It’s strange to think about the fun-fest of Readercon — which it always turns out to be — as a hotbed of controversy where ripples of fallout will radiate outward for weeks and months after the event. On the other hand, science fiction fandom is a sort of canary in the coal mine of society at large. The feuds and alignments and banishments and rapprochements that swirl around fandom, punctuated by mass scrimmage events (also known as cons), are now inextricably linked to the culture wars raging around us. It wasn’t always this way. Long ago, in never never land, cons were communal freak-outs held by like-minded escapists as a sort of exhibitionist rebellion against the bleakness of mundane culture. A con was where your propellor beanie, flowing cape, Vulcan ears, and purple velvet bag-of-holding concealing a pint of scumble were perfectly normal, and you were surrounded by fellow fen celebrating the freedom to be weird.
The MICE invasion of Cambridge was a swarming crowd of anarchistic fun. Hundreds of comix-crazed attendees jammed the halls of Leslie University, chatting with 200 comic artists and publishers. Tables of eye candy stretched through the second floor of University Hall, connecting with additional jam-packed side rooms named after comix greats, such as the Crumb Room, Doucet Hall, and the Bechdel Room. You gotta love the idea of independent comix artists actually being recognized in the mundane society for their pure “genius” — proven by Alison Bechdel’s Westinghouse Genius Award in 2014! Here is a gang of fervent, possibly feverish, and yes, well, let’s face it, mostly starving artists who are so adamant, so tenacious, and so in-your-face diversified, that their official genius is the inventor of the gender-bias principle known as the Bechdel Test. Yo, MICE artists, kudos to the whole lot of you! You are giant mice among scampering human conformists, in my book.
The book and zine collection of John H. Costello, who passed away in early 2015, was donated to fandom recently at Readercon 26. Here I will take a quick look at some of the Russian language materials
Readercon is generally my favorite con of the year, and in 2015 Readercon was up to the usual standard of fun times and excellence. The guests of honor Nicola Griffith and Gary K Wolfe were on hand throughout, and the memorial GOH was Joanna Russ. How could you go wrong? Indeed there were no less than three sessions on the life and work of Joanna Russ, including the participation of the author’s long-time associates: Jim Freund, David Hartwell, Michael Dirda, Ron Drummond, and Samuel R. Delany. Freund told some great stories about the early days of his career at WBAI Radio in New York, when he was literally living in the station offices, and broadcasting his radio show, “Hour of the Wolf,” five days a week at 5:00am. One time Freund called up Russ at about 8pm and invited her to join him for an interview on Hour of the Wolf. Russ declined the interview, but she did invite him out to eat at a nearby diner. The meal turned into an eight hour long conversation. Finally, having talked through the night, at about 4:30am, Russ asked to stop over at the Radio Station to use the bathroom on her way home, while Freund was getting ready for his show. Just as he was going live, Russ stopped by the control room to wave good-bye, and she heard Freund say into the microphone: “This is the Hour of the Wolf, and my guest today is Joanna Russ.” The first words Russ spoke on that particular live broadcast were: “You motherfucker! I’m going to kill you!” Which she subsequently did, by killing off the character based on Freund in her novel, We Who Are About To.
Traveling to Chicago in the winter you expect snow, ice, and bitter gray skies. We had mild temperatures and lots of sunshine! One day at Half Price Books, I picked up the UK Granta edition of Elif Batuman’s The Possessed, and also a copy of Franz Kafka’s Paradoxes and Parables, in the 1961 Shocken paperback edition. I noticed an old card and folded piece of paper in the Kafka, which I thought deserved further research. To my amazement, I found tucked into the Kafka book two bits of New York beatnik history! First, there was a folded flyer for a performance at Caffe Cino, the famous alternate theatre run by Joe Cino at 31 Cornelia Street. Caffe Cino Flyer - May 20th 1962 Joe Cino (1931-1967), originally from Buffalo, New York, opened the cafe theatre in 1958, creating what is now considered to be the first off off Broadway theatre in New York. The venue, which had no real license to be used as a theatre, was always in trouble with the law, and somehow survived by running impromptu events with no publicized schedule. Finding this actual flyer for a performance at Caffe Cino, was intriguing. The director of the two Ionesco pieces was Roberta Sklar, who apparently was the co-director of Jean-Claude Van Italie’s 1968 production of “THE SERPENT.” There is a video documentary about this play on Youtube in three parts: 1 2 3 The performers at Caffe Cino that night were Rob Reigler and A. J. Reigler, and the lighting was by Louis Torrey. Was that Louis Torrey any relation to John Torrey, Joe Cino’s lover, who some suspect was responsible for the 1965 fire that nearly destroyed the theatre? Well, a lot of these details are no doubt lost to history, but it is still amusing to find tid-bits like this floating up from the memory well. The other amazing find in this copy of Kafka’s Parables and Paradoxes, was an original “discount card” from Limelight Bookshop!