Chapter 1: HELLO AMERICA
The biggest problem I'd have to face was jet-lag ... or so seasoned fannish travellers had informed me. It could ruin my whole convention, they had said, and I was courting disaster with my insane decision to fly directly to Los Angeles for the first night of the Worldcon rather than arrive a few days early so as to acclimatise to the time and temperature difference in Southern California. The thing to do, it seemed, was not to have jet-lag hit you when you arrived at your destination -- so I didn't. No, I set out from home suffering from the effects of jet-lag. What with SILICON up in Newcastle the previous weekend and all the sleep I'd lost due to the unnaturally high temperatures and feverish humidity of the past few days, I was pretty certain I knew exactly what jet-lag felt like. Thursday 30th August was the big day and I woke up yawning. I did a lot more yawning on my trip to the airport, and it was while yawning that I made my first contact with the scientifictional meta-reality I was to slip into more than once in the weeks to come....
It's the proud boast of British Rail that their Victoria to Gatwick shuttle train will get you to that far-flung airport in 30 minutes. After 45 minutes I began to doubt this. We had stopped on the line no more than 150 yards or so from Gatwick station and the train showed little inclination to travel any further. It was a lovely day, the sun streaming in through the windows suppressing any discontent the passengers might have felt at this turn of events. Apart from the monotonous clicking of my jaw as I yawned the only noise in the carriage was the conversation of the two young Australians discussing the recently postponed flight of the US Space Shuttle. Seated opposite them was a middle-aged Texan who listened to them for some minutes before deciding to join in. I sensed some fun in the making and pricked up my ears. The Texan revealed that he was "in communications" and had "worked for NASA for 15 years before moving on in the late-70s". The Aussies listened politely to this before putting the all-important question.
"What about toilets?" asked one.
"How d'you take a leak up there, sport?" asked the other.
The Texan was clearly flustered by this and I couldn't help chuckling at his discomfit. He recovered quickly, however, and explained that his 15 years in communications with NASA hadn't brought him into contact with the problems of waste disposal in orbit all that often. Gosh, I hadn't even reached the airport yet and already I'd encountered talk of space travel and bodily functions! It was going to be a good convention.
We got into Gatwick 20 minutes later than advertised but the long lead- times demanded by airlines made this no more than a minor annoyance. I was still able to check my baggage in and make my way in the general direction of the departure lounge at a leisurely pace. This was only the second time I'd ever been to Gatwick. Such was the impression my visit of five years earlier had made on me that the airport seemed totally strange and unfamiliar. Fortunately I am a fan, so I was able to find my way to the departure lounge by means of my cosmic mind, broad mental horizons, and the many signposts.
The departure lounge for transatlantic flights from Gatwick is in a circular building called by the reassuringly stefnal name of 'the Satellite' and has aircraft radiating from its gates like poles from a capstan. You reach this unique structure from the main terminal building by means of a totally automated shuttle, a high-speed and high-level train that whisks you along a gently curving track and deposits you in the Satellite with a whoosh of automatic doors and the sound of a loop-taped voice telling you to alight. Since the distance it covers is little more than a hundred yards a simple tunnel would have provided an adequate link, but what do I know? As the shuttle whooshed off on its return journey I looked around and got the distinct impression I'd been dumped inside the head of a giant mushroom. Only it wasn't a mushroom at all, but a doughnut. The entire departure lounge was a torus that fit snuggly over the duty-free shop at its centre, a very smart and comfortably furnished torus that I tried very hard to relax in, but couldn't. I was too nervous. It was beginning to slowly dawn on me just what was about to happen. Everything had seemed unreal so far, but soon I'd be on a plane headed for Los Angeles and an American Worldcon, the duly elected TAFF delegate and the 25th to cross the Atlantic under the auspices of the fund. Would I live up to the expectations of those in the US who had voted for me? I'd soon find out.
My flight, Northwest Orient NW45, was scheduled to leave at 1.30pm. Fifteen minutes before this we began boarding and soon we were in the air. This being my first time across the Atlantic I requested a window seat and got one -- over the wing. I silently grumped and bitched about this particularly as a 747's wing isn't a terribly reassuring sight. Quite apart from the pop-rivetted patches randomly dotted about its surface, both the fully extended aerilons and the wing itself flapped up and down in an alarming manner. Visions of a watery grave swam before my eyes and I sank down in my seat feeling helpless in the face of a cruel and uncaring fate. My misery was compounded by the ferocious air- conditioning and the failure of the blanket covering my legs to resist the wind- chill factor. Having given up on trying to understand the gibberish being spouted by the Belgian couple occupying the seats between me and the aisle I tried to catch some sleep. This proved a vain effort. I tossed, I turned, I figetted, I draped the blanket across me in every conceivable way and a few inconceivable ones as well, and all to no avail. Resigning myself to sleeplessness I sighed, opened my eyes, glanced up at the screen on which the in-flight movie was being shown, and focussed blearily on the words:
'I have a twelve-inch penis'
The film in question was SPLASH!, and the subtitle apparently because the characters were speaking Swedish at that point. Despite these provocative words at no time did the name 'Robert Holdstock' cross my mind. I hadn't bothered with headphones since I had a feeling the film might contain offensive depictions of women and because I was too cheap to pay the three buck hire-charge.
I have the ability to slip into a semi-comatose state when travelling alone, one that while not particularly restful does at least make the hours fly by. Thus, having checked that the small view of the Earth's surface visible behind the wing was obscured by clouds, I slipped into this state and the hours flew by.
