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Why Should I Cut Your Throat When I Can Just Ask You For the Money?
© Jeff VanderMeer
July 26, 2002

Part I — "Just Beautiful…"

Mea Culpa

Lest the following account suggest otherwise, I voluntarily attended the Georgia Fantasy Convention in Atlanta. I looked forward to meeting both Guests of Honor, Harlan Ellison and Michael Moorcock. Besides, I was tagging along with the staff of The Sterling Web (now The Silver Web, under the sole editorship of Ann Kennedy), a promising semi-professional magazine of dark fantasy and science fiction operating out of Tallahassee, Florida. Specifically, my traveling companions were the gracious, talented editors, Ann Kennedy and Amy Mann, David Kennedy (a nice guy with a quirky sense of humor) and Dan Read, the Human Sarcasm Machine, a towering six-foot-two bouncer-type. I myself am a seven-two Bantu with a Nicholson grin and stylish taste in clothes. All in all, we formed a balanced mixture of sincerity and cynicism.

How could I possibly guess that we would be met by a David Lynch blue plate special of dope fiends on barbital, fat Scotsman arias, Michael Moorcock on something, and Harlan Ellison purring like a pussycat?

 

Welcome to the Masque

We arrived at the Radisson Hotel in Atlanta (1) well after dark on September 27, 1990, a Thursday. Other than David's hang-on-to-your eyeballs habit of passing cars while navigating hairpin turns, there had been no complications on the five-hour drive from Tallahassee, or, prior to that, any problems on my three-hour bus ride from Gainesville, Florida, to Tallahassee.

To keep us awake, Dan had read from Ellison's drug-influenced masterpiece, "Shattered Like a Glass Goblin":

Then he heard the growling behind and below him.
The little glass goblin turned, and the werewolf rose up on its hind legs and touched him until he rang like fine crystal.
And the werewolf said, with very little concern, "Have you ever grooved heavy behind anything except love?" (2)

Unwittingly, Dan had prepared us all for the first day of Georgiacon 1990: September 28th, Barbitol Friday.

 

The Maddening Crowd

Friday morning, we set up The Sterling Web dealer table next to a comic book vendor and a woman who sold soft sculpture "neck dragons"—no doubt as charming as an Ann MacCaffrey novel/creation, but looking more like a 3-D Rorschach Test or strangulating fists. We discussed the events listed in our convention directories (3), decided the magazine would probably not be targeted for police confiscation despite the presence of three exposed nipples on the front cover (Georgia being a notoriously liberal state), and enjoyed watching the crowds amble through the dealer room.

Ah, the aroma of Fandom. For the first time, I faced my readers: the backbone of speculative literature, bless their lights, whiskers, and hairy little feet . . . the absurdity of ZZ Top clones who dripped tattoos but wore suits and carried briefcases (Jack Daniels VPs out for a day on the town?) . . . knights . . . cut-rate Zorros . . . Star Trek geeks in full combat gear (you could buy wax replicas of Spock's ears if you desired) . . . women (invariably with huge, varicose-veined breasts) dressed in low-cut gowns, nylon bikinis, and furry, Neanderthal lingerie.

Most of these decadent, last-days-of-Rome characters were types I would not have picked up if they'd been hitchhiking on the highway. Another three-quarters, overlapping this first group, had backbones bent by extreme obesity. I felt a twinge of guilt as I had, in my own humble way, contributed to their slothdom. They should have been outside playing Australian Rules Football, or at least croquet, and instead had been scarfing down the latest Jerry Pournelle or Terry Brooks artifact.

Among all of this flotsam and jetsam Japanese animation had a very visible role, virtually dominating the dealer tables. (In an upstairs room, Con organizers showed Japanese animated films twenty-four hours a day.) Most popular were Japanese porno cartoons, which the dealers rewound to the "important" scenes over and over again, for the same jaded audience. The one scene I witnessed involved explicit intercourse between a mouse-woman and a Godzilla-like monster. Interspecies sex has never been a turn on for me, but several spectators seemed excited about it. What exactly, I wondered, are they fantasizing about? Sex with Minnie? Or being a fucked mouse? It gave Ellison's famouse "Don't Fuck With the Mouse" essay a new perspective. Interestingly enough, the adjacent dealer was playing a bootlegged copy of Fantasia.

 

Premature Ejaculations

With Ann and David "minding the store," Dan, Amy, and I entered the Grand Ballroom at 4:00 p.m. We expected to hear a panel discussion on "Writing Alternative History," which was to feature, among others, Tom Deitz, Brad Linaweaver, and Michael Moorcock. Words of wisdom from all assembled, we innocent convention virgins assumed. . . .

