[Home]   [Meeting Info]   [SIGs]   [Newsletter]   [Interest to Fans]   [Con Reports]   [Fiction]   [Directions]   [Links]   [Site Map]   [About Us]

Science Fiction Association of Bergen County

Convention Reports:

SFABC - ConAdian - Worldcon 52 (1994)

A convention report by Taras Wolansky

[Editor's Note: This material originally appeared in FOSFAX, Issue #172, December 1994. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.]

Copyright 1996 Taras Wolansky

Table of Contents

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

ConAdian -- Worldcon 52

ConAdian, Worldcon 1994, was held September 1st through 5th at the Winnipeg Convention Center and nearby hotels in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Guests of Honor were: Anne McCaffrey (writer), George Barr (artist), Barry B. Longyear (toastmaster), and Robert Runte (fan).

While gathering convention documents in preparation for this report, I was suddenly seized by a powerful sense of nostalgia. I had really enjoyed myself. It didn't hurt that this was just about the most convenient Worldcon I've ever attended. My hotel was only half a block from the convention center, right between it and the party hotels--and the Japanese animation room was in my hotel's basement.

Perhaps a bigger factor is that Winnipeg, though a pleasant town, is not a tourist center; nor is it big enough to provide large numbers of marginal SF fans who will attend a worldcon if it is in their home town. Thus, while the attendance here was about half that of last year's San Francisco Worldcon, the people who came were real, hard-core SF fans. My kind of people! Which is not to say having a Worldcon in Winnipeg did not have its drawbacks. Getting there and back is one problem: I found Canadian airports (to be specific, Toronto and Winnipeg) particularly confusing. My hypothesis is, because every sign has to be in French as well as English, every sign costs at least twice as much, so there are naturally fewer signs; and no signs at all where space is limited, as they also have to be at least twice as big. ("At least" because French is more long-winded than English. This also made the PA announcements on the plane at least twice as annoying.) Another disadvantage is that you are visiting a Welfare State more thoroughgoing than our own. You must pay a 7% federal sales tax--plus a 7% provincial sales tax. The good news is, if you save your receipts you can get most of the money back. (So they say. I'm still waiting.)


The opening ceremonies, early Thursday afternoon, featured the Guests of Honor, plus speeches from a Canadian Space Agency official and the Mayor of Winnipeg, who told us we were the year's biggest Manitoba convention. For entertainment, the amateur dramatics that have embarrassed conventions for many years were eschewed in favor of hiring some "pro's" who, not at all coincidentally, displayed a little of Winnipeg's diverse heritage. First was Indian hoop dancer George Bear (no relation?) who wove his arms and legs through dozens of hoops and formed geometrical and animal figures with them while dancing in circles, to wild applause. He was followed by the Vitraz Ukrainian Dancers in their colorful traditional dress; again, much applause, especially during the more acrobatic portions. (I've often thought audiences are unfair in giving more recognition to the men's flashy stunts than the women's intricate footwork.)

To Bring in the Steele?

Later that same afternoon, my first panel was "Should SF Have Rivets?", with hard SF writer Allen Steele, space scientist and author Jonathan V. Post, technical writer and fan Maia Cowan, engineer Bart Kemper, and metallurgist Ken Meltsner, the moderator, who is perhaps best known as husband of Aboriginal SF book reviewer Janice Eisen. Incidentally, this lineup--the average SF reader would recognize one name at most--shows one of the convention's shortcomings. The true SF fans may have showed up, but many true SF writers didn't; so the con programmers had to make do. In this respect ConAdian was more like an exceptionally well-run NASFiC than a Worldcon. Somebody asked for a definition of the "rivets" in the panel title. Meltsner understood it as the inclusion is SF stories of scientific explanations, as well as an emphasis on technical matters. SF with rivets, added Cowan, is "where the science is one of the characters in the story." Sometimes inclusion of technological material can improve a story, said Steele. For example, in The Year of the Quiet Sun (1970) Wilson Tucker's time machine is still believable, even if the race war he foresaw never materialized. (Post objected dryly: "I live in the Los Angeles area ...") From the floor it was suggested that technical material can be used to convince the reader the author knows what he is talking about; then the author can slip in the invented stuff. Post said he used to try to get a patentable idea into every story, Gernsback-style; not to impress potential readers, but so his employer would pay for copying and distribution!

