Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder
The problem -- Earl suggests to me at the outset of "Heinlein Happens" -- is his ego. At times, it causes him to act arrogantly or self-righteously. And when he's recognized that, he's tried to stuff it. At the same time, however, he also views his ego as an essential part of who he is, what he's done, and how he's done it. Then his ego appears to have been necessary and to have served him well.
Earl's trying to sort that out for himself. In fact, I can picture him right now out in the desert wrestling with his ego, now standing proud, then trying to sit on himself, and again and again being thrown for a loop.
Which is to say that of course I agree with Earl that his ego has been his problem -- and also I don't agree with him at all. It appears to me, at least, that when he uses the word "ego" -- a modern concept which employs the Latin word for "I" as though it were a concrete object -- Earl is actually mixing up two different things, one of which he has every reason to feel at peace with, and the other of which he doesn't. And his real problem has been the inconsistent and self-defeating behavior which results from getting the two confused.
The model of consciousness which Earl is using to analyze himself suggests that each of us has an autonomous nuclear self which is always the same and runs the show for us. Self-respect, pride and ambition are all aspects of this nuclear "I". Except, unaccountably, this sense of "Me-ness" can lead us to either act well or act badly, and while we are in the act, we don't seem to know the difference. Earl would like to sort that out and get in control of it -- and yet somehow he just can't seem to do it.
However, there is another model of consciousness which may be more useful and appropriate here. My awareness of it is primarily rooted in Sufi material old and new, where it isn't so much expounded upon as demonstrated. However, a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary presentation of the bases for such a model can be found in The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size by Tor Norretranders, published in the US by Viking in 1998.
This model suggests that our sense of "Me-ness" is an after-the-fact illusion. We actually flit from mental state to mental state, and from one story of the moment to another story of the moment, improvising desperately, not always sure of what we are seeing or saying or doing, and then we tie all this together with an ad hoc sense of a single self which is responsible for this hodgepodge. In reality, however, we all too often act as though we were driven through life by the demands of a crazy monkey caught in the grip of an imperative to avoid what it fears and use any means to grab and hold onto what it desires.
The alternative to this fragmented behavior is integration of thought and activity, not in service of the self--"Me-Me-Me" being the secret name of the crazy monkey -- but in service of intuitionally-sensed higher purpose.
Let me give you a
real-world example of what I mean:
Once upon a time, there was a bright, able, ambitious lad from Arkansas named Earl Kemp. He had no special advantages of education or social position. But he wanted to make his mark in the world. So, like others before him, he went up the river to the big city.
Chicago was his destination. And the domain Earl set out to conquer was the science fiction world.
Chicago was a pretty fast track, too. Some of the local SF fans were students at the University of Chicago, and were phenomenally bright guys. However, by means of competence, drive and vision, Earl Kemp established himself as the undisputed leader of what he thought of as the Chicago Faction of SF fandom.
Earl's strength was his ability to always think of the next thing to do, and then draw other people into wanting to play the game with him -- very much in the same way that he'd propose writing a book on Heinlein to me, and then convince me to write it so Advent could publish it.
I described the Earl of those days this way in "The Story of Heinlein in Dimension": "He was a doer, not only full of bright ideas, but also able to bring them to fruition. A typical Kemp project had an element of originality, called for a lot of work, but yielded results that only imagination and effort could achieve."
In the copy of the essay which Earl read and then returned to me all marked in red, he inserted the phrase "by a lot of people" after the words "a lot of work" in the previous sentence. That's an important addition. It emphasizes the group nature of these endeavors. They weren't undertaken for personalistic Crazy Monkey reasons, but rather for the sheer fun of doing them.
Perhaps the crowning moment in this activity came when Earl and some of his fannish friends founded Advent:Publishers in 1956. Using essentially amateur means to produce work of near-professional quality, they first issued In Search of Wonder, a hardcover collection of the book reviews of Damon Knight, which would lay the foundation for all subsequent SF criticism, and then a portfolio of drawings by Kelly Freas, which paid a commercial SF illustrator the compliment of treating him as though he were a serious artist.
