LASFS Cuts the Birthday Cake

The Los Angeles chapter of the Science Fiction League (No. 4) began meeting in 14-year-old Roy Test Jr.’s family garage in 1934. On October 28, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society celebrated 70 years of friendship and fanac. Founding member Forrest J Ackerman performed the duty of gaveling the 3,507th meeting to order with President Van Wagner’s pink plastic lobster.

For Ackerman, Len and June Moffatt, this was their second consecutive day of celebration. A group of eofans gathered on October 27, the real anniversary, at their old stomping grounds, Clifton’s Cafeteria in downtown LA. Local TV news covered the get-together because it also included those teenaged fans who grew up to have stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen.

The October 28 club meeting drew around a hundred fans, about evenly divided between the usual crowd of active members and old-timers from bygone decades. The more widely-known regulars included John Hertz, Joe Minne (who introduced me to LASFS), Rick Foss, Matthew Tepper, Elayne Pelz, Drew Sanders, Charles Lee Jackson 2, Marc Schirmeister, Marty Massoglia, Christian McGuire (L.A.con IV chair), Francis Hamit, Leigh Strother-Vien, Ed Green, Liz Mortensen, John DeChancie, Marty Cantor, Tadao Tomomatsu (“Mr. Shake Hands Man”) and Mike Donahue. Some of the graybeards present were notables in national fandom back in the day, like Arthur J. Cox, and others remain well-known, like Fred Patten, John Trimble, William Ellern, Dwain Kaiser and Don Fitch.

Halloween Cheer for Trufen

A traditional American ending place is under a headstone in a grassy plot – how mundane! Remember, when you’re a fan, you’re a fan all the way. Why shouldn’t you go out like Spock or Captain Future? Which high-tech ending will you choose?

In the special of the day, Space Services, Inc. offers to orbit a gram of your ashes for $995. But perhaps a fiery ending is not for you. Then the cost is a little higher. Alcor Life Extension will deep-freeze your body for $120,000, or do a simple “neuropreservation ” for $50,000. Either way, you’ll be in distinguished company.

Well-known sf and space exploration figures were among the 25 people whose ashes were rocketed into orbit in 1997, including Gene Roddenberry, physicist Gerard O’Neill, rocket scientist Krafft Ehricke, and Timothy Leary. A lipstick-sized capsule of each person’s cremated remains circled the earth for six years, after which they fell back into the atmosphere and burned up. In 1999, a different, one-shot space burial delivered the ashes of astronomer Eugene Shoemaker all the way to the Moon aboard the Lunar Prospector.

The famous names of Alcor’s frozen “patients” are harder to come by, though it’s reported that pro baseball’s “Splendid Splinter,” Ted Williams, had his head and body preserved in separate tanks at the Foundation. You probably won’t find Walt Disney there. Rumors that he was frozen away someplace in hopes of future revival have been discredited.

Honestly, both alternatives – orbital burial and cryonic preservation — lack the solemnity people associate with Spock’s burial in space while Scotty mournfully pipes “Amazing Grace,” or the romance of Ed Harris’ farewell to Mary Ann Mastroantonio in The Abyss.

High-tech endings also suffer from comparison with the traditional burial in that no one from the community can come and pay their respects afterwards. One fan, Forrest J Ackerman, reportedly isn’t willing to miss out on posthumous egoboo. He has selected a grave marker that not only shows his photo, it plays his recorded greeting!

Forry always makes clear he has no expectations about the afterlife. For those who do, well-known theologian Charles Platt encourages a kind of “Pascal’s Wager” attitude toward cryonics:

“When you are frozen, you are no longer alive. Therefore, if there is an afterlife, you should experience it. You can think of cryonics as hedging your bets just in case an afterlife turns out not to exist.”

Be that as it may, being stored head-down in frozen nitrogen still sounds too much like being deposited in the deepest circle of Dante’s hell.

Fans ultimately may be less interested in a fancy sendoff. What they really value is words and stories. Whitman wrote “the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse,” and many can rest assured they did that literally.

