Friday, June 7, 2013

5: Sci Fi is Not for Sissies; Westercon 66: A Skeptic Comes Home

1968 Worldcon: author Jerry Pournelle is in white

The Seeds of Outlaw Fandom

“Hashi or wine or music in measure, God piss on the man who bars other men’s pleasure.”  Poet Ismi Shihab in Throne of the Crescent Moon

“I don’t trust anyone who claims to serve God by beating up dancers and drunks.”  The Doctor, also from Throne 

When we got to the 1968 World Science Fiction Convention, Happy Jack and I split from my parents and went to the registration tables, and then set off.  I can’t recall too many specifics about this con, even though it had a huge impact on me.  I remember a lot of people walking around in wacky and extreme costumes, but even the folks who weren’t in “costumes” were a sight to behold, as this, after all, was Berkeley in 1968, and the previous year’s Summer of Love seemed to still be in full swing; this year’s assassinations and race riots seemed somewhere “outside” the Hotel Claremont’s walls far, far away.  Then again, maybe that was mainly my own state of mind, gob-smacked as I was by the fans, panels, hucksters, artists and writers that surrounded us.  That afternoon, we ended up outside at the Society for Creative Anachronism feast/bash, a completely mind blowing event with large hirsute men wielding all manner of ancient weaponry, kings and queens and squires galore, many beating on each other, and voluptuous women in provocative dress, some “openly” suckling their babies (my parents attended this event and the brazen breast-feeding was a common, derisive discussion point of my mother’s for many months after).    

So a double barreled blast of the World and Western Regional Science Fiction Conventions warped my young world.  It planted the seeds than soon sprouted into the Rules of Outlaw Fandom, which, five years later, were a covert part of one of fandom’s most nefarious organizations, the Sacramento Area Super Science And Fantasy Reading And Study Society (SASSAFRASS).  More on that later.

One down!  I completed Throne yesterday, and my impressions have not changed: solid old school sword and sorcery, decent writing, good characterizations, Arabian Nights-ish with a “modern” sensibility.  It grabbed me early on and I actually am looking forward to reading more in the series. 

On the other hand, I don’t see how anyone could nominate this for any kind of science-fiction award, and not just regarding its complete lack of sci-fi, but also regarding its fairly pedestrian writing “style”.  But then, after reviewing the Hugo nominees of 1963 a column or so ago, I guess this has always been the case.  But aren't there any better, "literary" sci-fi works out there?  After being away from the genre, I thought maybe things had changed, but it initially seems like it used to be: if a book is TOO well written, or written by a “mainstream” author, it is no longer considered “sci-fi/fantasy”, OR maybe current sci-fi fans WANT to keep their genre just about where it’s been for the last 50 years?  Maybe someone can explain this to me?  Well, I must admit I haven't read that large a sampling of current sci-fi, so maybe I'm way off base.   

In any case, I embarked last night on my next Hugo-nominated book: John Scalzi’s Redshirts.  
To Be Continued 

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