Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2004/5


THE GALACTIC ROUTE

(Continued from Part I)

 

August 28 - September 19, 2004 * GHLIII Press Publication #972

 


NOREASCON 4: THE FIRST DAY

 

Our first duties at Noreascon exceeded the usual ones of registration at convention and hotel. We had boxes of DUFF stuff to dump in anticipation of the auction on Sunday.- and I desperately wanted a look at the program book. We left our faithful CRV with the valets - at $35 a day, we trusted they'd be gentle - and found one cart for our stuff and another for DUFF. Ensconcing baggage and Jesse in our corner room on the 9th floor of the South Tower, we began the exploration of the corridors and tunnels that would take us to the Hynes.

We hauled the boxes of auction material to the Fanzine Lounge, where John Hertz, trufan and attorney, had promised space for a Fan Funds Reception that night. Both Norman Cates and James Bacon, the TAFF winner, would be there, and so, incidentally, would everyone else at the con. The occasion was First night, a Noreascon innovation designed to get their con rolling hard and early. We'd long ago decided to piggyback the Fan Funds on its joy.

Huge Hall C at the Hynes was a wow as, hours before First Night, the crack N4 crew set things up. A computer station, a snack bar (with a slew of tables), and booths a'plenty for exhibitors and special interests - even unfinished and unopened, it was impressive. I found John in the corner set aside for the Fanzine ghetto and rid myself of the boxes, after pulling forth the zines - Challenger among them - I hoped to sell. Good to see Hertz again, by the way; a couple of years ago, he paid me one of the nicest compliments I've received in fandom, "You just want everybody to be happy."

The enormous weight of the boxes off our backs, Rosy and I went to registration. As we signed up - and I recovered my panelist ribbon and Hugo nominee ribbon and pin - the staffer handling our paperwork reached beneath her desk. Out came my personal copy of the program book.

Perhaps not quite as dramatic a moment as when Peggy Ranson plopped the Nolacon II book before me, in 1988 (a complete surprise, and at a Japanese restaurant, yet) ... but pretty powerful, nonetheless. Geri and Rosy and I had worked hard, very hard, on that book, and we'd hoped it would look good. Now here it was, and we knew. Not as creative in content at Let the Good Times Roll, my Nolacon book, but I couldn't count the compliments it drew in the next few days. I even heard some oldtimer compare it favorably to Tom Reamy's masterpiece from MidAmeriCon in 1976. It was our piece of the convention, and our pride ... and dammit, it did look good. I've handled many copies of that book, at the con and in the weeks since - but that first seen copy, the one the con gave to me, is the one I schlepped about the whole convention, seeking out contributors for their autographs. It was my way of thanking them for giving us so much great material to work from.

Opening ceremonies were set for 1PM. Originally my first panel - "Building a Better Fanzine" - was scheduled opposite it, but an anguished e-mail to Programming Chieftess Priscilla Olsen had fixed that. The panel was now set for 2. In the meantime, we greeted The People - Bobbi Armbruster, photos of her grandkids (impossible! Impossible!) on her cell phone, Fred Lerner, erudite author of Lofgeornost, Tony and Suford Lewis, true royalty of Boston fandom, Bob Devney, whose project for First Night was an open oneshot, and Naomi Fisher, with her Grace-full belly, Karen Schaeffer Ward, whom I first fell for when I saw her photo on a LASFAPA cover 20 years before, and Roger and Pat Sims, worrying aloud about their home in Orlando, in the path of Frances, and many others.

I don't remember much about Opening Ceremonies in the Hynes auditorium, just the marching fife and drum band (the Bostonia Allarum Companie) and the four Guests of Honor arrayed side by side on the stage. Terry Pratchett was shorter than I'd thought from his photos, but the frail, dignified, diminutive figure of William Tenn was precisely on my imaginative money. Tenn had been so civilized and so helpful during the program book preparations that I really looked forward to saying hello, but as soon as Deb Geisler rapped her oversized gavel, he mounted his special scooter and vamoosed. I seem to recall a stupid skit about time travelers, but details have mercifully slipped through my memory as if t'were the legendary poop and my brain the legendary goose.

So we found room 303 in the Hynes and my first panel, Building a Better Fanzine. Nicki was there, Steven Silver (moderator), my Kentucky pal Joe Major, and Noreascon's hardest worker, Geri Sullivan. Was that Kurt Erichsen, one of fandom's funniest and most skillful cartoonists, in the back row, or did he show up the next day? Anyway, as is usual for fanzine panels, the panelists outnumbered the audience, but those of us who were there tried to celebrate our dying hobby with as much cheer as pallbearers could muster. I remember that a major source of amusement, if you can call it that, was listening to the great Sullivan describe putting together the Convention Guide, a job she inherited after the program book was complete, and a complete nightmare.

Said guide listed an amazing number of panels and events, but Rosy and I had a long-standing date with Major and his wife Lisa - and Bob Devney. We hied ourselves out of the Hynes and onto the Prudential Center concourse. A short walk through mobs of yankee yuppies, and we were at Legal Sea Foods, and the Fan-Ed's Brunch.

Accompanying Devney was Challenger's correspondent Murray Moore, from our noble neighbor to the north. While we waited for a table to open, and the Majorses to return from an errand, Bob and Murray chatted outside the restaurant, Rosy went window shopping, and I found an open bench. Despite the clamor and motion all about me, I let my eyelids droop and the sweet arms of Morpheus enfold me, and it wasn't until Joe & Lisa appeared, and our table was prepared, that I awoke.

