TWLL-DDU 7 follows hot on the heels of number 6. Indeed, several of our readers may receive the two issues simultaneously, since all-wise editor Dave Langford could not find it in his heart – or in his pocket – to part with copies undistributed at Eastercon, Send your letter of complaint now, to 22 Northumberland Avenue, Reading, Berkshire, RG2 7PW, United Kingdom. This issue dated May 1977.
Easter '77: A Novacon Action Replay
Every sense hints at disaster as I steer to the north. There is a scraping sound in the clutch, still unexplained; a sickly smell of petrol where I overfilled the tank; visible through the windscreen, a wooden wedge barely prevents the bonnet from taking flight| at every turn or stop there comes a free-fall sensation caused by our massive inertia (five people, luggage for six) and the ageing tyres, not bald but receding – not quite Brian Hampton but way past Kev Smith. Admittedly I can taste nothing more ominous than the aftermath of last night's One Tun; but for the rest, I'd be happier driving a sensory-deprivation tank. It occurs to me that with Kev, Martin, Liese and myself aboard, a car crash now will leave no bids at all for Eastercon '78. I shiver slightly but dare not mention this aloud: there is no wood to touch. Except the wedge, which is out of reach.
In Coventry, waiting for a travelling rep of Brunner Fact & Fiction Ltd to clock in, we look in vain for specimens of the famous Eastercon T-shirt which aren't grossly distorted (Pauline Dungate and – less interestingly – Rog Peyton) or shrouded in Big Oz denim. Con booklets are pressed into our hands; this year they preserve a dignified reticence about fanzines, fandom, SF, hotel layout and suchlike trivia which have cluttered past versions of this Work.... Very soon all motion in the foyer is barred by an iron line of fans determined to register; I percolate through the queue, distributing benevolence and TD6 alike. Pat Charnock smiles graciously and permits me to buy an Astral Leauge Yearbook. Made overconfident by this success, she tries to sell me several more, an endeavour which continues throughout the weekend.
The Fan Room is instantly the heart of the con. Decorated with an enthusiasm hitherto reserved for bog walls, and an agglomeration of fanzines previously unheard of outside Toronto, it makes just one concession to olden days: the token derelict duplicator is there, and remains typically unused. Astral Leauge tapes blare. Sounds like any other music to me, but shocked aficionados assure me there is a difference. Much detritus accumulates upon the Graffiti Board, some of it about me: have I finally made it into fandom? My sense of doom lessens. But already, as Asimov would have it, the dead hand of programming opposes the living will of the Fan Room. Liese babbles that Greg has asked her to be in a fannish panel due in minutes:
"He said there were three reasons. I'm a newish fan, I'm female, and I'm an opinionated bigmouth."
Greg! How could you?
On the panel, Chris Priest looks tired, though not as tired as Carol Gregory's drawing of him for GHAS, in which he also looks about fifty. Liese looks more like seventeen. Chairman Pat Charnock, as usual, looks bewildered, Rob Jackson slightly pompous and Peter Roberts slightly pained. Keith Freeman looks anywhere but at the audience, and manages to be serious. Too conscious, perhaps, of the neos present, they all try hard to avoid raving fannishness: the note is introductory with historical asides, enticing each panellist to seem less interesting than he/she really is. Greg is disappointed. "Aw, fuckit" is his melancholy summation.
Weeks before Easter, Pete Weston phoned me with hints that he was seeking quiz victims and now required a volunteer from Reading to balance things in some occult geographical fashion. He paused meaningfully; I volunteered without delay. One doesn't kill the goose that lays the golden contracts.
Now, as spotlights focus on an obvious hot-seat, certain misgivings arise. Is big Mike Brown carrying a length of rubber hose as well as a stopwatch? Why does Pete smile that glittering smile?
"It's all right," someone reassures, "they're doing it just like on Mastermind."
"I never watch television," I moan.
The fixity of Pete's rictus increases as he selects a paper bearing my name. I trudge forward, fail to hear questions, drive Pete almost to tears and don't even know the first editor of Astounding. Malcolm Edwards notches up some tremendous score – double figures yet. Aagh. Kev Williams does as badly as I, while Gerry "short-notice-so-don't-expect-much" Webb does worse. Modified aagh.
It is time for the Special Subjects. I have picked Lensman books as something I could read up quickly – and should I do badly, the mere appallingness of the subject will hint that I'm playing it for laughs etc. Pete scoops me: "Dave Langford will now answer questions on his favourite books ..." Aaagh.
The questions prove easy, and I can even hear them. (The paying-off of Leroy, who set them, is described below.) Great stuff. I am now known to all fandom as an expert on Lensmen. Aagh. Malcolm wins anyway, hot tip Kev Williams receiving slightly diabolical questions, and as runner-up I solemnly shake hands. This Mastermind's recent haircut makes his head seem several inches narrower, causing people to enquire "Who's that tall slim chap who looks a bit like Malcolm Edwards?"
