Heinlein Centennial – Day One

Note: The below account was written in 2007, days after the event in question. Excerpts have appeared here and there, but this is the first time the entire piece has been published.

Day One –7/6/2007

 Friday Wandering I

I’m off on my own to start the day, as Deb has a brochure/flyer to design and get printed for the launch of the online Heinlein Archives. I head across The Link again and approximately half-way  through run into Linda and Chuck “Doc” Coffin coming from the other direction.  Linda and Chuck are more Heinlein Forum originals. After a few months of feeling the rest of us out in 1992, they began to admit they knew the Heinleins personally and were still in contact with Ginny. Two of the photos in Grumbles from the Grave are credited to the Coffins.

As we stand there and chat, Joan Eunice walks past, wearing paint and not a whole lot else. I see Chuck’s eyes dart right for a moment to confirm what he thought was happening, before returning to mine. Likely he noticed a similar phenomenon with my eyes. If she had been Dr. D. T. Burroughs-Carter instead, I’d say the physical evidence was that she was in a good mood that morning.

If Joan Eunice happens to read this account, I’d like to apologize to her. Momentarily I let the strictures of 21st century America control my reaction, much like Johann’s in the early part of I Will Fear No Evil. In retrospect, I wish I’d accorded her the full Loonie male applause –at least as much as possible in a 1 G field. As my wife once pointed out to me, “When a woman puts a flashing blue light in her belly-button (as she did herself at Torcon in 2003), she’s expecting you to look at it.” Joan Eunice was clearly expecting a reaction. I heard later that the hotel staff weren’t buying any character-based dressing explanations and made her cover up.

Heinlein Forum at Centennial

Original Heinlein Forum members at Heinlein Centennial, plus two of the "next" generation

Arriving again at the Westin, I run into John Tilden –yet another of the ’92 vintage of Heinlein Forum folk. JT early on got himself nick-named JusTin, as in Justin Foote of Time Enough for Love fame, because of his organizationally gifted nature (this would be an old friend trying to avoid “anal retentive” as a description). JT has volunteered  to help with con Registration, but not until tomorrow. But being JT he nearly can’t help himself, and offers his services to help out on Day One as well. We talk about another HF cobber, WJaKe Keaton who lives in the same part of the country as JT. Jake has decided that he must go to Worldcon in Japan instead of Kansas City this year, as he doesn’t have the funds and time-off to do both. As Jake has been a major part of the Worldcon technical crew in recent years, we understand his decision. But, man, Jake –you missed a hell of a three-day party.

Leaving JT, I spot Keith Kato in profile across the room talking to someone else. Thinking he could use some moral support after his remark of the day before about being overwhelmed, I walk up to him, put my arm around his shoulders, and enquire pleasantly “How are those alligators doing?”. He turns to look at me. . . and it’s not Keith at all. It’s Dr. Yoji Kondo, editor of Requiem: New Collected Works by Robert A. Heinlein and Tributes to the Grand Master.  Yoji is also a board member of the Society, so arguably I’ve just hugged the boss without invitation while addressing him by the wrong name. He gives me a curious look, but is apparently too engaged in his current conversation to find out what the heck that was about, so I hastily advance to the rear. . . . and into the newest Grand Master in the sf’nal pantheon, Dr. James Gunn of the University of Kansas.  It is, of course, particularly fitting that the most recent Grand Master is at a convention honoring the first Grand Master, though one is pretty sure that Jim Gunn would be here regardless of his recent honor.  I take the opportunity to introduce myself in person, as he’s only seen my occasional pixels virtually in RFF’s (Reading For the Future) mailing list. We chat briefly about the Society’s Educator’s CD developed in part with RFF (and he asks me to pass on his regards to Dave Anderson of RFF –so Dave, if you’re reading this, Jim Gunn says ‘Hi!’).  It’s not until writing the above paragraph that I’ve realized with horror that I neglected to congratulate Professor Gunn on his Grand Master award. So Professor Gunn, if you’re reading this. . . oops! And congrats on an honor well-deserved.

