Spikecon Spoonfuls

By John Hertz:  Spikecon combined Westercon LXXII (regional) and the 13th NASFiC (North America S-F Con, since 1976 held when the Worldcon is off-continent – this year’s Worldcon was in Dublin, Republic of Ireland), plus a 1632 Minicon (fans of Eric Flynt’s 1632 series) and Manticon 2019 (fans of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series, with its Royal Manticoran Navy, i.e. Space navy).  This was a first.

Chair, Kate Hatcher; attendance, about 800; in the Art Show, sales about $20,000 by about 60 artists.

The Westercon and NASFiC each had Guests of Honor.  The Utah Fandom Organization (yes, that spells –) brought two more; eight other sponsors brought nine more.

It all happened at Layton, Utah, 4-7 July 2019, fifty miles from where the Final Spike was driven completing the Transcontinental Railroad 150 years earlier.

Layton (population about 70,000) is twenty-five miles from Salt Lake City, where Westercon LXVII had been – the first in Utah.

We used the Davis County Conference Center and five hotels.

Studying available space I hadn’t seen anywhere to put a Fanzine Lounge.  Hatcher said “How about a fanzine party in the Hospitality Suite?”  With Hospitality Suite chief Dorothy Domitz’ agreement we settled – if that word may be used in fandom – on Friday night, 7-10 p.m.

Craig Glassner, who had hosted the Fanzine Lounge at the 76th Worldcon in 2018, was my co-host for the fanzine party.  We were both on-site by Wednesday and went shopping with Chris Olds the Party Maven.  I made a flier.

Also I was Chief Hall-Costume Judge.  Decades ago hall costume was settled for the costumes some people wear strolling the halls.  Marjii Ellers called them “daily wear from alternative worlds”.

Stage costumes are meant to be seen at a distance; hall costumes are meant to be met.  To acknowledge them a gang of judges prowls the con and, spotting a good one, awards a rosette on the spot.

The con had made disks with Spikecon – Hall Costume Award; while shopping I looked for lace, or like that, to go round them.  JoAnn Fabric & Crafts didn’t have spools enough in any appealing style, but on the way out I saw some red-white-and-blue-striped cake cups (for cupcakes, right?): it was the Independence Day weekend.  We got those.

Selina Phanara hadn’t anything ready to exhibit in the Art Show, but luckily I was able to borrow the Selina Phanara Sampler from fellow Phanara fans Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink & Jerome Scott, a vertically (“portrait”?) laid out banner with color reproductions and her name and E-mail address.  Art Show chief Bruce Miller proved to have space for it.

By Selina Phanara

Friday.  The first of three Classics of SF  discussions 

I led, on “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” (which just won the Retrospective Hugo for Best Novelette of 1943), was at 12:45 p.m.  Regency dancing had to be at 3:15 – another time and space problem.  The Chesley Awards (by the Ass’n of SF Artists) and Art Show Reception were at 7.  So after “Mimsy” I hustled back to my room, changed, sauntered to the Conference Center for dancing – can’t hustle in Regency clothes – then met my fellow Art Show judges to decide and turn in the Art Show Awards before the Reception, then back to my room for conventional garments, and hustled to the Hospitality Suite where Glassner had started the fanzine party.

But we trespass upon chronology.

About “Mimsy”.  A.J. Budrys, one of our best authors and critics both, taught “Always ask, Why are they telling us this?”  Why do Kuttner & Moore tell us Jane Paradine, the children’s mother, is very pretty?  Remember a woman is co-writing; K&M always said that everything they published, under any name (they used many; “Mimsy” appeared as by Lewis Padgett), was by the two of them together.

Discussion considered Sexism? – or Mere sexism? (whatever that may mean, about which there was also talk) – or Sexism unconsciously or otherwise adopted by a 1943 woman?

Beyond or beneath or beside this we human beings are drawn to beauty; think not only of an attractive man or woman, but also “I saw young Harry … gallantly armed, / Rise from the ground … and vault … with such ease into his seat / As if an angel dropped down from the clouds, / To witch the world with noble horsemanship” (Henry IV Part 1, Act 4 scene 1).

