Issue #36 - August 1998
Hoo boy! This was very nearly the last issue of Emerald City. Most of you, I suspect, find my peripatetic lifestyle glamorous and exciting. It is not, however, entirely by choice. One of the reasons that I don't have a home is that I can't afford one. One of the reasons that I don't have a proper job is that the only country in which I can legally have one is cold, wet, overcrowded and dirty and I'd rather not live there if I can avoid it, thank you very much. But, every so often, I have no choice.
Just recently it was coming up to time for me to leave the US again. I had not a sniff of any work in Australia, so I pretty much had to come back to the UK. Unfortunately I had not much sign of anything there either. And, of course, unlike California, I have nowhere I can make a base in either country. I was almost on the verge of selling my computer and cancelling my email accounts so that I could afford somewhere to live whilst I looked for some sort of temp work. Fortunately a few small projects came through just in time. I hope this doesn't become a regular occurrence.
Anyway, I'm still here. What's more I have been to a Worldcon and read lots of books since last issue. Enough of the whinging, on with the entertainment.
In this issue
Piractical Capers - Aarr! 'tis a Worldcon Report, me hearties
Still at Sea - The Difficulties of Navigation
Streaky Stuff - David Brin's new Uplift series
Moon Magic - Sheri Tepper tries dancing
Duplicity - Iain Banks tweaks our tails
Powerful Magic - Voodoo in Toronto
Back in Blighty - Land of the Goddess Diana
Fan Scene - 'Zines the Gossip
Footnote - The End
Yo, ho, ho and a barrel of fen. The piratical Worldcon has come and gone. Much butt has been scuttled, a few planks have been walked and, whilst the status of the parrots is uncertain, the flamingos are most certainly dead. Boys and girls, this convention has been brought to you by the letter "arrr". Overall conclusion: cutesy themes get to be a pain in the poopdeck after a while.
But enough of the peg legs and doubloons, what of Baltimore? What of one of America's oldest cities, the site of the battle commemorated in The Star Spangled Banner and self-styled home of the best crab this side of that nebula?
It was hot. Not quite as hot as the Bay Area was when we left, not as hot as San Antonio, but certainly hot enough given that it was very humid as well. This isn't so bad when everything is linked up under one blessedly air-conditioned roof, but the number of sites of that type in the world that are big enough for a Worldcon and are within our price range can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Baltimore is not one of them. There was, shock horror, walking to be done.
I have to admit that at times I was as bad as the Americans. For example, the Fan Lounge was in the Hilton. Most of the time I just could not be bothered to walk the four blocks or so from the Holiday Inn (the main party hotel) to visit it. Equally I only made it to the Con Suite in the Marriott when duty required it, even though it was but a single block from my hotel.
Having stuff spread out like that is a pain, and there is an argument for saying that a convention should have a main hotel, where things happen, and subsidiary hotels used only for sleeping. That would not have worked in Baltimore. None of the hotels were big enough. For example, the Holiday Inn had function space for around 7 parties, two of them on the ground floor and the rest on the 12th and the (floor number we must not mention in America). Working between these areas there were but 3 small elevators. What is more, although stairs did exist to most floors, they did not open onto the upper party floors, so even if you were prepared to walk you could not do it. I got the impression that the elevator and function space situation was much the same in the other hotels, which begs the question: why did they try to hold a Worldcon there?
As with the hotels, restaurants were a problem. I'm used to Moscone Center in San Francisco which is positively swamped with surrounding eateries from standard stuff like TGI Fridays and Chevy's to the fabulously eccentric Buca Di Beppo and the excellent brew pub cum tapas bar, Thirsty Bear. All the good restaurants in Baltimore were at least a ten minute walk away down at the tourist district of Harbour Place.
The restaurant guide didnít help. It wasn't in the registration bag (but Worldcon regulars know to try Information Desk), the map was a little vague, and a lot of the nearby places were not listed. 'Zanne Labonville found us a lovely Italian place almost on the opposite corner of an intersection from the convention centre. The fact that it was packed with Bucconeer staffers might have had something to do with its absence from the standard list.
Breakfast was a complete disaster. After foolishly ignoring warnings from John Blaker and Eric Larson, Kevin and I ventured into the Holiday Inn buffet on our first morning. From then on I broke my fast in Burger King because the food was better. (Kevin was slightly better off because he found a café he liked next to the Italian place. Unfortunately it only served American breakfasts, i.e. mountains of reconstituted egg product or mountains of pancake, and the one time he took me there all I had was orange juice.)
The main problem, however, was service. There were a few good people in the Holiday Inn, but in general staff everywhere from the convention centre to hotels to restaurants were rude, lazy and indifferent to the presence of customers. It was quite a shock coming from the service-centred culture of California and further proof that America cannot be viewed as a single culture.
Particular contempt should be reserved for the waiter who served us at the Indian restaurant on the Saturday. American restaurants often give you the choice of having your meal spiced mild, medium or hot. Of course I asked for hot. The waiter sneered at me and the meal, when delivered, had all the searing heat of the North Pole in January. Still, maybe in Baltimore that does class as spicy.
I do, however, have one good thing to say about Baltimore. It has one of the best (if not the best) baseball grounds in the country. What is more, we had a fine view of the pitch from our party suite. If this is an example of what the new ballpark that is currently being built in San Francisco will be like, we are in for a treat.
Other than the much publicised hotel booking fiasco, there were no major disasters at Bucconeer. Nevertheless, the entire convention had an air of having been thrown together at the last minute without a lot of thought. Here are a few examples:
This begs the obvious question, how could a con committee that had seemed so organised and efficient in the years before do so badly when it came to the crunch? There appear to have been two principal answers.
The first is too much micro-management. Bucconeer seems to have placed decision-making authority at far too high a level for most activities. As a result, senior staff were badly overloaded and could not cope quickly enough. Thus nothing ever got approved, and thus nothing ever got done.
The other problem seems to have been the ferociously competitive bidding race between Boston and Philadelphia for the 2001 Worldcon. This meant that vast numbers of east coast fans who might otherwise have been available to help at the convention were busy doing other things. To a certain extent you can cope with people from further away. A significant number of the SF2002 Bid Committee were working in relatively senior positions on the convention. But all of them complained of poor communication beforehand.
This may in turn be a symptom of the micro-management problem. If you have remote staff, you have to communicate better and make decisions more efficiently. But I suspect it was mainly a problem of those in charge thinking they knew what they were doing. At LoneStarCon 2 last year the con committee realised a couple of months out that they were in deep trouble and called for help. Help came, and it was well organised. Bucconeer felt that everything was under control, even though it should have been obvious that it was not, and thus things fell apart.