On the other hand, Earl Kemp's greatest weakness was that he had the demands of his own Crazy Monkey to contend with. He aimed to get ahead. He wanted to be a success. He longed for recognition. He wanted to rub elbows with the rich and powerful. He wanted to be a player.
The reality, however, was that Earl had a living to earn at a job he didn't always like, working as a graphics artist for a printer. He couldn't help thinking that he was capable of more demanding work and of exercising greater responsibility, and he wanted to better himself.
Nothing wrong with that,
of course. Except
that there were times when Earl could get his personal ambition and
confused with what he was able to accomplish in fandom by love and
When that happened, it meant that he might offend fans outside Chicago
with a display of inappropriate competitiveness. Or he might
for a moment that Advent existed in order to create and publish books
SF that nobody else had the vision to issue, and dream instead of an
which was the seed of a regular commercial publishing house.
One set of circumstances where Earl found it possible to confuse what he cared about and the shenanigans of his Crazy Monkey was when it came to meeting and dealing with science fiction royalty -- those awesome beings who'd written the SF stories that had made his mental parameters too large for Arkansas to hold him.
In those days, the science fiction community was still small and concentrated. Earl was the point man for Chicago fandom. He was personable and fun to be around. And he was the motivating force behind Advent. Consequently, one way or another during the Fifties, he would have the opportunity to make the acquaintance of just about every science fiction writer who had ever been of importance to him.
Going mad in the presence of the gods is an easy way for any SF fan to lose his cool -- and I speak as someone who was already a published science fiction writer myself when none other than Fred Pohl first led me up to Isaac Asimov to be introduced, and all I could manage to do was stammer and drool on the great man's shoes. Fortunately, many of the top SF writers like Asimov knew what it was to be a fan, recognized what was happening, and worked to find ways of putting people at ease when they showed signs of making fools of themselves this way.
However, Earl was more than just put at his ease. He would actually find himself welcomed and brought within the private circle of people like Edmond Hamilton and his wife Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore and Philip Jose Farmer, until he could feel that they were his close personal friends. It was possible to sit around with them and be as comfortable as though they were all at a picnic back home, and to forget almost completely that he was hanging out with people of such substance and accomplishment that it would've blown the mind of the kid he'd been just to imagine that this was the kind of company that he'd be keeping some day.
Of all these writers, the one who was warmest and most welcoming to him was Doc Smith. We're talking about the man who'd been recognized as the premier writer of science fiction from the moment that his first story, The Skylark of Space, was published in Amazing Stories in 1928 -- the year before Earl was born -- through the serialization of the last of his Lensman novels, Children of the Lens, in Astounding in late 1947 and early 1948.
But the fact of his primacy had never gone to his head. First and foremost, Doc Smith was a mensch, as they say in Arkansas -- a real human being. Earl describes Smith's wife Jeannie as the ultimate earthmother, and he declares that Doc Smith "was the closest thing I ever knew to having a science fiction godfather; he treated me like a treasured and valuable son."
However, the same thing would not be true of the man who followed Smith as King of Space and Time. This was Robert Heinlein, who was just about Earl's favorite SF writer.
When Heinlein was introduced to someone who found his presence intimidating, he didn't go out of his way to take himself down a peg the way that Doc Smith did -- and, in fact, had once upon a time done for Robert Heinlein.
Instead of being modest and accommodating, Heinlein invoked his dignity, demanded special privilege, and acted as though it were his prerogative to take advantage of the effect he had upon those who cared most about his stories.
Earl was one.
But where the other SF writers he met had been ready to take Earl off the hook, calm his Crazy Monkey, and even make a friend out of him, Heinlein hadn't. Oh, he might allow it to be understood that Earl was a friend of his in good standing -- but that wasn't at all the way he treated him.