 Convention Programming in General

But now it’s time to visit my first official programming session of the convention, and here is as good a spot as any to discuss in general my experience of the panels/sessions of the Robert A. Heinlein Centennial convention. Quite simply, as a group they were the best I’ve ever been to in a moderately long occasional career of science fiction con-going. I suppose “interesting topics”, for my tastes, was going to be a given –this convention was given specifically for me and my friends (as it were), so the convention staff gets only passing grades for knowing what we’d like to hear/talk about. Because, after all, “they is us and we is them” –all of the organizers are long-term members of the extended Heinlein community. On the other hand, getting those panels populated by folks who can talk about the subjects knowledgeably, share the time well and interact interestingly amongst themselves (not always as easy as you’d think), and interact with and manage the audience effectively (ditto), is a couple of orders magnitude more difficult than that first step of laying down on paper a likely looking group of panel topics. But the right people were here attending this con to implement theory into successful practice, and every panel I attended was nearly a model of what you’d hope for.

At most major conventions I’ve been to, you pray that something close to half of the panels you attend will be this good without being too fussy which side of half you land on so long as it’s close-ish. Dr. Robert James and Bill Patterson deserve a significant part of the credit for that this weekend, having been dragooned into a combined 30+ hrs of convention programming over the three days. Me, I was scheduled for only one panel (on the Heinlein Archives), and allowed myself to be drafted by Robert James for a second one without fighting too hard (but more on that in due course). So certainly none of the credit is mine –though I can hear the smart-aleck in the rear yell, “Sure it is, Geo –for not being on more panels!”  To him I reply, “You’re welcome.”

What also should not be missed, in handing out credit for the quality of the convention’s panels and sessions, is that the legacy of Robert A. Heinlein was ample to support three full days (more, really, as often I found myself having to miss one panel I’d have liked to see for another I wanted to see just marginally more) of rich convention programming. There are very few individual authors whose body of work is so voluminous, rich and varied as to make that something you’d even try to do, let alone pull off as brilliantly as was the case in Kansas City this July. Go ahead and try it some time with another author –start to lay out a multi-venue (often six panels simultaneously, and sometimes as many as eight) three day grid of panel topics and see how far you get. For most authors, even many of the most honored, it wouldn’t even pass the giggle test as a hypothetical exercise.

 Private Human Spaceflight

And now, after only three paragraphs of digression, I head into the session. It’s Private Human Spaceflight: An Idea Whose Time is Soon and the presenter is Patti Smith, Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Ms. Smith turns out to be a delightful civil servant, which is not a formulation that comes from my keyboard all that often.  She explains that one of the key moments in the history of private spaceflight was when Congress directed the FAA that their role regarding private space flight going forward would be to primarily protect “the uninvolved public” and allow those willing to be pioneers to engage in reasonable risks to their own lives. The Oregon Trail would have never got off the ground if a modern nanny-state government were in charge, so this re-tasking of FAA to be primarily concerned with protecting those who have no interest in private spaceflight is a huge enabler going forward. What’s the “uninvolved public”? Well, that’d be those everyday folks who have no interest (they think) in going into space, but would very much appreciate it if the government would make every effort to ensure that a malfunctioning rocket of some private firm doesn’t land on their house some day. I think even most of the ardent advocates of private spaceflight can accept that as a reasonable sphere for government regulation in theory (while reserving the right to quibble on the actual practice, of course).

This does not mean that the FAA, and the private operators themselves, are wholly unconcerned about deaths of some of the pioneers themselves. There are a variety of folks associated with the budding private operators in the audience, and the Q/A afterwards makes it clear that everyone associated with private spaceflight both recognizes that deaths are inevitable and dreads what the possible public and political reaction might be. Will some tragedy create enough of a public backlash as to cause Congress to backtrack on its direction to the FAA? Could it dry up venture capital funding and/or demand for seats? No one is sure, and no one wants to be the firm that screws up the entire industry for decades or longer by producing such a tragedy. One romantic in the audience wants to know if, like D. D. Harriman in RAH’s “Requiem”, he’d be allowed to choose to die on a flight if that was his wish. The reaction from the operators in the audience is a blunt and fervent “Not on my flight!”

Most interestingly, Ms. Smith communicates that in talking to the presumed early operators, that the business model they are assuming is one of a three to four year price in the $250,000 range, ramping down by an order of magnitude not long after into the $20-30,000 range.  In other words, very much like the well known consumer electronics new technology early adopter price curve.  I don’t know about you, cobber, but for $30,000 I’d be very interested –if for no other reason than at that price my wife would go without me if necessary.   Ms. Smith also reported the early companies are seeing strong demand even at that higher price for those first few years.