A tale of dead flamingos
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of the convention was the 2001 Worldcon race. The Boston people, despite the disappointment of having to move site because they could not find facilities cheap enough in their home city, had been working really hard for the past year. They had promised us something spectacular for Bucconeer and we were not disappointed. Their party suite featured all-over wall and ceiling hangings and four eight-foot-tall flamingos made from wire mesh stuffed with coloured tissue paper. The effort involved must have been enormous.
Scot Baty and Kurt Bobo, who for many years have been official party reviewers for Worldcon newsletters, are of the opinion that atmosphere is the most important element of a party. There was no doubt that they would give their top pick to Boston. Philadelphia, however, were of the opinion that fans value their stomachs above their eyes and ears. They forked out the money for a professional bartender (the only way you were allowed to serve alcohol in Baltimore) and put a lot of effort into producing good quality food. I know whose parties I preferred.
Throughout the race, Boston had been the clear favourite. Their people are known to include a large number of expert con runners; they had more money and more support than their rivals. Everywhere they went they outshone the opposition. And yet, come Bucconeer, few people were quite that certain any more. The vote, which gave victory to Philadelphia by a fairly convincing 10% margin, just went to show that you should never believe pundits.
Naturally SMOFdom went into a tailspin of introspection trying to work out what had gone wrong. One lesson was quite clear: the local vote helps. Unlike California, cities on the east coast are quite close to each other. Philadelphia is only about 2 hours by car from Baltimore, and a lot of Philadelphians attended the convention. Boston is a little further away and, for reasons I will explain later, had alienated many of their local fans. The impressive margin by which Philly won was due almost entirely to votes cast during the main part of the convention. Received wisdom is that those who know and care about Worldcons always vote early whereas those who vote on the day are concerned only with obvious things like distance. Nevertheless, Philadelphia was narrowly ahead in all phases of voting.
The more controversial part of the Boston bid was its choice of site. As I explained above they had been unable to find any facilities in Boston which were prepared to offer the sort of prices they wanted, e.g. hotel rooms at under $200 a night. Rather than fold the bid, they decided to pick a different site. The bid was moved from Boston to Orlando.
For the benefit of those of you whose knowledge of US geography is not good, Boston is close to the top end of the east coast whereas Orlando is half way down Florida. You can't get much further apart on that coast. More importantly, however, the two hotels that they chose were described as being "on Disney property", something which was advertised as being a good thing.
I never did quite work out what that phrase meant. Before coming to Bucconeer I was under the impression that the hotels were inside the boundaries of Disneyworld. Apparently this is not so, Disney just owns the land on which the hotels are built. This suggests something like the site of LA Con III in Anaheim where the hotels and convention centre are on the next block to Disneyland. Nevertheless, the Disney connection continued to be promoted and people continued to believe that this would mean Worldcon attendees having to abide by Disney regulations on clothing, alcohol, etc. The Boston team seemed to make no attempt to disabuse people of this perception.
From my vantage point in California it looked as if the attraction of the Disney site combined with the obvious talent of the Boston team would carry the day. However, there were factors at work of which I was unaware. Firstly it transpires that a lot of east coast people, especially those with kids, go to Orlando every year anyway. They wanted to have a Worldcon somewhere different. More importantly, despite Boston cleverly recruiting Joe Siclari, the chairman of the previous Orlando Worldcon (Magicon, 1991) to their team, many southern fans were still outraged at what they saw as an invasion. Their attitude was more or less "we don't want no damn Yankees running their dirty convention in these here Confederate States". Yes, people do still think like that.
Of course we should not take anything away from the Philadelphia people. They worked hard for three years despite the fact that for most of that time no one gave them a chance. Congratulations are most certainly due to Todd and Joni Dashoff and their colleagues. Well done guys. Now what job was it you wanted me to volunteer for?
Whatever the reason, however, it just goes to show that you can never be sure with Worldcon bids. A bid run by the best regarded fan group in the world and a seemingly excellent site, which outdid its opponents party-wise every step of the way, has been convincingly beaten. For those of us still involved in bidding it is a sobering thought.
Getting a rocket
Hugo night provided the usual combination of excitement and disappointment. Sadly Mary Doria Russell was not able to be there to pick up her Campbell Award, but she got a huge cheer anyway. Two Hugos were provided for Messrs Clute and Grant for the Encyclopaedia of Fantasy, but it is a shame they could not have done some little ones, or badges or something, for the junior members of the team. Not that Langford needs any more rockets, but it would have been nice if Roz Kaveney could have got something. Contact won the Best Dramatic Presentation, which just goes to show that film-going fandom is not entirely tasteless, but of course Jodie Foster did not turn up. The fanzine categories were boringly predictable, Mimosa and Langford willing yet again. I sometimes wonder if the people who vote ever read fanzines. Not that Dave is undeserving, but he has rather a lot of the damn things.
The big event, as far as I was concerned, however, was Best Fan Artist. I'm disappointed to say that the prize went to Joe Mayhew, which was sad in a way, but quickly proved to be second best. Joe is, of course, a fine artist and thoroughly deserving of the Hugo. However, he went on to prove that he was also a wonderful human being by devoting his thank you speech to praise of Ian Gunn. Whilst he was delighted to win, he said, he very much hoped that he'd have many more opportunities to do so. Gunny, on the other hand, well, we don't know.
At the time the news was all pretty depressing. However, a recent communiqué from the man himself reveals that, whilst the doctors have pronounced his cancer incurable, it is treatable. What this means is that the poor guy has to wear a portable chemotherapy drip, which will probably poison him in time if the cancer doesn't get him first. On the other hand, it will give him many more months, perhaps even years, to enjoy life. Fingers crossed he will be there to greet us, and collect a well deserved Hugo, in Melbourne next year.
On the bright side, Gunny is at least in good company. British rock star, Ian Dury (of the Blockheads) was recently reported to be wearing a similar chemotherapy drip. Also things are far from hopeless. Mike Scott informs me that Stephen Jay Gould was diagnosed with incurable cancer many years ago and he survived long enough for a cure to be found. Hang on in there, Gunny, mate.
So much for the prizes, what about the ceremony? Well it was mercifully short, largely thanks to avoiding several of the associated awards. Some sort of row between Dave Kyle and Bucconeer resulted in the First Fandom Award being announced at Worldcon but not presented until DragonCon. It all sounded very petty, and I'm pleased to say that the guy from First Fandom who came to make the announcement sounded deeply embarrassed about the whole thing.
About half an hour was saved by the absence of the Seiyun Awards. The early date of Bucconeer meant that they had not been presented in Japan in time and thus could not be announced at Worldcon. The Japanese are lovely people and it is great to see them each year, however, it is difficult to see why they should get a place in the Hugo ceremony whereas, say, the British, Australian and Canadian awards do not. Also we'd all be much happier to have them there if they did not insist on talking for quite so long.