Legal Sea Foods had a funny name, and a "$$$" rating in the Restaurant Guide (another Sullivan project, I understand), but I was delighted. We were on a tight budget, but here I had to splurge. After all, how often do you get to feast on genuine Boston lobster? I ordered a dish based on a New England beach clambake, complete with mussels and clams and a pound and a half crustacean - with a bowl of warm water at hand to clean off the sand. It was all delicious. I devoured all. Rosy had to stop me from drinking the bowl of water. The cost would have parked our car for a day, but I'd gotten my lobster. And lo, it was good.

Uhh ... so was the company. We fan editors, a dying breed, should so something like this at every worldcon, until the world of printed fandom has breathed its last, and the winds of the all-conquering Net waft our ashes into the sea.

 

"First Night" was due to begin at 7, and we were there, in the Hall C, early, with Cates and Bacon and piles and piles of Mardi Gras beads. The question has been oft asked, what has Mardi Gras to do with TAFF or DUFF or any of the other fan funds, and our answer has always been, "Don't ask stupid questions."

Wearing the First Night button designed by Alice Naomi Lewis, I toured the ConCourse, the now-finished exhibit area, smiling at the Goddard Rocket Model, eying the Costumes, the photos from Noreascons past, and pausing - of course - at the Hugo exhibit. Remember my dream of gazing upon Hugo bases of

strange and wonderful design? Here they were, perhaps a bit less strange than the odd creations put forth by my subconscious, but wonderful nevertheless. Fun to walk about the cases, saying "I lost that one, and that one, and that one, and that one ..." I had never before seen the unique Hugo design from the London worldcon of 1957. A bittersweet sight. For their own reasons, lost to time, the London concom had restricted their awards to three: best American magazine, best British magazine, best fanzine. No fiction was honored. How terrible an oversight, because that was the year The Stars My Destination, doubtless the crowning jewel of '50s - nay, 20th Century SF, could have, would have, and should have won.

The Fan Funds reception went very well indeed. Norman and James were delightful guests. Past fan fund winners abounded, and Rosy slid beads about every throat. I remember no details - only that a grand time was had by all. At a table within the Fan Lounge, Devney's oneshot, The First Night Times, attracted contributor after contributor, each providing an account of one of their own "firsts." I almost wrote about the late, lamented Do Drive In in Metairie, Louisiana, but forbore. While we were thus engaged, Deb Geisler came up and threw her arms about my shoulders, thanking me for N4's fine program book. I kept the hug, but directed her gratitude to Rosy, who copy-edited the tome, and Geri, whose design can only be described as brilliant.

Outside in the Hynes concourse, a carnival atmosphere maintained. There was even a Hugo Ring Toss. What was this contest which involved people carrying signs with the names of their favorite SF characters? I could make no sense of it.

After several hours of such fabulous foolishness, we retired upstairs, to the parties. Of particular interest was Mike Resnick's listserv soiree at the CFG Suite. There Mike read a story and gorgeous Linda Donahue led her talented crew in a righteous display of belly-dancing. Linda is a cool, pale-skinned redhead, of amazing beauty, skill, and imperturbability. Showing less aplomb was Bob Eggleton, who wandered in during their dance and was forced to boogie along with them until he was able to free himself and find a seat. It was a particular joy to get his autograph in my contributor's copy of the program book. "We done good!" he wrote.

 

NOREASCON 4: THE SECOND DAY

 

The Friday morning edition of the daily newsletter, Triplanetary Gazette, contained the sad news about George Flynn, a preeminent Boston fan who had passed away the Sunday before the con. I made myself a promise to sign the book of condolences available in the ConCourse.

Rosy and I ate brunch in the Green Room, where kind Eve Ackerman kept things moving and ignored my repeated forays to the pastry tables. There we ran into Toni and Hank Reinhardt. "What are you doing in Massachusetts?" I asked. Remember my dream of a deserted motel? I figured out that it stemmed from my foolish worry that Hank's antediluvian politics would cause as much friction between us in person as it does in the next Challenger's letter pages. How horrible that George Bush might cost me a friendship of 30+ years, and cast a pall over the entire convention! Nonsense, naturally. However insane Reinhardt's politics, he is without my signature paranoia, and all was as it ever was. It may have helped that he operated behind an eyepatch, caused by an accident with a barbell and a rubber band (huh?), and needed all the sympathy he could get.

I attended his panel on "Fandom in the Fifties", which he shared with Juanita Coulson, co-editor of the fabled Yandro, Nolacon Fan GoH (and one-time worldcon chairman) Roger Sims, and the great Dave Kyle. Highlight was Juanita showing us a photo of a banquet at a worldcon from that era, and asking anyone who could to identify those depicted. Reinhardt's perspective as Southerner from that era was unique: for him a big convention was five guys reading pulps in a garage. I was glad that he mentioned the name of Al Andrews, the long-passed founder of modern Southern fandom.

