Refugees in the Magic Kingdom
by Andy Hooper
I think it was late on Friday night that I turned to someone -- possibly Robert Lichtman, but it could have been one of several people -- and said, "You know, I'm having an amazingly good time."
The whole weekend was like that. Most of us, even fans who still fix our fannish interests on written science fiction, or costuming, or movies, go to the Worldcon suspecting that we might not have a particularly good time. The crowds, the huge facilities, the crowds, strange scheduling conflicts, the crowds, bad beer exorbitantly priced, all these things combine to create an experience that is often overwhelming to the individual fan.
But where were those crowds? The convention barely reached 6,000 in attendance, and in the enormous Anaheim convention center -- "Un-utter-ably vast," as I termed it throughout the weekend for anyone who would listen -- this seemed like a pretty spotty turnout. The conventions' planners had anticipated the level of attendance, so there was no reason to feel bad, but it was a far cry from the tales of bodies stacked like cordwood told by survivors of LACon II in 1984.
And aside from the relative ease in getting from place to place, and finding seats at programs, and so on, the convention also had a intangible sense of humanity, of friendship, and positive regard. Lots of little things went wrong or were different from what had been planned, but unlike some Worldcons I've been to, people just seemed to take them in stride, and went on enjoying themselves. This sense of goodwill is something you can't buy for any amount of money, but it's absolutely critical to a great convention. What a contrast from Intersection, where everyone I met went out of their way to bad-mouth the convention and express indignation at its very existence.
Of course, part of my satisfaction at the convention arose from the fact that I found out the whole thing was tax-deductible the first night I was there. Andy Porter had lined-up someone else to cover the convention for him when I had believed I would not be there, but it turned out that she was far too busy to do the job. I had phoned Andy sometime in June and told his machine that I was going after all, and that I would be happy to cover the event for SF Chronicle. This opportunity he seized upon eagerly; he just forgot to call me. So, when I saw Andy, it came as a surprise that he assumed I was there to work for him. But I certainly don't mind. When I combine his modest rate of pay with the expenses I can now write off, my already-rosy memories of the event positively glow.
So, again, I'm recounting stuff that the readers of SFC don't especially want to read. Which isn't hard to do.
I had a lot of fun in the early days of the convention just riding up and down the escalators in the Hilton. As one ascended, one passed into increasingly powerful spheres of influence. After pressing through the lobby, one climbed to the bazaar of bid tables, low-level con-running functionaries hawking their wares. Beyond that was the fourth floor, where the operations office and daily newszine were located, as well as special-interest enclaves, like the fan lounge, filk-singing rooms and furry-fandom clubhouse. Above that was the party floor. But the actual nerve center of the convention was on the mezzanine level set slightly to the side of the fourth floor, with no signs to direct the uninitiated. Child care was protectively tucked away here, as were numerous little bolt-hole offices, where high-ranking con officials had their personal computers, and did essential work during the con. I was escorted into one of these by Janice Gelb, who had an extra Hugo rocket-pin for me to take back for Victor. We toyed with the idea of doing a one-shot in that little sanctum, but I knew she was merely being polite, and naturally I never saw the inside of that room again.
Still, I can't shake the feeling that if I had returned twenty minutes later, the door would have swung open to reveal empty tables and a few suspicious scuff marks on the floor. I know the big store con when I see it.
The fan lounge wasn't all that easy to find either, but it was well-worth the trip. Geri Sullivan, Don Fitch and the numerous party hosts truly outdid themselves. Given a large budget by the committee, they had laid hands on good food, great beer, and an unusually lavish selection of toys and decorations to play around with. And the fanzines! People brought fanzines by the boxful, some for sale, some for display, some for auction, and some that were just tossed out onto a freebie table in the hallway.
