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A Journal for and by the Readers of C.J. Cherryh
In science-fiction fanzines, there are articles called con reps, or convention reports. They recount events at a particular SF convention as experience by the writer. There are as many styles of conrep as there are con attendees, and this one focuses on a writer.
Silicon '90 Convention Report
By Bret Grandrath
Silicon '90 was held November 23-25 [1990] in San Francisco, Calif. with C.J. Cherryh as Guest of Honor. This report should probably be subtitled, "How I Spent Thanksgiving Weekend or My Afternoon With C.J." This won't be a report on the whole convention because I'm not much of a convention-goer. I went to see C.J. and her brother, David Cherry, and got them to sign some books. I got that and a whole lot more.

I knew from the program book that C.J. wasn't scheduled for any more panels until 7 that night, so I had six books with me that I wanted her to autograph. As the panel broke up, I hung around, hoping to get to talk to C.J. and have her sign my books. Several other fans had books with them, and one asked C.J. if she would mind signing some. C.J. looked around and suggested we find a place to sit down and relax so she could sign everybody's books. We all agreed and about six or seven people followed her out to the lobby. C.J. sat down and signed every book she was handed and answered every question. Some people only had one or two books, but two guys had about twenty books each. C.J. sat there for at least an hour and never once complained or looked like she didn't want to be bothered.

One of the guys that had a lot of books asked C.J. if she minded being handed that many books at one time. She said she wasn't going anywhere and she felt if her fans were going to buy her books, at least she could sign them.

Most of us that had followed C.J. to the lobby stayed there as we took turns getting all of our books signed. I stayed long after all of my books were signed just listening to C.J. talk to her fans. As C.J. was relaxing and talking, one of the Convention Committee came over and told her that they would set up an official Autograph Session nearby for the next hour if that was all right with her. She looked around at us and all the books she had already signed and said she'd be glad to if anyone else needed an autograph.

As C.J. went to officially sign books, I decided to go to lunch, quite happy that I'd been able to spend some time with her.

The next panel I went to was "Ask Not What Your World Con..." run by the committee for ConFrancisco in '93. Lots of big plans and enthusiasm, but we'll have to wait a few years to see what lasts. I later asked C.J. if she was going to come to San Francisco for the World Convention, and she said she tried to get to all of the World Conventions held in America, and she would probably come here. I told her to write another Hugo winner for it and she just smiled.

The last panel on Saturday was "Working With Star Systems" with C.J., Jane Fancher and two astronomer fans. They covered a variety of subjects, starting with complex astronomy facts that went right over my head. I was amazed at how much C.J. knew about astronomy. This must be why the science in her science fiction makes her stories seem so plausible. When she talks about her novels, you can tell that she knows what the effects of FTL drive, contact with aliens, or interstellar war will have on the human race.

Poul Anderson was in the audience and when the topic turned to what would be traded between star systems, he and C.J. got into a debate. C.J. felt original paintings, first edition books and spices from earth would be in demand as humanity went out from the solar system. Poul Anderson disagreed. He thought necessary food and agricultural equipment would be more realistic trading material.

Each author's point of view gave us an insight into their vision of the future and how much effort and thought they had put into their writing. Another topic at this panel was whether as humans we need to be on a planet or we can function living on stations and ships in space. This seemed to be an old and ongoing debate between C.J. and Jane. C.J. felt that humans would have human reactions no matter where they lived, while Jane felt that psychologically and physically people need solid ground underfoot.

After the panel broke up, I talked with Jane for a while. I told her I used to agree with her and didn't even care for stories set on space stations, but after reading Downbelow Station, I was converted to believing that authors who don't use stations hadn't given their setting enough thought. We talked of how C.J. makes life in space come alive in her books. I told Jane I would read her upcoming book even if I disagreed with her about station life. I even recommended Angel Station by Walter Jon Williams because it is an excellent book, more in line with C.J.'s views than hers. In Angel Station, the spacers call any planet they are orbiting, "Mudville." 

Sunday morning, C.J.'s only scheduled event was a reading. I thought it would be crowded at the convention's Guest of Honor's reading, but when C.J. started reading from Heavy Time, there were only twenty people in the audience. I was amazed at how few people were there, but C.J. talked and read as if there was a full house. She gave some background for Heavy Time and then read the first few chapters.

When she finished reading, she still had the room for a few minutes, so she asked if there were any questions. Since I always have questions about her books and how they are interrelated, I asked who was in charge of the Earth Company Fleet in Heavy Time. She said Earth was in charge, the Fleet wasn't on its own yet. A few others asked questions, and because I didn't know if I'd ever get another chance to talk with her, I asked about her use of Mainday and Alterday shifts. She explained they had staggered starting times for each shift so they weren't 12 hours on and 12 hours off.

Time ran out as everyone ran out of questions. A few people went to get books signed by C.J. as things were breaking up, but I went over and talked to Jane about her upcoming book for a short time.

I went by the dealer's room and got each of my kids a shirt and some books. I cleaned out my room, checked out of the hotel and put everything in my car. I was ready to leave, but I thought I'd go back in and look for David Cherry one more time to get him to sign his art book. As I walked through the hotel, I saw Jane in the dealer's room, and I went to ask her if she knew where David was. On my way over to her, I looked for a copy of Angel Station to give her, but none of the dealers had one. I went up to her and told her I'd looked for the book so I could bribe her into helping me find David Cherry. She said she would help me because she wanted to see him to congratulate him on winning Best in Show.