Film shows are almost a relief despite friendly Pete, who drapes his arm round Hazel to tell her the joys of childbirth and paternity, though he has only experienced one of these and Hazel is averse to both. ("Weston's sat next to you," says Greg next morning. "That's the black spot. There's nothing worse." Hazel thinks Greg has a lovely voice.)
In the bar I unwind to the point of total flaccidity, and am thus unprepared for a meeting with D. West and Brian Parker on the fifth floor. Brian struggles with a translucent beard and a cardboard box of scientific-looking bottles: they contain white liquid, slightly viscous.
"Telepathic slime mould," he explains.
D. leans at me and says "Have you been initiated?" Yes – Brian initiated me with a pole last year. Talking of initiation with a pole reminds me of an Edwardian tome of Hazel's called "Diseases of Women" which, not content with vomitous illustrations, suggests such things as split lengths of firewood for use in domestic intravaginal surgery.... Less fearsomely armed with a telescopic pole, D. snaps "You have to do it in less than ten seconds. Look!" With a flourish he extends the rod; a foot-long piece comes off in his hand. Uttering strange oaths, he jams it together as we all enter the lift. The rod does not wish to be reassembled. D. tries to subdue it by vicious jabs at the wall: thud! thud! Other occupants of the lift, thinking he is staging a breakout, huddle against the far wall with gestures of protest. He ignores them and begins to attack the floor. The descent is interminable. Everyone seems glad to leave the lift, even Brian, whose exuberance is such that he instantly drops a bottle. Telepathic slime mould spreads whitely across the floor. Seeing that one of the hotel staff is watching without enthusiasm, Brian rushes over and gladly reports the accident.
In the bar, things degenerate. Colin Fine does dialling tone impressions and is told by barmaids to shut up. The temperature rises, Greg presents D. with a curried chicken-bone, a little something to show Ratfandom's appreciation. A strange female in shorts, boots, a plastic mac and lurid pink tights wanders around. "A punk rock fan," is Kev's diagnosis. "One of Gray Charnock's groupies?" I offer. "Rob Holdstock said she was a reporter from the Telegraph." We boggle mutually. A series of jerky transitions, and it is Saturday morning, ushered in by gunshots which later prove to be some idiot with a whip.
Bob Shaw's talk is as usual colossal and stupendous, but this year ends with less of a bang. Brian Burgess somehow comes into it near the end; the sight of him shambling down the aisle and across the front deflates almost everyone. It doesn't quite deflate Bob, but the tone has been perceptibly lowered. The one obligatory programme item is now over.... Wrong! there is also the bidding session. I shiver slightly and avoid the con hall all day, not apparently missing a lot. With the Brum Group in charge, I expected this Easter to be Novacon writ large: instead, it is Novacon spread thin.
The Fan Room continues to hum. In the absence of Peter Roberts, Eve Harvey chairs a discussion and contrives to provoke response from the fannishly apathetic audience. Appearing later, Peter merely requests opinions and does not receive many. Eve is a better chairman: Peter excels in exposition. (Did you object to the word "chairman" there? I object to non-essential neologisms, which tend to the inanity of BSFA Matrix announcing that the Reading Group is "ably chairpersoned by Martin Hatfield".) At this point Martin Hoare announces that TD is his favourite fanzine – good man! – mysteriously adding that it is a Reading-group local fanzine, mostly about himself and Liese, and that many of the jokes are inaccessible to You Lot. This perturbs me. Perhaps my basic joke about Martin's great slimness is akin to the esoteric, in-group gag concerning Ian Williams's great height, appreciated only by Gannets and a few Secret Masters. Meanwhile, Simone pours out a tasty and lethally alcoholic punch. "Simone's punch is great," I hiccup, and am warned that it's Greg's too. The basic concept is entirely his. He is very hurt when people call it Simone's. Be careful.
The Pink Panther Party in Dai Price's room is made a roaring success by his star turns of Glenlivet and J&B. These high-class drinks do not go down well with chips, yet this is the very blasphemy which Dermot and Keith Oborn attempt. Fortunately the hotel saves them by refusing to admit the chips. After many minutes of deliberation Keith works out how to smuggle some in for Liese: he will hide then under his coat! Keith is a Lateral Thinker. I absorb more malt and mutter at Daio about quizzes, "Easy stuff," he slurs. "Just a matter of thumbing through the odd bookshop."