At different points in “Mimsy” K&M invite us to feel for the parents – for the children.

Note also the sneaky ironic foreshadowing of “The only people who can understand philosophy are mature adults or kids like Emma and Scotty.”

Does Rex Holloway, the psychologist, help or  hurt?  Does Paradine suggest paradigm; does Holloway suggest hollow way?

Is “Mimsy” tragic – in the classical sense, grievous and revealed to result from a fault of the recipient even if – or because – that fault had been thought insignificant?  Why?

Why does the story end with the telephone ringing?  Who did K&M tell us is calling?  Why?

Since Unthahorsten is “a good many million years in the future”, what happens to Emma and Scotty?

About Regency dancing.  Maybe you already knew my article in Mimosa, or maybe you followed the link to it above.  I hold Jane Austen one of the greatest authors in the world, and yes, that means I rank her with Aeschylus, and Shakespeare, and Lady Murasaki.  But she – since I’m talking to SF fans here – is, like them, a Martian writing for other Martians.  She doesn’t explain.  Georgette Heyer, writing two centuries later, like an SF author introduces us to the world she portrays.  So it’s she I recommend, to start with anyhow; luckily she’s a superb author herself.

I’ve said Cross-cultural contact is homework for SF.  Mike Ford said history is our secret ingredient.  Theodore Sturgeon said science fiction is knowledge fiction.  Not all knowledge is data.  Some of it is doing.  I learn a lot from this hobby that grew out of a hobby.

The Hospitality Suite was in the Garden Inn, attached to the Conference Center, not in the Homes2 Suites across a driveway, which had been planned as the Party Hotel.  As it turned out, the Hospitality Suite could stay open until 2 a.m.; the Homes2 shut down parties at midnight.  Could that have been discovered in advance, maybe even worked around?  For ways that are dark, and tricks that are vain, our hotel negotiations are peculiar.

Glassner and I had each brought a handful of fanzines, some recent, some from years past.  People looked and talked.  I’d also printed the opening page of Bill Burns’ efanzines.com.  That gratified some, and was news to others.  Obviousness is relative.  After our three hours we donated what remained of our food and drink, also two little tables I’d bought to spread fanzines on.

The Hospitality Suite may be the best part of an SF convention.  You’re welcome whether you’re a fan or a pro or both; whether or not you’re in with some in-crowd.  Conversations happen.  You meet people you didn’t know you wanted to meet.

Sometimes it’s called the Con Suite because the con itself hosts it, unlike say a SFWA Suite (SF Writers of America).

In the Homes2 lobby later, half past midnight or maybe one, I found a surprisingly large crowd, and a spread of refreshments along a center table.  Thus I learned parties were being shut down.  People had gravitated, and brought leftovers.  It was Lobbycon.

Here I heard Match Game SF had been fun, as usual.  Of course it had to happen.  Kevin Standlee, his wife Lisa Hayes, and their friend Kuma Bear, were Westercon’s Fan Guests of Honor.  For a dozen years they’ve been mounting this adaptation of the oft-revived television panel-game.  At the Worldcon they’d be nose-deep in the Business Meeting, and like that; Spikecon was the moment.  Until they started this, who knew Standlee had a game-show host in him?  Standlee, Hayes, and Kuma are fen of many talents.  Hayes does the tech.  I think Kuma is the producer.

Rocket Ship “Galileo” at the crack of dawn, i.e. 10:15 a.m.  I was not alone in wanting to celebrate the Glorious 20th; the U.S. Postal Service had issued a stamp.

Two decades before humankind actually did it, Heinlein wrote this speculation.  It’s the first of his “juveniles” – they have young-adult protagonists – books which some of us think his best: they’re gems.

“Galileo” is reasonable science for 1947.  Heinlein said he’d only compressed the time and the number of people.  Note that it isn’t a rocket ship built in a back yard.

Look how he manages the characterization – sparely but tellingly.  The books on the shelf in the clubhouse – Ross Jenkins’ parents (the one-word utterance “Albert.” in Chapter 4!) – “Going to put her down on manual?” and what follows.  Look how characterization also advances the plot – like setting up Art’s speaking German.

