30th Jul, 2007

The Heinlein Centennial

heinlein centennial logoThe Heinlein Centennial – Kansas City, MO – 07-07-07

One hundred years ago, on July 7, 1907, Robert Anson Heinlein was born. One hundred years later, nineteen years after his death, he is remembered and honored, in the city he grew up in.

I first got wind of the Heinlein Centennial back in, oh, around late October or early November of last year, when writer John Scalzi mentioned it in his popular blog, the Whatever (www.scalzi.com/whatever/). John ScalziAs Heinlein has always been one of my top favorite authors, ever, I followed up, read the contents of the Centennial’s official website (www.heinleincentennial.com), and shortly thereafter booked my convention, hotel and flight reservations. Then it was seven months of anticipation. Read about Heinlein on Wikipedia here.

The flights were smooth and flawless (thanks, Travelocity and Continental-dba-ExpressJet Airways!), though somewhat cramped on the Embraer 145 jets that I was on for each and every leg of the outbound and inbound flights. After a short wait for a shuttle to carry me from Kansas City International Airport to the Hyatt Regency Crown Center, I was soon settled in around 4 p.m. on Thursday, 5 July. Early registration for the event was at 5 p.m. in the other hotel in the complex, the Westin Crown Center, which left me almost an hour to kill. This left me some time for exploration, which I furthered during the course of my stay; here are the accumulated but rather abbreviated results of my travels:

The Crown Center is a complex of buildings centered around the international headquarters of Hallmark Cards. Two hotels, several office buildings including the Hallmark Cards international headquarters building, and a shopping mall are all linked together either directly or via a series of enclosed elevated walkways; the complete pathways linking the buildings are known, appropriately enough, as “The Link”. The Link also has a branch that runs from the Westin to Union Station, a genuine historical landmark and operating train station, perhaps known best to history as the site of the Kansas City Massacre. Crown Center encircles a large, terraced plaza, replete with fountains and a tented performance area. All of this lies about a half-mile south of downtown. The Crown Center was an excellent choice to host the Centennial, as it is very much a “futurist” setting, a so-called “city within a city”. It is also adjacent to the massive, sprawling Liberty Memorial, the national World War I memorial and museum; the memorial overlooks Union Station.

Had enough with the Wikipedia and other internet links? Sorry, there’ll be more. For instance, this overview of Kansas City. Why all this history? Well, as Heinlein put it, “The three-legged stool of understanding is held up by history, languages, and mathematics. Equipped with these three you can learn anything you want to learn. But if you lack any one of them you are just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots.” And Kansas City is loaded with history, not a little of which you can find in his writings. That’s why I’m front-loading this article with all of this stuff; it’s germane (plus, I don’t want to track dung into the house). The Centennial was held, not only in Heinlein’s hometown, but also in a place ripe with a history that helped mold him, and in a building complex that is explicitly futuristic for it’s time. In other words, a true Heinlein-esque setting.

OK, back to the Centennial itself. I managed, by dint of being the kind of schlub who is always early to the party, to be the first person to fill out the register… which then left me with even more time to kill (easily accomplished by getting some dinner). But at 6 p.m., the doors opened for the first official event for all the early arrivals, a quiet reception near the registration tables with a cash bar. People drifted in and out during the next couple of hours, but Bill Patterson, a major Heinlein biographer, read from his book and answered questions for well over an hour, occasionally helped out by Heinlein scholar (and discoverer of the manuscript for For Us, The Living) Robert James. Around 8-ish, the reception ended, and we dispersed to our rooms.

From this point onward, it gets tricky. Starting Friday morning, there were almost always at least three separate Centennial events going on concurrently, and often as many as eight, not including any autograph sessions, the huckster’s room/museum or the movies and videos. And with the Science Fiction Research Association holding it’s own, somewhat-affiliated conference at the Westin at the same time with multiple venues of it’s own, and with the Campbell Conference also being held there as well, a truly interested person would have to be duplicated as much as 15 times to be able to attend every event going on during the weekend. Everyone had to make decisions, often very tough ones, almost every hour of the Centennial, as to what they would attend. And with the various events spread between the two hotels, a solid 3-minute brisk walk via The Link… well, it became even tougher, especially for those not in prime physical condition!

