot of incense and singing and blaring “announcements” over loudspeakers that seem to be everywhere.  We need money, but now everything in Cologne is closed.  We stop at the side of a street.  I reach in my backpack for Dhalgren, figuring I’ll get in a few more pages.  It is missing.  It is gone, and I don’t know how or why.  Thank God.

June 22, Stockholm, Midsummer Holiday:  We drive to an island about an hour from Paul and Eva’s house.  We all are to spend Midsummer night with Bill and his girl friend Crystal.  The small house is in a wooded rural area, very close to a lake.  Donna and I and Tom will sleep in tents outside.  When we arrive, we go out to the jetty that Bill and some friends have constructed.  It reminds me of the short film of the same name, somewhat unsettling.  The view is magnificent.  There are many mosquitoes, but for some reason they don’t bother us on the jetty.  It’s around 7 PM and the sun is brightly shining, as it will for the next five or six hours.  We polish off a couple bottles of wine and it is time for dinner. 
Donna in Stockholm

What a meal: raw salmon with a mustard/dill sauce, pickled herring with sour cream and chives, potatoes, salad, cheese, wasa, bread, beer and more wine.  Then starts the Midsummer tradition: we all sing a song, take a full shot of akvavit, down a forkful of herring/sour cream/chives/potato, and wash it down with a gulp of beer.  This goes on for a few hours.  Donna is tired and tries to get me to help set up our tent, but the time never seems right, as we continue singing, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “Eight Days a Week”, Donovan’s “Colours”, and more.  Paul agrees to help Donna with the tent.  I stay up another hour or so, singing and talking, and as the darkness finally falls, somewhere after midnight, I go to the tent, but Donna refuses to let me in because I did not help put the damn thing up.  So I take my sleeping bag to the jetty and spend the night alone by the lake.

To Be Continued      

Thursday, June 20, 2013

#3 - That Was Then (Ten at Fifty)

 I wake up in the morning and I wonder,
Why everything's the same as it was.

- Skeeter Davis, "The End of the World"

Mary Frances Penick, ten years older than John Lennon, native of Kentucky, was the real thing, small town girl made good. A tragic car accident killed her singing partner, and probably changed the trajectory of her career. Before she was done, she made a hit that influenced the next generation of country stars like Dolly Parton, and managed to chart in the top ten not just in country, but also, for the first time for a woman, pop and R&B as well, a feat almost only seen in the domain of Ray Charles by that point.

She made various forays into sixties music, including a fairly wooden version of an iconic Joni Mitchell song:

Skeeter Davis died in her early seventies, having raised a ruckus at the Grand Old Opry, and having seen substantial success as a songwriter as well as making the charts repeatedly.

("Got My Mind Set on You", a number three hit for George Harrison 25 years later, established that he could, after all, do a dance tune.)

"Should have gave you all my hours when I had the chance"

- Bruno Mars, "When I Was Your Man"

Yes, Bruno scored twice, count 'em, on the top ten. Is he a machine or what? With "When I Was Your Man", he establishes what must be for his fans a reliable blues/pop groove, covering the same "how could it be so over" theme of Skeeter's superhit, but as the lover who couldn't properly appreciate his girl in more foolish days. The vocals and playing are smooth and high, inspiring, among numerous covers at various levels, this a cappella reading:

- for this reason if no other, I look forward to intermittent exposure to Bruno's output.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

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

Cover by John Hastings II

“As he dodged diners and servers in the hall, the repeated miniscule navigational challenges reminded him of Proust’s comparison of a restaurant in action with the whirling planets of the solar system, which had struck him as fanciful…until he had seen it himself in restaurant after restaurant…[H]e was in fact hooked: he was very, very interested in whatever she might say or do.  He was even willing to consider stupidities like birdflight in the clouds of Saturn.  How could it be?  To a woman not even his type – ah, Marcel, if only you knew – this Swan was worse even than Odette.”  2312

