Heinlein Centennial – Day Three

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 Three –7/8/2007

The Heinlein Archives

Now it’s Deb’s turn on the stage, with me in the Sancho Panza  role.  We get to the session to discover there is (as hoped) a projector and screen there, and, even better, hotel wireless networking has given us live access to the Online Heinlein Archives. Deb was prepared to show some stuff off her harddrive if necessary, but being able to do it live off the site is better.  Bill Patterson will be joining us to talk about the history and contents of the physical archives at UCSC. Marie Guthrie, who wrote her dissertation on Heinlein’s works, stops at the table to say ‘hi’ before the session begins. We promptly draft her onto the panel to give an academic’s viewpoint of what making the Archives available online will mean from that point of view.

Bill gives the history, and talks about his two year stint as “Heinlein Scholar” in residence at UCSC researching his biography and helping to organize the Archives.  Marie talks about what a huge plus it will mean for Heinlein scholarship in academic outlets by significantly easing the ability to peer review academic pieces on Heinlein. Yes, it was possible (and folks have done it over the years) for an academic to visit Santa Cruz and the Archives. But now for what, say, a two week stay in Santa Cruz visiting the archives would cost, someone could download the entire contents of the Archives to their harddrive and review/analyze them at their leisure. Additionally, academics with an immediate need can apply for a research grant from the Prize Trust, and if approved, get free access to the documents they need.

I talk a little bit about the backend that does the unique watermarking and document delivery, and solicit ideas for names to call it. I suggest “Felix” (for Felix Hamilton of Beyond This Horizon). Marie likes “Fair Witness” from Stranger in a Strange Land.

Now it’s Deb’s turn, and she talks about how as the part-time webmaster for the Heinlein Prize Trust, in early 2006 she was more or less handed 17 DVDs containing 200,000+ images with virtually no indexing information, and a nearly tabula rasa directive to make it happen.  Now, about 18 months later, the Online Archives have launched with phase one consisting of the Opus Manuscripts and a selection of materials from across the other areas of the collection. Then she takes the crowd on a tour using her laptop and the projector.

The audience response is gratifying, and in the folks who approach the table after the session comes the go-forward name of the backend  –DORA (Digital Online Research Archives)—from Lazarus Long’s ship’s computer’s name in Time Enough for Love. I regret to say I did not get the name of the gentleman who suggested it, but thanks, whoever you were.

Michael Cassutt, who has written for many of the science-fiction  TV series of the last twenty years, and has a monthly column for scifi.com, stops to say ‘hi’ as well. We spent a goodly amount of time with Mike, Jerry Pournelle, and others in the Society’s hospitality suite at CascadiaCon in 2005. He’s noticed our Ramsey, Minnesota residence mentioned in the bios section of the con program and wonders  exactly where that is. It turns out he has family in Hudson, Wisconsin, just across the St. Croix river, and gets back for a visit from time to time. This puts him approximately an hour away from us when he does. That dinner invitation is still on the table, Mike!

 Sunday Wandering I

Bill Patterson, Robert James, John Tilden, Deb and I have lunch at the Hyatt’s Mezzanine restaurant. Unfortunately we draw the Slowest Waitress in Kansas City and a rather ho-hum lunch turns into a two hour affair. At least the company was good!

Deb decides to run over to the Dealer’s Room in the Westin in order to see if any Heinlein book cover paintings in the Art area demand to follow her home. She’s actually going to be a bit late, as they will all be gone by the time she gets there.

 The Heinlein Interview

J. Neil Schulman has brought digitized recordings from his original 1973 interviews with Robert A. Heinlein that are the basis of the major portion of The Robert Heinlein Interview and Other Heinleiniana. He plays some of the juicier bits for the audience. It’s nice to hear Robert Heinlein’s voice again this weekend, and to hear the inflections and nuances he gives to the answers I’ve previously only read on the page.

