Worldcon Report: Bucconneer 1998

by Brenda W. Clough

I should mention that for this Worldcon I was doing the job of SFWA liason, so this is a highly biased account.

Monday, August 3

Popped middle seats out of the minivan, folded down the back, and loaded it up. Over the past month or so I bought a couple hundred dollars' worth of soft drinks, plus paper cups, plates, and bowls, plastic cutlery, napkins, and so on. I also added everything I thought we might need – a long heavy extension cord, a medicine-cabinet box, duct tape, two large plastic tubs usually used for feeding horses, boom box, CDs, masking tape, a coffee maker, buckets, and so forth. There are also a couple of hard-sided suitcases, and the notorious steamer trunk, loaded with supplies for the Friday party. This is not as backbreaking for me as it sounds. My husband Larry does the work of loading, while I unsubscribe myself from various email lists.

Tuesday, August 4

It is just barely possible to wedge in my own suitcase. The van is really full. I drive up with my daughter Diana to the Hilton and Towers in Baltimore. Rick Foss, who is actually going to run the SFWA Suite, is already there with his wife Jace and their two kids. We meet up with Darlene McConnell and Jan Bull who are going to help with cooking. We eat a messy and casual lunch down in the hotel cafe. The con volunteers we had demanded never do show up, so we tip the bellboys to haul the contents of the minivan up to the 21st floor. It is astonishing how service improves if you tip with big bills.

Rick goes off to scope out places to buy food. I take Diana down to the Convention Center and register us. I also bring along the rolls of “SFWA” and “SFWA Guest” stickers, and a complete listing of the current membership. Since the convention has not really started yet, registration is calm, and I am able to get my hot little hands on all the convention badges. Diana helps me to flip rapidly through them and pre-emptively tag every SFWA member with a sticker. When I am certain of spouses and children I tag them as well, as guests. We work through all the letters of the alphabet except “S”, which is a big section, before quitting for dinner.

Back at the hotel, Rick has found all the keen places to buy food – gourmet sausages, fancy chocolates, salmon. Amazing! It must be a special psychic gift, the way certain people can home in on shoe sales or yarn stores going out of business. It would take me weeks to find the best places to buy all this food. We take all the kids and go down to the Inner Harbor and eat crab cakes, and walk to the top of the hill to see the view. Back at the hotel, Josepha Sherman and a large party are starving in the bar, having waited for forty minutes for their meal. I tell them the suite is not yet open for business, and Josepha offers to come up and lick the frozen packets of ham for nourishment. We spend the night in the suite. Diana insists on trying out the whirlpool tub to see if it works, and it does.

Wednesday August 5

Up with the larks, and down to the convention center again to finish tagging badges. I also visit the Volunteers Table, and discover that nobody there knows of our need for volunteers. I immediately sign us up for continuous elevator droid coverage. Since there is only one elevator to the suite, and it is controlled by a key card, an elevator operator is essential. Tremendous time and temper has been saved.

At noon the dealers' room opens, and we are there. Diana is looking for beanie dragons, and I am in search of a rocket ship, a robot, and an alien to use as cake decorations for Jack Williamson's party. This is difficult, since the rocket ship should have fins, and the robot should not be C3PO or R2D2. I do buy a little green rubber alien with five eyes. He also squirts water.

Diana goes to the hotel pool, while I go with Rick to the Safeway where we fill the minivan with un-nutritious food. The checkout clerk is awed.

Back to the hotel to check into my own room, and meet up with Larry, who went to pick up Dave Smeds at the airport on his way up. An enormous line for check-in winds across the hotel lobby. While waiting in it with other disgruntled writers we devise scurrilous theories as to why check-in is so slow. It's always dangerous to keep writers idle and in the dark – they start exerting their imaginations. (The favorite theory is that the desk clerks have only one brain cell to share between them – close observation shows them passing the cell along, or going into the back room to install it. My personal choice is the Sweeney Todd scenario, in which rooms are freed up by slaughtering the current occupant, who is then processed into bar food. The slowdown here comes from the necessity of shampooing the stains out of each room's carpeting.) Finally I get to the front of the line. In spite of the frequent reminders that I am there, I have a confirmed reservation, and I will need a room, the hotel says they cannot accomodate me. I insist on a room in this very hotel, not any substitute hotel, and finally they give me the room designed for handicapped guests.

