THE FANHISTORICONThursday 13th February 1997 - the Big Day, the day I set off on my first visit to the US in two years - had arrived. I kissed Avedon goodbye and set off for Heathrow Airport. I also kissed her goodbye two hours later, as she gave me a baleful look for making her rush across London with the credit card I'd forgotten. (No-one does baleful like Avedon).
My trip had come about as the result of email I'd received from Joe Siclari on 20th December:
"Fanhistoricon is being held this year at Boskone, Feb 14-16, 1997. This year we expect to have some excellent space for meetings and programs. And with Boskone's help, a little something extra that we hope to be able to continue. On behalf of Fanhistoricon and Boskone, I'd like to ask you to come over as the first recipient of the Fanhistoricon Fan Fund.This was all incredibly flattering, and it had taken me all of half a second to decide to accept.
The British Airways plane I flew out on was a brand-new Boeing 777 with all manner of spiffy passenger accessories. Even though I was as usual flying Cattle Class, there was a TV screen in the back of every seat, controlled by a unit in the armrest. If you flipped the armrest cover open, the unit could be lifted out, flipped over, and used as a phone - complete with a slot for your credit card. According to the label this amazing device was a "Tethered Digital Passenger Control Unit'. Well, I was certainly a passenger, but hardly digital, nor tethered (not my particular kink), but it was still impressive. Not being obscenely wealthy, I refrained from trying the phone. When we landed in Boston, I got to see First Class, which was incredible. First class passengers didn't have seats as such, but opulent passenger-pampering units. Bath-shaped affairs, these were angled so as to allow the stewards to pop grapes into your mouth as you luxuriated in the unit, amusing yourself with an improbably diverse array of built-in electronic entertainments including hi-fi, TV, video games, and vibro-vagina. Truly, if they'd fitted a Gestetner to the unit I could happily have spent my entire vacation in First Class without ever leaving the plane.
Taking the shuttle bus from Logan Airport to Framingham, I finally got to see a little of Boston from the ground - I've flown into and out of Logan any number of times, but always on my way elsewhere. In many ways the most interesting sight was the con hotel itself. The ads for the Sheraton Tara say: "Not just a hotel. Stay in a castle". Despite the quality of the materials used in its construction, I'm afraid the main effect of the Tara's fake castellations was to make it look tacky. It actually _is_ just a hotel, though a perfectly adequate one. I could've done without the ersatz Irish (or 'Oirish', as it's dismissively known as on this side of the Atlantic) decor of some of the internal areas, and am certainly glad I never got to see the beefeater costumes the staff were obliged to dress in in years past (a practice I assume they eventually rebelled against, probably saying the pay was bad enough and this was just adding insult to injury), but it was a fine convention venue.
The first person I encountered in the reception area was that ubiquitous nethead, Richard Dreyfuss lookalike, and famous typo, Gary Fraber. This was the first time I'd seen Gary since he'd stayed with Avedon and me during his 1996 UK trip, where he demonstrated his impressive mastery of kitchen equipment by brewing a pot of coffee in our kettle. Gary had travelled up from New York with Vijay Bowen and Ben Yalow in Ben's car, a somewhat strained trip since he and Vijay haven't really been on speaking terms for several years. I hadn't seen Vijay since my last US trip so, after locating my room and dumping my bags, I set off to find her. She was sitting in the bar, having a snack, updating her journal, and looking wondeful. We hugged, kissed, and got down to the serious business of catching up on gossip. Gary joined us, as did Judy Bemis and - later - Chip Hitchcock and Mike Ford. Mike was pro writer GoH and Chip's partner, Davey Snyder, was the con chair. Several hours of enjoyable conversation followed, after which I found myself in what would be the Art Show, where I finally made contact with Joe Siclari and with most of the rest of the BOSKONE 34 committee. This was where I'd spend the rest of Thursday.
Because Thursday was actually a 'set-up' day rather than a con-day proper, we got to hang around with those hardy souls who'd turned up early and to help out with the art-show set-up. This was an operation of almost military precision, hordes of NESFAns unloading all the components for the art show (and all the other con equipment) from a hire truck, laying out the colour-coded tubes and clamps, and assembling them under the foremanship of Chip Hitchcock. Vijay and I pitched in and, since I quite enjoy this sort of handymannery, the hours flew by. NESFA put on a large buffet for those helping out, cooked by various members of the group (primarily the women, so far as I could tell) that was absurdly delicious and included chicken curry, spicy shredded beef, garlic chicken, cheese, ham, chicken teraki, cheesecake, pitta bread, brownies, dips, etc, etc. It was easily the best food I ate on my whole trip. (In fact, I've noticed a gradual deterioration in the quality of food in the US over the course of my visits, one that's parallelled a gradual improvement in the quality of food over here, to the point that I'd have to say that I now generally enjoy eating out in the UK more than I do in the US, something which would have been inconceivable a few years ago.)