Timing, however, is not all there is to a ceremony. It has to be slick too. It was anything but. The staging was phenomenally unimaginative. No one had bothered to arrange cues with the toastmaster, so poor Charles Sheffield spent much of his time giving directions to backstage as to when to send people on. They brought the designer of the Hugo base on stage for congratulations, but did not show a picture of the rocket on the video (they did have one, it turned up at the end when everyone was leaving). And finally, the subtitling on the video was a disaster. Once they flashed up the wrong name when the winner was announced. Twice they flashed up the name of the winner whilst the nominees were still being read. Had I been in Kent Bloom's position (Head of Events) I would have been tempted to fire the tech team, but of course they were needed for the masquerade the following night. Oh dear.
One final point on the Hugos. I finally managed to get to the official Hugo party (thank you Vince Docherty for inviting me). This, as is traditional, was the responsibility of the upcoming Worldcon, which meant Aussiecon Three. Sadly, it was probably the worst party of the night. I'm not going to blame Perry and Stephen for this. The main problem seemed to be that they had been stiffed royally by the hotel (this time the Hilton). There were probably around 100 people at the party. There was food. I was fairly on the ball and managed to snaffle two cheese crackers and two vegetable pakoras. I think I got rather more than most. This "banquet" apparently cost the poor Aussies several thousand dollars. Outrageous.
The main event
With some trepidation, given the tech disasters of the previous night, I made my way backstage on Saturday afternoon ready to get set up for the masquerade. My feeling of unease was heightened by discovering that we were going to have to cope with 52 separate acts, a total of 153 competitors. A Worldcon masquerade hasn't been that big in some time, probably not since ConFrancisco. It looked like we had plenty of room, and stage access seemed OK, but this was going to stretch our organisational capabilities to the max.
On the other hand, it looked like being a good show. When I arrived everything was quiet and empty. There, at the back of the hall, stood a gleaming blue-green motorcycle. A motorcycle with a face, flashing eyes, and legs. A motorcycle that was going to have somebody inside it as well as on top. Without having seen any of the other acts, I made my decision about Best in Show on the spot.
Slowly but surely the place filled up, largely with the usual crew. This was my third Worldcon masquerade and by now I knew most of the people involved. Byron Connell was in charge, as he had been in LA (and of course with him came Tina's Amazing Repair Kit). Many of the Den Moms were familiar, including a young Hispanic lad whom I had trained last year in San Antonio (and whose name escapes me right now), plus Giulia de Cesare getting a chance to see how things are done in the big leagues. Lori Meltzer and the O'Hallorans were heading up the backstage ninjas, and Father John Blaker was settling in with the catcher team. In other words, the same old folk.
I gather that Bucconeer had provided a few local people to oversee the foreign volunteers. Byron is from NY, so he counted as local. John O'Halloran explained later that east coast backstage teams have a habit of arriving much later than their west coast counterparts, as a result of which, by the time they got there, they discovered that the upstart Californians had everything running smoothly. Father John said that his "boss" was so impressed that she told him to get on with it and left.
The one quibble I had about the organisation (Byron dear, please note) was that we were split up into far too many dens. Byron opted for 20 dens with one Den Mom each. Personally I would have been much happier with 10 dens and 2 Den Moms each. There were many occasions when I had to be away from my den. An assistant would have been invaluable, not to mention have helped the confidence and training of the newcomers, of which there were several. However, it had all been decided beforehand and I wasn't going to cause chaos by asking for a re-assignment of dens. We ran with what we had.
My den was an interesting mix. I had one group of four who were experienced east coast costumers and who were delightful to deal with. No trouble at all. My second act was little Blair Ault who had so charmed everyone with her Dorothy impersonation at Intersection. This time she was portraying Wednesday Addams, which was fine except that her act involved her handling a very sharp knife. She hadn't been to tech rehearsal, so everyone had to be informed as quickly as possible. This meant much running back and fore by your truly until the ninjas, catchers and security people were all happy with what was going to happen.
My third and final act was missing. I knew she was about, because her registration card was on the table, but she must have arrived whilst I was away chasing people over the knife and now she was nowhere to be seen. I finally found her, about quarter of an hour before curtain, in the ladies toilet, still finishing her make-up and not in costume. I put on my best school teacher voice and got to work, and we were ready on time. Karen dear, don't do that to me again.
And so to the show. We started, as usual, with the kids. In order to keep them quiet during the show, and because we expected to finish late, Bobbi Gear, the Director, had decided to award their prizes immediately after they had all been on. She came on to make the announcements, and Marty, her husband, who was the MC, leant on the awards table to listen. The table promptly fell off the stage and poor Marty took a four foot fall into a pile of, now broken, glass awards. Understandably there was a substantial delay, but in the end, much of everyone's relief, Marty emerged, shaken but unscathed, to carry on with the show. We were greatly impressed with his professionalism.
My den was first on and everything went smoothly. However, soon after they had all gone through we started to get substantial delays. For the life of me I could not work out why. The acts were all ready, the queuing system was working fine, no one seemed to have any problems getting on or off stage, but poor Marty was having to fill in every so often with long (and sadly very poor) jokes.
As I might have guessed, it was tech that was to blame. They were using a fancy computerised lighting desk which had overheated and crashed. Therefore it needed to be turned off to cool down and re-booted at regular intervals through the show. Worse still, during the first crash all of the timing settings for the contestants' performances had been lost. This meant that the tech crew were frantically trying to recreate everything on the fly during the show. Many of the acts complained that their lighting and/or music had been messed up. Worst of all, however, we were getting very late.
At this point the convention centre reared its ugly head. They had already endeared themselves to the crew by providing a ridiculously small amount of food at what I reckon was in the region of a 1000% mark up on price. Now we discovered that they also wanted us out by midnight. There was no way we'd make it. Some fast negotiating by someone gained us a 15 minute extension and with the aid of some super-fast judging we finished the show more or less on the 12:15 deadline. Backstage was fairly frantic during this time, but we managed.
Some people complained afterwards that the show should have started earlier. We would have done that, had we known. However, as of the start of the con, only 20 or so acts had registered. If people sign up at the last minute, there isn't a lot you can do about rescheduling.
So much for the process, what about the show? To be honest, I didn't see a lot of it. In the past I've been able to get a pretty good look at most of the contestants, but with so many people backstage it was hard to get round them all. Nevertheless, there were clearly some excellent entries.
An obvious star attraction was Lisa Ashton's Egyptian group, Magic of the Ancients. This featured Lisa as Isis, in gold, all-enveloping, skin-tight costume and wings, a chap in a sphinx suit, and a large pyramid. The latter took a bit of getting on stage, especially as their tech guy had to be smuggled underneath it so he could operate the effects. Fortunately it was very well made and was easy to lift. The group picked up a Best Master in the workmanship judging.
Still with workmanship, Best Journeyman went to Mother's Gift. This was an entertaining act involving a mother barbarian giving her daughter gifts before the girl had to go out into the world and prove herself as a warrior. They set us up with the usual array of magic this and that, then just as everyone was expecting the last gift to be contraceptives, the mother pulled out a teddy bear. They got a huge roar, and the costumes were wonderful.
