Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Winter 2008

 

(part 3) Wake Up and Smell the Coffin! (Part 4)

a reminiscence of ConFederation and the bid for Nolacon II, 1986

Friday

Bruce Pelz was not only a man I loved and admired, he was also my fellow Nolacon II Board member. It pained me, therefore, to find him only as human as the rest of us. I was working at the "vooting boath", when up came Bruce. Former worldcon co-chair ... Noreascon II Fan GoH ... yeah ... you'd think ...

"I … I need my ballot back," Bruce said, sheepishly as ewe or me. "I ... I forgot to mark my choices."

I put in two hours at the table – was the heavy turnout good news or fatal? – made a run to Nolacon's safety deposit box, then hied myself to the Hilton. When one wears the purple ribbon of Program Participant, one is not late for one's panel. This one was entitled "Introduction to APAdom", a topic with which I had passing familiarity. In picking my personnel I tried to represent all different types of apas, and failed. No one from a rotating, Cult-type apa showed. But we did boast some distinguished names: Marty Cantor, to talk about FAPA and LASFAPA, Fred Patten, to discuss comics-oriented K-a, Nicki Lynch to tell about quarterly SAPS, John Guidry to discuss ERB-APA and the other author –oriented groups, and me to handle Southern regionals. As usual with fan programming, the audience was just as knowledgeable as the panel.

I enjoyed our little overview of our hobby, as we praised such jiants of apahackery as Harry Warner and Lon Atkins and Dave Hulan, described record-length SFPA 100 (subject of a future article here), SAPS' gory history, the great K-a tribute It's For You, Fred, my difficulty in quitting FAPA ("Death will not release you," said Dave Schlosser. "No, Seth will not release me," I countered. Seth Goldberg was FAPA OE, y'see). Rather nervily, I credited SFPA, which effectively founded Southern fandom, with the very existence of ConFederation. Everyone spat at me in agreement.

John and I ran into Ken Keller on the way back from the panel. The chairman of MidAmeriCon – Big MAC – was ten years past his worldcon, first of the modern behemoths, but on the central steering (chuckle) committee for the Boat Bid. Ever since the ABA Ken had called us leaders, but he scared me poop1ess when he revealed that "We took in $600 in pre-supporting memberships last night."

“Oh my GAWD!” I shrieked to Guidry once Ken was gone. "Six hundred dollars! We're dead!”

"Guy," calmed John, whose name for me had long been "Guy Who Panics", "remember: the Boat charges $20.00 per membership. How many people is that? 30? How many pre-supporters did we pick up last night? 100? Smell the coffee."

(Oh! How I wish that John had, at this moment, given forth with one of his classic Guidryisms. “Wake up and smell the coffin!” How perfect, in retrospect, that would have been. But life is not perfect, and John was simply right, as he usually was.)

Friday night was the first of 3 biggies in a row for ConFederation, the GoH speeches on deck. At first Meade Frierson and I planned to kiss the whole thing off and go to one of the Hot Atlanta nudie bars that so tantalizingly lined Peachtree Street – but a genuine Nolacon crisis had arisen. Paul Watson, the Chattanooga disco king, had packed his equipment down, expecting to put on a Nawlins fling Friday night – only to find that the bid now wanted nothing to do with the dance site, the Downtowner. Tim Bolgeo had reserved an expensive party suite for Paul, which he would have to pay for. The suite was only three interconnected rooms – could that even hold a disco? Watson and Robert Neagle, New Orleans' resident sound technocrat, declared the space completely unsuitable. So the whole thing was a flounce. But when the gods smile, they smile. Buggered by misplaced guilt, Bolgeo himself paid for Paul’s room. The snafu was ours, not his, but hooray for a generous, good show.

That crisis assuaged, I went to the ballroom. Regrettably, I’d missed the speech of Terry Carr, the Fan Guest. The Main Event, however, was just on.

He stood in the spotlight's center, flanked by twin images on huge convex screens. To the world he is science fiction; to science fiction he is... something of an alien among aliens. Great, oh yes, undeniably Great, but so untechnical, so dramatically unscientific, so ... so poetic. This reclusive genius, so famous, so yes-of-course Important ... my God, he believes in words. To science fiction, language is a secondary consideration. His ideas are ideas about people, not theories of physics. He barely writes the stuff anymore, too.