“Many years have passed since that night. The wall of the staircase…was long ago demolished. And in myself, too, many things have perished which I imagined would last for ever, and new ones have arisen, giving birth to new sorrows and new joys which in those days I could not have foreseen, just as now the old are hard to understand.”  Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

“Summer is halfway over, I’ve been fired from my job, booze nor dope nor money have I none, so to fool myself into thinking I’m doing something useful I am sitting in front of this typewriter watching the words flow onto a piece of blue celluloid and trying to make this fanzine a living entity.”  John Hastings II, True!Lust!Romances!, The Journal of Outlaw Fandom, Premier Issue, September 1972

Remembrance of Cons Past, Swan’s Way, and the Infidelity of Memory

Sacramento fandom was heating up in 1972, and in preparation for the Worldcon, HJ and I gathered together some “prominent names” and started a zine called True!Lust!Romances!  In addition to our contributions, it had articles by Larry Inchausti (“The Day I Met Mike Douglas”), James Kimball (“Trash Box”), and Steven Kendrick (“Emil the Bazoo”), and terrific art by Jim McLeod.  HJ and I brought copies to Worldcon, and decided that we would like Harlan Ellison to write for us.  Realizing the chances of this were minimal, we figured the only way to possibly get this to happen was to make sure our pitch to him was memorable.  So we decided to go meta: we would approach him like fans who had overdosed on their own nerdiness.  Immediately after one of his panel appearances, we rushed him, waving T!L!R! in his face and whining, over and over, “Haaaaaarlan, Haaaaarlan, would you please write for our fanzine?!”  Of course, if you know anything about Harlan Ellison, you know we got a blistering earful of curses and invective.  But he did take a copy as he turned his back on us and stormed away.

It has been brought to my attention that the Transvestite Ball, discussed in my last post, did not in fact happen at this Worldcon, but at a Witchcraft and Sorcery convention.  This blogging series has certainly tested the memory cells, and I must confess that many of my con recollections from this era are merging into one another.  I am thankful that HJ and SK are greatly assisting in attempts to keep these posts as factual as possible.  In any case, the events described in the Transvestite Ball narrative did happen, but at a different convention.  Evidently, I sought solace afterwards not in the arms of The Turd, but rather some other costumed fan.   

I continue through Kim Stanley Robinson's amazing 2312.  Not only am I getting an incredibly engrossing saga, enthralling characters, and a beautifully realized future, but I am also getting an “experimental novel” par excellence: sections called “Extracts” and “Lists” that are hugely pertinent to the story but big “detours” from the linear flow mixed with occasional, almost Joycean segments.  In my embrace of “mainstream” fiction, I had forgotten that experimental narrative fiction has a long and impressive history in sci-fi.  I loved Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination, and remember it as having some very twisted and amazing textual format “deviations”.  And speaking of Harlan Ellison, I remember many authors in Dangerous Visions attempting new approaches and styles.  (Of course, here we go with memory again!)  There must be more in the many years since I "left" the genre?  Perhaps this would be a worthwhile future series: the history of “experimental” sci-fi?

To Be Continued       

Monday, June 17, 2013

Part 11: SciFi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

Francesca Woodman self-portrait 1975

He had water, and some moist pads in foil packets, courtesy of his suit.  He got them out and shifted her legs around and cleaned her up.  Even with his eyes averted he could not help see in the tangle of her pubic hair a small penis and testicles: a gynandromorph; it did not surprise him.” 2312

“No physiological habit is established, and the mother of several children may be the father of several more...The Gethenians do not see one another as men or women. This is almost impossible for our imaginations to accept. After all, what is the first question we ask about a newborn baby…There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protected/protective.  One is respected and judged only as a human being. You cannot cast a Gethenian in the role of Man or Woman, while adopting towards 'him' a corresponding role dependant on your expectations of the interactions between persons of the same or opposite sex. It is an appalling experience for a Terran.”  The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K LeGuin (1969)

