Worldcon 2006 (LACon IV)

I can see already that having a blog requires me to post things now and then. But I’m gonna cheat just a bit here and repost something that I once posted on one of my favorite websites, The Website at the End of the Universe. I’ll tell you more about WatEotU some other time.

This post is all about Worlcon! As a bona fide Science Fiction geek, the ultimate rite of passage into geekdom is attending one of the annual World Science fiction conventions. I’ll be attending my third one next week in Montreal, but right now I want to go back and tell you all about the 2006 Worldcon. So here is a recap (slightly edited) of a report I wrote back them shortly after I returned.

The 64th Annual World Science Fiction Convention. LACon IV. Where to start?

As soon as I arrived at the Anaheim Hilton and took in it’s majestic size, I knew that this con was gonna be big. I had attended the Worldcon in Toronto in 2003 (Torcon III), but this was not to be same. The Hilton I stayed in (one of the two con hotels) was huge and it was immediately beside the Anaheim Convention center with the main attractions. Being next to Disneyland, there was the occasional tourist family sporting the odd ‘mickey mouse ears’ headgear, but they were only seen on occasion the whole week. I’m sure that many of those families will return someplace and tell stories about the odd characters they met in the hotel as much as the variety they encountered at Disney.

Immediately after registering and getting my ‘loot’ bag and badge, I pull out the ‘pocket guide’ (as opposed to the small city phonebook sized ‘official guide’) and start laying out my strategy/schedule. The ‘pocket guide’ lists all the panels and events in chronological order and contains a cross-reference at the back for all the registered authors and guests with their associated numbered panels. So I first highligth all those people I really want to see along with their panel numbers. Then I go back for each person and mark off the panels in the schedule itself. This, my friends, is work and I commiserate among the many members beside me as we complete this initial task. Having gone through the list on the website before coming down, I had a pretty long list of people I’d like to meet. At first glance it doesn’t look too bad. Most people are scheduled for a number of panels. The exceptions are the two ‘big name’ authors, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. They are only scheduled for individual solo self titled panels, each followed by a signing. So it’s Harlan on Saturday and Bradbury on Sunday for a grand finale to the con.

I wait a few hours for the con to officially begin and the convention center to open it’s doors. As we walk in, members are greated by a display of full sized replicas memorable SF characters. The robot from Forbiden Planet, Gort, a Dalek, a cylon (original series), Astro Boy, endo-skeleton Terminator, the robot from Metropolis, and more.

I turn the corner and see that they’ve got a full sized replica of the original enterprise control room with wax dummies of the original cast. Not perfect likenesses, but pretty neat. I walk a bit more and I see something that truly gets my full attention. It’s not strickly speaking an SF article, but this one was the one that was the higlight of that entire room. It was something that I would enjoy time after time the rest of the week. It was one of the (4) original 1966 Batmobiles used in the original Batman TV series. Pictures, and I took plenty of them, do it no justice. There has never been a car like it, and I doubt there will ever be another one that can attain that level of awe. Other vehicles at the show like the Delorean from “Back to the Future” and Mad Max’s original car (with a body under the front wheel) we’re pale in comparison to THE Batmobile.

I spec out the rest of the main floor with the dealers room and art Gallery. The floorspace was huge and dwarfed the size of that at Torcon III. I knew I was going to spend a lot of time here over the week. I immediately spot a seller with a few copies of Basil Gogos’ new book. (For the uninitiated, Gogos was the artist that created the many awe inspiring covers for the Famous Monsters magazine.) I had already checked out a few places selling the book online and immediately grabbed a copy.  The con has only started a few minutes and I’ve already got a big grin on my face. Later that day I snatch up a copy of “The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum” and complete that my set of “DelRey’s Best of …” series, a series that I’ve been trying to complete for years.

What’s a Worldcon without parties? I learned in ’03 that parties are in integral part of any Worldcon. Parties can be for anything and by anyone, but most are hosted by those vying for a future Worldcon and are there to solicit votes. A separate floor of one of the hotels is specifically allocated to those wishing to host parties. At night this floor comes alive! Members can just drop into any one party and stick around as long as they like, or, more likely, saunter from one party to another, getting a taste of all of them. Parties usually have plenty of booze and snacks to go around. To say that I enjoyed the parties this year is an understatement. The EARLIEST I ever back to my room was 3am and that was only because it was the first night and all the parties had closed shop.  The coolest party moto was Chicago’s “To Serve Fan” and they had a guy all decked out in costume and headgear like the alien in the classic Twilight Zone episode.

