[This is a more fun and thoughtful article than usual but even with a
reporter like this, who seems to be trying hard and goes into much more
depth than usual, the costumes and weird people stand out resulting in a
exaggeration of their prevelance. dee3]
Date: Fri, 24 Jan 97 9:38:28 EST
From: Glen Goodwin <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Here's the Boston Phoenix article as posted on their website...
Ambassador from Mundania
In which the author spends a weekend in the federal republic of
science-fiction fandom, recognizes an alien presence, and then recognizes
the alien is herself
by Ellen Barry
I am riding up and down in the elevator midday Saturday when the whole
dawns on me. A woman is watching me quizzically: my look tends toward high
inconspicuousness, but today I stand out like a Bolshevik at a hoedown.
She has beads and feathers woven into a rat-tail braid, and wears a vest
out of what looks like hemp. "What do you think of us?" she asks me, not in
wholly friendly way.
"Which of you?" I stammer. "You're all so different."
She fixes me with a gimlet eye. "We've all left Mundania," she says, and
sweeps off across the mezzanine.
I have never heard the word Mundania before, but I know I am on a little
vacation from it myself. I know this because at kickoff time on Patriots
Sunday, I am listening to a panel discussion on Live Action Role Playing,
LARPing, called "In Character Versus Out of Character: Where's the Line?"
which a panelist is saying of errant role-players, with absolute gravity,
times, I have started keeping written files because I felt that police
intervention might be necessary." Another panelist makes this
"I would encourage out-of-game interaction. Go to a movie. Go bowling."
Heated discussion ensues. At Foxboro Stadium, Adam Vinatieri kicks off
Jacksonville. Inside the Arisia science-fiction convention, there is no
for the exits. In fact, there is no ripple of interest. By this point I
understand why: Foxboro Stadium is situated in Mundania, and frequented by
Mundanes; here, on the sixth floor of the Park Plaza Hotel, we are in
There is nothing new about world-building in science fiction. From Robert
Heinlein on, science-fiction writers have used their genre to test-drive
communitarian visions -- the books, and even shows like Star Trek,
a society beyond sexism and racism, long before the real world took a shot
it. And just as role-playing games have evolved from pamphlet to tabletop
live action, so this fictional world-building has given rise to an organic
real-life subculture of "fen" -- or, as we would call them, "fans" -- with
own code of behavior and its own philosophical underpinning. As far as I
tell, this philosophy is rooted in a doctrine of tolerance for every
mode of human or non-human being.
Don't kid yourself; all of this is in stark contrast to the outside world,
world of Mundanes. Reader, this means you.
"Mundane society is full of arbitrary rules," explains Richard Stallman, a
software developer who kindly offers to be my fannish guide at the
which is known by insiders as a "con." "Mundanes are people who are not
creative. They're rigid-minded. Fen are more openminded," he adds.
"We trust each other more than a similar group of Mundanes would," says
McGuire, a software developer in a dragon T-shirt.
"Think of the bellhop, looking at us with such disgust," says Carlos, of
Boston Star Trek Association. "Now that is a Mundane."
Beyond a doctrine of tolerance, it's hard to find a lot of common ground
though Tara Edwards, 20, posits that "we all got beat up in middle school."
Arisia, population 1900, is a loose affiliation of Trekkers, Trekkies,
Goths, Mopey Goths, writers, artists, groupies, Druids, Celts, Picts,
Trufen, witches, belly dancers, alchemists, and amateur vampires.
Here is what there is a lot of: pointed ears, chain-mail bikinis, Viking
horns, vampire fangs, goddess headbands, jester hats, leather breeches, and
period cleavage that beggars description.
Here is what there is not much of: platform shoes, bellbottoms, college
sweatshirts, soul patches, and the "Rachel" haircut. There aren't a lot of
people who look like they spend a great deal of time at the gym. In this
group, there is not one tiny backpack.
I ask around about the look. Mirian Crzig Lennox, who is 29, makes a stab
an explanation. "The only intolerance here," he explains, "would be the
intolerance of conformity. To care about your outward appearance shows a
willingness to conform in a shallow way."