My first panel of the day was "The Well-Read Fanzine Fan", featuring far more distinguished panelists than me. Juanita was on it, as was Joe Siclari, the publications chief for Noreascon and our wise, patient supervisor as program book editors. Steve Silver's Argentus is one of the best zines published, and Swede John-Henri Holmberg added the international point of view. His Nova is a beautiful publication, featuring translations of English SF as well as original Swedish material. I told him a story about my Swedish great-grandmother's book of folk songs, so he autographed my copy, "To Guy, to reconstruct to his linguistic roots". I'm sure we attracted but a small audience, but who cared? I was the one who being educated and entertained.

Hank's lecture on "Edged Weapons - and How Writers Get Them Wrong" fell opposite a tempting panel on Peter Jackson's new version of King Kong, but the old boy packed'em in. Why bother with an animated gorilla when you could see the real thing? Great stuff, and winningly popular - Rosy and I urged the Reinhardts to see the LotR exhibit, figuring the armor alone would captivate Hank for hours.

After a too-quick jaunt through the Art Show to see Eggleton's original cover for the program book (I'd have bought it had the lottery lived up expectations), Rosy and I were off to a simple sandwich dinner ... and my 7PM panel: Fannish Foxfire. With Joe Siclari and my brother barrister, Joel Zakem, I attempted to answer the question, and I quote, "OK, the apocalypse has happened. What do we need to know to carry on being a fan afterwards?" I remember some descriptions of hecto jelly and blessed little else. We hurried out of there to get Friday's major event

Friday's major event was the Retro-Hugo Awards. Normally, I dislike the Retros; the Bests of fifty years ago should have been decided by the fans of fifty years ago, and the fans of today have made some truly boneheaded choices in past Retros. But this year's ceremony was coupled with an interview program with the Guests of Honor, and that I wanted to see. Back to the auditorium we went.

Theremins were playing as we entered, and we grooved to those most science fictional of instruments. I forget exactly how the program went down - whether the interviews preceded the awards or vice versa. But to my surprise, I found that I enjoyed both.

Of course, the interviews were wonderful - Fan GoH Peter Weston talking with the other honorees, Jack Speer, William Tenn, and Terry Pratchett. I practically hugged my program book. Through it, I felt like I'd come to know these guys, especially Phil Klass (Tenn). All were delightful, and if I couldn't understand Weston's British accent half the time, the other half was grand fun.

For once, the Retros went to works I really felt deserved recognition - Arthur Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God", James Blish's "Earthman, Come Home" and the novella version of "A Case of Conscience" (both trophies retrieved by the late author's son) ... Conquest of the Moon, by Wernher von Braun, Fred Whipple and Willy Ley (Pat Molloy later arranged to have von Braun's Hugo put on display in the Space Museum in Huntsville!) ... The War of the Worlds, Slant, Tucker, Campbell, and as Best Artist, at effing last, Chesley Bonestell. Joe Siclari picked that one up. Even more rewarding was the Best Novel Hugo to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Do you realize SF has never given Bradbury a Hugo before?

And it was a beautiful award. One of the few nice things about the Retros is that they enable creative concoms to present two different Hugo base designs - one for the Retros, and one for the usual awards. The Retro base was a handsome thing, modeled after a revolutionary era tri-cornered hat - gorgeous.

I have a note here, "parties." I remember our going back to the room to check on Jesse ... and being awakened by la belle 2 ½ hours later. While I had snored, she'd been burning down the house. Shamed, as well as sleepy, I staggered erect to accompany her to the con suite, a huge meeting area on the Sheraton's second floor given over to fannish snackery and celebration. Amongst the M&Ms and potato chips, Resnick found us there, and filled our ears with story ideas he was working on, plus scandalous conceptions and seditious thoughts. Given world enough and time, dear reader, perhaps someday they shall be passed along to you.

 

NOREASCON 4: THE THIRD DAY

 

There was a Beatles Singalong scheduled at the ConCourse's Mended Drum bistro, but fortunately for the ears of those in attendance, I didn't know about it.

Rosy and I ate lunch outside of the Hynes entrance with Fred Lerner, one of my favorite fellas in fandom and a brilliant, well-traveled dude. A great panel called "Out of Africa" featured Mike and Laura Resnick, and Grant Kruger (familiar from the excellent South African fanzine, Probe). The packed room heard tales of "innovation and invention" from the so-called Dark Continent. Excellent stuff. I missed a neat-sounding panel on "Talking Like a Trufan" with a load of terrific contributors - including Milt Stevens, one of Challenger's most welcome lettercol regulars - but found the tribute to Julius Schwartz. As if anything could have kept me away.

Damn it, though, the panel lasted only half an hour. But it was a joyous thing to hear Julie Schwartz praised by people who knew whereof they spoke. Neatest moment: when a panelist held up the first issue of Julie's epic fanzine Fantasy and the original art that adorned its cover. Amazing that the piece has survived. Not amazing that so many remember Julie, and treasure the memory.

Another panel, on Smallville. Nicki Lynch was on it, as I recall. The panelists had spotted things in my favorite TV series that I have not. Is the late Chris Reeve's character akin to the Brainiac of the comics? I'd never considered such an idea. Lately, seeing the TV show's version of the Flash and Mr. Mxyzptlk, I wonder if they may not be right ... On both panels, I had to restrain myself from leaping onto the table and holding forth. Passion is good.

 

Saturday ... Saturday ... Hugo night.

