Chapter 3: A LIMEY AT L.A.CON

Having only arrived in the US the night before, I was eager to be up and about and starting out on my first full day in America. Not so eager, however, that I leapt out of bed when my internal clock -- still patriotically following British time -- woke me at 4.20 am. No, eager though I was I forced myself to grab a few hours more. Nonetheless, I still rose before 9am, and not surprisingly the only familiar faces I encountered were those belonging to Malcolm Edwards and Chris Atkinson. My fellow Brits, it seemed, were having just as much trouble adjusting to the time difference in spite of the extra days they'd had to get accustomed to it.

The Los Angeles sun was fierce, the glare off the bone-white buildings in this neatly manicured area almost blinding, and I immediately decided to make trips between the hotel and the Anaheim Convention Center -- where most of L.A.CON II's programming was taking place -- as brief and infrequent as possible. My first priority was to locate the registration desk, no easy task amid the labyrinthine hangars of the convention center, and to pick up my registration pack. My convention badge, when I eventually acquired it, had a strip of yellow ribbon stuck to it that identified me as a 'program participant' and a label that gave my address as "East Hampshire, London". Hmmn. The advantage of the ribbon, as I soon discovered, was that it gave me access to a special 'Green Room' where platters of cold food and beer (American, unfortunately) were freely available. Since breakfast wasn't included in the cost of the hotel room I was delighted to have a means of correcting that grievous oversight. In no time at all I'd nibbled my way through a desultory dozen or so sandwiches while watching comics pros such as Julius Schwartz, Len Wein and Marv Wolfman as they wandered through. Clearly this was the place to be if you wanted to hang out with the pros, but it was the fans I expected to hold my interest.

The Fan Lounge was located on the first floor of the hotel and was actually four large, adjacent rooms. One of these, the smallest, contained typewriters, duplicators, and groups of fans busily fanning their ac (as we old fans say). It was here that the convention newsletter, THOUGHT POLICE GAZETTE, was put together and where its editor, Mike Glyer, seemed to spend most of the convention. Of the other three rooms two -- called Palo Verdes A and B -- were put aside for fan programming, while the other was a fanzine room that both offered current fanzines for sale and hosted a display of old ones. I wasn't terribly taken with this display, which occupied well over three-quarters of the available space, since it consisted of rows of tables laden with old fanzines covered by transparent sheets. You could look at the covers but not the contents, and who cares about that? Fanzines are not artifacts to be put on display and looked at with reverence but collections of writing meant to be read and enjoyed. What this exhibition came down to, in essence, was a display of fanzine cover art, something that could have been better handled by hanging xeroxes of the originals on the walls of the room, thus liberating space in the room for a more useful purpose. I understand that the owner of these particular zines -- Gary Farber, I believe -- had not wanted his precious collection mishandled and possibly damaged, any more than I'd want mine to be, but the protective measures made the display pointless and I never bothered studying it.

Neil Kaden, Allyn Cadogan, unknown, in Fan Lounge

My first visit to the Fan Lounge was that afternoon when I was to appear as part of a 'Meet the TAFF/DUFF/GUFF Winners' item. Inexplicably, this had been programmed opposite a Ted White fanhistory panel which Jack Herman, Justin Ackroyd and I would all like to have seen, and we were a bit put out about the clash. I'm not exactly sure how the meet-the-winners item was originally intended to work but in the event it ended up with those who'd come to meet us, around 20 to 30 people, milling about while we three chatted to those not too shy to talk up and rambled on about the fandoms in our respective countries. It was a badly prepared and ill-structured item and it petered out untidily. Soon after this I met Greg Benford in the fanroom and he told me he was thinking of coming over to Britain for the next Eastercon (where he was GoH) on Concorde.

"Nice plane", I agreed, "the only civilian airliner built to the same specifications as a military aircraft."

Stung by the thought of anyone being technologically ahead of America in any field (you know what these right-wing, hard SF writers are like) Benford snapped back that the US was working on an airliner ...

"... that will go faster than light."

"Uh, don't you mean faster than sound?" I asked, incredulously.

"Yeah, of course, an FTL airplane ... "

It took Benford a few seconds to realise why those around him had collapsed in helpless mirth.

Since there were no more items on the fan programme that interested me I decided to go for a walk around the convention and to take a few notes on the differences between US and UK cons.

Most everything about L.A.CON was familiar enough only bigger, and there was so much more of it. Nonetheless I was totally unprepared for the news that "SPOCK DIED FOR YOUR SINS", emblazoned as it was across the more than ample chest of a Junoesque Trekkie. I was even more totally unprepared for the vast numbers of fans, and numbers of vast fans, milling around in costume. I'm used to people walking around in costume at British cons, of course, and recognised that unsmiling seriousness and those po-faced expressions, but the phenomenon known as "jackboot fandom" was new to me. Some costume fans have the wit and imagination to put together costumes of their own design -- often their visualisation of how a character from a particular novel might look -- but most merely turn out slavish imitations of those worn by the actors on some dreadful TV sci-fi show or other. However, it appears there is a newer breed of costume fan, one even more po-faced and serious, and into parading around in paramilitary drag, festooned with toy guns. De rigueur, of course, are those all important jackboots. TV, in the form of the dreadful 'V', had provided the 'inspiration' for more than one of the groups determinedly trooping up and down, but most appeared to have decked themselves out in the uniform of armies existing nowhere beyond the fevered confines of their own fascistic fantasies. Hard SF fans to a man (or woman), I decided, and (as later confirmed by Lisanne Norman in her report on her own experiences at the con, that appeared in Linda Krawecke Pickersgill's TIGER TEA #2) neo-Nazi. This was an influence I prayed would not cross the Atlantic to pollute British conventions.

