Every now and then, fandom needs to take a good, hard look at itself. Considering the recent Hugo kerfuffle, I thought it a fine time to read Norman Spinrad’s famous skewering of fan culture, The Iron Dream.
First published in 1972, this is a masterpiece of metafiction. It is a book within a book, containing the 1955 Hugo Award winner Lord of the Swastika, written by none other than that famous science fiction writer, Adolph Hitler. We are informed that after dabbling in radical politics in Germany, Hitler moved to New York in 1919. In the 1930s he became a sought-after illustrator for pulp magazines and started writing fiction. He was popular in fannish circles for his fanzine work and for his witty banter at conventions.
His best-known work is Lord of the Swastika, a post-apocalyptic tale where the world has been ravaged by nuclear war and most people have become foul mutants. Luckily there is one nation, Heldon, where the Truemen struggle to preserve humanity’s genetic purity.
Enter Feric Jaggar, a Trueman whose family was exiled due to political machinations and forced to live among the mongrel horde. Lord of the Swastika is the tale of Jagger’s triumphant return to Heldon, where he unmasks a plot by the mutants to take over the country and sully the genetic purity of the last real humans. Jagger’s political star rises, the masses rallying around him as he first faces off against a corrupt government, then unites the nation around him in order to start a massive war to wipe the Earth clean of genetic inferiors once and for all.
I was saddened to read in this month’s Ansible that longtime fan Ned Brooks had died from injuries sustained from a fall. He was 77.
Ned was one of the first to welcome me when I got into fandom way back in my fanzine days of the early 1990s. He and I shared an obsession with collecting books, with him beating me handily by several thousand volumes. I often joked with my wife that if she didn’t stop complaining about my ever-expanding library, she should visit Ned’s house and see what a real collection looks like.
I knew him primarily through his fanzine, It Goes on the Shelf, a review zine started in 1985 in which he wrote about all the strange books he picked out of used bookstores, estate sales, and thrift stores. He had an eye for the unusual, the quirky, the forgotten. More than once I’ve gone to my local university library clutching a copy of IGOTS in order to look up some intriguing title.
IGOTS came around Christmas time every year, and my wife I always looked forward to opening up that familiar manila envelope and reading through the colored pages of Ned’s witty reviews of all the books he’d gathered in the previous 12 months. While I fell out of the fanzine world several years ago, Ned’s zine was one of the only I still received. I wasn’t about to give that one up!
Last weekend I had the good fortune to attend Dysprosium, the 66th Eastercon, in London. It was only my second big convention and I was impressed by the number of people, dealers, panels, and events. Big cons are definitely my thing!
The convention was held at The Park Inn at Heathrow Airport, which is appropriately decorated with images of aviation and space pioneers. The elevators have glowing plastic panels that change colors and made me feel like I was in an Italian science fiction movie from the 1960s. The con was stretched out. Two large common rooms were connected by a long corridor. This meant that there was no main dealers room. Instead, each dealer had their own room and they took advantage of this by hosting their own events. Elsewhen Press gets my vote for friendliest dealer for offering plenty of friendly chatter, UFO-shaped candies, and several readings. Another dealer hosted a fascinating talk on Malaysian folklore. This worked out well for the guests but I heard more than one dealer complain they felt isolated from other dealers.
Like last year’s Worldcon, which I reported on here, diversity and inclusion was a central theme. Several of the panels reflected this, such as one on Fencing for Writers, in which two women demonstrated various ways to slash and skewer your opponent. They gave several anecdotes about female swashbucklers in the Renaissance. One French lesbian fought numerous duels with men over women and even saved her lover from a nunnery by burning the place down! That’s just begging to be made into a novel. The presenters made the telling point that, “Historians have dismissed these women as exceptions, but when you look at the sources, there are an awful lots of exceptions.”
Last weekend in London was LonCon 3, this year’s Worldcon. The convention, which has been held in various cities around the world since 1939, is where the Hugo Awards are given out and where fans from all over the globe meet up.
It was my first Worldcon, and while I’ve been to large conventions before such as World Fantasy and Eastercon, not to mention several local conventions such as Tuscon, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was five fun days of events, conversation, and camaraderie.
The Loncon staff did a fine job making everything run smoothly. A handy pocket guide steered me around the huge convention center without a hitch, and twice-daily newssheets kept me up-to-date on any changes.
There were only a couple of small minuses. First off, the dining options at the ExCel Centre were overpriced and generally substandard. Not that this is unusual for a convention center, so I don’t blame LonCon for this!
Also, the ExCel is huge and has all the ambiance of a shopping mall. But as Robert Silverberg pointed out, “Cons aren’t about venues, they’re about people.”