My mother took me to my first science fiction convention when I was nine. Mom was a regionally known writer of science fiction and fantasy stories and a member of SFWA. She tells me that she started writing when I was very young. My first understanding of living with a science fiction writer meant having a big mailbox.
Mom was always stalking at the mailbox. Every day when she would bring in the mail, she would anticipate acceptance letters from the editors of various publications that she sent her manuscripts to. I learned early on that when a thick manila envelope was in the mail, it contained a returned manuscript with a short letter of rejection. Not too infrequently, my mother would chirp delightfully when the flotsam of bills and junk mail would conceal a thin envelope with a letter of acceptance. She would beam and glow with satisfaction when she got the thin envelopes, scowl and frown when she got the thick envelopes. But, I never really thought anything of it at the time because she was Mom and I loved her 'cause I was her kid.
By the time I was aware of the nature of my mother's profession it was the mid-eighties. My grade school had a brand new computer lab with Apple Macintosh II computers. At home, my Mother's office looked just like Matthew Broderick's bedroom in the movie Wargames. Mom had graduated from her Royal Alpha typewriter to an IBM clone running a word processing program called Multi-Mate. The IBM had a huge noisy disc drive and a big green monochrome monitor. Mom's typewriter had no memory, but did have had a huge parallel port so it could be used as a printer. The whole house rang with that thing when she printed out a manuscript, character-by-character, line-by-line, TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT-TAT like a machine gun!
She had a modem too. I first heard a dial-up tone over twenty-five years ago as my Mother went online to post on writer's bulletin boards and chat with them on GENIE. Years later when I went off to college, people who had never typed LOAD "*",8,1 in their life, were enraptured with chat rooms. By then that was passé to me. I didn't understand what the fuss was about.
Periodically, Mom would disappear on weekends to go to one of the two Chicago regional Science Fiction conventions WindyCon and CapriCon (this was before DucKon). She often was invited to speak on writer's panels. Sometimes she went overnight to conventions, such as ICon, outside of the Chicago area. Naturally I was curious.
In 1985 I asked to go with her to a convention. I remember that it was 1985 because the author guest of honor was Frederik Pohl. I remember going out to eat with him and my mom and many other panelists. It was Capricon V at the Hyatt Lincolnwood.
Having had a well cared for and sheltered upbringing, I was astounded by the magnitude of the event. It was in a huge packed hotel. An astounding variety of people were jamming the lobby and the hallways. Everyone seemed very excited to be at the convention, warmly greeting each other like long lost friends. Some people were coming in from the parking lot with lots of luggage and bins full of stuff. It was weird and wild!
As we waited to register, I noted that a good number of the people were a bit, well, odd in appearance. Some people rattled and clinked with dozens of buttons and badges promoting unfamiliar quotes and colorfull phrases. Some folks rattled and clinked about in armor. Everyone had a convention badge for the event. Most had given themselves clever "handles". Some people displayed badges from conventions past.
A few large bulletin boards were thickly posted with messages, greetings, information and invitations to room parties honoring all sorts of phenomena. I received my schedule and badge, and with the instructions not to go into any strange men's hotel rooms, was free to explore. My mother was speaking in several panels during the day so I checked with her at the end of every one of them. Being just a kid, I found the panels boring in general. I found the people to be irresistible.
As one would expect, every canon of Science fiction was represented some way in costume. Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, elves, Hobbits, chain mail, wizards, Red Sonjas, corseted wenches and Cleavage, Cleavage, Cleavage! I mingled about in the ConSuite and hung about in the lobby for some time. I was an awkward teen without many friends back then but I was not very shy. I found that adult science fiction conventioneers were rather approachable and friendly. I held conversations with a lot of nice folk, several of them whose breath smelled like vomit! Good times were being had! Still, I felt a bit of an outsider in an insider's scene. There was much to learn.
I spent time in the movie room. I did not spend very much time in the gaming rooms. The art gallery was nice enough. But, it was the huckster's room I found to be completely enthralling and spent a great deal of time there wandering about. The huckster's room was filled with vendors hawking everything related to Science Fiction. Loads of paperback books, role-playing games, artwork, sculpture, pornographic comics, books, jewelry, videos, paintbrush artists, t-shirts, and buttons, buttons, buttons! I bought a few buttons and felt like I fit in, one of the crowd. Later I got my Mom to buy me some Elfquest novels. My fandom had begun!
We went home at the end of each day. On Sunday I found that many people were sad and melancholy that the weekend was over. I found myself to be one of them and found myself yearning for the next convention.
So I was born again a fanbrat and I went to many more conventions. As I grew older, I began to attend whole weekends at the conventions. I came to know every inch of the Hyatt Regency Woodfield and the Hyatt Lincolnwood. I met the acquaintance of several of my fellow fanbrats, especially the female fanbrats! One initiated me to Anime. Another became my girlfriend and I went to visit her in the city when I got my driver's license. Many of the fanbrat girls worked off the cost their memberships as "Gophers" and were heavily into every aspect of the conventions. They were especially involved in the costume contests! Even though I never participated myself, I was always impressed by the effort so many conventioneers put into their costumes. Of course, many of them wore the costumes all convention long.
I became especially enamored with the Filking. I quickly discovered these drunken minstrels lounging in the lobbies in large groups in the late hours of the night, playing and singing ridiculously clever songs, lampooning all the various themes of the genre. Plus, they did not have any qualms about sharing their libations with a minor!
Of course, come Friday and Saturday nights, scores of room parties were held. The variety of party themes was endless, but you had to have a theme, it is some sort of unwritten code! Even if it is simple as bringing a VCR and holding an all night screening of The Prisoner, every party must have a theme. Anyone could just walk into anybody else's room party. I watched movies, played role-playing games, I played music in impromptu jams, I ate, I danced, I enjoyed illicit libation, made out with girls, and partied all night long! Good Times!
In 1991 I attended the WorldCon, ChiCon V. It was the biggest convention I have been to before or since. By this time had gotten really into horror novels. I met Michael Whelan and bought prints of "Lovecraft's Nightmare" and had him sign it. I met Clive Barker and had him sign a copy of the first volume of "Clive Barker's Hellraiser" graphic novel. I bought a nice load of paperbacks there. Most of my Fanbrat girls were there.
By that time, however, other interests were beginning to eclipse my interest in going to conventions. Where I previously was a loner and had few friends, I now had many friends and acquaintances in High School. I complimented my taste in horror novels with a fondness for death metal. I was playing bass in a band. I began to have girlfriends who went to my high school. I had free use of the family station wagon and piled it full of friends to all ages punk rock shows in Elmhurst and Homewood, and to the very excellent Rocky Horror Picture Show troupe in Buffalo Grove. Life was changing and I stopped going to the cons altogether by the time I went away to college.
I have been to a few conventions since then, for old time's sake. With the exception of my ex-girlfriend, I have not spoken to any of my fanbrat peers since my teens. I suppose that nothing can match the excitement and exuberance of your first con when you are just a wee bratling. But I still love science fiction and horror. It is a part of me.
I will always be a fanbrat.
(I love you, Mom.)
Submitted for SciFiQuest 2011: The Undiscovered Nodegel