The panels were basically in three categories: panels on Heinlein biographical information, panels on Heinlein media, and panels on real-world science, especially as predicted or inspired by Heinlein. I tended to stick to the media side, but honestly, if I could have attended them all, I would have. Most panels were held at the Hyatt, but some were at the Westin, as were the registration desk, autograph tables, main auditorium, movie room and museum/marketplace.

My Friday morning started at 10 a.m., with a talk on Private Human Spaceflight, presented by Patti Smith of the FAA. It was very interesting, as it presented an overview of what’s going on in the United States in non-federal (read: non-military and non-NASA) spaceflight development. Among other facts, I was surprised to learn that there are currently 7 licensed commercial spaceports in the US, with more undergoing license approval; I also had no idea that there were more than two or three private spaceflight ventures underway – it’s more like twenty (approximately). Ms. Smith’s speech was quite inspiring, and she answered a host of questions from the audience afterwards.

Then came the official start of the Centennial: the Welcoming Ceremonies. This was basically a bunch of short introductions and speeches, highlighted with a video of Virginia Heinlein’s 1988 reading of her late husband’s rather famous “This I Believe” speech, which Robert had originally written and delivered in 1952 on radio. Seconds into the video, the audio was overlaid with the actual recording of Robert’s radio delivery; it was a rather powerful couple of minutes as the two media played together. Also announced was the blood drive; if you know much about Robert Heinlein, you know that he was instrumental in getting blood drives a going concern in SF fandom. Mike Sheffield – kilt-clad all weekend, including a formal kilt for the dress dinner – organized this event; it was held all day Friday and Saturday. We were informed during the Closing Ceremonies on Sunday, that the blood drive had garnered the highest percentage of participation than any other convention it had been held at. Keep in mind, that there were only about 700 attendees (according to a recent update on the Centennial website), so the actual number of donors was fairly low, but it comprised a high percentage of the available potential donor base.

Oh, it was at this time that I came across the Voodoo Board. If you don’t know what a Voodoo Board is, you can read the same article that I did about it – this was printed out and posted at the top of the board. Quite interesting; I’d never heard of this sort of thing before, but it seems quite clever: low tech, very efficient and easy to set up. Sigh; I knew no one at the Centennial, so I never got a pin next to my name.

After the Welcoming Ceremonies, my next stop was “Tracking Down For Us, The Living”, hosted by Robert James. Mr. James is the man who, while researching Heinlein bibliographica and visiting the ailing Virginia Heinlein during her final hospital stay, discovered that a copy of the manuscript for the long-lost first Heinlein novel still existed. It was an incredible and enlightening tale of detective work, and also shed a lot of light on the Heinlein’s personal life. Despite Mr. James’ admonition that the tale would only take about 10 minutes to tell, he put in so much detail and framing into the story that the complete saga completely filled the allotted hour, and no one was eager to leave.

wood robinsons & baxterI next attended “Variable Star”, which was a recounting by Spider and Jeanne Robinson, Eleanor Wood and Amy Baxter about the discovery of the partial notes for this unwritten Heinlein novel, and how Spider Robinson came to complete the tale. Spider, of course, was the co-author (with Robert Heinlein, of course); Eleanor Wood is the agent for all Heinlein works on behalf of the Robert A. & Virginia Heinlein Prize Trust, and the Robert A. & Virginia Heinlein Library Foundation (actually, I believe that’s better known as the Butler Library Foundation, but I could well be wrong). Amy Baxter… this is a bit complicated. Amy Baxter is the Heinlein’s granddaughter. Not via blood or marriage, nor by adoption; she was “taken in” as their “granddaughter” the way some families have an “Aunt” or an “Uncle” who is really just a friend of the family. But the Heinleins treated her very much as their actual granddaughter, and she holds a great deal of the Heinlein’s personal effects that were either given to her or willed to her. Ms. Baxter’s contribution to the writing of Variable Star was, if I recall correctly, quite minimal if even extant, but she did have a post-publishing contribution: she had the original, legible copies of RAH’s notecards for Variable Star, which she brought to the Centennial and showed to Spider just minutes before this session began. Now, Spider had worked from a 3-page outline, and a set of illegible copies of those notecards, so Spider – assuming that there were no other copies of the notes available – had basically made up the last half of the book because he couldn’t read the notecards. Now, during the session, he could see what Robert had really intended…! I have to say, Spider is at least as good a storyteller in person as he is in writing, and it was a pleasure to hear him speak.