One of my favorite party haunts was the “Xerps in 2010” room. ( I first met these wonderful people in ’03, but only learned this year that their parties are not to be missed. To make everyone feel right at home every ‘little green alien’ adorment they could lay their hands on can be found decorating their room. Another great party was a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” party hosted by the “Four redheads of the Apocalypse” and other friends. (Well, two of four anyway.) These belly dancing redheads are something else, and I’ve got their self titled novellete to prove it. The “Montreal in 09” team was a bit slow in getting their party act together but eventually got around to hosting a party or two. I’m not sure what the chances of having a worldcon in Moscow in 2017 are like, but some of those guys brought along plenty of great vodka to test the waters. I even got a Lenin pin to mark the occasion. Most of the party hosts like to add a small sticker to your con badge when you enter. They had to start sticking them to the backside of my badge at the end of day 3. All of the hosts offer drinks and food for free but there are token donation jars around to help defray some of the costs. Just drop a buck or two now and then and everyone goes on partying happily.

One of the more interesting parties was that held by the Japanese delegation preparing for 2007 Worldcon next year. They had sushi and were also giving out these cool Bandana’s. I asked what it is really called and promptly forgot the name of it. Oh yeah. Did I mention they had sake too? I really feel for these Japanese hosts as they have a daunting task ahead of them. Going to Japan is not something most of the regular Worldcon members can afford. Another hurdle is the language barrier, which was evident even at the party.

As I did in ’03, I decided to wear a diffeent “Planet of the Apes” T-shirt each day at the con. I did this to see who (if anyone) still recognized this classic series and to see if it could be used as a conversation starter. I almost decided to not to go ahead this year after the lackluster response I had in Toronto in ’03.  Even this year the first day went off without so much as a second look. But as the con wore on I did get quite a few people coming up and asking me about the T’s. Some were genuine fans, some just curious. I even had a short discussion on the topic with Rob Sawyer, a big fan of the series and sometime participant in the POTADG (Planet of the Apes Discusion Group) on Yahoo. One of the guys with whom I had discussed POTA remembered me when he ran into Eric Green, the author of “POTA as American Myth” and promptly introduced us. I was great to talk to Eric even briefly about our shared enthusiasm for all things Ape. There wasn’t really all that much POTA related at the con itself but I did snag a few more reproduction posters in the dealers room. I had brought along my copies of Escape and Battle as they were written by Jerry Pournelle and David Gerrold (respectively) and both of these guys were going to be at the con. I never did get to meet Gerrold, but I managed to get Pournelle to sign my copy of Escape. He added “The only good human is a Planet of the Apes fan”. 🙂

Famed comic artist Berni Wrightson was scheduled to appear but never showed up. I brought along my reprint copy of “House of Secrets” number 92 which featured the first appearance of the Swamp Thing written Len Wein who was at the con, and drawn by Wrightson. I had to settle for only Wein’s signature on it, but was glad to attend several panels with him. It was at one of those panels I learned that not everyone’s name is enunciated as one would expect. Lein Wein is “Ween” and not “Wine”. Vernor Vinge is “Vingee” and not Vinge like “Hinge”.  BTW. I got VV’s “A fire upon the deep” signed.

One of the highlights of any Worldcon is the Masquerade. These are usually not just some people dressing up in an any old costume, but dedicated costumers that often supplement their showing with a story or other reenactment (or re-imagining if you will) that fans can appreciate. I learned by standing next to the photographers immediately outside the main hall just prior to the masquerade that the highlight of the night was supposed to be this gigantic “Transformer” costume that literally had to be assembled in pieces. The paparazzi are warned ahead of time that this is a complicated costume that will “require assembly” before they can snap their pics. But when the masquerade show went live, their was a lengthy ‘major costume malfunction’ for that one piece and no one ever got to see it. The rest of the show was pretty cool and one of my favorite sets was one that just threw a bunch of unrelated genre characters together onstage with amazinly realistic costumes: Ming the merciless, Barbarella, Mars Attacks “Martian Girl” (Lisa Marie character from Burton movie), Bride of Frankenstein, and others.

The main event at Worldcon is the Hugo awards ceremony. Host Connie Willis and Master of Ceremonies Robert Silverberg kept on ‘one upping’ each other all night long with a series of running gags. Willis also had to contend with Ellison not only ‘eating’ the microphone but also cupping one of her boobs. (A long sordid story that.) Forest J. (Forry) Ackerman not only got the “Big Heart” award, but it will now bare his name. Very fitting as he not only attended the first Worldcon in 1939, but has only missed 2 since then. Robert Charles Wilson’s “Spin” won the Big one, novel of the year. Another book I’m going to have to read someday.

