The Official Newsletter of the Washington Science Fiction
Association -- ISSN 0894-5411
Edited by Joe Mayhew
WSFA Minutes July 21 at Ginter's
My Trip to Mars
Some Random Observations on Dragoncon '95
Impressions of Westercon 48
Program Suggestions via GEnie
Review of "Unknown Worlds: Tales from Beyond"
Edited by Joe Mayhew
Attending: Pres. Covert Beach, Sec. Joe Mayhew, Treas. & 96 Chair Bob MacIntosh, Trust. David Grimm, 97 Chair Mike Nelson, Dan Burgess, Elspeth Burgess, Chris Callahan, Steven desJardins, Chuck Divine, Christina Fatula, Alexis Gilliland, Lee Gilliland, Erica Ginter, Dan Hoey, Eric Jablow, Judy Kindell, Samuel Lubell, Richard Lynch, Nicki Lynch, Keith Marshall,Walter Miles, Barry Newton, Lance Oszko, Peggy Rae Pavlat, Evan Phillips, Sam Pierce, Dick Roepke, Rachel Russell, John Sapienza, George R. Shaner, Steven Smith, T R Smith, Lee Strong, Michael J. Taylor, Michael Watkins, Madeline Yeh.
Covert Beach called the meeting to order at 9:20. He noted that he would be absent from both meetings in August.
Bob MacIntosh announced that the Treasury stood at $4,283.76.
DISCLAVE 96: Bob had hotel packets from four other places which wanted to house Disclave: The Capitol Hilton (formerly the Statler Hilton) The Mayflower, the Hyatt Capitol Hill and the Washington Hilton on Conn Ave would like us back.
NO BUSINESS WAS CONDUCTED.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:40
It all seemed to start with two messages left on my answering machine. When I came home on Sunday, July 22nd, The red light was flashing. First, I heard from Laurie Mann asking whether I might be willing to do one more item at ConFluence. The second message was from Laura van Winkle, asking if I could do either a woodcarving demo or perhaps one on pen and ink technique.
Which was the first I had heard about ConFluence -- except for a brief conversation (that I gradually remembered) at Boskone. "Would you like to be on the program at our little Pittsburgh area Con?" "Sure, I guess so, send me a note when it's soup." or something to that effect.
So I guess I had committed to going to Mars (PA). It was a bit of an economic adventure, as my bank account stood at $1.63 and my wallet at $45.00. Fortunately, gas stations now take credit cards, and they had invited me to the banquet. Somehow I got through to Friday morning with $40.00 dollars remaining and boldly took off for Greater Pittsburgh and Mars. The PA Turnpike costs $5.50 between Breezewood and the Mars Exit at Cranberry, PA. They don't take credit cards.
The Sheraton North hotel is five storeys high and built around an atrium, sort of a mini-Hyatt, glass elevator and all. The con shared its space with other functions, including a Church of God Sunday worship. Fortunately for Fan/Church relations, ConFluence's members were mostly local folks and, unless you read their buttons, they wouldn't have looked much different than the churchgoers.
I was on a panel at 5:00 on Friday, moderated by Fan Panjandrum Ann Cecil, "Science Fiction: The year in Review. The others were WSFA's Rachel Russell, Janice Eisen and someone who was added whose name I didn't catch. We had fun, the audience had fun and some came up afterwards to get their reading assignments.
Right after it at 6:00 I moderated a panel called "Comic Art, SF Illustration, and Game Design: Comparison and Contrast. Comics professionals Ron Frenz and DC Comics' George Broderick, showed up. Nancy Janda couldn't make it and so I interviewed Ron and George. George said that of the projects he had done, his twenty-years after LOST IN SPACE comics were the ones of which he was most proud. He had had a great deal of freedom, and had got to write the "bible" himself. A very different experience from doing QUANTUM LEAP comics in which they gave him a greatly detailed "bible" and rules and rules and rules to follow. Ron had worked on Superman as well as a number of independent projects.
