Worldcon 71 is history and everyone who attended has made it home and had time to reflect on the experience. Due to my work schedule and other factors I was only able to attend on Friday and Saturday (Worldcon ran Thursday, August 29th through Monday, September 2nd), which were probably two of the best days to be there. But some other folks who were there have filled in the gaps I missed for this wrap-up, so off we go.
The big pre-convention event was Wednesday’s bus trip to Cross Plains (hosted by Rusty Burke and Mark Finn) which was a success despite having only 14 people sign-up for it. Little surprise there since the con PR crew did little to no advance publicity for the trip. In my opinion, they dropped the ball on promoting the convention itself. I did not see any national coverage at all, only some local newspaper and television coverage — I mean it was the “World Science Fiction Convention” and certainly should been heavily publicized nationally.
Getting back on topic, even though the day trippers were a small group, they were an enthusiastic bunch, touring the Howard House Museum, buying items from the gift shop and eating in the local restaurants — thus giving a shot of revenue to Howard’s hometown. On the return trip to San Antonio, the AV system on the luxury bus screened The Whole Wide World. All in all, the journey made for a fine prelude to Thursday’s opening day of the convention.
I drove from Houston to San Antonio after work on Thursday and met the gang at Dick’s Last Resort on the Riverwalk. It’s basically a tourist trap where they put paper hats on your heads with insulting sayings written on them, make you wear plastic bibs and generally treat all the customers rudely, hence the name “Dick’s” The gang included Rob Roehm, Patrice Louinet, Rusty Burke, Bill Cavalier, Jeff Shanks, Paul Herman and local fan and Legacy Circle member John Bullard. Dave Hardy, his wife Julie and daughter Bridget were also in attendance. After dinner, drinks and some general tormrnting from the staff, we retired to quieter and more pleasant surroundings, namely the bar at the Menger Hotel.
The hotel, built in 1858, is purportedly haunted by the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt; the hotel’s walls are decorated with photos and memorabilia related to our 26th President. Every evening The Menger Bar, which is just steps away from The Alamo, was ground zero for after dinner drinking, hanging out and the general telling of lies.
Friday morning when I arrived at the convention center, I ran into Rob outside and he showed where to check-in and get my badge and other credentials. I then wandered into the exhibit hall and checked out the REH exhibit, as was pretty damn impressive. Next I headed back to the dealers’ room to visit the REH Foundation’s dealer’s table and was pleased to see they had a nice set-up with a large supply of Foundation Press books. However, they were stuck way in the back of the dealers’ room — but as far as I could tell, it didn’t seem to affect the amount of traffic going by the table.
As for the con-goers, nothing to see there. People dressed in Furries, Steampunk, Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Dr. Who, and etc. gear — the usual con crowd; other than the person with a beard, dressed as a woman, whose gender was not apparent to me. Obviously, there was a lot of other activities going at the convention in addition to the Howard related events — usually about 20 panels, readings or screenings going on at the same time. Here is TGR blogger Rob Roehm’s reort on the event:
Due to time constraints I wasn’t able to drive to Texas as I prefer, but air travel has its benefits. I arrived late on Wednesday evening, had a Whataburger, and hit the sack. Thursday morning I drove to Victoria, which is the last Texas town mentioned by Robert E. Howard that I hadn’t visited before. Now I’ve seen them all.
I arrived at the convention center a little after noon and went looking for familiar faces. The first one I saw was Dave Hardy, who was manning the REH exhibit in the big hall. The exhibit was pretty nice, with lots of comics, a few books, and a couple of Howard’s typescripts borrowed from the Cross Plains Public Library. After a quick chat, Hardy pointed me in the direction of the REH Foundation table in the dealers’ section.
At the table, Paul Herman brought me up to speed on what was happening, as well as how to operate the credit card reader for my phone, and then slipped off to be part of a copyright panel. When he returned, I skipped out for lunch with Rusty Burke, Patrice Louinet, and Jeff Shanks. We went down to the River Walk and had sandwiches and beer at an Irish pub. By the time I got back to the dealers’ room, it was almost time to close it down, so I helped out a bit and then we all hit the town.
And speaking of the dealers’ room, the best part of WorldCon, for me anyway, was Paul Herman. If he hadn’t been so dedicated to the job at hand, I know that I would have been stuck behind the REH Foundation table selling books the whole time. As it was, I had lots of time to screw around. I *almost* feel guilty about it, but not quite.
I only watched one panel that I wasn’t part of, and I only participated in three, so I’m not really sure what I was doing most of the time. The panels I was on were fairly well attended, around twenty folks. And these were mostly *new* people, not the fans that stay up-to-date on Damon’s blog and read the current goings-on in Howard Studies. For many of them, Howard studies began and ended with de Camp in the 1970s. And they were generally receptive to having their notions changed. Of course, some of the more old-time fans and authors had a harder time of it. During Rusty Burke’s horror stories panel-the one panel that I watched-I enjoyed seeing him patiently counter some of Harry Turtledove’s comments.
The same thing was happening at the Foundation table. People were surprised to see the many different books by Howard and were almost always completely unaware of the Foundation and the doings of Howard fans in general. We were happy to fill in the blanks.
Of course, the real fun was just hanging out with friends and talking about Robert E. Howard. And it’s even better when you can do that in a city that Howard loved, and that serves alcohol in its restaurants.