Rather, he used Earl's awe and his powerhunger and his pivotal placement in Chicago fandom for his own convenience. When Heinlein was in town, he pressed Earl into service as his personal gofer.
At the beginning, Earl was only too glad to arrange things for Heinlein's pleasure. He loved the man's work and he got a charge out of being of use to him. But the game very quickly ran thin.
Earl tells us: "Heinlein had to be praised at all times. He would arrive in Chicago without prior notice and phone me with an order loosely translated as, 'I have arrived. Bring acolytes and worship me in my ordained manner.' "
And Earl would hop to oblige him.
Heinlein would then play king and lord it over the common folk who'd been brought before him.
He always sat higher than anyone else in the room. And while those who were granted the honor of meeting him would dress up for the occasion, Heinlein would demonstrate their true station to them by dressing down. He'd hold court in silk pajamas and a dressing gown, as though to show that even his most informal clothes were better than their best.
Earl found that he didn't like Heinlein very much as a person. He affected the appearance and manner of a suave man-about-town in a Thirties movie -- but he was now too old, too fat and too bald to bring it off. There was something false, and even greasy about him.
High and mighty, too. Heinlein always had to be deferred to. Not only wouldn't he lighten the atmosphere by putting himself down the way that Doc Smith did, he wouldn't tolerate criticism from any quarter. Or even the slightest disagreement.
This man who preached flexible reaction to change was remarkably touchy, rigid and unforgiving. Consequently, Earl did as he was told and kept his rebellious feelings to himself.
Truth be known, Heinlein had the psychological jump on him. And once he'd said "yes"' to the first order, Earl didn't know how to say "no" to the next. Especially since he was aware that the price of ever daring to say "no" was to be turned into an unperson and be permanently banished to Siberia.
In return for Earl's services, Heinlein did perform several favors for him. He contributed to his symposium, Who Killed Science Fiction? -- but only under the guise of "Anonymous #1." And he finally consented to participate, along with Alfred Bester, Cyril Kornbluth and Robert Bloch, in a series of lectures given in Chicago which Advent would publish under the title The Science Fiction Novel as another basic text of SF criticism.
But these boons would all have to paid for twice over. The things that Earl did on his behalf were accepted as Heinlein's due, and only earned Earl the right to ask a favor. Beyond that, however, anything that Heinlein ever did for him was hard won and hedged about with conditions that were designed to prove his power and to spoil Earl's fun.
It seemed to Earl that Heinlein took glee in watching him jump about and beg before he finally tossed him his bone. He couldn't help but feel both exploited and humiliated by this dude with an attitude who couldn't have been, shouldn't have been, the man who wrote the stories that he liked so well.
The relationship between Heinlein and him was not at all the same way things were between Doc Smith and Earl -- and he was acutely aware of the difference.
But Earl felt that in order for his plans to work out, he had to remain in Heinlein's good graces. He needed the man. So Earl shut his mouth and played the game, and told himself that he was doing the things he did for Heinlein to advance the interests of Chicago fandom.
All the while, however, it was really his Crazy Monkey running him around.
If Robert Heinlein was playing a game of Insecure King, full of displays of dominance, need for adulation and tests of loyalty, Earl Kemp was gameplaying, too. He was a Secret Master of Fandom plotting how to bring another World Science Fiction Convention to Chicago.
Two Worldcons had previously been held there -- the Second back in 1940 and the Tenth in 1952, which with 870 attendees would stand as the largest ever for the next fifteen years. Earl had dreams of putting on a third Chicago convention, with himself as coordinator and chairman. That was the brass ring he was aiming to grasp -- the proof of his success at emerging from the back of beyond and making something of himself in the microcosm of science fiction fandom.
Earl became the leader of Chicago's perennial con bids -- but they were all an exercise in frustration. Somehow he could never seem to command the attention and support he had to have to win.
The lesson that Earl drew from these failures was that short of some real smooth move on his part, nothing was ever going to be enough for Chicago to win. So he schemed, he plotted, he planned and he politicked. There was no stone he left unturned, no string unpulled and no button unpushed.