I have long been irritated by SF writers' habit of explaining every mystery they introduce; in real life and in real science, after all, some mysteries always remain unsolved. Why do they feel compelled to do this? During the Q&A something was said to remind me of this; when called, I began my question, "Pet peeve--". "We don't want pet peeves, just questions," interrupted Meltsner, and called on somebody else. "He sure jumped all over you," said a sympathetic woman, as I sat there with my mouth open--except she didn't say "jumped". Over the years, on rare occasions I've seen panel moderators dismiss a question unanswered, but never before unasked.

Move Over, Kirk Poland

Early Friday afternoon was time for a beloved and traditional event, the "Slush Pile Panel", when editors vie with each other to read excerpts from the most laughable and borderline lunatic submissions they have ever received. The perpetrators were: Dean Wesley Smith (Pulphouse), Josepha Sherman (Baen), Sue Weinlein (TSR), and Shawna McCarthy (various places). The presentation had been foolishly scheduled for one of the smallest rooms; but a fortunate panel cancellation permitted the huge audience that turned out to move to one of the largest rooms. Regrettably I can only give you a flavor of the selections, which were at times difficult to follow, much less reproduce here. Perhaps illuminating a dark chapter in the history of Roman plumbing, Weinlein read to us of how "Hannibal recued a woman" who "plungered Rome". Smith spoke in wonder of a manuscript which came with a cover--in crayon. Sherman, immediately recognizing the item from Smith's description, called it "the Plan 9 from Outer Space of manuscripts".

Sherman insisted she could top everybody. "The darken knights vanquished out of sight," she read. "In the midst, nearly all pesters fainted." This is why publishers go mad, said Smith. On the contrary, said Sherman: a sense of wonder at the strangeness of the world keeps you sane. Inexorably she continued reading of "the unguarded, moist aspersions that contuse which left a cast on it." (She doesn't know what it means, either.) Smith was forced to acknowledge Sherman's ascendancy in the amateur division, but was minded to dispute her title as far as professional submissions are concerned. He described cover copy for a feminist novel which described the heroine as "adorable in both men and women". Sherman came back with a passage from a published anthology: "She lay upon a couch with her breasts upon another."

There were many more wonderful things. Sherman read something about "the fowls commencing to twittering"; McCarthy immediately recognized the passage. Weinlein described a cover letter which promised a story about an entity which makes alterations in the human male sexual machinery--based on life in pro baseball! She also described how "a viscous slashing tail curled around the body" of something; and a traveler who is startled "when he accidentally stumbles upon the depth of his mind."

The subject of manuscripts from prison also came up. I have a note about Sherman saying something about a "nude man with open laptop" (in his lap, let us hope); I think this refers to a photograph accompanying a manuscript. And Smith boasted, "I got a dominatrix to submit to me!"

Getting Colder?

Friday afternoon, a less than controversial look at the controversial question of "Global Warming" featured author/statistician Michael Flynn; engineer Gerald (author G. David) Nordley, who said global warming is "very real, very serious"; anthropologist and eofan Clifton Amsbury (in beret and white Castro beard, rambling on inconsequentially about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade); photographer to the SF stars Jay Kay Klein; space activist John Strickland, Jr.; and as moderator, the very moderate Timothy Lane, who as a programmer "know[s] how inaccurate computer programs can be". Based on his background research for Fallen Angels, said Flynn, he finds that "global warming neatly cancels global cooling". Earlier, Lane had similarly described the situation as "conflicting trends largely cancelling each other out", though over the last 100 years he thought there was a net one degree increase left over.

The geological record indicates that a temperature change can be fast, said Strickland; we've got to be ready, either way. Nordley used the icewater carafe in front of him as an example: as heat flows into it, the water temperature stays at 32 degrees Fahrenheit--right up to the moment all the ice is gone.

What should we do about it, asked Lane. Nuclear power, said Nordley. Nuclear power in the short term, agreed Strickland, but solar power satellites in the long. If Jimmy Carter had kept his word and followed the recommendations of his own committee on the subject, he said, we would be coming on line with satellite power just about now. The twelve to fourteen year lead time is comparable to that for a nuclear power station. Amsbury supported Strickland's proposals, though he wondered about direct heating effects from the microwave beams that are to bring satellite power down to Earth. It turns out, Strickland said, that satellite power is better in this respect than even ground solar power; only hydroelectric can beat the satellites in this respect.