We went down Artists Row out in the hall and Jane ran up and tackled a man I hoped was David Cherry. Luckily it was. Jane explained our mission to find him as he signed my book. We talked for a while, then I thanked them and said I was going to head home. Jane said she was due to meet C.J. in the bar and that I should join them. When we found C.J., she was sitting at a table with one fan. Jane and I joined them, and I didn't get up for three hours. The highlight of the weekend, and I almost missed it.

We had a long rambling conversation that covered many topics, but what I remember most were the answers I got from my questions about her books. I asked C.J. about a quote of hers in [the fanzine] Shon'ai, referring to "Mallory and Edger's long awaited show down." I asked, "Not Mallory and Mazian?" She said, "Edger and Mallory had been at odds for a long time." She went on to explain how Edger had been the driving force behind Mazian and Mallory didn't think he should have that much influence on high-level Fleet decisions.

I asked where Mazian was hiding and that I thought he was at Alpha Centauri. C.J. looked at me with a little smile and said, "Oh, he is out that direction." I could see that was as much as I was going to pin her down on Mazian's whereabouts, but I told her that was the book I wanted to read.

I asked if the Union Marine psych sets of Morgaine's ancestors were what kept her moving from gate to gate. C.J. said, "Partly, but you have to remember her father was qhal."

While we talked about psych sets, the discussion turned to Ariane Emory. I stated that I could see Ari's hand in everything down the time line in Union. If not Ari II, then Ari III. C.J. threw me by saying she didn't think there was an Ari III.

I said I thought that Ari II would want to prove herself right from when she said, "They didn't have to send Maman away."

C.J. answered, "Ari II may grow to see that they had to."

I then tried out my Merovin/Sharrah theory on her. I contend Merovin was colonized by Union under Ari II's (or Ari III's) orders to test her and Justin's long-range psych-set theories on a planetary gene pool. I say there are no Sharrah, only tape-fed memories to keep the colonists on the planet and afraid of anything from off planet. I then asked, "Are there any Sharrah?"

C.J. said, "None ever show up on the scene," which I took as proof that at least I'm partly right. C.J. added that the Merovingen Nights series was going to come to an end with all the plot lines resolved.

We went on to talk about Rimrunners, C.J.'s most recent book at the time. I told her that the below-decks scenes reminded me of all the time I've spent in locker rooms, except none of the teams I've been on were co-ed and I'd hate to imagine how women would have been treated in those locker rooms. I asked C.J. if as a student or teacher she had been around football players.

C.J. said the below decks reminded her of when she was in the school band. On bus trips, the boys and girls had shared cramped quarters and even changed clothes with nothing but a blanket between groups.

While we were talking about Morgaine and Vanye, I said I keep waiting for them to go through a gate into a high-tech world. C.J. said she would hate to do that to Vanye. He is just getting used to Morgaine's weapons knowledge. He is also beginning to realize that they are on different worlds, not different countries on the same world.

Then C.J. smiled, looked at me and said, "I wonder who got through the gate first at the end of Exile's Gate?" 

I didn't venture a guess, Jane said it was one of the horses. C.J. wouldn't say whether or not she had it worked out.

I mentioned how Merchanter's Luck was my favorite of her books and that I'd like to see the Kreja clan have a big role down the time line. C.J. looked at Jane, turned to me and said, "You know Sandor and Bet almost go together -- they are contemporaries."

C.J. and Jane got started back and forth and I could see that this was a long-standing story idea and another example of how thoroughly C.J. thinks out her stories. "Poor Sandor" seemed to be their conclusion of a meeting between him and Bet, but I told them I thought Sandor could squirm out of any problem.

C.J. never looked bored or tired of my questions, but I had asked everything I had wanted to and felt it was time I left her alone, so as a last question, I asked "Is there any book we haven't talked about?" I could see she was thinking over whether we had missed anything when she said, "Well, the Faded Sun books."

I told her I hadn't brought them up because even though I know a lot of people list the Faded Sun books as their favorite, I never really liked them, but I did ask about the deserted suns on the way to the mri home star. C.J. explained how they weren't all single civilizations but several clusters of stars lost with each employer. She went on to say that the Alliance should have taken Union's help in the war against the mri. If they had taken Union's help, the war wouldn't have lasted so long and they wouldn't have lost Haven and had to retake it. I couldn't think of what to ask to get more details, so I told her I would reread all three when the book about Haven came out. She just smiled.

C.J. had been invited to join a group of folk singers, so I tagged along and listened for a while. All of the singers were very good. I was once again impressed with how multi-talented C.J. is. By then it was getting late, so I left and headed home.

I had a good time at the convention and a great time talking with C.J. Her answers gave hints into as-yet unpublished works that must be outlined already just so she can keep everything straight in her own mind. None of her comments seem as if they are ad-libbed. They are too consistent for her to be making everything up as she goes. The only problem is in asking the right question to get her started and then trying to keep up.


Image: "Who Gave You the Gun, Nadi?" © CKTC

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