But he's Ray Bradbury, and we have all been touched by him. Through his books, his influence, and now, by the greatest Guest of Honor speech ever voiced at a science fiction convention. Oh, it was a corker, a stem-winder, a boomer, evangelical and explosive. No logical progression of scholarly thought, the bombast of Bradbury, but a rich and robust careen through SF's greatest career. From the tutelage of Julius Schwartz – who sold almost all of Dark Carnival – to the faith (and voice) of John Huston (Ray's impersonation was A+) Bradbury recounted a grateful passage.

And he laid credit for that passage on science fiction – “the loves,” he said, “I'm still in love with", “the writers of Ideas," confounding negativity, celebrating, inspiring and creating the future. He recalled an introduction he penned to a 1960 pb of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, comparing Nemo with Ahab. "The Ardent Blasphemers" it was called, and I nearly wept, because I remembered that essay so well, remembered how his paean to Dreamers had engendered a burst of intellectual excitement in my boy's brain. And I remembered how it felt to finally understand The Martian Chronicles that wonderful first time …

What a figure stood before SFdom, an artist and thinker whose love has resounded through a generation and enriched and moved our lives. Anti-technological? Don't be idiotic! The science of science fiction has never known a more articulate or passionate spokesman, hailing the growth of the Wit of Man from cavewall drawings to computer screen imagery. He trumpeted his celebration of our species – “We are the Idea Beasts!” – and the worldcon went apeshit. Huzzah! Huzzay! Ray Bradbury was with his people!

As he left the room, surrounded and applauded by the people of science fiction, harlequin Fensterer approached Bradbury and placed about his neck a splendid set of Mardi Gras beads. I felt my head hit the ceiling, 44 floors up.

 

Boogie, you bozos! Suite 940 was packed with partisans! A beauteous bellydancer from Baton Rouge bobbled her bangles. Above the crowd a five-foot inflated Godzilla scuddered its scales, amidst creatures at least some bit as strange. Not quite as strange, Rick Norwood came through. It was altogether fitting and proper that Rick should appear, for Norwood was there at the genesis of The Dream, the 1964 founding of the New orleasn Science Fiction Association. What a priceless moment to stand the first NOSFAns all together – Walsh, Winston, Guidry, Norwood, Doug Wirth. If Don Markstein felt at that moment a sudden thrill in the Phoenix air, it was because his place was open there too. The founders of NOSFA – the first Dreamers of Nolacon II – poised on the Brink. Tomorrow would be the Day.

 

Saturday

The day was come.

"Guidry!" I screamed. "Get me relief!"

How do you spell relief? I'd been at the vooting boath – gahh, he had me doing it! – for three hours. Rosy had been by, to speed my heart, and Steve Glennon and Karen Schaffer had come by to ask me to a lunch I could not make. Bloody hell! Glennon was a LASFAPAn, a tall and lanky fella who once sent me a tape of Cimarron. Good smile, and good reason for it: Karen, one of those bright, spontaneous women who just happen to be the natural incandescence in the world. When I saw Karen's photograph on the cover to LASFAPA 100, it was like being rabbit-punched: she wore a spangly bellydancer's headband and ... well, my mc to that epic mailing waxed breathlessly over that picture and now here, smiling like real, was the pretty lady herself. With her boyfriend, but this is not yet a perfect world.

But I was stuck at the table, where the vooting voting surged on and on. Rosy disappeared; Glennon and Schaffer ate without me. When the wonderful fan, psychologist and therapist Diane Hughes came by to drop off her ballot, I was so happy to see her I almost trembled. (You will learn why in good time.)

Eventually, thank God, my replacement did come, and I was free. I staggered about the convention floor, idly paralleling a longish line, wondering what was at its head. At its head sat Harlan Ellison,, scribbling his lightning-jagged signature in book after book after book onetwothree. No surprise to see him here; he was to conduct the Manly Wade Wellman auction. I wouldn't talk to Harlan during ConFederation, but one thing about him – whether he was doing an auction for a late, great friend, or brushing aside TV reporters (who asked him to cool the cussin' while they were on the air), or reading "Paladin of the Lost Hour", or swooping through a thousand autographs, you always knew he was there.

Ah, a joyous surprise to lift spirits dejected by my ugly impatience! Ellen Vartanoff joined me for lunch. It had been 12 years, at least. The gentle Ellen had unique work in the Art Show, and reported that her sister, the immortal comic letterhack Irene, was now married and a mama. We ate one of the excellent lunches at the hotel's Market Place. Before us a faceless statue studied a spouting fountain. Behind us a family wrangled. I'm seldom struck dumb in public, but those people did it. An exhausted, irritated father, a girl friend, two kids, including a pre-teen son who would not shut up. The man grew more and more impatient and angry. But the kid stopped his father ,and every conversation within earshot,dead, flat cold.

