Wonderful Things I’ve Seen in Science Fiction Fandom

This is a personal essay, based on my sixty plus years as a science fiction fan. I hope I can convey what the field has meant to me and the wonderful things I’ve seen in it.

I met Joe Haldeman at a Valentine’s Day party when I was 15 and he was 17. He was smart and funny and always had a science fiction book with him. I didn’t know what science fiction was, though I had set a story on Venus for a sixth-grade assignment.

He handed me a favorite book, Expedition to Earth, a collection of stories by Arthur C. Clarke. I was hooked.

We read in Analog Magazine about a World Science Fiction Convention in Washington, DC, Discon I. We lived close by, so we gathered a few friends and went to the convention.

The first wonderful thing I saw as we walked into the hotel was two men in business suits, fencing in the lobby. My memory is that it was Isaac Asimov and L. Sprague de Camp, giants in the field.

The next wonderful thing was the masquerade. Beautiful costumes worn by Jon and Joni Stopa, Robert and Barbara Silverberg, many others. We’d thrown together costumes ourselves. Mine was just a black blouse and slacks with an ANTI SEX LEAGUE button, from the book 1984. I was called back for a second run-through!

At the time, there were far more men than women in convention fandom. I was young and very shy. Receiving a lot of positive attention changed my life and turned me into an extrovert.

We became active in DC fandom soon after that, not because of the convention, but because Alice Krieg sat next to Joe in a Government class in college and she saw his copy of Analog. She took us to the Washington Science Fiction Association meetings and ended up married to Joe’s brother, Jay (Jack).

We went to college, married, graduated, all while attending lots of conventions on the East Coast. Then Joe was drafted into the army and sent to Vietnam. He corresponded regularly with lots of fans and received letters from Samuel R. Delany and J.R.R. Tolkien among them. He wrote a few articles for the fanzine ODD, called “NOTES FROM THE JOLLY GREEN JUNGLE.” Fans were so supportive when we both needed it most. Another wonderful thing.

Back in the science fiction world, WSFA was taking care of me.

When Joe came home, local fans stayed close and helped him get his feet back under him as we both recovered from the war.

Joe sold his first stories soon after. We met a young writer named Gardner Dozois, a wonderful thing himself. He arranged for Joe to be invited to the Milford Writers Workshop that Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm convened each year. Another life-changing experience to thank fandom for. Joe realized he could be a writer. There we met author Keith Laumer, who talked us into moving to Florida.

We visited author Mack Reynolds in Mexico that year, where we learned about the Iowa Writers Workshop. Joe applied and soon we moved from Florida to Iowa. As a graduate student, Joe taught a class in Writing Science Fiction with Professor Larry Martin.

It began meeting at The Mill, a bar in Iowa City, at five o’clock, every Wednesday. After the semester ended, the Science Fiction League of Iowa Students, the folks who were in the class plus other interested people, continued to meet at the Mill once a week for more than thirty years.

While it was still a class, we suggested we all go to Minicon, the convention in Minneapolis. I think there were at least ten students who went along. Watching the kids discover convention fandom was another wonderful thing.

The students came back and decided they could throw a convention, too. The ICON convention began in 1975 and continues today, another wonderful thing. ICON 47 will happen in October.

Other wonderful things I’ve seen in fandom:

Authors Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov trading insults across a convention hall for an hour.

Author Jack Williamson in his nineties talking like a teenager about the space program.

Author Frederik Pohl and editor H. L. Gold talking about old times at a convention party.

Author Keith Laumer dressed as his character Retief, in a sky-blue uniform.

Cartoonist Gahan Wilson drawing perfect hilarious cartoons from audience suggestions.

The Trans-Iowa Canal Company of Des Moines fandom doing satiric, funny plays every year at DemiCon and Worldcon.

Joe winning his first Hugo for The Forever War.

Both Joe and Bill Johnson winning Hugos at the 1998 Worldcon in Baltimore. Bill was one of the students in that Iowa class.

N.K. Jemisin winning each of her three Hugo Awards for Best Novel.

Edward Bryant as Toastmaster at the Hugos in 1981, on roller skates.

Robert Heinlein wearing stripper Pasha von Sternberg’s bra across his shoulders like epaulets after she threw it to him.

Astronaut Kjell Lindgren coming over to meet Joe and show him the photo he’d taken of Joe’s book The Forever War floating in zero gravity in the International Space Station. As I write this, Kjell is Commander of the SpaceX Crew-4 mission.

The throne from Game of Thrones in the exhibition hall at a convention.

Joe introducing George R.R. Martin to his future wife, Parris McBride.

Astronaut Mike Fincke reminding Joe that he’d taken Joe’s SF Writing class at MIT and might not have become an astronaut if he’d done better in the class.