At some point on Sunday, Dick Lynch said that he felt that the fan lounge had just gotten too lavish, that it was too much work for Geri and Don, Jeff Schalles, and all the others who put their shoulders to the wheel. While it was true that they wished people might have been better about cleaning up after themselves, the most prevalent emotion I noted in the room's organizers was extreme satisfaction. Was it the best so far? It had all the room and comfort of the wonderful lounge at Magicon in 1992, but the ceilings were comfortably low, and allowed for conversation in a normal voice. I spent a lot of time there, and only occasionally went over to the exhibition center for programs or to shop for books. To me, it was the convention.
On the other hand, the facilities in the exhibition center were really very nice. The programming green room was one of the best I've ever seen, and had a sign five feet across outside so no one could miss it. The big hall that housed the dealer's area and exhibits was almost quiet; while there was a stage where musicians performed throughout the weekend, and studios showed clips of upcoming movie releases, no one made so much noise that people were bothered in other parts of the hall.
Really, the only complaint I had about the facilities was that they were so large that by the end of the weekend I was almost unable to walk. My motel was literally right next to the exhibition center loading dock, but I had to walk about a half mile around a massive parking lot and the huge performance hall (which had unsettling contours reminiscent of the Morlock sphinx in the George Pal production of The Time Machine) just to get into sight of the convention.
I actually went into that vast main hall twice, for the two Hugo ceremonies. The 1996 Hugos were mostly tiresome, and losing twice was not double the fun. Connie Willis was as tedious a toastmaster as she has been an award presenter, and even had the bad taste to make reference to the O.J. Simpson trial. The awards did not excite the audience, with the exception of Best Dramatic Presentation. When the Babylon 5 episode in question was announced, the screaming and applause put one in mind of the Beatles at Shea stadium. (Actually, this seemed to be J. Michael Stracyzinski's weekend; he was fairly mobbed wherever he went, and seems to have taken on the us-against-the-powers-that-be mantle once worn by Gene Roddenberry at his most self-indulgent. One could sense the dealers in the room shifting in their seats as he recounted how he had been "forced" by extreme poverty to shoplift SF books in his youth.) I was much more pleased to see John Clute (resplendent in an utterly gorgeous beige silk suit, by far the best-dressed man there), Neal Stephenson, Maureen McHugh and James Patrick Kelly win their awards; not a single dead or near-dead white guy in the bunch.
The Retro-Hugos were actually a lot more fun. Bob Silverberg and Harlan Ellison reprised a small measure of the shtick that they used to make a regular feature of Hugo ceremonies, and the technical errors and amateurish presentation of the nominees seemed terribly fannish. This was also the site of my single valuable service to the convention of the weekend. As I approached the hall, I noticed three people looking sort of lost outside; these were, of course, the children and widow of Charles Burbee, and the security guys did not intend to let them in. Asking them to wait for just a moment, I dashed inside the hall, thinking that I could find some minor functionary to vouch for them. But just as I entered, the lights went out. Groping blindly around the aisles, I ran into Frank Lunney; hearing my predicament, he replied, "What about Mike Glyer? He's right down there." All I can say in my defense is that my brain seized, and I found myself incoherently accosting the convention chairman, demanding he come with me for reasons I could not seem to vocalize. Fortunately, an assistant of his came with me and got the Burbees in the door. Far from being offended by the incident, Mike presented me with one of the many "best supporting role" medallions handed out to friends of the convention: I was quite flattered and happy to be of service.
On the whole, it was a fine weekend. My new play "Fanotchka" debuted to a small but enthusiastic audience, and I'll definitely arrange another performance. Martin and Helena Tudor and Perry Middlemiss were exemplary and hard-working fan-fund delegates. I met George Clayton Johnson, who wrote for the original Twilight Zone. Filmmaker Roger Corman was a gracious and enthusiastic guest of honor. And it was a supreme pleasure to talk with James White once more. At one point, James and I were standing in the fan lounge and he mentioned how remarkable it was that one small circle of fans in Northern Ireland should have produced three Worldcon guests of honor (himself, Walt Willis, and the late Bob Shaw). All I could do was smile and agree that it was a remarkable display of good taste on the part of the Worldcon.
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Next article: Don't Twink or you'll miss it, by Victor M. Gonzalez.