And now I have to tell you about my encounter with Harlan Ellison. Most of the people here already know that I am and have always been a big fan of his. Given the reports of his failing health in the last few years, I never really thought I’d get the chance to meet him. But when it became evident that I was really going to make it to this worldcon, he was the one person I looked up first on the attending list. Even after seeing his name there, I knew that there was always the posibility that something would intervene and he would have to skip the con. His only scheduled appearance was a self titled panel which was to be followed by a signing session. Needless to say that the biggest auditorium was set aside for his ‘show’. I anxiously awaited the arrival of “Day 4, 1pm”. I knew that this was going to be big so I decided to take no chances and showed up one whole hour early so that I could be assured of a ‘good seat’ in the room. When I got there I found a handful of people already standing next to the main entrance and they were just about to open the doors. I went in and as the first seat right next to the podium was free, I grabbed it, the others fans having settled near but not immediately in front. The girl next to was just as much in a daze. We had nearly an hour to kill talking about Ellison and what made him so special a writer for us. Now Harlan of course is not what you would call ‘mild mannered’ by any means. But his tenacity and confrontational stance is something that I’ve always admired and shaped the man to be the great writer that he is. So the clock slowly ticks to 1pm and to a round of applause HE comes into the auditorium from one of the back entrances. The crowd cheers and he loudly starts his ‘spiel’ with plenty of cuss words to go around. There are no apparent ‘health problems’ to speak of and he looks and acts like he could still take on a bull full steam. He jokes around as he slowly works his way to the front of the auditorium. Towards me. I’m just bursting at the seams, and then, he looks me directly in the eye and says as loud as a freight train whistle so the entire audience can hear: “DO I KNOW YOU?” I meekly say “No. I know you. But you don’t know me.” He then says “Well they were supposed to cordon off some seats for some of my friends. So please find another seat so that my friends can sit in front” and he then calls upon some of his friends to come down. So what can I do? I’m not gonna mess with him. It turns out that there are only 2 ‘friends’ that come down from somewhere in the depths of the audience and so the girl that is sitting next to me and I stand and begin retreating to, hopefully, find a seat elsewhere. I was crushed. Luckily some people only a few rows back (who probably could see the look of horror in my face) squeezed a bit and the girl and I get seats not too far off. Harlan goes on to put on a great show recounting some of his most infamous moments of his career. The hour comes to a close and as the crowd makes for the exit I realize the second ‘gotcha’ I have to contend with. The signing session is to take place immediately to the right of the auditorium, but I’m now located all the way on the left side. So, by the time I’ve made my way to the exit, the lineup for authographs is the proverbial ‘mile long’. I sigh. I won’t get a autograph. I try to content myself with the fact that I got to see him in person. I slowly trudge along the convention center to attend whatever other panel sounds appealing. And so goes the rest of the day. Soon, it is nearly 6pm and time for me to get back to the hotel to rest a bit before deciding where to get a bite to eat. But as I approach the exit to the convention center, the escalator that leads to the second floor where I experienced my catatonic moment earlier in the day beacons me. It’s been a full 5 hours since he started signing, could he still be there? I have all the doubts in the world but I knew I just had to check. And so I get there an sure enough there is still a crowd of about 30 people or so lined up. He’s still sitting there yaking it up. I pull out my cherished copy of “Approaching Oblivion” (the sentimental favorite of mine that I decided was the one book of his that I would like to have signed), and as I get to the end of the line, I get crushed yet again. The last guy standing is holding up a crude hand scribbled sign that says “LAST”. Is there no end to this? There are a few others also milling about. Some complaining quite loudly how unfair it seems. I hold my tongue and think silently to myself “Dammit. He owes me!”. But what can I do? It’s just about this time that Harlan decides to take a stretch. He slowly walks up the line and signs a few books for those already ‘safely’ in line. He also tells others trying to join to politely fuck off. Get a life. Live with it. Me? I just stand there. And then he walks right up to me. Looks me right in the eye. Now it’s my turn. I say to him. “Do you know me?” Without a blink he says “Yes”. Snatches my book right outta my hand. Signs it and walks back to the signing table. I stand in shock for a second and then smile. After an hour-long monologue, and five hours of signing books for strangers, the old bastard remembered me and ‘made good’.

The keynote speaker for the con finale was an appearance by Ray Bradbury. Again I show up early, but this time make it a point to not sit in the first rows. (I’ve learned my lesson and don’t want to have to go through that again!). Bradbury is getting on in age but he gave a nice recap of his long career. Again after the discussion was finished there was a long line of people waiting to get authographs. There really wasn’t all that much happening elsewhere by that time, and I did bring along one of his books, but I knew that there was no way that he could endure the long hours that Harlan had put in the day before and in a way it was unfair and selfish to expect him to do so. I simply put away my book and went back to get one last glance of that Batmobile.

Well, that’s it in a nutshell. I got other books and stuff signed (Marv Wolfman, Mike Resnick, come to mind), but some of it is still a bit of a blur.



One Response to “Worldcon 2006 (LACon IV)”

  1. Memos from Purgatory – Harlan Ellison (1961) | Lazarus' Lair Says:

    […] And last but not least, I would be remiss if I did not include a link to my one and only bizarre encounter with the man himself and how that encounter presented it’s own typical Ellison dichotomy. You can find it here, but you’ll have to scroll way down into my lengthy 2006 Worldcon report (and excuse my early faltering attempts at blog writing): […]

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