Saturday Noon I was scheduled to do something called a "Cartoonist Jam." What I actually did was get everyone who came to try their hand at drawing illuminated caps (or dropped letters) They mostly had fun, dug through my cartoon books and the hour passed easily. Jim Morrow was doing a reading at the same time. It was the one thing I regretted missing. His new book BLAMELESS IN ABBADON interests me more than a little. I've heard him read several parts of it and look forward to reviewing it when it comes out.
The banquet was small enough so that people could walk between the tables. I sat at the head table with GOH John Barnes, his parents and wife Kara Dalkey.
Barnes is an assistant professor at Western State College at Gunniston, Colorado. He tells of asking "splitter questions on exams" such as, "What did the directors in the classical Greek theater have in common with the scene designers of Shakespeare's time?" The idea was that those who knew the answer would state it in a brief sentence, while those who didn't would write a long essay, wasting a lot of their limited time. The answer he wanted was, in effect, "They didn't exist." I pointed out to him that it might have been fairer to have said SET designers rather than SCENE designers, for, while Shakespeare's Globe didn't use sets, his plays surely have scenes. We quibbled and ragged each other about this at length [see:"Duelling Pontiffs."].
Saturday night they did a Musical Farce "THE THING AND I" bits of a capella singing from THE KING AND I in parody of the second Thing movie. It was done with verve (and crossword fans) elan. Nancy Janda, it turns out is not only a fine jeweler and artist, but also has a fine tenor voice.
Sunday I did a woodcarving demo and watched the auction. Two of my canes sold and so I had money to come home on.
About 300 fen attended. They'll be doing it again over July 26-28
next year at the same hotel. I've been invited back and am thinking
of going. Their address is:
P.O. Box 3681
Pittsburgh, PA 15230-3681
DragonCon `95 was the NASFIC this year: it had won de election at the `92 WorldCon over the joke I-95 in `95 bid, None of the Above, and New York in `95. In retrospect, this was not a good idea.
DragonCon was a captive of its commercial interests. It incorporated a gaming convention, a Star Trek convention, and a comic book trade show. In fact, most of the dealers' room was dedicated to comics. Most of the programming was dedicated to one or another sf cult; the McCaffrey fans, the Mercedes Lackey fans, the Trekkies, and the Star Wars fans were out in force, with many panels describing the relative merits of ST versus B5, Pern versus Lackey's world, and the future of Lucas' Empire. There were few hard sf panels and few science panels. Only a handful of "big names" came, and they didn't stay long or mingle. Christopher Lambert was there, signing autographs; I guess if you're a fan of every Highlander film you'd appreciate everything about DragonCon. I didn't.
The most popular writer was Harlan Ellison; he was in fine form, once telling of an encounter with the head of the KGB at a European book convention. Ellison's reaction to the Russian's claim that Barbara Cartland was the greatest writer of all time was priceless. Fortunately for us all, no one asked Harlan about THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS.
The Dealer's Room was mostly the province of Comic book salesmen, with a large minority of game sellers, art and weapons dealers, and very, very few booksellers. Its layout was poor; I am surprised that the Fire Marshall had not shut it down. The Art Show was tucked away in a corner of the room; I am extremely surprised that it was not shut down. The Art Show was run poorly too; art was moved around at various times during the weekend, the auction policy was poor, and people were allowed to bring bags into the show area. I don't know if there were any thefts, but I would not be surprised.
The film and video programs were predictable; no surprises, and no unintentionally execrably bad items. However, finding out what films were shown was extremely difficult; the information was available only at the film rooms.
The hotel accommodations were unexceptionable; however, restaurants were not easy to find. The Con Suite food service was inadequate. (Why should I care, since I shouldn't eat much? Well, I'd better start dieting again.) There were two rooms, a small one with the food and drinks, and a large one with tables and chairs and no windows. People tried to stay away rom the Suite; it was too depressing. Incidentally, they served Pepsi-Cola. In Atlanta, headquarters of Coca-Cola! I guest Pepsi gave them a very good deal. The volunteers working there were overly officious.