My suspicion is that it was the very singlemindedness of Earl's hustling which caused other fans to call him "Killer" Kemp after "Killer" Kane, the antagonist in the Buck Rogers comic strip. And, in a similar way, it was the overwhelming need that he felt to ingratiate himself with anyone who could possibly be of aid to the Chicago Faction which led him to bend himself out of shape to please Robert Heinlein.
The real nature of his problem, however, was one of timing. The bids he was leading were premature. The judgment of fandom, in all its anarchic wisdom, was that it wasn't yet the city's turn to host the con again.
If Earl had been hip to the fact that through the decade of the Fifties there was nothing he could possibly have done that would have been sufficient to bring the Worldcon back to Chicago, he might have just bided his time and found other useful things to do until the proper moment finally revealed itself to him. Then he could have submitted his bid and won in a walkover without breaking a sweat.
But Earl didn't have that kind of insight, faith and patience. Instead, the hunger and greed of his Crazy Monkey drove him to redouble his efforts.
The ploy that would finally carry the day for Chicago was his symposium, Who Killed Science Fiction?
Earl's idea was to use indirection. He would do a one-shot fanzine of such a startling nature that it was bound to win a Hugo. And then he could parley the interest and attention which had been aroused to nail down a convention bid.
By rights, Earl should have had a Hugo long ago for In Search of Wonder, Advent's first book. It was a genuine handknitted amateur production brought into being by love, cooperative effort and the will to do the work, and not by means and money. If it had been taken for what it really was -- a great leap in fannish ambition and achievement -- it might easily have won an award as Best Fan Publication, not just of that year, but for many a year to come.
The problem was that it was too good. In its radical originality, its seriousness of purpose, and its level of execution, In Search of Wonder merited comparison with many an academic or specialty press publication. And because that's how it appeared, those were the terms in which it was received. But the price of the respect that it earned was that its true fannish nature would be overlooked.
Consequently, this time around, Earl would dumb things down a little. He wouldn't exceed the ability of his audience to appreciate what he was doing, but instead make what he was doing more apparent.
Who Killed Science Fiction? wouldn't look like a book. Instead, it had the appearance of a fanzine published in a traditional fannish context as Earl's contribution to a regular mailing of the second oldest science fiction apa, the Spectator Amateur Press Society.
However, it would be a damned good looking fanzine. It was photo offset on a Multilith machine, so the type had a much sharper appearance than a standard fan production typed on stencils and run off on a mimeograph.
It was thicker than the usual SAPSzine. And the content was unlike anything that had ever been done before. Earl sent the same five questions to 108 people, the elite of the science fiction world. And he printed the seventy-one responses he received.
The title -- Who Killed Science Fiction? -- was an attention-grabber, too, the most provocative Earl could devise.
And he had one final trick up his sleeve. Earl deliberately set out to make this symposium a rare and desirable item. He printed just enough copies of the publication to provide one to each of the contributors and one for each member of SAPS.
This meant that for anyone to even lay eyes on a copy, they had to apply to some well-placed person. Otherwise, Who Killed Science Fiction? could only be known by the stir it was causing.
Earl waged a long campaign. He circulated his questions in 1959, and published the answers in 1960, with the aim of garnering a Hugo at the Worldcon in Seattle in 1961, so that he could finally bring home a winning con bid to Chicago for 1962.
And this plot worked out just as he hoped it would. Earl did win his Hugo Award for Who Killed Science Fiction? And he also won the convention bid that was his true goal. What a coup!
Except, of course, there's always the possibility that after the passage of ten years, it was time for Chicago to host the convention again anyway, and all his machinations were beside the point.
Perhaps because Earl's goal had been attained by a mixture of means -- in part through love, cooperation and creative effort, and in part through ploy, compromise and calculation -- it should be no great surprise to hear that his actual experience as convention chairman of ChiCon III was a mixed bag, too.