Not long after we'd taken off, the pilot had informed us that we were leaving the UK high over northern Scotland and would soon pass within two hundred miles of the tip of Iceland. Hours later he piped in again to let us know we were approaching the coast of northern Canada, so I craned my neck to look out of my window and saw what I took to be icebergs floating in the Atlantic far below . What I was actually viewing, however, was a very fragmented chunk of the northern Canadian coastline, as a ribbon of road zig-zagging across the 'icebergs' proved. I was above a whole other continent for the first time in my life and for some reason all I could think to ask myself was:
"Shouldn't those who call themselves 'Canadians' be natives of a place called 'Canadia', and shouldn't people from Canada be 'Canadans'?"
It was an odd thought, irrelevant yet indicative of my somewhat contradictory and confused state of mind at this point. Not that there weren't good reasons for some degree of confusion on my part....
Justin Ackroyd, that year's GUFF winner and a well-seasoned traveller, had suggested to me at SILICON that I set my watch to Los Angeles time as soon as I boarded the plane. He himself swore by it, claiming it helped him adjust more quickly. Having no reason to doubt him I took his advice. This was a mistake. What no-one had seen fit to inform me of beforehand was that my direct flight to Los Angeles was direct via Minneapolis where I'd have to switch planes. And since Minneapolis is in a different time zone to Los Angeles all the captain's announcements as to e.t.a's and the like were given in Central Standard Time. Desperately trying to juggle three different times I soon became totally lost and thoroughly confused. Many were the curses I heaped on Justin-bloody-Ackroyd and his damned useless 'good advice'. On the positive side, this meant we arrived in Minneapolis a couple of hours before I'd calculated we would.
The jumbo began its gradual descent over a vast body of water I knew must be one of the Great Lakes and took to be Lake Michigan, but which a later perusal of the atlas shows to have been Lake Superior. As we continued to descend through the clear Minnesotan skies I stared entranced at the view below, my first ever of an American city. The houses were arranged in lots on a grid-system that, while perfectly logical, looked totally alien to me. And so much land to each house! At first I was confused by the large number of turquoise specks scattered across the city but as we got lower these resolved themselves into the swimming pools of the wealthy. Or maybe, given their number, of the not-so-wealthy in American terms. Yes, I was definitely entering a foreign land.
Shortly before landing, the other non-American passengers and I were given copies of form I-94 W to fill out. This form, which is probably the end result of millions of dollars and years of development by the US Immigration Service, requires you to answer yes or no to a series of questions. It is a truly remarkable document. These were my favorites:
Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
What's the point of a holiday without a little moral turpitude, I always say. The next question was even better.
Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?
Bearing in mind that we'd never seen this document until a few minutes ago, the final line provided the perfect ending:
IMPORTANT: If you have answered "YES" to any of the above, please contact the American embassy BEFORE you travel to the U.S.
Assuming this were possible, anyone who does so is then informed by the embassy that they're too stupid to be allowed into the US. What a bunch of jokers those guys at Immigration must be, I thought, blissfully unaware of the treat the US Customs Service had in store for me.
I think of myself as a relatively ordinary chap of fairly normal appearance (good-looking, of course, but only averagely so) and not in any way unusual or disreputable. This view was not shared by American customs. After the plane had landed, I'd collected my suitcase and casually struggled over to the foreign arrivals' desk with it, where my fellow passengers appeared to be having to answer only the most cursory of questions before having their passports stamped and being ushered into the land of the free. When I reached the desk, however, a stern-faced customs officer ordered me to open my case and began rummaging through my effects, asking me questions all the while:
Whereya going? Los Angeles. Why do you have a Washington address listed as the place where you'll be staying? Uh ... there was only room for one address on the form and that's where I'll be staying longest while I'm over here. What is the purpose of your visit? To ... ah ... attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles and then to visit friends in various parts of the US.
And so on and so forth. The customs officer called in a second to go through my hand-baggage and a third to run a computer-check on my passport. I began to feel paranoid and racked my brain trying to remember if I'd done anything particularly subversive. I was fairly certain I hadn't overthrown the state recently, and also knew that I hadn't used my highly trusted position as a draughtsman for a major grocery chain to spy for the Russians (though possibly GUM might be interested in a little commercial espionage -- must find out what they pay). Then I remembered. I had been on a couple of anti-nuclear marches in London during the previous year and in the second I marched with a group of American students under a banner that proclaimed them to be EMBARRASSED AMERICANS AGAINST REAGAN. Could that be it? The banner had attracted a lot of media attention and I'd marched at the front of the group. Such an action was sure to get me branded a dangerous pinko in Ronald Reagan's Amerika, I realised, as visions of my passport being stamped 'undesirable alien' swam before my eyes. What would Avedon think of me being officially described as both alien and undesirable, I wondered? I started to sweat and began to consider how far I was prepared to compromise my principles to gain entry to America. If pressed could I bring myself to say "Ronald Reagan is a great President and a wonderful human being" without choking on the words, or would I be forced to return to the UK, a fannish martyr? We shall never know because eventually the customs officer gave my passport an entry stamp (somewhat reluctantly I thought) that allowed me to stay in the US until March 1985, and told me to re-pack my bags. It had been an unpleasant few minutes but I'd passed the inspection and now I was in. I had entered America!
Outside a shuttle bus waited to take us from 'International Arrivals' to the 'Domestic Flight Terminal'. During the short drive between the two I got my first brief look at the US at ground level -- a stretch of road with a few cars on it (which surprised me by being fairly small rather than the enormous gas- guzzlers of myth and media) and some low industrial buildings. As fodder for first impressions the scene left something to be desired.