 Welcoming Ceremonies

Heinlein Centennial

Jim Gifford at the opening ceremonies

These were pretty basic, and to my eye one of the few obvious signs over the course of the weekend of some organizational higglety-pigglety. Traditionally, in addition to a bit of “Whew, we made it!” self-congratulations and introductions of major figures to thank and/or take your troubles to over the course of the weekend, there is some entertainment value added as well.  Here there wasn’t. Though Tim Kyger, general chairman, and chiefly responsible for corralling the “space” component of the convention (which I’d just enjoyed the opening salvo of with Patti Smith’s presentation on private spaceflight), plopped a glass of drinking water on the podium and introduced it as our guest of honor, Robert A. Heinlein. As his ashes had been buried at sea (as were Ginny’s), this was not inappropriate.  Though somehow I suspect I wasn’t the only Heinleiner in the room who flashed back to the ending scenes of Stranger in a Strange Land for some contemplation of “water sharing” and “grokking” Robert A. Heinlein to the fullest much as the inner nest grokked Valentine Michael Smith after his martyrdom. Mmmm, I think most of us are not quite that ardent of fans, and much prefer to not think of imbibing a bit of RAH with our every glass of water! Mike Sheffield, the Society’s Blood Chair, and in charge of the blood drive for the Centennial con as well, announces where the drive is located in the Westin and urges the Heinleiner crowd to do its duty.

The nicest thing, for me, the opening ceremonies provided was getting most of those attendees already at the convention in one room at the same time. Deb has caught up from her morning of flyer designing;  so she, Audrey, JT, Linda, Doc, and I were now in the same room and indeed in the same row in the audience. Additionally, more Heinlein Forum cobbers had shown up, including Ed Johnson and Rosie Postelnek (“Rosie the Combat Librarian” –maybe for the Bicentennial write up I’ll tell the story in public of how she earned that name. . .) . “Little Bobby Lawson”, Audrey’s son, was there now as well and serving as official event photographer.  But now Bob, who was approximately 10 years old when he first joined the Heinlein Forum, is a good looking goatee-wearing fellow in his mid-20’s.  I don’t know where he found time to get older since 1992 –I certainly haven’t changed.  You haven’t either, right? I didn’t think so.

But it’s not just my oldest friends in the Heinleiner world who are here today, and now one of the more recent ones introduces himself. Dr. Robert Gorsch of St. Mary’s of California College stops to say ‘hi’, as this is our first opportunity to meet in person. Dr. Gorsch and I worked together on “Campbell on Heinlein: Selections from the John W. Campbell Letters” on the Society’s website, which he selected, edited, and introduced.   A noted Heinlein scholar, Dr. Gorsch also collaborated with Bill Patterson on what is, for my money, the best short survey of Robert Heinlein’s career and its impact in an article for The Literary Encyclopedia, an online academic resource.

Friday Wandering II

The Heinlein Forum arranges to meet at 9pm this evening for a get together, and breaks up for the moment to go our separate ways. Having been urged by Mike to do my duty and give blood, I decide to head on down and do so while Deb heads off for a Kinkos to print her flyers. No muss, no fuss, minimal waiting for me at the blood drive. Heinlein Society Blood Drive heart pinI collect a couple of ribbons for my badge-holder, and one of the pins that Robert Heinlein designed himself – a blood-red heart with a gold “SF” in the center.

Returning upstairs afterwards, I decide it’s finally time to check out the Dealers Room and see what wonders it holds.  As a Dealer’s Room, it’s actually a bit underwhelming, with only a few book sellers. I don’t suppose many of this crowd would have been willing to part with their signed first edition Heinleins anyway, but I had been sort of wistfully hoping that some dealer would show up with a near full set of first editions for me to slobber over. Alas, no such luck.  The Heinlein Prize Trust does have a very nice double booth at the front though; one showing off posters for the new Online Heinlein Archives, audio books of various of RAH’s works, and the like. Manning the booth is Sean Thompson, who is the Heinlein Prize Trust’s program manager for The Virginia Edition, amongst other duties. We’ve been working with Sean by email over the last several weeks to finalize some of the last fussy details in preparation for the launch of the Online Heinlein Archives, so it’s nice to get a chance to meet him in person too.  I decide not to share with young Sean what Ginny once wrote to agent Lurton Blassingame as her husband’s view of the typical patrons of audio books  –“They should learn how to read.” That was in the 1970’s though, long before the audio book  industry became the sizable contributor to authors incomes that it would become. Still, old book elitists everywhere probably snigger to themselves in agreement with Robert’s assessment as passed on by Ginny.