It may not be feasible to cut down the production of greenhouse gases. For example, from the floor it was stated that a new coal-fired power plant comes on line every week in China, and India is not far behind. Nordley suggested a shield might be deployed in space to cut down the amount of sunlight that heats the Earth in the first place. I brought up a notion I'd read about in Discover and Scientific American: fertilizing the oceans to increase the rate at which carbon-containing plankton remains are entombed in sediments; but nobody seemed to know what I was talking about.

Red Star, Winter Orbit

My Friday afternoon continued in a technological vein, with "Soviet Space Disasters", autopsied by Jonathan V. Post, laser physicist Jordin Kare, political scientist Andre Lieven, who is of Russian descent, and space historian Hugh Gregory. "The number one Soviet space disaster," said Post, "is ending the Cold War". The Soviet collapse is why he and his wife haven't seen a paycheck in a long time, he said.

One curious historical footnote that came up was that Yuri Gagarin's epochal orbit flight of Earth was, according to current rules, not an orbital flight. Gregory jibed, "We're jealous, so we change the rules?" Someone responded, hadn't the Soviets denied they were even in the Moon race. From the floor: "I was there at Baikonur last week, and they now admit it!" The high point of the panel was a video: incredible Soviet footage, obtained by Gregory through mysterious channels. Two huge, N1 boosters standing on pads stupidly built only one kilometer apart, so that when one falls over and blows up it sets off the other. An SS20 launch in which the first stage fails to ignite--but the second does, falling back and blowing up, killing hundreds of people; you can actually see a tiny figure bursting into flames as it flees the conflagration. As a space capsule comes down to Earth, its main chute fails to open, and the astronaut pancakes. (If this sounds interesting, Gregory sells a 30 minute version for $30 Canadian; P.O. Box 3044, Blaine, WA 98231-3044.)

Lieven pointed out that they hadn't even touched on training fatalities in the Soviet space program. Nor had they mentioned the many more blow-ups and disasters in the unmanned program, added Kare, who later used the phrase, "regularly decimating the crews on the ground". That many disasters occurred should be no surprise, considering that the Soviet Venus and Mars teams kept secrets from each other, said Post, so they couldn't learn from each other's mistakes.

Kare noted a certain element of schadenfreude in the discussion. When Carl Sagan reported the failure of a Soviet Mars probe at an MIT conference circa 1980, he recalled, to Sagan's disgust the audience cheered! (But the audience may have had a point. Every such failure meant that the Kremlin had less faith in its ICBMs, and so decreased the probability they would be used.) Kare sort of summed up the discussion when he said, "The big Soviet disaster was their system of government and economy."

The Right Stuff

Late Friday afternoon, a diverse group of pundits gathered to ask, "Is Modern SF a Reactionary Literature?" The panelists were SF encyclopedist Peter Nicholls; Martha Soukup, who said she is not in Nicholls' encyclopedia because she only writes short stories; J.R. Dunn, who said he is not in Nicholls' encyclopedia because his (critically praised) first novel came out a few months too late; Brazilian SF writer Daniel Fresnot, who said he was a Marxist for fifteen years, until he underwent a "personal perestroika" in the early 1980s; and SF academic Elizabeth Anne Hull, who does not go by the name, Mrs. Fred Pohl.

Describing herself as a "bleeding heart liberal", Soukup said she thinks SF is reactionary in a political sense. However, most of the discussion had to do with literary reaction rather than political reaction. How much SF is experimental in a literary sense, asked Nicholls, and how much shows an old-fashioned accent on storytelling?

Strictly speaking, there have been no literary innovations in SF, Dunn argued. For example, even John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, acclaimed for its untraditional "assemblage of narrative techniques" (John Clute) in 1968, was actually using methods pioneered by John Dos Passos in the early 1930s. In Dunn's view SF is necessarily a conservative literary form--with liberal writers; though even in politics it is merely following trends: environmentalism, gay rights, etc.

As an example of literary innovation within SF, Hull brought up Pamela Zoline's famous New Wave story, "The Heat Death of the Universe" (1967). To which Soukup responded that this was just one story, constantly cited as an example, by a writer whose career was out of the SF field. (In Nicholls' old, 1976 encyclopedia, Zoline's entry ends with: "Excerpts from a novel are to be included in Harlan Ellison's much delayed The Last Dangerous Visions"; perhaps the death rattle of her SF career.) You define a field by its center, not its fringes, said Nicholls today.

