John and Ray Attend Comic Con 2009

 Ray and Fan

By John King Tarpinian (not pictured): My trip to Comic Con is not as your average attendee. Not because I am special but because I am lucky enough to attend with somebody who is, Ray Bradbury. Attending a convention with a living legend adds a whole new perspective to the show. Having parents holding their infant children next to Ray for a photograph can bring a tear to an eye. Yes, the costumed characters are nice and fun, what man does not like a pretty girl in a skimpy outfit, but the human stories one gets to hear is what makes the day special. A hundred, if not a thousand-plus times I could hear, “Oh My GAWD, it is Ray Bradbury,” “Thank you Ray” and “I love you Ray.”

As evidenced by the photos, Ray was not the only legend at the show. Within minutes of entering the hall Ray spied his dear friend, Stan Freberg. (For a big laugh Google Stan, Ray and prunes.)  John Landis and Ray took a private moment while a couple hundred people looked on. One of my favorites was Chuck McCann, who for years played Oliver Hardy. As Ray left for his lecture, up came Jerry Robinson of DC Comics fame.

Two next-generation attendees Ray saw were Joe Hill, respected author in his own right and son of Stephen King, and Monte Shulz, charged with keeping alive the legacy of his father, Charles Shulz.

There were others Ray connected with: Dave McKean, who illustrated Ray’s chapbooks, The Homecoming and Skeletons; Mystery writer Mike Mallory, whose son won first place in his school’s science fair project where he proved paper burns at 451° Fahrenheit; and Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn.

Ray’s conference filled a 2,000-seat hall, with people standing around the walls. He came on stage to a standing ovation. The moderator for the panel was Arnold Kunert, an old friend and Ray Harryhausen’s business manager. Also on the dais was Sam Weller, Ray’s biographer and Jerry Weist, author of Ray Bradbury; An Illustrated Life.  Ray showed the video from July 20, 1969 where he was introduced by Walter Cronkite and then interviewed by Mike Wallace. (See the photo of a ghostly image of Ray at 48) As always, Ray talked about his life and loves.

Tim Hamilton was invited up on stage to talk about having illustrated the just released graphic novel of Fahrenheit 451, soon to go into a second printing. If you wish to see a sample of the work just sneak into a newsstand and pick up the July/August Playboy. (“But honey I really did buy it for an article.”) Ray did a brief signing at the dais but was ushered out because of the incoming lecture. We thought we had snuck out the back way but people were waiting for him. Ray signed for another fifteen minutes before we had to abandon the area because of the crowd forming.

Ray took one more quick tour of the hall and then it was off to dinner and the ride home.

Photos: (1)The Hall; (2) Ray meeting up with his old friend Stan Freberg; (3) Running into John Landis; (4) Ray and Chuck McCann; (5) Ray and Jerry Robinson, illustrator of Batman comics; (6) Ray meeting up with Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son); (7) Ray with Dave Mckean, UK illustrator of The Homecoming chapbook; (8) Monte Schulz, Charles Schulz’s son; (9) Signing after the talk; (10) 2000 people fill the lecture hall; (11) On the dais with Arnold Kunert and Sam Weller; (12) An eerie photo taken of the big screen showing of the 7/20/69 Mike Wallace interview); (13) Tim Hamilton, illustrator of the F451 graphic novel (Tim is the one in the checked shirt); (14) Ray with Peter S. Beagle of The Last Unicorn fame.

Hall at Comic Con 2009 Ray Bradbury and Stan Freberg at Comic Con 2009 John Landis and Ray Bradbury at Comic Con 2009 Ray Bradbury and Chuck McCann Ray Bradbury and Jerry Robinson at Comic Con 2009 Joe Hill and Ray Bradbury at Comic Con 2009 Ray Bradbury and Dave McKean at Comic Con 2009 Monte Schulz and Ray Bradbury at Comic Con 2009  Crowd for Ray Bradbury signing at Comic Con 2009  2000 Strong Arnold Ray Sam 1969 Ray on big screen Tim Hamilton and Ray Bradbury at Comic Con 2009 Ray Bradbury and Peter S. Beagle at Comic Con 2009

Rx for the Worldcon Business Meeting

A friend wrote that the news of Charlie Brown’s death had convinced him to vote against abolishing the Semiprozine category. He thinks the timing is unsavory, and it would be disrespectful to the memory of a giant in the field.

For the same reason, a few other fans have speculated about parliamentary maneuvers to derail the vote or eviscerate the amendment. As these are people who actually attend Business Meetings, there’s always a possibility they will translate these sentiments into action.

