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Science Fiction Association of Bergen County

Convention Reports:

Boskone 96

A convention report by Taras Wolansky

[Editor's Note: This material originally appeared in FOSFAX, Issue #180, June 1996. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.]



Copyright 1997 Taras Wolansky


Table of Contents

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Boskone 33

Boskone 33 was held the weekend of February 16th, 1996, at its usual venue, the Sheraton Tara hotel in Framingham, Mass. The Guest of Honor was author Lois McMaster Bujold, creator of Miles Vorkosigan; the Official Artist was Gary Ruddell, who has provided cover art for many of Bujold's novels; Special Guest, eofan and used book dealer Bob Madle; Featured Filkers, Musical Chairs.

This may have been my most memorable Boskone ever. Or, I should say, my most memorable Boskone trip ever. People who live on the East Coast know why; for the benefit of the rest of you I will remind you that Friday, February 16th, was the date of one of the worst snowstorms of this record-breaking winter.

The weather reports didn't sound all that threatening in the morning, though by the time I set out at 11 AM, it was already coming down pretty steadily in New Jersey. The reports I was hearing gave me the impression that the coast was hardest hit, so I thought I'd outrun the snow by heading north on the New York Thruway, then pick up the Massachusetts Turnpike at its start, near Albany. And indeed, as I neared Albany, the storm did seem to be tapering off.

However, once I turned east onto the Mass. Pike, I found myself running straight into the storm instead of away from it. The snowfall had already made it impossible to see where the highway ended and the shoulder began; only the corrugation of the shoulder let me know when I drifted too far to the right. Worse, as I made my way through the Berkshires, the snow started coming down so heavily that my windshield wipers and defroster could no longer keep up, and I found myself craning my neck to peer through a tiny bit of clear windshield.

I stopped at a gas station on the turnpike and wondered if I would have to spend the night there, on a bench. But an attendant told me the next exit was only ten miles ahead and I decided to push on at least that far. (Maybe I would find a higher class of bench!) The road was as bad as ever, but to my surprise I no longer had any problems keeping my windshield clear. Evidently the storm had lightened just enough.

So I kept on rolling along, first at 30 miles per hour, then 40, then 50; until I reached Framingham a mere nine hours after I set out from Jersey City, a little less than twice the time it would normally take.

In the last analysis, it seems few people allowed the snow to dissuade them from attending the convention, which proved to be the largest Boskone in several years. Credit the drawing power of the Guest of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold.

Putting together this con report is proving more difficult than usual.

I think I misplaced some of my notes, and the notes I have contain entries for Philcon, Boskone, and Lunacon all mixed up together. For that matter, my notes for Boskone's Guest of Honor interview are on the back of a Lunacon progress report; no wonder I couldn't find them!



"What is your handicap?"

Early Saturday afternoon, Guest of Honor Lois McMaster Bujold was interviewed by Baen Books editor Toni Weisskopf. Weisskopf explained, she is not just Bujold's editor, she is a fan. She rereads Bujold's books--and not just because Bujold sometimes sends in a new manuscript chapter by chapter: "What! She killed Miles!?!" Later, she crowed about reading a new Miles Vorkosigan book "which none of you have read." Audience: "Kill her!"

Bujold said she got her start reading science fiction from John W. Campbell's Analog. In the beginning she would select stories illustrated by legendary SF artist Kelly Freas, because she knew those stories would be the funniest.

What is the relationship between Bujold's life and her work? Not as close as some of her fans think: Bujold said she has gotten fan letters asking questions like, "Are you handicapped?" "What is your handicap?" "Were you abused as a child?" (Bujold's most famous creation, Miles Vorkosigan, suffers from brittle bones, and Miles' clone brother was mistreated in childhood.)

Then again, Bujold admitted the truth of the old adage: "'Write what you know'--as opposed to what other choice?" Of course, "what you know" can include things you learn from books: her publisher, Jim Baen, sends her books like Liddell Hart on military strategy. The result was The Vor Game. As for life experience, "failures and false starts become a mine of material" for a writer.

Curiously, "it's almost harder to do a woman's viewpoint than a man's viewpoint," said Bujold, partly for personal reasons she didn't go into (I get the impression Bujold was closer to her father than her mother), and partly because, as an SF fan, she has read more stories with men's viewpoints.

Why does Bujold write SF? "I was imprinted, like a baby duck!" It's not like writing SF limits her; the genre "includes every other possible kind of writing". On the other hand, she loses part of her potential audience, because some people simply won't read SF.

Asked about her transparent literary style, Bujold said that where some people read sentences, she sees pictures, and writes accordingly. She called it the "mosaic theory of the novel": the picture does not exist in any single piece. Bujold sees herself as "designing a book for two sets of readers", one set looking for an adventure story, the other for something deeper. In effect, the buyer gets two books for the price of one, which "makes those hardcover prices seem quite reasonable," she joked. Weisskopf: "Good one! I'll try to remember that!"

Asked why her stand-alone fantasy novel, The Spirit Ring, didn't do so well commercially, Bujold remarked wryly, "You can't do it with one book any more. You need a gang!" However, there are disadvantages to writing a series as well, especially if you're not writing the books in chronological order. I asked, "Have you ever written yourself into any corners?" Answer: not quite.

"Prequels" happen in a deterministic universe, Bujold explained, because they are part of the past history of stories that have already been written. "Leading edge" stories, in which the characters have free will (so to speak), are more fun to write, she said.



Me Tarzan

Early Sunday afternoon, a small but select audience attended "Why Do SF Fans Love Jane Austen?", with authors Debra Doyle, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Esther Friesner, and Rosemary Edgehill (eluki bes shahar). I guess I was too involved (or too lazy) to take notes; however, I recall that the panelists never really established that SF fans do love Jane Austen!