Though he noted some SF had fallen afoul of censors in Brazil, ex-Marxist Fresnot championed the aesthetic over the political; the political use of art is not important in the end. Do we even remember who was the President of France when Verne passed away, or who the Tsar, when Dostoevsky died.

But Nicholls argued that politics is an important part of SF; for example, in the work of Heinlein, Asimov, Herbert, and more recently Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain. Perhaps thinking of the panel on the subject he was going to moderate later that evening, Dunn noted the influence of political correctness on SF. (And an excellent panel it was, but I was too actively engaged to take notes, so you won't see it here.) Nicholls agreed that political correctness in the publishing industry is a problem; for example, it's "very difficult to write a children's [non-fiction] book that doesn't believe in global warming" and get it published.

Spare an Electron, Buddy?

Nicholls might have said the same about the "Ozone Hole", a topic of particular interest in Canada, and which was the subject of a panel late Saturday morning. The participants were: science and SF writer Leslie Gadallah; physicist Keith Kato; Karl Johanson, co-editor of the fanzine, Under the Ozone Hole; Ctein, whose background is in photochemistry and physics; and moderated by the ever moderate Tim Lane.

The existence of an arctic ozone hole is not in dispute, said Lane; the argument is about ozone depletion. (In other words, said Gadallah, nobody knows for sure if the hole is natural or artificial.) Lane thought there was some evidence of depletion--but not for an increase in UV radiation reaching the Earth's surface, which it the whole point of the thing. Considering the enormous variability of UV across the Earth's surface, Lane also wondered about the significance of a small increase. Later, he spoke about the development of resistant crops, though noting dryly that the audience looked rather "non-UV resistant"! Gadallah also expressed concern about effects on vegetation, especially oceanic vegetation.

Ctein, who appeared to suffer from no doubts whatsoever about the issue, attacked what he termed the pseudo-science of those who deny ozone depletion; like James Hogan in a recent Omni essay. The original, simple hypothesis about CFCs catalyzing the breakup of ozone in the stratosphere has turned out to be true, he said. While natural sources like volcanoes and sea salt account for much more atmospheric chlorine than CFCs do, he said, the natural chlorine doesn't get up into the ozone layer. (Yet if that is so, asked a puzzled audience member, why did the Mount Pinatubo eruption affect the stratosphere?)

Kato, who had some sardonic words to say about the way Congress makes environmental policy (e.g., Meryl Streep testifying about Alar), said that if melanoma (skin cancer) can serve as an indicator of UV exposure, then statistics indicate no increase in the Northern Hemisphere, but some in the South. From the audience, a dermatologist said melanoma is up since the 1930s, but the increase can be accounted for by changes in behavior and attire (e.g., sunbathing and skimpier clothes).

It seemed to me everyone was talking around the edges of the subject. Either more ultraviolet light is reaching the ground, I said, or it isn't. Everything else is irrelevant. Ctein responded, it seemed somewhat reluctantly, that he thought the amount was increasing by about one percent a year, but the statistics are very noisy.

Let us say the problem is real. What do we do about it? Kato, who does research on microwaves, proposed using them to destroy CFCs already in the atmosphere. About 100 stations using power comparable to a TV station would do the job. Johanson reminded us the Third World is going to demand a lot of (CFC-using) refrigerators in coming years; but food irradiation could replace a lot of refrigeration. Ctein felt cautiously optimistic, because industries were phasing out CFCs even faster than international agreements demanded. Later that day, I ran into Michael Flynn, who had been on the panel for "Global Warming", and in the audience for part of "Ozone Hole", and was unhappy about the way they had gone. Believing both hypotheses are far from proven, but not knowing they would be brought up at the convention, he had left all his data home. Thus he was not in a good position to contradict the impression left by the two panels, that the case for both hypotheses is largely proven.