The fact that we weren't given the number and time of our connecting flight to L.A. ,coupled with my discovery that Americans place less emphasis on adequate signposting than do the British, led to my spending a panic-stricken five minutes dashing about the corridors of Minneapolis/St.Paul airport trying to find out where the hell I was supposed to go and when I was supposed to be there. During these tribulations I had my first encounter with American plumbing. As I'd discover in the weeks to come, the public toilets in the airport were fairly typical even though they seemed strange and alien to me. I mean, urinals with individual hand-operated flushes?! And perhaps American guys reading this can explain why all the cubicles contained a pack of paper toilet seat covers yet totally lacked such commonplace British amenities as scrotum adjusters and anal picks? Still, my experiences with US signs and sanitation, and the eventual two-hour wait for the connecting flight, were more than compensated for by the view from the window of the DC10 taking us to Los Angeles. It was awesome.
We must have been thousands of feet up but the plains extended as far as the eye could see, vanishing over the horizon in all directions, yet the mark of man was everywhere. I'd seen large stretches of flatlands in the north of England but they paled into insignificance next to this. I stared out of the window entranced, fascinated by the country below, by the plains and how they gradually gave way to desert high over Wyoming. The landscape was -- that word again -- alien; totally beyond my experience yet stirring my sense of wonder in a way that no SF has ever done. It was at once humbling and exhilarating, awe- inspiring and just a little frightening. Maybe it was the call of the genes, the pagan affinity with the land of my Celtic ancestors echoing down the years, or maybe not, but I hadn't realised the dead and arid wastes of our planet could possess so strange and terrible a beauty. Transfixed by the view I only turned from the window during that transcontinental flight to eat and tend to other bodily functions, and so saw the shadows that brought the desert canyons into such sharp relief lengthen into dusk with the dying afternoon as we neared the West Coast. I was almost sorry when we left the desert behind and descended into night as Los Angeles appeared before us, spread across the blackness like a monstrous neon quilt.
Since I'd already entered the US at Minneapolis/St.Paul there were no tedious formalities to be endured at LAX (not a name to inspire confidence in the efficiency of the airport), so I headed straight for the baggage area. On the way, I was delighted to spot the familiar figure of Lucy Huntzinger heading towards me. We greeted each other, laughed, hugged, and turned to her companion, a big bespectacled black man.
"Hi, I'm Ken Porter," he said, pumping my hand.
After retrieving my suitcase Ken drove us onto the freeway (via an airport road where they drove on the left, for some bizarre reason) and we headed for Anaheim. As Ken talked about the convention I looked about me at the giant neon signs, the large cars, the road signs to exotic places like Santa Monica and Ventura, letting the John Lennon album being played on the local station and the warm air coming through the open windows wash over me. So this was Southern California. Goshwowoboyoboy!!
The Hotel seemed to be miles from the airport, but driving along chatting to Ken about blues music and trading fannish gossip with Lucy I didn't mind a bit. Everything was right with the world and I was feeling great.
As we entered Anaheim and pulled onto Harbor Boulevard the skies over Disneyland filled with exploding fireworks in a colourful display that lasted for some minutes and grew more impressive the closer we got.
"That was amazing", I said, "but they really didn't have to go to all that trouble to make me feel welcome."
The Anaheim Hilton and Towers was the main convention hotel for L.A.CON II and is right next door to Disneyland, on Harbor Boulevard. When Ken dropped us off in front of it I breathed a little sigh of relief. I'd spent 15 hours in transit, lived through a day with 21 hours of light -- the longest I'd ever known, and had covered 6000 miles. Now, at last, my journey was over.
I had arrived.
Chapter 2: FIRST CONTACT
Glass and marble were everywhere. Fountains and cascades flowed in orderly fashion over the centrepiece of a vast chamber fully fifty feet from floor to ceiling, around which milled large numbers of stern-faced people in strange attire. This being Los Angeles it would have been easy to believe we'd stumbled onto the set of some strange new fantasy film, but this was in fact merely the reception area for the main convention hotel of L.A.CON II, the 1984 Worldcon.
On checking in, I had my particulars entered on a computer, an imprint of my credit card left on a dummy bill (despite all my protestations that I'd be paying in cash), and an individual card key punched out for me -- the electronic combination of the lock on my room's door being altered automatically as the key was being made. It was all very impressive. As I left the desk, with my trusty native-bearer, Lucy Huntzinger, struggling under the weight of the baggage I'd smiled and assured the pretty receptionist we could manage on our own so she needn't trouble herself with calling a porter, I reflected on how technological accomplishments that would have been cause for wonderment to earlier generations of SF fans were now commonplace. The future had arrived, I decided, and all that was missing were the rocket back-packs. With appropriate synchronicity someone dressed as the title character from Dave Stevens' ROCKETEER comic-book chose that moment to walk by, dummy rocket-pack strapped firmly to his back. I sighed contentedly and told Lucy to hurry up.
At the lifts (or elevators -- I had to get into the habit of speaking American) we ran into a thin, dark-haired girl who looked about 17 years old but turned out to be 26. Lucy introduced her as Stacy Scott, wife of Rich Coad, and I was pleased to make her acquaintance, particularly as I'd be staying with her and Rich when I visited San Francisco. Stacy explained that Rich would be arriving the next day, and decided to help us with the luggage. Not that there was any great urgency about this, as it turned out. We seemed to wait days for a lift -- though it was probably no more than a few hours -- and such long waits were to be one of the hallmarks of the weekend.
If you're one of those who feel that by flying from one coast to the other, as I'd done, it's not possible to gain a true impression of the sheer size of the US, then you are mistaken. Struggling down those endless hotel corridors with a fully-overloaded suitcase and watching them vanish over the distant horizon with my room still nowhere to be seen, I soon began to appreciate how easy it is to be awed by the vastness of America without ever leaving the confines of the Anaheim Hilton and Towers. On finally reaching the room. I collapsed over my suitcase, blowing softly at the livid serrations on my fingers and thanking the gods that I wouldn't have to carry the case all that way again until I checked out. I was wrong. Sliding my wondrous card-key into the slot above the door handle I was rewarded not by the green light the instructions on the back of the card had led to expect, but by a red one. Three times the card was re-inserted, and three times the red light came on. Puzzled, I hammered on the door only to have an indignant female voice within demand to know what the hell was going on.