There weren't many room parties. I didn't go to the Atlanta in `98 party, out of general irritation. The Baltimore party had dim lights, loud music, and much liquor. I guess BSFS wanted to persuade people to vote for them by getting them drunk. The Boston party was the quintessential SMOF party. The Niagara Falls party was small, and seemed forlorn. The non-WorldCon parties were more interesting. Betting on the 1998 WorldCon site put Baltimore in the lead. Boston second, Niagara Falls third and Atlanta fourth. However with the large "international" vote (not "foreign" -- Ted Turner wouldn't approve), anything might happen.
Atlanta's chances were hurt by the meager general interest programming, the excessively loud entertainment, and the botched banquet. Many long-term DragonCon attendees swore it would be their last DragonCon. I wonder why they got every bad local rock band to perform. Do you know what makes GWAR so fascinating? I don't.
There were two memorable (groups of) guests. Clifford Stoll spoke on Friday about his first book, THE CUCKOO'S EGG, and was hilarious. He also needs to get therapy for his caffeine addiction. Man was not meant to drink such large quantities of Jolt Cola. He spoke Saturday about his second book, SILICON SNAKE OIL. I didn't attend that talk, because I was at the talk in the next room. Actually, he attended portions of it too, trying to get our audience to cheer a little less noisily for our speakers, Mike Nelson and Kevin Murphy of Mystery Science Theater 3000. They showed a portion of their MST scrapbook, which I will show at a future WSFA meeting, and they announced that the theatrical film of THIS ISLAND EARTH was scheduled to be released in late fall or early winter. They will only have six new productions for season 7; they need to spend more money per film; they have run out of suitable films they can get rights to for just $8000. They gave no clues about which films they would do; they said that they had tried to get MOMENT BY MOMENT, a truly horrible Lily Tomlin and John Travolta film, but the rights were refused at the last moment. And, they had no chance of getting Star Trek 5. This talk, and the follow up by fan club coordinator Julie Walker (juliewa), were my highlights of the Con.
A few other observations: the gamers were kept far away from the rest of the con. We were all happy about that. There weren't many "goths"; they also stayed away from the rest of the con, staying with private parties, smoking outside on the pool deck, and going to the hard rock shows. Handicapped access seemed good; I had heard no complaints. And elevator service was fair to poor; fortunately, the stairs were suable once you found them. The neighborhood was typical downtown city; people leaving the hotel at night were accosted by vagrants and propositioned by ladies of the evening. I do want to have a date, but not like that! Do I look like Hugh Grant? also, the hotel aroused some ire when on Friday night one of the attendees started playing his bagpipe in the hotel lobby. Hotel security promptly ejected him, whereupon 500 fans started chanting "We want pipes" an proceeded to follow him outside. All in all, if it weren't for my particular cult, I wouldn't have gone. Don't expect Atlanta to win the 1998 WorldCon election.
Overall I enjoyed Westercon 48, the regional convention for the western half of the United States. It was held in Portland, Oregon, from June 30 to July 3. The guest of honor was Vernor Vinge, with John R. Foster as artist guest. The actual location was 10 minutes from downtown Portland at the Columbia River and Jansen Beach Red Lion Hotels, which are on an island in the middle of the Columbia River. This is not as bad as it seems to get food other than in the hotels since within three blocks of the hotels are located a huge Safeway, five fast-food establishments, and three restaurants : a family-owned, a Mongolian, and a seafood.
The activities of the con were split between the two hotels. This gave rise to the nickname of the con when it was held in the same hotels four years ago, the "It's in the Other Hotel" con. In the Columbia River, the non-party hotel, was the art show, middle and small size programming (eleven tracks), the fanzine lounge, children's programming, the writer's workshop, videos, and the club house. In the Jansen Beach, the party hotel, was registration, the future Westercon and Worldcon bid tables, the dealer's room, autographing, four programming areas (two large and two middle size), the masquerade, the dances, the hospitality suite, green room, and bid parties. I got my exercise walking from the art show to the dealer's room.* A shuttle for people with a disability was provided.
One reason I go to conventions not on the east coast is to visit the art show. I am interested in art by local artists. There was many interesting images, but three quarters of these were prints of the originals. The head of the art show said she was gradually getting the west coast artists to send the originals. We on the east coast are lucky to have so many originals in our art shows. The art show staff used a sticker on the bid sheet to show if the piece was sold or not-for-sale. This was easier to identify than our use of marking in ink and should be adopted by our art shows.