On the one hand, Earl would have plenty of opportunity to be of genuine service to science fiction and the SF community. It would be a trying year for him as he attempted to set up a program and balance the demands coming at him from every direction -- but in the end he'd manage to put on a thoroughly enjoyable convention. He would even issue all the proceedings afterward in transcribed form as an Advent book.
Not the least of what he was able to do was see that Theodore Sturgeon was chosen the convention's Guest of Honor. Sturgeon was SF's most distinguished stylist and another of Earl's favorite writers, but he hadn't yet been honored this way, while Robert Heinlein had already been made the GoH for a second time at the previous worldcon in Seattle. This was a chance to make up for the oversight.
On the other hand, Earl's position as con chairman would place him in the orbit of some extremely powerful and needy people -- not only Heinlein, but also the publisher of Playboy, Hugh Hefner, and even an eccentric billionaire, H.L. Hunt. He would learn that each one of these men was run by a really big Crazy Monkey, and the only interest any of them had either in him or in the convention was for their usefulness as a tool of convenience.
Robert Heinlein, with his ever-escalating demands that he be guaranteed an award for Stranger in a Strange Land, and his own personal spotlight, was a prima donna who would have to be wooed and won over and over again until at last he finally did commit himself to attend the convention. Once there, he would pace around behind the scenes dressed in white, waiting for the Hugo he could never be certain he'd won legitimately to be announced so he could appear on stage at the last possible moment all out of breath, tromping on the toastmaster's toes as he seized the mike to inform a wildly applauding audience that he had only just managed to arrive.
Heinlein would hold court here, too, receiving those brought to his suite in his silk pajamas and dressing gown. He'd had the foresight to pack more than one of each of these, so he could vary his outfit.
Robert Heinlein was the prize catch Hugh Hefner had his eye on. He wanted him as a guest at a 4 AM party at the Playboy Mansion during the con, where Hef could show off his ability to put on a bash at a weird hour and play host in his own silk pajamas and red smoking jacket. And he also wanted Heinlein as a star participant in a special roundtable discussion to be used as a Playboy Interview.
Earl would be pressed into service as middleman to set things up with Heinlein. And he'd also be asked to supply the magazine with appropriate questions to be posed at the panel discussion.
All this heavy duty action had Earl's Crazy Monkey bouncing off the wall and turning handsprings. He had dreams of turning the symposium into another Advent book. Heinlein being asked to attend a party at the Mansion seemed a special and desirable thing to him; he wouldn't mind wangling an invitation for himself. And he was caught up in the possibility of getting Hefner to drop by the convention as a trophy guest of his own. So he was willing to put himself out for Playboy.
However, making all the arrangements would prove to be far more of a chore than he ever anticipated. For reasons that he didn't fully fathom, he would find both Hefner and Heinlein difficult to deal with.
Hef was a nocturnal creature, easier to glimpse than to meet. Instead, Earl would be informed of Hefner's wishes by high-ranking subordinates at the magazine.
It was suggested to him that it was prudent for him not to deal with Hefner directly. Earl was employed by William Hamling, a publisher of two third-rate SF magazines during the Fifties, and now primarily a publisher of sexless prickteaser books. Once upon a time, Hefner and Hamling had been friends working on the staff of the same magazine, but these days, as Earl well knew, the mere mention of Hefner's name was enough to set Hamling off.
However, since being sought out by Playboy to do them favors wasn't going to please Hamling in any case, my suspicion is that Earl was really being handled. If he was deliberately kept at a distance from the godlike, enigmatic, whim-driven man at the heart of things, and asked to deal with him through intermediaries, I have to take this as an act of gamesmanship. That was the way the Playboy Mystique was established and maintained.
Earl would find Heinlein unaccountably difficult, too. Rather than receiving the invitation to the Playboy party that was relayed to him as an honor and a privilege, Heinlein acted as though a favor was being asked of him. And somehow this would become one more factor in the price that Heinlein was making Earl pay to have him come to the convention.
