Rich: "...and this is the United States Capitol Building. It was blown to pieces in the movie Independence Day. It was destroyed in the movie Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. It was demolished in the movie Deep Impact..."
It takes about six hours to do my 'high intensity, gonzo, full court press' walking tour of Washington. Even though it's not really all that strenuous (there's lots of places to stop), I advise people to bring comfortable walking shoes because they'll cover about 12 kilometers on foot by the time the day is done. The TAFF delegate, Maureen Kincaid Speller (and her husband Paul Kincaid), arrived in town a couple of days before the start of Bucconeer, and they got the full treatment, complete with its many photograph opportunities -- high up in the bell tower at the Old Post Office, on Albert Einstein's lap at the National Academy of Sciences, standing in the bread line at the Roosevelt Memorial, touching a piece of the moon in the National Air and Space Museum and a piece of Mars in the Natural History Museum. Maureen and Paul held up quite well, and we even had time for a trip to Hagerstown for a special photo-op with the occupant of 423 Summit Avenue. It was a good way to begin Bucconeer week.
Bucconeer was our eleventh consecutive worldcon, a streak that began when we were still living in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (I had a packaged tour for out-of-town friends, there too: "...and this is Missionary Ridge. It was taken by General Grant in 1863...") It was the first Eastern Zone worldcon in six years, which meant that it was driveable!
Nicki: I'm not a big fan of air travel, so it was nice for a change to not have to travel long distances to get to a worldcon. However, Baltimore was still a little too far away to come home each night. I suppose we could have saved some money and driven the hour to and from Bucconeer each day, but we've done that for other local conventions and it gets old rather quickly -- each successive day we tend to arrive later and come home earlier, to the point where we ask ourselves, "Do we really want to go there today?" Not exactly the frame of mind you ought to be in when you're attending a worldcon. And best of all, not commuting to the convention meant we didn't have to search out a parking garage each day and wonder if we should party as long as we really wanted to.
So, we'd made the decision earlier in the year to go ahead and get a room in one of the non-party hotels. (We were among those who did not have hotel booking problems -- the reservation form sailed right through without any trouble whatsoever. Maybe the hotel booking agency was only messing up reservations of those living too far away to drive over and mess them up.) But we still didn't end up at one of the close-in hotels -- we were assigned to the Omni Hotel, a long, hot five blocks up the hill from the Convention Center. We arrived on Wednesday morning and checked in, or tried to. The hotel registration area was chaos, and it took until early evening before we finally got the room. When we were finally allowed to crowd into the hotel elevator with our luggage, I noticed that it whistled whenever it stopped at a floor. I remarked to Rich that I thought the hotel was carrying Bucconeer's 'Pirate' theme a bit too far by piping people on and off the elevator!
But despite our initial poor impression, it actually did turn out to be a good idea to stay there. If we had stayed anywhere else, we probably wouldn't have met the South African fan contingent (publishers of the fanzine PROBE) at breakfast one morning in a nearby coffee shop. They were at their first Worldcon and having a great time; that chance meeting was the only time the entire convention we ran across them. It turned out we often ran into people we wanted to see while walking between venues; maybe there's something to say for staying at those perimeter hotels after all. And if we'd stayed at a close-in hotel, we wouldn't have gotten all that great exercise of walking between the hotel and convention center!
Rich: The fan lounge was way out there too, next door in the Hilton -- not a very good location for attracting new fanzine readers. It turned out that there was supposed to be two fan lounges at Bucconeer -- a fanzine sales area during the day at the Convention Center and a separate fanzine fans party/lounge room in the evening. But the former never really came into existence -- it was stuck in a corner of the large area that included the dealers room and art show, and there were never any tables supplied for fanzines, or curtains supplied to create a separate area. What was provided was worse than nothing at all -- a couch and several comfy chairs that made the area a nice place for drowsy people to take over for naps. It just wasn't going to work as a fanzine sales area, and so it was decided to cut the concept back to one room. And there's where the other problem was -- the one remaining fanzine room was just too far away during the days, and any program event that was held there (such as my interview with Bob Madle) was poorly attended. (And worse, any program event there was also subject to rude distractions; about ¾ of the way through my interview with Madle, someone started such a commotion outside the room, wanting to come in and party, that the interview had to be cut short by about ten minutes. I will never again agree to be on a program item in a fanzine/party room. The event would have had a much larger, more respectful audience if it had been held down in the convention center.)