What I expect to happen, and hope will happen, is that the vote on ratification will occur as scheduled, and on the motion in its present form.

First, the WSFS Constitution states the ratification vote is the work “of the subsequent Worldcon.” So let’s just get on with it.

Second, if there was any “disrespect” inherent in eliminating the category it was already communicated to Charlie Brown while he was alive. I’m convinced the rules change was not purposed to offend Charlie but, in either case, he is beyond being hurt anymore.

Third, it’s the opponents to the motion I’ve seen speak against carrying on in the aftermath of Charlie’s death. However, it’s also the opponents who have tried to use online discussion to get more people who might not otherwise appear at the Business Meeting to come and vote against ratification. Next year’s Worldcon is in Australia – the motion’s supporters, who are Business Meeting “regulars” will attend, but will its opponents be there? It seems to me that delay works to the detriment of opponents of ratification.

Yes on Dropping the Semiprozine Hugo

In August fans are scheduled to decide the fate of the Best Semiprozine Hugo at the Worldcon Business Meeting. Last year voters approved an amendment eliminating the category, a change subject to ratification at Montreal. If passed a second time, the category will be dropped.

Should it stay? Should it go? I’ve honestly been having a hard time deciding. Now having spent many hours looking over the arguments I’ve come to the conclusion that the Best Semiprozine category ought to go.

The rules define a semiprozine as one that meets at least two of the following criteria:

(1) had an average press run of at least one thousand (1000) copies per issue,
(2) paid its contributors and/or staff in other than copies of the publication,
(3) provided at least half the income of any one person,
(4) had at least fifteen percent (15%) of its total space occupied by advertising,
(5) announced itself to be a semiprozine.

Internet technology has put zine publishing on a much different economic footing than the days (not so long ago) when paper issues predominated. A person can choose a far less expensive strategy to distribute work and be spared the necessity of creating a large commercial enterprise in order to survive.  

The way pros market their writing has been radically changed by the ability to create online communities of fans and customers. One result is that the amount of free nonfiction about the field available from pro writers has greatly increased. How logical is it to compartmentalize directly compensated writing as semipro, when the other also has the commercial motive of establishing a writer’s brand and stimulating sales?

Finally, a little discussed but very significant change to the Best Fanzine category is likely to be ratified at the same Business Meeting. As I read it, blogs and some websites will become eligible in the fanzine category. Wouldn’t it be absurd to preserve a category for the benefit of a few paper semipro fanzines if other issue-based fanzines must compete with blogs having thousands of readers?

In essence, times have changed and done away with many of the reasons for keeping the semiprozine category.

No Reservation Required: The category was created 25 years ago by fans concerned that the Best Fanzine Hugo category had become dominated by commercially-motivated, professionally-printed, high-circulation zines like Locus, Science Fiction Review/The Alien Critic, Algol/Starship, and Science Fiction Chronicle. Such zines were moved into the new Best Semiprozine category in 1984. And I’m hardly ungrateful – that’s the reason mimeographed, hand-collated File 770 won its first Best Fanzine Hugo in 1984.

But with the dawning of the Age of the Internet a strange reversal occurred, and  I wonder to what extent Ben Yalow and Chris Barkley (who submitted the original motion) were spurred to action by the slate of Best Semiprozine nominees for 2006: Ansible, Emerald City, Interzone, Locus, New York Review of Science Fiction.

Locus won again, of course.

However, nominees Ansible and Emerald City would have been eligible to compete in the Best Fanzine category (and had done so formerly) barring their editors’ unilateral declaration that these were semiprozines (one of the eligibility definitions provided by the rules). Consider that just three of several dozen semiprozines proved capable of outpolling amateur publications in order to make the final ballot.

It’s as if in 2006 the voters were already exercising an implicit veto over the continued existence of this Hugo category.

Drawing a Circle Around Locus: The rules change eliminates the Hugo for semiprozines while preserving the list of semiprozine criteria in the simultaneously amended definition of Best Fanzine. So Locus (and semiprozines generally) won’t drop back into contention with other fanzines after the rules are changed. No doubt that’s a politically necessary feature to get the change passed by long-time fans at the Business Meeting who won’t have forgotten the original purpose of the semiprozine category.

On the other hand, consider how trivial some of the criteria now are, compared with their importance 25 years ago.

One of the formerly important attributes of Locus that made its way into the Best Semiprozine definition was “an average press run of more than 1000 copies per issue” (Locus far exceeded that, of course). A zine needed to become an engine of commerce in order to pay its printer for thousands of expensively-published paper copies, and buy postage for mailing them. Now the ease of distributing material to many readers through the internet allows the option printing no copies, using instead PDFs or other kinds of electronic text files. Press runs aren’t a limiting factor when Hugo voters can see many eligible works online.