Kathy Saunders and Greg Sardo were also impressive as Yin and Yang. Kathy was so deep in make-up I didn't realise it was her until I looked at the program. The judges gave their act a Most Beautiful award.
Best novice went, very deservedly, to a group portraying DC super heroes. What really impressed me about this group was that, Wonder Woman aside, they all used their own hair and they all had the hairstyles perfect.
Just to prove that SMOFs are not entirely humourless, Don and Jill Eastlake, together with 'Zanne Labonville and several friends, had an innovative entry called Northern Lights. Basically they were all in black with fluorescent stars on their costumes, plus some moving gauzy stuff for the aurora. Sadly the effect was ruined, firstly by the idiotic decision to have a white background to the stage (something which also made the ninjas stand out like sore thumbs), and secondly tech messing up their lighting.
In the joke category I rather liked the Xena, Warrior Cheesecake group, but the judges were not impressed. They did, however, give a Best Pun award to Booty and the Beets (a baby's shoe and two vegetables).
Top marks in the 'cover yourself with make-up' category, if they had one, would probably have gone to the group portraying the toy soldiers from Toy Story. They had done a fine job of making themselves look like they were made entirely of green plastic, and picked up the Best Journeyman award as a result.
One of the larger groups was the 1001 Nights act. I didn't get to see much of them, but the costumes seemed impressive close up and the judges were clearly happy because they gave them Best Master. They were however, by no means the most spectacular.
The final act of the night, which is quite often the director's pre-show favourite, featured two splendid centaurs. Yes, centaurs. Very convincing, and one of them with wings to boot. In almost any masquerade in the world they would have run off with Best in Show. They already had a Best Engineering award from the workmanship judges. But there was this little matter of a motorcycle.
After an hour or so's work, Brian Healey was strapped inside his creation and was able to move it. Meanwhile his wife, Jeanette, was encased in what looked like, but presumably wasn't, highly sophisticated chrome armour. She was The Huntress and he her mount. They looked stunning, and when they came on stage the audience reacted accordingly. They had been placed in position by the ninjas, but when Brian tried to move, the whole thing fell over.
Jeanette was fortunately able to leap free, and the ninjas dashed into action. Visions of Dave Wake's broken ankle from Eastercon flashed through my mind. The ninjas were busy trying to see if Brian was OK and right the machine. They were desperately yelling for lights because, as I discovered later, there was broken glass on the stage. Tech ignored them for several minutes. As it turned out, no one was hurt, and the bike was not badly damaged. We'd been lucky.
When you have a disaster like that with your act you immediately think that you've blown it. Sure they got Best in Show for workmanship, but the presentation was a bust, right? Not in this case. The judges took the view that they had done enough simply standing there and awarded them Best in Show for presentation as well. It was a very popular choice. I was pleased to have picked the winner yet again, but if I had been one of the people who made those centaur costumes I think I would have spent the next day in a drunken stupor. Sometimes it is hard that someone has to lose.
I had my camera with me, and some backstage photos will probably appear on my web site in a while. Hopefully the Bucconeer site will have the official photos published. Go take a look if you can, it was a great show.
Still on the subject of photography, it is time to blow a large raspberry in the direction of the Fan Photographers. All masquerades like to give fans a chance to take their own pictures. At Worldcons, however, this has become a complex ritual where a bunch of photography fanatics arrive with tons of equipment each and demand a professional-quality shoot. There are a few good people amongst them. For example, my friend Dave Clark was there as the official photographer for Locus, and James Daugherty was doing the same for the con newsletter. Most of them, however, are prima donnas. They fight amongst themselves for the best positions, they treat the costumers like shit (a few are well known for persistently attempting to paw scantily clad females) and no matter how hard we try to please them they always turn up at the inquest and complain bitterly.
There are people who claim that the masquerade is simply a very expensive excuse to indulge the whims of a few fanatical costumers, and that it should be dropped. That certainly isnít true. Typically at least half the convention turns up to see the show, and most of them love it. The fan photographers, on the other hand, are a major irritant, are costly to serve, and for the most part do absolutely nothing for anyone except themselves. It is a good job I'm not likely to be a masquerade director in the near future, because I'd be sorely tempted to throw the ungrateful louts out.
Being stuck in the masquerade until after midnight meant that I missed the BASFA meeting. As usual, we had annexed the Worldcon site for the duration of the convention so that we could hold our meeting in the Bay Area. Baltimore was duly renamed "Barbary Coast, East". This year, however, we had a more serious problem. BASFA meetings are always held on a Monday, and the dates of Bucconeer did not include one. Not to be denied our meeting, the good people of BASFA summarily declared August 9th 1998 (the day formerly known as Sunday) to be a Monday.
This motion did not go through without some debate. Trey Haddad had made the telling point that one Monday in a week was quite enough. Eventually the vote went against him, but his speech had apparently been picked up by aetheric waves because in the following day's post Kevin and I received invitations to the Bucconeer Staff Party to be held on "Sunday August 10th".
Trapped in the No Zone
The other major event of the convention was supposed to be a presentation by a TV producer called Straczynski. Sadly the poor guy had pneumonia and could only take part by telephone. Apparently this disappointed a lot of people. The presentation apparently went ahead anyway as the major part of it was the screening of some videos. A lot of people were very happy about this. Personally I was happy to wait until the stuff got on TV.
Could the con manufacture another big event to make up for the disappointment? Well, there is always the business meeting. Terry and Kevin had put on a fine show at Westercon. Worldcon meetings are, inevitably, stuffier affairs.
Those of you who remember last year should be kicking yourselves for not going along to vote down the 'Master in our own house' motion. Despite three of the most experienced parliamentarians in fandom (Kevin, Don Eastlake and Roger Wells) being against it, the motion passed easily. Now we no longer have any rules for the conduct of the meeting, the members can make them up as they go along.
That, however, was a minor event compared to the 'No Zone' motion which changes the site selection rules for Worldcons. As you may know, the current system divides North America into three separate zones which take it turns to be able to host the Worldcon. Sites outside North America can bid whenever they like. The purpose of this system is to encourage a reasonably equitable distribution of sites around the areas where most fans live.
Recently there had been some concern that too many poor sites were being selected, and that good ones were too often losing closely fought races. Ben Yalow decided to introduce a change to the procedure which would remove the zones and replace them with a rule that a site could not bid if it was less than 500 miles from the site of the Worldcon at which the vote would take place.
The exact effects of this change are difficult to predict, though it is immediately obvious that it would have ruled out Philadelphia bidding at Bucconeer. The effect of the local voter will clearly be reduced. Some fans have claimed that it will lead to the same powerful groups running Worldcon every year, but given that the two top names on their list, Boston and LA, seem unable to win contested votes, this seems unlikely. Besides, no one would be crazy enough to want to run Worldcon in consecutive years.