Nicki: At Bucconeer, I was on two media panels -- "Forgotten SF Films" and an entertaining panel about the television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer titled "I Can't Believe I Like Buffy." (I was also supposed to be on a fanzine panel in the fan lounge, which didn't happen because it took place in those comfy chairs in the convention center. Only one fan found the panel, so we sat around and chatted.) Even though I am more of an SF fan than 'media fan', I do enjoy talking about SF and media SF, and the two media panels were fun events. Like many SF fans, the media SF that leans to the literary is what draws my attention. I also don't see media SF as the be all and end all. With the new TV season, there were a number of SF- and fantasy-oriented shows; as usual, there are a few surprises, a few greats, and a few failures. But in the failures I discovered something -- why SF/fantasy movies and TV shows often disappoint me.
The show that opened my eyes was Mercy Point, a new show about a hospital space station. Don't bother looking for it; it lasted three episodes before UPN canceled it. Was it that bad? Well, it wasn't bad so much as unnecessary. The scripts were standard TV doctor stuff set in space. As for the SF content, that was abysmal. The main story line of the debut episode was a mysterious virus killed one of the hospital workers and was spreading. Turns out it was (wait for it) a computer virus! Clever, huh? Fortunately, they were testing an 'android nurse' and her systems provided the 'antidote' to the virus (which made little sense). Even the actors didn't seem too enthusiastic about the whole thing. Just about any of the stories that involved the medical section on Babylon 5 or the Star Trek series (including Voyager) were much more interesting than any of the three episodes that were shown of Mercy Point.
While I was disappointed in Mercy Point, it wasn't because of the silly science or that putting a hospital in space was purposeless. The main reason I was disappointed was that I had read a number of stories about a 'hospital in space' (primarily James White's Sector General stories) and knew how it should be done. I didn't think that the series would live up to those stories and I was right. My guess is I was probably one of the few viewers who had heard of or read any SF stories that dealt with the concept; I don't think the creators of the series ever did.
I was also disappointed because SF done badly means the next time someone comes up with an SF series that might be good, it will not get the attention it deserves. The networks will just point to the failure of Mercy Point.
However, not all series suffer from ignorance of the genre. Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered two seasons ago and proved that a well-acted, well-written series about a teenager who fights evil can do very well. The creator/producer has done his homework and knows his stuff. If more people who read the genre as well as watch the movies produce series like this, we may get a Sector General instead of Mercy Point. Now that would be worth watching!
Rich: I was on even fewer program events than Nicki -- just one other panel besides the Madle interview, not counting the Hugo Awards Ceremony. Mimosa was the Fanzine Hugo winner again this year, but the honor for that goes to our many fine contributors, and our thanks and appreciation go to our readers. This was the fifth time that Mimosa has won the award, and we're only too aware that some of the voters think that's at least four too many. We neither encourage nor discourage anyone to vote for Mimosa; we don't campaign for honors, but we don't turn them down, either. I can sympathize that many of the non-winners deserve their moment up there on the stage, and I hope that someday they will all be able to take home at least one rocket. We've enjoyed the ride over the past seven years, and as soon as it ends, we'll be appreciative of the next fanzine that wins everyone's favor. Some of all that was probably going through my mind as Milt Rothman was handing us the Fanzine Hugo, so it seemed like the right thing to do, in front of God and Charlie Brown, to actually thank Kelly Freas and Andy Offutt for starting us on the road to Bucconeer almost a quarter of a century ago.
It was back in 1975, when we had been in Tennessee for only two years, that I'd noticed an announcement in an issue of Analog for an upcoming science fiction convention called 'Kubla Khan'. Nicki and I at that point were science fiction readers, but not yet fans -- we had never been to a science fiction convention before (we were too poor while in college, and there weren't any conventions in the wilds of northern New York, anyway). This one was relatively close -- just a two hour drive up Interstate 24 to Nashville. But what made us decide to attend were the guests -- the Guest of Honor was Analog cover artist Kelly Freas and the Master of Ceremonies was Andrew Offutt, author of what I (still) consider as one of the ten best science fiction stories ever written ("Population Implosion," in case you're wondering). We went, and had a good time, and while we were there, we happened to meet Irvin Koch, who was busy organizing a small science fiction convention early the next year for Chattanooga. That event, the first Chattacon, was successful enough that a local club soon came into existence, and with it a clubzine (Chat, which we edited). And the rest, as they say, is history.
