Fandom May Be A Way of Life, But is it THE Way of Life?

FLAG logo by Ray Nelson
FLAG logo by Ray Nelson

This morning, I received a package of FLAG fanzines from Andy Hooper in Seattle. Receiving zines in the mail used to be almost an everyday thing for me back in “The Day,” but sadly, it’s an unusual occurrence these days. In 1980, I would have gladly spent all my non-work time doing fanac (fannish activity, remember?), but as time, work, and marriage progressed, I found myself with less and less time for it. After moving to Canada in 1985, my fanac—with the exception of con-going—became more or less nonexistent, in a formal sense. Yes, I hung around pretty much only with fans in my “off hours,” I was married to a fan, I chaired a con and helped with others, and so on… but I wasn’t “producing”—in other words, I was neither producing nor LOCcing fanzines.

Now, there’s no rule that says you have to be a fanzine fan to be a fan—and how many of you, reading this, can say that you have either read or produced a fanzine within the last several months?—but I can truthfully say that when I had more time I was more active as far as fanzines. (I have a feeling that for the most part, being married, even to a fan, is not the best thing for those who plan to make fandom a way of life. I can name several exceptions to this: Lloyd and Yvonne Penney, who have been very active; the Pelzes, Bruce and Elaine, were a very active fan couple; I’m sure you can think of others. But for the most part, being a family—especially if you’re raising children—is, I think, detrimental to your FIAWOL activity.)

Be that as it may, I will be LOCcing FLAG reasonably soon; for now, though, I’m still in the middle of NaNoWriMo. So, in the interest of producing a blog entry but keeping it short so I can write, I’m posting a selection of more of my convention nametags and maybe a few words about the convention or the tag itself. By the way, the logo above for Andy’s FLAG was done by Ray (R. Faraday) Nelson, author of Tyger, Tyger (also known as Blake’s Progress) and other works, fan cartoonist, and also the man who claims to have invented the propeller beanie in 1945 in Cadillac, Michigan. I have no reason to doubt him. Okay, enough rambling. Let’s continue our con badge photos.

First con badge photo: when I moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (for those of you not of the Canadian persuasion) I did so in part because I knew many if not most of the fan group there; we had ping-ponged back and forth between MosCon (my home convention) and NonCon, which was originally in Edmonton but moved between Edmonton and Calgary (I’ll let you look these places up on a map. Don’t expect me to do all the work for you!) for years. When I had been in Edmonton for a couple of years, after talking to my friends—especially Randy Reichardt (librarian extraordinaire!) and Robert Runté, Cath Jackel, Stuart Cooper, Brad Gillespie and a few others—we decided that cons were becoming a bit too… media, and we needed a convention that would focus only on the literature and art of the field.

ConText  89 Badge by Steve Fahnestalk
ConText 89 Badge by Steve Fahnestalk

So we decided to put one on. Now, we were not without experience, and even though (as far as many fans were concerned) Edmonton was even more “back of beyond” than Moscow, Idaho, we got all our dominoes lined up and put on ConText ’89 with GOHs Bill Gibson (Neuromancer, et al.), Charles de Lint (wonderful urban fantasies—too many to mention), Leo and Diane Dillon (who did an amazing program book cover) and science GOH Dr. Brad Thompson. We held it at the University of Alberta’s Lister Hall. The nametag was my ConText logo. My soon-to-be-wife (see ConText ’91) also flew up with her friends Terri and Annette. Spider and Jeanne Robinson were there, and Spider gave a little concert in The Ship, Lister Hall’s dining hall. That’s also where I first met Robert J. Sawyer. Randy and I, who were big fans of the Dillons, found out (when we talked to them) that they had never been asked to be guests at a con before, although their art was legendary in SF and they were Harlan Ellison’s favorite artists.

ConText 91 nametag by Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk
ConText 91 nametag by Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk

Those who came called it a success, but we lost money. Never mind, we recuperated and, this time with Stuart Cooper as Chair, we put on ConText ’91. I’ve completely spaced on the guest list, but the artist GOH was Kelly Freas, who did a picture for the program “book” (actually something similar to the old school “O-Pee-Chee”; you can probably Google that) he’d wanted to do for many years—“Space Hockey”! I think Guy Gavriel Kay was our writer GOH, but I can’t be sure. We lost money again, which kind of put the kibosh on future ConTexts. However, these two conventions saw the birth of SF Canada, the national organization of SF writers; On Spec (Canada’s speculative fiction magazine) was also born around that time. ConText ’91 was also Canvention, the Canadian National Convention—which is competed for by various would-be hosting conventions. The nametag for ConText ’91 was by my then-wife of two years, the beautiful and talented Lynne Taylor Fahnestalk. (It also incorporated my ConText logo.)