Women with Guns

Saturday afternoon, a large and combative audience squeezed into a medium-sized room to hear a discussion of "Women in Combat", featuring a large and combative panel. Author and ex-Marine nurse Elizabeth Moon, who said women had always been sneaking into armies--e.g., female pikemen (pikepersons?) in the Hundred Years War--until medical exams were instituted. Author and Vietnam War nurse Elizabeth Scarborough, who said, "I don't think women should be in combat roles in the military. I also don't think men should be in combat roles in the military." (Droll, but not exactly serious.) Alleged shy, nocturnal marsupial jan howard finder, who said that only in the last 25 to 50 years have weapons gotten light enough to permit women in combat. Retired petty officer Leah Day, who had 20 years in the Navy. Gulf War combat medic Daniel Dworkin, who said a woman with an M16 is the same as a man with an M16. Former Army combat engineer Bart Kemper, who spent seven years in that all-male occupation. Electronic countermeasures technologist Perry Williams, who is 18 years in the Air Force.

More fatuous and politically correct comments were made on this panel than any other I can recall. Fatuous Comment #1 is Dworkin, above: obviously, a woman with an M16 is the same as a man with an M16 only if she can run as fast and as far as he can, only if she can carry as much supplies and ammunition as he can, only if she is willing to risk life and limb with as much joyous abandon as he is. Kemper later commented, today women soldiers are not expected to meet the same standards of physical training as the men; women in combat must meet the same standards. (In her "Paksenarrion" stories, Moon later pointed out, only 25% of the mercenaries are women.) When the Israelis experimented with women in combat, said finder, they found the Arabs would not surrender to women, leading to heavy losses on both sides. Dworkin responded, playing to the gallery, that it is not the army's job to cater to enemy prejudices. Which is Fatuous Comment #2: obviously, it is the army's job to persuade the enemy to stop fighting as soon as possible. An audience member brought up a related issue: men might be unwilling to leave a woman behind. As a Marine nurse, said Moon, every week she had had to treat women soldiers who had been raped and tortured by their male comrades. Fatuous Comment #3: that some men do things like that obviously does not change the way most men feel about women. And anyway, chimed in Day, we never leave anybody behind. Fatuous Comment #4: tell that to the MIAs. Also from the floor, might the fact that more men than women participate in sports make a difference? Dworkin insisted sports are no preparation for combat; but Moon disagreed: athletics teaches you that you can keep on going even if you hurt.

Another question from the floor brought up the common assertion that modern technological warfare is just "pressing buttons". Unless you want to nuke the enemy till they glow, said Kemper, you'll always need infantry. And anyway, machines break, Moon reminded us.

An army officer in the audience told us he commands 112 men and 6 women; which means he has "112 problems--112 seventeen-year-old bags of hormones!" He didn't think we'd ever see many women combat troops; "you'll never find that many women stupid enough to take the job."

The Protracted Conflict

Sunday afternoon, authors J.R. Dunn and Alexis Gilliland, and editors Claire Eddy and Jennifer Hershey (TOR and Bantam, respectively) went a few rounds of fandom's favorite argument, "SF vs. Fantasy". "They're totally opposed," said Dunn, firing the opening gun, "and SF is a little bit superior." Dunn made use of Thomas Sowell's hypothesis from A Conflict of Visions, that two fundamental world-views, the "constrained" and the "unconstrained", underlie and explain the diversity of political ideologies. Here, the "constrained" world-view is obviously represented by science fiction; the "unconstrained", by fantasy, in which "there are no rules ... go to the next wizard ... get the [magic] jewel". In other words, said Hershey, paraphrasing Dunn's argument without necessarily agreeing with it, fantasy is "the big lie". Then again, said Eddy, science fiction might be described as "industrial revolutionary fantasy", based upon the belief that "we can remake the world in the way we want". Today, we're more pessimistic about that; thus the growing popularity of fantasy which, for all that it is "the great lie", at least gives the reader a "vicarious winning experience". "Fantasy is one step beyond science fiction," said Hershey. But that step leads us out of the real world, responded Dunn.

Gilliland thought that some of the bad rep fantasy has picked up is due to the fact that a lot of it really grows out of the romance genre rather than the heritage of fantasy literature. (Later, a member of the audience would comment that many fantasy readers would otherwise be reading romance novels.) Sturgeon's Law--90% of everything is crap--applies to fantasy as well as anything else, said Eddy. "Good fantasy must be as tightly constructed" as SF, must have its own, consistent "internal realism". Gilliland agreed that in his "Trollbats" series of fantasies, he does his best to work out everything logically.

Dunn wondered how much of this effort at rigor is itself the influence of science fiction. Eddy agreed this was a significant factor; Hershey disagreed.