At 1PM Rosy and I went to the Hynes Auditorium for the Hugo rehearsal, mostly a matter of seeing where we would sit and where we should walk if - fat chance - my name was announced. I took the opportunity to approach the ceremony's toastmaster, good Neil Gaiman, and score his signature on his program book piece about Terry Pratchett. Palpable excitement- despite the last four years, when each Hugo ceremony had seen Challenger dashed and smashed to the ground, fannish foolishness was surfacing in my soul. I was beginning to Hope.

First, though, we had another DUFF duty at the Fanzine Lounge - a "tea" hosted by John Hertz. We chatted with Norman and James again, and felt good about the auction the next day. Wandering Hall C during the festivities, I ran into Alice Naomi Lewis, Tony and Suford's daughter, and one of fandom's gems. She managed not to snarl when talking about her boss, and how revoltingly pleased he was to have a Harvard grad working as his secretary.

We left a little early, to dress for the convention's first great exclusive party: the Hugo Nominees' Reception. Was it a harbinger of my luck that night to find that Jesse, normally the least contrary of critters, had peed on the bed?

 

La belle was devastating in gold. Surely there was no more beautiful person at the Nominees' Reception.

But Catherine Asaro also looked lovely, in red, and for science fictoneers, the lot of us looked pretty swank. Cheryl Morgan wandered the crowded, happy room, snapping photos for Locus. She thanked me for my prediction that her Emerald City would win the Hugo for Best Fanzine, but I thought that an easy pick: in the usually accurate indicator, the Locus poll, her on-line essays and articles easily placed first among critical works. The extremely pretty Hugo base design was brought forth, and I wonder if I was the only one to note that, as it showed the chrome rocket taking off, it resembled the ultimate base design for Nolacon II. Much more svelte, though.

I enjoyed my own perambulation about the room, chatting briefly with Phil Klass, thanking Frank Wu for his kind thanks (he credited his Challenger cover for helping him make the ballot this year, pure courtesy on his part), glomming food from passing trays, too nervous to light anywhere, as ever, awed by somehow being among SF's elite. I remembered a tennis tourney I attended once, and how local players beamed in the midst of the likes of Connors and McEnroe and Borg. Surely I looked the same. And I remembered the kid in Sacramento, 1963, opening the bedsheet Analog to read a review of the first volume of The Hugo Winners, and to begin to dream ...

When the time came, we nominees (*giggle* "we nominees") were lined up like kindergarteners and marched en masse over to the Auditorium. Rosy and I found ourselves sitting between Joe and Gay Haldeman, on her left, and Connie Willis, on my right. And then Neil Gaiman took the dais, and the Hugo Ceremony began.

I like Neil Gaiman. He contributed a beautiful piece on Pratchett to the program book and, best of all, recognizes my own pathetic excuse for fannish celebrity. Pure kindness on his part. And, he wrote "Dream of a Thousand Cats". Neil may be known to comics fandom and teenage goths as the genius who created Sandman, but in SF he is more famous for saying "I've got a fuckin' Hugo!" than the novel he got the Hugo for. He began his tour as host by sheepishly apologizing for the profanity - repeated last year. Of course, he did it again this year, too.

First, he ceded the stage to the great Robert Silverberg, whom I believe claimed to be the only Sfer alive to have attended all 50 Hugo presentations. (Someone correct me if I'm wrong.) He was therefore perfectly situated to present a retrospective on the award. Sounds like great fun, but I don't remember much of it - too jittery.

The preliminary awards began - the Seiuns were presented, with the agonizing slowness of a Japanese tea ceremony, to Ted Chiang and David Brin, whose Kiln People would have been a better choice for the Hugo last year than the winner. Dave Kyle took the stage in his signature red jacket, giving the First Fandom Award to Edwin Strauss - Filthy Pierre. Very well-merited honor, as Filthy has been around for decades, keeping fandom informed through the Analog convention listings and keeping us connected through the worldcon message boards. In a gag reminiscent of Kyle's presentation to John Hertz a year ago, Filthy had been asked to play a fanfare before the award was announced.

But his was a double win, because later, Tony Lewis came on to present a special N4 committee award - to Edwin Strauss - Filthy Pierre! While Strauss had the wit to underscore the coincidence by repeating his first speech, word for word, I thought N4 should have gone with an alternate. A committee award to Geri Sullivan would have been nice - and appropriate. God knows the convention relied on her beyond the call of anyone's duty, and she came through.

Okay, enough preliminaries - let's have some Hugos. Frank Wu won a loudly huzzahed award as Best Fan Artist. We later found the young genius was a runaway winner. I remembered his kindness to Challenger and put a special punch in my applause. I admit that I sat on my hands when Dave Langford won his twentieth Fan Writer Hugo in a row; later, it turned out that he had barely beaten Cheryl.

There was more drama to the Fanzine award than my usual haplessness. The winners of each Hugo were being flashed on a large screen above the stage, via Power Point. After the nominees in our category were announced, and Challenger had received its little baffled dose of clapping, the presenter - Catherine Asaro - fiddled with the envelope ... and before she could open her mouth again, the idiot handling the Power Point missed his cue and "Emerald City" flashed on the screen!

Catherine read the winner among the mutters of disgust, quickly replaced with cheers. Emerald City it was, and I'm proud to say I led the applause. I'll never win the Hugo, of course, but despite the impossibility of my dream I was glad to hail a new and eminently deserving winner. Later on, Cheryl told me she hadn't seen the Power Point faux pas - she'd been rearranging something at her feet.