One glaringly obvious difference between our fandom that I couldn't help but notice lay in the number of American fans at L.A.CON II who were not merely fat but enormously overweight. I had never in my life before (or in the ten years since) seen such huge human beings, and though I tried very hard not to stare I'm afraid I didn't always succeed. On one occasion, Jerry Kaufman caught me in the act:

"Hey, Rob," he chuckled, "if your jaw drops any further it'll be in your lap!"

In reporting this, I'm in no way trying to mock these people but rather to point out a genuine cultural difference that it would have been dishonest of me to ignore.

Rich Coad

Not even I could free-load on the Green Room food all day, so that evening I found myself walking down Harbor Boulevard in the glow of what my notes refer to as its "strange neon" with Stu Shiffman, Rich Coad, Stacy Scott, Gary Farber, Jerry Kaufman, Suzanne Tomkins, Ron Saloman, and Steve & Elaine Stiles, in search of chinese restaurants. Stu had assured us that these were to be found within walking distance of the hotel but, after marching for what seemed like miles without a jackboot between us, we were beginning to have our doubts. To a foreigner, however, the endless trek was not without interest, and I was much taken with the fact that the bright green sward on the strip of land between sidewalk and road was not grass, as it would be over here, but astroturf. Stu walked right past the first chinese restaurant we came to -- "Never trust a chinese restaurant that offers a breakfast special" -- and went into the one next door. On the window of this restaurant, in bright red letters, it said: "TRY OUR BREAKFAST SPECIAL".

Back at the hotel after our repast, I accidentally stumbled into an ELFQUEST party and briefly took in the appallingly twee folk music and all those people with their plastic pointy ears nailed on, before I staggered out, shaking, my hand over my mouth. ELFQUEST, for those who don't know, is a comic-book produced by Wendy Pini and has spawned yet another of those ever-proliferating sub-fandoms. When I got to New York I told Tom Weber, one of the shortest and most elfin fans around, about this and he recalled the time when he had stumbled into one of these things at an earlier con, only to find those present descending on him with glee.

"They wanted to draft me!" he whispered, a look of horror in his eyes.

I was way too tall to have been in any danger myself, and once outside the room I leant against a wall, jotting down a few fevered impressions in my note book. Within seconds, Jerry Kaufman had popped up (as he did all weekend, doubtless desperate to be immortalised in this report) along with Robert Lichtman, so we went off together looking for parties.

Perhaps inevitably, partying at large American conventions has developed along different lines than at British conventions. Whereas most parties over here are now held in the fan room and, while not widely advertised, are open to most anyone who turns up, partying at US cons still takes the form of get togethers in private rooms and knowledge of these is passed along the grapevine by word of mouth. Even bidding parties are different in our two countries because while both have a certain amount of free booze on hand (with America, where fewer fans drink, having the most booze available ironically enough) there is not usually dance music at US parties and most fans just stand around in small groups talking.

Jeanne Bowman

The first party we dropped in on was the CRAPA party (it says here) where a number of fans were sat around talking including Seattle fan Amy Thomson who, I couldn't help but notice, was clad in arm-length black gloves with jewelled bracelets at the wrist and a long black dress with a mesh top.

"One of Amy's special dresses" announced Jerry, unnecessarily. I was starting to feel the jet-lag again, but I was far from blind. Having been handed various bits of paper earlier in the day with room numbers scribbled on them, it was easy to skip from one party to another and the next we hit was in Jim Frenkel and Joan D.Vinge's room.

"Two Fanoclasts and their guests," Jerry airily announced as he, Lenny Bailes, Robert Lichtman and I sailed past Jim Frenkel and into the room. Stu knocked on the door later and tried the same routine, but he was stopped by Frenkel.

"But I run Fanoclast meetings!" Stu protested indignantly, failing totally to notice the mischievous twinkle in Jim's eyes.

"Hey, I was only joking!" laughed Frenkel, and ushered him in.

On the bed was a large amount of publicity material for the forthcoming film version of DUNE, which really impressed the waiter who brought up a tray of soft drinks for us. He wanted to know if any of us had met one of the film's stars, Sting, and being British I was half-tempted to spin him a yarn about being Sting's life-long buddy. I wonder what he made of the film? I was at a press showing of the film prior to its UK premiere a few months later and thought it was dreadful.

Ted White

At the party in Ted's room the smell of marijuana hung heavy on the air. I didn't recognise most of those present at first, but the company was soon swelled by such familiar faces as those of Allyn Cadogan, Lucy Huntzinger, and Chris Atkinson. Lucy's friend, Sharee Carton turned up with her, and her entrance caused something of a stir, no doubt because she's tall, striking, and sported a mohawk. On this occasion she was also sporting Vegemite earrings and a Vegemite T-shirt, presumably to show her solidarity with the Melbourne in '85 people over for the con from her native Australia.

Sharee Carton

Fading fast, I settled into the space between the wall and the bed with a similarly jet-lagged Chris Atkinson looming down at me from the bed along with Sharee, while Allyn was propped against the wall by my feet. This struck me as a very agreeable set-up, and we were all chatting away pleasantly when Norman Spinrad came in. I was the only one in a position to see him enter and I watched with great amusement as he caught sight of Sharee, and began edging around the room towards her. Various people engaged him in conversation but he barely took his eyes off Sharee, disengaging himself as soon as possible and continuing to slither along the wall. He edged closer and closer until he almost tripped over my feet, at which point Sharee and Lucy, totally oblivious of Spinrad, got up and left for the Australian bidding party. Norm looked more than a little put out, and I was still chuckling at this little drama of frustrated lust that I alone had witnessed when I crashed out shortly afterwards. It had been a good day and I could hardly wait for the joys tomorrow would doubtless bring.