We arrived to a discussion between the husband-wife writing team Sharon and Jerry Ahern, authors of the best-selling Survivalist series, an alternative history romp now it its seventeenth book. They promised Moorcock would be there soon, upon news of which a dozen women rose from the audience and, fists raised, chanted "Moor cock, moor cock!" (4) In the interim, the Aherns, displaying a nobility born of sheer desperation, kept the panel afloat with a torrent of original and profound ideas such as "Change events in history and you change society," something Bradbury had already taught us circa 1960, using nothing more sophisticated than a butterfly.

Moorcock sauntered in ten minutes later: a Hindu holy man trapped in a travel suit. He wore a gray corduroy jacket over a white dress shirt, with tan slacks and black boots. A shaggy giant with a proud paunch and overflowing beard.

A hush fell over us as we waited for the microphone to be passed to the once-and-future editor of New Worlds, Booker Prize nominee, and creator of the Elric Saga. Moorcock took the mike, gazed over his adoring flock, and, in his thin British accent, said,

GEE, I JUST GOT HERE FIVE MINUTES AGO AND I DON'T REALLY KNOW WHAT THE PANEL TOPIC IS ALL ABOUT AND I'M NOT MUCH FOR PUBLIC SPEAKING, SO WHY DON'T I TURN THIS BACK OVER TO YOU GUYS AGAIN.

A somewhat hostile silence settled over the audience broken by nervous laughter, as Moorcock passed the microphone back to the agape Aherns. (5) The Moorcock groupies hissed, "Shriveled cock" and "Premature ejaculation." (6)

Stunned as cattle under the hammer, Dan, Amy, and I left as the Aherns contemplated public suicide: an hour to fill, and not a thought between them. The other panelists never did put in an appearance.

 

That's Why They Call It A Con

Well, we reasoned, with the resilience of any mob, maybe we can still catch part of the Wendy Webb reading, which had also started at 4:00 p.m. Onward we plunged, through the huddled groups of conventioneers planning their own pleasures, platonic and otherwise. (7)

We entered the reading room at 4:30 p.m., prepared to sneak in and catch the last half hour, only to be greeted by rows of empty chairs. Thinking that perhaps Wendy Webb was a deaf midget and was "signing" her work, hidden by the podium, I checked behind said podium.

No one.

A con staff member then entered and, with a great big goofy Gomer Pyle-it-on smile plastered to his face, told us Webb might arrive if we "waited fifteen or twenty minutes."

I believe Dan first uttered the all too sarcastic yet serious words, "This is beautiful, just beautiful," at that point: a familiar refrain, which would take on the repetitive nature of a mantra. (8)

 

Ellison As The Ugly American

We shuffled back to The Sterling Web table at 4:50 p.m. Ann sat stiff in her chair, eyes fixed on a little white-haired man wearing a poncho who, accompanied by his wife, Susan Ellison, was working his way through the dealer tables like an American tourist in a Tijuana marketplace. (There were plenty of anatomically correct items should he have wanted to pull a Quayle.)

I don't know if I can adequately describe the surrealism inherent in seeing Ellison in the flesh. This was a man whose work I had read since I was ten years old, from "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream" to Shatterday, and there he was, moving around the marketplace, an unseen halo drifting above his head. Had Ann suddenly melted into her chair like a Dali watch it would have seemed anti-climactic.

I watched him for awhile. Just watched him, in a way I'm sure any passerby would have found sinister, let alone Ellison himself, and although I wanted to walk up to him and say hello, I couldn't. At that point in my career it would have been like walking up to an icon, a myth, and saying, "Howdee, I'm nobody from Nowhere, Florida, how are you?" After his many horror stories of rabid fans (9), I did not want to be mistaken for such a fan in my enthusiasm, nor waste his time with matters I perceived as trivial in the grander scheme of things. Ann shared my feelings, if to a lesser extent. Later, seeing Ellison's polite refusals to pathetic requests by amateur writers for him to read their dog-eared manuscripts, I realized I wasn't particularly keen on introducing myself as a writer, either. All of this despite the fact that I had successfully solicited work from the man, by letter correspondence, for a magazine I edited called Chimera Connections.

So I rationalized my way out of meeting Ellison face-to-face. There's really no other way to put it: a yellow streak a mile wide. My only consolation is that I'm certain I was not alone.

Of course, Dan, high in testosterone, low in hang-ups, walked right up to Ellison and slipped him a complementary copy of The Sterling Web before the man could escape to a waiting elevator.


Continued . . .
 

 
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