The other half of the booth is dedicated to selling subscriptions to The Virginia Edition of Heinlein’s collected works, with samples of the first six books, both leather and cloth, on display. We hear later that The Virginia Edition did reasonably well for sales at this convention, which should be no surprise.

Down the row a bit is The Heinlein Society’s booth, and right now it’s being capably “manned” by Jane Silver, Pam Somers, and Major Oz (who I’m meeting for the first time as well). David Silver has already dropped off his copy of Colliers with the Caleb Laning & Robert Heinlein “Flight Into the Future” article in it, and I drop off our copy of the Saturday Evening Post with “The Green Hills of Earth”, and the December 1972 edition of Oui with the (in)famous “Playboy interview” of Robert A. Heinlein in it. Yes, that’s right, I can say quite seriously I bought a girly magazine “for the articles”.  Additionally, the Society is displaying some of “The Ensign’s Prize Court’s Recovered Pirate’s Booty” discussed in the last issue of the newsletter, and copies of our free Educator’s CD are also in evidence. A fairly high percentage of this convention’s audience is already members of the Society, of course, but a goodly number of new memberships are signed up as well this weekend.

Tim Kyger goes by. Thanks to the opening ceremonies I now know what he looks like. His is one of those names that I’ve been hearing around the Heinlein community for ten years or so without ever having come across him personally myself, even virtually. Tim is responsible for putting the technical/scientific space component of this convention together, and looking at the program schedule it appears he’s done a great job (even though, it turns out, Buzz Aldrin has cancelled due to a last minute schedule conflict).  Tim has spent a good chunk of his professional career kicking around Washington, D.C. in a variety of positions both in and out of government where he could advocate progress for the space program. So there’s another guy I’ve been wanting to say “Hey” to for some years, and I take the opportunity to scratch another name off that “someday” list.  It’s been a good weekend for that so far (you might have noticed), and it’s not done yet.

Heinlein brass cannon

Life display of Heinlein, including his brass cannon.

Now I spot the real Keith Kato setting up the life display in the Art area of the Dealer’s Room and go over to tell him my story about putting my arm around someone else’s shoulders this morning. I no more than get started when he beats me to the punch-line, “It was Yoji, right?”, and then launches into a story of his own where Larry Niven made pretty much the same mistake I had some years back.  I start heading towards my 1pm session when I run into C. Herbert Gilliland, professor of English at the United States Naval Academy, and author of Voyage to a Thousand Cares: Master Mate Lawrence with the African Squadron, 1844-1846. Herb is another Heinlein scholar we’ve gotten to know over the years, and with whom we’ve shared the occasional panel at conventions. Remembering who I’d just seen in the Dealer’s Room, I ask Herb, “Hey, have you ever met Robert Gorsch of St. Mary’s?” Herb says he hasn’t, so I hustle him into the Dealer’s Room to make the introduction.  It’s always a goodness to increase the circle of Heinlein scholar interconnections.

“The Future of NASA”

That session title gets quotes, but you’ll have to wait for the reason why. The speaker is Dr. Michael Griffin, the 11th Administrator in the history of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  The word around the con is this is the first time in the history of NASA that an Administrator has addressed a science fiction convention.  The general consensus to this rather astonishing piece of intelligence is to wonder if they don’t really understand where the political base for their funding lies. Maybe the lobbyists get paychecks from the big aerospace firms, but the phone calls and letters to congressional offices come from our people. Deb arrives back from Kinkos with her flyers mid way through, having nearly melted from the heat and humidity in making the trip back on foot.

I find Griffin to have a very comforting style. He comes across as the engineer he is, rather than a politician heading an engineering outfit as so many of his predecessors have felt like.  He’s clearly read and enjoyed Heinlein, though he insists that he began reading Heinlein because he was interested in space, rather than became interested in space because of reading Heinlein.  For a guy who is absolutely in a position to know, he gives what is for me the signature line of the entire event.  I’ll probably slaughter it, but this is the way I remember it, “Robert Heinlein and that generation of science fiction writers laid the societal groundwork to make it politically possible for a president to tell the nation in 1961 that it was our goal to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.”  At least that’s the way I remember it, and I look forward to acquiring a copy of the DVD that the Centennial  convention committee intends to make available of the best of the sessions to see how close I got.

