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LAconIII -- the 1996 Worldcon

Copyright 1996, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

This year I went to my very first Worldcon. LAconIII, the 1996 Worldcon was held in Anaheim, California over Labor Day weekend, August 29-September 2, 1996. This was a major undertaking, since it was the first time in my life that I'd ever travelled by air. I was a little apprehensive, but excited at the same time. I had a little trouble getting to Southern Illinois Airport, thanks to a misunderstanding about the bus schedule (the less said about that, the better), but once I got there, the trip went fairly smoothly. I had a great time at the con, and got to meet a number of people whom I'd previously known only through correspondence and the Internet.

I actually arrived at the convention at about 6PM on Thursday, although my watch said 8PM because it was still on Central time. I decided that I'd better go ahead and re-set my watch because I was going to be going to enough time-based events that I didn't want to have to be constantly converting the time zones.

After a little trouble I was able to locate the SFWA suite, where I was working and staying, and dropped off my stuff before making a quick trip to the con suite. While I was in the con suite I met some Chicago area friends, who then took me down to the Ice Cream social, where I met even more of my Chicago-area friends.

After hanging out for a while I headed back up to the SFWA suite to put in several hours as a door dragon (the SFWA suite is private, so it was my job to make sure that only SFWA members and their guests came in). By the time the party wound down at about 1AM I was exhausted because my body felt like it was 3AM. Fortunately a good night's sleep was able to re-set my body's clock enough to allow me to operate on Pacific time without too much trouble.

On Friday I helped set up the SFWA suite for another day before checking out a few panels and finally meeting Jacqueline Lichtenberg, author of the Sime~Gen series. However I didn't get much of a chance to speak with her at length because she had to hurry off to another panel.

In the afternoon I had my critiquing session for the convention's Writers' Workshop, which I found very rewarding even if my story (a fantasy alternate history) didn't survive. I learned a lot of things about writing, and may eventually rewrite the basic core of the story (the idea of a world where magic works and FDR turned himself into a lich and Admiral Kimmel is trying to get rid of him) as a novel, since at least some of my readers thought that it might work better with more room.

However, I was very pleased to have Aboriginal Science Fiction editor Charles Ryan compliment me on my skills privately. He's a very hard editor to please, so I knew that he wasn't just telling me that to make me feel good -- he wanted me to know that I had the potential and he wanted to be sure I developed it.

In the afternoon I was finally able to find Sherwood Smith, a longtime friend that I'd previously met only via e-mail and on the telephone. We spent some time talking before going back to the SFWA suite to help with yet another party.

On Saturday those of us Sime~Gen fans who were at the con all gathered in the JLs' room for an informal workshopping and brainstorming session. We workshopped a rough version of Mary Lou's latest story, which proved to be a very enlightening process for all of us. One of the things that we did was bring in someone who'd never read any S~G and have him read the story, then comment on it. He admitted that he was totally lost about a number of important things about the background, including just what the arrangement of tentacles on a Sime's arm were.

This hasn't been so important in the past because the fanzines have been purchased and read by people who are already familiar with the pro stuff and therefore have a basic idea of what is going on. But now that the fanzines are terminating paper publication and going to electronic format, all kinds of people are likely to be surfing into the Channel's TransferWebsite from links all over the Web (my Fandom page has a link, and it's perfectly possible that someone coming to my pages from somewhere totally unrelated could wind up going there). Therefore it is absolutely essential that the stories on our Web site be inviting to the casual reader, and not leave people in confusion.

The second way in which this session proved particularly revealing was in the way JL got down to brass tacks about the business of contstructing and plotting good fiction. Her biggest point was that we needed to know what the theme of our story is -- what we are trying to tell our readers about life, the universe and everything -- and that every element in the story must be developed from that central theme in order to produce a coherent story. The thing that really stuck in my mind was her assertion that this is the only way that one can produce a work that gives the message that life has meaning, and that without a central theme a work can only give the message that life is a meaningless jumble.

During that period we also did a lot of brainstorming about the future of Sime~Gen fandom on the Information Superhighway. In particular we concentrated on what we wanted to do with Channel's Transfer, the new S/G Webzine at We all agreed that we had to get it tidied up and arranged so that it would be able to draw people, and ideally that we should get it into shape to start winning awards, which would provide pointers to pull people to it who weren't already S~G fans.

JL made the point that there are really two purposes for the fanzine presence on the Web: 1. To provide beginning writers with a chance for directed practice in the craft with the ultimate goal of equipping them to create their own original universes and writing dynamic fiction in them, and 2. To attract the attention of new readers and direct it toward the professional books (for which there are already plans in the works to place them on the Net in some form of instant-download store, although the exact form of this is still being worked out). For both of these purposes, we need to create the best and most attractive Web presence possible for Channel's Transfer. If we expect our beginning writers to do their best, we should in turn be presenting it in the best venue possible. And if we hope to funnel new readers to the professional works, we absolutely have to have as professional-looking as possible a Web presence for the fan materials.

In the early evening several of us (Jean Lorrah, Mary Lou Mendum, two other fans and myself) went out to dinner, where we continued to discuss writing-related issues. Afterward I returned to the SFWA suite to have one of my GEnie friends take me down to a party hosted by one of the major book publishers and introduce me to several editors. It was a very interesting experience to be able to sit and listen to some of the big names in the field expound on what they are currently interested in buying, and I'll always remember Gardner Dozois sitting lotus-fashion on the dresser and talking with several of his "stable" of writers.

On Sunday I spent most of my time in the SFWA suite, readying it for the big post-Hugo bash being hosted by Dell Magazines (publishers of Analog and Asimov's). I agreed that it was perfectly equitable that I should make some sacrifices then, since on Friday and Saturday I'd done SFWA-suite work entirely at my convenience and concentrated on workshopping.

However once the party actually started, the SFWA suite got so full that I felt like I were trapped in a sardine can. At midnight I finally fled to the party floor, cruising around to see what was happening there. I wound up sitting on the lanai deck until 4AM talking to another up-and-coming writer about everything I'd learned in the course of two workshopping sessions. We had a really great philosophical discussion, and I hope that I've helped point him in the right direction.

On Monday I helped tear down the SFWA suite, taking a good portion of our leftover food down to the con suite so that it wouldn't be thrown away. Then I went into the dealers' room and finally got a good chance to look around. I finally met Marion Zimmer Bradley and got to talk to her. It worried me somewhat to notice just how weak and ill she looked, and that her attention was wandering an awful lot. Still I felt grateful to have had the opportunity to meet her, since I'm beginning to fear that there won't be too many more in the future.

Afterward I went back to the Hilton and hung out with some of my GEnie friends until it was time for them to leave. Then I went upstairs to the con suite and did a bunch of fannish visiting until it was time to go to the airport.

Oddly enough, I managed to catch a shuttle bus that was also full of fellow con-goers, so we had a sort of mini-convention on the way to the airport. But finally it was time to say goodbye and board my plane back to the mundane world of school. One small consolation was getting to see Los Angeles at night -- it was truly magical, with the myriad lights twinkling through the haze of smog. Of course when I got back to Carbondale I had a wonderful case of jetlag to deal with, but I figured it was a small price to pay for such a wonderful time. I'm already looking forward to next year's Worldcon at San Antonio.

Copyright 1996, 1998 by Leigh Kimmel

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