The Dramatic Presentations awards both went to Lord of the Rings in an inevitable sweep - was there any doubt that Return of the King would win? The trophy will look good next to its Oscar. Cates had presented Langford's Hugo, and now got to retrieve one. We've seen, and howled at, Gollum's MTV Award Acceptance Speech, but I wouldn't have honored a one-minute silliness over the hour-long TV shows opposing it. My vote had gone to Smallville's "Rosetta", but like me, it came in 5th.

Our seats at the ceremony turned into a Losers' Row. Haldeman lost to Gaiman for Short Story, Neil's third win in a row. Connie Willis - charming, friendly lady - lost to a Vernor Vinge story. When Best Novel went to a Bujold fantasy, instead of good, challenging SF works from Dan Simmons or Charles Stross, I found myself doing what I usually do after every Hugo show, and pschawing the whole thing - though I was delighted by the wins for LotR, Wu, and Emerald City.

It was time for my traditional gag phot, where I clown with the Best Fanzine winner, clutching for the Hugo. Cheryl cooperated, but when I looked back, Rosy had her finger over the lens. One shot did come out.

The voting statistics were pressed into my hands before we could get away from the stage! God! What is with these numbers crunchers? Why can't they give we losers a moment to keep dreaming! But the results weren't too grim - they did tell us that Cheryl had come within a handful of votes of beating Dave Langford. And I could, and do, take real pride in coming in a close second in nominations - 41. Challenger is naught more than a footnote in the history of fandom, but it does have a loyal readership.

 

Of the Hugo Nominees' Party, some memories. The decor, white helium-filled balloons supporting white masks. Norman Cates inhaled one of the balloons to repeat his acceptance speech in a Mickey Mouse squeak. "On behalf of Peter Jackson and the entire crew of Lord of the Rings ..." HAW Rich and Michelle Zellich came through. I've adored Michelle since '86, when Nawlins competed against her St. Louis bid. As we sat on a windowsill and gazed out upon glorious Boston, Paula L- rather tactlessly recalled her visit to Nawlins thirty years ago. Jeezus, woman! - Rosy was right there!

 

NOREASCON 4: THE FOURTH DAY

 

We woke to news that Nippon had won the rights to the 2007 worldcon. Columbus' showing was respectable. Space here for a rundown of future worldcons - both decided and all-but-decided. '05 - Scotland. Rosy wants to attend badly - but there is no chance. '06 - L.A. We'll be there or we'll be gafia. '07 - Nippon. You gotta be kidding. '08 - Chicago, St. Louis and Denver are competing, but I expect Chi-town has an easy edge. I understand "The Geneva Convention" for that year is an overt gag. '09 - Kansas City is the sentimental favorite over Montreal, although I'd prefer a visit north of the border. Fans have sympathetic memories of KC's ridiculously tight loss to L.A. for the 2006 convention. '10 - Australia, someplace. I'd prefer Melbourne, but it doesn't matter. If we're alive, we'll be there. '11 - There is talk of D.C., and I'd like that. Hey, that's seven years moreorless dealt with; what more do we want? '12 - Hey, that's the far, far future!

Peggy Rae Sapienza was at our wedding and has visited us in New Orleans. Today she invited us, with others, to a lunch at Legal Sea Foods, out second excursion to that superb emporium. Since Peggy was treating, I restrained my gluttony, but we had a fine time.

Sunday may be Masquerade Day for the worldcon as a whole, but it was Fan Fund Auction Day for us, and at 2PM we gathered in room 205 of the Hynes, set out our wares, and began. After the fifty-minute hour was up, we moved to the Fanzine Lounge. It's a measure of our ambition that I was disappointed in a fabulous result.

What especially bugged me was the response to our stack of Tuckerizations, agreements by professional writers to include fans' names in future works of fiction. Spoiled by tales of thousands and thousands being expended by fans anxious to appear in stories by Resnick, Benford, etc., we thought we'd be bringing in zillions - but even with the wonderful and beautiful Catherine Asaro standing right there, her tuckerization went for low, low money. That the buyers were our great friends Steve and Suzanne Hughes made the pill a lot less bitter to swallow - and it was grand to see my SFPA siblings greet Asaro, one of their favorites.

Other names went for little or no better. What happened? Was the tuckerization bonanza we'd heard of before a simple fad from which fandom has recovered? Was I that lousy an auctioneer? I honestly don't know.

The toys and doodads we'd purchased at Cape Canaveral and Joe Major has bought at Gettysburg also went for peanuts - when they went at all. (We had to haul home the large stuffed toy of Ham the Space Monkey I'd counted on peddling - his smaller brother went for a barely noticeable profit.) The Apollo 11 and shuttle Christmas ornaments sold well, as did a deck of Norman Lindsay-designed playing cards, but what really connected? Books. Baen's writers' proof editions were gobbled up like peanut M&Ms.

Perhaps we were a victim of our expectations. The auction was a success. We made money, and so did TAFF and Norman's ANZ Down Under Fan Fund. (He brought LotR gear - and its Hugo. Sold the gear. Not the Hugo.) We sold books, fanzines, toys, tuckerizations (we have one left, but I won't say whose it was). We spread the Fan Fund word. James Bacon told us how happy he was - and Norman gave us a pin, the American and New Zealand flags crossed in mutual respect and friendship. Yes, that's it on the cover, upper left corner.