I think that a game of Crazy Monkey relative dominance was being played out here, and that as one of the players, Heinlein had a better appreciation of what was going on than Earl did. After all, he'd been trained to understand the subtleties of rank and privilege at Annapolis, while Earl was only the shuttlecock being whanged back and forth over an invisible net between Playboy and Heinlein.
It's as simple as this: In the ordinary way of things, if Playboy wanted Robert Heinlein as the crucial participant in a group interview for the magazine while he was in town for the convention, the appropriate editor could have gotten his phone number, called him, and run the idea past him. And if Hugh Hefner desired Heinlein to be his guest at an early morning party, there was nothing to prevent him from ringing Bob up and inviting him -- except, of course, for the intolerable humiliation and loss of face Hef would suffer if Heinlein should laugh and say no.
That was too much leverage to give him. So, rather than Hefner and Playboy approaching Heinlein directly, the task of making the necessary arrangements was delegated to a third party, namely Earl. If he was able to set things up, they stood to gain, while nothing was actually risked if he couldn't.
But this means that when Earl passed along to Heinlein what seemed to him to be a couple of very attractive offers, Heinlein was well aware of the indirection of the inquiry and its significance. It meant that while he was being given a certain respect by Playboy, he wasn't going to be shown any special deference. It was apparent to him where the power lay, and who was going to get to wear the regal robe and pajamas and who wasn't.
This explains why, when he did decide to go along with Playboy, instead of saying, "Thank you," to Earl Kemp for serving as the go-between, Heinlein took an extra bite out of his hide. Somebody had to pay him for saying yes, and Earl was the one doing the petitioning.
If Earl had anything coming to him for his services, let him look to Playboy for it. It had nothing to do with Heinlein.
And, in fact, Earl did receive a bounty from Playboy for everything he'd done for them. He got an invitation of his own to the party at the Playboy Mansion. Wow!
However, in order to get what he was really after -- Hefner's agreement to put in a star appearance at the World Science Fiction Convention -- Earl would have to make some special concessions.
The big one was this: Hefner would indeed show up at the convention at a moment when all the members were assembled. However, the instant that he arrived, everything must come to a halt. Hef would then be picked out by a spotlight and receive his recognition.
It was all a bit much -- but then it wasn't altogether different from the image Earl had of the impact he wanted an appearance by Hefner to make on the convention. So he agreed.
Oh, them Crazy Monkeys! Doc Smith wouldn't have had a thing to do with a game like this one.
The third honcho that Earl had to cope with at ChiCon III was an even bigger Alpha-monkey than either Hefner or Heinlein -- Dallas oilman H.L. Hunt. Hunt is someone whom Jim Hightower describes as "ridiculously rich, severely right-wing, and nuttier than a hundred-pound sack of goobers." To this day, his name is still raised in conspiracy literature as a figure of suspicion in connection with the assassination of President Kennedy.
For some strange reason, Hunt was in residence at this hotel during the same weekend as the SF convention, and he wanted to have breakfast with the convention chairman.
Earl knew nothing about the man, not having listened to the radio broadcasts he sponsored on three hundred stations. In fact, he had him confused with the founder of Hunt Foods. But who could possibly say "no" to an invitation to break bread with someone who has made a fortune from the catsup that other people leave on their plates? So he said "yes."
Meeting Hunt for breakfast represented both a high point and a low point in Earl's convention.
Up and up and up he went. On the way, the elevator stopped on Heinlein's floor just to the side of his door which was open to allow room service to roll a cart of food into his suite.
Earl could glimpse Heinlein standing with his back to him. He was wearing a dressing gown Earl hadn't previously seen. His guests for breakfast were Fred and Carol Pohl. Carol spotted Earl and flashed him a smile. And then, as the elevator doors were closing again, she gave him a wink over Heinlein's shoulder.
That was probably appropriate under the circumstances.
