The man and woman who boarded the airplane together in St. Louis looked familiar to us. We had probably seen them someplace before, but after two decades-plus of conventions and fourteen previous worldcons, almost everyone was starting to look familiar. They sat right across the aisle from us, and by the time the flight landed at San Antonio we had decided at least one of them was an author, but we just couldn't figure out which one. As luck would have it, they sat near us again on the airport shuttle into the city, so we decided to just ask them a neo-ish question: "Are you here for the convention?" It was the woman who replied somewhat patronizingly, giving us the answer we probably deserved but all the confirmation we really needed: "Gosh, there's a convention here this week??"
And so began LoneStarCon. We didn't recognize anyone on the bus, but the minute we walked into the hotel there were familiar faces all over the place. It was a comfortable feeling, knowing that the next several days would be filled with reunions with old friends and introductions to new ones, dinner expeditions, interesting conversations, friendly politicking, and (of course) all the late-night parties. Worldcons are unique events that bring all of these and more together for us; we feel almost compelled to go to the worldcon each year, despite the cost and aggravation of getting there. It's true that worldcons are big and expensive, but for us, worldcons are an essential part of fandom as we expect they are for many other fans.
But hasn't it always been that way?
Well, no it hasn't. It wasn't that way at all. Our first worldcon was in 1978, the Phoenix Iguanacon. Back then, we knew hardly anybody. We hadn't been actively involved in fandom for very long, and so when we were greeted with that blast of hot desert air as we got off the plane in Phoenix we were still little more than neos, plopped down in the middle of a frenetic human kaleidoscope. Back then we were mesmerized by the sense of limitless energy of the convention and all the people there, from the operations people scurrying around everywhere to the Guest of Honor, writing a story amid the chaos all around him, secluded inside a tent set up for him in the atrium of one of the hotels. Back then, we could only marvel at the myriad programming tracks that competed for your attention and which continued well into the night each evening, at the size and resplendence of the masquerade, at the dozens and dozens of writers present while wondering who among the nominated would win the Hugo Awards (especially the one for Best Novel). Back then, we went to just a few room parties, partly because we knew so few people. Back then, the convention was full of that science fictional sense of wonder, and it went on forever; subjectively it seemed like a month passed before we returned back home.
Back then, when we were much younger, the world was a different place. Have things really changed that much? We'd like to think that each worldcon still possesses that magical sense of wonder (maybe we're still neos at heart), but after more than two decades of fandom you get the feeling that you've seen it all before. But on the other hand, you don't really get tired of it.
Anyway, as worldcons go, LoneStarCon wasn't the biggest we've been to, nor the best run, nor the most memorable. It was one of the more fun ones, though. We hadn't known very much about San Antonio other than that the Alamo was there, so we traveled to south Texas with few expectations. Turns out it's actually a good city to hold a worldcon, for more or less the same reason as for San Francisco or New Orleans -- the city itself offers more than enough diversions to fill the hours away from the convention. Part of the attraction, of course, is the history surrounding the Alamo, where in 1836, the army of Mexican general Santa Anna overran and killed to the last man a group of Texas independence fighters led by William Travis. The downtown area of the city was conveniently near to the Alamo, all just a quarter mile from the convention. We went there our first full day in San Antonio. We're not sure what we were expecting from the Alamo, but we do know we were expecting it to be a bit bigger than it was. The Alamo mission building, known as the 'shrine' to Texans, is really quite small, not all that much bigger than a large single-family home, with its interior basically just one large area, with a few small rooms around the perimeter where ammunition and powder was stored.
We didn't stay long at the Alamo; just an hour or so and we were on to other places. We suppose the rest of the grounds was filled with history if you looked for it, but it wasn't all that obvious. There are no grave sites on the grounds. Nobody knows the true final resting places for Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, or any of the others; Santa Anna had all the bodies burned.