On Saturday and Sunday, fifteen tracks of programming were offered; however, these stopped at 7:00. I thought that a major con would have at least one track of evening panels. The tracks were divided in one and one-half hour slots, with the panel lasting one and one-quarter hour and one-quarter hour vacant so the panelists and the audience could easily get to the next panel. This break between panels should be used by every con. (This year's Balticon should have used this idea since panels were both off the lobby and on the top floor of the hotel.)
During Vernor Vinge's guest of honor talk, he spoke about his forthcoming books. The one due out next year uses the same setting as that of "A Fire Upon the Deep," his Hugo winning novel. In this book, a planet's voyage around the galaxy has moved it from The Beyond, through The Slow Zone, in-and-out of The Unthinking Depths, and back into The Slow Zone. A team of archaeologists from another planet in The Slow Zone is excavating the remains of the various civilizations on this planet.
For the SMOFs, the Westercon Business Meeting was loads of fun. Since Kevin Standlee was the parliamentarian of this meeting and will be for the Worldcon Business Meeting, most of the meeting was devoted to the testing of his knowledge. For example, the motion to declare the armadillo the official Westercon animal was amended to declaring blue the official color.
The pocket program used the same concept as Confrancisco, a 98 page spiral notebook with all the information, including maps of the hotels, the daily grids, short description of the panels, guide to restaurants. Also the con posted blow-ups of the daily grids in each hotel. This was useful as a quick reference guide to what was being offered.
On Saturday night was the masquerade. There were 30 entrants, 5 young fans and 25 novices to masters. The best of the Master class and popular choice was "Mighty More Fun Flower Arrangers," a take-off on you-know-who with applique umbrellas as their weapons. Another Master award went to "All-World Krist Kindl," a Christmas angel. The best of show was "Batteries Needed," two enlarged children's toys -- a robot and a doll lamp. The popular choice was decided by the audience voting for the award. Something for the east coast to introduce? After leaving the main stage, the costumers came down the center aisle and stepped up on a mini-stage in the middle of the audience. Thus, the people in the back could also see the costumes.
The con had two types of con suites. From 8:00 to 6:00, the Club House, located in the programming hotel, offered real food, e.g., soup, vegetable chili, cake. This allowed us to get a quick meal without having to miss too much of a panel. In the evening, the hospitality suite, in the party hotel, offered snacks and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Because the west coast conventions have been having problems with serving alcoholic beverages, a profession bartender was used. Even though there were bid parties for many of the future Worldcons, most members seemed to be either in the hospitality suite or at the dances. In fact at one time Tom Veal, who was throwing the Chicago-in-2000 room party, and I were the only two persons in the room. The Baltimore-in-1998, which was hosted by Lance Oszko and offered four flavors of ice cream, did better, perhaps because it was across the hall from the SFWA suite.
There did not seem to be much business at the bid tables during the day. At the Baltimore table, Peggy Rae Pavlat thought this might be because of low attendance. However, the last time I saw the count, there were 1683 attenders. This was about 200 less than what was expected. However, I thought the reason was how spread out the con was and also that most of the programming was in the other hotel. In fact I could have spent the entire day on Sunday in the other hotel going to panels.
Next year's Westercon will be on July 4-7 in El Paso, Texas. The guests of honor will be James P. Blaylock and Howard Waldrop, with Brad W. Foster as artist guest. On July 3-6, 1997, Westercon will be in Seattle. The guests of honor will be J. Michael Straczynski, Martin Greenberg, and Amy Thomson, with Victoria Poyser-Lise as artist guest.
*To get from the art show to the dealer's room, one left the art show, passed the coffee shop, hotel registration, and the lobby stairs to programming; through a wing of the hotel, where children's programming, workshop, and club house were located; across the parking lot between the hotels, which was under a bridge carrying Interstate 5; into a wing of the other hotel where you either went by the green room and up a flight of stairs or up a flight of stairs and pass the hospitality suite; then into the main portion of the hotel and pass registration, bid tables, and large programming; after passing coffee shop one reached the hotel desk (where if one went forward into the other side of the hotel and down a flight of stairs one came to gaming); and finally hidden behind the desk and gift shop, was the stairs down to autographing and the dealers' room.
