Communion Of Dreams

The Gala

Take a look at a map of the US. Let your eye more or less gravitate to the center. Chances are, what you’re looking at isn’t too far from Kansas City. Now, notice just how far this is from an ocean.

So, why the hell were most of the entrees at the buffet supper for the Gala at the Heinlein Centennial some kind of seafood? That was the question that everyone at my table wanted to know.

And since I live in this part of the country (about 2 hours from KC), I was the designated spokesman. What I told them was that a) it’s likely that the hotel providing the catering made the decision about the offerings, and the organizers just chose from a list, b) that seafood was likely chosen to ‘show off’ a bit, and c) besides, there are these things called airplanes, which can (and do) bring fresh seafood to even us uncultured louts in the Midwest.

Nah, the entrees were fine. What was actually a much greater concern to me was that for some reason, they had exactly ONE chocolate cake on the dessert table. And that was the *only* chocolate dessert. Huh? At a SF convention? I’ve not been to many, but my experience with other SF and Fantasy fans would lead me to believe that they’ve got a higher-then-usual appreciation for chocolate. Lord knows I sure do. But I got no cake that night.

Anyway, there was a reason why the Centennial was held in the middle of the nation. A fairly good reason, too: Robert A. Heinlein was born in Butler, Missouri, about an hour south of KC, and he spent a lot of his early years in Kansas City. Other places can (and do) claim him as one of their own, but KC was as logical a place as any to host the event. It was kind of fun to see the sign on the local SF club table which read “Join the same Science Fiction club that Robert Heinlein joined!” Fun stuff.

The Gala dinner was supposed to be dressy, and most people complied. (There were almost no people in costume all weekend, btw – another way in which this event differed from the Cons I’ve attended.) My friend ML and I joined a table full of charming chaps (well, of course they were being charming to her. Any straight male should be. And many are.) I had kicked in the ‘extrovert’ program, and was being outgoing to the point where one of the other people at the table asked me if I was the designated ‘celebrety’ who had been assigned to the table. Um, no. I dialed down the gregariousness a bit.

Dinner over, we left the round tables at the back of the hall and moved to row seating at the front. It was time for the Gala presentations and entertainment.

This comprised lots of various and sundry awards – Centennial writing awards, SFRA awards, John W. Cambell Award ( later I’ll tell how Ben Bova, this year’s winner for his novel Titan, came up and introduced himself to me…a particular thrill, since I have most of the action in Communion of Dreams take place on the surface and in orbit around that moon. OK, update – the story of that is told here.).

There were also speeches honoring and remembering Robert A. Heinlein, naturally enough. And then Peter Diamandis‘ brilliant, inspiring presentation about how he considered Heinlein to have written not just visionary fiction, but had actually mapped out a functional business plan with The Man Who Sold the Moon. Diamandis said his dream, his goal, was to be there to welcome NASA back to the Moon when the Constellation Program vehicle arrives. This brought a standing ovation and cheers.

The featured remembrance of Heinlein was provided by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, via pre-recorded message from his home in Sri Lanka. It was touching, all the more so for the evidence of Clarke’s own failing health.

Following were more presentations and performances, including information about the Stardance Project, a duet by Spider and Jeanne Robinson, an impromptu rendition of The Green Hills of Earth (the filk song popular in the SF community, drawn from Heinlein’s story of the same name), and finally ending with a screening of J. Neil Schulman‘s new offbeat movie Lady Magdalene’s. I decided to skip the last, but ML told me later that it was fun in a very silly sort of way.

There’s an excellent collection of images from the evening to be found here on the Midamerican Fan Photo Archive. I love people who know how to use a camera – a skill I never acquired.

Jim Downey

3 Comments so far
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What Jim didn’t know is that I received a LOT more attention the following day, when I wore one of my literate T-shirts. Nobody took my picture in the Gala-pretty outfit (technically you can see a fuzzy bit of me, and the top of Jim’s head, in the back right corner of one of the dinner overview shots – that doesn’t count), but I did get my picture taken in the T-shirt.

I think the charming was more directed at Jim, the fake-celeb at our table, and since I was sitting close to him it reflected at me. Plus, anybody who reads a lot of Heinlein and pays attention to it knows that he thinks men should be charming to women – PERIOD. Women are always pretty, interesting, smart, independent – you don’t get them waiting to be saved, you get them stepping over the hero’s unconscious body to have at the nasty whatevers until he wakes up.

And I found that for the most part, the men attending the conference were ALL charming, I think because they assumed that all of the women there are pretty, interesting, smart, and independent, just as RAH did. When you read RAH’s works, any of them, you see that he clearly feels that women should be appreciated and respected, not talked down to or patronized. Men are a lot more likely to be the idiots in RAH’s work than the women. I found that most of the men at the conference followed this policy, and treated us with respect.

(A small exception occurred during one panel when a woman in the audience seemed to advocate that the next big leap in technology could occur only after nuclear war – but it’s hardly a viewpoint limited to women. It was clear that the responses were directed at the idea, not the person. And we don’t all agree that it’s the only way we will make the necessary technological leap. There were enough other panels showing that the technology is moving along, as Jim discusses in other entries.)

As for the chocolate cake, when I went out for dessert (I don’t eat chocolate, so the lack didn’t bother me) I heard one of the women on the concom finding out exactly who in the catering department had decided one chocolate cake was sufficient so that she could advise this person exactly why, especially at a science and science fiction conference, this was WRONG. Almost insulting, she conveyed in her discussion.

I figured that, in the best example of Heinlein’s heroines in action, she could handle it. And slipped a couple of pieces of Dove(R) dark chocolate into my pocket to give to Jim to tide him over during the ceremonies.

Comment by ML

Hey, thanks for coming by and expanding on this post, ML.

Yeah, there’s a whole lotta things to be said about how Heinlein portrays women in his work. Makes me crazy when people just dismiss him as “juvenile” or “adolescent” in his writing. I run into this with friends often, who wonder about me for liking his stuff.

Jim Downey

Comment by Communion of Dreams

[…] Read Taylor Dinerman’s look back at Heinlein’s legacy for the Wall Street Journal here. Jim Downey also recounts the events at the Heinlein Centennial Gala here. […]

Pingback by Starship Troopers and the Nine-Year-Old: Heinlein at 100 « The Reader

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