(Warning: I’m gonna ramble here, but it’ll all tie together by the end.)
There’s a wonderfully wry scene in the movie “Galaxy Quest,” where Alan Rickman’s character Alexander Dane is confronted by fans dressed as Dr. Lazarus, the character he played on the show. Once a Shakespearean actor of some renown, Dane despises Lazarus, a roll in which he is trapped (thanks to fan love) despite the show’s having been cancelled for something like 15 years.
In the scene, these kids (one a toothpick, the other a doughnut, and both just as sweetly geeky as can be) practically vibrate with awe and delight to meet their hero, a man who can barely control his sneer as he scribbles a signature on the photos thrust at him across the table. A lesser actor would have made this a moment of humiliation toward the fans, but Rickman pokes fun at Dane and his self-inflicted agony.
A woman I knew (who saw the movie, but had never attended a science fiction convention) said to me, “Tell me the truth. That sort of thing doesn’t really happen, does it?”
“Bet your ass it does,” I replied with an evil grin. (She was appalled.)
Some of the best times of my life have been at conventions. I was introduced to the phenomena at the 1980 Worldcon (Norescon II) in Boston (sort of like going from zero to lightspeed in less than a second). THOUSANDS of fans, HUNDREDS of writers and artists. Costumes! Panels! It was wonderful! I was overwhelmed (being subsequently abandoned amongst strangers by the woman who brought me only added to my internal uproar).
I met some lovely people, though. “Captain Alex” and his crew (a young man and some high school friends) spent a good part of the long weekend squiring “Laryne” (me) around the convention. Dressed in our ships’ uniforms, we staged terrific shoot-outs through the lobbies of the hotel (much to the wide-eyed amazement of the mundane visitors). I met my favorite writer that weekend (Harlan Ellison), had a brief but delightful conversation with Isaac Asimov, and made the acquaintance of artist Barclay Shaw.
Such involvement in fandom introduced me to the phenomenon of fanzines. For the uninitiated, a fanzine is a fan-produced magazine, usually focused around a specific fandom (Star Trek, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Elfquest, etc.) Fans write articles, letters, and (best of all, to my mind) stories. It’s a great way for a fledgling writer to get their work out there where someone will read it and, if they’re lucky, comment on it. And it’s a heck of a lot of fun!
I played in such fandoms as Elfquest (Great Water Holt) and Pern (Segel Weyr and Fort Weyr). I wrote short stories and novellas for those three groups, as well as Lost Jedis (Star Wars), Jellybaby Chronicles (Dr. Who), and a fanzine based on the TV show “The Phoenix” (whose name, I’m sorry to say, I can’t recall). Fandom gave me the liberty to play, to put my work out into the world in a safe way, and to grow as a writer. I even dabbled in editing, first as co-editor for Segel Weyr’s “Blowing Off Steam,” and then for my own ‘zine, “Promethea One.” (Short-lived, one edition.)
Writing leads to the creation of characters and it’s a short hop from there to role-playing. I don’t mean computer or board games. I’m talking about creating a persona, crafting a costume, and taking on that role for an entire weekend. What freedom I felt in no longer being the everyday me, but slipping into the shoes of Laryne, First Mate on the Silver Panther; Mira, Weyrsecond and rider of the brown dragon Brenth; Silverjoy the elf; or space-jockey Vixen Sumatra.
I never chose to play a character established by an actor. (See? As promised, I’m coming back around the track to where I began). How odd it must be for an author to meet someone dressed as one of their characters.
I can’t wait for the day when I attend a convention as a guest and see some big brawny blonde striding toward me through the crowd with a dark shadow of a woman at her side and introduce themselves as Banya and Rai.
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! It’ll be Christmas.