Brenda Clough: What I was thinking about, in suggesting a panel about language invention, is that of course all the books we write are in English. Nevertheless many of the actual stories take place someplace else, and the characters are naturally speaking whatever it is they speak there -- Elvish, or Hardic, or Gaelic, etc. So how, working completely in English, do you convey the flavor and feeling of this other language? There are a number of openings. Names, for instance -- the names of the characters are usually the foremost and sometimes the only unaltered representation of this other language, the only foothold. Sentence construction and vocabulary choice, of course -- Ursula LeGuin has been emphatic about this. You could also sprinkle in a few phrases and key words into the text, like the way the Japanese in SHOGUN say, "Konnichi-wa" and then continue on in English. In other words, this is a subset of the old worldbuilding panels...
Will Herr: How about a good, honest-to-god writing seminar? Lord knows I spend most of my time working out the bugs in my stories, and I always jump at the chance to trade crits with others who revel in my genre. I like to trade opinions with people who share my stake in the craft, not just people who enjoy reading it (although that's of high importance to me, too). SF writers are too widely separated in my area of the country for any meaningful face-to-face discussions. (I joined a writer's group here in Harrisburg for two months. They saw my work and said 'what is this, Genre crap?' You see, we're often not considered _serious_ writers.) So, if something along these lines were available, I'd take part. And so would, IMHO, a huge number of others. which would, in turn, attract fen who want to trade opinions with them.
Sam Lubell: How about a panel where the moderator pulls out an sf idea and situation out of a hat and then a pro and group of fans gather in each corner to plot out a story using that idea and then share the results at the end. You could call it "That in the Hat". How about "Books I would *love* to do a sequel to" where authors outline what they would do with a sequel to Dune, Foundation etc. Take advantage of Washington and Politics. "What I would do as the President's advisor on the future" where authors would give their suggestions on how to make a better future come about in real life.
"The Next Big Wave", every so often something like Cyberpunk comes along, radically reshapes much of sf and then becomes incorporated into the standard bag of tricks. What do authors/publishers think will be the next big idea/writing style in sf.
"Mainstream and sf" What is the relationship between the two. What authors write both and why? What has sf learned from the mainstream and what, if anything, has the mainstream learned from sf.
SF Trivia Bowl/Jeopardy/game show
"A Clash of Style: Unlikely Collaborators" - What would a collaboration between Asimov and Gene Wolfe be about and read like? This can be done either as a normal discussion or one where the audience yells out suggested collaborators and the panelists try to think up what would happen.
"The Rewriting Squad". What novel (by another author) would you have liked to have redone the *right* way. What changes would you make to classics (or works that could have been classics if done right.)
"The Ghetto Syndrome" Should sf stay in the ghetto or should it try to break out of the category. Or has it already (cf Butler's MacArthur award). Or does it differ by writer?
Leah Zeldes Smith: Re programming: A neofan's panel ("Welcome to fandom." "How to enjoy your first convention" or whatever) is essential. I'd also like to see a program item that explains that there's more to fandom than attending cons. Both of these should probably be supplemented by material in the program book, since neos and protofen are among the few who actually read them.
Secondly, some programming on fan history would be nice. The D.C. area boasts many resources in this area. (Some of them may not be so easy to get along with, but are nonetheless interesting on this subject.) Beside the obvious candidates, I would love to see something with Russ Chauvenet, the man who coined "fanzine," on it; it would have to be creatively done, due to Russ's deafness, but I'm sure something could be done (and there mightn't be too much opportunity left). Dick Eney talking about Fancy would be great, too.
Of perhaps more general interest, items on the history of D.C. fandom and Disclave might be considered. There certainly isn't a lack of interest in fan history among the members of WSFA whom I know.