The very points we might hang fire on are things Heinlein needs for what I’ve called the C.S. Lewis One-Strange rule: an extraordinary person in ordinary circumstances, or an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances.  Boys taking apart almost anything mechanical from alarm clocks to souped-up jalopies.  “Cigarette, Doctor?  Cigar?” These are verisimilitude at the time of writing.

Were you looking for the Heinlein Double Surprise – something strange happens, then something really strange happens?  There it is!

The Art Show tour I led was at 11:30.  I didn’t invent these tours, but I often arrange them, and usually lead one myself.  Why me?  When Kelly Freas first told a con to get me for one, I went to him.  He said, “You seem to be able to say what you see.”

I’ve never forgotten that.  When I’m arranging the tours it’s what I ask tour leaders to do.

I used to say “docent tours”.  Docent is the right word, but I found people didn’t know what it meant, and didn’t look it up, so it put them to sleep.

The Art Show was one of the strengths of Spikecon.

Here was Mark Roland, one of few who does etching; his “Persistence of Memory” won 1st Place Monochrome (if you follow the link, scroll down, 3rd image; you’ll see he says these are limited-edition fine art prints, hand-wiped and printed on rag paper in his studio).  

Here was Elizabeth Berrien, whose “Cloud Unicorn” in aluminum wire won Best 3-D; she has not exhibited with us for a while, being distracted with airports and hotel lobbies.  Her Website is worth a look. At a party, or a panel discussion, you’ll see her listening or contributing to the conversation, all the while twisting wire.  She must carry the whole in her mind, like Michelangelo saying “I just get a block of marble and chip away anything that doesn’t look like a Madonna and Child.”

Jessica Douglas’ “Ghost Leviathan”, worked up from the page into bas-relief with layers of color, and found objects, won 1st Place Color.  She has recently been at Orycons.

“Always” by Elizabeth Fellows won 2nd Place Monochrome.  Looking straight at it you saw vertical strands of dark yarn on a field of white.  Fellows didn’t, so the Art Show did, mount a sign Look at it sideways.  You then saw a face – which I think was Alan Rickman as Severus Snape from the Harry Potter movies – but wasn’t his word “Forever”?  Where are my notes?

I was particularly glad Bjo Trimble, her husband John, and their daughter Kat, were at the con; as it turned out they were sponsored by Ctein (pronounced “k-TINE”; yes, that’s his full name; while we’re at it, there should be a circumflex over the in Bjo, an Esperantism indicating pronunciation “bee-joe”).

John, Bjo, and Kat Trimble in the Art Show – Bjo’s panel at left, Kat’s at right.

In the photo you can see Bjo’s “Aslan” (from The Chronicles of Narnia), which won 3rd Place Monochrome, over her head. Kat’s “Mariposa” (which you can’t quite see in the photo) was a Judges’ Choice.

Ctein is one of few photographers in our Art Shows.  Photos are necessarily of things actually existent; what’s the SF element?  We get some neighbors, like astronomicals, or the spacecraft so far built; and indeed Ctein shoots them.  But his other pictures too have a quality of marvel.  The art of photography includes the mind of the artist.  Ctein being one of the judges, and also exhibiting, he insisted that nothing by a judge should get an award.

No picture-taking is our Art Show rule, but Jan Gephardt was allowed to shoot this panel of her own (you can just make out some of her paper sculptures at upper left).

Saturday night, the Masquerade.  Decades ago this was a dress-up party; it’s now a costume competition – with a stage, lights, and sound, if we can manage.  The Masquerade Director was Tanglwyst de Holloway; Master of Ceremonies, Orbit Brown; judges, Dragon Dronet, Theresa Halbert, Kitty Krell.

Entering as a Novice, and winning Best in Show – which is quite possible, I’ve been a judge at Worldcon Masquerades where we did that – was Hanna Swedin, “Snaptrap” (Re-Creation, from Five Nights at Freddy’s 3; Re-Creation entries are based on known images, Original entries are not; the Novice, Journeyman, and Master classes allow entrants to compete against others with their own level of experience if they wish, but anyone can “challenge up”, and experience isn’t everything).

