Saturday, April 23, 2011
a convention called science fiction
Ok, I'll be the first to admit that I get a lot of mileage out of the science fiction stuff. If I had to write about writing about my work it might go something like this.
Though everything I've written so far actually happened, it all takes place in a semi-fictional world where I am both author and character and so have complete control over the entire universe.
Therefore, to give shape to what is essentially unknowable, I like to invoke the tropes and types, the general formulations and motifs, of a literary genre commonly referred to as science fiction. I do this as I meander through the million corridors that comprise the personal database that defines my identity.
Those references don't come spinning out of my writing as pure corollary, but rather as an expression, a signifier, if you will, of the outsider looking in through a frosty window, snow piling up around his boots while a warm and earnest fire burns in the hearth mere meters away.
It so happens, as it was meant to happen (to throw in an example of how I allude to previously iterated, genre-induced imaginings of the world) there were plenty of science fiction books available to me as a youth. That's mostly because the librarian at the Gallup Public Library, Octavia Fellin, noticed that I was bored with the children's section. Our procession through those shelves had been as ruthless as Hannibal's through the alps (you'll see why this analogy is important, later, I promise).
So, at the end of one summer, she took me and my brother back to the part of the library where they kept the science fiction books and old National Geographic magazines. After she did that, she wandered absentmindedly back to her desk, singing in French and whispering to us to come find her if we needed anything else. That August, whole and formerly dusty shelves fluttered to life. I will let you imagine what happened after that.
When we hit Burque in ninteen seventy-six, we were pretty well-versed on the classics and joined the model rocket club at Eisenhower Middle School. By seventy-eight we were waiting expectantly each month for the latest copy of Omni Magazine to hit the stands and I had just discovered a copy of Stranger in Strange Land, to boot. My hippie aunt left it in the car and I dragged that book around till it was all tattered and greasy.
That fall I started high school at the notorious city of gold. I took algebra and sat next to a guy named Doug Bedell. I had never seen him before. He had gone to Hoover Middle School. One day, I asked him what time it was. He told me it was half past the seventh zode. I thought this was haughty, so I punched him in the stomach. He laughed and said that Martians were unaffected by such clumsy human actions. Then he pulled out a book and a magazine from his backpack. The book was called John Carter of Mars, the Magazine was called Heavy Metal. We became good friends after that.
His dad was an engineer. They built Heathkit computers and radios for fun. Their house looked like a hurricane had gone through it. In the twelfth grade, Doug devised a computerized version of Dungeons and Dragons and got a scholarship to study down south. One night before he left, he told me he wanted to write science fiction novels. He wanted to know what I thought about that, since he considered me a writer. He was a human being living on earth and probably dreamt of stars and circuit boards. He died in a hiking accident in the Organ Mountains in nineteen eighty-four.
I know that is sad as hell, but it's one of the reasons I make that eternal return to speculative fiction, caroming grandly and unafraid of the wild wind-borne tangents that sometimes lure me here and there, out of reach of everything except Albuquerque.
As far as the literature thing goes, I ended up getting permanently distracted from science fiction by the likes of Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. I liked how they used fantastic settings as mere props for deeper and darker observations of the human condition. Those two were followed by Joyce and Shakespeare. When I figured out how to read Spanish and took home a book of short stories by Borges, it was pretty much all over for me and science fiction. I never read any Gibson and picked up PKD as an afterthought, cause it was surreal, man.
I know that's an awful round-about way to get to talking about Bubonicon 42.
But it is what got me there today. That and three coffees that were black as midnight on a moonless night (just to carry on alluding to the fantastical, the presence of the other, et cetera).
All of this caffeinated speculation got me thinking about visiting that local science-fiction and fantasy convention. It is something I've been meaning to do for a few years now. I reckon that I am mostly curious about the culture that emanates from events like that. I wondered if I would feel more affinity there than at a convention of poets or firefighters.
As I tried to recall Elliot Rosewater's speech to this or that fictional sci-fi convention, I roared over to the Grand Airport Hotel (yeah it's really called that) to partake in the con - as the gathering is known, in some obscure lingo or other. When I was a kid, when it was not yet ridiculous to to use maritime metaphors in conjunction with our fair burg, the hotel was called the Airport Marina. There was a sea food joint down the road called The Rio Grande Yacht Club.
Anyway, Bobby Box was doing his Routes of Rock and Roll show and I listened in with relish as he played a very obscure regional hit by a band called the Woolies. When I got to the hotel parking lot, I noticed that everything was being remodeled. I had to park in a weed patch and was worried about an allergic reaction in my bermuda shorts and flip-flops.
Luckily it was nice and air conditioned inside, with absolutely no weeds to be found. My press pass was waiting for me up front. The folks who run this show were kind and professional and told me to have a good look around.
I started out with the art show. Of course my favorite part of the exhibit was the Cthulhu-themed ceramic dishware set. It was made by an artist named Peri Charlifu. Besides displaying a mastery of the medium, her work had an intense presence that set it apart from others' pieces, in its naturalistic depiction of something decidedly unnatural.
I went to get something to eat and ran into a guy that looked liked Tor Johnson, except in a tuxedo. He was serving up pre-made hamburgers and pizza and told me that the restaurant was closed for remodeling. Somehow the burger was still decent and he came by my table and cleaned up afterwards, even though I told him I'd handle it.
After that, I stopped to have a brief chat with local author Gary A. Wilson. Wilson's books are about the military, the temporal incursions of the Bwentani, the Bermuda Triangle. They are entertaining adventure stories filled with memorable characters. Wilson told me that self-publishing has been key in promoting his work. When he is not busy imagining the worlds he imagines, Wilson is a forklift operator.
As it got towards the noon hour, I took a quick trip upstairs to have some more coffee at con headquarters. They had some great pink frosted donuts up there and a group of engineers with full beards and pencil protectors discussed the implications of the new fangled batteries that the telecommunications industry had developed. One of the engineers was sure that sort of thing would soon trickle down to cars and other forms of motorized transportation.
I saved the best part for last, though. At ten minutes to twelve, I saw professor Richard Berthold enter the building. He was about to give a lecture on urban myths of the ancient world. The subject had nothing to do with science fiction, but the professor fit in well none the less. He was an outsider, too.
Berthold ended up speaking for an hour about the Punic Wars (see Hannibal reference, above), the Battle of Actium, the overpowering influence of Hellenism, and so forth and so on. It was great. He spoke mostly from memory, had a deep and resonant voice and was every bit the expert the packed lecture hall had come expecting to hear. He make a few cracks about John McCain too. When it was all over, everyone in the audience wanted to shake his hand. I thought it was a shame that he had to leave UNM and felt that a lot of undergrads were missing out, as I wandered out into the hallway.
I took a few puffs on a frajo, outside, on the way back to the weed pit, and listened to the other smoking conventioneers talk about their lives on earth. A big helicopter from the adjoining airbase flew by low and noisy. Some of the folks walking by me had two or three flash drives hanging from lanyards around their necks. A couple of guys sported fannypacks.
There were kids dressed up like characters from a C.S. Lewis book. Two or three Boba Fett impersonators chased after them with faux-menace and plastic ray-guns.
And everyone I met or saw there was a human being living on earth, dreaming of faraway suns, celestial energies.