robert JamesFollowing “Variable Star” was the hot-button topic of the day: ‘Racist, Sexist, Fascist”, hosted by Robert James and Lee Martindale. Racist, sexist and fascist are the three principal charges laid against RAH when critics have an axe to grind or readers with an agenda don’t look below the surface. Racist is usually aimed at Farnham’s Freehold, a charge which ignores the obvious mirror Heinlein held up to his predominantly white readers; Sixth Column is usually next in line for it’s “anti-Asian racism”, which ignores the Asian heroes in the book, as well as the original source of the book (Heinlein rewrote it for John W. Campbell, who was the original author). Sexist is a bewildering charge, as Heinlein had a slew of very independent, quite liberated and extremely smart female characters in his works, and in fact referred to his own wife as being smarter than himself. This charge is often directed specifically at Friday, particularly at the beginning of the book when the titular heroine is being tortured and raped. Disregarding certain facets of the character that are explicitly described which make her reaction to the rape understandable, what critics are often misunderstanding is that Friday is a broken person – not right mentally and emotionally, thanks to her “unperson” status in the world and the abuse and discrimination she suffers due to her status. The book is about her becoming –or rather, realizing that she actually is – a person, and the healing that occurs during this process. This is hardly sexist. Fascist refers to one book and one book only, Starship Troopers, a charge that has been substantially revived thanks in no small part to the movie of the same name. Considering that Heinlein was a lifelong enemy of fascism, and that Starship Troopers (the book, at least) only suggests that democratic rights ought to be earned, not inherited or assumed, it is difficult at best to understand how such a charge can be reasonably levied. It’s usually through a misuse of the word fascist, rather than through an understanding. Of note there are some excellent analysis of both the book and the film, found here and here.

Then it was movie time. “Montana Rides Again” was hosted by – and the movie itself written and produced by – Amanda Davidson and Jeff Larsen. Thanks to a series of technical difficulties, the actual 15-minute movie was delayed by almost fifteen minutes, and as this session was only half an hour long instead of an hour, things got tight at the end. Amanda did yeoman’s work keeping the audience’s attention by discussing the production of the movie, and was actually very good at the job. The movie itself, when it finally got going, was an amusing Heinlein pastiche regarding a line marriage (seen quite a few times in his later works; try The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress and Friday for starters; and a decent capsule description here at Wikipedia. It was perhaps a little top-heavy with inside jokes, but quite watchable.

Thanks to the delay in the movie, I was a couple of minutes late for “Cabellism”, hosted by veteran SF writer Fred Pohl and Heinlein biographer Bill Patterson (who had hosted the talk on Friday night during the early-bird reception). This was intended to be a discussion of how James Branch Cabell had influenced Heinlein’s writing, but mostly turned out to be reminiscences by Fred Pohl about Heinlein and Campbell, and Mr. Pohl’s tour of editorial duties Back In The Day. Honestly, I don’t think there was much that could have filled an hour on Cabell’s influence on Heinlein, so hearing from one of the true greats of the field before his voice, too, is lost to time, was really a treat. Heh… the only actual thing I can remember about Cabell is that his name is pronounced in rhyme with “rabble”. But Fred Pohl’s stories about Heinlein and Campbell were excellent, and I felt privileged to be able to hear them directly from one of my favorite authors.

