We mentioned in our Opening Comments that one of the things we enjoyed about Chicon
2000 were all the reunions; it seemed like there were friends everywhere. One of
the people we missed, though, was Bob Tucker, who, after 60 years, has now retired
from convention-attending. His only 'appearance' was a brief one, at the Opening
Ceremonies, in a videotaped interview. If you examine the personal histories of
many fans, even those who are not familiar faces at worldcons, it's likely you'll
come across a connection to Bob Tucker, as the following article shows.
I've read that the 2002 Worldcon, ConJosé, is going to offer an installment plan to help us fans pony up the registration fee. I'll tell you why that makes me think of Anne Rice's vampires, but first some background.
I was born the day Roosevelt died. Throughout my childhood, we lived just a couple of blocks from the campus of Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois, and for several years my parents rented the spare rooms on the second floor of our big old house to students. One summer in the mid-1950s, a grad student in entomology left behind a paperback copy of Arthur C. Clarke's Expedition to Earth anthology. Being a voracious reader, I picked it up.
I was already familiar with science fiction from Captain Video and movies such as Forbidden Planet. (I named one of my homing pigeons Walter after seeing that film.) So at the age of 11 or 12, I didn't find Clarke's stories incomprehensible, I found them mesmerizing. That discarded paperback planted the incurable spore, and I have suffered from chronic scientifiction affliction ever since.
In 1959, I became a home delivery provider (paperboy) for The Daily Pantagraph, Bloomington, Illinois', esteemed journal of record. That meant I had disposable income. Each Saturday morning I went down to the newspaper office, turned in the week's proceeds, and took the profit to a nearby newsstand. It was one of those old-fashioned places you don't see much anymore. It had everything -- candy, cigars, curling ribbons of flypaper hanging from the ceiling, a grumpy old Jewish guy behind the counter. The walls were covered with magazine racks, the floors crowded with freestanding carousels for paperback books.
Just inside the door was a rack with all the sf prozines -- Astounding, Amazing, Fantastic, F&SF, Galaxy, If, even the Columbia twins before they folded. One Saturday morning, I bought one. The next week, I bought another. After that, science fiction became a weekly habit. Of course, in those days you could buy a prozine and an Ace Double for a dollar and get change back.
An ad in one of those prozines or paperbacks led me to the Science Fiction Book Club. The SFBC performed an invaluable service in those days by keeping many of the golden oldies in print. All the stories that had created modern science fiction in the 1930s and `40s had been published in the pulp magazines, and paperback reprints hadn't picked up much of the slack yet. If you wanted to read Lovecraft's "The Color Out of Space" or van Vogt's "Black Destroyer," the SFBC was your time machine.
And speaking of pulps, I took another jaunt in time when I bought 50 sf pulp magazines from a New York huckster for $5. It was the best $5 I ever spent. It took many days to leaf through all those copies of Thrilling Wonder Stories, Planet Stories, Amazing, Startling Stories, Famous Fantastic Mysteries, and others dating from the late `40s and early `50s. Those magazines were battered and musty, not the kind of stock offered to collectors, but they were a window into the barely bygone era of the pulps. Today's neofans have no idea what that Bronze Age of science fiction was like, but I came along early enough to catch a glimpse.
As an avid reader and incipient collector, I was primed when P. Schuyler Miller reviewed Dick Eney's Fancyclopedia II in Astounding. It sounded interesting, so I ordered a copy. What a monumental achievement! A hidden world was revealed, and I acquired a master's degree in fannish lore.
One item of information caught my particular attention. Fancy informed me that there was a BNF named Bob Tucker who was a movie projectionist in Bloomington. My mother had been a cashier at the Irving Theater in Bloomington, and yes, she recalled some such person. I mentioned this coincidence in a note to Eney, and he must have forwarded the news, because I soon received a hefty bundle of fanzines, return addressed from the famous P.O. Box.
Tucker didn't stint on the selection. There was Cry of the Nameless, Yandro, Shangri-l'Affaires, Science Fiction Times, Fanac, Void, and a dozen other fanzines of the day that I would recall if you mentioned them. And most of them contained reviews of other fanzines, which I sent for. When Cry published my letter of comment and sent me an official Cry Letterhack card, I became, literally, a card-carrying fan.
