My Life at Loscon – Part 1

By John Hertz: (mostly reprinted from No Direction Home 41)  Loscon is my local SF convention, sponsored by the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society; Loscon XLVI was 29 Nov – 1 Dec 2019 at the L.A. Int’l Airport Marriott Hotel; Author Guest of Honor Howard Waldrop, Fan GoH Edie Stern, Editor GoH Moshe Feder; attendance about 730; Art Show sales about $5,500.

Radiant thanks to Elizabeth Klein-Lebbink for her computer-aided-graphics help with Rotsler Award displays.  The Award is for long-time wonder-working in amateur publications of the science fiction community, the fame of its eponym Bill Rotsler, to honor whom it was begun in 1998; it’s sponsored by the Southern California Institute for Fan Interests (yes, that spells SCIFI, pronounced “skiffy”), and announced at Loscon.  The judges are Mike Glyer, Sue Mason (since 2015), and me (since 2003).

For years I made Worldcon displays showing work of the winners to date, and Loscon displays showing work of the year’s winner, with photocopies and colored construction paper.  At Denvention III the 66th World Science Fiction Convention they were mounted on handsome black signboard contributed by Spike; otherwise on pegboard with hooks and clips.

Recently Klein-Lebbink with her expertise and equipment has labored with me to do both displays on computer-printed banners, which have looked swell, saved hours of at-con effort, and eased reaching overseas Worldcons I’ve usually been unable to attend. 

The 2019 Worldcon (the 77th) was at Dublin; we also made a display celebrating the 500th year after the death of Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), who touched on SF with his designs for things not yet possible to available technology, and was generally amazing astounding planetary thrilling wondrous.  We mounted it at Loscon XLVI too.  Thanks to Jan Bender for getting it and the Rotsler-winners-to-date display to and from Dublin.

This year’s Rotsler winner is Alison Scott.  Thanks to Mason for helping wrangle Scott images (I mustn’t call them Scottish, she’s English) in time for Loscon.  You can see a note by me, with samples, here.

Photographs of the Loscon XLVI displays have been promised and no doubt will arrive Real Soon Now.  Meanwhile you can see the Dublin winners-to-date display here.

Drawing by Tim Kirk

At cons I’ve been leading Classics of SF discussions, one story (mostly book-length) each.  Once I did two books together – same author, same year.  I’ve been on but don’t recommend “What are the classics?” panels; I find they tend, instead of discussing, to become favorite-fights.

Sometimes a con puts me on, or has me moderate, a panel to discuss a story.  Most often it’s just I and the so-called audience – “so-called” because, from my point of view anyway, the blood of the SF community is participation.  I tell people “You needn’t speak up, but I hope you will.”  Also I believe the price of having strong opinions is recognizing that others can have strong opinions.

Do cons keep naming me alone because I’m so wonderful?  Maybe.  Maybe it’s easier for Programming than juggling the schedules of five people.

Loscon this year asked me to do two classics; I proposed, and when they were accepted I led discussions on, Asimov’s Second Foundation (1953), Friday afternoon at half-past one, and Lewis’ Perelandra (1943), Sunday afternoon at half-past two.

Perelandra had reached the Retrospective Hugo ballot.  It’s one of few books in our field to engage with mainstream religion.  Second Foundation happened to be the first Asimov I ever read.  It’s the third in a trilogy (Foundation 1951, Foundation and Empire 1952; decades later Asimov and others added prequels and sequels); Perelandra is the second (Out of the Silent Planet 1938, That Hideous Strength 1945).

Re-reading each before proposing them to the con I felt each could stand by itself.  Also I elected taking Second Foundation as a single novel, though composed of two shorter works “Now You See It –” (1948), “– And Now You Don’t” (1950; reached the Retro-Hugo ballot).

I try for stories interesting in different ways.  I think Second Foundation and Perelandra are.

Once a con asked me to do only one of these discussions; at another I did five.  Three seems to be about right, thinking of the con as an artform, its rhythm, its balance.  Some years ago when a Programming chief asked me what size rooms I’d need, I said “These discussions usually draw a dozen or two”; she said “That’s about what I thought.  Not huge crowds; but they’re a kind of thing we should be doing.”  I said “That’s what I think too.”

What’s a classic?  I’m still with A classic is a work that survives its time; after the currents which might have sustained it have changed, it remains, and is seen to be worthwhile for itself.

I don’t think we’re very classics-conscious in fandom.  Not just SF classics; any.

Compare Shakespeare (1564-1616): we know his plays drew crowds; we know all kinds of folk went to see them; they’re full of references to Greek and Roman literature of the previous millennium; indeed if you could read and write in his day you could read and write Latin.

Compare Perelandra, which was written for the general reading public, and is full of references to the Bible, The Divine Comedy (1320), Goethe (1749-1832), Greek mythology, Milton (1608-1674), Pope (1688-1744), Renaissance painting and poetry, Roman history, Shakespeare, H.G. Wells – and Lewis Carroll.  A current that’s changed.

On Friday afternoon, no one wishing to amend my proposed definition, we proceeded to Is “Second Foundation” a classic?

David H. Levine (i.e. not David D., whom I don’t expect to see at Loscon) said it towered above other SF.  Many said its characters were distinct – which is largely achieved by dialogue.  We’re given little of how they look; what they wear; their music; their landscapes; but – speaking of Lewis Carroll – if this is a book without pictures, it certainly has conversations (Alice in Wonderland ch. 1, 1865).

It’s complicated; but it presents its complications with clarity.  It has a sense of event.  It has a sense of the telling detail.  It’s neat; indeed, spare.  It’s vivid.  And if, as Asimov later said, he heard from somebody in the late 1940s that no one could write an SF detective story, he didn’t disprove it in 1953 with The Caves of Steel – he already had.

Then Regency dancing.  This fad in fandom – England having had few regencies, we mean the one of 1811-1820, and the years before and after, since a historical period seldom starts of a sudden – is of course very much my fault, but it came about because of Georgette Heyer.

Her historical fiction set then, thirty superb books published until her death in 1972 and much reprinted – yes, they’re romances, yes I a heterosexual man was so dull I had to be introduced to them by a woman – spark with wit appealing to the fannish mind.  I took up the challenge of teaching the dances.  Fuzzy Pink Niven doesn’t make that eggnog anymore.

So on Friday evening I changed clothes to host.  Sometimes a dozen or two come by, in costume or not; at the 42nd Worldcon there were three hundred.  Neola Caveny, whom Greg Benford had found and who the next night would moderate the Paul Turner memorial panel, had come from Hawaii and had made a Regency gown.

To be continued