Scalzi Bailey GerroldMy next destination was a discussion of longevity and the problems associated with long life, “Methuselah’s Children”. This was hosted by ex-SFWA president Robin Wayne Bailey, major SF writer and Star Trek fan-favorite David Gerrold (his own website here, but it hasn’t been updated in quite a while; try also the Wikipedia entry here, Lee Martindale, and new SF writer John Scalzi, whose name I’ve timidly offered up once or twice. This session was primarily an audience Q & A session, ably guided by Ms. Martindale and Messrs. Scalzi and Gerrold; Mr. Bailey contributed some information but was otherwise fairly quiet through the session. The general thrust of the session ended up on the subject of health insurance coverage for the long-lived. It perhaps doesn’t sound terribly sexy, but there were some interesting ideas bandied about, with quite a few improvements suggested over the various systems currently in place in the Western world. We SF fans have always been able to solve the worlds’ problems in short order…

Upon conclusion of “Methuselah’s Children”, it was time to break for some dinner, but a small group of us spent about 10 minutes with John Scalzi and David Gerrold in the hallway outside the session room, mostly listening to David and John talk about writing; then it was seriously time to go eat, and the group broke up.

scalzi martindaleThe final session of the night for me was “Starship Troopers: The Debate”. The debate being, “did ST glorify war?” Hosting this session was Lee Martindale, John Scalzi, James Gifford and Hugh S. Gregory III (who has a nice bio here. The session started off slow, as Ms. Martindale was alone for a couple of minutes in front of the audience, but then Mr. Scalzi arrived, and showed a huge amount of class by grabbing a chair off of the staging platform and putting it down in front with Ms. Martindale. Perhaps it would be wise to mention that Lee Martindale is apparently wheelchair-bound, and during her previous sessions spent her time looking up at the other panelists, who were all on platforms a good two feet above floor level. Mr. Scalzi’s change of venue was much appreciated by panelists and audience alike. James Gifford showed up a minute or two after that, whereupon the discussion began; Mr. Gregory arrived about fifteen minutes later, having just gotten in from the airport.

Frankly, all of us, audience and panel members alike, were pretty much of one mind when it came to the simple answer to the question, “does Starship Troopers glorify war?” That answer being, of course, “NO!” There were plenty of complexities in the longer answers from people – for example, while John Scalzi thought the book was essentially about becoming responsible, Lee Martindale considered it a “love letter to warriors” (but not war). Discussion rambled all over the place; Mr. Gregory offered up multiple personal real-life anecdotes from his own military experiences that were similar to passages in the book. But ultimately, beyond that “NO!” answer, it was pretty convincingly shown that asking that initial question demonstrates a lack of understanding about the book. However, Mr. Gifford did point out that Heinlein stated in print some “facts” about ST that simply aren’t true, which in aggregate could lead one to believe several incorrect things about the book (see the links above at the end of the paragraph on “Racist, Sexist, Fascist”). Yes, Heinlein was wrong about something he wrote!

That session wound down, what with everyone being in some stage or other of exhaustion, pretty much on time – we had been told that the last session of the night could go late, but I doubt anything but the filksinging went much beyond 9 p.m.

Saturday started early for me, what with me still being on Eastern time (and I never got off of it, so I was always up “early” and never had any jet lag during or after the trip). This was THE DAY – Robert Anson Heinlein’s centennial birthday, 07/07/07! Thanks to my “early rising,” I took the opportunity to walk around the area and take pictures, before grabbing a quick breakfast and heading to my first session of the day, “General Semantics.”

General Semantics is a form of thinking – an “educational discipline” that was created in the early part of the 20th century by Alfred Korzybski (general Wiki info here, and a major U.S. General Semantics web site here. In the science fiction field, it was popularized by A. E. van Vogt, and Heinlein was influenced to some degree by it as well. This session was hosted by David Gerrold and Steve Stockdale, current executive director of the Institute of General Semantics.

gerroldThis session was quite interesting to me, as I had thought General Semantics to be long dead. Instead, it is to every appearance a thriving school of thought with publications, several strong web presences, and a host of adherents. I was also surprised to learn that David Gerrold has been a lifelong student of General Semantics. While the session started off discussing Heinlein’s use of GS (primarily in his novella “Gulf”), it moved on to discuss GS in general and it’s current state today. David also discussed how he first got into GS (as a child) and how it has influenced his works.

meretzky falsteinThe next session was in the same room; “Heinlein’s Influence on Gaming” was hosted by Noah Falstein and Steve Meretzky; Jon Mavor (a senior staff member at Gas Powered Games) and Maurine Starkey (an artist on many computer games) were also supposed to host but were unable at the last minute to attend the Centennial. Noah and Steve briefly discussed their experiences with Heinlein’s writings and how they were influenced by it; also discussed were games directly derived from Heinlein’s works, most notably the Starship Troopers board game from Avalon Hill. This discussion session was broad and shallow; there was almost nothing in-depth here, basically just a lot of naming of names with some slides of a few games here and there. Noah showed some shots of some of his “serious games”, and Steve allowed that he was probably influenced by Willis, the Martian “bouncer” from Heinlein’s Red Planet, in his creation of the sidekick character Floyd in the game Planetfall. An interesting session for gamers, but rather light on Heinlein.