What is obvious, however, is that the motion represented a major change in philosophy. It creates a voting system whose intention is not to spread the convention around fandom, but to ensure that Worldcon is always in the best sites.
As it happened, after much debate, the motion passed. However, this is not the end of it. It has to be ratified at the next Worldcon, which happens to be in Melbourne. Given that one of the likely effects of the change is that Australia will find it much more difficult to win a Worldcon (there being much less likelihood of a weak year that they can target), the Aussies might just take it into their heads to come and vote it down.
I hope so. My reading of this is that once the system gets going we will only rarely see a contested bid. We'll get a system like the one for Eastercon where the top SMOFs get together in advance and carve up the years between them. That, of course, is probably exactly what Ben wants. Zoning forced competition because people didn't always want to have to wait three years for their next chance. That no longer applies. OK, bids are expensive and hard work. But I can't be the only person who enjoys biding, and I think life would be the poorer without all those bid parties.
Lies, damn lies and newsletters
Much of the amusement at Worldcons comes from the pamphleteers. Sometimes the newsletter turns up trumps, though for the most part there is so much dull administrative stuff that they don't have time to be amusing. Even when people try to submit amusing stuff it doesn't always come off. This year, for example, someone thought it was funny to complain about people with ugly legs wearing shorts. Not mentioning anyone called Doug Faunt by name, but this is not funny, this is just plain rude.
The biggest laughs in the Bucconeer newsletter came from some of Robert Sacks' reports. The one on the 'Meet the Bidders' panel was an absolute classic in the 'how many mistakes per line' category. For a while Kevin and I wondered what on earth was going on. James Daugherty, the newsletter editor, is on the SF2002 BidCom, not to mention the SFSFC Board. What was he doing letting this crap through? Then we noticed that Robert had made much bigger errors in his reporting of the Seattle presentation. We laughed and went to find Pat Porter, their bid chair, to commiserate.
Talking of Seattle, I must take a paragraph or two out to say what fun it is bidding against them. Some fans, mainly from the east coast, have been coming to our bid tables and complaining that we are not being nasty enough to each other. We just smile and say that being friendly is more fun.
Of course we have to play to the gallery, so we spent a fair amount of time batting about suggestions as to how we might demonstrate our competitive spirit in Australia. Dave Clark suggested mud wrestling, which Sally Whoerle and I immediately vetoed (unless he does it himself, I think perhaps against Michael Citrak). Various other silly ideas cropped up and I think the current favourite is for Kevin and Pat to fight a mock duel. All suggestions gratefully received.
Our bid tables were positioned opposite each other, and well off the beaten track. By the last day we were rather bored, and I got back for my shift to discover Dick O'Shea from Seattle manning our table. I shrugged and went to sit at theirs. We laughed ourselves silly, especially at the confusion of passing fans.
Meanwhile, back with pamphleteers, some of the funniest material came from the Libertarians. Sam Conklin's FreFanzine isn't supposed to be funny, but it manages so much nonsense that it is hard not to laugh. At Westercon he told us that the site selection was fixed because voting ended on Friday, thus preventing Libertarian fans from participating. Why they should not arrive until the weekend, why they would obviously all vote for Phoenix, and why they could not read or use the postal ballots sent to them with the con's last progress report, were all things mysteriously not explained.
At Bucconeer Sam proudly announced that swarms of Libertarians had descended on the convention. What is more, we were told, they all voted for Philadelphia. I'm not sure who was more embarrassed, Todd and Joni for being on the receiving end of this munificence, or Joe Siclari for being held up as the only pro-Libertarian on the Boston bid. Anyway, voting at Bucconeer also closed on Friday. I'm relieved to see that Libertarians are so quick to learn.
They have not, however, learned to read. One of the advertised panels was about why so many Libertarians like SF. Sam assured us that not one of the people on the panel was a Libertarian, though I have a sneaking suspicion that each one of them thought that he was the True Believer and that all the others, and Sam, were heretics. Anyway, the program item got moved. Because the Libertarians can't read, they failed to notice the program change announcements and all turned up at the wrong room. Being believers in freedom, they booted out the people who were using it and held their own panel. What charming people they are.
The prize for the funniest publication of the convention, however, has to go to the Mutineer. This was a spoof newsletter which appeared on the last day and soon had every SMOF in Baltimore frantically rushing around trying to get hold of a copy. Reading it again now, I still laugh myself silly. According to the credits it was a Plokta production. Mike Scott firmly denied all knowledge of it. Steve Davies was unavailable for comment, but could be seen to smile shyly when people told him how good it was.
So there we have it. Another Worldcon come and gone. Another fannish year ended. It wasn't great, but it could have been much worse. We had a week's holiday in Baltimore, and we ate lots of good seafood. And we have lots to talk about for the coming year.
The scary thing is though, next year is the 2002 vote. Suddenly we are in the firing line. Ooh, err.
Still at Sea
I don't often review non-fiction in Emerald City, and when I do it tends to be works on the history of science. I guess that is only appropriate. We spend most of our time looking forward, it is only fair that sometimes we should look back.
This charming little book was recommended to me by Neil Gaiman. A bunch of the Thylacon crowd were, I think, in the museum in Hobart, probably discussing Amundsen or something similar. Neil mentioned it in terms which suggested that we all should have heard of it (and so we should, it has sold by the ton), but of course none of us had. I did, however, recognise the theme, having read Umberto Eco's The Island of the Day Before. What is more, it turns out that all that nonsense Eco put in the book about the Powder of Sympathy is true. I might have known. Eco is one of the few people in the world who keeps track of every book published.
The story is quite simple. Latitude, if you think about it, is relatively easy to measure. The equator is the line at which the sun is directly overhead, and all other positions can be measured by checking the length of the day or the position of the sun (well, not quite, but it was sufficiently accurate for their purposes at the time). Columbus, on his journey across the Atlantic, navigated by keeping to a constant latitude. Longitude, on the other hand, is a chimera. There is no obvious fixed position for the zero line, and indeed it has wandered around the globe passing through many major cities before settling in Greenwich. Futhermore, there is no obvious means of measuring it.
The difficulty of determining longitude caused severe problems for early mariners and led to many famous disasters including Admiral Sir Clowdesley Shovel losing his fleet on the Scilly Isles in 1707 and Commodore George Anson losing most of his squadron off Tierra Del Fuego in 1740. In view of the obvious problem, governments around the world poured money into research to find a solution. Chief amongst them, for obvious reasons, were the British who, in 1714, offered the (for those days) massive prize of £20,000 for a proven, workable system.