"You're double-booked, Rob", said Lucy, infringing my copyright on stating the totally obvious.
Dragging the baggage back to the lift, we returned to the reception desk, received profuse apologies and a new key, travelled up to the plush 14th floor, found the new room, inserted the new card-key ... and got a red light. Three times. I was beginning to despair of ever getting a room when, on my fourth attempt, the green light came on and the door opened. We were in! The first thing I wanted to do was change out of my sweaty T-shirt, but no sooner had I dropped my case and collapsed on the bed than the phone rang. It was Allyn Cadogan, asking for Lucy and inviting us to a party in Marty Cantor's room.
"Hey, Luce," I yelled, "put your clothes back on and get over here!"
The fully-clothed Ms. Huntzinger stuck her tongue out at me and got the necessary directions from Allyn.
Up to this point everyone I'd encountered I'd either met before (Lucy) or had little previous knowledge of (Ken Porter and Stacy) but now I'd be meeting a bunch of people I'd never met before but whom I felt I knew well, having exchanged letters and fanzines with them. Thus, I approached the party with a certain amount of trepidation, though as it turned out it was a very enjoyable experience.
In their room, Marty introduced me to wife Robbie, Larry Carmody, Alina Chu, Lenny Bailes, Ted White and, surprisingly, Chris Atkinson who I'd last seen a few days earlier and half a world away. With the exception of Chris, these people had all previously been only words on paper to me, and I studied them with interest. Ted White was large and bullish, with an incredibly deep voice that Avedon's devastating impression had prepared me for, an infectious laugh, and an engaging sense of humour. In short, he was everything I'd imagined he would be and I took to him immediately. Larry Carmody was quieter than I'd expected, Alina Chu sharper, and Marty Cantor ... well I don't know what I'd expected of Marty Cantor, but whatever it was he came as a total surprise. In print he comes across as somewhat tetchy and obstinate, but in person he's the very model of courtesy and friendliness. For those of you who remember HILL STREET BLUES on TV, Marty somewhat resembled, in both appearance and speech, S.W.A.T. team leader Howard Hunter, only with shoulder-length black hair cut in a page-boy style. Whenever I encountered him during the course of the weekend, his teeth were clamped around the stem of an enormous pipe that looked like a hollowed-out shillelagh, while a shoulder bag containing still more pipes was never far from his side. It was Robbie Cantor, however, who saved my life. After fifteen hours of travel I was in dire need of a drink and, noticing the dismay with which I regarded the few cans of undrinkable American beer lost among the sea of soft-drink provided for their guests, she produced a can of Canadian beer for me. As the cold nectar caressed the sides of my parched throat I thought that, truly, there could be no finer person in the world at that moment than this veritable Florence Nightingale of fandom.
I circulated, chatting to most of those present before getting into a lengthy conversation with Ted White who, on learning that I had a new issue of EPSILON with me, insisted that we go to his room there and then to exchange fanzines. I'd intended handing EPSILON out the next day, but who was I to argue with such unexpected enthusiasm? On the way we picked up Malcolm Edwards and, once in his room, Ted showed us a thick folder containing his correspondence with Richard Bergeron over the latter's allegations concerning the TAFF race I'd won. Since Bergeron had become something of a figure of fun in British fandom by this point, both Malcolm and I gave the letters no more than a cursory glance. D.West had written me a rather amusing letter about this affair shortly before I left, so I showed a copy to Ted. It read, in part:
"I don't know what you're making of all this folderol of Bergeron's, but I gather it's setting the American fans in something of a turmoil. Anyway, as Official TAFF Loser my position is that I have absolutely no complaints about either the result or any part of the administration, and that I am in no way responsible for statements, claims, or allegations made by anyone else. In other words, Bergeron is out there on his own.
Nobody around here seems to be taking it very seriously -- the consensus being that R.B. is completely bananas -- but I shouldn't think either you or I can ignore it entirely, since some of the US fans probably will give it the heavy treatment. Anyway, feel free to point out that I myself (as chief victim of Avedon's searing attack on dominoes etc., etc.) don't see what all the fuss is about. (Though I shall expect to see a more favourable verdict on the game after her victory at MEXICON.)
Must admit, though, I'm curious to see Ted White's response. Snappy rejoinders, here we come. (I figure not less than six pages. Or is that too terse?)"
Ted laughed, and handed me a copy of EGOSCAN containing his response.
"Actually, it was eight pages," he chuckled, and I laughed too. Ah, if only we'd known how matters would develop from there in the months to come! 'All fandom plunged into war!', as they used to say. Still, all that lay in the future and in the meantime there was much to enjoy on that late-August night in Ted's room....
Some years ago, Greg Pickersgill commented on the way fans seem to be drawn towards certain BNFs no matter where they chose to hang out in a convention hotel, and as if to prove his contention people began arriving at Ted's room within minutes of us reaching it. The first to join us was Bob Lichtman. He was soon followed by Gary Farber, Steve and Elaine Stiles, Jerry Kaufman, Alan Bostick and, eventually, by Lucy, Stacy, and Allyn. In no time at all, and totally without planning, we had a pretty damn good room party going. Not surprisingly, most of the conversation centred on the Bergeron affair but at one point, or so my notes assure me, I overheard Lucy say of the diminutive Mr Farber:
"It's huge and it's pink!"