My early fannish and stfnal career peaked in 1962, when I attended Chicon III in Chicago. It seemed like everyone was there (except Harry Warner, of course). If you stood on a chair in the Florentine Room of the Pick-Congress Hotel, you could spot everyone you had ever heard of, from the filthiest pros to the biggest BNFs.
What's worth noting is that in 1962, a kid with a paper route could afford to attend a World Science Fiction Convention, including train ticket, hotel room, banquet, the works. And if you read the prozines and the leading fanzines, you were familiar with everyone who was significant in prodom and fandom.
The next year I was off to college, and my engagement with sf involvement waned until, by my senior year, I wasn't buying every issue of every prozine -- ouch, a gap in the collection! But I bounced back after graduation, when I began reading for fun again.
I attended a second Worldcon thanks to bizarre good fortune. My first job after college was in St. Louis, and every day I rode a bus past the Chase Park Plaza Hotel. One day I glanced up to see the 27th World Science Fiction Convention proclaimed from the hotel's marquee. "Well, that's convenient," I thought. I rode the bus home, got off, walked back to the hotel, and registered at the door. How often do the Secret Masters of Fandom schedule a Worldcon just a quarter mile from where you live?
In 1970, I relocated to Chicago and my fannish career attained its second peak. I subbed to a plethora of fanzines and actually became an official columnist in Dick Geis' Science Fiction Review for two issues before he underwent one of his cyclical publishing gafiations. I even attended a couple of local fan gatherings, at George Price's apartment and Mike Resnick's place out in Libertyville.
I also noticed that sf and fandom were changing. A growing number of fanzines were becoming 'semi-professional'. Worldcons were drawing attendance in the thousands rather than hundreds, and local and regional cons began to proliferate. Star Trek generated the first of the major parallel or sub-fandoms, the beginning of ur-fandom's suburban sprawl. Paperback publishing boomed, shifting the genre's center of gravity away from the cozy community of the prozines.
This all seemed pretty exciting at the time. Sf was conquering the world. Sf was commercially successful, and that made it increasingly acceptable if not respectable. And it was just plain increasing. For the first time, I couldn't keep up with the effusion of new books and had to pick and choose what I was going to read.
During the 1980s, other interests consumed more and more of my attention, and from the late `80s to late `90s I successfully gafiated. I kept reading sf, but selectively (thank you, Jack Vance!), and I saw the big movies, of course. But I lost touch with fandom and didn't know how to reconnect until the World Wide Web appeared. The first thing I tried on my search engine was 'science fiction'.
A lot seems to have happened while I was away. All the trends of the 1970s have sprouted from seedlings into rain forests. For this displaced 1960 fan, there are too many books, too many authors, too many awards, too many conventions -- too many fandoms!
I thought things might be going too far in 1966 when they created the Nebula Awards. Now there are probably more awards presented each year than new sf books published in 1960. And speaking of books, 38 new sf and fantasy novels were published last month, plus anthologies, collections, reprints, etc.
I recently encountered a fan who has attended 271 conventions (isn't there a German word for the mental sensation composed in equal parts of admiration and horror?). I scan all these con listings and I don't recognize most of the guests of honor. This summer our local con had two days of solid programming -- comics, gaming, anime, SCA and other role-playing activities, neo-paganism, Star Trek, costuming -- everything but plain old science fiction.
And this brings me to Anne Rice's most puissant insight about vampires -- they, like the rest of us, are children of their times. The world in which we spend our youth is 'normal', and everything after that is increasingly strange and difficult to encompass.
As we age, we can remain flexible and adaptive for quite some time, if we try, but ultimately, the more the world changes, the more estranged we feel. Humans are lucky enough to be mortal. But for the vampires, the time comes when the world doesn't make sense anymore, and they succumb to insanity or self-destruction. The immortal vampires die from future shock.
I haven't reached that state yet, but an installment plan for Worldcon registration fees is just one more reminder that I'm not in Kansas anymore.
Recently, I was bemused to realize that my favorite part of Locus is the obituary section. Here are people I've heard of, and each entry is a capsule of sf or fannish history. And best of all, I get to know how the story ends. I like that. Maybe that's why I like science fiction. It's a way to consider the future and, ultimately, how it all ends. Inquiring minds want to know! So in that sense, I guess I'm not like Anne Rice's old and despairing vampires -- at least, not yet!
All illustrations by Charlie Williams