Upward then Earl rode to his rendezvous in the sky with another big H.
He arrived in a place where the air was more rare and smelt of money. This was another world altogether, inconceivable by the ordinary mortals attending the science fiction convention below.
H.L. Hunt's suite was huge and decorated to a degree that made Heinlein's rooms seem cramped and shabby by comparison. He was attended by his own tailored staff of servants. Earl was ushered within and announced by Hunt's butler.
And then Earl met the man himself. That was something else altogether. Hunt was an old shuffler who offered him a feeble handshake.
He inquired if Earl was ready for breakfast. And, anticipating the feast to come, Earl said, "I sure am!"
So Hunt led the way to the elevator. And down, down, down they went.
Earl would have to lend the old man a steadying hand more than once as Hunt took them to the hotel coffeeshop and sat them down at the counter. Then he ordered their breakfast -- two coffees, black, one for each of them.
Mmm, bitter. One flavor that Hunt was still capable of wrapping his tastebuds around.
Then the billionaire got down to the business at hand. He'd written this novel, you see (or, leastways, had it set down in words for him.) It was called Alpaca. He'd had it printed up as a book, too.
He had a copy of it with him to give Earl. He wanted his help in promoting it.
Later, Earl would have a proper chance to look at the book he'd just been handed with the eyes of someone who knew a thing or two about science fiction, and also something about book production.
Alpaca proved to be a utopia promoting the idea that extra votes should be given to the old and to the wealthy -- a notion that was also espoused on Hunt's radio show. The novel was such an unreadable mess that no established publishing house would have touched it. And whoever had been responsible for printing and binding the book had ripped the old man off, as well.
Hunt had something else he wanted Earl to do for him. Just like Heinlein, he had a wish list of people he wanted found at the convention and sent to his suite. As it happened, Robert Heinlein was not among them.
The name heading Hunt's list was Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., a writer not as well-known then as he would later become. Vonnegut had written stories for the slicks, including a series for the Saturday Evening Post about a fat, middle-aged high school band teacher, plus a couple of SF novels, Player Piano and The Sirens of Titan. Unfortunately, Vonnegut wasn't in the habit of attending science fiction conventions, and wasn't here.
Having "breakfast" this way with a billionaire was a highly surreal experience for Earl. Hunt was completely out of his element, a bewildered babe who knew nothing at all about the realities of writing or of publishing, of science fiction or of SF fandom.
And yet, he was still set on having what he thought he wanted. As Hunt is often quoted as saying: "Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work."
Earl says, "He made me think of him as having outlived everyone he ever knew or loved, and alone and adrift on a becalmed shoreless sea at nightfall."
So he nodded, stroked Hunt, and played along with him. He assured the old man that he'd try to help him. However, even as he was saying it, Earl knew that he was going to sit on his hands.
He says that he was just trying to be nice to Hunt.
This may be a little difficult to understand when you consider that Hunt wasn't trying to be nice to Earl, but to use him. Creaky, cranky, out of it and eminently foolable though he might be, he was still doing his best to be a greedy, rapacious Big Crazy Monkey, attempting to get his chores done for the price of a cup of coffee.
Hunt would pay for their coffee with coins carefully counted out from a worn old snap-top change purse. He set the coins down in stacks of ten cents. Then he included a tip -- ten per cent to the penny, rounded down. Pennies are the means by which a billionaire is made, and Hunt never forgot it.
Of course, you may think it really was nice of Earl just to be pleasant and not take Hunt for a joyride, and then, while he was busy minding his pennies, relieve him of a few of his loose bucks, just as others had done before him. So much of a mark was Hunt in his dotage that he'd even shown Earl what kind of wannabe he was, and handed him a template of the way in which he could be taken.
But Earl wasn't looking to be the next in line to fleece Hunt. Instead, I think that his nodding and saying "yes" was just him acting dodgy. The fact is that when a figure of power wanted to have his way, Earl found it very difficult to say "no" out loud where he could be heard saying it.