Mark Finn was the head honcho as far as planning all the REH panels and wrangling all the contrary Howard Heads to sit in on them — a monumental feat in of itself. You can read Mark’s complete trip report here. Meanwhile, here is a sampling that focuses on the Howard related convention stuff:
Some of you may have noticed that there were, ah, a few panels on Robert E. Howard and his legacy. This was completely intentional. When I was asked to help out with the programming duties, I was told that there were absolutely zero panels on Robert E. Howard at the last Texas WorldCon, in 1997. This is not surprising. The 1990s are something of a Dark Ages for Howard Studies, with no copies of Howard’s own Conan books on the shelves and no real intentions to do so. It wasn’t until around the late 1990s that Wandering Star entered the picture, with their desire to produce authoritative texts of Howard’s work, in deluxe hardcover editions, and with high end illustrations. That was the start of the REH Renaissance, really. So, a lot has happened in the thirteen years between Texas WorldCons. A lot.
That track of programming was a corrective, and it was extremely successful. We had large crowds for most of the panels (the poetry stuff was a bust, frankly, and no one could find the film programming to come see “Barbarian Days”) and lot of participation. But in particular, I slanted the panels to hit the older fans. When I came down for the big meeting in April, I had two people pull me aside—older men, both—and tell me how pleased and excited they were to see that REH was going to be on the panels this year. They were big fans, they told me, and read all of that stuff in the 1970s. I asked them, “Have you been keeping up with what we’ve been doing in the past fifteen years?” Oh, no, they said. They just read the books and really enjoyed them, but they haven’t looked at them since the seventies. Heh. Okay, guys, this panel’s for you.
I intentionally loaded the topics to entice the older fans. We had an obligatory Conan panel, and that room was packed. Even better, it was a smashing success. I opened it up to talk about pop culture Conan, and everyone stayed right on Robert E. Howard’s Conan the whole time. Fantastic. And the more we talked about corrupted texts, bad biographical practices, ulterior motives, and the complicated relationship between the fans and L. Sprague de Camp, I saw more light bulbs going on behind these guys’ eyes. Oh, there were a few of them who wanted to debate the point, citing de Camp’s standing as a gifted and talented author, and blah blah blah. I told one of them what I always say, which is that de Camp was great for Conan, but really lousy for Robert E. Howard. That pretty much ended the discussion.We opened a lot of eyes and changed a lot of minds over the four day weekend.
The Robert E. Howard exhibit got a lot of traffic, as did the Robert E. Howard Foundation Table. Lots of books were sold, memberships handed out, and we all had a ton of great conversations with people who were genuinely interested in REH, his works, and what we were doing there. It was everything that we wanted WFC 2006 to be, and more.
Like me, Howard fan and blogger Keith West also arrived in San Antonio late Thursday. Here is an excerpt from his trip report on his Adventures Fantastic blog (He also blogs at the Amazing Stories website):
The next day [Friday] was one of those where there was about twelve hours of programming I wanted to attend, all of it in a three hour block. I went to most of the Robert E. Howard panels, of which there were many. Most of the hanging out I did with friends was with members of the Robert E. Howard Foundation or chatting with folks at parties. Saturday was much the same, but Sunday was a little more relaxed. Among the non-Howard panels I attended were a discussion of C. L. Moore’s “Vintage Season”, the history of firearms in the 1800s, a reading by Jack McDevitt, a discussion on writing that included Michael Swanwick and James Patrick Kelly, a panel of Texas writers who have passed on, and readings by Jack McDevitt and Howard Waldrop. I only caught part of the panel on sword and sorcery since it was up against one of the more interesting Robert E. Howard panels. The autographing lines were either nonexistent or ridiculously long, so I only got a few signatures.
I went to the Alamo Saturday morning with Bill Cavalier, editor of REHupa. He hadn’t seen it, and it had been a while since I had paid my respects. Next to the Alamo is the Menger Hotel. Teddy Roosevelt recruited the Rough Riders in the bar, and it’s something of a mini-museum. I’ll do a write-up of it on Dispatches From the Lone Star Front over the weekend.
I didn’t try to attend the Hugos. I wasn’t impressed with the slate of nominees for the most part. But it’s a popularity contest, and currently my tastes and those of the field are in a state of moderate divergence. The Legacy Circle of the REH Foundation went to dinner Saturday night.
My first panel was Friday at 4:00 pm “Two-Gun Bob: The Somewhat True Tales of Robert E. Howard.” The turnout was pretty good, as were the questions from the audience, though I found the guy wearing the pink bunny ears to be distracting. I had another panel at 8:00, “Nameless Cults: Robert E. Howard’s Horror Stories,” which had a pretty sparse showing of attendees — they scheduled a screening of The Whole Wide World at the same time, which certainly siphoned off of the potential attendees.
On Saturday I was only on one panel: “The Howard Boom” Barbarians, Fanzines and the 1970s,” which was interesting since I was the only one there who actually participated in the 1970s Howard Boom! Later that afternoon, I caught the “Robert E. Howard: The Weird, West and Worms” academic panel. It was one of the best, but there were only six or seven us in the audience. That was a shame because Mark and Jeff presented two of their excellent PCA papers: “Vaqueros and Vampires: Robert E Howard and the Genesis of the Weird Western” and “Evolutionary Otherness: Anthropological Anxiety in Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth”
Mark, Jeff, Chris, Patrice, Rusty, Rob and others have been working overtime to get Howard the literary credit he deserves. If we, as Howard fans want to have his writings make some serious inroads into academia, we really have to get behind these guys, show our support and help them any way we can to further the cause. This convention was a good start, but there is still a lot of work left to be done.
When it was all said and done, Worldcon was certainly a big stage to show off Howard studies and just how it’s come in recent years. There were no Howard panels at the 1997 Worldcon, which was also held in San Antonio, The World Fantasy Con in 2006 corrected that slight somewhat, but Worldcon 71 blew the doors off with its great Howard presence. It looks like the future of Howard’s literary legacy is so bright, we all are going to have to wear shades.
Watch for “Worldcon 71: A Photo Gallery” coming soon!