Then it was time to move upstairs to my next selected talk, “My Father Was A Knife”, hosted by John Scalzi and Dave Creek (website here but it hasn’t been updated in quite a while, and I find no other significant information on him anywhere else). This session on bioengineering (a la Friday, from which the session’s title comes; it’s a sort of identifying phrase between “artificial” persons) was good, but quickly strayed into similar territory as the “Methuselah’s Children” talk the night before. Some of the significant issues facing bioengineering will involve health insurance coverage, much as longevity will – see the movie Gattaca for one popular and well-executed examination of this potential issue.

kloorAt the conclusion of “My Father Was A Knife,” I shuffled next door to “Heinlein On The Idiot Box,” about the various adaptations of Heinlein’s work on television. Hosted by Robin Wayne Bailey, Michael Cassutt and Bill Patterson. Joining the panel in an unscheduled appearance was Dr. Harry Kloor, an apparent polymath whose bio is spread across the web; here’s one but you can find quite a few more; I would be remiss if I didn’t include this entry, however (which puts a little bit of an unusual spin on things, I think – oh, you’ll need to scroll down a bit to find the Kloor stuff). Of significant mention are the unused outlines for a Heinlein-written TV show that never got off the ground, as well as the proposed moonbase TV show that got turned into a movie – one featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000, and an upcoming adaptation of Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit-Will Travel by Dr. Kloor. There will also be an upcoming (at the time of this writing) adaptation of Heinlein’s “Jerry Was A Man” on a new SF anthology series on ABC this August, Masters Of Science Fiction.

“Editors In Transition” was my next choice, after the lunch break. Fred Pohl was listed as the sole panelist, but he was joined by Ben Bova. Between the two, we learned a lot about the Campbell-Pohl years, some information about Heinlein’s dealings with editors, and Bova’s experiences editing, including his time at the now-defunct OMNI magazine and his dealings with Bob Guccione.

Upon the conclusion of “Editors In Transition,” I made my way in haste to the other hotel to catch the Atlanta Radio Theatre Company and it’s production of Heinlein’s famous short story, “All You Zombies.” This was scheduled for a half-hour slot, but took well over an hour, partially because of some additional short productions they presented, but with some production delays at the start that lengthened it even further. Still, it was absolutely worth the time invested; the ARTC is very skilled and did an awesome job with the presentations. Completely audio, no acting, though we were watching them on the stage as the production went on. I stand corrected: one of their shorts, on the “History of Science Fiction”, was acted out, and quite cleverly. Upon completion, I promised myself I’d be sure to see their next production on Sunday. However, I was a little irked – the long duration of the presentation overlapped almost completely the final panel session of the day; I had originally planned on “The ‘Stinkeroos’”, which concerned three stories that Heinlein had published early on, which he’d declared were unfit for future republishing. However, after seeing Amy Baxter on the “Variable Star” panel, I’d decided to go to the “Amy Baxter: Heinlein’s Grandchild” panel instead. But with time having run out on that, all I could do was return to my room to change clothes for the Gala Dinner.

The Gala Dinner… business casual dress minimum, black tie optional (though at least two attendees wore some rather incredibly formal gentleman’s evening wear, complete with long tails and top hats circa 1910), and an additional cost and reservation beyond the basic Centennial reservation (those without reservations for the Dinner had a cocktails & music reception back at the Hyatt). It was buffet-style, but rather high-quality. I had some rather high hopes for it; I’d been hearing almost since landing at KCI on Thursday about the many state, national and international-class steak and rib restaurants in the area; I’d made do with small meals from the local mall eateries to stretch my budget, but was looking forward to some good, local food. Imagine my surprise (and some distress) on discovering that almost all of the food was seafood! Shrimp, scallops and fish in or on almost everything, with only a quite excellent veggie lasagna and some good roast beef to break the monotony! Quite ironic – I’d left the seafood capitol of the US for the red meat capitol, only to find I’d essentially gone home for dinner… Still, it was an excellent meal, with the only actual problem being that the caterers forgot the dessert chocolate. Not a problem for me; the key lime pie and cheesecake were tasty enough.