It seems easy enough to us nowadays. Every one of us carries around on our wrists a cheap, simple device which is ideally suited to such measurements. In the 18th Century, however, building a watch which was accurate to more than plus or minus five minutes a day seemed impossible, and pendulum clocks could hardly be expected to perform on board ship. Furthermore, such engineering solutions were looked down upon by the scientific community who much preferred to follow Mr. Newton's lead and look for an astronomical answer in God's wonderful Clockwork Universe.
Longitude, by Dava Sobel, is the story of one man's struggle to win the prize. John Harrison, a meticulous, cantankerous Yorkshireman, was convinced that he could build a timepiece accurate enough to do the job. He was opposed by the country's scientific elite, and by his own obsessive perfectionism which caused him to delay submitting prototypes until he felt they were good enough rather than as soon as they were able to satisfy the terms of the prize. It is a short, entertaining, and thoroughly charming read. I loved it, and as soon as I get back to England I'm off down to Greenwich to see Harrison's fabulous timepieces for myself.
Longitude - Dava Sobel - Penguin - softcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Tut, tut, Cheryl. It is seriously not a good idea to read a book before a Worldcon and try to review it afterwards. Especially if that book happens to be a three volume opus, and if you happen to have left them all behind in California. Still, if my review of the latest Uplift trilogy was as long as the last one, and we had a Worldcon report as well, this issue would start violating the size limits of some email systems.
As luck would have it, this won't be nearly such a long review, quite simply because the new trilogy is nowhere near as interesting as the first.
The writing, of course, is better. Sundiver was a little raw, and you could see Brin's writing skill developing rapidly as the series progressed. Now he is good at it, and is starting to make jokes and literary references, even commenting on other people's writing through the useful device of having a character who is a book fanatic. Actually this is one of the better parts of the book. The first chapter, which introduces Alvin the Hoon, has some wonderful Mark Twain pastiche in it. Kevin kept wondering what on earth I was giggling about. It is also the best part of all three books.
I think the problem is that Brin has lost interest in the Uplift world. He now regards it as space opera rather than serious SF, so the quality of the philosophy that he puts into the books is a lot less. (There's still some good science in them, but that isn't really what interests me, and the meme universe seems an exceptionally dippy concept.) He's also got it into his head that space opera should be styled like fantasy blockbusters.
The story for the new trilogy is fairly predictable. Startide Rising was clearly the best idea of the original Uplift series and everybody was desperate to know what happened to the Streaker and its valiant crew of dolphins. The new series devotes three volumes to telling us, except that it doesn't. I don't want to give too much away, but just about every question unanswered after Startide Rising remains unanswered at the end of Heaven's Reach. Not only that, but Brin makes hardly any progress on the central question of the series: did humanity have an Uplift patron, or are they really self-uplifted as they seem to think. He points out that the Danikenists are rather vulnerable to being conned by cunning aliens who have watched a lot of episodes of X-Files, but he makes no real progress in proving the point one way or another.
The one philosophical argument that he does throw into the pit is the concept of "regression sickness". The idea here is that newly uplifted species, when put under severe stress, tend to lose their ability to reason and communicate. This causes a serious problem for the crew of the Streaker, but it takes a far more advanced form on the planet where they are currently hiding.
This particular place is well hidden by a few convenient astronomical features. The creatures who inhabit it, and there are examples of several races, are all criminals under the Uplift code. Firstly they are not supposed to be there be at all. The planet has been officially laid fallow to allow its ecosystem to recover after a long period of intense habitation. Secondly, all of them are doing something illegal, like not practicing population control, or are in hiding from the rest of their race. The trouble is that if they are ever discovered they will probably be exterminated by some overzealous group of galactic fanatics such as the Jophur. Indeed, just the sort of people who have been chasing Streaker all over the universe.
Obviously this is a worrying prospect, but there is the way out. They can devolve. If they manage to reach the condition of being no longer sentient when they are discovered then they are no longer criminals but promising Uplift prospects who will be eagerly taken on by whoever discovers them. One race, the glavers, have actually achieved this state of bliss.
The argument here is that this sort of devolution is something that comes easily to Uplifted races whereas humans, stroppy little beggars that they are, have an in-built dedication to the idea of progress. Presumably we are intended to infer that this proves that humans were not Uplifted, but it is a fairly flimsy proof and Brin makes no attempt to state it explicitly.
We do finally get to discover why Streaker's discovery sent the five galaxies into such paroxysms of theological fervour. I can't tell you too much about it without giving the game away, but I would love to know why elder races like to live in gravity wells. The reason that Brin gives, which is a conspiracy theory that would make the average Libertarian fanzine look positively rational, is particularly unconvincing.
None of which is to say that these are bad books. David is a good writer. The stories are entertaining and the characters interesting. I rattled through them at a fair old speed. But they are by no means as good as I was expecting. I was disappointed. Maybe the next trilogy will be better. There will be one, David has left far too many loose ends deliberately dangling. I think I might wait for the end of the series again before buying them.
Brightness Reef - David Brin - Bantam - softcover
Infinity's Shore - David Brin - Bantam - softcover
Heaven's Reach - David Brin - Bantam - hardcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
One of the best moments of Bucconeer, as far as I was concerned, was wandering into the dealers' room and discovering a new Sheri Tepper novel. I'd known since Wiscon that it was on its way, and that's a long time to wait.
Six Moon Dance, I think, represents both a new departure and a retreat for Tepper. It is a new departure in that she finally admits that it is who you are, not what gender you are, that determines your quality as a person. It is a retreat in that it falls back on two standard Tepper themes that were so blessedly absent from The Family Tree. So far, so undecided. But is it any good, and, more importantly, does it have anything new to say?
Well, Tepper novels are always good, even when they are highly irritating. She does write well, she can tell a good story, and she is always inventive, particularly with societies. This time she chooses to play with an environment in which women are so rare that they have the majority of political power. It is a society in which it is boys whose families sell them into prostitution and men who are deemed excessively emotional and have to wear veils.
This does not mean, however, that the society is a mirror image of our own. For example, Tepper is well aware that women have different attitudes to sexuality than men. The young gigolos are rigorously trained to be everything that a romantic hero should be, not just a strutting cock. More interestingly, she has her women deliberately avoid the sordid power games of commerce, leaving that area free for men to compete in. This is a potential weakness in the female control of society, though Tepper assumes that most of the men will be too selfish, and too busy competing with each other, to provide a major threat.
Had she left it at that and just explored the implications of the world she had created it would have been a very interesting book. Unfortunately she could not resist bringing in the usual psychotic, male-dominated cult and the all-powerful natural force that enables her characters to combat the bad guys. This is standard Tepper stuff and it is beginning to get boring. Which is a shame because she does a lot in this book to break down the normal stereotypes of Tepper characters. It also contains a lot of other fascinating ideas.