Tearing myself away from such merry banter, I left briefly to get copies of EPSILON ... and made a horrifying discovery in the lift lobby. As I rounded the corner, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight that greeted me. There, in front of the lift doors, stood a tall, dishevelled, and overweight figure with untidy hair and greying stubble, whose shirt-tails hung over sagging trousers and who radiated an air of shambolic seediness. For a moment, reality took on the shifting and unreal quality it has in a Philip K.Dick novel, and I staggered back in shock before this vision of unlovliness. I couldn't believe it! What the hell was Brian Burgess doing in Los Angeles!?!
Back at the room party, I told everyone about my encounter. Most were no more than mildly amused by the story, but Farber and Kaufman got very excited indeed and tried to talk me into finding Burgess again and bringing him back to the room for them.
"The guy's a legend", they explained. "We've been reading about this mysterious figure for years in reports of conventions and of evenings at the One Tun, and now ... to have the chance to actually meet him!"
Their faces took on a beatific glow as they savoured the prospect of -- dare I say it -- touching the shirt-tails of the Blessed Brian while I, faced with such clear evidence of mental imbalance, took out my notebook and wondered whether I ought to write "loonies" to remind me of the incident. I decided instead to jot down a few brief impressions of Farber and Kaufman....
Gary Farber is a short neat person with a short neat beard and Jerry Kaufman isn't. In fact, Jerry didn't even look like the guy in the photos people had shown me immediately prior to saying:
"This is Jerry Kaufman."
No, that Jerry Kaufman had had a rakish moustache that gave him a distinctly devil-may-care appearance, while this one not only didn't have a moustache but, or so he claimed, had also dyed his hair black.
(Later, when I reached New York, I reported this transformation to a mortified Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
"Oh no", he said, "he didn't ... he can't have! how could he have let you see him without a moustache!?! This is terrible! Jerry has the sort of face that demands a moustache! On behalf of American fandom, I apologise to you."
I accepted his apology on behalf of British fandom and told him to make sure it didn't happen again.)
With the time fast aproaching midnight, I was still surprisingly alert and feeling pretty good, buoyed up on the elation I felt at being in L.A., but common sense told me that I really had to go to bed if I didn't want to feel lousy for the rest of the convention. I checked my watch, saw that I'd been awake 24 hours, and decided to call it a day. (I'd always called 24 hours "a day" and saw no reason to change the habit of a lifetime.) Back home in Britain, it was 8am and most of those I worked with would be on their way to their jobs and another hard day at the office. It was a nice thought to fall asleep on, a reassuringly familiar note on which to bring to close my first night in this strange new land....
Chapter 3: A LIMEY AT L.A.CON
Having only arrived in the US the night before, I was eager to be up and about and starting out on my first full day in America. Not so eager, however, that I leapt out of bed when my internal clock -- still patriotically following British time -- woke me at 4.20 am. No, eager though I was I forced myself to grab a few hours more. Nonetheless, I still rose before 9am, and not surprisingly the only familiar faces I encountered were those belonging to Malcolm Edwards and Chris Atkinson. My fellow Brits, it seemed, were having just as much trouble adjusting to the time difference in spite of the extra days they'd had to get accustomed to it.
The Los Angeles sun was fierce, the glare off the bone-white buildings in this neatly manicured area almost blinding, and I immediately decided to make trips between the hotel and the Anaheim Convention Center -- where most of L.A.CON II's programming was taking place -- as brief and infrequent as possible. My first priority was to locate the registration desk, no easy task amid the labyrinthine hangars of the convention center, and to pick up my registration pack. My convention badge, when I eventually acquired it, had a strip of yellow ribbon stuck to it that identified me as a 'program participant' and a label that gave my address as "East Hampshire, London". Hmmn. The advantage of the ribbon, as I soon discovered, was that it gave me access to a special 'Green Room' where platters of cold food and beer (American, unfortunately) were freely available. Since breakfast wasn't included in the cost of the hotel room I was delighted to have a means of correcting that grievous oversight. In no time at all I'd nibbled my way through a desultory dozen or so sandwiches while watching comics pros such as Julius Schwartz, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman as they wandered through. Clearly this was the place to be if you wanted to hang out with the pros, but it was the fans I expected to hold my interest.
The Fan Lounge was located on the first floor of the hotel and was actually four large, adjacent rooms. One of these, the smallest, contained typewriters, duplicators, and groups of fans busily fanning their ac (as we old fans say). It was here that the convention newsletter, THOUGHT POLICE GAZETTE, was put together and where its editor, Mike Glyer, seemed to spend most of the convention. Of the other three rooms two -- called Palo Verdes A and B -- were put aside for fan programming, while the other was a fanzine room that both offered current fanzines for sale and hosted a display of old ones. I wasn't terribly taken with this display, which occupied well over three-quarters of the available space, since it consisted of rows of tables laden with old fanzines covered by transparent sheets. You could look at the covers but not the contents, and who cares about that? Fanzines are not artifacts to be put on display and looked at with reverence but collections of writing meant to be read and enjoyed. What this exhibition came down to, in essence, was a display of fanzine cover art, something that could have been better handled by hanging xeroxes of the originals on the walls of the room, thus liberating space in the room for a more useful purpose. I understand that the owner of these particular zines -- Gary Farber, I believe -- had not wanted his precious collection mishandled and possibly damaged, any more than I'd want mine to be, but the protective measures made the display pointless and I never bothered studying it.
My first visit to the Fan Lounge was that afternoon when I was to appear as part of a 'Meet the TAFF/DUFF/GUFF Winners' item. Inexplicably, this had been programmed opposite a Ted White fanhistory panel which Jack Herman, Justin Ackroyd and I would all like to have seen, and we were a bit put out about the clash. I'm not exactly sure how the meet-the-winners item was originally intended to work but in the event it ended up with those who'd come to meet us, around 20 to 30 people, milling about while we three chatted to those not too shy to talk up and rambled on about the fandoms in our respective countries. It was a badly prepared and ill-structured item and it petered out untidily. Soon after this I met Greg Benford in the fanroom and he told me he was thinking of coming over to Britain for the next Eastercon (where he was GoH) on Concorde.