I pointed out that Austen's world is a dangerous world: women who step wrong can end up on the street (like the two Elizas in Sense and Sensibility); while men may be forced into a duel at any time. (I could also have mentioned that English gentlemen were dying in French and American wars nearly every year of Austen's life.)

In spite of Col. Brandon's duel with Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, several women including Edgehill disputed this part of my argument; one even adduced the laws against duelling as evidence it did not happen! In reality--I looked it up later--two members of the British cabinet had fought a duel just three years before Sense and Sensibility came out, and in America Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton just four years before that.

I suspect, feminist ideology demands that women not be advantaged in any way by "patriarchal" society.



Harlan M. Kornbluth

Sunday afternoon, fans Joe Siclari, Timothy P. Szczesuil, and Bob Madle gathered to praise C.M. Kornbluth, not to bury him. Or maybe vice-versa. The occasion was NESFA's forthcoming publication of Kornbluth's complete short science fiction; so far at least, Harlan Ellison has not threatened to sue NESFA to oblivion!

Szczesuil explained, the germ of the idea to publish this book was the movie, Robocop, which featured glimpses of a moronic game show with the catch phrase, "I'd buy that for a dollar": an inflated version of "I'd pay a quarter for that", from Kornbluth's classic story, "The Marching Morons" (1951).

Why is Kornbluth (1923-1958) still remembered, almost forty years after his death? Siclari said, Kornbluth was the wittiest of the Futurians, that legendary group of ambitious young fans that included Frederik Pohl, Donald Wollheim, Isaac Asimov, and Damon Knight, among others. He was also a faster writer than any of them: when his friend and collaborator Fred Pohl became editor of Stirring Science Stories in the early 1940s, with almost no money for stories, Kornbluth would fill whole issues, under a variety of pseudonyms.

(A check of my Encyclopedia of Science Fiction indicates Siclari garbled his SF history. Donald Wollheim edited Stirring; Pohl edited Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories; Kornbluth was a prolific contributor to all of them!)

As a teenager, "Kornbluth was an abrasive, obnoxious kid", with a cigarette always dangling from his lips, said Madle, the only panelist who had met him. Madle told a story about the youthful Kornbluth greeting Forrest J. Ackerman on a visit to New York: "Ackerman--you're the guy who writes all those crummy letters!" A punch to Ackerman's stomach: "Welcome to New York!"

Szczesuil chimed in with a story Fred Pohl tells about a visit Kornbluth and he paid to the office of John W. Campbell. Afterward Pohl asked Kornbluth why he had been so rude to the most powerful editor in SF: "I wanted to make an impression," explained the unrepentant Kornbluth.

From the audience, Niekas editor Ed Meskys described an SF club meeting--it would have to have been in 1958--which was intended as a memorial to the recently deceased Henry Kuttner. When it was Kornbluth's turn to speak, however, he abused Kuttner instead of eulogizing him. Ironically, Kornbluth was dead himself before the year was out.

By this time, the audience was not getting a very favorable impression of Kornbluth's character. To restore a little balance, Madle recollected how kindly Kornbluth commiserated with the Hugo losers at some Worldcon in the 1950s, and Siclari described Kornbluth's habit of wearing silly costumes at conventions. (Fred Pohl's affection for Kornbluth, after so many years, is also testimony of a kind.)

But whatever his personal failings, Kornbluth was a fine writer, and the panel eventually got around to discussing his stories. The general consensus was that Kornbluth grew stronger, the shorter his story was. Szczesuil thought the bitingly cynical "The Rocket of 1955" (from the early 1940s) was the most typical, "distilled Kornbluth". Another favorite--I think I brought it up--was the short-short story, "The Advent on Channel 12", about a cartoon character who takes over the world. (Guess what 1950s TV series inspired this story.) Szczesuil also recommended "The Education of Tigress McCardle", about a robot baby used to train people not to have children.

Szczesuil spoke of Kornbluth's premature death. Kornbluth had spent the Battle of the Bulge toting a machine gun, and his friend, Fred Pohl, believes the stress damaged his heart. (His chain smoking probably didn't help, either.) In the 1950s, Kornbluth's doctor placed him on heart medication, but the side effects were severe and Kornbluth stopped taking it. He was thirty-five when he died.



Miscellanea

I think it was Sunday I ran into guest artist Gary Ruddell. I had the opportunity to tell him how much I liked the cover he did for the original paperback edition of C.J. Cherryh's The Paladin: a close-up of a woman's face with Oriental eyes and a thin, perfectly straight scar extending down from her right eye; within it we see the reflection of a bearded swordsman in attack position.

I peeked into the Sunday afternoon charity auction. Tony Lewis was displaying some publication of Darrell Schweitzer. "It's not autographed by Darrell Schweitzer--and that makes it extremely valuable!"

This year Helmuth, the convention newsletter, included cartoons, a crossword puzzle, and "Top 33 Reasons Why Boskone 33 Welcomes the Snow", among them, #28: "It's cheaper to build an igloo than rent a room"; #25: "The authors can't get away!"; #14 (and #12): "If we get snowed in, the convention goes on until it melts"; #10: "We can stay here for the New Hampshire primary and promote Cthulhu for President". The program book covered the Guest of Honor, Lois McMaster Bujold, with two brief "appreciations", a bibliography, and an interview; and Special Guest Bob Madle had a thumbnail bio. But somehow the rest of the featured guests ended up relegated to a loose insert page: an appreciation of filkers Musical Chairs, and a bibliography of recent covers by Gary Ruddell which was not even in the table of contents.--Taras Wolansky



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