Larry and Simon still have not arrived, but the Orioles' ball game has just let out and traffic is terrible. I lurk in the lobby, playing the grand piano. When he finally does get in we abandon the kids in the hotel room to watch cable TV, and go up to the suite. Not only has the hotel had the brass to charge us $25 per bin of ice, they have left the bins downstairs for two hours, so that all we get is cold water. Rick forces them to remove the charges from the bill. Larry carries ice from ice machines on the lower levels to fill the two large red drinks buckets, Rick adjusts the food, and I jitter. The Suite is open, and people come pouring up, hungry and thirsty. Jerry Oltion lends me a little wooden rocket ship with fins. Moo the masseur arrives, and we park him in the whirlpool tub room with a huge supply of sheets. I start the ball rolling by getting a massage. We also drop by at the writers party downstairs in the Hilton, where I invite every writer I can to Jack Williamson's party.

Thursday August 6

Up with the larks again, and it's getting kind of old, for a 10 AM reading. There are more people than I have ever seen at one of my readings, nearly 20! I read one of my rare short stories, “Home Is The Sailor”, and then a piece of HOW LIKE A GOD.

In one evening the party has drunk up an entire minivan load of drinks! Rick and Larry go to load up the minivan again. On Tuesday Rick had established friendly relations with several of the merchants at the Lexington Street Market. They go now and pick up the standing orders for bread from a baker, produce from a green grocer, candy from a confectioner, and savories from a deli.

I am meeting my agent Ashley Grayson in the lobby for lunch, but as I look out the door I see him shanghaied by Rick. I go out to investigate, and am loaded down immediately with a cake the size of a card table. Ashley is bent double under bagsful of chocolate and salmon. We stagger upstairs to the suite while Rick and Larry vanish. A huge floral arrangement has also arrived for the party.

After a crabcake lunch with Ashley I take the kids to the dealer's room, where they buy beany toys and I search, without luck, for a robot.

At 4 PM is the party Amazing is throwing for Jack Williamson, to celebrate his 70th year of authorship. (Yes, that's right, it's not a typo – his first story came out in 1928!) The little green rubber alien is rejected because he clashes with the cake frosting, but the wooden rocket ship is perfect. The camera crews and press teams are out in force, and, more importantly, some writers of Williamson's generation have been able to make it. Everything looks great, the place is hopping, and I have to leave for a 5 PM autograph session. I am paired with George R.R. Martin, always a daunting person to share a table with, because his line stretches around the room. I sign books for a couple dozen folks and then knit on a sweater. Someone turns up with the proof sheets for THE CRYSTAL CROWN – astonishing! Even I have only ever seen them once, in 1984 when the book was coming out. I autograph them and assure the owner they must be of fabulous value, and he says he's going to keep them until he dies.

Since I'm down at the Convention Center anyway, Larry meets me and we go over to the harbor for dinner with the kids. They throw crumbs to the sparrows, who are expert beggars. It turns out that sparrows will eat french fries.

In the evening the Artemis organization sponsors the party. The centerpiece is a huge white cake adorned with lunar landing vehicles, and beef jerky from astronaut food packets. We supplement the provisions with chocolate and fruit salad. Rick has somehow contrived to get access to a grocery wholesaler, and bought an entire minivan load of weird sodas. His criterion was that they not be available in California, and some of these beverages are indeed justifiably obscure. There are a few colas and Sprites, and palletsfull of strange things like Josta and pineapple soda. People are drinking them like fish. The entire suite is full. Dan Korn and Carey Abend carry ice, using the duct tape to tape open the fire doors. I sneak down briefly to the SFFnet party, which is jammed too. (See Tom Power's photo.)

Friday August 7

My 10 AM panel has been moved, hurrah! Larry has to drive Diana back home to attend a birthday sleepover. I take Simon over to Camp Bucky, so that I can be on my 1 PM panel. He does not much care for the idea, but I insist that he isn't interested in hearing Mom talk about Ethical Dimensions in Contemporary Fantasy. The panel itself is great, with a huge crowd and intelligent panelists. Claire Eddy assures me that my next novel, DOORS OF DEATH AND LIFE, will be out from Tor by the turn of the century.

I meet Steve Algieri, editor of Pulp Eternity, in the green room, and give him the ms of “Home Is the Sailor.” One does not often get to submit a ms in person.

My next panel is on Writer Scams. We could easily have devoted two hours to this subject. The audience is passionately interested in what we have to say, and editors and agents in the audience stand up and denounce the crooks who prey upon innocent young writers. I read clauses aloud from grabby and outrageously unprofessional contracts, Ann Crispin urges people victimized by Edit Ink to contact the NY State Attorney General's office, and we in general wave our swords and try to save France. We invite everyone to a meeting in the SFWA suite on Saturday after 1 PM, to further discuss the subject.