Then came the capstone event, the actual Gala itself. Starting around 7 p.m., a series of speakers ascended the stage, offering praise for and reminiscence of Robert and Virginia Heinlein, the official Guests of Honor for the Centennial. At one point, a prerecorded video greeting from Sir Arthur C. Clarke was shown (Sir Arthur suffers from post-polio syndrome, and can neither travel, nor maintain sustained effort, so both the video greetings and the prerecording were necessary). Sir Arthur is the only surviving “Big Three” SF writer, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein having predeceased him. The Gala was emceed by Robin Wayne Bailey, who curiously adopted vocal mannerisms highly reminiscent of Paul Lynde to an increasing degree throughout the evening. Several times a toastmaster was called to the stage; I am ashamed to admit I cannot positively remember who he was, but I believe it was Lt. Col. Jess Sponable (USAF - Ret.) A mildly amusing bit of political posturing occurred as Mr. Bailey rather ostentatiously announced at one point, “Excuse me while I move the microphone a bit to the left…”; later on, Mr. Sponable (I think) made a pointedly humorous adjustment as he “[moved] this back to the right a little.” Heinlein readers are of many political stripes, not just Libertarian.

Also announced, and of great importance to Heinlein readers and scholars, was the opening of The Heinlein Archives. The Archives are a nearly-complete collection of everything Heinlein ever wrote – including various drafts of stories and novels, unpublished scripts for movies and television shows, correspondence – you name it. The Archives are a store of this material – literally; you pay for downloads of the Acrobat files. There are up-front descriptions of each file, including cost; but if you want to see it, you must pay for it. There Ain’t, as they say, No Such Thing As A Free Lunch. Like it or lump it, this will be THE information clearinghouse for Heinlein scholars.

Immediately after the Gala ended, we were able to stay and watch a movie by J. Neil Schulman (an interesting individual whose bio you can see here as well as at his own website here. Lady Magdalene’s, which stars and was co-produced by Nichelle Nichols of Star Trek fame, is described as an “action-comedy” with a slight SF twist (which isn’t revealed until the very end). With fairly decent production values and a cast which, at the very least, wasn’t straight out of acting school, I’d have to say it wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen, but far from the best. It was decently entertaining, if obviously on a low budget. Still, it has gotten some good reviews and been at the center of a few points of controversy – you can read about it here and here. Nichelle looked as though she were having a good time.

By the time Lady Magdalene’s ended it was past midnight, and most of us headed off to our rooms. Still, as we reentered the Hyatt, we had to step around a group of filksingers lounging in the hallway, so the Centennial was still going on even then.

Sunday morning, after the usual rituals, started off with “What Really Happened During The War”, hosted by Bill Higgins, Bill Patterson and Ed Wysocki. During WWII, Heinlein had worked as an engineer for the military. During this time, he brought in and/or worked with several other SF writers, such as L. Sprague DeCamp; worked on several “top secret” projects; and even met his third wife, Virginia, who was also working as an engineer. Between the Heinlein’s successful quest for privacy, and Robert’s adherence to his military oaths, almost nothing was ever know about the work he did during those years. Information from Virginia and skilled detective work by a number of Heinlein biographers have partially lifted the veil of secrecy, and a good deal of what went on then is now known, or at least suspected.

I then proceeded to “Heinlein In The Movies” with Michael Cassutt and Jeff Larsen. This overview of Heinlein’s movie experiences covered ground that was partially touched upon in several of the other sessions, but did concentrate more on the earlier movies and Starship Troopers was little discussed, except to note that a third movie was on the way (to almost universal loud groans). The problems with Puppet Masters and Project: Moonbase were covered in some detail, and opinions regarding Destination Moon were revealed to be somewhat divided.