"Nice plane", I agreed, "the only civilian airliner built to the same specifications as a military aircraft."
Stung by the thought of anyone being technologically ahead of America in any field (you know what these right-wing, hard SF writers are like) Benford snapped back that the US was working on an airliner ...
"... that will go faster than light."
"Uh, don't you mean faster than sound?" I asked, incredulously.
"Yeah, of course, an FTL airplane ... "
It took Benford a few seconds to realise why those around him had collapsed in helpless mirth.
Since there were no more items on the fan programme that interested me I decided to go for a walk around the convention and to take a few notes on the differences between US and UK cons.
Most everything about L.A.CON was familiar enough only bigger, and there was so much more of it. Nonetheless I was totally unprepared for the news that "SPOCK DIED FOR YOUR SINS", emblazoned as it was across the more than ample chest of a Junoesque Trekkie. I was even more totally unprepared for the vast numbers of fans, and numbers of vast fans, milling around in costume. I'm used to people walking around in costume at British cons, of course, and recognised that unsmiling seriousness and those po-faced expressions, but the phenomenon known as "jackboot fandom" was new to me. Some costume fans have the wit and imagination to put together costumes of their own design -- often their visualisation of how a character from a particular novel might look -- but most merely turn out slavish imitations of those worn by the actors on some dreadful TV sci-fi show or other. However, it appears there is a newer breed of costume fan, one even more po-faced and serious, and into parading around in paramilitary drag, festooned with toy guns. De rigueur, of course, are those all important jackboots. TV, in the form of the dreadful 'V', had provided the 'inspiration' for more than one of the groups determinedly trooping up and down, but most appeared to have decked themselves out in the uniform of armies existing nowhere beyond the fevered confines of their own fascistic fantasies. Hard SF fans to a man (or woman), I decided, and (as later confirmed by Lisanne Norman in her report on her own experiences at the con, that appeared in Linda Krawecke Pickersgill's TIGER TEA #2) neo-Nazi. This was an influence I prayed would not cross the Atlantic to pollute British conventions.
One glaringly obvious difference between our fandom that I couldn't help but notice lay in the number of American fans at L.A.CON II who were not merely fat but enormously overweight. I had never in my life before (or in the ten years since) seen such huge human beings, and though I tried very hard not to stare I'm afraid I didn't always succeed. On one occasion, Jerry Kaufman caught me in the act:
"Hey, Rob," he chuckled, "if your jaw drops any further it'll be in your lap!"
In reporting this, I'm in no way trying to mock these people but rather to point out a genuine cultural difference that it would have been dishonest of me to ignore.
Not even I could free-load on the Green Room food all day, so that evening I found myself walking down Harbor Boulevard in the glow of what my notes refer to as its "strange neon" with Stu Shiffman, Rich Coad, Stacy Scott, Gary Farber, Jerry Kaufman, Suzanne Tomkins, Ron Saloman, and Steve & Elaine Stiles, in search of chinese restaurants. Stu had assured us that these were to be found within walking distance of the hotel but, after marching for what seemed like miles without a jackboot between us, we were beginning to have our doubts. To a foreigner, however, the endless trek was not without interest, and I was much taken with the fact that the bright green sward on the strip of land between sidewalk and road was not grass, as it would be over here, but astroturf. Stu walked right past the first chinese restaurant we came to -- "Never trust a chinese restaurant that offers a breakfast special" -- and went into the one next door. On the window of this restaurant, in bright red letters, it said: "TRY OUR BREAKFAST SPECIAL".
Back at the hotel after our repast, I accidentally stumbled into an ELFQUEST party and briefly took in the appallingly twee folk music and all those people with their plastic pointy ears nailed on, before I staggered out, shaking, my hand over my mouth. ELFQUEST, for those who don't know, is a comic-book produced by Wendy Pini and has spawned yet another of those ever-proliferating sub-fandoms. When I got to New York I told Tom Weber, one of the shortest and most elfin fans around, about this and he recalled the time when he had stumbled into one of these things at an earlier con, only to find those present descending on him with glee.
"They wanted to draft me!" he whispered, a look of horror in his eyes.
I was way too tall to have been in any danger myself, and once outside the room I leant against a wall, jotting down a few fevered impressions in my note book. Within seconds, Jerry Kaufman had popped up (as he did all weekend, doubtless desperate to be immortalised in this report) along with Robert Lichtman, so we went off together looking for parties.
Perhaps inevitably, partying at large American conventions has developed along different lines than at British conventions. Whereas most parties over here are now held in the fan room and, while not widely advertised, are open to most anyone who turns up, partying at US cons still takes the form of get togethers in private rooms and knowledge of these is passed along the grapevine by word of mouth. Even bidding parties are different in our two countries because while both have a certain amount of free booze on hand (with America, where fewer fans drink, having the most booze available ironically enough) there is not usually dance music at US parties and most fans just stand around in small groups talking.
The first party we dropped in on was the CRAPA party (it says here) where a number of fans were sat around talking including Seattle fan Amy Thomson who, I couldn't help but notice, was clad in arm-length black gloves with jewelled bracelets at the wrist and a long black dress with a mesh top.
"One of Amy's special dresses" announced Jerry, unnecessarily. I was starting to feel the jet-lag again, but I was far from blind. Having been handed various bits of paper earlier in the day with room numbers scribbled on them, it was easy to skip from one party to another and the next we hit was in Jim Frenkel and Joan D.Vinge's room.
