Fifteen hundred people was a lot more than Marv had realized.
They milled about in the narrow aisles between the rows of tables, the heat from their bodies mixing with the muggy August air to turn the hotel lobby into a sweltering stew. Marv, sweat plastering his shirt to his back, was beginning to envy the girls in their minidresses. Voices collided with other voices, creating a sort of amorphously deafening soundscape through which a particularly loud laugh or exclamation occasionally broke through.
Marv clutched his binder of stories as he walked past the giant banner reading “ST. LOUISCON 1969 WELCOMES YOU.” His program had a drawing of a robot on the front looking rather pensive and lost, which Marv found suddenly very explicable. How the panelists kept it together in front of all those fans he didn’t know. Maybe he should reconsider his plan to be a science fiction author, or if he did, he’d be a recluse like James Tiptree Jr. Now that guy had it figured out.
A tall man gesticulating broadly jostled Marv as he walked past with a knot of friends. “I can’t stand all these neofans wandering around goshwowing everything. They read I, Robot and think they can call themselves SF fen.”
“Quit grotching,” advised one of his friends. “You always have a stick up your ass. Try having some fun while we’re here.”
Marv straightened his glasses and tried to edge out of the aisle into a space where he wasn’t in the way, hoping it wasn’t too glaringly obvious that he couldn’t understand a word anyone was saying. He checked his watch. A little over two hours until Harlan Ellison’s talk. Despite the heat, he felt his arms break out in goosebumps when he thought about seeing him face to face.
“Hey, you there in the blue shirt! You look like you grok Spock,” called a voice from near his elbow. Marv had nearly walked into a table covered with a black tablecloth and scattered with mimeographed magazines with the words “SPOCKTACKULAR: FIRST ANNISH” proudly emblazoned on the cover. Two college kids were manning the booth, a Black girl and a white boy.
And the boy was an absolute Adonis. He had piercing blue eyes and a crooked smile like a young Steve McQueen, and his black T-shirt showed off a pair of arms that had definitely hit the gym. Marv, who had not come to St. Louiscon with the intention of barreling headfirst into his confused feelings about boys, involuntarily blushed.
Thank Ghu, it was the girl who had spoken. She was petite and wore a red headband over her bouffant. Marv, still distracted by the boy, looked at her and uttered the most idiotic sentence that had ever left his mouth.
“You’re a girl!”
She laughed. “Yeah, I noticed. Do you know, lots of Trekkers are femmefen. If Uhura can go to space, why not us? SF fandom’s actually got lots of girls in it, even though you’d never know it looking around some of these cons. Are you? A Trekker, I mean, not a girl.”
“Um, yeah, I am,” Marv said.
She broke into a grin. “Great! There aren’t that many of us here. The sercons look down on us. They think we’re not real fen. What’s your name?”
“I’m Phyllis and Tall-Blond-And-Handsome over there is Jerry. And before you ask, no, he’s not my boyfriend. He’s more of a bodyguard. You wouldn’t believe how handsy these nerds get. Asimov? Ugh. Stay away from him. It helps to have a big guy walk around with you, and if he’s a perfect physical specimen, that doesn’t hurt either.”
“You could mention that I’m also a faned,” Jerry said quietly.
Phyllis rolled her eyes. “So you do the illos. I make the stencils and run off everything on the mimeo. Have you ever smelled corflu? That stuff could knock out a horse! The zine would still be on your typer if not for me!”
“Faned? Zine?” asked Marv.
“You gotta learn fanspeak, kid,” said Phyllis. “All the people here are fen. That’s fans. You’re new, so that makes you a neofan. Zine is short for magazine, and these are fanzines—zines made by faneds like us. Fan editors.” She slid a clipboard across the table to Marv. “Our zine is called Spocktacular, and we’ve been around a whole year now. It’s twenty-five cents. Give us your address, and we can add you to our mailing list.”
Marv dug a quarter out of his pocket and wrote down his address, keeping his eyes down to avoid glimpsing the magnificent Jerry.
“Sacramento, huh?” said Phyllis, angling her head to read what he had written. “You’ve come a long way. Is this your first Worldcon?”
Marv nodded. “I saved up from my after-school job. I can’t believe there are this many other people who are into this stuff. Back home I get made fun of for liking sci-fi.”
“SF,” Phyllis corrected. “Real fen never say sci-fi. And that’s why zines are so great. You can be in the fandom even if they’re hundreds of miles away.”
“I do some fan writing too, actually.”
Phyllis’s face lit up. “Right on! Any Trek stuff? We’re always looking for tribbers.”
“Yeah, some.” Marv laid his binder onto the table and flipped it open, only to blanch when he saw the first page. What was “Trapped on an Asteroid” doing in there? Imagine if he’d accidentally shown that to Harlan! Dying would be preferable. Hastily he flipped past it to “The Rigel Maneuver.” He was rather proud of that one.
Phyllis skimmed the first page and gave him an approving frown-and-nod. “You’re not half bad!”
Another fan thought his stuff was good! That made Marv feel fuzzy all over. He said, “I write original stuff too. I’m hoping to show it to Harlan Ellison after his talk. I thought maybe if he liked it, he could put me in touch with some of the magazine editors.”
“You’re going to the Harlan Ellison talk?” said Phyllis. “You’re late!”
“I thought I had two hours,” Marv said in confusion.
Phyllis grabbed his wrist and laughed. “Your watch is still set to Pacific time, you flake. Now beat it! Shoo!”