Back in 1972, the folks at the ballroom entrance to this “beauty pageant” (or whatever it was) treated HJ and I cordially, and gave validity to our Reality News press “credentials” (created, of course, by HJ himself, the owner and CEO of Reality News), waving us in.  We entered the huge room and were struck speechless: tables filled with extravagantly dressed women and distinguished, movie-star-looking men, seemingly everyone with a drink in one hand, someone else’s hand in their other, and a sophisticated bon mot flying out of their mouth, which was greeted by a knowing, wry chuckle, and sometimes an outright guffaw.  Toward the front of the stage area, the “contestants” were gathering, one gorgeous beauty outshining the next, women of all races and sizes with one common attribute: looks and charisma to spare.  HJ and I tried to make our way to this gathering ground, transfixed by the spectacle, but it was extremely crowded.  As we made our way through the tightly packed crowd, receiving what I thought was a rather odd number of “suggestive” glances, a realization came upon both of us at almost the same moment.

We weren’t about to hob-knob with the cream of some kind of Los Angeles women’s avant garde beauty parade, we were in fact smack dab in the middle of a ballroom full of dudes!  There was not a “real” woman in sight!  HJ and I made eye-contact and a non-verbal decision: it was time to get out of there.  We looked for the nearest exit; it was across the room and we immediately headed in that direction.  More glances/stares came our way and various people tried to stop us and talk, but we were determined to leave, NOT THAT ANYTHING WAS WRONG WITH THIS, but it wasn’t exactly our cup of tea.  I remember starting to sweat profusely and felt the beginnings of a head throb.  We finally made it out the door, where there was a sign announcing what was inside: a gala Transvestite Ball!  How HJ and I missed this at the beginning is anyone’s guess.  We made our way across the hotel to the Worldcon’s Masquerade Ball, and almost hugged The Turd.  Not that there was anything WRONG with a transvestite ball, but I guess at that point we preferred a man covered in peanut butter instead of a dress. 

What can I add about 2312?  Nothing that isn’t repetitive to what I’ve said before or spoilery.  I continue to be enthralled. 

To Be Continued     

Friday, June 14, 2013

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

Worldcon 1972: The Turd

“Extracts (6)…confining capitalism to the margins was the great Martian achievement, like defeating the mob or any other protection racket…”  2312

1972’s Worldcon was going to be held in Anaheim, so that seemed like the logical next convention visit.  By that time HJ had a vehicle and a few of us piled in and made the trek to the first “LA Con” at the International Hotel.  This was probably my first “real” con experience: a few days of total immersion, with great people, both fan and pro alike, including Ray Bradbury, Forrest J Ackerman, Larry Niven, Harlan Ellison, and Robert Bloch.  I think without exception they were gracious and very generous with their time (well, maybe Harlan was a bit bristly), especially Bradbury, who even granted Reality News an interview. 

And of course, that infamous Masquerade Ball, where The Turd (Scott Shaw) made his appearance.  For his competition costume entry, he slathered himself with peanut butter, head to toe, an absolutely horrifying sight punctuated with a stomach churning noxious stench that revolted one and all.  As a matter of fact, due to his exploits and the sticky mess that followed him around, no peanut butter costumes would ever be allowed again.  In addition to the Worldcon’s ball, there was another separate ball going on that Saturday night: everywhere we looked, there were statuesque, incredibly made up women with all manner of impressive headdress and “high-fashion dress”; each seemed to walk the hotel lobby with her own small posse, who were attending to her needs.  There were even a few being carried by well oiled muscle men on plush platforms as they seemed to preen and primp for us onlookers.  They were all congregating in an adjacent “invitation only” ballroom to where the Masquerade Ball was being held.  HJ and I were enamored of these Amazonian beauties, and decided we would try to “bluff” our way into their “beauty pageant” or whatever it was using our Reality News credentials.  So many gorgeous women in one spot!  We had to take a con “break” and try to get in.  What could go wrong?