 Heinlein Prize Trust II

This is a reprise of Saturday’s session. As Buckner waits for the start time to arrive, I ask him about his new company Excalibur Almaz. Buckner isn’t quite ready to talk about the new company yet (the Wikipedia entry looks pretty interesting, I must say, but I have no basis to offer an informed opinion as to its accuracy or inaccuracy). Instead, he launches into a bit of history of his commercial space venture background with partner Art Dula, another of the Heinlein Prize Trust trustees. I won’t attempt to do them justice here, but the stories strike me as a cross between Stuart La Joie from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and “Dealer Dan” Ezikian, the used spaceship salesman, from The Rolling Stones. Have you ever considered how difficult it must be to kickstart an industry in an area where the world’s most muscular and jealous governments have been enjoying an oligopoly and playing the national security card whenever it suits them to do so?

Buckner asks Sean Thompson to address status/progress of The Virginia Edition and Sean does so. The Trust seems satisfied with how things are going with The Virginia Edition, and plan to begin outreach to libraries as well in the near future. Then Deb and I talk about the Online Archives again.

 Closing Ceremonies

2107 in Luna City!” has been one of the recurring battle-cries of the weekend. In part because some here might reasonably actually make the Sesquicentennial, but no one wants to volunteer for that committee just yet! Indeed, Jim Gifford categorically denies to the audience that he can be shanghaied for a 2057 event.

Mike Farr announces the Society’s Robert A. Heinlein Centennial Writing Contest, with the exciting news that there will be $8,000 in guaranteed prize money for the top three entries. Given that “professional rates”, as defined by the SFWA, are $.05/word, that’s pretty good money. Probably this means that at least for the winning entry The Heinlein Society will likely pay the highest rate for a science fiction short story in 2008. Get writing all you writers out there! I notice a big smile from Deb when she realizes that current proposed rules only exclude board members of the Society from entering. It’s been awhile since she’s written fiction, so I look forward to what she comes up with.

Mike Sheffield, in charge of the blood drive, reports 76 people volunteered to give blood, with (I think) 61 resulting in successful donations. On the one hand, Mike had been hoping for 100 rather than 76 to honor the Centennial…on the other he admits that at the last con where he ran a blood drive there were 4,000 attendees and they produced about this number of donations. This convention had somewhat north of 600 people in attendance, so as a percentage we’ve done very well.

Lastly, all the volunteers are called up and thanked individually, including a modest token of esteem from the convention’s collectibles. Tina Black and KaCSFFS deserve a particular shout-out here for providing the bulk of the ground troops. Dr. Alan Koslow is also one of those introduced. Afterwards, I found him and thanked him for his perseverance, as he was one of the first to begin serious planning for what would become this convention.

 Sunday Evening Partying

After the closing ceremonies we head back to the bar in the Westin for a bit. I recall Robert James and Mike Farr being there, but I’m pretty sure there were others whose names escape me at the moment. We’ll be having another visit to the Gifford’s suite with those of the Heinlein Forum who are still here tonight, but by common agreement it will be an early evening, unlike the marathon partying sessions of the first two nights. We’re all tired, frankly!

We hang out with our friends for a couple of hours in Audrey and Jim’s suite, and now it’s time to go. We mention that we’re planning to drive down to Butler on Monday, and wonder if Jim and Audrey might as well. However, they’ve got finishing accounts with the con hotels to deal with tomorrow, and then a flight to catch, so they aren’t willing to commit. We exchange current cell phone info just in case.

As we’re driving home, while everyone else is flying, we get picked to take some of the left over alcohol with us. This means that we end up with an unopened bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey that spent a good part of the weekend in the company of the Heinlein Forum at the Centennial convention of Robert A. Heinlein. This appears to me to be some sort of weird Law of the Conservation of Sentimental Whiskey in action. We came with a fourteen year old bottle of George Dickel that had sentimental Heinleiner value –we’re leaving with a bottle of Jack Daniels with sentimental Heinleiner value. Maybe I’ll have something to bring, and a story to tell, at the Sesquicentennial convention after all.  Or, perhaps, if I don’t make Luna City in 2107 myself, that bottle of Jack Daniels will.  Too soon to say, but it’ll be put aside and we’ll see what happens.

We head back to the Hyatt, and as Deb orders dinner from room service, I head up to the Society’s suite to visit. We have a pleasant chat, and then Deb calls to say dinner has arrived, and off I go.

Next: Heinlein Centennial Day Last +1

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