Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

The Last Time I Saw Worldcon

TTTO "The Last Time I Saw Paris",
Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern, 1941

The last time I saw Worldcon,
We were a world at play.
I heard a happy, bubbling heart
In every word we'd say.

The last time I saw Worldcon,
We had worlds on our string.
The old fans smiled at every child
And filkers flocked to sing.

The last time I saw Worldcon, it was in Chicago in the year 2000. It was a time only shadowed by economic ills. People worried about how unenthusiastic people were about politics. It was a time when Leslie Fish could talk blithely in her smoker's filkroom about how she had ways to smuggle weapons through a metal detector, and nobody much minded. Everyone was talking about Galaxy Quest and happily shouting, "Never retreat! Never surrender!" Nobody thought we'd be called on it any time soon. And me? I was working on a JAG fanfic featuring that Osama Bin Laden guy's terrorist group...what was it called? I couldn't remember. But anyway, terrorists striking with Tom Clancy-ish fireworks. Way over the top, of course. Who could possibly imagine that terrorists could do anything as bad or as coordinated as blowing up a whole hotel full of fighter pilots or hitting the Academy at Annapolis? Geez, that was as unbelievable as attacking the Pentagon.

I think it may have been at Worldcon that I found out I was going to be an Interfilk guest. Probably it was later, at OVFF or at the beginning of 2001, but it's all tied together in my mind. So about a month before September 11th, I flew to California. It seems a golden time to me now, that summer before the war. But I was depressed, tired, and worried about Lee Burwasser's odd ng postings. I was also a gamer, and so of course I tried to look at airport security as Leslie might. It was all so simple then, so amusing to imagine what I'd do if some idiot terrorist tried to hijack my plane. But there very well might have been terrorists on that flight, doing a dry run. Those guys waiting for the restroom up front, for example, whom I blithely ignored for the greater charms of desert and mountain and geyser. So I still wonder, as I wonder about Lee, if I could have done something.

There is part of me still caught in the amber of that past, as there is part of me still sitting in my cube insisting that plane on TV looked no bigger than a Learjet and surely everyone would get out. Part of me is still thinking the Pentagon thing couldn't be all that serious, and inadvertently insulting a hurting friend. And part of me is still attending the Ohio Valley Filk Fest at Halloween in 2001, as every filker who could manage it packed his bags for a sort of funeral family reunion full of comfort and sorrow.

But the rest of me is living in the present. There is a war to fight, and we've got no time for the sillier bits of partisanship. I would love to say that this election offers two candidates I can trust to do a good job as president. The fact is, there's only one. I can understand why people with libertarian leanings might want to take the weak and untrustworthy one in preference to big defense government and compassionate conservatism of the checkbook. But on the whole, they don't. Instead I have spent a week with people who fear Bush worse than Osama. It was...unsettling. I kept trying to remember who they were, since they seemed to have forgotten. Which was strange, since only a day before we had all been one in prayer and thought, hoping only for good news about a filker's kid in hospital.

It is difficult to take people seriously when they insist that only they understand the horrors of human nature, and it is contrary to the spirit of a Worldcon to insist that some parts of the world are not touched by evil. I grew up a mile from a primary nuclear target. I was one of the ones who, although horrified by 9/11, was nevertheless very cheery about how much worse it could have been. No tac nukes, no dirty bombs, no smallpox...this was all good. There is part of me, then, that feels that one thousand dead American soldiers and sailors is an incredibly small number. That's not even a tenth of the people at Pennsic this year. If blood be the price of security, Lord God, we have got off cheap.

All the same, I hope that I have left no part of me behind to sit and stare incredulously at fellow fans talking like crazy people while whole families were killed in Beslan. I couldn't even argue with them; they were talking nonsense and clearly weren't responsible for what they said. I don't want to remember that. I want to recall the cobblestones of Boston, the cool halls of the Athenaeum, kids scrambling down into the Constitution's gun deck, a bookstore where I bought the Tanya Grotter books, the eyes of a San Damiano crucifix, the metallic flames holding up a Hugo rocketship. I want to remember the determination of both the Columbus and Yokohama bids, and their gentle courtesy with each other. I want to think back on Jack Speer's Oklahoma accent, serenading Forrest J. Ackerman in the con suite, and a couple of nice Israeli filkers I only knew online before. I don't want to remember missing my plane, but I don't want to forget the kindness of those who helped me get my luggage back after I lost it, or the taste of an apple when I felt like I'd gone through the mill, or my mother's calm voice, or the security guy who told me God had a reason for me to miss the plane.

I'm very good at forgetting the good things. I try not to be.

It wasn't an unshadowed Worldcon. But...someday there will be one again. Maybe not in this world, for some of us...but then, that will be a Worldcon not only without sorrow, but without end.

Meanwhile, we will keep fighting this war until it's won.

May God bless and keep all of us in fandom, and bring us home at last.

Between my trips to Worldcon, we had shed so many tears,
But Worldcon's weathered wars before, and there'll be better years.

The first time I saw Worldcon,
We were a world at play.
No matter fandom's changes,
I'll remember it that way.