Downstairs, Bob (no relation) Shaw of FOKT (Fans of Kettle's Tales) is cracking a whip at waiters and others, demanding that everyone come to his Glasgowcon which will be at some peculiarly inconvenient time next year. Gaz Belka (a new fan who has the drunken enthusiasm to go far) borrows the whip and assaults D. West with it, only to be cowed by the power of Will.
Upstairs again, Colin Fine and henchmen are wittily proposing SF titles altered by one letter: "Dupe!" (roars of laughter) "Slag!" (hysterical laughter) "The Lagged Orbit!!" (they are going to hurt themselves it is not good for then to larf so much). I propose Delany's contraceptive epic "Time Considered As A Helix of Semi-Precious Stopes" and flee to a proper party, there to trip over a young Swedish lady who looks a bit like John Brosnan. The name – Ewa something – rings a bell: she is Brian Parker's woman of two years ago. Paling, I drink a huge gin-and-tonic – a mistake, as I become practically helpless. At the eleventh hour, meaning the fourth or fifth hour of next morning, Kev saves me from a fate worse than the Doc Weir Award by frogmarching me away.
In the pallid light of Sunday morning comes a wave of guilt as I find my Welsh Fandom badge missing – but a pleasant surprise awaits. On the table is another large gin-and-tonic, abandoned a few unconscious hours ago. The bubbles are still extant; I sip gratefully. Swallowing pills, we disorganise a Skycon meeting, to which I contribute great skill in the cutting up of forms. (We artistic cutters of forms have long ago abandoned the straight line as an outworn convention ... you probably noticed this.) Billions of leaflets are scattered across the con hall. Kev takes the stage, spasms of nervousness convulsing every fibre of his beard.
"Um," he says. He repeats this a couple of times before Positive Thought sets in and the hushed audience is told that Heathrow is Great in '78. No other bids, despite a great muttering and urging of D. West to get up there with his slogan "Bradford is heaven the year after '77". Questions are asked, beginning sensibly and descending to "Is there central heating?" and "What size staples will you use in the con booklet?" – at which Greg shouts down all discussion and there is the Vote. Kev is applauded. I am permitted to read a few hastily scribbled words about our Fan Guest of Honour:
"For the FGoH we thought we'd choose someone to surprise you all. A man whose talents are second to none, though fourth to many. A man so warm-hearted that we can absolutely guarantee that he will buy a drink for every con member, or at least accept a drink from every con member. A man whose knowledge of SF is legendary, and whose deep insights into fandom are just as small. Can I please ask for a sitting ovation of your most enthusiastic boos and hisses for this amazing and unmitigated publisher of fanzines, hemidemisemiprofessional writer and connoisseur of lavatories the world over – Leroy Richard Arthur Kettle!"
Leroy springs up with an excellent counterfeit of surprise and delight. The audience roars. Everything goes black....
Bryn Fortey appears on Sunday. I have to mention Bryn because of Welsh Solidarity. Brian Parker is annoyed with him, but somehow Bryn survives this.
Behind a thick wall of secrecy on Sunday afternoon, a band of picked committee members makes the controversial decision to hold Novacon 7. At once I dash to the Fan Room for Dave Bridges' Little Moving Blot Machine Competition.... The machine – "Destruction Derby" – is a very silly one. You are supposed to be driving a big car round the TV screen, ruthlessly crushing little cars which, however, have a phenomenal dodging ability. Wrecked little cars are great impediments to progress. Spinning the wheel, wiggling the gears and stomping the pedal, Malcolm and I fight bitterly only to score the same tally of destruction. Twice. The third time my training of Lensman books finally tells: in the pretence that I am smashing planets à la Kinnison (Pow! That was Jarnevon. Zap! There goes Ploor.), I surge ahead. Who can stop me now? Steve Gould, that's who: this hitherto obscure OUSFG member wins the jackpot, leaving me with second place and a vitamin-C-crazed Dave Griffin with third.
Rob Hansen is now bemused by the increasing numbers of Welsh fans – he has discovered Dewi (OUSFG again) Williams, Daio and several more. "Why," he pleads, "do they all come from Newport?" Centre of the universe, Rob lad, centre of the universe....
By and by Brian Parker reminds the intrepid DRILKJIS editors that he is drawing a cover for D4: "I imagined a picture of the two of you sort of conjoined." Kev's eyebrows rise first, but mine go a shade higher.
A banquet mood emerges, and the more punctilious fans vanish to return resplendently clad, some of them looking uncomfortable. Oz "Big Mike" Brown falls into this latter class. "You look uncomfortable," I suggest wittily. "I feel uncomfortable," he wittily replies. Perhaps he is wearing blue denim underwear.
Since it is my birthday I miss the banquet by way of celebration and follow Kev to an Italian restaurant he knows of. It is closed. Eventually the Langford family, Daio and Kev find themselves in a hugely empty Chinky, where the waiters (already unnerved by wild gestures of summoning) examine our badges, muttering darkly and Orientally "East-East-Eastercon?"