Oh yes - salutes to Janice Murray, who collected zine sales money at the Fanzine Lounge, and sent it along after the con. A former DUFFer, she deserves more honor than these words, to be sure.

 

There was a panel about FAPA that I wish I'd attended, a panel about Lovecraft, a panel on plagues, a group arguing new categories for the Hugos, a particular interest of mine. All were missed, and I regret it. Time to start paying more attention to programming. But still there was the masquerade - and even that disappointed me. Perhaps it was leftover angst from the auction. Perhaps it was the toastmistressing of Susan de Guardiola, whom I do not know and who impressed me as mildly unpleasant. Perhaps I merely missed Drew and Kathy Sanders, because the costumes didn't wow me. Perhaps it was the sense that the convention was about over. In any event, I didn't enjoy it, although Rosy seemed to.

Far better was the Nippon Victory Party, adjacent to the Con Suite. Hertz, Japan's most ardent supporter, introduced us to the chair, and to the youthful maniac dressed as Godzilla who raised his claws and went "Roar, roar," in the universal language of reptilian menace. I stared at him. "Roar, roar! Roar? Roar?" Nyark.

 

NOREASCON 4: THE FINAL DAY

 

Monday. The convention was breaking down. From noon until 2PM Rosy and I manned the Fanzine Lounge, for Hertz, selling the last Baen donations - thank you, Toni Reinhardt, for your generosity! - and a few more fanzines. Janice agreed to take what was left to conventions out west and sell it there. Bless her again! We'd have a lot less weight to schlep home, and I was happy of that, even if we hadn't unloaded that damned monkey. (If the DeepSouthCon lets me, I'll be holding one last DUFF auction at Xanadu in Nashville, this spring! You still have a chance!)

During our stewardship, we committed our only serious no-no of the con - and brought Jesse into the Hynes. Since we'd checked out of our room, and couldn't leave her in the car, we hid her in her sherpa bag, out of sight behind a chair. Fans wandering through would have none of that, though. Our noble yorkie was soon enjoying the adoration of another crowd of admirers. (We later ran her to our Motel 6 in Framingham, and returned.)

I wandered over to registration, and there found Genny Dazzo, who seemed both relieved and exhausted. She had spent the entire convention trapped behind the registration desk, heroics I couldn't imagine. Could I steal a few extra program books? Ha! She led me to two pallets stacked high with the monstrously heavy boxes, and begged me to smuggle away as many as I wished. I hefted two onto a stolen handtruck, and thanks, Genny. (That rumor you were so happy about? Ask me again in two years.) At the Lounge we were presented with the Torcon 3 Lost & Found box, with the offer to do with as we wished.

From it I liberated an umbrella and a partially expended point-&-shoot camera, which I used for the rest of the convention. I photographed frail but ever-willing Forry Ackerman, attending his umpteenth worldcon, but still happy to be here; I photographed our fabulous dinner with the Resnick listserv at the terrific and unique restaurant,.Marche. This was a convention of great meals! I photographed the marching band leading all to the closing ceremonies - but unfortunately missed the ceremonies themselves. I understand one mime's performance was so successful, there's talk of nominating it for the short-form dramatic Hugo!

I used the camera to photograph the goings-on at the convention's ultimate party - perhaps its most exclusive. This was the Former Chairmans' Bash, at a secret location, accessible by invitation only. Our friend Robin Johnson had found us outside of the Con Suite and asked us along.

Ah, it was an event! A packed suite at the end of a corridor, thronging with BNFs - and there we were, among them. Milt Stevens, whom I first met as a neo member of the Little Men in '67, who was in SFPA when I joined in 1971 and who has been one of Chall's most consistent correspondents. Joe Siclari, our boss on the N4 program book and one of Rosy's oldest friends. Tom Whitmore, who was with me at St. Louiscon in 1969, "footing" for Quinn Yarbro and Annie McCaffrey in the Press Room. Roger Sims, the Nolacon II Fan GoH and our constant friend. And so many others ... Quite a crew, these fans, who have put on fandom's ultimate show over the many years it's been part of our lives. Taking the group photo for Locus, Cheryl Morgan struggled to fit everyone in.

In the middle of the first row, Deb Geisler, chair of Noreascon 4, who accompanied us downstairs. While she talked with a comrade, we made one last sweep of the Con Suite. We saw no one we knew, and as we walked out, I turned and shouted, "So long, Noreascon!" Someone had the wit to shout, "So long, yourself!"

Deb came outside with us. Unencumbered by duties, at last, solitary, for a moment, Deb enjoyed a smoke as we packed ourselves up. N4 had been a fine event, overcoming programming problems and logistical hassles that had doomed other worldcons. The worldcon no longer sings with the delicious sexual tension it once did; fandom is aging and media events have claimed the young. But it is still the most important gathering of genre aficionados in the world, and pulling it off is the most envied and admired accomplishment in fandom. Deb had done just that.

Her parting words wished us a safe trip, and thanked us for the program book. We thanked her - not only for the great convention, but for giving us the chance to be part of it.

Damn it, as we drove off, leaving Noreascon 4 for good, ending the surcease from real life we so needed and so enjoyed, I admit: I felt a tear.

