For those who missed the first three parts: I was finally let in on SF Signal’s little secret: they have a time machine and they allowed me to use it to travel back to those times in the history of science fiction that I thought interesting to report on. In part 1, I traveled to the first World Science Fiction convention in 1939 and interviewed John W. Campbell. In Part 2, I made for 1957 where I managed to wrangle an interview from a rather busy Isaac Asimov. For my third trip I’d revisited a Harlan Ellison reading from 1995. After hearing that reading again, I knew where I needed to go next–
I made an educated guess as to where the 97th World Science Fiction convention would be held. Given that the 97th convention would take place in 2039, it seemed to me there was only one possibility: the Big Apple; New York, New York. It turned out that I was correct, and why not? In addition to being the 97th WorldCon, it was also the 100th anniversary of the 1st WorldCon, a visit to which I’ve already described. Even guessing when it would take place wasn’t difficult: September 1-5, Labor Day weekend.
Finding the hotel in which it took place was a bit more tricky. I figured that once I got to New York, I could hop on the Internet and figure it out but the Internet had changed somewhat, evolved into more of an augmented reality in which (as a quickly learned) special contact lenses were needed to reveal and interact with that reality. It took some practice, but I managed. The most difficult part, of course, was obtaining a membership. There was good reason why I couldn’t attend under my own name, and while it is easy to appear to be a journalist in the past when you know what has happened, it is a much trickier thing to do in the future when the last 28 years are an unknown. So I attended as a fan and my name tag (a virtual tag that one could see along with my various social networking statuses thanks to the AR at the hotel) read: DAVID SELIG.
It was a relief, of course, to know that science fiction conventions are still taking place 28 years in the future. So often there is talk on the Internet of gloom and doom surrounding the genre, but the convention was still there and well attended. I didn’t get the official numbers (I should have) but I’d guess there were in excess of 6,000 people in attendance.
Even the panels hadn’t changed much: “Training your Avatar to Give a Good Interview”, “Science Fiction Classics: Bane or Boon”, “New Thoughts on the Possibility of Time Travel” (I had to smirk at that one.) Men and women, boys and girls crowded the concourses and bars, laughing, arguing, fiercely debating one another, in seemingly complete ignorance of the sweltering heat outside. It was the avatars that took some getting used to. You’d see two people call out to each other from across the room, friends or colleagues who hadn’t seen each other in a long time, perhaps, they would approach each other and gesture a handshake, but not actually touch. It took a while, but that’s when I realized that one of the two people (and sometimes both) was a simulacrum, hosted somewhere else yet allowing the host to attend virtually.
Eventually, I made my way into the huckster room and smiled: there, spread out on tables as far as the eye could see were books. Not e-books (although there were tables where e-book where available) but I’m talking about physical, paper-based books. And magazines. And chapbooks. And fanzines. Many of them were old, yes, but a fair number of them were fresh off the presses. So much for the death of the book.
What I really came for was the big banquet and I have to say that it took my breath away. I had to be careful because there was a small chance I might be recognized by someone. Indeed, in scouting for an appropriate seat in the decked-out conference center, I bumped into a tall, lankly fellow who glanced at me (not doubt checking out my stats) and said, “David Selig. Very funny.” And then went on his way.
That evening was rather spectacular. The keynote speech was given by none other than Grand Master of science fiction, John Scalzi, and there were at least three other Grand Masters in attendance: Robert J. Sawyer, Elizabeth Bear, and Juliette Wade. On the more controversial side were the speeches given by members of the first WorldCon, including Forrest J. Ackerman, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Jack Williamson. Of course, these speeches were made by avatars licensed to the estates of these masters of the genre and while no one said it outright, I gathered that people were still a bit uncomfortable with the notion of the formerly dead being brought back to life, so to speak, in order to make speeches at conventions. When all of the speeches were done, the awards ceremony commenced, but I stepped out at that point. I didn’t want to know who won. I’d rather find out the hard way, by living it.
I was glad to have the opportunity to use SF Signal’s time machine, but it was time to head home, and to move on to other topics in the history of science fiction. I did linger for a little while, watching the crowd, seeing the smiles on people’s faces, noting the passion with which people debated one another. Some things change, and some stay the same.
I suppose the question that lingers out there among some reader is pretty obvious: did you see yourself at the convention? Had you “made it” as a science fiction writer? To that question, I’m afraid all I can say is:
There are some things about the future that I’m just not allowed to reveal.