2312 is not disappointing and in fact, it is only getting stronger.  I’ve just finished a bravura section where two main characters basically do nothing but spend weeks walking through underground tunnels on Mercury in an attempt to save their lives.  Robinson continues to impress: he somehow makes the tedious trek fascinating, blending dialogue, inner thoughts, Beethoven, aches, pains, radiation sickness, and whistling into a brilliant tour de force.  

To Be Continued

Thursday, June 13, 2013

#4 - Unrequited (Ten at Fifty)

Rain please tell me now does that seem fair
For her to steal my heart away when she don't care

"Rhythm of the Rain" - The Cascades

Wikipedia says that this #4 hit from half a century ago is "the ninth most performed song on radio/TV in the 20th century", according to BMI. This is a list where Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles predictably hold sway, and one where "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'" reigns - so the question is, what is it about this song that engenders all these plays, performances, and covers, including more than one with a ukelele accompaniment:

Is the the glockenspiel? the sound effects at the beginning? the sense of the rain being a nag? the conviction that the precipitation is trying to tell you you're stupid when that's already been established? It's hard to say, but it's clear that the Beach Boys-influenced sailors from SoCal clicked with an international audience quickly. They were another group as smooth as The Fleetwoods, and it didn't hurt to have Glen Campbell playing guitar, but they are visibly anachronistic, yet without the camp that would make things like covers of Monkees songs appealing. If YouTuberie is any indication, this song is in no danger of being forgotten.

(Rick Astley scored big with his song "Never Gonna Give You Up", but maybe not the way he intended; courtesy Wikipedia: "In 2004, it was voted #28 in 50 Most Awesomely Bad Songs ... Ever by VH1. ")

When your saddest fear comes creeping in
That you never loved me or her or anyone or anything

"I Knew You Were Trouble", Taylor Swift

This is another one of those cookie cutter songs with heavy glottal emphasis, a pattern well established by Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, and who even knows how many others. You imagine some of those fridge magnets that you can make poems out of, but with stock phrases like "you didn't care", "without me", "when she's next to me"... And that of course means they're perfect targets for lampooning:

Swift's philanthropy, from disaster relief to children's literacy, makes her a significant influence particularly for other 20-somethings. And becoming a country crossover at her level of success is quite rare, particularly when acting is thrown in to that success. But don't hold your breath waiting for me to be much of a fan; I have to roughly echo The Guardian: "[Swift] 'cranks melodies out with the pitiless efficiency of a Scandinavian pop factory.'"

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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

The Wedding at Mythcon 2
(photos by Jack Hastings)

“Extracts (3): …the hunt continues for a fuller explanation…”  2312

When I used “…comes home” in the title for this series, I thought I knew what I meant, something like “the prodigal sci-fi fan, after wandering around in the mainstream literary world, decides to re-visit the genre he loved when he was younger”.  And I guess it still does mean that, to a certain extent.  But in reading 2312 I find myself feeling a powerful set of emotions (which I will discuss with Dr. Akrabu), most of which are very positive.  2312, at least a hundred pages in, is SO good, SO replete with what I “remember” exciting science fiction to be, that I’m filled with a kind of idiot glee.  Excellent characters, exciting page-turner plotting, great writing, and a story with a space exploration backdrop that seems to be an incredibly valiant attempt to actually extrapolate what our lives might be like in three centuries.  The other two Hugo books I read are well-done novels in their own way.  But I suppose if this science fiction home/house idea were an actual structure, Throne and Redshirts would be two small, very comfortable and enjoyable rooms (the sword and sorcery room, and the mindbender room), but 2312 looks like it’s going to be the master bedroom, or main living room, or foundation for the whole house or something. 