There are always wonderful things at SF conventions. The masquerade is almost always wonderful. One of my favorite costumes was a skinny guy in a loin cloth with a book in his hand. The name of the costume was CONAN THE LIBRARIAN. Another favorite was Karen Anderson and her teenage daughter Astrid as BAT AND BITTEN. Karen swooped in, wrapped Astrid in her black cape and swooped back, leaving Astrid with two red bite marks on her neck, blood dripping on her white dress. Dramatically wonderful.

The Dealers Room or Huckster’s Room always has wonderful things. One memory is pulp magazine collector and dealer Rusty Hevelin giving away books to readers who seemed excited by what they saw on his table.

The Art Show! What a wonderful place. Gorgeous, grotesque, creative, fantastic. We never miss it.

There have been some wonderful panels at conventions, too, of course, too many to mention all of them. One of my favorites was the Liars Panel with Joe, George R.R. Martin, Connie Willis, Mike Resnick, and Robert Silverberg. They’re all consummate entertainers in their own right, so don’t miss any panels they’re on.

The parties every night at conventions are often wonderful things. Sometimes you just sit and talk to new people. Sometimes the hosts have elaborate decorations and food.

Some other wonderful moments have been at filk gatherings at conventions. “Filk” is an accidental misspelling of “folk” in a fanzine that was picked up and made part of fannish language. It means folk music about science fiction and fantasy. My favorite form of filk performance is the bardic circle. Everyone sits in a big circle. Each person either performs or points to someone else to perform. So the good singers and players get lots of attention and the beginners get a chance to show their talent. One favorite moment is a friend singing in public for the first time and doing a great job. Another is watching a man play music on a saw.

Another wonderful thing for us has been the opportunity to travel extensively, invited to conventions around the US and in other countries. We now have really close friends, almost family, in Sweden, England, France, Spain, Mexico, Canada, Romania, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries, all fans and writers of science fiction. A wonderful thing that happened at a convention in Jersey was our opportunity to put together some fannish friends from different countries.

There was an American restaurant there, so we invited our dear French friends and our dear Spanish friends to join us at the restaurant for dinner. The French friends said they weren’t so sure; they really didn’t like Spanish people very much. The Spanish friends said they weren’t so sure; they really didn’t like French people very much. We talked them into it.

We gathered at a round table and had a wonderful evening with them all getting to know each other (it helps that I speak Spanish and can get by in French; much translating took place).

We had to leave the next morning, but we found out later they all got together for breakfast the next morning! Another wonderful thing.

Artist John Picacio arranged for a large group of Mexican writers to attend the Worldcon in San Jose in 2018, raising money and spreading the word. It was a group of fascinating, intelligent, interesting people, who contributed greatly to the convention, a wonderful thing.

Another wonderful memory: Watching a panel at a convention in Dublin, Ireland. Three Russian writers were invited guests. None of them spoke English, but one spoke French. The Russians would speak, one of them would translate to French, then French writer Patrice Duvic would translate to English. Joe and I were in the audience, seated between two Brazilian writers. I’d translate the English into Spanish and then one of the writers would translate my Spanish into Portuguese for his friend. It was like playing telephone tag. Something wonderful that couldn’t have happened without science fiction fandom.

The most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen in fandom, though, was what Cincinnati fandom did for us.

We’d traveled to the area to attend ChiliCon, a large fan party near Cincinnati. Late at night, Joe woke up in great pain (not from the chili). I called an ambulance and we went to the hospital. He had emergency surgery that night; the doctor didn’t know whether he would survive.

I was in the waiting room most of the night. The ChiliCon attendees brought me food and blankets and company.

Joe was transferred to the ICU and then we waited and watched. The fans stayed close.

When it became apparent that it would be a long wait, one fan loaned me a beautiful apartment he’d inherited from his aunt, fully furnished and lovely. Another loaned me a van he didn’t need, that turned out to be almost exactly like the van I drove at home. Another took me home every few days to play in her garden, pet the cats, and eat good food. Almost every evening when I came back from the hospital, there was a cooler of food waiting. It took two months to get Joe back on his feet again. The Cincinnati Fan Group are wonderful people.

We realized that if this had happened to us in any number of other cities, there would have been other fan groups that would probably have come to our rescue as well. What a wonderful thing to know.

Science fiction fandom, we’ve found, is a wonderful place to live. Fan or professional, you can meet your literary or artistic heroes, meet like-minded people, have lots of fun, and learn new things. Come join us.


Gay Haldeman

Gay Haldeman has managed SF Grandmaster Joe Haldeman’s career since it began in 1969. She’s taught Spanish and English as a Foreign Language and taught writing for 30 years in the Writing Center at MIT. She was active in Washington, D.C., fandom in the 60s and 70s and helped found the Science Fiction League at the U. of Iowa in 1975, where she has been club and convention Mommy and Mommy Emeritus ever since. In 2011 she was given the Big Heart Award. She’s been going to SF conventions since 1963. After 57 years of marriage, she still thinks Joe is the best thing that ever happened to her.

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