Here’s Swedin with a stage helper so you can see the size of her entry, and here she is with the Snaptrap headpiece and her Best of Show rosette.

Sunday brought the Site-Selection results.  Columbus, Ohio, won unopposed for the 14th NASFiC in 2020 (the 78th Worldcon will be at Wellington, New Zealand, in 2020).  Tonopah, Nevada, beat Phoenix, Arizona, 82-51, for Westercon LXXIV in 2021 (Westercon LXXIII will be at Seattle, Washington, in 2020).  

This is a noteworthy outcome.  In contrast with Phoenix, Tonopah is an unincorporated town of population 2,600; no air, rail, intercity-bus service; it’s halfway between Reno and Las Vegas (each about 200 miles, 250 km, away).  Probably not even the best crystal-gazer would venture to say what lurks in the minds of fen, but “Why Tonopah?” from the bid committee to its parent organization, all explained again at Spikecon in conversation, bid parties, and the exercise we call the Fannish Inquisition, may be instructive.

A quarter to one p.m., October the First Is Too Late.  As always I asked who’d read it recently or had it fresh in mind, who even if having read it didn’t have it fresh in mind, who hadn’t read it, who hadn’t heard of it; most always there are some of each (hadn’t heard of it may prove to be but I hear these discussions are fun, which I’ll take).

By way of reminding people to look things up I pointed out that “bacon” for an Englishman is nearer to what United States people call “Canadian bacon” than to what U.S. people call “bacon”.  If this is what you’re living on while camping, it makes a difference.

What’s all the music for?  Is it mere window-dressing?  Well, it shows the mind of the narrator.  It sets up the exploration of art and technology, human and mechanical possibilities, with the future (though we must beware of that word with this book) keyboard instrument in Chapter 13.

And music, at least as we understand it, is about time, and time is the theme, the endoskeleton, of the book: one of the more brilliant observations I heard all weekend.

What about the framing story?  What about “someone, or something, was using the Sun as a giant signaling device”?  Does it tell us anything about the fourth-millennium people?  The narrative doesn’t take us to it again – or does it, in the last chapter, with “a higher level of perception than our own”?

Are we to be uncertain about the certain uncertainty of the people we meet at the end, like Sir Arthur Clarke’s “It is well to be skeptical [or as he spelled it, sceptical] even of skepticism”?

At Closing Ceremonies the joined Westercon and NASFiC had to disjoin.  When Kate Hatcher ended Spikecon, the Westercon gavel went to Sally Woehrle for Westercon LXXIII; but the NASFiC is an entity of the World Science Fiction Society, so the WSFS gavel went to a courier for the 77th Worldcon which would need it before the 14th NASFiC.

Luckily Standlee, Hayes, and Kuma were present, being Fan Guests of Honor for Westercon LXXII, and Linda Deneroff was present, being Fan Guest of Honor for the 13th NASFiC, all experienced in Business Meeting fandom, so we managed.

Afterward in the course of helping take down and clean up I found my roommate Kevin Rice carrying a box of leftover plastic train-whistles.  He’d made them by 3-dimensional printing, gosh: six inches long with two pipes, the top one marked “Spikecon 2019” and the bottom one “Layton, UT”.  They were in various colors.

I knew there would be a Dead Dog party (until the last dog is –), and separately a Dead Dog Filk, so that’s where I went with them.  More of the filkers being of the musical-instrument type, they took more.

And so home.

A Word to the Wise

By John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 12)  Indeed there was rejoicing on Friday 10 May at Promontory, Utah.

That’s 40 miles from Layton, site of this year’s combined Westercon LXII [West Coast Science Fantasy Conference – oh, all right, it’s been in Colorado and Texas, and Alberta] and 13th NASFiC [North America Science Fiction Convention, held when the Worldcon is overseas] (also, for good measure, combined with the 1632 Minicon – Eric Flint’s 1632 shared-universe stories – and the Manticon – David Weber’s Honor Harrington stories with their Royal Manticoran Navy), to be held 4-7 July.

