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It Seemed the Fannish Thing to Do

from Chronicle (2005)

We gave the 2004 Rotsler Award to Harry Bell. This award, for long-term wonder-working by a fanartist, is made annually at Loscon, the Los Angeles local science-fiction convention over Thanksgiving weekend. I'm one of three judges; the others are Mike Glyer of the fanzine File 770, and Maureen Kincaid Speller the 1998 Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund delegate ("TAFF"; in that year westbound, Europe to North America), who in 2004 replaced Geri Sullivan of Idea. The Award is named for Bill Rotsler, a long-term wonder-worker.

Fanzines. Fanartists. They go back to the early days of s-f fandom, even before the first World S-F Convention in 1939. Fanzines are amateur publications, by fans, for fans, running to a few hundred or a few dozen copies. There are prozines for fiction; fanzines are about life, the universe, and everything; whimsical, witty if possible, serious now and then; enriched by our own graphic art. Since 1955, almost as soon as we began the Hugo Awards at Worldcons, we have had one for Best Fanzine; since 1967 there have been Hugos for Best Fanwriter and Best Fanartist too. At Noreascon IV, the 2004 Worldcon (Boston), Fan Guest of Honor Jack Speer, who gave the Best Fanzine Hugo, said fanzines remain the most distinctive product of the s-f community. He should know. He too goes back a long way.

Rotsler was amazing, astounding, fantastic. He did some pro s-f writing. Outside s-f he sculpted with welded steel rods, and went house-hunting with Marilyn Monroe. He knew everybody and did everything. Among us he was best known as a fanartist. His drawings, whimsical, witty, serious now and then, were as fluent as Mozart, on whatever came to hand, paper, plates, body parts. He enriched fanzines for decades. The Rotsler Award, given by the Southern California Institute for Fannish Interests (yes, that's what the initials spell; pronounced skiffy), was established in 1998, the year after his death, and carries a $300 honorarium.

How do fanzines work when five or ten thousand people attend the Worldcon, Larry Niven's novel Ringworld ranks about 10,000 by sales on the electronic book-service Amazon, and surveys say half the U.S. identifies itself as s-f fans? (For comparison, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn ranks about 5,000; Speak, Memory about 25,000; Mansfield Park about 90,000.) Do-it-yourself amusement is where you find it. Fanzines get handed round. We fanziners send copies to our friends, or people who we think might like a copy after meeting them at a local s-f club, or a convention, or in the pages of another fanzine. An s-f con may have a Fanzine Lounge (Noreascon IV did), or a Current Fanzines Kaffeeklatsch. You can look for cons in the calendars published in prozines like Analog. Local s-f clubs get fanzines; some publish them. You might try publishing one yourself.

Here are four samples of Bell's fanart [not shown]. "Britain is Fine in '79" was the slogan of that year's Worldcon (Brighton). The alien in the wreath might be a lion. I've never been sure. Brighton campaigned and won with it. Jerry Pournelle was seen on the streets in a uniform, made by Los Angeles fan Mary Jane Jewell, of a Colonel, 1st Hussars, King's German Legion — but that's one of my English Regency stories, which I've told elsewhere. Bell's two standing critters, one explaining, one hoping not to, are from the same period. With the badge, and the ears, is a cover for Robert Lichtman's fine fanzine Trap Door, about twenty years later.

In 2004 we had Loscon XXXI at the Los Angeles International Airport Marriott Hotel. I had suggested a tie-in of some kind with Baskin-Robbins ice cream, but that did not prevail. Perhaps the con committee did not care to follow Westercon XXXI (the West Coast S-F Conference), which did it earlier. Many cons are at or near airports as an easement for visitors. When driving or flying to this one I am always struck by the huge illuminated displays of its three-letter air-traffic code LAX, just what the rest of the world says we are. I can't deny it, but should we boast? The Loscon XXXI Art Show allotted two of its pegboard panels in honor of Bell, for which I assembled the pieces here, and others, with help from Glyer, Lichtman, and local fanziner Milt Stevens.

Mounting con Art Shows is itself an art. They were invented forty years ago by Bjo ("bee-joe") and John Trimble — Fan Guests of Honor at ConJosé, the '02 Worldcon (San Jose) — and became indispensable. Usually they are not juried, i.e. no person or subcommittee decides who or what may enter, but instead exhibition space is first-come first-served. Here, as elsewhere in the s-f community, you can find professionals and amateurs mixing it up. The Art Show Director has the wonderful task of getting the Show arranged and built, and afterward getting it taken down. Here, as elsewhere, nothing could happen without volunteers. I often spend my last hours at a con among the undoers of pegboards, pipes, and sockets.

Among the visitors who often attend Loscon are Tom Veal, chair of Chicon VI ('00 Worldcon, Chicago), and Becky Thomson, vice-chair of Magicon ('92 Worldcon, Orlando). Recently they have been in charge of the Pro Gallery, photographs of pros by Christine Valada, displayed at some Worldcons. The three of us at Loscon have been hosting a Prime Time party, 1 a.m. Sunday till dawn. Con-goers relish an active social life, from a Hospitality Suite provided by the con committee (hence also called the Con Suite), to a maze of parties in people's rooms, some open to everyone, some invitation-only, some strange.