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has promised that space travel is within your grasp – provided $200,000 is also within your grasp. No sooner did they announce the promise than bureaucrats began demanding that space traveling passengers be kept perfectly safe!

Space tourism in science fiction has never been safe. Delos Harriman evaded government restrictions and took his longed-for trip to the moon anyway. Hm, maybe the bureaucrats had a point after all – that trip ended Harriman’s life.

In real life, everybody wants to walk away from the ultimate thrill-ride, the way they did the old TWA rocket at Disneyland. That’s the goal, says Xcor’s Jeff Greason, president of a company whose own hopes of winning the X-Prize just went up in smoke. “The uninvolved public has to be held to a very high level of safety. There’s no reason they should be exposed to a level of risk that’s different than they see from any other aspect of industrial life.”

Naturally, passengers will feel a lot safer leaving the atmosphere aboard something that resembles an aircraft, and not a flying Rube Goldberg contraption like some of the lesser contenders for the X-Prize.

SpaceShipOne was just one of 65 entries registered in the X-Prize competition, which included a wild assortment of spaceflight schemes. As Richard Foss wrote in “Space Cowboys” (published in June 2004):

“Some X Prize entries use technology that is almost in the realm of science fiction, even by the standards of visionary aerospace professionals. They look like finned needles, disks, Lear Jets with rocket packs, or alien craft as envisioned by someone with a taste for psychedelics. The vehicles begin their ascent into space on gigantic rockets or tethered beneath the world’s largest helium balloons, piggybacked on aircraft or taking off as aircraft themselves. They come down dangling from parachutes or giant parasails, splashing into oceans or landing at conventional airports either as a glider or under their own power.”

When booking your own first trip into space, don’t be deceived by superficial good looks. Science fiction warns tourism by passenger liner can be just as dangerous — remember Fifth Element (which also discourages traveling by taxi).

Virgin Galactic’s $200,000 ticket quote sounds high, but no doubt the price is right for a company planning to stay in business. In 1969, the president of PanAm guessed a seat on one of those 2001 space station shuttles would cost $5,000 once the service got going — and as we all know, his company didn’t make it to the 21st century.

The Apprentice’s story of the day announces Jeff Berkwits will be the new editor at Amazing and that Ted White has already determined Berkwits lacks the necessary skills for this job.

Say what you will about Ted and his crystal ball, I’m sure he’s right. Ted has edited pro magazines, he ought to know. What’s more, I have a little experience in this line myself. It’s just that I was lucky enough not to get the dream job.

Berkwits is embarking on a desperate gamble that all his gifts as an editor and writer can be trained up fast enough to make the crucial difference in Amazing’s commercial survival. And he’s the kind of promising novice a scuffling prozine publisher will inevitably turn to.

When Jim Baen was leaving Galaxy in the 1970s, out of the blue Jerry Pournelle told me (entirely seriously) that I should apply to take over the job and that he’d put in a word for me. Well, I thought it over logically for about twelve seconds before getting swept up in the dream. I wrote the best application letter I could and mailed it off to Baen at Galaxy. Then I waited. Then I heard nothing. Then I read in Locus that Hank Stine had been hired as Baen’s replacement.

In hindsight one can see that Galaxy was already on the verge of a financial tailspin that could not have been halted by the resurrection of John W. Campbell. Hank Stine merely received the privilege of riding the bomb down to the target, like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove.

However, Stine was editor of Galaxy long enough to find my job application in his in-box, scrawl an insulting answer on the back in red pen, and mail it back to me. Really, it was a hilarious and pathetic gesture. Didn’t he have bigger things to worry about? Yes Hank, you were right, I did not have any credentials to aspire to that job.

In the mind of a science fiction fan, editing a prozine is a dream job. Who could turn it down? But I exaggerated when I said I was lucky not to have been picked. One of the things that distinguishes a fan is looking for external validation, and wouldn’t I have “proved” something to the sf community even by editing Galaxy into the ground? Er, don’t answer that.

As for Berkwits, I wish him luck and success. Been there. Almost did that.