A hundred fifty years ago at Promontory, on May 10, 1869, the final spike was driven into the final rail-tie completing six and a half years’ work to create the Transcontinental Railroad.  Travel – of passengers or freight – from New York to San Francisco was shortened, not in space but in time, from six months to ten days.

So our convention will be Spikecon.

We s-f fans are to some extent students of technology.  Here was some.

Thousands attended the 150th-anniversary celebration, from 49 of the 50 States and from Canada, China, Germany, Japan, Switzerland.

The Central Pacific railroad had built from the west, the Union Pacific from the east.  In a famous photograph – more technology – the Central’s steam engine No. 60 and the Union’s No. 119 met, cowcatcher to cowcatcher, two 60-ton machines great in their day, the Union’s burning coal, the Central’s burning wood.  They were represented on this anniversary by restorations.

Who first sang “Who built the Ark?”  I’ve traced it to 1892 and it was well known then (The Dental Register v. 46, p. 603).  Thousands of Chinese helped build the Transcontinental in the west, thousands of Irish in the east.

Daniel Mulhall, ambassador from the Republic of Ireland, was present for this 150th, and raised a toast.  The ambassador from the People’s Republic of China, whose name in courtesy to him I had better spell Cui Tiankai and not Ts‘ui T‘ian-k‘ai, said in a recorded message the Transcontinental was a “telling example of how the Chinese and American people can come together to get things done and make the impossible possible.” 

Elaine Chao, United States Secretary of Transportation and the first Chinese-American of Cabinet rank, said “The Central Pacific needed industrious, tireless workers, and Chinese answered the call with great skill and dedication.”  A multiracial theater troupe performed a musical retelling in the wrong kind of Chinese peasant hats.  Lance Fritz, head of the Union Pacific, which now hauls far more freight than passengers, said the railroad laborers, in 12-hour days and sometimes brutal conditions, changed America forever.

Herman Wouk (rhymes with “oak”; May 27, 1915 – May 17, 2019) died ten days short of his 104th birthday.  He became famous several times.

His first novel Aurora Dawn (1947) was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection.  His third, The “Caine” Mutiny (1951), won the Pulitzer Prize, was adapted into a Broadway play The “Caine” Mutiny Court-Martial (1953) and a motion picture with Humphrey Bogart (E. Dmytryk dir. 1954).

His next, Marjorie Morningstar (1955), put him on the cover of Time magazine and was made into a movie with Gene Kelly (I. Rapp dir. 1958).  His sixth, Youngblood Hawke (1962), which he denied basing on Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938), was serialized in McCall’s and made into a movie (D. Daves dir. 1964) with James Franciscus.

His eighth and ninth, The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978), were made into television mini-series (D. Curtis dir. 1983, Winds; 1988-89, Remembrance) with Robert Mitchum.

A Hole in Texas (2004) is science fiction; what if, years after U.S. President Clinton canceled the Superconducting Supercollider, the Chinese announced finding the Higgs boson?  In fact no one found it until 2012.

The inside jacket of Hole says Wouk “exercises his deep insight and considerable comic powers to give us a witty and keen satire – about Washington, the media, and science, and what happens when these three forces of American culture clash.”  That’s true.

Like a good satirist he is fundamentally concerned with human nature, our foibles and – Sarcasm is in anger, satire is with love – our fortes.  Like a good s-f writer he illuminates by means of possible, fictional, science.  He realizes, as Sturgeon said, that Science fiction is knowledge fiction.

Winds and Remembrance together are 1,800 pages.  Hole is 280.

A word to the wise is sufficient.  This is problematic for satirists.  What if people in the audience – including, perhaps, the satirized – aren’t very wise?

Lafferty made Thomas More (1478-1538) the eponym of his marvelous Past Master (1968).  Poor Sir Thomas, if one may use that expression, pulled five hundred years into the future, keeps crying “Utopia [1516] is a satire!”

We haven’t yet reached the setting of Past Master – and I certainly hope we shan’t – but fifty years after Past Master was published we still don’t see that about Utopia.

