Saturday, June 8, 2013

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

(Editor’s Note: Though a huge science fiction and fantasy fan when he was younger, the author “gave up” the genre many years ago.  Last December, he unexpectedly began suffering from some kind of science-fiction related malaise, so he contacted one of this country’s few Scifictology Psychological Counselors, Dr. Akrabu, who has a practice in Sacramento.  Over the course of several months starting earlier this year, the Doctor finally made his diagnosis: a kind of debilitating anxiety called S[f]TD, Scienti-fiction Trauma Disorder.  The author was getting better when he relapsed last month after finding out this year’s Westercon was to be held in the capital city; his panic attacks returned as he was compelled by an unspeakable compulsion to attend the convention mixed with a deep rooted revulsion at the thought of going.  The Doctor’s prescription was clear: attend the convention, but first, read all five 2013 Hugo nominees in the one month remaining before July 4.  The author began blogging his thoughts and feelings June 1 and will continue to do so up to the convention.)  

SASSAFRASS Roots, the Rules of Outlaw Fandom, and Scalzi’s Redshirts

In the years following the 1968 Berkeley World Science Fiction/Westercon (Baycon), Happy Jack and I found ourselves attending Sacramento State College.  We linked up with a few other like-minded folk (including my partner on this blog), began searching out “mainstream” fans in the area, and slowly developed an approach and attitude towards the field that was somewhat skeptical and antagonistic.  We wouldn’t attend another convention together until four years later (though HJ attended the 1971 Westercon solo, where he met super fan Dale Gobel and super fan artist Scott McLeod), but in the meantime, we cobbled together an identity and approach to the field we called “Outlaw Fandom”. 

The Rules of Outlaw Fandom were simple:
  1. You do not talk about Outlaw Fandom.
  2. You do not pay to attend conventions.
  3. Life is “living science-fiction” right here, right now; act accordingly.
  4. Respect what’s real and mock what isn’t (and decide for yourself which is which).
  5. As sci-fi god Kurt Vonnegut says, “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind” (inasmuch as #4 will allow).
  6. Don’t be afraid of a little dancin’ and drinkin'.

Outlaw Fandom was a covert splinter group within Sacramento fandom’s most nefarious organization, the Sacramento Area Super Science And Fantasy Reading And Study Society (SASSAFRASS, established circa 1973), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  Though most of its members pretty much regarded Outlaw Fandom with utter contempt and disavowed many of its activities, both factions managed to (barely) “get along” for almost a decade.  More on this next time.

When a book blurb extols the hee-haw-larious nature of the novel inside, I will generally drop it without a second thought.  Most supposedly funny things aren’t funny to me.  Most “sitcoms” and modern film comedies are tedious bores.  I can’t stand most comedians; they are not funny.  Please don’t tell me a joke – if I laugh, it is probably because I think you’re ridiculous, or I may be attempting politeness.  Etc.  So I started my second 2013 Hugo novel, John Scalzi’s Redshirts, with extreme trepidation.  When I finished Chapter Nine, page 105, yesterday afternoon, I was so convulsed with guffaws and surprise that I had to use every ounce of self-restraint I had not to wake up my sleeping father in the next room.  So far, Scalzi’s writing is pitch-perfect for what he’s trying to pull off, the story holds your interest from the start, and we’re taking a walk on the wild side to be sure.  No, there aren’t one-liners on every page, and really, to me so far, it’s shaping up to be much more than a “comic” sci-fi novel, but folks, if it continues like it started, and Scalzi can pull this off, there's a major thumbs up ahead.  WARNING: The less you know about this book, the better.  Do not attempt to find out anything about it.  If I find it is ultimately worth reading, I will tell you, but you DON’T WANT TO KNOW ANYTHING BEFOREHAND! 

To Be Continued

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