Paying for material can also be a defining feature of a semiprozine. The amateur ideal has hung around the discussion since the original Hugo award for Best Amateur Magazine, later renamed Best Fanzine. Yet paying contributors has never legally ruled a fanzine ineligible for the Best Fanzine category provided that’s the only one of the five semiprozine criteria it satisfies. That’s proven by 2009 nominee Electric Velocipede, which pays for material.

Another cherished assumption about the categories in which pro writers should properly compete has already been tested to destruction in the Best Fan Writer Hugo category. The kind of writing that once filled Science Fiction Review and Algol/Starship – bought and paid for – now is available for free from literally hundreds of pros in venues that don’t possess a single attribute of semiprozines as defined by the Hugo rules.

Internet distribution levels the playing field. Fanzines can pay writers and remain fanzines. Pro writers market their work by giving away to fans what we used to have to buy. We may believe we can infer the commercial or noncommercial motives behind various types of published writing and art, but awards categories based on our guesses about people’s intent are arbitrary and inconsistent. “Semipro” is no longer a helpful boundary definition, which makes it hard to justify continuing any category it defines.

Til Semiprozines Have Faces: Some object that Locus has virtually monopolized the category, winning 21 times in 25 years. One of the paradoxes of fan psychology is how we set up “best of the year” awards, then become impatient unless they’re won by someone new every year.

I consider Locus to have gone beyond consistent excellence over the past four decades — it’s also achieved ever-increasing quality during that time. I’d say something has been lost when an award causes people who might otherwise marvel at its phenomenal achievement to curse Locus for not obligingly going out of business and leaving room for someone else to win. In short, my opinion about the change has nothing to do with how many times Locus has won.

One zine, no matter how great, isn’t sufficient justification for a Hugo category, however. Even two or three top semiprozines, adding in the frequently-nominated New York Review of SF and Interzone, are not enough. Some have argued there are too few strong semiprozines to support a Hugo category.

I suspect advocates of the rules change considered the fiction semiprozines immaterial to the debate until Neil Clarke, Publisher/Editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, refused to let the Best Semiprozine Hugo category go down without a fight.

Clarke’s Save the Semiprozine rallied vocal opposition to the change, and 32 semiprozines have identified themselves on the site. They’re a volatile group, some having suspended publication or gone out of business since the beginning of this campaign. That still leaves the population larger than I believed: others may have been surprised, too.

When there was a Best Professional Magazine Hugo category, the universe of prozines sometimes shrank to 10 (1967) or even 6 (1972) as titles fell victim to downturns in the economy. (Source: the Wikipedia entry on science fiction magazines.) Yet there was never a call to abolish the category due to there being too few potential nominees. Perhaps that’s not a very strong argument against the Best Semiprozine category, either.

Pro Arguments: Save the Semiprozine has also opened channels of communication for people to hear the semiprozine editors’ own arguments in favor of keeping the award.

John Klima said it is a rush to be nominated, and that the award recognizes hard work. David G. Hartwell wrote:

We are opposed to that abolition for several reasons: we cannot honorably compete in any other category; we derive great personal satisfaction from our nominations; and most of our competitors in the category feel the same way.

That is not an inconsiderable argument. It’s very gratifying to witness a friend’s pleasure in winning a Hugo. People voted to divide the Best Editor category into Long Form and Short Form partly so that David Hartwell and Patrick Nielsen Hayden and other noted novel editors would share some of the glory going to magazine editors every single year. (As it turned out, Hartwell’s first Hugo win occurred just before the division took effect.)

New York Review of Science Fiction is the kind of classic sercon publication that the creators of the Best Semiprozine category expected to dominate it. However, as shown at Save the Semiprozine, nonfiction semiprozines are very much in the minority. And that “great personal satisfaction” has been denied to fiction zines for the most part.

There have never been more than two semipro fiction zines nominated in any year. Just six different fiction zine titles made the Hugo ballot from 1999-2008.

(Interestingly, only two titles nominated during that timespan are still published, Interzone and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Absolute Magnitude, Helix, Speculations, and The Third Alternative are gone.)

Despite the odds against semipro fiction zines ever winning, their editors are very reluctant to see the category killed off.

If anyone harbors a prejudice against fiction semiprozines, assuming they’re filled with stuff that “real” prozines would pass over, be aware that’s seldom the case. Over the years, some of these zines have had award-nominated stories. A couple have sold “best of” collections to major sf publishers, like Del Rey. Many of the zines listed at Save the Semiprozine pay competitive rates to beginning writers. 