Is fantasy more accessible to the average reader than SF, I asked. "Science fiction is a little harder for a kid to grasp," said another audience member, partly in response. We're still the same, said Gilliland, but our society--and our science--grows ever more complex.

From Saturday's program schedule, I read the following: "Psi Powers A discussion on the various psi powers: what they are and how to use them. ... Anne McCaffrey". If you believe in psi and write a story about it, is it SF or fantasy? McCaffrey thinks she's writing SF, said Eddy.

Political Elite

Later Sunday afternoon, some of the same brave souls turned out for the even more contentious topic of "Politics in SF", with authors Maureen F. McHugh, J.R. Dunn, Alexis Gilliland, and Astrid Julian, and reviewer Janice Eisen. (Dunn and McHugh have a sort of humorous "Calvin and Susie" relationship: he always tries to crack her up.)

All SF novels involve politics, said McHugh, even by writers like Katherine Kurtz who don't appear to be paying attention to the matter. "If everything is politics, then nothing is politics," protested Dunn. For example, responded McHugh, in Kurtz's "Deryni" novels the political content--conscious or unconscious--is that the "aristos" are the good guys. Asimov's "Foundation", Herbert's "Bene Gesserit", Dickson's "Chantry Guild": Dunn noted an elitist trend in American SF, an odd development in a democracy. Fantasy has the recurring theme of the "rightful king", Eisen noted; in SF terms, added Julian, it would be the "wild talent".

The dominant theme of 20th century history, Dunn speculated, is not "Right vs. Left", but the "managerial elite" (like Robert McNamara of Vietnam War and World Bank fame) vs. the individualists. McNamara is good for SF, said Julian, because everybody hates him!

Eisen sent the discussion down another path with a dig at a recent Administration. This talk of "evil empires", she said, is simplistic. (Today, what with pundits and anchormen routinely applying the term to the late USSR, I had thought it no longer controversial.) What about Hitler's empire, inquired Dunn. "Don't accuse me of being a pro-Nazi!!" Eisen sputtered, in a wild non sequitur. Empires are more chaotic than evil, said McHugh soothingly. In terms of chaos theory, Hitler was a "strange attractor". "We're not all as smart as you," said Dunn, asking her to explain. In what was evidently another round in a continuing argument, Dunn told the audience that McHugh's book, China Mountain Zhang, uses chaos theory to sink Marx, but she doesn't want to face the implications. (While McHugh laughingly air-whipped him.)

Gilliland, officially the ringmaster of this little circus, lost his temper at one point. Somehow the topic had gotten around to a certain candidate for Senator from Virginia, and Gilliland remarked, "Oliver North is not a democrat." Dunn could not resist such a fat straight line, and quickly came back: "Of course not, he's a Republican!" Gilliland scolded him for frivolousness.

Another subject aired was political lectures in science fiction novels, like Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged and some of the late Heinleins. The material was put in as a lecture because it would fail as drama, argued Dunn. Someone mentioned libertarian writer (and gun fancier) L. Neil Smith. Dunn: "L. Neil Smith doesn't lecture you; he shoots you if he disagrees with you!" The panelists were asked to recommend political SF novels. A couple mentioned Nancy Kress' Beggars in Spain; one, Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale; Dunn said, with a pretended lack of enthusiasm, "Maureen's book is OK."

Farewell to the Master

Monday afternoon, the last panel of ConAdian was "Robert A. Heinlein", with scientist and author Arlan Andrews, who says reading Heinlein changed his life; Elizabeth Anne Hull, who teaches Heinlein (especially The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) at the college level; physicist Keith G. Kato, whose choice of a profession was influenced by Heinlein; and fans Rick Katze and Lois Mangan. The panelists went around once, naming personal favorites and unfavorites. Katze favored Double Star, The Puppet Masters, and Harsh Mistress; his nominee for worst Heinlein was Glory Road. He said he liked the later stuff, though it certainly needs editing. Mangan gave the nod to Harsh Mistress and Job; her pick for worst was I Will Fear No Evil. Heinlein is often attacked for his women characters, said Hull, but in fact "there are women who think like Heinlein's women", and she thinks To Sail Beyond the Sunset, told from a woman's viewpoint, is one of his best books. Another is the juvenile, The Star Beast (which also contains a strong female character). And, though Heinlein "put a lot of his feelings into it", she thinks Farnham's Freehold is his worst book.

