At last the day arrived, and I broke the seal on my compression chamber, releasing an exotic blend of oxygen and nitrogen with a bold taste of helium into the atmosphere. I confess to feeling a little apprehensive at leaving my keyboard behind, but my quest for the Loc-Nar required courage. As my horseless carriage motored from the basement of my crumbling tower, across the rickety drawbridge, over the mostly dried up moat where the alligators spent more time sunning themselves than threatening anyone, I wondered what I might find waiting for me at ConQuesT 44.
I dug in my spurs and made it across the city in less time than expected, just as the sun reached its apex. It was not by accident I chose high noon for my arrival. I had selected the time since I knew the shadows of the day would be at their weakest. It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark, mind you, it’s just that I know what lurks beneath the shadows.
Immediately upon my arrival I could feel an energy lapping at me like waves on a beach. It was gentle and inviting, yet suggestive of something more sinister lurking beneath the surface. I told myself I was just being paranoid, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. Seekers of truth marched alongside me across asphalt marked by white slashes. Each one bore a wide smile as if transfixed by some nameless amusement. As I watched them move up the hill towards the entrance, I felt my anticipation building.
On the surface, the hotel seemed non-descript, just another roadhouse filled with comfort for weary travelers. It was after I passed through the lobby that the atmosphere began to change. Three stalwart sentries offered me entrance into the moot for a slight contribution. For me the price was but a pittance compared to the potential reward that lay within. I gladly handed over the plastic key that I kept hidden upon my person and allowed a friendly woman named Dawn to rummage through my electronic vault so that she could extract the required sum. Her companions Robert and Rob offered me greetings as we patiently waited for the slow moving electrons to agree to our transaction. The warmth and honesty of their banter helped to soothe my tension, and I felt a slow smile ease itself across my face.
After I received the map and agenda, I immediately searched for any mention of the Loc-Nar. Cleverly it did not appear. I refused to be dissuaded, since I could feel its presence. There was true power in the air. Wandering past game rooms and hawkers selling wares, I came face to face with a Klingon strike team. The warriors were tall and proud. I wondered if they too had come in search of the Loc-Nar, but I had not the courage to ask them. Instead I made my way down to the lower levels. After all aren’t the best secrets normally kept in the basement or, better still, in the dungeon?
I found my way into a quiet room where a humble man named Sean Demory spoke of dark things to an enthralled audience. As he read from his story, The Ballad of the Wayfaring Stranger and the Dead Man’s Whore, I found myself transported into the dark of night. The language of his tale gripped me tightly and refused to let go until it had reached its end. Once Demory’s voice released his listeners from their hypnotic trance, I turned to watch as the others returned to the sunlight one by one.
As I collected my things, I glimpsed Chris Garcia in the hall, sharing a look of triumph with his companion before hurrying on his way. Curious as to his discovery, I leapt from my chair and raced after him. When I reached the hall, he was gone. I wondered then what strange secrets lay hidden just beyond my sight. The source of power was hidden somewhere close by; I could sense it.
It was then that a tremor shook the convention center. My mind wandered to the New Madrid Fault, but I quickly tossed out that notion when I realized the epicenter was just down the hall. Attempting not to seem overly eager, I measured my steps to a closed door. I speak truth, when I say that is when I witnessed my first giant.
The giant’s name was Patrick Rothfuss. All I knew or thought I knew of the man melted away in that short hour I sat pressed in amongst the faithful. How faithful were they, you might ask? So faithful that Patrick had every mouth echoing prescribed phrases as if they were an oath of loyalty. Later he spoke fondly of his compulsive wordsmithing. While writing his novel The Name of the Wind, Patrick destroyed approximately three thousand defenseless words that were each spelled “that” in order to satisfy his overwhelming compulsion. (Incidentally, this tale contains the word “that” a mere thirty-five times.)
Despite the artistry of his skill, Patrick is an even better man. I liken him to a combination of the comedian Robin Williams (or perhaps John Belushi) and the noble knight Sir Gawain. Young and old, stoic and ardent all enjoyed a satisfying dose of laughter in response to his endless wit. I confess to indulging myself more than I thought possible, but my laughter refused to be denied. It was between volleyed jokes that the noble knight appeared. He spoke of his charity, Worldbuilders, at length. Everyone that heard his voice could feel how vital the cause is to him. His passion and sincerity exposed a depth beyond anything I expected.
Next I wandered into a grand ballroom and found a vacant chair with its back to the wall. Another giant took the podium. His name was George R.R. Martin. As he settled in and began to read from the history of Aegon’s Conquest, I let my eyelids slip shut. I had heard George speak electronically on panels and interviews, but this was the first time I had listened to him in the flesh. I tell you now that GRRM is the bard of the twenty-first century. His voice has a rich, warm texture that hints at a legacy of minstrels and heralds. With my eyes closed, I felt transported to a roadside tavern in Westeros as the Turtle Lord spoke gently of the bloody past.