"Two Fanoclasts and their guests," Jerry airily announced as he, Lenny Bailes, Robert Lichtman and I sailed past Jim Frenkel and into the room. Stu knocked on the door later and tried the same routine, but he was stopped by Frenkel.
"But I run Fanoclast meetings!" Stu protested indignantly, failing totally to notice the mischievous twinkle in Jim's eyes.
"Hey, I was only joking!" laughed Frenkel, and ushered him in.
On the bed was a large amount of publicity material for the forthcoming film version of DUNE, which really impressed the waiter who brought up a tray of soft drinks for us. He wanted to know if any of us had met one of the film's stars, Sting, and being British I was half-tempted to spin him a yarn about being Sting's life-long buddy. I wonder what he made of the film? I was at a press showing of the film prior to its UK premiere a few months later and thought it was dreadful.
At the party in Ted's room the smell of marijuana hung heavy on the air. I didn't recognise most of those present at first, but the company was soon swelled by such familiar faces as those of Allyn Cadogan, Lucy Huntzinger, and Chris Atkinson. Lucy's friend, Sharee Carton turned up with her, and her entrance caused something of a stir, no doubt because she's tall, striking, and sported a mohawk. On this occasion she was also sporting Vegemite earrings and a Vegemite T-shirt, presumably to show her solidarity with the Melbourne in '85 people over for the con from her native Australia.
Fading fast, I settled into the space between the wall and the bed with a similarly jet-lagged Chris Atkinson looming down at me from the bed along with Sharee, while Allyn was propped against the wall by my feet. This struck me as a very agreeable set-up, and we were all chatting away pleasantly when Norman Spinrad came in. I was the only one in a position to see him enter and I watched with great amusement as he caught sight of Sharee, and began edging around the room towards her. Various people engaged him in conversation but he barely took his eyes off Sharee, disengaging himself as soon as possible and continuing to slither along the wall. He edged closer and closer until he almost tripped over my feet, at which point Sharee and Lucy, totally oblivious of Spinrad, got up and left for the Australian bidding party. Norm looked more than a little put out, and I was still chuckling at this little drama of frustrated lust that I alone had witnessed when I crashed out shortly afterwards. It had been a good day and I could hardly wait for the joys tomorrow would doubtless bring.
Chapter 4: SPIKED
On Saturday I awoke at 7.30am -- I was finally acclimatising! -- and stayed in bed another hour reading fanzines before getting up and heading downstairs. Mooching around for a while, I ended up in the hotel shop. While at the counter, buying a copy of the second book in Jack Chalker's 'Soul Rider' series (yeah, yeah, I know), I bumped into Larry Carmody and Alina Chu. Feisty, intelligent and good-looking, Alina is easy to like and my appreciation of her has only deepened over the years with each occasion we've met since. Larry, however, is harder to pin down. At the time he was co-editor with Stu Shiffman of RAFFLES, a fanzine I then wrote a column for, and was never less than friendly to me. Larry may have left fandom under a cloud a few years after this, but my main memory of him is of an amiable guy who was good company.
We talked for a few minutes before being joined by a tall, athletic-looking woman in a track-suit who introduced herself as Spike. She was just off for her morning jog (jogging? ... at a convention?) but was meeting Stu for breakfast at 10.30am and invited me along. I accepted, particularly as she also offered me the loan of a badly needed hair-dryer. Spike, I later learned, is probably the only person ever to come into fandom via weight-lifting and one of the many formidable woman at the core of Madison, Wisconsin's feminist-oriented SF group. I would get to know her much better over the next few years.
Breakfast was in a Hawaiian restaurant just down the road from the hotel, one with as tasteless an exterior as all the other places on Harbor Boulevard, and the food was good, if expensive. I chatted to Spike and Stu over hash and eggs, a breakfast that seemed suitably American, inconsequential stuff about absent friends that was punctuated by Spike's frequent, infectious laughter. At one point she berated me about the photo of me in the Programme Book (which I'd got at a photo-booth and mailed in just under deadline) complaining that she'd hardly recognised me from it and that I was better-looking in real life. But then everyone is better-looking in real life. On the way back we stopped in the hotel car park so that I could take a photo of my companions next to Terl the Psychlo who stood a good thirty five feet tall, his head brushing the fronds of the adjacent palm trees. This amazing figure was actually a large inflatable, one connected by umbilical cord to a van-mounted compressor. The van and compressor were manned throughout the weekend by a cadre of scientologists/ Bridge Publications employees who were there to ensure that this character from their mentor L.Ron Hubbard's BATTLEFIELD EARTH didn't suffer any undignified sagging due to gradual deflation. I laughed at this ludicrous spectacle, secure in the knowledge that the Hubbardites were unlikely ever to get involved in any British conventions.
The early afternoon round-table discussion of fanzine standards, a perennial subject that was causing a lot of fuss in the fanzines of the day, started well but soon got bogged down in such irrelevancies as the different pronunciations of various words in the UK and the US. Making most of the running were Terry Carr, Ted White, Malcolm Edwards, and Jack Herman. Old-fans-and-tired around them admitted to reading very few fanzines all the way through; some seemed almost proud of the fact. Terry Carr was having none of this.
"I read them all the way through", he admonished them, and some looked duly chastened. A little later, Terry lamented the lack of scurrilous humour in current fanzines.
"What about Leroy Kettle?" asked Malcolm.
"I've never read any Kettle", he replied.
"Then you don't read EPSILON all the way through", I said, since Kettle had had pieces in more than one recent issue. All laughed, and Terry had the good grace to look suitably embarrassed.