Andrews picked Time Enough for Love as his favorite and, continuing the theme of women in Heinlein, Friday as his worst book. (Later, Hull would point out that the character of Friday becomes more believable when we remember she is a product of genetic engineering.) As a cat person, said Kato, he had to pick The Door into Summer; also Job, and the juvenile, Have Spacesuit, Will Travel. Kato agreed with Katze that Fear No Evil is Heinlein's worst; though he reminded us Heinlein was mortally ill at the time he wrote it.

On the subject of Heinlein's influence, Andrews called him "my intellectual father"; and growing up in the cultural desert of rural Arkansas in the late 1950s he really needed one. Mangan was impressed by "his sense of personal responsibility". Kato remembered hearing Heinlein talk of the drawers full of letters from three generations of scientists and engineers who, like Kato, had been led to their careers by his work. On the subject of another kind of influence, Kato said Heinlein was so concerned about stories linking his Stranger in a Strange Land to mass murderer Charles Manson that he hired a private investigator. It turned out the nearly illiterate Manson never even heard of Stranger. As a critic, Hull is impressed by Heinlein's use of the flawed hero, the limited hero, like "Manny" in Harsh Mistress. Telling his story from such a viewpoint, Heinlein is letting us know he is more interested in getting us to think than in providing answers. Clifton Amsbury later commented from the floor, Heinlein had a way of making people think, which he liked even if he didn't agree with Heinlein's conclusions.

An audience member brought up one of Heinlein's most controversial books, Starship Troopers. Juan Rico, the book's protagonist, said Hull, is an "excellent example of the flawed narrator." It's a great book, said Mangan, but she is wary of Heinlein's attitude toward discipline and obedience to authority; especially in light of the episode, revealed in Grumbles from the Grave, when shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Heinlein nearly accused John W. Campbell of treason for criticizing the Naval High Command. In this exchange "Campbell was the better man", said Andrews; you should always question authority. As an emergency room nurse, said Mangan, she "will snap out orders" and expect them to be obeyed without question, but (mixing her metaphors) "most of the time the house isn't burning down." Earlier, someone had said that for all the feminist cavils at Heinlein, in his books "the women actually did things"; and after trying to balance the pros and cons, Mangan finally threw up her hands and said, "Oh God, I'm really confused about the man!"

Artists and Models

The art show and dealers' room were rather out of the way, on the third floor of the convention center. I only got to the hucksters' once and never got the chance to buy anything. After circumnavigating the "outside" aisle of the room, I intended to fill in the "inside" aisles. To my surprise there was only one inside aisle! In fact, both rooms were quite small for a Worldcon, more like those at a major regional convention like Philcon. It appears both were adversely impacted by red tape from Canadian customs; even in proportion to its size the art show seemed to have few professional artists. Artist GoH George Barr was of course well represented with a variety of gorgeous and colorful works in mixed media, including the two dragon paintings that formed the covers of the souvenir book. Also involving a dragon was "Interloper", a cover from Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine; in this case a friendly, dark pink one offering a rose to a damsel in a balcony. Both the dragon (apprehensively) and the girl (angrily) are looking at an enthusiastic, sword-wielding Crusader with dragon-slaying on his mind. As usual Mark Rogers brought a lot of cheesecake and sold most of it. Another thing that sold, however, was "Murder, Inc.": a mail-clad barbarian with a bloody axe--and a chain-mail baby carrier on his back containing a mail-clad and helmeted barbarian baby.

Phil Foglio also gave me a laugh, though in a more ribald vein. In "Bringing Good Things to Life", Dr. Frankenstein practices his occult arts upon--an inflatable woman.

While as I said the art show was not terribly distinguished, it did offer one innovation. On a long table along one wall were displayed the many winners of a contest sponsored by the Science Fiction Model Builders Association. One creation I hardly need to describe was "The Return of Borg Bear"; I can't tell you who would do such a nasty thing to a nice Teddy because the SFMBA forgot to put the builders' names on their models. Another display, an extinct armored fish, bore a note from an admirer: "Is 'Dunkleosteus' for sale, and can I afford him? Hal Clement."

Awards and Other Trivia

From Saturday evening, a few Hugo Award vignettes: Anne McCaffrey presenting the stylized rocketship and wondering, "How does a lady handle a phallic symbol?" Referring to the distinctive wooden base of the statuette, "At least in this case we have a maple leaf!"