“I’ll tell Grandma!” he threatened. “I'll tell her I don't want to live with you anymore!”

Daddy was a lot quieter after that. Guy H. Lillian Jr. and Nancy K. Lillian celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary the following September 11th. I felt reminded to thank them.

I attended a SFPA party that afternoon in the Downtowner, where I got to see many of the South’s noblest folk, members of the Southern Fandom Press Alliance: Gary Tesser, Hank Davis (who gave me a videotape rife with future significance, Picnic at Hanging Rock), JoAnn Montalbano, George Wells, Jim Cobb, Ward Batty, Alan Hutchinson, Gary Brown. JoAnn told me about the trip to B'ham to see our noble comrade George Inzer, recovering from a bout with illness, and gladdened my worries with good reports. It was a great time, but I made the mistake of asking those who hadn't voted to do so quickly, as the 6 p.m. deadline was nigh. Come, oh SFPA! Join in the glorious Nolacon campaign! Ride with the City that Care Forgot into the stellar magnificence of the ultimate fannish experience! Only $20.00! I was howled back to the Marriott.

Where quite a bevy of real (*sniff*) SFers waited – getting their ballots in at the last minute. Barb Mott was among them. The clock ticked down, the list of ConFederationites grew more and more checkmarks, showing they’d voted – and we amassed a record total, over 1800 ballots. Liz and Jeff Copeland, ConFederation’s official tollsters, appeared, and the last vote was taken – Jennifer Levin, a McCaffrey fan from ... New Orleans. I dropped her ballot into the box myself. The contenders from St. Louis, Columbianatti, New Orleans and the Boat shook hands all around, to congratulate ourselves for a friendly race. Which was – at long last – at long, long last – over.

Jeff carried the ballot box and the receipt books back to their room. I tagged along. Had to see our gal Al again, and besides, there were these little rockets atop marble bases in the corner ... the Hugos.

A young fella polished the chrome with alcohol. The room was tangy with it. There they were ... the trophies that got me into SFdom in the first place. A beautiful rocket, a unique and beautiful base: the ConFederation Hugos.

*urk* An inadvertent shudder coursed me as I eyed the needle-sharp rockets thrusting ceilingwards, like spikes on a bed of nails. Picture this: GHLIII wins his long-deserved Hugo, trips on his way down from the rostrum, the Hugo catches him right in the –

I was given a great honor: Allie, in her pack, was strapped to my back for the voyage cross-street to Dave Schlosser's LASFAPArty. Quite an experience. You're not just walking for #1 anymore – there's this overriding importance riding over your shoulder. So you duck a little lower and take a little more care and so that's what it's like, huh?

 

I enjoyed Dave's LASFAPArty – Karen Schaffer's smile warmed the place, and Schlosser's friend – now his wife – Kay McCutcheon was a delight as she discovered fandom. Also boosting the evening were my apamates Glennon, David Bratman, Chris Kostanick, Gavin Claypool, Chuck Donahue. They talked about Bored of the Rings and, according to a note Liz scribbled in my little notebook, I fell asleep.

So maybe I'm still asleep, there in Schlosser's LASFAPA soiree. Maybe everything since has been but a dream ...

Well, if so, a pretty amazing part of that dream came next: the Hugo ceremonies.

I stood against the wall, near the front. Lovely Seattlite Amy Thomson knelt on my right; a nervous Jeff Copeland agonized on my left. The dais was covered with a peaked black tent. Behind us Rick Albertson poised over his control console like the Phantom of the Paradise. Bradbury, Schwartz, and other poobahs were escorted to their premiere seats by ushers in Regency garb. The lights dimmed to stygian dark – "Also Sprach Zarathrustra" pulsed over the loudspeakers -- the ConFederation symbol flashed onto the screen. Laser rays of blue and red danced over the stage – flashed off the mirrored ceiling – dipped to glitter off rockets of gleaming, alcohol-polished chrome ... the Hugos.

The crowd went ape! Worldcon has never since seen a more stunning opening to its Hugo ceremony.

Bob Shaw -- Toastmaster to this convention, star of Bumminham BoSHcons, twice a Hugo-winner himself – came out from backstage. A superb job by Shaw kept the crowd entertained with tales of his amazing and often absurd career, each award's presentation followed by another chapter in a past so checkered it was practically plaid. Though his brogue was a bit hard to penetrate at times, and he forgot to read the Fan Writer nominees, Shaw was terrific, especially when handling a nasty situation completely new to worldcon.