I awoke at 3.30am the next morning, and again at 6am. Bowing to the inevitable, I got up, took a long, leisurely shower, and updated my diary. Later, I wandered down to breakfast where I discovered that Australian Eric Lindsay was the only other fan up and about. Obviously, we were the only two suffering from jet-lag. After breakfast, we made our way to the FANHISTORICON lounge to help Joe set up. I wasn't entirely clear on just how FANHISTORICON worked within the context of other conventions, but Joe explained that, essentially, it was an extra stream of programming within the parent con, the lounge being provided as both a social focus and programme room for it.
Since Friday was the first real day of the con, people were arriving all through the day, and I was delighted to see so many familiar faces. I had a couple of panel items, the first of which, at 6pm was 'The Age of the Apa' with Elise Mattheson and Priscilla Olsen. Gary was in the audience, as was Patrick Nielsen Hayden - my first sight of him during the weekend. The panel went OK, though I'm afraid I didn't make any particularly profound observations. I'm in a couple of apas, but have no Deep Insights about them. Actually, with the number of panels I was on I'm afraid they're going to take up a large part of this report. The next one, at 8pm, I was on 'Forgotten Fans', with Peggy Rae Pavlat, Joe Siclari, and Rusty Hevelin (who shot into the meeting halfway through, having only just arrived). According to the programme listing: "Forry Ackerman, Claude Degler, Bob Tucker, and Walt Willis are virtually household names to most fen. But who are John V.Baltadonis, Walt Liebscher, Jeffrey Smith, Francis Towner Laney, Sandy Sanderson, J.Michael Rosenblum, Maurice Hanson, and Joan Carr? Each of these fen had a major influence on the fandom of their time - find out why." I explained who the last four were, though I never actually met any of them. In contrast, Rusty was able to tell of his personal experiences with those 'forgotten' fen he covered. Needless to say, this was much more successful. So it goes.
My first panel on Saturday, at 10am, was 'Fan Funds: What are they? Who are they for? What's wrong with them now?', with Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Jerry Kaufman, Joyce Scrivner, and Ben Yalow. This proved rather livlier than I'd anticipated, and there wasn't the concentration on the recent TAFF scandal involving Abi Frost and the missing funds that I'd expected. Instead, Ben complained about how TAFF doesn't do enough outreach to conventions and the con-running community, about how - unlike the administrators of the other funds - TAFF administrators are even non-communicative when it comes to asking for free memberships or free rooms for the TAFF winner. There's an expectation that these things will automatically be provided, argued Ben, and they usually are, but TAFF was doing itself no favours among conrunners. Goodwill requires maintenance. Ben is an intelligent and reasonable man, and his comments gave me a lot to think about. Mind you, the revelation this weekend that Ben's a Deadhead also gave me a lot to think about, much of it concerning tie-dyed bowties.
Following on immediately in the Fanhistoricon lounge was a round-table discussion on FANCYCLOPEDIA III and how to kick-start it. This is a project that has been stalled since at least 1984, when LASFS anounced they were going to tackle it. Mark Olson and Joe Siclari led the discussion and a lot of positive ideas emerged. It was unanimously agreed that the best way to tackle the project was as a web-site with items being added as they came in and the whole thing constantly evolving, with a print version possibly being published at some indeterminate later date. Needless to say, I volunteered to provide lots of entries on UK fandom. (And I'll start actually providing them RSN, Joe, honest!)
At 4pm, I was on a panel about the Legion of Super-Heroes (don't ask), which was followed immediately by the fan funds auction. I'd brought over my last full set of issues of THEN, a copy of THE STORY SO FAR (my first, single volume attempt at a history of UK fandom and the direct precursor to THEN), and a copy of Dave Langford's TAFF report THE TRANSATLANTIC HEARING AID. Since US TAFF and US fans in general had helped out so much in the effort to replace the missing UK TAFF funds, I insisted that any proceeds from their sale go to US TAFF. I hoped to raise maybe $20-$30 for the lot, and was stunned by how much they actually raised. THE STORY SO FAR went for $10, the Langford report for $20, and Seth Breidbart bought the set of THEN, after some spirited bidding, for $50!! Great Ghu! While I was in the auction, Nigel Rowe was in the Fanhistoricon Lounge, conducting the IRC link-up with ATTITUDE, which was being held in the UK the same weekend. In principle, this was a great idea, but when I saw the transcript later it all just seemed to be waffle, most of it techie waffle about changing names and the like at that. Oh well....