Robert Silverberg, presenting the professional editor nominees (and pretending to have trouble with Gardner Dozois' name), remarking that handing out a Hugo in a year when he's not even in the running is "another step in my spiritual development".

Andrew Porter accepting Science Fiction Chronicle's second consecutive semi-prozine Hugo: "I thought it was a fluke and it would be another thirteen years--but I was wrong!"

Alleged "nicest guy", artist GoH George Barr presenting the nominees for original artwork: "These are the hands I would most wish to break." Connie Willis accepting her fifth Hugo, since 1983, for "Death on the Nile": "You guys had better stop doing this." (Her editor, Gardner Dozois, faintly: "No, you don't!")

Sunday evening was time for the "Masquerade"; but first, Toastmaster Longyear suddenly appeared, to re-award one of the Hugos that had been awarded the previous night. ("They drag me back here to humiliate me a second time!") Bob Eggleton's victory as Best Professional Artist had been as much unexpected by him as by the audience; in fact so unexpected that he had been one of the many no-show pro's I previously mentioned. But here he was on stage a day late.

Receiving a call late Saturday night that informed him he had won a Hugo, he said, his first thought was, "What Hugo? Maybe they secretly made one for 'Best Hair' or something?" (Eggleton is follicularly privileged.) Then he tossed and turned in his bed until reaching a conclusion at 2:30 AM: "I can't sleep--I want this award!!"

"This was the most impulsive maneuver I've ever made," Eggleton said. He could only give us an intimation of his epic struggle to find a flight to Winnipeg from his home in "Rhode Island--it's not even an island, OK?" But he made it in the end, and let us know in an unequivocal though sleep-deprived way his great joy and gratitude. Longyear noted that Eggleton had "also won the Chelsea [sic] Award" for best paperback cover.

Now to the costume contest itself. One new thing about it this year was the use of Masquerade entries to advertise Worldcon bids. Baltimore in '98 had a very nice, Gilbert-and-Sullivanish entry; while Boston in '98 had an entry, and an entry, and an entry, and an entry! By the time they came out with their fourth variation, I was not thinking very kindly of Boston in '98. Two of the entries were, basically, erotic dances in scanty harnesses; one a woman, the other a man. Interestingly, while I would have judged the two objectively equal, the man received much more applause than the woman had. I suppose erotic displays by women are not politically correct. Black cloth screens or partitions created wings where costumes could be moved into position for stage entry. The most exciting moment of the Masquerade came when a large construction brushed against the screens on the right and they started to come down. With amazing celerity the masquerade staffers rushed into position to grab onto the falling screens and hold them up.

During the convention was shown a German movie adaptation, with English actors and dialogue, of Poul Anderson's The High Crusade. The producers dumped the most farfetched aspect of the story, that a group of medieval English knights could conquer an interstellar empire, and basically turned it into a medieval bedroom farce. As such, it's not too bad, but it has little to do with Anderson's novel.

Save for the colorful George Barr covers, the convention souvenir book was pretty average. One odd feature was the nine short stories, by Steve Rasnic Tem, James S. Dorr, and seven other names I did not recognize; which is to say, the odd thing was that the short stories were not by the Guests of Honor.

The program schedule booklet was something of a conceptual breakthrough. It must have occurred to somebody, why should people drag around all five days' schedule when they only use one day at a time. And so, in addition to all the usual stuff (including a nice index of program participants with thumbnail bios), the program guide had bound in it five pull-out sheets with single-day schedules plus a few important maps repeated on each. It really did let me leave the main guide in my hotel room.

The convention newsletter, Voyageur, was probably the best I've seen at any Worldcon, with approximately ten issues, most four pages long, full of useful information and silly fun.

One of the freebies given out during the convention was a special issue of the Canadian literary magazine, Prairie Fire, on "Canadian Speculative Fiction". Now, there are many good Canadian SF writers; but like good Canadian actors they are all working in the United States already, so this amounts to a minor league collection. However, one item, an essay on A.E. van Vogt, brought to light an odd aspect of this convention. Van Vogt, one of the greatest of Golden Age SF writers, whose ideas are still being stolen by Hollywood, was born in Manitoba and grew up in Winnipeg. Yet this Winnipeg Worldcon did nothing to honor his name.--Taras Wolansky

Back to Convention Reports main page

Return to SFABC Home Page