One editor believes a Hugo is needed to reward what these semiprozines are doing for the sf field.

Wendy S. Delmater of Abyss & Apex argued that the Best Semiprozine Hugo should continue in recognition of services like:

(1) We are talent scouts for the pro magazines. A&A is a good market for new writers – 25% of our stories are first-ever publications for our authors.

(2) Other semiprozines give similar things to the community: a place to move up the publication ladder, a niche that might appeal to a broader audience, and-especially in the case of review zines-a place for the community to interact.

When I looked at the wordage rates offered to beginning writers by semiprozines and prozines, I was surprised to see they often aren’t that far apart, by no means the great chasm I expected. The competition to develop a successful magazine involves more than money, it requires a lot of other skills and personal intangibles, too. Exactly the spectrum of abilities already recognized in this Hugo category:

3.3.8: Best Editor Short Form. The editor of at least four (4) anthologies, collections or magazine issues primarily devoted to science fiction and / or fantasy, at least one of which was published in the previous calendar year.

The present rule is not limited to editors of printed publications. It isn’t restricted to professional publications. Fiction semiprozine editors are already eligible for the award as presently defined. There will still be a Hugo recognizing their services if the Best Semiprozine category is eliminated.

Eliminating the category is consistent with the long-term trend to recognize individual people. That’s why Best Prozine was superseded by Best Editor, because fans wanted to honor a person, not a title or corporate entity.

Calling the Question: There seems to me little need for a Best Semiprozine Hugo. The five hallowed criteria have diminished meaning, due to the advent of the internet, and because we are not trying to enforce a strict amateur/pro divide.

The semiprozine editors’ arguments that we need to keep their category because (1) it’s a rush to be nominated and (2) it rewards hard work aren’t very persuasive. If that was all it took to get Hugo categories added, there’d be a Best Filk Hugo and many more.

Semiprozines help uncover literary and artistic talent, and for that the editors are eligible in another category, Best Editor: Short Form.

That’s why it makes sense to me to ratify the rules change.

For Fanzine Fans at Anticipation

Lloyd Penney has an update about the fanzine lounge at Anticipation. It is not in a dedicated room, but “is one part of a larger lounge area the convention is calling the Relax Area.” That’s close to the Art Show. It’s also supposed to be near a concession stand, a necessity because “any budget the fanzine lounge had went to its furnishings.” The area has free WiFi, though Lloyd still needs to determine if webcasting from the lounge is possible. He’d like to have a Ustream event, but no promises.

The hours for the lounge are:
Thursday          11am – 6pm
Fri, Sat, Sun     10am – 6pm
Monday            10am – 4pm

The deadline for submitting zines to the Worldcon apa, WOOF, will be Saturday (August 8) at 2 p.m.

Meanwhile, Cathy Palmer-Lister has scoped out the restaurant where fanzine editors will meet for lunch during Anticipation, on Saturday at 12:30. They’ll dine at the Fourquet Fourchette

a restaurant in the convention centre which serves really interesting food, such as bison, caribou, etc, at very reasonable prices. Unibroue is the beer, and I highly recommend it!

The lunch directly follows the faneds panel. Cathy adds, “The restaurant is usually closed at this hour on Saturday but opened for us, so we really need people to show up!”

Update 08/01/2009:: Note that the date and time of the lunch have been changed since this post — see Faneds Lunch Reset.

Ray Bradbury’s Non Scents

Deborah Behrens of LAStageBlog visited Ray Bradbury at home and the Grand Master gave her quite a wonderful interview. He began with some pungent comments about the Kindle:

“It’s not a book!” exclaims Bradbury during a recent afternoon visit to his Los Angeles home. “It doesn’t smell! I’m writing a poem right now called There Are Two Smells in the World That Are Beautiful. A new book has a great smell. An old book smells even better. It smells like Egyptian dust. Internets don’t smell, you see. And so, to hell with them!”

I wouldn’t disagree with Ray. Just the same, there are a few blogs I hold my nose while reading.

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the link.]

We Interrupt This Laughter

Every few weeks John Scalzi is accused of being so popular he can unjustly influence the outcome of an issue vital to the science fiction field. Take his frequent appearances on the final ballot of the Hugo Awards, for example. The Hugos are exceptionally vulnerable to this sort of thing because the nominees tend to be works people actually like, the very thing John writes. Oh, fie upon you, John!

What’s worse, John has such fun playing off the swirls of controversy occasioned by his popularity that, darn it, he comes off as even more likeable. I thoroughly enjoyed the latest example, Slavering Hordes! I Command You to Take This Poll!