In the light of his subsequent and highly untimely death I wish I could report that Terry Carr made a strong impression on me, but I'm afraid he didn't. I first saw Terry at a party that Chris Priest threw at his London flat, shortly after the 1979 British Worldcon, but he was taken ill and I never got to speak to him. This programme item at L.A.CON II was our second meeting. For whatever reason -- mutual hesitation or a certain shyness, perhaps -- we exchanged only a few words, and I never bumped into him again during the con. Our final meeting occurred in February 1986 when I travelled to the US again, this time for CORFLU, a fannish convention whose tiny attendance should have made getting acquainted with him a lot easier. Alas, it never happened. Once again we chatted for no more than a minute or two, somehow never getting it together for a more substantial conversation. A few months later he was gone, but he left behind him a body of fanwriting whose quality has seldom been matched, and the memory of one of those rare people who are respected by almost everyone who knows them. It's too late now, but I wish I'd gotten to know him better when I had the chance.
The fanroom item finally broke up when Marty Cantor brought in Charles Burbee, living legend and editor of LASFS clubzine SHANGRI L'AFFAIRES during what many consider to be its finest period, whose name was mysteriously absent from the history of LASFS that appeared in the programme book. The new generation of LASFans may not know who he is but we did, and we honoured him in our way.
A little later I took time out to view the art show and was as unimpressed as I usually am by these things. It may have been the biggest I'd seen at a con but the works on show displayed the same combination of technical excellence and imaginative sterility to be found over here. The only novelty, if that's what you can call it, was the profusion of paintings of unbearably cute creatures. Cute dragons, cute elves, cute cats, cute unicorns. It was so calculatedly sweet that it set my teeth to aching. No, by far the most beautiful objet d'art in the whole room was the shapely young woman clad in an improbable black rubber ensemble who was among those viewing the pictures. Judging by the stares she was attracting I wasn't alone in my assessment.
Early in the evening, after arranging to visit Disneyland with Sharee Carton and Allyn Cadogan the next day, I made my way to the Masquerade where I met up with Stu and Spike. The Masquerade is one of the two big production numbers at a Worldcon -- the other being the Hugo Awards ceremony, of course -- and, having come across photographs of earlier Masquerades in LOCUS, I was really eager to see this one. We stayed about two and a half hours, mocking some entries but being genuinely impressed by others such as the dramatic stagings of scenes from 'Metropolis' and Fantasia's 'Night on Bear Mountain'. One of the lesser entries was a transvestite Darth Vader.
"Hah!" said Spike, slapping my back, "I'll bet he's English!"
"Sure to be", I replied, smug in my Welshness.
At some point we were joined by Ted White and Victor Gonzalez, a promising if depressingly Reaganite young fan from Seattle, who added to the snide and cynical asides we'd been making about some costumes. Ted however, was rather louder than the rest of us and succeeded in arousing the ire of a woman sitting in the next row. While she was giving him a severe verballing the rest of us cracked up, and had to make a hasty exit, stifling chortles all the while.
For me the evening's partying started at 10.30pm, at the Britain In '87 bash. This was hosted by bidding committee members Chris Atkinson and Malcolm Edwards and was where most of the British contingent at L.A.CON II were to be found. More importantly, this was the first time on my trip that I encountered drinkable beer (all imported, of course) and I fell on it with glee. Spike and Stu seemed only marginally less gleeful as they grabbed up bottles of Pope's and Bass respectively. Hearing my accent as they and I argued the merits of the beers on offer, a strange Scots-American fan patriotically informed me that McEwan's Export was the finest beer brewed in Britain.
"I know, because I'm Scotch myself", he proclaimed proudly.
Refraining from pointing out that Scotch is a drink, I asked him what part of Scotland he was from. This was mere mischief on my part, of course, but I never cease to be surprised by the number of people who claim to be Irish or Italian or whatever, yet who were born in America of parents themselves born in America and so must clearly be American. Strange.
When the beer ran out we grabbed Rich Coad and, moving on to the Australia in '85 party, we were deeply disappointed to discover that only Lite beer -- which turned out to be unutterably foul -- was available. What had the Australians come to I wondered, shaking my head sadly. Leaving Spike and Stu to the tender mercies of our Antipodean cousins, Rich Coad and I set off for the SFWA suite. We breezed in, soon to be joined by Jerry Kaufman, and chatted for a while to Joe and Gay Haldeman, who seemed pleasant enough. Once upon a time, when I was a young and wet-behind-the-ears SF reader, to have found myself in the SFWA suite at a World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles, surrounded by famous SF authors, would have been my idea of Heaven. But I was no longer that young reader and no longer capable of feeling a sense of wonder simply by being in the presence of writers whose works I'd read and admired. Sad, perhaps, but time continues to play its little jokes on us.
One of the beers I'd been hearing about since arriving in the US was Coors, a beer seemingly regarded as a premier brew, so when I came across a six-pack of them cooling in the suite's ice-filled bath I naturally tried one. This was a mistake. Coors was without doubt the most undrinkable beer I sampled during my entire trip, and after a single gag-inducing swig I decided to cut out the middle-man ... by pouring the rest straight down the toilet. Resigned to being teetotal for the rest of my TAFF trip, I wandered out into the corridor ... only to have Justin Ackroyd thrust a bottle of Irish Mist into my hand. I'm not normally a spirit-drinker but this was wonderful stuff and I swigged at the bottle gratefully, putting my arm around Justin and telling him what a truly exemplary human being he was. There was some sort of party going on in the corrider so I joined it, drinking more of Justin's Irish Mist and loosening up so much that I was soon incapable of any movement at all. It was 2.30am the last time I looked at my watch, and after that all else is blank. Somewhere in there I slipped into oblivion, little guessing that tomorrow, Sunday, would be the most exciting and eventful day of the whole convention.