When we were reluctantly pulled back to the heartland by the insistent clock, his fans begged answers to their long-harbored questions. George, ever the gentleman, showered their desires with satisfying tidbits. One such revelation exposed the strength of his muses. When tasked with documenting a mere fifty thousand words of history, his keyboard would not stop until he had reached two hundred fifty thousand. A few in attendance swooned at the thought of the unexpected tomes that will one day appear.
Overhead the sun began to creep towards the horizon lengthening the shadows, but I had still not located the Loc-Nar. Part of me wanted to give up, to record it in my files as only a myth, but I couldn’t do it. I could see the effects of the source all around me. It had to be close. I would not be dissuaded.
And so it was, I wandered into yet another room. Inside, a robust discussion volleyed back and forth between members of the panel regarding the relationship between editor and writer. I hovered near the door until an opening appeared, and I dared to snatch up a momentarily vacant seat. As the fates would have it, I once again found myself in the presence of greatness. The panel included Jean Stuntz, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, and Selina Rosen, and bonus insight was added to the discussion by a man named Patrick Nielsen Hayden. While everyone on the panel sliced off valuable chunks of wisdom to share with the fans, two amongst them fired photon torpedoes.
A single brush stroke might paint Patrick Rothfuss as a knightly jester. Another might capture George R.R. Martin as the noble bard. For the Nielsen Hayden tandem, the words king and queen come to mind. Both of them have a presence about them that I can only describe as regal, but their humility and approachability belie their titanic industry stature. When the panel had concluded, I seized the opportunity to stumble forward. My tongue had grown swollen in my mouth.
Normally I employ a modestly adept typist to moderate my words before I speak. At that particular moment, I think he must have stepped away. Perhaps he had gone in search of the loo or a turkey sandwich or something else equally sustaining. To my regret, his replacement only knew how to play music on the keyboard.
Some of us have amused ourselves thinking about the clumsy dancer who continually steps on his dance partner’s feet. At that moment, I was the clod with the steel-tipped boots, crushing every one of Lady Teresa’s toes. If I had actually tried, I could not have put her in a more awkward position. It was in that instant that I experienced true royalty. With an elegance and dignity befitting Queen Elizabeth or Margaery Tyrell, she spun me to the edge of the ballroom and thanked me for the dance.
As I walked away, smacking my replacement typist on the back of the head, I smiled to myself. You see, it is in moments of mayhem that greatness reveals itself. In those few moments with Teresa Nielsen Hayden, I witnessed her grace and discovered the warmth of the power inside her.
Regarding Bradley Denton, I have so much to say. He read for me the story La Bamba Boulevard. When I say ”read,” really what I mean is “performed.” Tell me, how many authors can sing La Bamba like Ritchie Valens and impersonate Darth Vader as if they had been cast for the role? His writing is fun and brilliant and leaves you satisfied like your favorite meal. (Look for my in-depth interview with him next week.)
With the masquerade ahead, followed by an evening of festivities, I had much to anticipate. It was then that a raven arrived. As it sat on my shoulder pecking at my ear, I read the note it had carried. Apparently my yard gnomes had escaped from the garden yet again. If you have never owned a Midwestern yard gnome, you may not appreciate the pure viciousness of the beasties. You see, they are bred to fight off raccoons and coyotes and an occasional cougar, in addition to the docile deer or hare.
The last time they had slipped their chains—no, it’s too gruesome to tell. Suffice it to say that the angry mob knows where I live. With this bitter news, I reluctantly made my way up from the catacombs and out of the hotel. The location of the Loc-Nar yet eluded me. As I passed through the lobby on my way home, I chanced to glimpse a curious sight. Seated in a high-backed leather chair, no more than four paces from the front door, sat the legendary George R. R. Martin. Three fans had joined him in front of a cold hearth to chat about the mysteries of magic or some other random fancy.
Right then it struck me. The Loc-Nar was present, but it was not a glowing green stone after all. The power I sought came from the people. You see, a symbiosis exists—a relationship between those that build worlds and those that enjoy worlds. Left alone, the giants are mere mortals. It is the power of the fans that push them to greatness, and, in turn, it is the wonders they create that energize the fans. Whether you call it Loc and Nar or yin and yang, this relationship travels time, conquers death, and shapes worlds. The strands that bind Loc to Nar are magical, mysterious, and sometimes fraught with mayhem, but they are, above all else, unbreakable.
I put my hand against the wall to steady myself as I reflected on the moment. There in the lobby of a Holiday Inn, I had found the truth. Before me traces of power stretched from person to person, weaving a matrix of energy through which all things were possible. At ConQuesT 44, I uncovered the secret that Robert A. Heinlein had found. I felt the same power that Frank Herbert harnessed four decades before. In a way, I envied George R.R. Martin—not for his majestic writing, nor for his epic fame. Instead, I envied him for being part of the Loc-Nar. As I turned to bid my final farewell to ConQuesT 44, I vowed to return again next year. Before I took two steps, I paused. A stray thought flooded me with hope. You see, I realized then that even I am part of the Loc-Nar.
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Kristina Hiner, my oracle through this journey.