Readercon 20

July 9, 2009

Post image for Readercon 20

This afternoon I’m heading to Readercon 20, the speculative fiction conference I have been involved with for twenty years. The best explanation of what I’ve been doing there all this time is in this essay I contributed to the Souvenir Book, whose cover is pictured above:

Twenty Years of Readercon

Looking back, I can blame it all on my college newspaper and my girlfriend.

I had grown up reading science fiction, but had remained completely ignorant of science fiction fandom. As a writer for the arts and entertainment section of The Tech, MIT’s newspaper, I had a few brushes with some of the people who made science fiction. I interviewed Ben Bova when he launched Omni, and Harlan Ellison had been a frequent campus lecturer/hectorer. But fans — they were either the hermits who inhabited the MITSFS offices down the hall or the people I’d see wearing Spock ears to the campus SF movie marathons.

What I mostly wrote about was music. In 1981, at the urging of a fellow critic, I started attending live shows and familiarizing myself with Boston’s club scene. It didn’t take long for me to notice some of the regulars at the shows I would attend: Eric, who wrote for the Harvard Independent (and usually stood next to me when I was reviewing a show, more often then not a Mission of Burma gig); Bob, whose vigorous head-nodding inspired The Real Kids’ “Do the Boob”; Kathei, a DJ at the MIT radio station, and another Bob who always stood in the back with his arms folded across his chest.

Eventually I graduated and stopped going to clubs, but I continued to read SF and continued to avoid SF cons. Finally, in 1989, my girlfriend convinced me to go to Noreascon 3 with her, telling me “You’ll get to meet a lot of the contributors to Mirrorshades.” The next day I found myself in conversations with Pat Cadigan and Ellen Datlow, Lew Shiner (for whom I settled an argument he had with Bruce Sterling: The Great Gatsby isn’t a novella, it has just over 50,000 words.), and a new writer named Kathe Koja. It was turning out to be a not-unpleasant experience.

As we headed to the dealer’s room, someone called my name. Standing behind a table was Richard Duffy, a fellow editor of The Tech, and that Eric fellow from the clubs. They were taking signups for something called Readercon 3 and urged me to attend: “It’s like no other con you’ve ever been to.” Me: “This is my first con.” Eric: “Well, it’s not like this.”

Half a year later I found myself in a nondescript conference room in Lowell, MA, discussing the subtleties of Little, Big with John Crowley, Tom Disch, and about twenty other people. I managed to overcome my fear of saying something idiotic to two of the giants of the field, and realized this was how SF cons should work: writers and readers having conversations.

Over the rest of that weekend I renewed my acquaintance with the rest of my fellow clubgoers: Bob Colby, Kathei Logue, and Bob Ingria, all founding partners of Readercon. I attended Readercon 4 — the last one I would as an attendee — then volunteered for the committee, where I’ve been ever since.

I have a lot of memories from the last twenty years, but some still stand out after all this time:

  • Standing in Richard Powers’s studio, helping him choose pieces to display for the Readercon 5 art show (The Rcon 20 cover is his “War with the Gizmos.”)
  • Getting chewed out by Harlan Ellison for not being available to take his call, then receiving an apology when he learned we were at the hospital for the birth of our son
  • Hal Clement suggesting we volunteer to give our baby to aliens: “Just for a few years. With his language plasticity, he’d become the perfect translator!”
  • Sunday morning breakfast with Barry and Joyce Malzberg, which has become an annual tradition

But mostly I remember that all the hard work was worth it, worth building a community of friends I get to see every year.

I still see Eric and Bob at Mission of Burma shows. I married my girlfriend and nominated her to be Con Chair. But I still don’t go to many other cons. I hear Spock ears are back in style.

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