Saturday was the night of the banquet, and Vijay and I shared a table with Jerry and Suzle, Leslie Turek, Mark and Priscilla Olsen, and several other people whose names I failed to record. Vijay looked stunning in a golden, Indian (Asian, not NA) style gown (not a description that really does it justice or is even adequate, but like most non-TV straight guys I'm hopeless when it comes to describing stuff like this). We were stopped any number of times on our way to the buffet by people who wanted to ooh and ahh and tell her how great she looked.
After we'd all eaten, there was a humourous musical written and narrated by Mike Ford (looking splendid in conical wizards hat and gown a la Micky Mouse in FANTASIA), and performed by the Sudbury Savoyards, called 'Another Part of the Trilogy' which spoofed fantasy tropes and drew heavily on Gilbert and Sullivan - to the delight of Vijay who, unlike me, recognised most of the original source material. When this was over, the committee got the various guests (ie, Mike Ford, our table-mates Jerry & Suzle, Ron Walotsky etc) up on the stage where they thanked everyone in uniformly witty and entertaining fashion. Though not a guest of BOSKONE proper, I'd been asked to get up, too, and I was dreading it. I'm OK on a panel in front of small numbers of people, but I always freeze when up there by myself in front of large groups of people. Fortunately Mark Olson, who told me this, had somewhat garbled the message, and all I was actually required to do was stand up and nod appreciatively. I like to think I managed this adequately.
Saturday was party night, Vijay and I eventually settling in at the Tor party where I got into a long conversation with Gary and Patrick about fan politics, fan history, computers, and the Nordic biker wars. Back in the 1980s, US and UK fans had watched in stunned amazement as the feuds in Swedish fandom escalated to unheard of levels, the participants seeming to have no sense of proportion whatsoever. Now, Nordic biker gangs were having rumbles where they were attacking each other with anti-tank missiles and other military ordnance. Seems that not only the fans over there are lacking in that sense of proportion.
My first panel on Sunday - at 11am with Joe Siclari and Fred Lerner - was 'Fan Stuff: Where is it? How can we use it?'. Fred was visiting the UK with his family in the next few weeks and had emailed me asking for tourist info. I handed over a stack of stuff I'd brought with me to him before the panel, and he rewarded me with a copy of a SaM autobiography and a book he'd written - 'Modern Science Fiction and the American Literary Community' - both of which were fascinating. Joe was videotaping the panel, and so captured me expounding at length on the methodology I employ when researching and writing fanhistory. Since I was for once reasonably confident and articulate, this was A Good Thing. I expect it to become required viewing when society is eventually reorganised along proper fannish lines. (I will, of course, be played by Brad Pitt in the movie, Avedon will be played by Cher, and Martin Smith will be played by Pee Wee Herman). Our audience was small, but involved.
At 1pm, I found myself on 'Web Writing' with Kathryn Cramer, Daniel P.Dern, Don Sakers and Sharon Sbarsky. Since I've put together my own website ((a relatively new thing for individuals in 1997)), I suppose I was an obvious choice for this one (though at the rate that fans are taking to the web, half the convention will be able to discourse on this by the time BOSKONE rolls around again). This went pretty well for the most part, and was by far the best-attended panel I was on, though it got a little bogged down in how to make money from content on the web. The final point raised was about how easy it would be to set things up so that you could assemble your own SF anthology from a catalogue of short stories on the web, a sort of jukebox approach. Those professionally involved in the assembling and selling of anthologies weren't too keen on for some reason.
'Fanhistory on the Internet' was a panel comprising me, Patrick, Gary, Ben Yalow, and Evelyn Leeper. I was moderator and had expressed my reservations about the panel to Joe beforehand convinced that, despite any efforts I might make to shepherd the discussion, fanhistory would inevitably fall by the wayside as everyone focussed on online fandom in general. In the event the exact opposite happened, and in discussing fanhistory we all but forgot about the Internet, a strange and even heartening development in an era where the Internet often seems to sweep all other topics aside whenever fans gather. At one point, Ben was explaining about some web-resource or other that Evelyn had never encountered.
"That's OK," he said, "I've got a hardcopy of it in my room which I can show you later."
Patrick had been whispering something to me and missed this exchange.
"What was that?" he asked.
"That was Ben," I explained, "inviting a woman back to his room to see his hardcopy."
Collapse of audience.