Before I moved to Canada, I went to a few local cons in Washington and Oregon. This one was somewhat memorable; I believe it was 1975. Jon Gustafson, my late friend and cohort, heard that Robert Heinlein was going to attend a Star Trek con in Seattle, and we decided to hop into my Mazda and go. We had just produced New Venture #5 (our fanzine), the Special Art issue, and because Kelly Freas had done the cover, and Kelly was going to be there, too, we decided to take a few as freebies. When we got to PSST-CON II we were able to give copies to Robert A. Heinlein, Kelly Freas, Harlan Ellison and, if memory serves, Walter Koenig of Star Trek. We knew Kelly through his work (and the mail, but had never met him in person before). He became our instant friend that weekend—a friendship that lasted until Kelly died. Thanks to Kelly, who was an old friend of the Heinleins, we were able to spend some hours listening to Robert and Virginia reminiscing; and Harlan was extremely complimentary about our fanzine, too. All in all, we had a wonderful time.

PSST-CON II nametag
PSST-CON II nametag
Westercon XXX Nametag
Westercon XXX Nametag

I also attended a number of Canadian conventions before I moved to Canada; the very first was Westercon XXX (30), which was in Vancouver, British Columbia (the city where I now live!). I don’t recall who the guests were; in fact, I remember little about the con’s guests, except that the half-time performers at the Masquerade were the fabulous Flying Karamazov Brothers, who performed their death-defying “Terror Trick” (okay, it’s not really death-defying, but I’ve seen them live several times and they never fail to entertain), among others. In fact, one of the Karamazovs (I’ve forgotten his name, but it was the blond one) spent some time teaching me how to juggle, a trick I now perform enthusiastically and badly. Westercon 30 was also the first time I’d seen the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) perform their battles; if you’ve never seen them, they take it quite seriously and whack each other with padded instruments of destruction for as long as they’re allowed. It’s fun to watch. This con was held at the University of British Columbia.

I also enjoyed singing with Gordon Dickson and Poul Anderson, and even got to compose an extemporaneous verse to “Lord, How the Money Rolls In” with them. One of the highlights for all of us below-the-borders types was when the Mounties (yes, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) busted the con. I can’t remember why they were there, but it was a treat (well, maybe not for the concom). I only remember one other thing about the Masquerade, and that was that my younger sister, Starshadow, who was hugely pregnant with (I think) her first daughter, came as a pregnant nun as part of a group that included Vaughn Bodé’s “The Hat” from Cheech Wizard!

Okay, reminiscing is fun, but writing is calling me. I’m way behind (still) and need to do some bodacious catch-up. Until I see you again—or you see me—remember that you are a unique individual and you don’t have to let anyone define you or tell you what you are or are not. That’s up to you!

As always, if you have any bouquets or brickbats to throw my way,  about this column, you can register—if you haven’t already—and comment here on the Amazing Stories website, or you can comment on Facebook. ‘Til next week, do something fannish!

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  1. And now I’m suddenly wishing I’d kept the badges from all the VCON’s I’ve attended. I’ve got a few of the most recent ones, but none from before I started working on concom for VCON 33.

  2. Ahhh Steve, I tried and tried, I swear, to resist being my normal pedantic self but… Ghu darn it, I AM archivist for VCON/BCSFA/WCSFA/CSFFA/CFFA after all…

    So I plunged into the archive files and came up with the following info to supplement your article:

    ConText 91 featured Spider & Jeanne Robinson and Elizabeth Vonarburg as the Author Guests of Honour, Kelly Freas (as you note) Artist Guest of Honour, with Special Guests Dr. Werner Israel, Alberto Manguel, and John Robert Colombo. Attending pros included Dave Duncan, Candas Jane Dorsey, and Robert J. Sawyer. Panel topics included ‘Self Promotion,’ ‘Writing in Canada,’ ‘Alienation in Canadian SF,’ ‘Alternate Histories’ & such.

    Westercon XXX, chaired by Fran Skene, featured Damon Knight as Author Guest of Honour, Frank Denton as Fan Guest of Honour, and Kate Wilhelm as Special Guest. Other pros participating included Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Poul Anderson, Robert Silverburg, Suzy McKee Charnas, F.M. Busby, and Terry Carr. Susan Wood launched ‘A Room of One’s Own,’ a track of programming devoted to SF from a feminist perspective, and Al Betz delivered a slide show lecture on ‘The History and Fashion of the Brass Bra in SF Illustration.’ Michael Walsh hosted “An Ecstatic Appreciation of Howard The Duck.’ From all accounts a highly successful convention.

    To conclude, what’s the point of being an archivist if you don’t assault people with information every now and then? All part of what makes being an archivist a fun job.

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