Time to move forward, now, from the San Francisco Bay area of the 1950s to San
Francisco of the 1990s and a vignette from ConFrancisco, the 1993 Worldcon. From
first-hand experience, we can tell you that San Francisco is a marvelous city for
dinner expeditions. The convention itself presented us the opportunity to meet,
for the first time, lots of people we had previously run across only in print,
including the writer of the following article.
I made friends with a few writers at MagiCon. I met Mike Resnick for the first time (who had bought a bunch of my short stories for his original anthologies), and he was kind enough to take me under his rather large wing and introduce me around. Mike loves the fans and conventions -- he's been attending worldcons regularly for thirty years. But what the hell did I know? I'd never seen a hucksters room. I'd never heard of filking (Fan awards? Do they really give those?) Fan terminology was like a foreign language to me. (What exactly is fanac, anyway?)
One year later, my short story "The Winterberry" was nominated for a Hugo Award and I was on the John W. Campbell ballot for Best New Writer. The flirting stage had passed, and I was about to plunge into the fan/convention scene with both feet. I don't mind telling you that I was terrified. Panels and readings and an awards ceremony -- I'd never been nominated for anything before. And I was going to have to stand up in front of real people and pretend I was in control. (It's much easier when you're sitting in front of a computer, and you actually are in control.)
Anyway, just when I was feeling like I was breathing water, and I was positive I would burst from the tension, a San Francisco cab driver came to the rescue.
"Hey, are you in town for that science fiction convention?" he asked me, launching into traffic, zero-to-seventy-five in no more time than it takes to snap a neck.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I am."
"I was thinking about checking that out."
He cut over two lanes without looking and stomped harder on the gas, apparently to make a turn. I clutched the window crank to keep from sliding across the seat. I was barely able to read a passing sign: SAN FRANCISCO, THE INDUSTRIAL CITY. I never knew that about San Fran.
"Oh, are you a fan?" I asked him.
"I love Connie Willis. I heard she's up for some kind of award. I hope she wins."
I decided not to take this personally. (I was up against Connie in the short story category, but there was no way he could have known that, and besides, I was positive he was talking about the novel. Who wasn't?)
"What was the name of that book she wrote?" he said.
"Right, right. Intense piece of work. You know I'm a big fan of historicals and I thought she did a great job with the plague. I gotta tell you, though, I thought the futuristic scenes were slow as hell."
Slow, yes, I could see where such a concept would be difficult for this gentleman. He weaved in and out of traffic as if he had radar; and I quietly prayed that he did. I have to ride a cable car, I mumbled to myself. And I have to eat at the North Beach Restaurant. These were my two secret wishes for San Francisco. I came all the way from Rochester, New York, and I refused to leave San Fran without riding at least one cable car. (I'd grown up with Michael Douglas and Karl Malden on The Streets of San Francisco, after all.) A friend of mine had told me about the North Beach Restaurant, and said I'd find the finest Italian cuisine in the city there. So before I had stepped into the 747 at Rochester International Airport, I said to myself, Cable car and North Beach Restaurant -- These two things I must do! They seemed somehow more obtainable than the Hugo and the Campbell (and as it turned out, they were). Why these personal Grails came to me at this moment in the cab, I do not know, except that maybe I was afraid I might not make it to the hotel alive, and I was reminding myself that if I did I'd better fulfill the promises I'd made.
We cruised up and down the city's hilly, narrow lanes, and whizzed past Chinatown, moving away from Fisherman's Wharf. I should probably tell you that I've never been much of a traveler. My first Big Trip away from home was my excursion to Orlando, Florida, for MagiCon, so I was not only new to conventions and fandom, but I was a bug-eyed traveler, too. I was beginning to wonder what the hell I was getting myself into. Is this really the life for me? -- Hopping on a plane and shooting across the country? It was much easier when (as my family still likes to say from time to time) writing was my hobby.
And then it struck me that I was three thousand miles away from home, talking to this complete stranger about a science fiction novel we had both read. I may be a convention novice, but suddenly I realized what a worldcon was all about, or was supposed to be all about, and what fandom stood for, too: People from all over the globe getting together who may have absolutely nothing in common...except science fiction.
Oh, I realize I'm bordering on melodrama here -- a writer's worst nightmare! -- but sentimentality aside, it was true, I could feel it, and I began to relax right there in the cab, with this maniac behind the wheel. I remembered something Mike Resnick had told me a year ago. "A con is like a family reunion." For the first time, I understood what he meant. We all had common ancestors. I carried that thought with me during ConFrancisco, as if it were a tangible thing, a talisman I could take out of my pocket and squeeze whenever I felt like I was breathing water. As it turned out, I met dozens of wonderful fans, people who shook my hand and congratulated me and told me how much they enjoyed my story. Wow, you have no idea how warm that made me feel, and I thank you all!
I met Rich and Nicki Lynch in the Conadian Suite after the Hugo ceremony. That's how this article came about. I remembered what Rich had said during his acceptance speech, inviting anyone who was unfamiliar with fanzines to check them out, and I told Rich and Nicki that I would love to contribute something to Mimosa. We cut a deal right then and there.
Anyway, my conversation with the cabby carried on all the way to the Marriott. I told him I was up for a couple of awards, and he he wished me luck. (I didn't tell him I was up against Connie.) He dropped me off in one piece, said he'd probably not make the convention, and asked me to tell "Miss Willis" -- if I got the chance -- how much he liked her book, and not mention anything about the slow, futuristic stuff.
If you're out there, Mr. Cab Driver, I did get the chance to tell Connie how much you enjoyed her novel and she was actually quite touched. And I did not mention the slow futuristic stuff.
Although the Hugo and Campbell Awards eluded me, I rode a cable car (hung off the side of one, in fact) and I made it to the North Beach Restaurant where I enjoyed one of the finest pieces of grilled swordfish I've ever tasted. And, of course, best of all, I met more fans.
Title illustration by Peggy Ranson
Dire Wolf cartoon by Sharon Farber