She waved him away. He zigzagged his way across the con floor and joined the throng streaming into the vast ballroom for Harlan’s talk. The ballroom’s clusters of hanging lights sparkled overhead like a galaxy.
Harlan took the stage looking movie-star cool in a paisley shirt with the top button undone. He was younger than Marv expected. And better looking. He surveyed the crowd with an easy grin and no sign of the panic Marv would have felt in his place. His microphone gave an ear-splitting squeal as he began to speak. He laughed it off. “Okay, we’re not living in the future quite yet.”
The next hour flew by as Marv’s hero walked him through the world of science fiction, sitting perched on the edge of the panelists’ table as though daring someone to tell him not to. Marv was utterly transfixed. He hung on every word, but at the same time, he found he could barely remember what Harlan actually said. The sense of wonder was just seeing him there in the flesh and realizing those brilliant words were written by a living, breathing person.
All too soon, it was over and Harlan was stepping off the stage. Now was Marv’s moment. As the other audience members began to rise and chatter to each other, he reached for his binder.
And froze when he couldn’t find it.
He looked around frantically. It wasn’t on the ground or tucked between the chairs. Panic washed over him. He felt like a mother realizing she’d misplaced her baby.
The zine table! He’d left it there. He bolted from the ballroom and out into the corridor, trying to remember where on the con floor the table was.
Dear Ghu, they could be flipping through it right now. They could be reading “Trapped on an Asteroid.” Jerry could be reading it. Marv’s stomach did flip-flops as he dodged around a group of guys in propeller beanies. How could he have been so stupid as to leave it there? How could he have been so stupid as to write it down in the first place? It should have stayed locked in his head where ideas like that belonged, ideas like Kirk and Spock discovering that their bond was maybe a little stronger than just crewmates.
Luckily, he found the table. Not so luckily, his binder was gone. So were the two faneds. A stocky guy in an U.N.C.L.E. shirt was behind the table, flipping idly through a zine.
“Where are Phyllis and Jerry?” Marv asked as he caught his breath.
“They had to run,” the U.N.C.L.E. fan said. “They asked me to watch their table. Do you want to read my Napoleon Solo zine?”
“What about my binder?” Marv couldn’t keep his voice from rising in panic.
The U.N.C.L.E. fan shrugged.
After fruitlessly rummaging around the booth, Marv gave the binder up for lost. He’d have to hope it turned up later. If he wasted any more time looking, he’d miss the chance to talk to Harlan. He’d just have to make his case empty-handed.
In Marv’s first lucky break of the day, Harlan was still in the ballroom, in the midst of a heated argument with the hotel manager.
“You think it’s my fault some dipstick dressed as Charlie Brown fell through a movie screen? It’s not like I pushed him! Look, we’ll deal with it, but it’s not like I can just cut you a check on the spot. Worldcon’s not made of money.”
At Marv’s approach, Harlan held out his hand for his program and scribbled his name across the front without looking.
Marv plucked up his courage and said, “I really liked the Star Trek episode you wrote. ‘City on the Edge of Forever.’”
“You did?” grunted Harlan. “That makes one of us.”
“I, um…” Marv shuffled his feet awkwardly. “I write stories too, actually. I don’t have them with me, but I could send them to you, and if you like them I thought maybe you could tell the magazine editors about me…”
“What do I look like, your agent?” Harlan snapped. “Think I have time to read every bad story some kid bangs out on his Remington?” He turned back to the hotel manager.
For a long moment, Marv stood frozen in place, unable to absorb what just happened.
Then he fled to his hotel room and didn’t emerge for the rest of the con.
Marv turned over on his mattress and put his pillow over his head, ignoring his mother’s tentative taps at the basement door. He’d missed two shifts at the gas station and probably lost his job, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. It was just as well that he’d lost his binder of stories, because if he had them, he probably would have burned them.
“There’s mail for you,” came his mother’s muffled voice.
“Just leave it by the door,” he mumbled.
Probably Harlan Ellison had looked up his address to send him a personal letter shooting him down again. But eventually, Marv’s curiosity overcame his despondency. He trudged up the stairs and opened the door.
It was a package, neatly wrapped in brown paper and tape. The return address was from St. Louis. Oh, right—the zine. He’d forgotten he signed up.
He slid his thumb under the tape and carefully unwrapped the paper. He was startled to find his own binder staring back at him. A folded piece of notebook paper lay on top. He unfolded it with trepidation.
Thought you might want this back. We tried to return it at St. Louiscon, but we couldn’t find you. I think your stories are great. I especially liked “Trapped on an Asteroid.”
Just so you know, I have a second mailing list that’s private. We share stories we wrote that we can’t put in Spocktacular. Stuff like yours. It’s mostly girls, but there are some boys too. I think they’d really like “Trapped on an Asteroid.” If you’d like, send me a copy of it, and I’ll share it with them.
Much love to my favorite neofan,
P.S. Here’s Jerry’s number. I know it’s long-distance, but he says to ring him up if you’re ever in St. Louis again.
Marv ran his fingers gingerly over the precious binder. His eyes drifted over to his Remington, sitting neglected in the corner. A spark of inspiration struck. Maybe the story didn’t end when Kirk and Spock were rescued from the asteroid. Maybe they embarked on a new journey, just the two of them.
He loaded a sheet of paper into the typewriter and sat down. Maybe he had new worlds to discover after all.