On March 17th, 2018, Melon Conference 2 was held in Hong Kong. In this interview, the author and keynote speaker at the conference, Allen Steele, shares his thoughts on the current state of SFF in H
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.
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.
Last year at Readercon, there was an emotional dust-up over a sordid harassment incident, in addition to a scary and unexpected medical emergency for one of our favorite editors. At this year’s Readercon, we were spared this additional drama, and found ourselves sailing through a very mellow and enjoyable con. Of course, it was great to catch up with other fans and pros, like Alan Hanscomb, who finished his novel _Sharon of Two Salems_, and Mark Borok, Dianne Weinstein, and the whole Readercon gang; and also great to make some new acquaintances, like some writer named Seamus who was wearing a little black straw fedora, and a couple of mathematics and linguistics-loving commedia dell’arte performers. Most surprising for me perhaps, was to hijack a moment of Name Your LinkJohn Shirley’s time, reminiscing about his gigs at CBGBs back in 1980, where I saw him stripped to the waist and flailing around like a maniac singing “_I am electricity!“ Now that was a memorable night. Probably Shirley will scratch his head and wonder just who the heck I am and how I knew him well enough to be on the guest list… but I was gracious enough not to mention in public some of the other crazy shit that we both witnessed in Greenwich Village back then. Like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice, those were some nutty times… _ So where did we go from here? Yes, the panel sessions.
Yet another great time at Readercon this year! The panel topics had their usual sweep of the field, from Mark Twain, to Mark Clifton, and most places interstitial…yet the mood of the conference was clearly influenced by the passing of two major figures in SF’s new wave: Joanna Russ and Tom Disch. In memorializing Disch, can you imagine a more appropriate set of panelists than Charles Platt, John Crowley, John Clute, Chip Delany, and Gregory Feeley? It is always interesting to be part of a living literary tradition — sf fandom — that celebrates itself, its heroes and villains, its friendships and bitter feuds, by directly mixing the authors, editors, fans and miscellaneous hangers on in a single venue.
At Boskone 48, not only were there great works of Greg Manchess, Omar Rayyan, and Bob Eggleton, among others, taking up several rows of panels, but there was also an entire wall dedicated to an exhibit of original SF and Fantasy paintings! Curated by Joe Siclari and Edie Stern, the exhibit featured dozens of works from their collection, as well as many more loaned by other major collectors. Now that I have a decent mini voice recorder, I decided to do a long walk through the exhibit and comment on the paintings. Fortunately, I remembered to mention most of the dates and the sources where the paintings were published, so now I can reconstruct a major part of the exhibit from the recording for this post. In fact, it would probably make the most sense to just listen to the MP3 (below) as you browse down the images of the works being discussed. Hope you enjoy the virtual exhibit!
Gordon van Gelder launched the session by asking the panelists to relate an anecdote about great editing, and Patrick O’Leary started off with a note about David Hartwell. O’Leary said, “Hartwell grasped the contents of a story I sent him and shook them down to their basic elements, then he tossed them back at me and demanded a rewrite, along the lines of: Does the main character of this story have to be a monster, a pederast, AND a fire-breathing dragon? Why not just pick two of those and go with that?” Brian Francis Slattery pointed out, that even though editors suggestions can often save a bad story, if they get too involved in the writing process, they can edit the story into incoherence. He cited an example of his own editing in which he so completely rewrote the story that it was both unrecognizable as the author’s style and had, at the same time, become incomprehensible. Barry Malzberg said that if he had to choose an example, he would cite Horace Gold, “for pulling the Demolished Man out Alfred Bester, which was a great exploit!” Van Gelder asked, “What about Daniel Keyes and Flowers for Algernon? Isn’t there a story about Gold asking Keyes to change the ending, and Keyes’ neighbor said to him, if you do that, I’ll go back to my house, get a baseball bat and use it break both your knees!”