Confluence '98, held at Mars, Pa., was an exciting experience for me. Although I have been a s-f fan since 1950, never did I have the opportunity of attending an entire con. Maybe a day here or an afternoon there, but a whole con - what a thrill!
Just walking around the Sheraton Inn of Mars, Pa. (what a great location for a s-f con!) was a treat. One could see such famous names as Hal Clement (gasp!) and William Tenn (otherwise known as Phil Klass, but still, gasp!) And those names weren't just on book covers, but on name badges, worn by the owners of those names, who were most gracious in responding to greetings by fans.
I stopped to speak to Hal Clement, introducing myself by saying I was just a fan (meaning not someone he would be expected to know or recognize), but that I just wanted to thank him for so many hours of great reading and enjoyment.
That kind gentleman said, "Just a fan? But there is no such thing as just a fan," and warmly returned my handshake.
I've had the pleasure of telling Mr. Klass how much I have enjoyed his stories over the years, and he is just as gracious.
Of course there was the fascinating dealer's room - somewhat diminished, I was told. This was because the same weekend was chosen by the gigantic DragonCon in Atlanta, so those who need to make a lot of sales preferred to attend that con with its 5,000- some attendees instead of Confluence with some 300 of the faithful.
However, it wasn't hard to find many interesting books and magazines - more than I could pay for, of course - so in that way it was just as well there were no more dealers.
The guest of honor was not someone who was, to me, a household name. But in preparation for visiting the con, I managed to find two of Nancy Kress's books in the local library, and enjoyed reading them. It made me look forward to hearing her speak about her thoughts and experiences.
The con suite was a busy place. Sponsored by the host club, PARSEC, the suite consisted of a place where fans could meet and greet each other, sit down, relax, chat, and partake of great quantities of free and delicious food and drink.
Arriving too late Friday evening to hear the Cordwainer Smith lecture (curses! Smith is a favorite of mine!) we were just in time to hear two wonderful filk performers - Howard Kaplan and Robert Stockton.
Kaplan, a Canadian, told us he was Canada's leading writer and singer of frog songs, pointing out that all of his frog songs were about sex - although not all of his sex songs were about frogs.
After Kaplan regaled us with an hour of songs both comical and serious, one wondered what else could be offered in the way of fine filk?
That was answered by Robert Stockton, a Pittsburgher, who gave his first official filk concert, and never did an hour fly so fast. He played a harp, and after hearing it one could understand why the bards of ancient days chose it for the instrument to accompany the songs with which they mesmerized their listeners. Stockton had the same effect on his.
Saturday's program brought a variety of lectures on topics ranging from "Route to Your First Three Sales" to "Shakespeare and SF."
The high point, however, was Nancy Kress's "Guest of Honor Talk and Reading."
Alas, it was all reading and no talk. Primed as her audience might have been to hear how she got started in her writing field, what obstacles she may have faced and how she overcame them, that was not what Kress chose to present.
She read from a soon-to-be-published work. [[ "Stinger." Ed.]]
That was it. No advice, no personal insights, no . . . nothing. She just stood up there and read. She read nicely, in a melodious voice, but. . . well, we could have read it for ourselves, couldn't we?
That had to be recorded as a disappointment.
However, Kress redeemed herself later that day. She was the judge at "The Sexual Harassment Trial of James T. Kirk," a drama that was part of the evening fun and frolic.
The "trial" was preceded by a play, "Who Killed Harry Kim (This Time?)" set in, I believe, the Babylon 5 environment. Since I am not a Babylon 5 viewer, I missed a number of the inside jokes, but none of the good humor and verve with which the tale was presented, nor any of the enjoyment with which the audience received it. [[Harry Kim is from Star Trek: Voyager. Ed.]]
Then, on to the trial of James T. Kirk, that notorious womanizer whose female crew members wore the shortest miniskirt uniforms in the galaxy, at least according to the prosecution.
Alas, I did not get the names of the prosecution and defense teams, but each put up a spirited attack/defense of the absent James T. Kirk, while Kress - using a construction hammer as a gavel - presided ably over the proceedings. Although they threatened to become riotous at times, she managed to keep order.
The decision went for the defense, but loud cries of "appeal, appeal!" may mean the last of this controversial topic has not yet been heard.
A key point of the Saturday evening festivities was the awarding of honors for the annual short story contest.
To the astonishment of absolutely no one who read his top prize winning story last year, Barton Paul Levenson won the first prize again. His story, on the theme Reality Forbidden, had some tough competition. Second prize went to, "Icarus at Noon" by Eric Davin and third to Celeste Allen for her story "Angel Vision."
While wandering around the various fascinating attractions of the con, one can't - or shouldn't - overlook the art show. The show consists of pieces displayed for purchase, by artists ranging from amateur to pro. The way the art is sold consists of a bid written by interested person on a paper tag attached near the art. When the auction is held on the con's last day, bidding starts at the highest price listed on the paper tag. Since these prices tend to start in the $5 range, it means much beautiful science-fiction and fantasy art will get purchased at reasonable prices.
What was the art like? One example: There was a small (about four by four inches) black and white sketch of a Tribble- like creature with a determined frown on its face and a pencil in its mouth. The title? "A Scribble." So many kindred spirits fell in love with the endearingly grim- looking creature that the bidding ran up to about $60 before it found its new owner. [[Editor's note: Scribble is the mascot of PARSEC. This particular rendition was drawn by Henry Tjernlund.]] Although lecturers presented a wide range of fascinating topics, from "The Rights of AIs and Clones" to "The Unexpected Side Effects of Science and Technology," my personal favorite was "The Legacy of John W. Campbell - the Good and the Bad."
Campbell, considered by some to be the editorial father of science fiction, was editor of "Astounding Science Fiction" from 1938 until 1972. He played a key role in developing such writers as Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. But he also thought Dianetics (the pseudo-religion invented by s-f writer L. Ron Hubbard) was wonderful.
What was he like? Participants in this panel were Phil Klass (William Tenn), who was writing s-f when Campbell was editing; Sarah Zettel, a science-fiction, fantasy and horror writer; and David Hartwell, senior editor of Tor/Forge books.
We got an eyewitness view of Campbell from Klass, who as a young writer obtained a coveted invitation to one of The Great Man's luncheons. These invitations were coveted by s-f authors, because Campbell was known for, as Klass said, "spitting out ideas" that the authors could turn into stories likely to find favor, and publication, with The Great Man who, after all, had thought of them.
Klass said he attended the luncheon with eager anticipation. But with typical wry humor, he continued, "I knew before my ass hit the chair that this was not going to do me any good." Campbell was pouring out ideas with his usual machine-gun-like rapidity, Klass said - and not one of those ideas was one that Klass could find even remotely useful to himself.
Some of Campbell's ideas were more strange than great. Klass recalled Campbell commenting on a story containing a woman scientist character. Campbell just couldn't accept the woman scientist character, on grounds that he "couldn't believe a woman's head could contain such ideas."
Klass went on to say that one of the reasons the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction was created was to give non- Campbellian authors a place where they could be published.
There were so many interesting activities, my reaction was frustration at being able to attend only a limited number. Next year, I hope the PARSEC club members will have rested and restored their strength so that we visitors will have another opportunity to enjoy a Confluence.
To all the many folks who must have worked tirelessly to
bring this event to reality, thanks!