Please stop it, John! How can we make room for the more deserving works if you insist on attracting rather than repelling fandom?

However, John’s critics might want to pay attention to the results  of that highly scientific poll which show the writer’s sway over his minions may have been overstated:

The current results of yesterday’s poll suggest that only three percent of you are blindly willing to do my bidding, but that 30% might be willing to do my bidding if there’s cake involved.

The takeaway for John’s critics? Stop griping and start baking!

They’re Back!

The AP is reporting that “The Addams Family” musical will have its Broadway opening on April 8 at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Nathan Lane is Gomez, Bebe Neuwirth is Morticia, Kevin Chamberlin is Uncle Fester, Jackie Hoffman is Grandma and Zachary James is Lurch. Andrew Lippa created the music and lyrics. Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, authors of “Jersey Boys,” wrote the book.

(Is Robbie Bourget still into the Addams Family as she once was? Then book that flight!)

[Via Matthew Tepper.]

Mythic Fun at UCLA

 Diana Glyer at Mythcon 40 Sarah Beach, Diana Glyer, James Owen at Mythcon 40 opening panel Lee Speth, Glen GoodKnight, James Owen hold Society banner Lisa Cowan and Lisa Harrigan at Mythcon 40 Sierra, Sophie, Nathaniel before Mythcon 40 procession Princess Sierra at Mythcon 40 Mike, Diana and Sierra at Mythcon 40 banquet James Owen displaying food sculpture at Mythcon 40 banquet The Condiments They Keep by James Owen

Mythcon 40 returned the series to its Southern California roots, attracting 136 fans and scholars for a weekend of play and scholarship on the UCLA campus. Author GoH James A. Owen and Scholar GoH Diana Pavlac Glyer developed the theme “Sailing the Seas of Imagination” in their keynote speeches, while at the banquet Mythopoeic Society Founder Glen GoodKnight sketched a vision for using technology to extend the Society’s work into the future.

Diana and I brought Sierra to the conference. She had a ball playing with the Owen children Sophie and Nathaniel. And a high point of her weekend was the expedition to the campus’ family pool, graciously led by Farah Mendelsohn. The con also profited from Farah’s donation of five copies of her Rhetorics of Fantasy – had she been able to stay for the very last meeting, she would have been gratified to see that just as soon as chair Sarah Beach announced they were for sale, fans rushed to the front of the room with twenties waving in their hands.

Some of my photos actually came out, and are posted above. (Scroll your cursor over to read the tags explaining who’s in them.)

The 2009 Mythopeic Award winners were announced at the conference banquet:

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature

Carol Berg, Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone (Roc)

Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature

Kristin Cashore, Graceling (Harcourt Children’s Books)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Inklings Studies

John Rateliff, The History of the Hobbit, Part One: Mr. Baggins; Part Two: Return to Bag-end (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies

Charles Butler, Four British Fantasists: Place and Culture in the Children’s Fantasies of Penelope Lively, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, and Susan Cooper (Children’s Literature Association & Scarecrow Press, 2006)

(The full awards press release appears after the jump.)

Another Mythcon banquet tradition was the preparation of food sculptures from select leftovers, dubbed with punny titles appropriate to the works of the guests of honor. James Owen created a dragon’s head with ketchup and mustard and named it “The Condiments They Keep,” a sound-alike for the title of Diana’s Inklings study, The Company They Keep.

Continue reading

Bradbury’s Run

As mentioned here before, on the night of the Moon landing Ray Bradbury was interviewed by CBS’ Mike Wallace.

Of course that was after he bailed on David Frost’s silly program, as mentioned in a podcast at Portal of the Universe titled Ray Bradbury Looks Back at Apollo 11, an interview conducted by Mat Kaplan.

Ted Gioia provides a play-by-play of Bradbury’s dramatic evening:

Bradbury walked out on David Frost’s Moon Party, a peculiar British TV concoction which countered the news coverage of the historic events with strange entertainment, featuring everything from Englebert Humperdink to a discussion on the ethics of the lunar landing involving A. J. P. Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr.  Bradbury was so moved by the Apollo landing that he was in tears. The irreverence of Frost’s coverage was more than he could bear.  

Of course, on this night Mr. Bradbury had no shortage of invitations. After leaving Frost’s “party,” he took a taxi to CBS’s studio, where the author was interviewed by Mike Wallace. “This is an effort to become immortal,” Bradbury proclaimed. How? “We’re going to take our seed out into space and we’re going to plant it on other worlds and then we won’t have to ask ourselves the question of death ever again.”

[Thanks to John King Tarpinian for the link.]