The following comments are from Toastmaster Joe
R. Lansdale's address to ArmadilloCon
24, held August 16-18, 2002, in Austin, Texas. They are not the entire address.
The entire address was longer, funnier, and—to hear our own Peggy
Hailey tell it—possibly dirtier. It was also spoken out loud by Joe
Lansdale. If you wanted to hear that, you should have gone to ArmadilloCon,
now shouldn't you? This version is still long, still funny, and still by Joe
Lansdale. Just not in person. Unless your web browser is a lot better than mine.
We present: Mr. Joe R. Lansdale.
This is my last shot at being a toastmaster. Frankly, I'm fed up with
it. And when I finish today, you will be, too.
Science Fiction keeps changing. And not for the better.
Where are the stories about robots slapping people around?
Stories about rockets and space shootouts and women in their underwear with ray guns and tentacles wrapped around their ankles?
Where is that stuff?
Science Fiction these days—or, as weenies call it, S.F. or Speculative Fiction—sucks.
And because of that, the conventions aren't the same either.
They suck, too.
I remember at the early conventions, held in someone's cave by the light of a lava lamp (we used real lava), that the gatherings and banquets were a lot more exciting because we had to forage and hunt for our own food.
I loved that.
We'd bring in a mastodon and fling it down on the floor, gut it and roast it.
Everyone contributed to the hunt except Howard Waldrop. He was always off fishing and never caught anything, and if he did he wouldn't share it or he wrote on it.
He always caught small fish so it took him a long time to finish writing anything.
And when he was real slow, the first fish page would rot, and then he had to start all over again.
As we say here in the South, it was just his way.
Anyway, we'd roast the mastodon on logs and dried mastodon poo-poo, then we'd talk science fiction, maybe pass a few slabs of rock with chipped symbols around. Read stories from them aloud.
Of course, Neal Barrett,
who was always there, liked to talk about how Science Fiction had lost its sense
of wonder. How in his day it was better because he himself had written the first
Science Fiction piece about rubbing two sticks together to create fire. And
how the use of flint and steel over the use of rubbing two sticks together had
ruined Science Fiction, and screw all that New Wave crap anyway, and that damn
Flint-Punk fiction which had lost touch with human beings.
Who wanted to read stories using an alphabet, when pretty pictures on cave walls drawn with a dried stick and painted with muds, dungs, berry juices, and the blood of enemies and assorted lunches was better? You moved away from the wall, wrote on other things, and that was just one more barrier between you and the creative process.
I think maybe he was right.
Whenever Barrett brought up the part about having written the first story about
rubbing two sticks together, Scott
Cupp, who always attended, because he and his partner Willie Siros had slabs
of hieroglyphic painted rock to sell, never missed making a crack about "Whose
Sticks Were You Rubbing Together, Neal?"
Barrett hated that. Maybe because he had an answer but was unwilling to tell the rest of us.
This always got a laugh—though, in later years, I must admit that some of it was because no one knew exactly what else to do as the two ninnies kept repeating that same bit of business at each convention.
And Willie Siros, as always, confused, would say: "What sticks we talking about?"
And Willie's brother, that other Siros boy, who prefers to be called Little Chucky,
always said: "What's a stick?"
So Willie and his brother aren't always with it.
They tend to drift.
But don't dare ask Willie about anything to do with Science Fiction. He knows all the answers and lies about the rest. Goes on for hours about any damn esoteric thing he can think of.
It was a pretty good way to get to sleep at night, however, Willie talking, everyone else passed out around the fire in the cave. A few having cut their throats with flint knives rather than put up with it.
And then Barrett could never let the fact that he had been around at the death of the last dinosaur go.
He kept talking about Old Billy. Old Billy did this and Old Billy did that. Old Billy could fart a tune and keep time with the thumping of his tail. Old Billy had more parasites than anyone else, other than Barrett himself.
Old Billy this. Old Billy that.
Frankly, hearing about all what Old Billy the T-Rex did makes me glad the sonofabitch is dead.
And Barrett always wanting us to go out to the tar pit and hang out because Old Billy was down there and he had seen him go under. He liked to throw peanuts on the surface and salute, say, "These nuts are for you, Old Billy."
Course, Jack Williamson was older than Barrett. He could always tell stories about how he was there when the first amoeba divided and he was half of it.
I forget who the other half was. Some editor, agent or publisher would be my guess, and that half stayed in the mud.
The second amoeba to divide, of course, we all know. Bill Crider, who before convincing editors to buy his work through sexual favors (not his own—they prefer Shetland ponies), before bullying his way into the writing business, was the proprietor of a sock puppet show. However, after certain performances usually dealing with sexual matters, the socks begin to stick together and his wife Judy made him stop.
No one was coming anyway.
It was all pretty disgusting.
Stuff with a sock with a hole in the top and him with both hands free and the sock still moving, and then something snake-like poking through the hole.
No one wanted to see that.