One lapel button encapsulates the Arisian aesthetic: LIVING WEIRD IS THE
REVENGE. In fact, in the ardent embrace of alternative lifestyles, futurism
and technology -- once the lifeblood of SF -- have faded into the
When Arisia was created seven years ago, an offshoot of Boston's oldest SF
convention, Boskone, it was with the express purpose of branching out from
"hard-science" world of Asimov and Heinlein, which 25-year-old Vivian
explains was a little too "dead white male." Today, the con attracts a
spectrum of cross-dressers and half-clad Wiccans that might give Arthur C.
Clarke pause for thought. The Saturday night Masquerade, for instance,
features more belly-dancing than I have seen in a long time.
As a woman waggles her midsection insanely on stage, I sit next to a man in
plaid cotton short-sleeved shirt and Sansabelt slacks who, unlike Norwood,
not letting out little whoops of glee. He passes me a note he has scribbled
a steno pad.
"Most of the comforts of this age are the results of properly applied
technology -- eyeglasses, painkillers, clean water, sanitary pipes,
appliances," the note reads. "The people who envision a way to make a
world are often engineers who read SF."
Not surprisingly, this man is an engineer who reads SF. His name is Harry,
he's 53, and he's not wild about the whole belly-dancing aspect.
"This used to be about science fiction," he says to me, quietly. "But now
about being weird. It attracts weird and anyone who wants to act weird. But
just as the Pope is not responsible for the actions of all Catholics, so SF
not responsible for people who say they're here for SF but are really here
Now, I wasn't exactly the Cherry Blossom Queen of my high school, but I
am a foreigner anyway. First of all, I can't understand much of what they
saying; during the first 15 minutes I made the mistake of calling LARPing
"lamping," used the giveaway term "sci-fi," and referred to the con as a
"conference." Stallman, who cuts me some slack for my Mundane origins, is
wearing a button that reads I WILL NOT uANE, and I stare at it for a full
quarter-hour before I can decode it. He patiently introduces me to the
specialized Fannish lexicon of social inclusion and exclusion.
It's all about belonging. The Trekker-Trekkie distinction -- which denotes
degree of seriousness -- is only the beginning. Fandom itself splits into
philosophical camps of FIAWOL (Fandom Is A Way Of Life) and FIAGDH (Fandom
A God Damned Hobby). Fans who have had enough sometimes opt to Get Away
It All, a phenomenon known as GAFIAtion. Stallman says those who do this
known as GAFIosi.
Trufen are fen who are entranced beyond the boundaries of genre -- Trufen
to cons for the lifestyle itself. Filk singing, which owes its etymology to
typo, is a peculiar fan art form marked by traditional songs enlivened with
puns, or tunes displaying the relentless puckish humor that fen specialize
such as one famous ballad which reads, in its entirety, "There are some
man was never meant to know/Some songs he was never meant to sing/And this
one of them." And Mundania, a term used in Piers Anthony's Xanth series,
denotes the world outside fandom. In Anthony's books, the term refers to
terrain outside Xanth -- the non-magical world.
Most fen are required to do time in this world, but many say they would be
unlikely to outbreed or even date seriously outside fandom.
"I had one boyfriend once who, while he liked to read science fiction, did
like large crowds," offers Norwood, who found her true love last year at
Arisia. Most of the couples she knows are "con couples," she says.
"Is it difficult to date outside fandom?" wonders a young man named Jason,
is dating a blond LARPer named Banshee. He chuckles. "It's difficult to
why you'd want to."
The cons -- which are compressed, intense bouts of socialization, like a
48-hour prom -- are frequently the scenes of dramatic unions and reunions
between fan-fan couples, in part due to epidemic backrub and lap-sitting
situations. The stress of administrating a con can also kill a
after one con in Vegas broke up three marriages, another con's committee
rewrote its bylaws to prohibit married couples from serving simultaneously,
recalls Cyothee (pronounced "coyote"), who has served on the committees of
innumerable Midwestern cons.