But first there were Awards. And what a trophy followed the Campbell (given to Melissa Scott): the First Fandom Award. Who should trot on stage to present but Ray Bradbury, and to whom should he present it, with gratitude and love, but the greatest man in the room? He founded fanzines. He sold Bradbury's first short stories. Bald and bucktoothed is beautiful! Hail Julius Schwartz, King of Earth!

More cheers followed. Julie graciously shared First Fandom's honors with Donald A. Wandrei, ailing and not in attendance. The E.E. Evans Big Heart Award went to beaming Rusty Hevelin. How many times have I mentioned that Rusty and I went to the same junior high school, 20 years apart?

The Hugos began to go forth. Mike Glyer got the first, for Fan Writer. I'd warned him that marble base was heavy. (Heaviest Hugo still to date.) I cheered the Best Fan Artist trophy to Joan Hanke-Woods. Joan had drawn a great harlequin illo for our bid (see below), and her honor reflected well on us. George Laskowski, coonskin cap in place, took the Fanzine trophy for Lan's Lantern. Locus won another *yawn* SemiProZine award and Mike Whelan won his 6th straight trophy as Pro Artist. He withdrew from the next year's honors, but was back for '88. And then it was time for Best Pro Editor.

Judy-Lynn Del Rey died in April, 1986, having made her point against the stroke that had rendered her comatose the previous November. Ben Bova had published a letter in the fan press urging SFdom to honor her memory and her contribution to the field. So we did, nominating her for our highest award. Trouble was, Lester del Rey had subsequently written to ConFederation, attempting to remove his late wife's name from the list. Trouble continued as the letter arrived one day too late for the ballots to be amended. ConFederation let the process continue. Judy-Lynn won ... and, through a spokesman, Lester rejected the award. Copeland collapsed beside me.

I didn't like it. Even if Judy-Lynn did hate posthumous awards, and even if she should have been nominated before, surely the grateful spirit behind this Hugo should have been evident. It was no insult for fandom to express that spirit. Perhaps ConFederation should have ignored all votes for Mrs. del Rey, according to her widower's wish. But Lester should have restrained his bitterness and shown some understanding. In any event, for the first time ever, a Hugo was left on the dais, refused. And who must get up in front of a stunned fandom and restore the evening but ... Bob Shaw.

Shaw told me later that he took his time getting back to that mike.

Well, he did what had to be done, and he did it ably. A few conciliatory words, another wonderful autobiographical interspersion, and on with the Hugos we went. Though Brazil got the loudest applause, the big money movie won, as it always does: Back to the Future. Science Made Stupid won the Non-Fiction Award, probably on the strength of its title. Familiar names won the short fiction Hugos – Fred Pohl for "Fermi and Frost", Harlan for "Paladin of the Lost Hour", Roger Zelazny, who wasn't there, for "24 View of Mt. Fuji". When I was in Greensboro, a bookstore clerk had asked me if I was Orson Scott Card, who lived there. Now that pretty place on the Piedmont had the first of many Hugos to come within its boundaries, the Best Novel of 1985, Ender's Game.

As I left the ballroom, chatting with Schwartz, a glass elevator descended. John and Justin rode it. Justin bore a bucket with ice and champagne. They hustled towards the Convention Level's Chablis Room. They would meet the other bids and Jeff & Liz there. And count the votes. It was 10 p.m.

I rode up to 10th, watched a bellydancer – ours was better – talked to Suzi Stefl, to S.E., then smoothed the negligible hair I had left and rode up the darth vator to the 22nd floor. I had been invited to a party there – a small, quiet gathering, just what the hostess wanted. The hostess was Rose-Marie Donovan. The room belonged to Joe and Patti Green.

What an entrance! Back in the Pleistocene – 1978 – I got the very strong impression that I was a bit hysterical, sloppy, and wiseass for the Greens. They had too much class to say so, but ... who could dispute it? So when Patti greeted me with a sweet hug the first words out of my mouth were "I've changed! I've changed! I promise!" And the first thing I did to prove that I’d changed was to knock over a drink.

*groan* Silence fell. Everybody gave me one of those looks. You know... embarrassed pity. Seeing that expression cross Rosy's face was like having a hatpin shoved into my eye. Had the door been open I'd've gladly leapt for the Cristo sculpture in the atrium and not cared much if I'd missed.

