I don't know how many of you realize it, but when Judy [Blish] was masterminding this evening we're having together she assigned different tasks to different people, and she told me I was to speak about beer. I'm wondering why I was chosen for this particular job. It may have been because a couple of years ago at a convention I was seen standing holding a pint of beer. But I'd like to hasten to add that this was beer which didn't belong to me. I was minding it for somebody else. It in fact belonged to Harry Harrison, who had just nipped upstairs to write a novel.
Actually the subject isn't inappropriate for Jim, as we all know. When I first met him I expected him to be a very grimmy-faced, serious type person on all levels. I noticed Armageddon cropped up a lot in his work. And I, presuming to advise such a man, actually said to him, "Jim, don't worry about Armageddon. It's not the end of the world!"
In fact, there's a long and honorable connection between SF writers and beer. Well, fairly honorable. In fact, thinking back on it, it's downright disgraceful in places, but then...
Bradbury, of course, introduced beer to Mars in his books -- well, beer cans. He complained a lot about earthmen strewing the desert with beer cans, which spoiled the look of the ancient fragile temples. And in science fiction fandom in the `50s, I seem to remember, there was actually a project to build a pile of beer cans which would extend to the moon.
Talking about Jim, he liked beer, and he brought bottles of beer along with him to conventions, carefully chosen. But it says a lot for his cosmopolitan tastes that he even learned to like English pub beer. And this is quite a feat for an American who's used, all his life, to the chilled, fizzy drink which is served up in American bars and given the name of beer. The gulf between that kind of beer and ours is summed up in a three-cornered conversation Jim and I were having with another fan. This chap was a keen member of CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale. He was describing a beer he had got in a pub which he was recommending, and he said it was "a bit sour, lukewarm, flat as a pancake -- perfect!" And Jim knew enough to agree with him because he had, in fact, learned to appreciate our kind of beer. He understood, too, that a dedicated boozer isn't put off a drink just because it doesn't taste very nice. Sometimes we have to force ourselves. Quite often when my wife thinks I'm out enjoying myself, I'm going through hell!
I've got one final beer story about Jim, and it goes back to the time two years ago when four SF writers were commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain to do a week-long tour of the Northeast, giving talks. One or two nights in the week a friend named Mark and I put away quite a lot of beer and other drinks, and, strangely enough, the organizers of that otherwise very good week had made the ghastly error of putting it into a temperance hotel. The lady who ran it was a rather puritanical type, and Mark and I arrived home one morning about two o'clock. We had forgotten our keys. I remember very well that last walk up to the hotel, because we kept bumping against each other at every step. It was strange, this synchronous bumping into each other which went on the whole way along that street -- we couldn't help it.
We got to the hotel, and it was one of these places made up of what had formerly been a row of private houses all joined together, and all the entrances sealed up tight except the one which was supposed to be at the hotel. Mark and I hadn't our keys, but we tried all the other doors anyway, which hadn't been opened for years, because we didn't want to face the lady who owned the hotel. Finally we had to knock on the door, and she came out in her nightgown and told us off very, very severely. She said that was the third time that week that it had happened, and she wasn't going to put up with people who drank a lot behaving like that on her premises.
The next day -- that was toward the end of the week -- Jim was arriving. I was talking to the owner of the hotel out in the lobby, and she had decided to go on with part *two* of the telling-off. She really got on about it, how she didn't like boozers at this temperance hotel.
And then, just at that moment, Jim came into the hall. He was so tired, he had traveled up from London. He was wearing his black suit, and a black turtleneck shirt, and a fur hat pulled down, and he looked remarkably ascetic.
The landlady looked at him and said, "Is this Mr. Blish?" And I said, "Yes, that's Mr. Blish." And she said, "Is he a minister?" And I said, "No, but he has written books that dealt largely with religion."
Her eyes lit up with this, and she dashed across the lobby and said, "Mr. Blish, come with me and I'll get you your key." And he went to back away, and put his hands across her and said, "Can you get a drink round here anywhere?"
And she knew there and then that he was one of us!
- - - - - - - - - -Some of our readers had anecdotes to share about their memories or meetings with Bob Shaw. The collected comments we received became almost a virtual wake for him. One of them, from Tom Jackson, recalled Bob's talent for comic understatement: "[At the 1986 Hugo Awards ceremony, where he was toastmaster,] Shaw [told a story about his career as a technical writer, where he was called on to] explain that aircraft with twin engines are supposed to be able to keep flying when one of the engines didn't work, but his company's aircraft didn't do that. When one of the engines quit, the plane 'dropped like a stone'. Of course, Shaw wasn't allowed to write that; instead, he wrote, 'the plane had a negative rate of ascent'."
It unfortunately turned out that the passing of Bob Shaw was only the beginning of a series of deaths in fandom. Soon, most of the rest of Irish fandom would follow, as well as many other well-known older fans.
Mimosa 20, which was published in May 1997, had an "Anthropology and Archeology" theme, starting with Rich's "A Brief Lesson in Kitchen Table Anthropology" Opening Comments, where he likened moving downward through a long-ignored stack of stuff on your kitchen table is like traveling backward through time! The covers for the issue were by Kurt Erichsen, which depicted, in their own way, a kind of futuristic anthropology scene.
The featured article in the issue was a tribute to fan artist William Rotsler -- we'd asked several other fan artists to 'collaborate' with Rotsler by completing some 'set-up' Rotsler cartoons (the same cartoons were provided to each artist), and also asked them to write something interesting about Rotsler that we could publish with their art. Here's some of the results:
Title illustration by Diana Harlan Stein
Mimosa 20 covers by Kurt Erichsen