You may jib at Hole’s explanation, chapter 5, thinking “It would have been better if Wouk had read more s-f.”  You may dislike, as the book goes on, what seems to be increasingly fundamental masculine sexism.

Should those befall, you will be lucky if you remember the superb management of what characters and readers must know in Marjorie Morningstar, and the devastating treatment of masculine and feminine romantic sex fantasies there and in Youngblood Hawke.

Maybe you won’t.  Maybe you won’t have read them.  In that case, and if nothing else helps you first, wait till the end of Hole, when the bubble bursts, the man is crashingly shown not so smart, and – satire is with love – everything nevertheless comes right.

Marjorie Morningstar may be Wouk’s best.  It may be great.  I have yet to meet anyone who was awake to it – what’s the author’s name?? – but time may tell.

The National Book Foundation making it a finalist said Marjorie was “released from the social constraints of her traditional Jewish family, and thrown into the glorious, colorful world of theater….  [a] paean to youthful love and the bittersweet sorrow of a first heartbreak.”  O Sir Thomas!

Classics of Science Fiction at Spikecon

By John Hertz:  Spikecon, 4-7 July 2019, will combine two general-interest s-f conventions, Westercon LXXII (West Coast Science Fantasy Conference – oh, all right, it’s been in Colorado and Texas) and the 13th NASFiC (North America Science Fiction Convention, held when the World Science Fiction Convention is overseas), and two special-interest ones, 1632 Minicon and Manticon 2019.  There’s a big tent for us!  Or maybe a geodesic dome. Or a Dyson sphere.

The con is named in honor of the Golden Spike, the last spike driven to join the Central Pacific and Union Pacific creating the Transcontinental Railroad on 10 May 1869, just forty miles from the con site.

We’ll do three Classics of SF discussions, one story each.  Come to as many as you like.  You’ll be welcome to join in.

I’m still with A classic is an artwork that survives its time; after the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen as worthwhile in itself.  If you have a better definition, bring it.

Here are our three.  I think each is interesting in a different way.  Each may be more interesting now than when originally published.

Kuttner & Moore, “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” (1943)

The authors each said, after they married, anything under their names or their various pseudonyms was by both.  Decades later, Tim Powers is known for explaining the real – i.e. SF – reason for something in history; here’s the real – i.e. SF – reason for something in fantasy; yet even that’s hardly the greatest element.  The title alludes to Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871), as we – maybe – eventually understand.

Heinlein, Rocket Ship “Galileo” (1947)

We’ve also come to the golden anniversary of the Glorious 20th, when humankind first set foot on the Moon.  Decades earlier came this speculation.  It isn’t, incidentally, a rocket ship built in a back yard; and as A.J. Budrys used to demand, it answers “Why are they telling us this?”  Nor are these pioneers the first – nor yet the second.

Hoyle, October the First Is Too Late (1966)

This first-rate astronomer – he was knighted six years later – also wrote SF.  In both fields he was famously willing to propose speculations far from others’.  In science one may someday be proved right or wrong; fiction doesn’t work that way.  We might say of this story It’s about time.  Only maybe it isn’t.  Maybe time isn’t.

Flint Won’t Make It To Balticon 51; Brust Added As Special Guest

The Baltimore Science Fiction Society announced that Balticon 51 Guest of Honor, Eric Flint, will not be able to travel to the con due to health constraints; he will, however, be attending some sessions via video teleconference.

Flint has been battling cancer, and opportunistic diseases such as pneumonia, which he discussed on Facebook.

Author and musician Steven Brust, the author of the Draegara fantasy novels, the Incrementalists secret-history series, To Reign In Hell, and Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grill will be coming to Balticon 51 as a Special Guest. A lot to look forward to — Brust’s resume reads: “I’m the author of twenty-six novels and one solo record. I’m an enthusiastic amateur drummer, guitarist, banjo player, and poker player.”

The 1632 MiniCon is still a go. While series creator Flint will be missing, all of the other contributors to the 1632 universe are still coming to Balticon 51, so the 1632 programming will carry on.

[Thanks to Dale Arnold for the story.]