 

A GIANT IN THE EARTH

 

And so we awoke the next morning in Framingham, and left, westward ho. The verdancy of western Massachusetts and eastern New York was striking, and it was a lovely day. I had a goal, and it wasn't just my brother's home near Buffalo. Before we got there, we had a call to make on a New York Giant.

Possibly the prettiest name in the English language is Glimmerglass, the Indian name - and the much more evocative name - for the Finger Lakes. The region is hilly, wooded, and dotted with small hamlets and towns. The most famous of these is Cooperstown, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame and the internationally renowned Glimmerglass Opera and the Farmer's Museum - which is itself home to the Giant. Five years before, for my 50th birthday, I'd treated myself to a visit to the BhoF (same trip as my first visit to Old Ironsides), and driven past the Museum, a replica of an agricultural community of the mumble-mumth century. Visible from the road, off by itself, was a small circus tent with THE CARDIFF GIANT painted on it. I had recognized the name, from someplace, but I hadn't stopped. For five years I'd regretted it. No way I'd pass it by again.

After two hours of driving hither and yon through the bucolic region - we'd gotten lost, of course - we found ourselves in the parking lot of the Museum. It was late in the afternoon, the long and confusing search had pissed us both off (we always get lost, we always get mad), and at the entrance we found the final straw: an entry fee of $15.00.

I couldn't stand it. "Look," I said to the lady. "I've brought my wife all the way from New Orleans just to see the Cardiff Giant. Can we just run him, see him, and leave? You can come with us if you want!"

"Oh, go on in!" she said. Our moods did a 180. The day, which had been looking grim, was saved.

We scampered through the museum, which appeared to be an interesting institution if perhaps limited in its scope, and strode up the hill to the tent. Inside, in a hole within a tiny picket fence, lay the most blatant fraud in the history of pre-2000-election America. Yes, yes, yes, that's him on my cover. What isn't on my cover? (Well, the Hope Diamond, but ...) Ladies and gentlemen, the Cardiff Giant.

One has to admire the raw, shrieking criminality inherent in the story of the gypsum monster that lay before us. Seems there was this atheist named George Hull, see, in 1869, who had this argument with a fundamentalist preacher, who had expressed the belief that every word in the Bible was literally true - that there had been real, solid, living, non-metaphorical giants in the Earth in days of yore. To teach Holy Joe a lesson, and incidentally make himself rich, Mr. Hull concocted an elaborate scheme.

He'd had an artist friend carve an oversized human figure out of gypsum. He'd beaten the sculpture with a nailed brush, to simulate pores. He'd buried the thing on a friend's farm, where he'd been doing some work, and then dug it up, announcing that he had found the petrified corpse of a Biblical Giant. He put the thing on display in just such a tent as this, charged the rubes fifty cents a looksee, and my God, how the money rolled in.

Cynical reporters, of course, cried Fraud the moment they heard of the Cardiff Giant, and a scientist from Yale took one look and heehawed, "It's gypsum!" But P.T. Barnum tried to buy it (and, failing, created his own Giant) and Hull kept exhibiting, until somehow the Giant ended up here, at the Farmer's Museum, one gypsum hand coyly draped across his gypsum genitalia, the grandest humbug in the noble history of American sleaze. I felt honored.

We made it to Grand Island, between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, at 11 that night.

 

MY DUDES

 

Yes, I felt honored - but it was more than a stone fraud moving me now. It was the handsomeness and height of my nephews, preparing to depart for the first day of school. Man, Steve and John were tall.

And terrific. John, 8, ran for his schoolbus with nary a glance back at his proud parents and beaming uncle. I waited with Steve, who is 12 now, I think (yes, born right after MagiCon) at his bus stop, and couldn't believe at how lightly all the new 7th graders were dressed. It was in the fifties, and I was freezing, but the kids were all wearing shorts. Hearty souls! Later, I gave them a puzzle I'd bought at the N4 hucksters room, and it was a big hit. John even solved it - which was more than I could do.

Hey, what more can I say? Except for Rosy, those guys are the most important people in the world.

 

When we reached Grand Island, we found that we'd been pursued … and not from Boston. The rains of Hurricane Frances had pursued us all the way from the Gulf of Mexico, and on the day after we arrived, down they came. It was a miserably wet day, and it put the kibosh on our major plan: a jaunt on The Maid of the Mist.

So we did laundry at the hotel's solitary washing machine, and sought out a tourist attraction la belle had spotted on a brochure. This was the Horror Wax Museum - or something - located near the Goat Island State Park. I'm an obliging sort when it comes to my wife's ridiculous whims, so there we went in the sluice.

The forlorn guy at the cash register reported a day so slow it was petrified, but bragged that the owners had millions invested in the figures within. A giant gargoyle guarded the entrance - with a broken wing. Downstairs was the equivalent of the average Elks or Shriners Halloween Haunted House, grotesque mannequins lunging at us when we tripped electric eyes. Rosy squeaked once or twice, so I guess she got our money's worth.

Myself, I simply reflected on the difference between Niagara Falls, New York, one of the grimiest and most economically forlorn excuses for a town in America, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, booming, bustling, filled with energy and money and light. My brother says the difference is legalized gambling, but I sense a schism in attitude as wide as the Niagara gorge. True, my good buddy Joy Moreau, literal daughter of the circus, lives in Niagara Falls, New York, and ten years ago a worldcon bid came forth from it, but its authors have gafiated and gloom seems to sit like a pall on the whole burg.