His point is that presidents don’t get an infinite envelope of possibility to act within, as much as we would sometimes like to think otherwise.  In fact presidents, at least if they are responsible, do not commit the nation to serious and expensive long-term efforts until and unless the groundwork has been done to make it possible to succeed and there is at least a fighting chance the public will be ready to accept and sign-up for the effort as necessary, desirable, and possible.  It was the works of Robert Heinlein, amongst others, who did quite a lot to prepare the public to react to Kennedy’s pledge positively instead of with confusion and/or derision. Hearing that, I could not help but flash back to the KTLA kinescope recording from the 1949 set of Destination Moon included on The Fantasy Film Worlds of George Pal DVD. There is RAH, with a calm and confident smile, assuring the plastic host and his reporterette sidekick (and, of course, the audience beyond) that of course we’re going to the moon –heck, all the difficult problems have already been solved. Of all his many great works, when it was time for NASA to present his widow with a Distinguished Service medal, it was Destination Moon that got called out specifically.

Griffin winds down his talk, and volunteers for some Q/A. One of the early questions is “Hey, I thought this was ‘The Future of NASA’, how about some of that?” Oops, it turns out no one told Dr. Griffin that was what he was supposed to be talking about, so we got his take on Heinlein instead.  The answer to several other questions regarding why doesn’t NASA do this or that, is that NASA doesn’t pick its battles. It is an implementing agency rather than a policy-making one –complain to Congress and the Administration.  When discussing those who snipe at NASA’s detailed decisions, he makes the interesting point that there is and will always be competition for scarce resources, and that every decision NASA makes produces winners and losers in that regard –and it’s the losers who will always walk around bemoaning the short-sighted bureaucrats at NASA who have no vision, etc. Another question, and I shall protect the questioner’s identity because he works for an entity where he both ought to have some visibility of what he speaks of, and could also get some heat from his bosses for asking it of Griffin, is “Isn’t it true that NASA has a “NIH” (Not Invented Here) mentality?” Griffin denies it hotly, and proceeds to name several recent initiatives that came from outside NASA and have been adopted and championed by the agency.

But the net-net of Griffin’s talk is that if we want to see NASA doing more, particularly in R&D, then we need to be complaining to our congressmen, rather than NASA. I don’t know how Griffin felt it went, or whether he felt it a worthwhile exercise, but I hope NASA will continue outreach to science fiction convention audiences. If it really is true that this is the first time in the fifty year history of NASA that its Administrator has addressed an sf convention, then I surely hope the second time is well before 2057. I’m resisting beginning  Sesquicentennial planning just yet, however!

Friday Wandering III

Lunch time! We head over to Jack Stack’s BBQ on the other side of the Westin. To get there, we have to walk through Union Station, Kansas City’s historic train station.

Union Station

Union Station

It was from here that the young Robert Heinlein left KC to head for Annapolis and a career in the US Navy in 1925. In 1997, the people of Missouri began to renovate Union Station to its original glory. It’s now very clean and lovely, and quite worth wandering through. Another old Heinlein Forum chum, Bill Dailey, had loved trains and knew this station very well as a local area resident. Bill had passed away in early 2005. We heard that he’d requested his ashes be spread on railway tracks, and as Deb and I passed over the tracks outside Union Station it occurred to us if you were going to do such a thing near Kansas City, this would certainly be the place to do it. So perhaps Bill Dailey made the RAH Centennial convention after all. It’s pleasant to think so, at least.

Fortified by food, Deb is now ready to do her duty to God, Country, and the Robert A. Heinlein Memorial Blood Drive.  Deb is very not fond of needles, you see. And is also a self-described “control enthusiast”, so is really not overly fond of letting other people do serious stuff involving her without close and personal supervision. Combine the two, and you can imagine how much bravery it takes for her to let somebody else stick a giant needle in her arm and extract a pint of blood. But she managed. I checked on her near the end of the process, and could tell that the good folks at the blood drive were quite familiar with her kind of donor and had swung into action. She was surrounded by three or four people, including Mike Sheffield himself, making sure everything was alright and that she was distracted enough by chatting with them to let the blood techs do their job. She informed me she wasn’t sure what all the hubbub was about. . .but then admitted it took three readings to get her pulse below the 100 beats per minute that is the maximum allowed for blood donors.