The cast includes a sadistic old woman, a positively charming and somewhat effeminate young gigolo, a female ballet dancer who seems almost sexless and a transvestite actor. There is also an android who looks like a matronly woman but doesn't really behave like one until she discovers where the brains making up her processing unit came from. There are also two fascinating alien races and a radical political philosophy on which human interplanetary society is based. Most importantly, the book once again ends with a message of hope, not of despair. Sadly there is nowhere near enough room in one novel to explore any of these things in any detail.
My guess is that Tepper's view of the world is evolving at a fairly glacier-like pace. Slowly but surely she is managing to let go of the hatred and distrust that have marred her work over the past few years. But it is a painful process, and one not likely to be enhanced by her present withdrawal from the world. (Wiscon was the first SF convention she had ever attended and, she says, will be her last.)
Ah well, she writes entertaining, if irritating books. Maybe one day she'll get her sense of perspective back and write something as good as Grass. Maybe she'll get her sense of humour back and write something as good as A Gate to Women's Country. In the meantime we wait, and have to settle for books which are merely good.
Six Moon Dance - Sheri Tepper - Avon - hardcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Oh dear, oh my. What is the new Iain (M.) Banks novel doing this far down in the 'zine? Should it not always be a headliner? On quality, certainly, it is the best of the books reviewed here. I just happen to be slotting things in more or less in the order in which I read them so here it is. I could, of course, have bought it at Worldcon along with the Tepper, but I knew I'd be in the UK soon and could save money by buying it there. I saw a copy in Heathrow when I arrived and picked it up immediately. Having a few sleep problems thanks to jet lag, I'd finished it by the following morning.
Unlike many Culture novels, Inversions (Banks seems to have taken to naming his books in the same fashion as British conventions) is a surprisingly easy read. Part of this may be due to the fact that it isn't actually set in the Culture. Indeed, Banks never formally admits that it is a Culture novel at all, although he drops the first clue on the cover (the signature image of the novel is a dagger which looks very like a space craft) and the second in the prologue. Nevertheless, the reality is so obvious that I donít think I'm providing any sort of spoiler by giving this away.
The story follows the actions of two Contact operatives working undercover on a planet whose society is slowly emerging from the mediaeval stage. Although the tales are told in parallel, neither operative is aware of the other, though they have met before joining Contact. Banks uses the juxtaposition to explore one of the standard themes of Contact philosophy, just how, and how much, it is moral to interfere in the development of a society? The two operatives have different approaches, and both learn to see the other's point of view.
Sadly there is only a single AI in the book, and it plays such a small role that we don't even get to learn its silly name. From the level of technology it demonstrates (i.e. power for size) the story must be set fairly late in Culture history as we know it, though probably before Excession. I can't imagine the latest breeds of AIs putting up with the type of disguise this one is required to maintain.
Despite the lack of silly names, I found this one of the best Culture novels in a long time. It doesnít overdose on drugs and sex. It doesn't fall into the trap of creating powers too awesome to contemplate. It is just about people. Believable, likeable people struggling to do their best in a vicious society. I found it quite charming, and best of all possessed of a sting in the tail that would grace any spy story. Indeed, a spy story is what it is, but who cares about categorisation anyway? People who care about the presence or absence of an author's middle initial, perhaps, which just goes to show how trivial it is. Banks is very, very good, no matter what he writes.
Inversions - Iain M. Banks - Orbit - hardcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Here's a real bummer for a young writer. You get reviewed, and you find yourself in an issue that also features David Brin, Sheri Tepper and Iain Banks. Nalo Hopkinson should not be worried, however. For starters she has won Aspect's First Novel Contest. In addition her book is graced with rave reviews from Tim Powers, Pat Murphy, Karen Joy Fowler and C.J. Cherryh. Heck, if that happened to me I wouldn't come down to earth for years.
It is a good book too. It is a cyberpunk story without computers, but with lots of voodoo. It is set in the wreckage of central Toronto after big business and the rich have moved out to the suburbs. It has love, it has gangsters, it has politics. It has a lead character who is a young, unmarried mother. To a certain extent it is written from experience as well. Nalo was born in the Caribbean, though she now lives in Canada, and her representation of Afro-Caribbean speech patterns is a lot more convincing than we usually get. Sadly the voodoo bits are not quite as authentic - she admits a little shamefacedly in the credits that she got all that from a library. But it was convincing.
Hey, and it is good to have SF authors from different cultural backgrounds. As Nalo herself says, SF is so often written about alienated people, but it is hardly ever written by such people. How many other non-white SF authors can you name?
Anyway, it is good stuff, if not quite in the same stunning first novel league as The Sparrow. Nalo came to Wiscon and seemed to enjoy fandom, which is also good news. I'm looking forward to more books from her. She has talent, she has imagination, and she is brave enough to write a first novel that is far more than the genre fantasy that we are told is what sells. Good luck to her.
Brown Girl in the Ring - Nalo Hopkinson - Aspect - softcoverFor information about buying through Emerald City please click here.
Back in Blighty
So here I am, back in the manifestly un-United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Most obvious thought, it is bloody cold. Back in California I would be wearing shorts and have the fan on full blast to keep cool. Here I'm wearing jeans and a t-shirt and it is chilly. <sigh>
The other thing I noticed immediately was how thin and emaciated everyone looked. This is just as well because there isn't a lot of space. Kevin would find it hard getting around many of the houses here because the doors and staircases are so small. Besides, food is expensive in this country, you know. Still, there is plenty of choice. Supermarkets have loads of Indian stuff: pappadoms, chili pastes, fresh naan. Also you can get Cheddar cheese that actually comes from somewhere near Cheddar and has some bite to it. Heck, I even managed to find bottles of Henry Weinhard's beer. Things are looking up.
On thing that I know fascinates Americans about this country is the multifarious flavours of potato chips (crisps, as we Brits call them). In view of this I have decided to undertake a little survey of the more weird and wonderful varieties.
Kettle Chips are pretty much the same here as in the US, but they do have a variety called Red Pesto and Parmesan which I've not seen elsewhere. I don't think it is that good, but it is certainly interesting. Stranger stuff comes from local brands. Brannigan's have a splendid Roast Beef and Mustard flavour, in which you can really taste the mustard. This month's prize for the weirdest flavour, however, goes to Crofters Hebridean Pickle. It tastes rather like salt and vinegar with a dash of onion, garlic and tomato thrown in. Goodness only knows what the Hebrideans pickle in that lot. Herrings probably. Still, the chips are made by 'Highlander Snacks', which means you can eat them whilst fantasising about Sean Connery in a kilt. That'll do for me.
Top story in the British papers right now is Diana. What? Isn't she dead? Well, yes, but it was a year ago, so all the papers are having Diana retrospectives. All of the articles are depressingly similar. They all trot out the same tired conspiracy theories. They all say that none of them are true. They all say that the country went a little bit strange during the funeral, and they all say that it was other people that were behaving strangely, not them. Bashing Diana-worshippers is the current national sport. It is rather like everyone in Germany after the war claiming that it was the other people who were Nazi sympathisers, not them. Funny things, outbreaks of national hysteria.