The Prime Time party began when one year at Loscon late nights were lagging. We leapt into the breach. People have since tried to explain that one is not really a prime number, or not really a number at all but a kind of phenomenon like zero, but into the recondite even I go only so far. Anyway on Saturday evenings we accumulate refreshments, circulate elsewhere a little, and as the early or faint close, open. We have been graced by Leslie Fish, famous for filking ("filksinging", once just a typographical error, grew into the s-f community's music), by tales of the unexpected, and by other good conversation. I brew Cypriot coffee, as one fan called it when I explained it was loved by Greeks and Turks. Last year, cleaning while elsewhere others woke, we found all well except we could not find my absinthe spoon.

Everyone was struck by the loss of Kelly Freas, s-f's best-loved artist. His own word was illustrator. There are filksongs about him. He had a Shakespearean zest for holding nobility in one hand and comedy in the other. Like Shakespeare he knew that either could be down to earth or exalted. My local club, the Los Angeles S-F Society, lost a much younger man, Michael Mason, who had been on our Board, and chaired Loscon XXX (the LASFS, not SCIFI, produces Loscon).

The LASFS is the oldest s-f club. We were the first to get a clubhouse; that naturally meant a library. Mason had been our Librarian ten years. The LASFS service award is the Evans-Freehafer, named for E. Everett Evans, after whom the community-wide Big Heart Award is also named, and Paul Freehafer, credited with holding the LASFS together decades ago. At Mason's death, the Evans-Freehafer committee gave him posthumously an Evans-Freehafer-Mason Award. This pleased his family, and many of us. Then came a proposal to rename the award permanently so. Ah, sweet history! We spent a night in debate, as your club might. Who were Evans and Freehafer? Who were those, like the late Bruce Pelz (see Chronicle 227, August '02), to whom we had given the award without renaming it — Pelz having, among very few, received it twice? What would you have done? We kept the name unchanged, by two to one.

In voting at Noreascon IV, the Yokohama bid for the '07 Worldcon beat Columbus. Nippon 2007 will be the first Worldcon in Japan. History! There naturally was a haiku contest, for which this insignificant person was asked to write a flier. The contest was administered by North America agent Peggy Rae Sapienza, chair of Bucconeer ('98 Worldcon, Baltimore). In honor of the 5-7-5-syllable haiku form, there were 17 winners, announced at Noreascon IV and to be printed in a Nippon 2007 Progress Report. For more about the '07 Worldcon, you can write to Peggy Rae by paper mail, P.O. Box 314, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701, or by E-mail,; there's a Website at While the contest was running hot, Seiichi Shirato of the Yokohama committee and I got into the spirit by making two verses together (not in competition).

Pouring out cool tea,
Rayleigh-Bernard convection
In the leafy heat.

Traditionally haiku contain a reference to the season. "Leafy" is a seasonal word for August, which is hazuki, leafy month. "Leafy heat" is also the tea in its convection, fun to watch, and refreshing, although the liquid is physically quite hot, as summer temperature lingers. Japanese poetry can have even more punning than on "cool" here.

A sultry night's dream,
The stars and moon in hyper-sleep.
Air conditioner.

"Stars and moon night" = hoshizukiyo, another seasonal word for August. The second line is hyper-metric. This verse is also for Yorkshire fan Steve Sneyd, poetry editor of Langley Searles' Fantasy Commentator, who says I haven't been publishing much s-f poetry. Haiku often show the meeting of the inner and outer worlds, the subjective and objective, classically at the end of the first or end of the second line, as you see in both verses by Shirato and me, which are not otherwise very classical. The haiku contest did not choose to invoke these rules.

A book-signing by Niven and Pournelle filled the used-and-new shop Bookfellows, 238 N. Brand Bl., Glendale, CA 91203. They were offered a microphone in case they wanted to talk. Pournelle said, "Niven, say something profound." Niven said "Never let a waiter escape." He went on quoting Niven's Laws until at least one listener had caught on. The shop's notice Please check your bags at the counter was illustrated with Eloise, in sunglasses, and Nanny, with the bags, looking doubtful. There were cookies, punch (unspiked), nuts with raisins, and Cheddar cheese with Ritz crackers (on Saveur Magazine's list of 100 favorites for 2005, along with bamboo cutting boards, ginger Altoids, and William Carlos Williams' lines to his wife "I have eaten / the plums / that were in / the icebox / and which / you were probably / saving / for breakfast / Forgive me / they were delicious / so sweet / and so cold").

Pournelle revealed a fondness for Diet Cherry-Vanilla Dr. Pepper. He said, of another author, "I think he was just ahead of his time." Niven said "That can be deadly." They called Footfall an example of getting an answer from the premises by following them faithfully as the characters must. Of The Burning City and Burning Tower they said they worked to treat fantasy as carefully as science fiction. They spoke feelingly of cutting The Mote in God's Eye down one-tenth at the urging of Heinlein, whom by good fortune they knew. A fellow who said he recognized my face from panel discussions at cons told me he was a Calvinist and a Lockheed man, so we talked about religion and faster-than-light drives. The last customer said "I hope you guys keep writing for years." Pournelle said "So do we."