Stuff That Was Once Cool

While revisiting fanhistory for my Worldcon panels I began remembering some of the cool fannish things I once wished to own. Some of them I acquired. Some are still cool. One is still cool and available.

The Acoustic Modem

Plenty of fans in the 1970s were engineers, programmers and science grads with legitimate access to the ARPANET, the early computer network and forerunner of the internet. LASFS party hosts with accounts, of course, appreciated that the highest and best use of the system was calling into M.I.T. to let their guests play Zork.

Connecting to the net involved placing a regular phone receiver in the cradle of an acoustic coupler modem linked to the home PC. Those early modems were as big as a combat boot – the one my friends had must have been even bigger than the one in the picture, still, you get the idea.

It would have been heavenly — for some values of heaven — being able to call in and play Zork for endless hours with no other fans waiting breathlessly beside me for their turns. However, they soon clamped down on access to ARPANET accounts, and I could not have afforded however many hundred dollars that gadget cost. But it was cool!

The Ellison Index

Leslie Kay Swigart had been an active LASFS member of the era right before I joined the club, which is one reason Bruce Pelz had a copy of her magnum opus, Harlan Ellison: A Bibliographical Checklist. The 1973 first edition was printed by Williams Publishing of Dallas and I don’t know if that was a publishing house or just a printer. In any event, he showed off his copy during one of the card games at his place. The intricate cover by Leo & Diane Dillon made it look awesome. (Gosh, did I just write awesome?) And bearing in mind that Harlan Ellison in 1973 was at the pinnacle of his popularity, it’s understandable why Bruce’s offer to sell us copies was irresistible. You can’t read what you don’t even know exists, and in those pre-internet days Swigart’s checklist was the simplest way of discovering everything our hero had written.

Team Banzai headband

In 1984, Twentieth Century Fox hired a crew to travel around the country promoting The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension at conventions. They were the only source for the Team Banzai headband. The over-the-top title and the movie’s implicit coolness struck the right note with fans, which made the headbands popular. A few did wear them as headbands, others as armbands or thighbands, or tied to some piece of fannish paraphernalia.

Glow-in-the-Dark Bid T-Shirt

Fans sure did like the glow-in-the-dark LA-in-90 bid t-shirt (the yellow shirt in this picture). It may have been the most appealing thing about our bid. I’ll bet plenty of fans were wearing these shirts while happily marking their ballots for Holland.

Heinlein Blood Donor Pin

Robert Heinlein suffered two years of extensive illnesses and received many pints of his rare blood type in transfusions. He was determined to pay-it-forward, publicizing the National Rare Blood club and blood donation generally. Fans organized a blood drive at the 1976 Worldcon, MidAmericon, where he was guest of honor and Heinlein said he would only sign autographs for people who donated blood. Part of the package deal was a RAH blood donor pin (commissioned by the LASFS) and copies of his “Are You A Rare Blood” offprint which many of us had him autograph.

Commemorative Heinlein blood drives continue at conventions to this day, and unlike some of the other cool things mentioned in this article you can still get a donor pin.

9 thoughts on “Stuff That Was Once Cool

  1. Mike, the way I remember those LASFS parties not only did they have the acoustic modems but also dumb terminals (just a keyboard and a screen, not a computer). And I don’t think the name of the game was Zork (which was Infocom’s version) but instead it was called Adventure.


  2. I know I played Star Trek on a dumb terminal in Columbus in 1977. All my LA memories revolve around either Altair Niven (Hammurabi, etc.) or computers linked to a remote server.

    I believe Adventure was a separate game from Zork rather than a precursor. But someone can correct me if that is wrong.

  3. I had one of those Banzai headbands and actually wore it for a while, but sadly it’s buried in some landfill somewhere, long gone.

  4. I got one of those Team Banzai headbands too. I got mine at the 1984 Worldcon in LA. Somewhere along the line it has, alas, gone missing.

  5. I thought I gave blood to Heinlein at Torcon or one of the other Worldcons that were my first… I never got one of those pins, I know that. I should have known better than to give blood to a scheming vampire…

    Seriously, though, it might have been some other blood drive at the Worldcon. I don’t think Heinlein was at Torcon or Disclave. But he *was* at Kansas City… so… maybe! But no pin.

  6. Your story about Heinlein and the blood drives is mostly correct, but it was at the 1976 Westercon (in early July) where they started. Heinlein asked us to do it and Westercon agreed. We created posters (art by Linda Miller, Marc Schirmeister, and other fan artists) and we posted them around the con. Those pins were made up (obviously in advance) and distributed. Etc. Heinlein had said if we did it, he’d come down to LASFS and sign autographs, shake hands, etc. Which he did a few weeks later. (Prior to coming to LASFS, Larry & Fuzzy Niven, Jerry & Roberta Pournelle, and I took him to dinner.) Two months later, MidAmeriCon followed suit, with Heinlein as their Guest of Honor. Other conventions started doing them as well (I don’t remember if there were any other between Westercon and Worldcon that year who did so but there have certainly been plenty since then).

  7. @Craig: Thanks for the refresher. Now the timing of some other things I remember fits together. I did meet Heinlein before MidAmeriCon. I was procedural director when he came to the clubhouse, but couldn’t remember the order of events. The Heinlein Society info about this history also omits the Westercon blood drive.

  8. I first played Star Trek on Fuzzy Niven’s Altair which was programed with paper tape (pre-floppies) through a teletype terminal.

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