By this time Simon is pretty fed up with Camp Bucky. The staff there requests that I not bring him back. It's always this way at every Worldcon he's attended. Instead we go back to the hotel, where I change into a Regency gown, and we go down to meet Susan Shwartz at the Wharf Rat restaurant for a Patrick O'Brian dinner. To spare my feet I share a cab with Mary Frey and Steve Osmanski.

We have such a good time that it's a shock, to look at my watch and realize it's 9 PM. This is the party at which the steamer trunk and suitcases come into play – and I have the only set of keys! Quickly I hurry with Simon back to the hotel. He stays in our room to watch the Discovery channel, and I hustle up to the suite to unlock the cases. Larry is back and helps to load everything into the refrigerators to chill. We also have some boxes labeled “Friday” and “Root Beer.” Once the Hugo ceremony is over, and the suite is full, we carry the refreshments in procession through the room to the serving table. Kindly con volunteers do the pouring. The food tables are laden with ham and cheese and cakes and salmon. For once we seem to have enough beverage – there are actually unopened bottles. The special refreshments lubricate proceedings amazingly, and as the evening progresses editors in the back bedroom experiment with putting peanuts up their noses. I quit around 3 AM.

Saturday August 8

Starting to run out of steam, but with the help of a cup of coffee I make it to the SFWA meeting at 11 AM, and sit in the back to knit. I leave the meeting early enough to get back to the hotel at 1 PM, and to my horror a gaggle of young writers is waiting in the lobby for me, several elevator loads at least. I give one of them my elevator pass to ferry them up. Nobody is in the suite, but Darlene and Jan have laid out a sumptuous spread on the table. I grab a chair and a soda, and riff until Ann Crispin and Michael Capobianco turn up to give me support. Christine Valada and Ashley Grayson also arrive, and just in time because I have to leave for a kaffeeklatch.

Larry has gone out with the steamer trunk, so I take Simon with me. Three people turn up at the kaffeeklatch, and we have a fine discussion about writing and books. Simon is of course bored, but all is redeemed in his eyes by the free ice cream mini-cones the Marriott is handing out in the lobby. I can tell he far prefers this hotel to the Hilton.

In the interval before my panel at 5 I arrange sodas in tubs. The panel, on Mining Mesopotamia, is great fun. It amazes me that the audience is so large, at such a late hour and on such an esoteric subject, but perhaps everyone's turned out to see Harry Turtledove.

Back to the suite, and Rick and Jace are taking a well-deserved nap. The party this evening is sponsored by Asimov's and Analog. Sheila Williams has phoned to say that there should be desserts only, no salmon. A huge bunch of helium balloons has been delivered, nobody knows from whom. Larry has put the contents of the steamer trunk into the refrigerator to cool down. A terrible drought of elevator volunteers, and we draft friends and acquaintances shamelessly to run the elevator and guard the door.

Madeleine Robbins hauls me downstairs to the bar for a drink. It turns out that drinks taste far better if you don't carry them in yourself. The line to get into the elevator that serves the suite stretches across the lobby. On the way back up I share the elevator with a number of Asimov's and Analog people, who set up an anguished cry when I reveal that the smoked salmon is going away. They undertake to eat it up so that the desserts can reign unrivaled.

Darlene and Jan engineer a flood of stupendous desserts, and we carry the beverages in procession to the serving table again, where Dan Korn pours. The crowd is enormous, and the beverages evaporate. Rick has prepared a fallback position, however, involving vanilla ice cream and various toppings. This too is rapidly eaten, and then people fall to drinking the toppings straight. By then the crowd is diminishing. The balloons are plundered for their helium, and by 4 AM it's over.

Sunday August 9

I have a panel at noon, “Fantasy in the Real World.” I get up just in time. It's in a huge room this time, but we still have a good audience.

Around 1 PM the party for volunteers starts. Could it be that we have too many sodas? At least all the other beverages are gone. And we have tons of food. For an hour or so there aren't many people, but then the dealers' room closes and everybody pours on in. All the leftover magazines find a good home. Larry leaves early in his car to pick up Diana. I disassemble the wilting floral centerpiece and rescue all the flowers that are reuseable. And I catch every elevator droid I can to thank them – surely it was the least-fun job in the convention.

When the party is more or less over, we do the final clear-up, sorting out everything that has to come home with me, or Darlene, or Ann. There are rather a lot of items, and the bellman has to make two trips for me alone. We never do find the corkscrew which was last seen on Friday evening. Rick takes his long-suffering family out to dinner again, and I drive the minivan home. Luckily everything fits in.

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©1996,1997,1998 Brenda and Larry Clough Last modified 14 August 1998