The only other news topic worth mentioning is Northern Ireland, on which subject things could not be worse. There's no doubt that the Omagh bombing was a terrible atrocity. There is also little doubt that it was inevitable. With so many politicians from each side working for peace, the extremists were bound to become desperate. Sadly, they have got just the result they wanted.
The British and Irish governments have reacted in a rabid manner that Margaret Thatcher would have been proud of. They are instituting new anti-terrorism legislation that has the likes of Amnesty International in apoplexy and which, strangely enough, can be applied to anyone, not just nutters in Northern Ireland. We all know that what a 'security clampdown' means in practice is giving the predominantly Protestant police a chance to harass their Catholic neighbours. But some spin doctor in Labour Party HQ has decided that firm and decisive action is what the public now wants, so we have to throw away all that work on the peace settlement and start again from scratch. Crazy.
Oh, and all the Spice Girls seem intent on becoming Spice Mums. I suppose that, after his disaster of a World Cup, David Beckham found it necessary to prove that he was capable of scoring. But of course now every ten-year-old girl in the country will be stuffing pillows up their jumpers and asking their parents to get them a nanny for Christmas. Also maternity fashions will take a massive nose dive.
The big news in the fanzine world this month is that Bruce Gillespie has published a new issue of Metaphysical Review. Well, not just a new issue, four actually. Two big, fat double issues, crammed full of good stuff. Goodness knows how he can afford this stuff, his production standards are way beyond what most of us can manage. I gather that a friend donated some money to help get these issues out. Nevertheless, I am loath to send flocks of people to Bruce's door for fear of what it will cost him. If you really want to see why Bruce is regarded as one of the finest fanzine writers in the world, drop him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org ask very nicely, and promise faithfully that you will send him a LOC.
Hmm, we could have two Australian fan Hugos next year.
Meanwhile, back in California, Brenda Daverin places much of the blame for her launching into print on me. I'm flattered. The Unravelled Ferret is a promising little perzine and Brenda has a good sense of humour which comes over well in her writing. You can contact her on email@example.com. I'm sure she'd be happy to email you a copy. It is probably on her web site as well.
Anything but a newcomer is File 770 from Mike Glyer (Mglyer@compuserve.com). Mike and I seem to share a similar sense of humour and a common approach to fannish news. He, however, is a multiple Hugo winner and thus I was greatly flattered to discover that he had filched the best bits of my report of Terry's visit for his latest issue. Mike's take on Westercon was very different from my own. He blames the poor attendance on lack of travelling Bay Area fans, which in turn he puts down to our getting thrashed in site selection votes several times in succession. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of attendance by zip code, and if we are being delinquent in our duty us Bay Area people should certainly get our act together. Especially next year. We have a Worldcon bid to win, guys, we need all the support we can get, both in Spokane and in Anaheim for the NASFiC.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, Mr. Skunk has again been making his presence felt in the NESFA club house. Or rather, her presence, for several members claim to have seen a bunch of skunklettes lurking in the vicinity. This led to a further round of silly motions which, Instant Message reports, resulted in the skunk having its membership upgraded to family status. The NESFAns also seem to have decided to impose a gender change on the unfortunate creature as they persist in calling it Mr. Skunk despite all evidence to the contrary.
Available at Worldcon was another issue of the wonderful miniature fanzine, Bento. It doesn't appear very often, but each time it does I am reminded that it is my very favourite fanzine. Like the Japanese lunch it is named after, it is small but perfectly formed and exquisitely tasty. Write to Kate Yule (firstname.lastname@example.org) and beg.
Other fannish activity this month included an appearance by the very wonderful Tad Williams at BASFA. Being a local boy, it was no trouble for him to pop over and say hello to us, and he seemed to fit right in, even finding considerable amusement in recreational parliamentary practice. On being told of our habit of making visitors ambassadors, Tad related how, on being appointed Student President at his high school, his first act was to give a friend of his the job of Secretary for the Navy. Sadly the school authorities were not amused by his innovations and abolished the post of Student President after Tad's term.
He was darn good entertainment too. He told me afterwards that there is nothing he likes more than having a room full of people to tell stories to, except perhaps writing stories. This man should be a convention guest more often. Of course we had to give him a job in BASFA. Now all we need is a navy.
On arriving in England I fell straight into the thick of things. I'm staying with Giulia de Cesare and Steve Davies in Reading, and the day after I arrived I was invited to Alison "I am not a megalomaniac" Scott's garden party. Much of London fandom was there, as were several of the eminent persons of Croydon. It was an excellent opportunity to relax through the jet lag recover and get back into the habit of dining on cheese and alcohol. Strangely enough, I found myself drinking Budweiser, a pleasant little beer from somewhere in The Czech Republic. It bears the same relation to the identically named stuff sold in the US as real Cheddar cheese does to Kraft Slices.
Of course I could have gone straight to a convention. The Wrap Party, a B5 con, was taking place at Heathrow the weekend I arrived. JMS was well enough to attend, and Harlan was there too. Interested as I was to check out the Radisson Hotel, a potential Worldcon site, I decided that I would find very little of interest there. Perhaps I should have gone. It has been reported that the con was around £8000 short on their budget which, with an attendance of only 500 or so, was pretty good going. To their extreme credit, JMS and Harlan leapt to the rescue by donating stuff (including, I believe, a trip to the B5 set) for auction on the last day, so the final loss will presumably be somewhat less. And this from a media con that deliberately eschewed inviting actors. Con running ain't easy, folks.
This issue of Emerald City is being produced at the Plokta production weekend under the guiding hand of the world's youngest fanzine editor, Marianne Cain. Whilst the discussions of superfluous technology are largely beyond my understanding (not to mention my pocket), it is an absolute delight to help cater for a group of people who love eating and don't have a single food allergy amongst them.
Marianne's fannish education is proceeding apace. Now a stately nineteen months old, she is tottering around confidently and learning how to humiliate a cat without losing your arm. She is even learning to speak. Giulia de Cesare is teaching her to say "please". Mike Scott is teaching her to say "you bastard". Alison is teaching her to say "your wish is my command, O Glorious Mother". Marianne, being proudly fannish, normally just says "ghu".
This issue will mark the last chance for the LOC mailing list. I've gone through the trouble of setting it up, but if you guys donít want to use it there's no point in keeping it there. If no one posts to it this month it dies. The instructions are as follows:
To join the list, send mail to
Putting the words
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To send a letter to the list, send mail to
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To leave the list, send mail to
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The plan is that I will be in the UK for a month or two, and there are a few conventions that I should be able to pop along to whilst I am here. AlbaCon (Glasgow, not Albany NY), Masque and Novacon look promising. The main problem is that I have nowhere to live, starting Tuesday. In view of this, I'd better stop writing and get on with home hunting.
Love 'n' hugs,
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