Suppose I Do Care What Other People Think

by John Hertz:  (mostly reprinted from No Direction Home 20)  “People,” I often hear, “love to watch people making things.”  So I’ll open this window.

Spikecon was held on July 4-7, 2019, at Layton, Utah, combining Westercon LXXII (yearly; regional), the 13th NASFiC (North America Science Fiction Convention, held when the Worldcon is not in North America), Manticon 2019 (yearly; fans of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series and its Royal Manticoran Navy, i.e. Space navy), 1632 Minicon (yearly; fans of Eric Flint’s 1632 series).

The name “Spikecon” honored the 150th anniversary of the Final Spike completing the Transcontinental Railroad near the con site.

One of my adventures was conducting three Classics of SF discussions, as I have at various cons for a while.

I got to choose the three.  Then – I knew the job was dangerous when I took it – I had to write a short note about each, ideally following my own rule “Reliable for the ignorant, amusing for the knowledgeable”.  Man! – actually I don’t know your gender, so instead I’ll say Fan! – that’s hard.  However, Castiglione (1478-1529) reminds us of the pleasure which is had when we achieve difficult things.

After blood, sweat, and tears, I thought I’d managed.  Maybe you saw here what I felt content with.

But Spikecon wasn’t.  Concerned to invite people who didn’t already know all about everything, the con asked me to revise.  Not to dumb things down, I was told, just to be kinder.

This was a banner I’d long waved.  I liked (and still do) the ones Our Gracious Host posted here and didn’t ask they be changed.  But as to Spikecon, I accepted the reproof and tried again.  My second version was accepted.

Now we’ve had the con, and the discussions, and all.  You might not have seen both versions.  You might like to.  What do you think?

* * *

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

first version

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.

second version

First published under one of the authors’ pseudonyms, it’s on this year’s Retro-Hugo ballot.  The title is from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871).  Here, strange toys arrive, and the children playing with them get stranger.  Eventually we are made to wonder if children are really caterpillars, in which case they – but that would be telling.

Heinlein, Rocket Ship “Galileo” (1947)

first version

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.

second version

We’ve come to the 50th anniversary of July 20, 1969, when humankind first set foot on the Moon.  Decades earlier came the speculation of this book.  What if someone put together a rocket ship capable of Moon travel, outside big government, big business, big everything?  How might that happen?  Then what?

Hoyle, October the First Is Too Late (1966)

first version

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.

second version

This author, also a first-rate astronomer, was famous for proposing speculations far from others’.  If you’ve seen that mad juggling troupe the Flying Karamazov Brothers, you know one of their wisecracks is “Time is what keeps everything from happening at once.”  What if that wasn’t true – if everything was happening at once?

* * *

Speaking of reminders, here are two from Kelly Freas: Art is about communication, and (the only criterion, he said, for judging an illustration) It has to make you want to read the book.

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12 thoughts on “Suppose I Do Care What Other People Think

  1. I really don’t see the first version as unkind. I hate PC because the standards just keep getting harder to understand.

  2. Linda Robinett: I really don’t see the first version as unkind. I hate PC because the standards just keep getting harder to understand.

    The first versions weren’t labeled “unkind”, and they weren’t changed to be “more PC”. 🙄 They were changed because they were unintelligible.

    “Comprehensible English” isn’t a difficult standard to meet — or at least it shouldn’t be.

  3. The second versions are what I would prefer in a convention program. I really like the segue from Fred Hoyle to the Flying Karamazov Brothers. It is a great example of how you can be clever and accessible both at the same time.

  4. I’d call the second versions superior. The first versions: too many cryptic references, too much sudden and unexpected juxtaposition.

  5. I didn’t understand the first versions at all, so I am very happy with the changes.

  6. At first read-through, I didn’t really see the problem; they both looked fine to me.
    Then, I double-checked. What threw me off was his use of the word “kinder”. I jumped to the conclusion that the paragraphs somehow insulted. Maybe using “newbie-friendly” would be better.

  7. Newbie? To the english language, to encrypted fan speech or to what!?

  8. I know all three works, so I found the first versions interesting — but I don’t think they were right for program descriptions. (The reference to Powers was especially … distracting; OTOH, the comment about caterpillars was also obscure.) The second versions, if available beforehand, seem more likely to encourage people to read the works and come ready to talk about them; ISTM that this is a valid aim for a general-interest convention. I’m not necessarily one to talk as I get complaints in conversation for being too obscurely allusive — but I’ve also done documentation in which clarity rather then cleverness or compactness was the primary goal.

  9. What DB said. Too obtuse, with cryptic references that not even I all got. The point is to introduce the stories, not show how witty/learned the author (moderator) is.

    Other unanswered question: how many people attended each program item?

  10. The first versions read like they had been translated from English to Kzinti and back by a diffidently programmed computer that had had a few too many drinks.

  11. Writing blurbs is really hard. They have to entice readers to give the works a try, they can’t spoil anything, and they have to be short.

    I agree that the second batch is much better than the first.

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