Perhaps I molded mountains out of mashed potatoes (“This means something!”). Certainly, once the damage was toweled up, the party became really pleasant. The Greens told me not to fret about New Orleans – though it was second nature to me now, like breathing out and breathing in – and talked NASA. Fran, their buddy from California, was there, well remembered from Suncon, a very pretty brunette who had bestowed upon a certain blonde NOLan thereat the soubriquet "Dixie-boobs". Good yappin' with good folks, which almost drove the Chablis Room and the events in progress there from mind.

They were gone for sure, when Rosy asked me to walk with her. Like everybody else, sometimes she just has to walk – and talk things over.

 

We strolled about the vasty deeps of the Marriott atrium. Fearless, Rosy leaned out over the protective bars to peer through 20 stories down – while I tried to scratch my way through the wall *geh*. But her purpose was deeper than the view. She wanted to tell me –

She wanted to tell me that people change. They learn and they grow. Rosy had changed, Rosy had grown, but she, like I, knew that inside the heart time may not be a moving thing. She wanted –

She wanted to tell me that time was a moving thing. That she had grown. That the Rosy Green who had stuffed me into a Glad Bag and left me by the curb 8 years back in this very town was not the Rosy Donovan who stood with me over the gulfs of science fiction space, touching her eye, her forehead, in gestures I had not forgotten and could never forget.

I walked with Rosy about the atrium. How far we travel. How far we go. How importantly our lives interweave. We never forget. And we never stop. We can't stop. We can't.

We haven’t.


It was getting late, but 940 remained an impassable sweatbox as the party rioted on, awaiting The Word. They had hurricane cocktails to distract them. Me? No such luck.

Four times I wandered down towards the Chablis Room. The door was just ajar; vague shapes and shadows moved silently within. Each time I stayed but a moment, chatting with ConFederation staffers, like Jim Gilpatrick, who carried the Del Rey Hugo, baffled and a little hurt, I thought, by Lester's refusal of the honor.

The night wore on. The door to the Chablis Room went from ajar to closed. My nervousness was obvious to Mike Resnick up in the Nolacon suite. Large-hearted, large-talented Mike had, with wife Carol, supported the New Orleans cause from the beginning. It had begun as a negative stance against the “Columbiannati” bid, but it had developed into more. Resnick was smiling and confident. "I wish I could handcuff myself to you, Guy," he said," and keep reminding you, we're going to win."

The Chablis door opened. It was 1:45 a.m. Jeff Copeland came out. "We just finished … validating the ballots," he said. "Three hours and 45 minutes validating the ballots. Now we count."

Outside the elevators a friend wandered, looking lost. Her promised crashspace had closed itself up and she had no place rest her weary head. I don't understand people who cut out their friends like that. I offered to let her snooze at my own place but – who was I kidding? She went off towards the Downtowner. I returned to the Chablis Room.

The door was still closed. It was nigh onto 3 in the morning. I plopped down in a chair, propped my feet up, and stared at the Chablis Room entrance. It had all come down to this. Two years shy a month had gone by since John and Justin had been contacted by the New Orleans Tourist Commission. They were told that a west coaster, Chauntecleer Smith, had reserved the Rivergate Convention Center for Labor Day, 1988. This same Chauntecleer had rung me up a few weeks before to try to persuade me to chair a bid. I had gently laughed him off. But when John and Justin heard that someone was trying to move in on our city …

I was brought in. Dolbear was brought in. Ann Chancellor was brought in. “Minister without Portfolio” Michael Sinclair joined the cause. I fought and won the battle for a strong New Orleans identity, then called Charlie Williams and commissioned our first ad, using the harlequin symbol I'd dreamed up, and created the slogan, "Catch a Doubloon". I went to L.A. and approached Pelz and Miller. From Walsh's abortive bid for '76 I got the name of our progress reports, The Con They Call the City of New Orleans. We sent John to MidWestCon, where "The Barons", fandom’s powerbrokers, came to regard us with favor. We went to local fans, convinced them of our sincerity, beckoned their help on board. En masse we went to Austin's NASFIC, partied like blue demons, and won over the people, emerging as the leaders in the '88 race. And we weathered the inevitable insurrection; the leader of the doomed uprising wandered ConFederation like a rootless ghost.

Me? I did the p.r.s, I traveled, sold pre-supporting memberships, spoke. Sinclair did the same thing fivefold. He was upstairs, in 940, working the party, waiting like I was, for that door to open.

 

[ HOME ]     [ Current Issue ]     [ Archives ]

Challenger is (c) 2003-2008 by Guy H. Lillian III.
All rights revert to contributors upon initial print and website publication.