One useful bit of fall-out from the panel was that Patrick ended up agreeing to write the Terry Carr entry for Fancy III. Afterwards, I hung out in the Fanhistoricon lounge for a while and got chatting to Edie Stern, who revealed that she and Joe had been planning to put out some even more special exhibits than those already on display.
"We were going to include things like an actual photo of Carl Brandon, a pair of Joan Carr's army knickers - stuff like that" she said.
"Good idea", I chuckled. "You could even have brought along the collar worn by the mad dog that kneed Harlan Ellison in the groin."
(And I wonder how many readers will know *all* the above references?)
Sunday was officially the last day of BOSKONE, and the day on which most people departed. In the evening, the committee and pretty much everyone who was still around went out to 'John Harvard's Brew House', a pub/restaurant near the shuttle terminal at Framingham Mall. Eveyone had been telling me how good the local microbrews were but, being familiar with them, I decided to order the five beer sampler. The first beer I tried was raspberry-flavoured.
"What do you think of it?" asked Chip hopefully, as I rolled it around my mouth.
"We don't have a beer like this back home," I said, smiling. "Anyone who brewed one would be taken out and horse-whipped."
None of the five were that impressive, the least offensive being a rather watery version of Irish stout. I've had the occasional half-decent microbrewery beer in the US over the years, but overall I'd say they still have a ways to go yet. I didn't fare much better with the food, choosing what turned out to be a very mediocre pizza from a menu which, to judge from the tasty-looking dishes my companions were tucking into, was actually quite good. Still, the company was excellent and that, ultimately, was what the whole trip was about. At one point, Mike Ford mentioned that his new book was called 'Aspects' and I quipped that 'aspect' is what you get if you bend over in an aviary. I don't think he can have heard me properly, since he apologised for the title. Oh well.
Later, as we were leaving the place, artist GoH Ron Walotsky stopped to congratulate me.
"You were terrific!" he enthused.
"I was?" I replied, pleased but puzzled.
"Weren't you the lead singer in the play last night?"
"Afraid not," I laughed, "though it's always nice to be told you were terrific. It sounds better coming from a woman, though."
Back at the Tara, the FANHISTORICON and committee lounges were pressed into service for the dead dog party, with left over food and drink available in abundance. I tried to stay awake for this, I really did, but I nodded off during a reading by Mike Ford (no reflection on your performance, Mike) and so, when I eventually came to, bowed to the inevitable and groggily made my way back to my room.
Monday morning, around 10am, Vijay and I breakfasted with Ron and Gail Walotsky.
"How are you?" asked Ron, by way of greeting.
"Still terrific," I replied. He laughed, then had to explain why to Gail.
BOSKONE was now well and truly over, but my trip still held one final fannish delight. Vijay and I were eating with various committee members prior to them finally getting back to Real Life, when someone asked if we'd be interested in seeing the NESFA clubhouse. I immediately said yes. (For those who may wonder at my eagerness, I should point out that we don't have SF clubhouses in the UK and I've always wanted to see one of the US ones.) Sharon Sbarsky drove us there, through the snow-covered suburbs.
The NESFA clubhouse is owned by the club and is a large and spacious property that was once two separate stores that have since been knocked into one. It was very impressive, and everything that a clubhouse should be (other than looking like an upturned rocketship with its nose buried in the ground, of course). I took a whole roll of film trying to record it all (see link at bottom of page). There were floor to ceiling bookshelves lining almost every wall, net-connected computers, lots of comfortable chairs, printing facilities and, in what would have been the storage areas of the original stores, metal racking holding the stock of the mighty NESFA Press publishing empire. This area was also where BOSKONE equipment was stored from one year to the next and, when Chip Hitchcock arrived with the truck containing this equipment - all neatly packed in numbered containers, of course - I helped with the unloading, which was conducted with the military precision I was coming to expect of the group. When this was done, the group ordered in pizza, cheese cake, and ice-cream to reward those who had laboured so hard. Talking with Davey Snyder later, I told her how impressed I'd been by BOSKONE, the clubhouse, and NESFA in general, and was disappointed to hear that they weren't very successful in recruiting younger members. "We're all getting older," She said, "and the club may have no more than another 15 years at the outside unless we do start pulling in fresh blood." I hope they do. It would be a real shame if they faded away.
I flew back to the UK the next day, after a trip that had been, in its way, every bit as memorable and enjoyable as my TAFF trip. My deepest thanks and appreciation to everyone who chipped in, and particularly to Joe Siclari for setting the whole thing up in the first place. I had a ball.
My thanks to Lisa Hertel and Chip Hitchcock for additional identification of people in the photos.