"The 28th British Easter Science Fiction Convention," I recite with a winning smile. The inaudible reply is doubtless a Chinese oath.
We eat too much. We return to the hotel and the inevitable Burlingtons. Little brother Jon has won the Ken Mclntyre Award in my absence, Martin has accepted it for him, and Dermot has stood revealed as Pete Weston's major henchman and thug. Good grief. Moreover, the bane of the Doc Weir Award has descended upon Keith Freeman.
"Old 2pp Freeperson must have driven the poor, huddled starving masses of the BSFA to the ballot box in a tumbril." (Jim Linwood.)
At the dance Greg is again hurling people into the action, keeping Simone supplied with partners of all descriptions. "I'm a catalyst," he says with careless pride. Arm in arm, Leroy and John Harvey do the can-can. Hazel does it on her own. Brian Parker repeats the Parker Fling, a hazard to all in sight. Pauline does that which must be seen to be disbelieved. I drink a lot.
When Mr Charnock's strange sounds cease, I can no longer feel my feet. A room party is the only answer, and there I have a congenial time telling Leroy what a great writer he is. This may not sound congenial, but there is a counterpoint of pissed Leroy telling me what a great writer I am. From time to time the name Gray Charnock does rear up, and briefly we snarl what a great writer he is.
In Greg's room is a gathering of by now tired and under-emotional Ratfans. Greg himself, arriving belatedly from the bar, achieves the incredible by crashing out before reaching his own party: the scene of his collapse becomes a place of wonder, and a small viewing fee is charged.
Again I slide down the entropy slope into blankness. Reality slips into focus just before dawn, as I lean from the window gaping at massive buildings across the plaza: there is a cool eerie light around them which reminds me irrationally and alcoholically of certain stills at the start of 2001. I am deeply moved and just refrain from throwing up. "Awake!" I suggest in slurred tones, "for Morning in the Bowl of Night / Has flung the Stone which puts the Stars to Flight –" This is not well received. ("What the hell are you on about?" – Hazel) Removing a few clothes at random, I go to bed.
In the morning my foot is bruised and I can only limp. I am limping industriously, giving little attention-drawing moans, when Eve tells me the Harveymobile has been ripped off, driven into various things – police cars not excluded – and smashed up. This depresses me so much that my foot feels better. (But Andrew "Nice Guy" Stephenson is taking them home.) Later I find John's con badge on the car-park steps. It looks forlorn.
Our own departure is late and undramatic. Every sense is malfunctioning as I drive to the south.... Have you noticed how stereotyped these con reports have become? Always I begin by driving north and end up driving south. Next year the dynamic, innovative Skycon committee will change all that.
"You're not playing Destruction Derby now," is the only thing said in the first hour – I am experimenting with various pedal positions to alleviate foot-ache. In Oxford we visit Mike Rohan, Deb Hickenlooper and Mike's advance copy of the New Atlantic Desk Encyclopaedia containing my article on fusion power. Even the subtitle added by the wretched US publishers – "Energy from the sea" – cannot dim my enthusiasm.
On Tuesday we remain glazed. Hazel refuses to get out of bed. Kev and I try cheery conversation – "A year ago no-one knew us! And look at us now!" We gaze in the mirror. "Oh God."
I pull out Eric Bentcliffe's questionnaire on fan humour, and show it to Kev. "I think that's a silly sort of question to ask, myself," he mumbles.
I make a great effort. "Do you often ask it yourself?"
"... I can't cope ..."
I pull out BSFA Matrix, always good for a laugh, and discover the word reccipies in the editorial. These, you will understand, are sets of instructions for cooking food. Further down is the singular form: receipy. We become delirious and visit the pub, where I remember my worries about the possible motorized annihilation of most of the Skycon committee. On hearing this, Kev buries his beard in his hands. "Oh God! I never thought of that. Dermot and Keith running a convention! Oh God!"
It takes him three pints to recover.
best slogan of the weekend: IMMANENTIZE THE EASTERCON
And in case you skipped all the boring bits of the con report, please note that Skycon did win the bid and that full supporting memberships are available for £2 (£1.50 for pre-supporters). Cheques to Skycon, please. Send them to me along with your trenchant letter of comment, or to Martin & Liese at 5 Aston Close Pangbourne, Berks, RG8 7LG. Also, send A4 (for reduction to A5) advertising copy to me for PR's. Rates are £5/page, £3/half-page, £1.75/quarter-page. (Fans only at this rate.) Deadlines? May 26th (PR1), Sept 15th (PR2), Dec 15th (PR3) and Feb 2nd 1978 (PR4). More later!