Take Back Your Government!

This would be the panel I was volunteered for by Robert James, though the fact is I was glad to do it and Robert knew I would be.  It is moderately a bit of a puzzlement why this panel was necessary when a panel earlier in the day had been named “From Socialist to Libertarian”; but anyway, here it was and Robert was assigned as the only panelist on it. He was looking for some rest for his voice with a long weekend ahead, and from previous conversations over the years knew that I’d followed the story fairly closely myself, including corresponding with Thomas J. Perry, author of “Ham and Eggs and Heinlein” in Damon Knight’s Monad in 1993 (Volume 3).  Alas, Tom had passed away in the late 90’s and would not be at this convention to talk about his own work and argue his own point of view on matters.  I was more than happy to do so, “for an absent friend”. And, besides, Robert and I do pretty good Alphonse and Gaston Heinlein panel theater, enjoying each other’s company. So we did our hour talking about RAH’s involvement with Upton Sinclair’s EPIC in southern California in the late 1930’s, the 1938 Democratic Primary in the 59th Assembly District against cross-filing Republican Charles Lyon, and the resulting How to be a Politician manuscript that Robert Heinlein wrote during his self-described “world saving period” after WWII. I will take author’s privilege here to include my best line of the weekend –“So far as I can tell, Robert Heinlein’s real ‘world saving period’ was from 1907 to 1988“.

 The Campbell Letters

We get to this one a bit early, as The Crazy Years was just finishing.  From the folks exiting the previous session we run into Drs. Amy Baxter and Louis Calderon, two of the nicest people on the planet.  Amy is the Heinleins’ adopted granddaughter, having written to them as a thirteen-year-old and offered herself for the position, which she understood to be unfilled. It’s clear that Amy and Ginny in particular had a close and loving relationship and that Amy and Louis do what they can to honor her memory, including showing up at events like this to talk about her. We’ll see more of Amy and Louis tomorrow.

Bill Patterson and Robert James are running the panel, while Fred Pohl, who is also listed on the program, is AWOL. Well, Fred Pohl can be AWOL whenever he feels like it at this point in his career; we’re all just happy he’s here to be on however many panels he does make. The main thrust of the panel is that Ginny’s Grumbles from the Grave had given the strong impression that the Heinlein/Campbell relationship and correspondence had mostly gone south during WWII over Campbell’s well-known penchant for offering his advice and criticism of the US Navy. Advice and criticism that the medically-discharged former naval officer felt quite strongly to be uninformed and unfair, and damned rude to be offering in his company at the very least. The reality is more complex, and a full reading of the Heinlein/Campbell correspondence shows that their relationship lasted well into the early 1950s, with Campbell’s fascination and enthusiasm for Dianetics, and most particularly his loud attacks on anyone who did not share them, ringing the real death knell of their relationship. Bill mentions that as part of his term as “Heinlein Scholar” at the UCSC archives that he located the entire correspondence in an unlikely spot, and it’s now been separated into its own file at both the physical archives and the online version of the same. In the implied criticism of Grumbles From the Grave, I’m offered another opportunity for a one-liner –“You know, it’s not called A Fair and Impartial Recounting of Events From the Grave”  Indeed, if you go back and find the letter where Robert first proposed such a volume to his agent in the late 60’s or early 70’s, it’s clear a certain amount of axe-grinding was entirely the point –he intended it to be Ginny’s “insurance policy” after he was gone, and wanted it to sell well.

Friday Wandering IV

We should be seeing Brian Binnie, pilot of SpaceShipOne right now, but it’s been a long day and I’m not going to walk from the Hyatt to the Westin and then back to the Hyatt for our 8pm and then back to the Westin again for our 9pm Heinlein Forum party. So, I missed what friends tell me was a great session with Binnie. Again, I look forward to the DVD put out by the con-com and hope it is sooner rather than later. Instead, I head up to the room in the Hyatt to pick up necessary supplies for the party at 9pm.  This would be a fourteen-year-old bottle of George Dickel’s Tennessee sipping whisky.  More on that just a little later.

 Heinlein Fandom Online/Rah Rah R.A.H!

