by J. A. Buxton
A trip back in time of how my life was changed by Mr. Spock, a Bantha, and other aliens.
Write a story or poem about the day you (or your character) go to a science fiction convention. Imagine (or recall) what it is like. Tell about the costumes you see, the zany acts, the exhibits, the strange conversations in line and during the event. Don’t forget to tell why you decided to go and with whom.
I have been a fan of science fiction since I was very young and an original Trekker since the 1960s. Over a few decades, I’ve attended many conventions beginning with the 1967 World Science Fiction Convention or Nycon 3 held in New York City.
That first Con actually changed my outlook on life. I always considered my love of science fiction was something not shared by many other people. Walking into the hotel where the Con was held, I was immediately surrounded by thousands of people, some of whom were wearing alien costumes, and felt right at home. Over that Labor Day weekend, I saw many well-known authors and even managed in my clumsy way to insult Harry Harrison while stumbling over my tongue when speaking to one of my literary heroes, Isaac Asimov.
I was talking with a few people and mentioned when the subject came up that Harry Harrison wasn’t my favorite author. Suddenly, I heard a mellow voice repeat this rude comment, but in the form of a surprised question. Turning around to see who had said this, I saw Isaac Asimov standing next to the aforementioned Mr. Harrison. All I could say was, “No, but you are!” After that “witty” response, I was so embarrassed I wanted to find a hole and crawl into it like a Horta would.
Because I was also wearing a disguise of sorts, a tight red jump suit and long wig, I felt no shyness during those three days. I once wore that same jump suit on a visit back East to visit my parents. When they met me at Logan Airport, Mum insisted I put Dad’s raincoat over such a scandalous outfit. As this old photograph shows, back then I didn’t look all THAT bad.
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Saturday afternoon, a well-known English writer approached and invited me to a party. I soon found myself with him in a hotel room surrounded by so many famous people I thought I’d died and gone to Heaven. I mean, there I was sitting on the carpet in front of Sarek trying to pretend I went to parties like this all the time. Sarek, Mr. Spock’s father, was as “fascinating” to listen to as he was to look at.
The highlight of the three days, at least for me, was a preview of Star Trek’s first episode of the upcoming season. To our absolute delight, we got to see “Amok Time” days before normal people saw it on television. At the all-too-soon end of the World Con, I returned home to South Boston determined to attend more of these conventions. At the age of 25, I’d finally discovered a way of life where I belonged.
The following year, I went cross country to attend the next World Con in Oakland, California. During that wonderful Labor Day weekend, I got to touch a Hugo. Harlan Ellison had left it on a table when he went to talk with friends. As I walked by that magnificent award, I dared to reach out with a finger and touch the Hugo. WOW! I could hardly believe how much I’d changed in one year from an extremely shy girl to one who dared to touch the highest award a science fiction author can get. The picture I’m including here shows I no longer needed to disguise myself.
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I even gained enough confidence to move from Boston to California three months after this convention and immediately felt right at home. It’s true that California is more than a state; it’s a state of mind.
For the next few years, I went to many Star Trek conventions as that TV show became more and more popular. The largest I attended was at the Oakland Coliseum where a friend who went with me took over 70 photos of William Shatner. I had to hold her back from running up on the stage and hugging him. I always thought 70 photos were a bit excessive, not like my 50 or so of Mr. Spock, I mean Leonard Nimoy.
Star Trek and regular science fiction conventions had pretty much the same activities. There was the crowded huckster room filled with sales tables containing anything and everything related to science fiction or Star Trek. There was another room where we could bid on artwork by talented and not-so-talented artists. I still have a lovely sketch of a unicorn, one of my favorite animals. There were so many paintings I wish I owned, but due to the lack of money back then, I only have photos of some of them. If I remember correctly, the paintings in the photo below represent a character from Michael Moorcock’s novel, Stormbringer.
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Then there is the costume ball, which is always fun and at times surprising. Eventually there was a rule that at least 10 percent of the body must be covered. Since the rule never stated which parts, some alien costumes pushed the limits of nudity. Nobody seemed to mind, though, and it was all done in good fun. I’ll never forget the evening when a Bantha from the Star Wars movie ambled out onto the stage. The fans who created that marvelous wooly animal amazed us all, and I do wish I had a photo of that event.
As I stated in the beginning of this non-fiction piece, attending my first science fiction convention in NY began to change my life in that I lost my shyness. The second one I went to in CA gave me enough courage to move 3,000 miles away from my family. Even decades later, I still read science fiction although I no longer go to the conventions.