Nicki: The Bucconeer Hugo design was elegant simplicity, constructed, in part, with wood from the ongoing restoration project for the Sloop-of-War USS Constellation, the last remaining Civil War ship afloat. Rich had his practically glued to his hand for most of the evening, and that's how we discovered one of the little-known uses for a Hugo Award -- it makes a very fine Key to the City, or at least a Key to Closed Parties. It got us into the SFWA suite without an escort, no problem at all. We also made it into the Japanese fans' party, where they were giving out Samurai-style cloth headbands and had all kinds of unfamiliar but tasty food. It was pretty much a very late night of unrestrained partying for us (we normally go to bed about midnight) and for most of the other winners as well. The person who seemed to have the best time of all was Bill Johnson, whose story "We Will Drink a Fish Together" won the Hugo in the Novelette category. At six feet eight inches, he's the tallest person ever to win a Hugo. And for the rest of the night, he was about a foot taller yet, walking on air as he floated though each party.
Rich: A very memorable moment at the Hugo Awards Ceremony was Joe Mayhew's moving acceptance speech tribute to fellow Fan Artist nominee Ian Gunn, whose health was deteriorating rapidly. In a way, it was a reminder of our own mortality.
Some of our readers may be familiar with the term 'Year of the Jackpot' (borrowed from the Heinlein story of the same name). It refers to the year 1958, a year when many notables authors and fans in the science fiction world died -- Henry Kuttner, Cyril Kornbluth, Francis Towner Laney, Kent Moomaw, and Vernon L. McCain were among them. And now, forty years later; 1998 has been another cruel year for the number of prominent pros and who have died, among them authors Jerome Bixby and Jo Clayton, artists Paul Lehr and Alex Schomburg, R.W. "Doc" Lowndes (better known as an editor, but also one of the 'Nycon Six' that were excluded from the very first Worldcon, in 1939), former worldcon chairman John Millard, and First Fandom members John V. Baltadonis, Paul G. Herkart, and T. Bruce Yerke.
Two deaths that hit us especially hard were those of Vincent Clarke and Ian Gunn. I'd heard about Vince's death while I was in Slovakia on a business trip, and even now I think I'm still in a state of denial. He was a good friend and a wonderful source for historical information about British fandom. I will miss him very greatly, and regret very much that we'll never again be able to feature one of his warmly humorous remembrances in Mimosa.
We'll also miss Ian Gunn very greatly. He'd been in a losing battle with cancer for almost a year, so his death wasn't really a surprise. Up to then he was an irrepressible presence in many fanzines, including Mimosa -- his 'Alien Spaceport' cover for M18 is one of our favorite pieces of fan art. He had plans for a sequel that we would have featured on next issue's cover, and was looking forward to seeing us at Aussiecon Three in September. Such was his optimistic outlook on life, and we are all diminished by his passing.
And there's even more discouraging news -- word came from Geri Sullivan by e-mail that Walt Willis is not in good health; he suffered an apparent stroke a few months earlier, and has not (and may not ever be) completely recovered.
In my return e-mail to Geri, I tried to find the right words... "I'm dismayed that Walter's health deteriorated. It's even more frustrating to know there's not a single thing I (or apparently anyone) can do for him. He's in my thoughts, anyway. So is Vincent. And Ian Gunn. And all the others. Damn."
And so here we are, five months after Bucconeer, nearly at the brink of the new century. Fandom is now about three quarters of a century old, but the early years are still not very well documented. (For instance, how many people now even recognize the names 'Vernon McCain' and 'Kent Moomaw', much less know why they were well-known back then?) The good news is that much of that history is preserved, but mostly in the memories of those who were present then. Fandom is in the midst of change, as every year we lose more of those who were so important to making us what we are. And that's why we do what we're doing. We began publishing Mimosa, at least in part, because there were so many stories that needed telling, for future generations of fans to read and be entertained. It's something we hope we can keep doing -- to save these moments, frozen in time; to prevent the memories from fading away.
All illustrations by Sheryl Birkhead