The rest of the city was also interesting. The Big Attraction of San Antonio is not the Alamo, but the Riverwalk. It's a small canal that twists through the heart of the city, about twenty feet below street level. Down there it's almost a different world, or more accurately, several different worlds. The southern part of the canal quietly winds through the historic, first-settled part of the city, where there are cypress trees, small islands, garden areas, and even an amphitheater. That part of the Riverwalk has a sub-tropical feel to it, as if you'd expect to see parrots in the trees. The northern part of the canal, though, was jampacked with tourist-collecting restaurants. One of them, the County Line Barbecue, was so popular for fan dinner expeditions that for practical purposes it became part of the worldcon program.
The food really was pretty good in San Antonio. Before we went we had visions of nothing but Tex-Mex, but there was enough variety that you could eat pretty much whatever cuisine you wanted. The most memorable dinner expedition was Friday night of the convention, when our friends Neil and Cris Kaden organized a trip to Gruene, Texas, three counties north of San Antonio, a small town on the Guadalupe River. It was early evening when we arrived there, just about the right time for Gruene's feature attraction, its dance hall. Next door to our steak house was what had once been a large barn, with loud Texas swing music coming out and lots of younger people going in. It was just a hot summer night, and they were all living for the weekend. Were we really that way once?
Besides all this, there was a worldcon to go to. And because of that there were friends to see again. Worldcons are now about the only place we get to meet up with many of our fans friends from what are now remote places. One of the happiest reunions was with two of our best friends in fandom, Dorothy Tompkins and Lowell Cunningham from Knoxville, Tennessee, whom we've known for more than fifteen years. Back when we lived in Tennessee, we got together every few months or so either at a convention or some kind of party (they used to host a little microcon they called "Barbecon" at their home that featured lots of eating and partying; at one of them, in 1986, Lowell and Rich kept each other awake throughout the evening and night just so they could stay up and see Halley's Comet). We hadn't even realized they were going to be at LoneStarCon because Lowell hadn't been scheduled in any of the program events. We had kind of expected that he would have been, seeing as how his 'obscure' little comic book had been made into the year's top grossing movie.
Another friend we invariably see at worldcons and nowhere else is fellow fanzine publisher Guy Lillian. Guy, bless him, has also been our friend for a long, long time, and over the years we've had some interesting adventures together. But there are times when he delights in teasing people, and in the process, causing some embarrassment. Guy was passing through LoneStarCon's concourse area when he found Nicki standing in line for a Fred Pohl book signing. "Hey," he said, loud enough for the people in front and behind to hear. "What are you doing in line? Don't they know you're an important person?!?" After a bit of banter he moved on, but by then Nicki could feel the eyes of those around her. A few moments later, the woman behind her leaned over to check her name badge and nominee ribbon: "Are you an author I should know?" Gee, thanks a lot, Guy! (Wait until he sees what we've got in store for him next year!)
There was more to the program than just book signings, of course, and we actually got to more program items this year than for any other worldcon except Iguanacon. The quality of the program really didn't seem that much different from other worldcons; maybe it's just our interests that are subtly shifting. The program items we were on were, of course, all fan-related and all of them aimed mostly at the neofans -- discussion panels on making connections in fandom, fan slang, and an introduction to fanzines. Other program events we attended ranged from media-oriented (everything from a modest discussion panel on strong female characters on TV to J. Michael Straczynski's Babylon 5 extravaganza), to science-related (discussions on the on-going Mars Pathfinder and Galileo Jupiter missions), to the historical (interviews with some of the notable fans of prior fan eras, including the Fan Guest of Honor, Roy Tackett), to organizational (but five minutes at one of the WSFS business meetings was more than enough!). There was even a fannish operetta, The Pirates of Fenzance, staged by next year's worldcon, Bucconeer.