Frances spat and frizzed and dumped her rain … and went away. The next day was gorge-ous. Rosy and I returned to Goat Island and bought our tickets for The Maid of the Mist.

 

THE WAY OF A MAN WITH A MAID

 

My family lived in Buffalo for several years when I was a boy, and has been here for a couple of decades since I moved away, yet, like many another family living in the shadow, or the mist, of a world-famous tourist attraction, had never ridden the Maid. Now I had a Rosy-sized reason to do it, and did it we did.

The tower from which the Maid departs juts daringly forth over the gorge. The river is hundreds of feet below, and in one direction the brave observer can view the distant glimmer of Lake Ontario, and in the other - the mists of Niagara. Periodically a boat would probe the fogs broiling beneath the barely visible waters. It had been doing so since - well, check out my cover. 1846.

Nowadays there are several Maids of the Mist, and after a stomach-challenging elevator plummet to the rocky riverside, we were issued thin plastic ponchos - from which the logo on my cover was clipped - and gestured aboard the next to dock.

Mushed among a squad or two of geriatrics, we mounted to the boat's upper deck, and were off. A tape described the Maid and incredible moments from its history - the idiots who careened over the Falls in barrels, the boy who - while we lived here! - came over protected by nothing but a life preserver … and lived. The walls of the gorge were high on either side of us, and the mist grew thicker, and the rough rocky watery catastrophe that is the American Falls rose to port, and ahead of us loomed a cul-de-sac of furious froth - the Horseshoe Falls.

The boat lurched and leapt in the incredible turbulence of the pool at the base of Niagara. Sailor Rosy had to shout over the roar: "This guy is good!" referring to the pilot, whose skill must have been sore tested in the madness of the waters Walls of fury surrounded us as we made a turn to port. Thrilling! I fished Mib the Panda from my pocket and held him up to the wall of water descending mere feet from us. There you go, Mib - Gettysburg, Death Valley, Hanging Rock, the Grand Canyon - now you've seen Niagara. Don't thank me!

We returned to dock at the same location, but retained our ponchos for one last adventure. Stone and metal stairs lead up the rocks beside the American Falls - and we climbed it. The jumbled boulders thrown down by the river, and now savaged by the falls, were mere yards from us. Rosy couldn't take it and went back, but I lingered - and so there came the ultimate moment not only of the day, but of the trip, indeed the year, and perhaps more than that..

As I faced the river, preparing to leave, the wind shifted, enveloping me in spray. Everyone else around shrieked happily and fled, but the sun hit the spray at that moment, and surrounding me bloomed a rainbow, full, rich in color, gleaming, more than 220 degrees … My heart did a somersault. I shouted in joy to Rosy. Exquisite. Exquisite! A sight to carry into Heaven.

Waiting for the elevator to carry us up the tower, a girl, obviously a GI, clowned for her camera-wielding boyfriend next to a sign reading Rough and Slippery. "Shall I do a 'Lynddie'?" she laughed, pointed, and leered. From that moment on I had no doubts about the election.

 

WIG-WAM, WIG-WAM!

 

We visited my mother at the nursing home, after that, but I won't write about it. I have my limits of sadness.

That night, we took the Northern branch of the Lillian clan to dinner, where Steve and John and their uncle and aunt enjoyed themselves immensely. At least Niagara Falls, New York has La Hacienda, among the area's finest Italian - what else? - restaurants. (Y'see, "La Hacienda" is a Spanish name, and …) After boring Lance and Marie with our Australian photos, we retired early. Long drive ahead the next day - 650 miles, to Cave City, Kentucky, and the greatest motel in America.

I suppose it's sadistic of me to expose Rose-Marie, whose taste does not, shall we say, run to grunge, to Wigwam Village, but hey, I like the antique motel of concrete teepees, and usually, they're clean and well-tended. Alas, cabin #15 seemed a little seedy, the ancient (and original) wicker furniture a little frayed as we smuggled Jesse inside (Wigwam does not allow pets), and the refilling toilet made more noise than the Harleys driven by our neighboring tenants. But Rosy's good humor saved the day.

The next morning, after smuggling Jesse out to our CRV, we chatted with the owner, who remembered me from previous visits. He assured me that he wasn't neglecting his unique piece of Americana, and wished us luck on our Southern journey. He smiled significantly when he reminded me of his full name. Last name, John. First name, Ivan.

 

We had one night in our own bed before another Ivan made his presence known, and once again, this time involuntarily, we were on the road. I have told the tale of how frightened our New Orleans friends sounded, stuck in the city, and how kind Rosy's father and stepmother were to let us hide from the elements in their Florida abode. I should mention the sights we encountered, returning: the uprooted (and upended trees), the smashed bridge over Escambia Bay, and mostly, the idiotic Boll Weevil Monument in the middle of an intersection in Enterprise, Alabama - but words fail me. Look at the photo. Check it out on-line. Maybe you'll understand why a cotton community would erect a statue honoring a pernicious, pestiferous varmint that ruins cotton crops - but I sure don't.

 

Once again, it was good to get home - to an autumn, we hoped, of peace, and security, and tranquility, at last. Ha ha! Dream on!

 

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Challenger is © 2003-2005 by Guy H. Lillian III.
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