After every performance he would look out at the one or two winos, and Scott Cupp in the crowd, and say with a bit of shame (but only a bit), "Don't tell Judy what you saw here today. Please. For God's sake. Don't tell Judy."
But I was telling you about how Science Fiction went downhill.
Later on in years, as we moved into the time of motor cars, computers and Pez dispensers, some of the whipper snappers appeared.
Martha Wells, for instance.
What I remember about her was stuff she said at conventions. Like:
"I have the same last name as H.G. Wells.
"He was a science fiction writer. You do know that, don't you?
"He was good. Like me. I'm good. He was famous. Like me.
"I'm better than him. I have the reviews to prove it.
"I'm younger than you.
"Men like me. Younger men.
"I bet you were something before electricity.
"I just sold a book.
"Where do you buy your computer paper? K-Mart? I bet it's K-Mart.
"Oh, you don't use a computer, do you. Oh, well, that's perfectly okay. Some people prefer it that way. Though it's no longer the norm.
"How do you like the hammer and chisel, Mr. Lansdale? Every mash your thumb? Do your lips get tired when you read?
"Some of us aren't as old as others and we're good writers, and did you know my last name is the same last name as H.G. Wells and he was a great science fiction writer like me and I'm prettier than him. I don't have a mustache—anymore."
Then there was Rick Klaw. With a last name
like that, you know he's a villain and a young upstart.
He was of the worse sort. And still is.
He's an editor. Sometimes a writer. And, heaven forbid, an essayist.
Which, of course, means someone without talent with nothing to say but plenty of time and a forum to say it.
He always begins his conversations to me with: "Back in your day. . . ."
Then, inevitably, the words, "But now we do it this way. . . ." So on and so on.
Anyway. You get the idea. S.F. is ruined. It sucks. Martha Wells and Rick Klaw had a lot to do with that.
For all of us greats, for of us pioneers (even if I only wrote a handful of Science Fiction stories), it's a stinky situation. We get no respect.
Of course, to Tom Doherty it makes no difference.
He doesn't like any of us anyway. Doesn't read us. Spends most of his time cashing checks and trying to figure out how to screw us. And, of course, the bulk of us are more than willing to bring the vaseline and bend over.
Some of us, you don't WANT to see bend over.
Or we're quick to bring him that Shetland pony I mentioned earlier.
He likes Shetland ponies.
But we won't go there.
Tom goes there. But we won't.
Tom Doherty just comes to these gatherings for the roast mastodon, or, in more recent cases, the rubber chicken.
We fooled him here. Didn't have neither.
Writers have to get a bit of revenge where they can.
I'd like to pause for a couple of memories.
One of our best early conventions was when we set fire to Bill Crider. It was great fun to have him run up the hillside blazing, yelling, rolling, calling out "Lawd, Lawd, Lawd, I'm on fire," like we might help him.
It was something we wanted to do every year. Because, as you might suspect, he showed up every year. But after a while he was a little too leery to be lit, had developed a number of side-stepping moves, and there was, as you can see, nothing left worth lighting.
But it did work out for three years running.
Another let down was that Judy always wanted to be the one who set him on fire. She wouldn't share the responsibilities. Sloshed the gas and did the lighting.
And what fun was in that?
She just wouldn't pass the torch.
Though a lot of people are unaware of this, Waldrop used to attend conventions, usually having written a story overnight on smelly fish. Least, I think it was the fish that smelled.
And even less known is that two former presidents attended.
George Bush came because he thought it was a frat beer bust.
Certainly wasn't because he wanted to read anything.
Unlike Crider, he always wanted to be set on fire. Went around going: "Do me. Do me. Do me. Come on, now. Do me."
I know one of my fondest memories was putting the match to him.
And then there was Bill Clinton.
He came to pick up chicks like Martha Wells.
Which, of course, was no great labor. It was easy as lint sticking to velcro.
Martha wasn't around, he went for other women. K.D. Wentworth, for instance.
Again. No chore there.
Nothing to that.
Sometimes Neal Barrett if nothing else was swinging.
No chore there, either.
I think what usually got Barrett and Clinton going was talk about rubbing two sticks together.
Anyway. Future presidents attended Armadillocon and other conventions.
Not a well-known fact. But true.
Nothing to be proud of, really.
So, as I was saying.
Now, Science Fiction sucks.
And scientist have learned the universe sucks.
It's just no good anymore.
Where are the old stories, like Scott Cupp's "There Was This Bug and Some Guys"?
Neal Barrett's masterpiece, "There's A Goddamn Alien In My Soup."
Waldrop's "You're an Ugly Chicken, What Am I?"
Rick Klaw's fine horror-science fiction work that was ghosted for him, "Dat Ole Bad Doo-Doo."
Crider's little gem of a memoir: "Why Judy Beats Me."
My own little self-published masterpiece, "Science Fiction Penis Jokes For The Masses."
But there's no going back.
The good times have done come and been good and gone and turned sour.
We're where we are and we're here to stay until tomorrow.
Science Fiction sucks.