Light in the Bushel No. 3 - October, 1986

LIGHT IN THE BUSHEL #3 shines your way from Richard Brandt, still residing at 4740 N. Mesa #111, El Paso, TX 79912 USA. Available for the usual, obscure quotes, odd newspaper clippings, program books of cons I missed, or a really good, tractable one-point rule. I also accept dead presidents. Art this ish: Frontispiece: Steven Fox; p. 5: Alexis Gilliland; backispiece: Sheryl Birkhead.

"Others write because of the temptations they have put off. And each disappointment in life makes a work of art for them, a lie woven out of the lies of their life. But what I write will spring from my moments of happiness, even when what I write is cruel." -- Albert Camus, Notebooks: 1935-1942

Ipick-up and head east. I was hoping to beat my personal best for traveling between El Paso and Austin (nine hours and only got pulled over once), but I pretty well blew my chances by dawdling in rush-hour traffic looking for a good place to fill my tank. The sun was getting pretty low by the time I hit the desert headed for Sierra Blanca. The monoliths atop the foothills took on a pale rose aspect, and until the light faded entirely a broad, faint rainbow hovered like a mirage against the deepening sky.

The rainbow was okay, but as I traveled further west the weather showed its more savage face. Rain drove down from the heavens in great, blinding sheets. Jagged bolts of lightning split the sky, illuminating the countryside all the way to the horizon, as if a blue sun had suddenly bloomed overhead. Furious winds hurled themselves against my craft, tossing it about on the waters road. Peering into the gloom, I could barely discern the lettering on the signs looming up out of the mist: "PICNIC AREA" or other useful sentiments. (Like "CROSS WINDS." I could just see them stamping their little cloud feet and blowing, "Oh, pooh.")

Hydroplaning was the most fun--that familiar sensation of just having run over a small animal or something. The other scary part was watching how much faster the fuel gauge needle starts falling after it passes the quarter-full mark. (I learned that, in my Isuzu at least, you do not have to stop for gas in Fort Stockton--coming or going. However, there will be times you do not believe this.)

Things were considerably drier once I turned off onto 290, the road to Austin proper (the far reach of Lamar Blvd., I think of it). Without the storm to hold my concentration, I had to find other pastimes to keep me alert, like counting the taxidermy shops I passed. I narrowly missed hitting what looked like an enormous skunk lumbering ponderously across my lane, and saw something skittering off the side of the road that was either a couple of armadillos or two very small kangaroos (after driving at high speeds for eight hours, things start looking a little strange).

On into Austin, making only one wrong turn on what is the easiest route in the world to follow and getting thoroughly lost for half an hour. Checked into the Sheraton a bit before four-thirty local time, the front desk being stymied not at all by their inability to find any trace of the reservation I'd phoned in. And so to bed.

Up bright and early, changing into my wedding duds, deciding I had time to pick up my Armadillocon membership on my way to the garage. Made only two wrong turns on my way to the Chapel in the Oaks, despite having a map this time. Managed finally to pick out the chapel, a low, innocuous building, part of a complex that looks like it might be hiding a summer camp somewhere behind it. Parked, went in, joined the party for the Pat Mueller-Dennis Virzi nuptials. The groom's family sat alone, while all the couple's fan friends clustered together on the other side of the aisle. They came from near and far: Willie and Nina Siros, Ferk, Ben Yalow, Karen Horan, many others whose faces I could not put to names (or, having lost my notes, cannot remember for sure were in attendance). I chatted with Lynda Gibson (who was running around doing last year's NASFiC Masquerade while I was running around doing Press Relations), until the processional signaled an end to idle fannish banter. (Karen: "This sure is a dull wedding. Let's find another one." Ben: "I'm sorry, this is a small con. We only have one track of programming.")

Enter Dennis in a conservative grey suit, looking for all the world as if he had a hotel to talk turkey with. Enter Pat, a vision in white (but not, Willie hissed, wearing her beanie). Followed a ceremony that was refreshingly brief but meaningful.

The minister turned around to present to us, "Dennis and Patricia Virzi," at which point, as if on cue, the whole crowd of us bolted up and rushed over to the groom's side. Our hearty applause covered the more frivolous of the giggles.

Stood in line to pay my respects. My appearance was greeted with all due suprise and joy. Went back to my truck and drove back to the hotel.

Skip ahead seven hours to the reception in the Fan Lounge (oops, better change back into the suit first). This time, Pat is wearing her propeller beanie: a creation that came in the mail from Ferc, white satin with a flowing lace veil attached. Two cakes were provided (these were supposed to be wedding cakes, but I didn't see the Pat and Dennis action figures that are supposed to go on top.) Pat agrees to help cut the cake, but isn't going to start doing any dishes. Pat explaining fandom to the family. Pat trying to scotch any rumors about Dennis's "Duncanville in '94" bid. Dennis promising not to submit the Inquirer a report on the honeymoon. ("Texans Stranded in Honeymoon Suite..." No, the thought is too dreadful to follow through.)