When I read, I usually have music on, and there are a half dozen “go-to” records (that’s right, vinyl!), cds, and/or ipod playlists I usually use.  One has to be careful with this: the music can’t be too “busy” and singing is usually out, but I will not tolerate “muzak”.  In any case, today Gavin Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic was 2312’s soundtrack; it’s a haunting, elegiac masterpiece.  And it seemed especially fitting as the protagonist found her way back to Earth’s New York, which, because of global warming, is now flooded and much like Italy’s Venice.  You might want to check out Bryars work even if you’re not using it as a “soundtrack”. 

Back at Mythcon 2, SK and DC arrived the following day.  They had been picked up by Wayne M, who was driving a convertible two-seat sports car, so DC had to cram herself into the back area behind the seats.  They spent the night sleeping at the beach on the way there; this was very disconcerting since we had been hearing about some recent beach murders ever since we arrived (I think there was even a sick, filthy filk song about it the night before).  In any case, reunited, we took in the con in all its splendor, attending a Mythopoeic wedding, going to panels, refreshing our thirst on what seemed like a limitless supply of Jose Cuervo from JH’s flask, and becoming embroiled that night in an out-of-control session of skinny dipping; we had no idea this was
At Mythcon with Happy Jack, the author and a Filk Singer
some kind of con “ritual” (does this sort of thing still go on?).  Wayne M turned out to be a great guy and stayed till the next day, but he was completely blown away by what he was seeing.  I last remember him perched on the Hotel’s high dive, dressed only in his tighty-whities, blowing as loud as he could on SK’s harmonica, as a dozen naked fans frolicked below him. 

I can’t remember much more.  The next day (or was it the day after that?), wasted, exhausted, and aching in some very strange places, we gathered what was left of our wits and tried to figure out how we were going to get back to Sacramento, and which con would be next.

To Be Continued    

Monday, June 10, 2013

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

Art by Emshwiller

“As a newcomer to filk and filk singing, you will find that there are times when you will be the only one in the room not laughing at some remark or reference in a song; indeed, you may very well be sitting and thinking, what the hell are these morons laughing at?”  Erik Gerds

Finished Redshirts at 5:00 this morning (sometimes insomnia can be a blessing) and folks, it works on virtually all levels.  As I mentioned before, the less you know about it the better, so I will only say this: if you want a thought provoking, often hilarious, occasionally touching, sometimes mind bending sci-fi “romp”, read this book.  If you’re a “fan”, it’s a must; I can totally see why it got Hugo nominated.  If you’re not a fan, I think you would still find some pleasure in its pages. 

And now on to nominee #3 (no rest for the wicked!): just got a start on Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312.  Now THIS is what I think of when I think of a science fiction novel: it opens 300 years in the future on Mercury (!), where humans have built a constantly moving city-on-tracks that keeps one step ahead of sunrise, and where “sunwalkers” can actually traverse the planet on foot as long as they, too, don’t get caught in the daylight.  A lot of big science words and concepts.  Fifty pages in, what appears to be the protagonist, a conceptual Christo-ish landscape artist, is leaving Mercury on a journey to the Jupiter moon Io, where she has been requested to go by her now dead 200 year old grandmother.  Completely engaging, great stuff so far!

Meanwhile, back in 1971, HJ and I made it to Mythcon 2 in Santa Barbara that night.  It was getting late, but thanks to Reality News, we managed to snag a couple of con badges.  We couldn’t find SK and DC; evidently they hadn’t made it yet, which was bad news for us as they were the ones with the means to get a room.  So now we had no place to sleep and didn’t meet anyone who wanted to help us.  Luckily, HJ’s flask of tequila helped us maintain a somewhat cheery outlook, but unfortunately, the only “gathering” we could find was with a collection of filk-singing fans.  We were new to this: ‘filk music” is folk music with the words changed to reflect sic-fi/fantasy concerns.  Yes, it was as horrifying as it sounds; this was like some kind of particularly grotesque circle of hell, but we didn’t have anyplace else to go.  Finally, the tequila ran out, it got really late and we were exhausted.  The only place we could find with no people around was a foyer outside one of the men’s restrooms; we ended up crashing there. 

To Be Continued