It's enough to keep things interesting. "There's a strange web of sexual
tension and relationships," says Lennox. "Sometimes there are really
Take, for example, the story of one man who, despite a restraining order in
the state of Maryland, followed his ex-girlfriend to Arisia and spotted her
the lobby. According to Tim Mooney, who worked security that year, he "slid
toward her on his knees, stuck his head between her legs, wrapped his arms
around her hips, and started screaming, `I'm a psychic vampire and I need
energy to live!' "
Beyond fan courtship are fan babies. Nathan, Alex, and Michael, three
who won the Young Fan Division of the Masquerade in tiny Next Generation
suits, are the offspring of three couples belonging to the Boston Star Trek
Association. At a panel entitled "Honey, It's a Fan!", their mothers are
expressing both optimism and mild anxiety about raising children within the
culture of fandom.
The optimism is because fandom is a trustworthy, open-minded community, and
Alex will have what his mother didn't -- parents who know the difference
between Mr. Spock and Dr. Spock. More important, fandom will provide a set
Carol Jean Zelman said of her own baby, "Fandom will make him into a
and flexible adult, more understanding of likes and lifestyles and aliens,
there are any aliens out there."
The anxiety is that the child will be unable to move comfortably between
fandom and Mundania -- that he'll renounce one or the other when he begins
understand the difference.
"We don't want fandom to be the real world and the real world to be just
other place,' " says Bonnie Kenderdine. "Maybe he'll turn out to be a
jock," she adds, "and I'll just have to learn something about hockey."
At midnight on Saturday, members of the Camarilla -- an organized clan of
vampire role-players -- gather for a game in the ballroom (it bears
that all have signed forms stating that they do not drink blood). In velvet
smoking jackets and torn fishnets and combat boots, they mingle like
I sit on the floor beside a pillar and despair of ever passing. My guide
invited me back, but there's no use.
"Good-bye," he calls out, as the elevator doors close on me. I am due back
The next morning it will be over quickly. The mead-hall wenches will gather
their cloaks around them, pick up their baskets, and make their way to
Station. The Goth kids will take their death fixations back to high school.
The Trek masqueraders who worked for months on their costumes for one night
celebration will drop off their film to be developed; in a week they'll
their snapshots to relatives who, as Cheri Winkler puts it with a bitter
laugh, "still think it's Star Track." And all the fen will disperse to
outposts in Mundania, where some can -- and some can't -- talk about this
of their lives.
On Sunday afternoon, certain of the fen miss their trains intentionally and
hang around the lobby, as the critical mass gradually melts away. They will
see each other again at Boskone in February, or maybe at Balticon in March,
maybe not until next year. Between the cons are vast stretches of ordinary
After we part, Stallman calls to offer me a metaphor.
"I was reading a book about Australian aborigines," he says. "Most of the
they were scattered, but there would be times -- maybe when there was some
plentiful local-food item -- when they would all gather together in one
During this time they would meet distant relatives, see each other, and, of
course, there would be marriages, and all the things that people really
"Maybe a con is like this for fen," he says. "A temporary meeting of
That fleeting quality is exactly why the con can be so powerful. Cyothee,
traditionally arms himself with a bandolier of throwing stars, daggers
sticking out of his boots, nunchucks in his pockets, and a sword strapped
his back, tells the story of one night at a Midwestern con 17 years ago,
a group of boozy teenagers armed themselves with rocks and bottles, and
decided to beat up "the people who dress weird."
"They seemed to think we would start screaming and running away," he says.
"But we started running toward them. Those of us in medieval garb are
unsheathing our swords and waving them over our heads. The tech people are
drawing their blasting pistols, they're setting up a firing range."
The kids turned tail and ran for their lives, and the cops on duty, who had
witnessed the whole scene, sat on their cars laughing. It was a beautiful
moment. But "it was not so much a beautiful moment as a lesson," Cyothee
"It was like we were saying, `Remember, there are more of us than there are