176. Fans, Conventions, and Writers

The first books I read were science fiction. Okay, Tom Swift, Jr. is barely science fiction, but it’s what I cut my teeth on. The first book I checked out on my first trip to a library was science fiction. So were the next thousand. But I wasn’t a fan.

I watched Star Trek when it came on TV during the sixties. Some of the stories were really good. Most were dreck, compared to what I had been reading. If I had understood the financial and political constraints Roddenberry was under, I would have been more charitable. Still, I wasn’t a fan.

Actually, I was never a fan of anything – and that requires some explanation. I had enthusiasms, I had things I loved, I had things that fascinated me to the core of my being. But I never talked about them to anybody. When I occasionally mentioned the “Ecosystem Operable in Weightlessness” I was building for the regional science fair, eyes glazed over. So I didn’t mention it much.

Since you are reading this, I assume that your are at least something of a geek. In my tiny school, I was the only geek. That makes all the difference. And that’s why I was never a fan of anything. To be a fan means talking to other fans about your enthusiasms. I never had that opportunity.

I had plenty of friends, I enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy mine. We talked about what interested them, and that was fine. I did all the silly things that high school kids do, and had fun doing them. But I never shared the things that moved me, and when I left high school, I didn’t look back.

When I went to college – Michigan State – I went from a town of 121 people to a campus of 48,000. No one in all that whole crowd knew my name. I didn’t mind. I was used to keeping my inner life so quiet that it was almost secret, so anonymity was no problem.

When I became a writer, I had never met a writer. I wrote science fiction because that is what I knew and loved (the science as well as the fiction). When my first book came out, I was invited by my editor to a party at Charlie Brown’s house in the Oakland hills where he produced Locus at that time. In attendance were some editors, a couple of professional SF writers, and about twenty of us newbies. It was an interesting evening. The pros were working the room, chattering, happy as roosters in a field full of bugs. The editors were having quiet conferences here and there. Four of the newbies had staked out the four corners of the room to hide in and the rest were milling around looking for an empty corner. I felt right at home, in that I didn’t feel at home at all.

I went to Westercon 33 in Los Angeles, where Roger Zelazny was guest of honor. He was one of my three all time favorite writers, but I didn’t seek him out. I actually wouldn’t have spoken to him beyond a nod if we had shared an elevator. What could I say? “I love your work.” He must have heard that five hundred times that weekend.

I went to the World Fantasy Convention in Berkeley and to Westercon 34 in Sacramento, where I delivered a paper (How to Build a Culture). Somewhere along the way, I ended up talking to Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and Marta Randall. Both were quite pleasant, but a ten minute conversation does not equal a friendship.

Most of the time I just wandered around those conventions, quietly enjoying the ambiance and the occasional sight of someone whose work I knew. In LA, I was cornered by a lovely young woman who chattered away at me for twenty minutes. She was a would-be actress, she said. She called herself “just another LA nobody”. She didn’t know I was a published writer; rather, she had picked me out to talk to because I looked alone and lonely. (Don’t look so surprised. I didn’t look so bad myself, back in 1980.)

Yes, I was alone, but I have never found that lonely.

Tomorrow begins Westercon 69 in Portland. I had planned to go again this year, but Cyan is still hung up in pre-publication, and I have too much pride to tell people, “My book is coming out any day now. They promised.”

Maybe I’ll see you in Tempe in 2017.

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