"It's a kind of gutter exudation that happened to take the form of text on paper." -- Bruce Sterling

No, not this issue; that's Bruce describing his view of science fiction, in his role as moderator of the freewheeling Cyberpunk Panel. Yes, I did attend some of Armadillocon's programming, as long as I was in town for the weekend. Here was an opportunity for the panelists to take potshots at what they don't like in the genre ("I'm bored with the apocalypse," says Bruce), condemn the chain stores who want all SF novels to be an ideal length that fits in the racks best, debate whether something like the C-word movement would have come about anyway without William Gibson ("The label hasn't helped him. It's helped me," says Lewis Shiner), and remember that cyberpunk's influence on present-day SF is still negligible compared to the dominant trend: Reagan-Youth fiction. John Shirley was especially harsh on the impact this stuff has on fans. "Their personalities are malformed, soft and inchoate, and Jerry Pournelle is stamping out fascists, like the Play-dough of fandom!"

Between events, check out the Fan Lounge. Pat had provided everything from a mimeo to stencils, cement, lettering guidea and corflu--but does anyone put out a one-shot? Nahhhh. (What a bunch of fakefans.) One wall is being covered with entries to an amateur art show; I submit a cartoon (Fan being handed a zine: "Held up a long time at the printers, was it?") I mention to Neil Kaden an idea for a fanzine title that I got from a Garry Trudeau punch-line: "Celestial Insider." "I can already tell you I don't like it," says Neil, who proceeds to a thorough analysis of both the zine and its flaky editor's philosophy, based solely on the title. Neil instigates a round-robin on the communal typer, and someone named M. Young leaves an inspired bit of parody ("Her pale, sterile flesh disgusted me. I wanted dirt. Filth.") Pat has brought an impressive display of zines from her collection (including--*gasp*-mine), treasures such as the Double:Bill Symposium ("SF--It's a man's field."--Philip K. Dick). David Thayer has sent a bagful of fanzines and oddments to give away, including come strange Quebocois stuff and one item I can't resist...the Program from the 1979 Festival de la Science-Fiction in Metz, with a great photo of Norman Spinrad in a funny fur hat. (Also an ad for the ultimate Philip K. Dick novel: Le Bal des Schizos. Why can't we get that over here, I ask you?)

Glory misses me by inches: Robert Taylor asks me if I'll be available to fill in on the fans' panel for Science Fiction Family Feud but the scheduled participant shows up after all. The pros handily whipped the fans, matching survey responses to questions like "What is the average advance for a science fiction novel?"--The respondents had reeled off figures in the twenty-to-fifty thousand dollar range, to the derision of the pros--or "Name something you bring to a convention." "Booze," says one fan. Robert, emceeing, ponders. "We'll accept that," he says. "The fourth most popular answer: Food." Asked which SF author must be stopped before he writes another book, Geo. Alec Effinger does not hesitate to name Robert Adams. Elsewhere, Effinger says he had to read an author's 15-book aeries before he could write a Maureen Birnbaum parody. The unfortunate Mr. Effinger also lost everything in an apartment fire, about which more later.

Back in the fan lounge, Pat is making up colorful harlequin masks; rumor is that no one will be admitted to the Saturday dance without some kind of mask. I patch together a mask out of a mimeograph stencil, stencil cement, and corflu. "It's--Repro Man!" I wander in and out of the ball and a couple of parties, chat about bad movies for a while, then my Z's catch up with me.

Sunday morning's panel was on "Writing Book Reviews for Big Bucks and Glory" --which Martin Wagner likened to "Becoming a Jesuit Monk for Lots of Drugs and Great Sex." One of the panelists is Michael Point, everyone's favorite correspondent on the NASFiC beat last year. Mike had the good fortune to sit next to Jay Sheckley, who lashed out stridently at critics who would rather look clever by taking cheap shots than deliver useful insights into the work. Bad journalism, says Jay. She also laid into Tom Disch; Martin began selling ringside seats to next year's Nebula banquet. Gardner Dozois interviews Ellen Datlow; what we really want to bear about is what it's like working next door to Forum and Variations. Gardner and Ellen describe the tasteless sumptuousness of Bob Guccione's bachelor pad. "Torch it!" Effinger screams.

After catching Howard Waldrop reading a powerful story he calls "He We Await", time to attend the Auction and Fire Sale being held to benefit Effinger. Willie Siros won a heated bidding battle with Karen Horan and took home a manuscript and marked galleys for the Burning Chrome collection for $400. Other things I didn't get: the manuscript for Effinger's next novel, and the Japanese paperback of Neuromancer. Things I did get: a rarely-seen poster for Fantastic Planet (double-billed with UFOS: Are They Real?), Ancient of Days with Bishop's self-portrait, a "Rick Brant Scientific Adventure," and a signed Greg Hildebrant print of a naked lady and a unicorn. Things I forgot to bring: a jacket. The drive back was milder but cold, cold.

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