A few months ago, trillian_stars and I went to the philadelphia orchestra and we had a really wonderful time and thought "We must do that again, many times."
And so it came to pass that we bought tickets, really good tickets, to see them perform Carmina Bruana at their summer home, the semi-outdoor Mann Music Center.
The Mann is a covered amphitheater built into the side of a hill, but with three open walls. The roof covers maybe six hundred seats, and another two or three hundred sit behind them under the sky, and eventually, the grassy hill seats how ever many zillion others. As you get farther up from the stage the mood of the crowd changes. While the hoi poloi rattle their jewelry down by orchestra left, at the top of the hill there are babies being born, pistol duels over disputes of paternity, fist-to-cuffs, and alcohol consumption that would make an irish wake look like a tea party. the depths of depravity are mined in those hinterlands for their surliest nuggets. Or at least they're picnicking.
On the day of the show trillian_stars and I walk around through the crowd enjoying the cool air and looking at lots of lovely picnic baskets. As the hour approaches we head down towards our seats, I savor each step as the stage grows larger and things look More Important -- it's almost as though you can feel an electrical charge as you approach the first twenty or thirty rows.
Looking over, I see a balding pate that seems oddly familar.
"Great Balls of Socks!" I say to Trillian, I swear that looks like Tom Purdom, the science fiction author!"
"You should go and say hi!" she says.
"I'm sure he's tired of that. I should leave him alone."
"He's an author, I'm sure nobody recognizes him. He'd probably like it. You like it."
So I went over and said "Excuse me, are you Tom Purdom, the science fiction author?"
"Why yes I am!" he stands up, seeming genuinely pleased to be discovered in a crowd and we chat a bit. He invites us to a book reading he's giving the next night and as the bells ring, we thank him and go to our seats.
Tom Purdom has a reputation for being one of the nicest writers in science fiction -- like if you threw him into a room with Harlan Ellison the resulting implosion could power the star ship Enterprise on it's five year mission. We sat down with a smile.
Carmina Bruana is like being punched in the face by God. But in a good way.
The Philadelphia orchestra's production was marvelous, humorous, and pummeling, not all at the same time, but only at the times it was necessary. Sitting there watching it performed was a much more intense experience than listening to it on CD, the expressions of the vocalists brought life and new meaning to passages heretofore lost to me. When it was over we leapt to our feet applauding and applauding.
We met up with shveta_thakrar and her wonderful boyfriend afterwards, came back to Casa del Milla and played pinball until the wee hours and went off to bed.
The next evening trillian_stars and I hied off to Tom's reading in center city.
When we got there, Michael Swanwick was just about to read from his story published in The Year's Best Science Fiction. We took seats in the back and listened attentively. The story was set in Philadelphia which was an added bonus, it's always nice to hear the names of places you're familiar with.
Tom was next and instead of reading from his story, he gave a lecture about the British Navy's attempt to stop the slave trade in the early 1800's by boarding slavers, seizing the ships, and freeing their human cargo -- the true story behind his own tale from Years Best. Sometimes the British captains would bring the crews back to face justice in England. More often than not, they would simply maroon them on the coast of Africa, which sounded entirely appropriate to me.
Tom's engaging, and funny, even when speaking about such a serious subject. After they spoke, Gardner Dozois was introduced. Gardner was editor of Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction magazine for something like 20 years. One of, if not the most well respected and successful science fiction magazines in the business (I don't know how Analog and F&SF are doing these days), Asimov's also has the distinction of being THE FIRST PUBLICATION EVER to send me a rejection slip. I have it still. It is a withering dismissal from Dozois' predecessor George Scithers for a story I submitted when I was 15. I still have it, the rejection slip. Hopefully all copies of the story have been destroyed -- Scithers was right.
But I digress.
Dozois was hysterical. I wasn't expecting it, but he was. He described his job as editor as being "a human sewage system. all this crap comes in to me," he said, "and, hopefully, good stuff comes out the other end."
The Years Best Science Fiction contains the results of another year of reading crap and picking out the pearls. He spoke off the top of his head, jumped from area to area, but always remained entertaining. Then all of the authors took questions ....
Gardner Dozois and Michael Swanwick making some important points.
When the signing started, we raced to the front with my copy of I Want The Stars -- a 1964 Ace Double that Tom had written one side of. Sometime in the 1980's I'd gotten a whole box of Ace Doubles (which contain two books in one each about 150 pages. When one ends, you flip the book over and read the other side -- very clever. Ace doubles are pulps, they're sort of classic science fiction from a classic era.) I'd also gotten about 20 copies of Asimov's and maybe 50 copies of Fantasy and Science Fiction and that was a large portion of my reading material in my mid teens. So I was very excited to get it signed.
Me waiting in line to get Tom Purdom to sign my copy of I Want the Stars. Can you tell I'm excited?
So Tom signs my book and we talk about it for a minute and then a funny thing happens on the way to the forum and he realizes who I am. (Not "Great Balls of Socks! It's Kyle Freaking Cassidy!") but he says to Gardner, "Hey! These are the people who recognized me at the orchestra! Isn't that great?!" and THEN he says "we're going out to dinner after we sign all these books, why don't you join us?!"
So books are signed, we leave for the restaurant where they have a private room reserved. I'm giddy with excitement, everyone's very collegial, Michael and (I assume) his wife are charming and funny.
Mark Wolverton was also there, the author of The Science of Superman and the Depths of Space about the Pioneer probes. He's just finished a book about the last days of Robert Oppenheimer and, as it turned out, he's also a playwright, so we were in lovely company. I really wish that whafford could be there with us, talking about writing with kind and accomplished people. Anyway.
We order food, we feast, we talk and the conversation is peppered with things like:
"I remember a party at Harlan Ellison's house," and "then Asimov said No, no, I can fix it with this pencil, but Larry Nivin was skeptical..." and such.
"So," I say to Gardner, "I heard you have five freaking Hugo awards!" (the Hugo is the Oscar of science fiction writing, and it boggles my mind that anybody would have five of them.
"Michael has five," says Tom, "Gardner has fifteen."
My jaw drops.
"If you've won fifteen Hugo awards," I say, "and then you lose one, do you care? Are you like, oh well, I already have fifteen one more would hardly fit on the mantle! it's good some new young pup has a chance." or are you like @#$#% #@$#%# judges! gaaahhh! kill!! kill!! I need sixteen!!!".
"Well," he says thoughtfully, "you don't not care. You never get off the wheel."
Then there follows a discussion, very animated and funny, as to what a Hugo award looks like. I didn't know this but only the rocket is the same every year, the base varies from year to year with varying levels of success. Some look cool, and others it seems to be a curse to win a Hugo that particular year. One is described as "having three feet of what looks like black diarreah blasting from the back of the rocket."
So the conversation bounces along like this for a while, I was fascinated by the idea of what it must be like to win something like that -- how your anticipate it, what you feel like when you're getting it, how it feels when you don't get it ... all that, and they were all happy to talk about it. People talk about their current projects, about books and movies that they like, editors and publishers, and lives (more or less) well lived.
We finish dinner & go off our separate ways and I feel happy and fulfilled and like I'm living the best life that I've ever heard about.