By all rights fantasy should be the largest and most diverse type of fiction. Any fiction, any story that is not true --even those set in the real world with realistic characters -- can be called a fantasy. Even if we limit fantasy to stories that contain elements of the fantastic or the non-explainable, there is still an immense amount of territory that could go under the fantasy label. After all, science fiction is simply fantasy with a scientific explanation and horror is fantasy, merely fantasy intended to scare the reader. Alternate history is placed on the sf shelf although it just as easily could be called historical fantasy since they rarely contain any scientific explanation. And much of science fiction could be called science fantasy where time travel, faster than light travel, and humans with mysterious powers are taken for granted without any attempt at scientific plausibility.
Still, even with all that taken out of fantasy, there still is room for far more than the endless versions of pseudo-medieval power struggles, farmboys becoming mighty wizards and/or kings, and novelized versions of role playing campaigns. The typical fantasy book is set in a never existing low-tech world modeled after medieval Europe but without most of the complexity of the real world. It generally has multiple races, each of whom has a specialty and personality followed by them all. And the protagonist is almost always royalty, a magic user, or someone closely connected to a ruler or magic user. It also, oddly enough in Democratic America, hews closely to the idea of a divine right of kings (even the books about overthrowing a king generally have a "rightful" heir to put in his place.)
These books can be very interesting and very well done. The books of Judith Tarr, Katherine Kerr, McKillip, and many others do interesting things with the traditional formulas. Yet there is so much more that fantasy can cover than endless variants on Tolkien.
The anthology, UNKNOWN WORLDS: TALES FROM BEYOND edited by Stanley Schmidt and Martin Greenberg contains fantasy stories of a decidedly different bent. Dating from 1939 to 1943, the magazine UNKNOWN WORLDS was edited by John Campbell's as a sister magazine to ASTOUNDING (now Analog). He tried to find stories that applied the rules of logic and consistency to fantasy. Just as science fiction would frequently bring in one new idea or invention and then explore the consequences of it, stories in UNKNOWN frequently would introduce one fantastic element and then play it for all it was worth.
For example, in H.L. Gold's "The Trouble With Water" a water gnome curses a concession station operator so that "since you hate water and those who live in it, water and those who live in it will keep away from you." The problems this causes with shaving, bathing, and running his business are detailed and then solved. In De Camp's "The Gnarly Man" an immortal Neanderthal man--who had to invent soup when his teeth wore out--is found working in a carnival and finds that modern life is more savage than any prehistoric tribe.
Henry Kuttner's hero of the "The Misguided Halo" has to cope with angel who awarded him a halo by mistake and since all of his sins rebound to good, cannot be removed. Ironically, another story takes the direct opposite approach, Cleve Cartmill's "Hell Hath Fury" tells the story of a boy who is half-demon and so even when he tries to do good, it turns to evil. This one has a real twist as the boy tries to set things right, leading to a final confrontation with Hell and the definition of true evil. In another of Kuttner's stories, a union organizer is transformed into a gnome and has to work out a scheme to become human again, which naturally includes unionizing the other gnomes.
Other highlights include Manly Wellman's story about Edgar A. Poe's strange encounter with a Vampire, Lester Del Rey's story about what happens to the Greek God Pan after his last worshipper dies, C.L. Moore's stunning story about Lilith in the Garden of Eden and the true story of the Fall, De Camp's story about a man who jumps into parallel universes (predating current television by 55 years) and shows that political savvy crosses all dimensions. There is more than one pact with the devil story (quite different) and religion pops up in stories on the afterlife. In fact the closest thing to what today would be considered typical genre fantasy is two stories of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser by Leiber which seemed rather disappointing compared to some of the other stories. More stories verged on what today would be horror such as Robert Bloch's story of a man who wears the cloak of a real vampire on Halloween, Sturgeon's story about a swamp monster, Van Vogt's story of a witch with the identify of a dead woman and Sturgeon's story of "The Hag Seleen" thwarted by a preschooler.
The vast majority of the tales in this big (517 page) anthology are set in the world as we know it (or would have known it had we lived in the 1940's) with the fantasy element standing out even more from the contrast with the more familiar setting. They show some of the tremendous variety of fantasy that goes beyond dungeons and castles, trolls and kings, orcs and knights.