In short, there were enough things to do at the convention that the time seemed to fly by. Saturday night arrived all too quickly, and with it the Hugo Award Ceremony. Mimosa was once again a nominee this year (and our thanks to all our readers!); it's always pleasant being nominated, but the day of the Awards is always hard on the digestive system. Just before the event we went to dinner with our friends Joyce Scrivner, Mark Loney and Nigel Rowe, but somehow the topic of conversation got stuck on food poisoning, which didn't exactly help to calm the queasy feeling in our stomachs. When Nigel's order of raw oysters arrived, Mark eyed them suspiciously and launched into a story of a major food poisoning case in Australia involving oysters. (It fell on deaf ears, though. Nigel, undeterred, ate every oyster, and even thought about ordering more.) Nobody could think of anything bad to say about shrimp, however, so that's what we had.
Being a nominee does have some advantages. Back in 1978 we sat in the back of the Phoenix Convention Center's balcony on Hugo Night, and everybody on stage looked about the size of your thumbnail. At LoneStarCon, we had seats just six rows from the stage. The Best Fanzine Hugo was the third one announced, right after Dave Langford won once again for Best Fan Writer. But Dave had also won the Best Fanzine Hugo (for his entertaining newszine Ansible) the previous two years, and after that we weren't very hopeful about our chances this year. So when Mimosa was announced as the winner, it took a couple of seconds for us to realize we'd won. Later, we found out that the results had been very close, with Mimosa winning by just seven votes (making up for last year, when we'd lost by only eight). And we'd perhaps been lucky to win at all -- the main opposition wasn't Ansible after all; it was Dave Truesdale's fine reviewzine Tangent, which had a substantial thirty-one vote lead going into the final round of vote counting.
If winning the vote count was an adventure, getting up to the stage was even more so; the stairs backstage were as steep as Mount Everest, but were lined with people who directed/lifted us upward, all the while whispering, "Congratulations! Watch your step!" The award itself was handsome, a chrome rocket mounted on a slab of course-grained Texas granite which had been machined into the shape of the state of Texas. It was time for some acknowledgments, and we did so -- to Roxanne Smith-Graham, who helped create the Mimosa website... to Dave Kyle, who, way back in 1979, had put the idea of a fanhistory-related fanzine into our heads... to all the other fanzine nominees (Rich said that all the other nominees were so good that he wished the vote had ended in a five-way tie)... and to our contributors, to whom we really owe the honor. A fanzine is only as good as its contributors make it, and we've been blessed with some very excellent fan writing and illustration. The way back down from the stage seemed equally perilous with those stairs looking in the dark as steep as the wall of a canyon, but once again there were a dozen or more steadying hands helping us along ("Congratulations! Watch your step!"). Afterwards, at the Bucconeer-sponsored Hugo nominees party, Richard's wish came true, after a fashion -- all the other nominees did receive awards. There was an entire table filled with miniature rocket-shaped gifts -- all of them made from chocolate!
Anyway, it really was an enjoyable week. There were way too many parties each night, so many that you had to decide if you were going to visit each one for a few minutes, or pick two or three where you could settle down and spend some quality time with friends. We mostly chose the latter, mainly because we're getting too old for all that stay-up-to-three-in-the-morning stuff. The best place to settle down was actually not a party at all, it was the Cincinnati Fantasy Group suite. They have one at every worldcon, and it's a much less frenetic place for talking to people than the typical worldcon bid party. The most outstanding bid party was the Boston in 2001 suite, which had two theme parties; the one we got to was an "under the sea" party, with hundreds of blue helium-filled balloons covering the ceiling of their suite, shrimp with cocktail sauce, and candy sushi. If they gave out Hugo Awards for bid parties, that one would have won easily.
So that was LoneStarCon, one very full week on the Texas prairie. The world has changed just a bit for us in the past nineteen years, but we're still finding a sense of wonder about fandom's Big Show. And that, as much as anything, is the reason we look forward to going each year.
Title illustration by Sheryl Birkhead
- - - - - - - - - -