Having missed most of the autograph opportunities, I was determined to get at least one, so I made my way to the Westin hotel to secure John Scalzi’s. While the line wasn’t long, those in front of me carried stacks of books and had the need to chat, so it took some time before I reached the table. I made about one minute’s worth of small talk as Mr. Scalzi signed my program book and dinner card, then moved on so as not to bog things down. Checking my schedule, I decided to grab a bite to eat at the nearby mall food court, then return back to the Hyatt for the noontime panel.

“Heinlein’s Fantasies” promised to be interesting. To be hosted by Robin Bailey, Brad Linaweaver and Dr. Vincent Pisacane, I was hoping to gain some insight into some of Heinlein’s more unusual works, the fantasy stories such as “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” and “Magic, Inc.” However… the program book noted that Mr. Linaweaver would be unable to attend the Centennial, Dr. Pisacane wasn’t even in the program book, and Mr. Bailey just plain failed to show up (possibly because of the several quite large martinis he downed while emceeing the Gala the previous night?). After about ten or fifteen minutes, we attendees began to stir; there were other panels to see, after all, and time was wasting. At that point, however, a woman stood up and asked if any of us would like to stay anyways and have a somewhat more informal discussion on the topic anyways. Most of us stayed, and we proceeded to have a discussion on the subject. The woman, who introduced herself as one Margo Lynn, from the University of Chicago, did a good job of directing the discussion. However, in retrospect, I rather wish I’d gone to another panel; I don’t think we got anything like as much out of that less-formal discussion as we would have gotten from a properly-moderated one. Live and learn.

Having already eaten a brief lunch, I had about an hour free before the next event; while there was one panel about the Space Frontier Foundation, I had not yet been to either the movie room or the marketplace/museum. I opted for the marketplace/museum, where I could see some artifacts from Robert & Virginia, original artwork of many of his book covers, and a showing of storyboard art from Starship Troopers. There were also several booksellers with their substantial mini-libraries, including Yard Dog Press and Meisha Merlin. Ultimately, though, I decided to spend my money at The Atlanta Radio Theatre Company’s table, where I purchased several CDs of their shows.

By the time I got through the marketplace/museum and made my purchases, it was time to go see ARTC’s next production in the adjacent room. “The Menace From Earth”, a true Heinlein classic if there ever was one, was masterfully presented; at the conclusion, the female voice actor playing the part of Holly (the main character of the story) was in tears, and the entire company received a long standing ovation from the audience.

“The Menace From Earth”, like the previous days’ “All You Zombies”, ran long, though this time only because the story itself was long. I decided to stick around at the Westin, rather than limp back to the Hyatt for another panel, to which I would be late. Instead, I went downstairs and got Lee Martindale’s autograph and talked with her for a couple of minutes, then proceeded back upstairs for the Closing Ceremonies.

There’s not much more to say; the Closing Ceremonies were more or less a formality, lots of thanking of the individuals and organizations that made the Heinlein Centennial possible; but they would mean little here, even if I could recall any of them. Suffice it to say that a lot of people worked very hard for several years to make this happen, and their hard work showed, and most certainly paid off. The ending, appropriately enough, was capped with the video of Virginia Heinlein reading “This I Believe”, but this time, without the audio overlay.

This was not anything like a typical SF convention, but it was highly successful and will, I think, be long remembered by those who attended.

I personally was not scheduled to fly back until Tuesday, so I had Monday to myself to explore Kansas City. Somewhat hampering my excursion (as well as my travels between the hotels during the Centennial) was the recurrence of a case of sciatica, which apparently was reinflamed by the cramped seating on my flight out to Kansas City. Still, I got around and took a fair number of pictures, so all was hardly lost.

This was my first SF convention of any sort in over 25 years, since the two Creation Conventions in Boston I attended in the early 1980’s. I know this was atypical of such conventions (if, indeed, any of them can be called “typical”), but I had a very good time there and learned a lot about one of my favorite authors. I may never make another convention in my life, but I am glad I made this one. There will never be one like it again… although… as we all said, “See you in 2107 – Luna City next time!”

Responses

I wish I could have gone! Thanks for the report!
James

Sounds like quite a time. The program you described looks like it may have been hard to decide which to attend. Great stuff. thanks for letting us in on the fun. Dawne

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