This is JT’s panel. He’s on it alone, and he’s told all his old Heinlein Forum friends that it’s okay, really, if we go to Spider’s “Rah, Rah, R.A.H!” panel instead.  We, of course, show up at JT’s panel. Solidarnosc, or somesuch.  JT’s research has shown that the Heinlein Forum, which formed in late 1991 on Prodigy, is “the oldest continuous online Heinlein fangroup”. Yep, that’s right –we’re The Senior. Read it and weep, alt.fan.heinlein. Alas, everyone else is at Spider’s session, so it’s just HF’ers here. We make some Jets and Sharks jokes to the effect that if any old Compuserve types show up we’ll give them a wedgie and send them home in tears.

After half an hour or so of this, we all head over to “Rah Rah R.A.H!” and catch the last part of it. Once there I get to surprise Spider by telling him we’ve seen Ginny’s original letter to their agent (of which he says he was unaware at the time), written just before Robert’s life-changing carotid bypass in April 1978, declining, with regret, participation in Spider’s wonderful anthology, The Best of All Possible Worlds (the anthology gets a passing mention in “Rah, Rah, R.A.H.”, which is what reminded me to ask). Thank goodness in all kinds of ways that after the surgery in the spring of 1978 Robert Heinlein began to feel much better almost immediately and reconsidered that the anthology sounded like fun after all.

 The Heinlein Forum Gathering

Heinlein Forum Gathering

Heinlein Forum Gathering

That’s what we call them, “Gatherings”, actually taking a page out of the Highlander mythology to mix in with our Heinleiner base. The first Gathering was in 1993, at the Truman Reservoir near Butler, Missouri, RAH’s birthplace. There have been several since, including Oregon and other locales. And quite a few “mini-Gatherings” whenever more than 3 or 4 of us get together at the same time and place, which usually happens at Worldcons, but not always. For this Gathering we have from amongst the old timers: Audrey Gifford, Jim Gifford, Bob Lawson, Ed Johnson, John Tilden, Rosie Postelnek, Chuck Coffin, Linda Coffin, Deb Houdek Rule, and Geo Rule. We’ve also acquired two new HF’ers who will now be baptized in fire(water) at this edition of the Gathering. Chuck Coffin has brought Dave Stone with him, another ex-military type and long-time admirer of Heinlein’s fiction. Jim Gifford has invited Uri Gonda, an Israeli Heinlein fan who must have won the door prize for “furthest trip to be here” (I’m assuming, of course, that a Martian Old One would be too bashful to make himself known for just a door prize). Uri is a fun guy, who takes it with aplomb when we put him in the position of answering questions regarding the best way forward in the middle east on behalf of his entire country.

Audrey gets off a great line early on. She remarks that this convention reminds her very much of how veterans of Worldcons of the 1950s and earlier described those conventions when they got around to writing their memoirs in the 1970s and later, well after the field had exploded in size. They write, somewhat wistfully, that back then everyone knew everyone, and they had all read the same books and had the same basic frame of reference. This didn’t prevent some pretty stiff disagreements, of course, but it did produce a remarkable feeling of community. It’s one of those comments that I wouldn’t have thought to make myself, but immediately rings true when you hear someone else say it.

We ask Chuck how the Starship Troopers forum went earlier in the day. Chuck has actually written on ST for the Marine Corps Gazette (and, of course, said article was republished in The Galactic Citizen). Most of us feel that was one panel that had to be on the schedule, but is unlikely to change many minds at this point. At this convention we all know each other’s positions so well we could do an ST debate by the numbers –“Position 14 given with confidence!”  “Counter-argument 23 replied with forcefully!” and so forth. I’m tempted to outline my own position right here, but that wouldn’t be fair, would it?

Centennial saluteAh yes, that fourteen year old bottle of George Dickel.  .  .  Well, you see, Doc Coffin gave it to Deb in 1993 and she’s been hanging on to it ever since waiting for the right moment to consume it with our Forum friends. Doc gave it to Deb in honor of a similar bottle of whiskey shared with Mr. Heinlein. So, it’s travelled from North Carolina
to Minnesota to California to Minnesota to Missouri, and 14 years, to meet its fate here tonight. It will not be alone in giving its all for our enjoyment.

[Approximately 5,200 words about the party, which lasted until 3 AM, deleted as highly improbable bragging, and because my mom reads this website]

Next: Heinlein Centennial Day Two


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