That's how things had been with his mother. She was a strong-minded woman, and once she had her mind set on something, she wouldn't accept "no" as an answer from anybody, least of all from her son. Consequently, Earl had gotten locked into a pattern where he said "yes" to her because he wasn't allowed to say anything else -- but it didn't really count when he didn't have his heart in it.
And, most of the time, when nothing really hung in the balance, he could get away with it. He was able to say, "I don't remember you saying anything like that," or "I must have had my mind on something else just then," or "I guess I was humming to myself at the time, and didn't take in everything you said."
That's more or less the way things had gone with Hunt. And there would be no consequences because Earl hadn't accepted anything from him except a book and a cup of coffee, and he hadn't made him any specific promises. He'd just nodded and said, "Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Well, I'll see what I can do for you."
At other times, however, saying "yes" when he really meant "no" had landed Earl in a peck of trouble with his mother. This tended to happen when he really really disagreed with what he was being forced to say "yes" to, and he then found himself dramatising his "no" by deliberately doing things some other way. Even when he was right -- and he often was -- that could get him in hot water.
Unfortunately, however, Earl would carry this part of the pattern with him into adulthood, too. Again and again, his fear and desire would lead Earl to say "yes" to powerful people even though his heart in its own quiet way was telling him to say "no." And then, inevitably, he'd find himself acting out that "no" by doing what seemed the right thing to him just because it was the right thing to do -- and he'd land in trouble for it.
Earl would puzzle himself because he could never quite get a handle on why things of this sort kept happening to him. And he'd fool himself, too, because after the fact what he would remember is that eventually he'd done the right thing. But because they were so much second nature to him, he wouldn't look at the Crazy Monkey games he'd been playing to begin with, even though they would have everything to do with what had taken place. He managed not to understand that when he said "yes" to some powerful person, and then delivered a "no" that showed them up, he really pissed them off.
One instance of this self-defeating behavior would have Earl crossing up Hugh Hefner here at ChiCon III. A couple of years later, Earl would be seeking me out and commissioning me to write Heinlein in Dimension, and thoroughly infuriating Heinlein by doing it. And, in time, Earl would be goaded into producing an exposť of a government hypocrisy in terms that were so simple, effective and funny that the ire of President Richard Nixon and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover could not be contained, and Earl would earn prison time for his perversity.
What he pulled with Hefner at ChiCon is a perfect example of Earl's ambivalence. What he did, in fact, was the right thing to do. At the same time, however, it was also an out-and-out, make-no-mistake-about-it doublecross.
Earl had promised that if Hef came to the convention, he would get all the attendees as his audience, respectful silence, and a personal spotlight while he was introduced. However, when the moment actually arrived, Earl reneged on the deal. The reason was that the moment Hefner picked to make his appearance was smackdab in the middle of Theodore Sturgeon's Guest of Honor speech.
No doubt that is the way things had to go.
Earl had taken a chance that they would when he directed Hefner to come during the convention banquet. But he had promised to deliver the whole convention as a crowd and there were only a limited number of occasions when everyone was assembled in one place.
He'd even tried to prepare for this. Earl had instructed the speaker beforehand that he was to pause if he should see Hefner enter the hall while he was giving his talk. And that's exactly what Sturgeon did.
He looked at Earl. That was when Earl should have signaled the spotlight to hit Hefner. But he didn't do it.
The question laid out before Earl was which counted for more -- Hugh Hefner and his celebrity turn here? Or SF, ChiCon III, and Theodore Sturgeon?
This was Theodore Sturgeon's moment of a lifetime. And, when it came down to it, Earl Kemp wasn't prepared to interrupt someone he genuinely wanted to honor just to feed the vanity of the man who ran Playboy. That wouldn't be right.
So he gave a sign to Sturgeon to go ahead and finish his talk, and left Hefner dangling. It's Earl's belief that he hasn't been forgiven for this transgression to this day.
He counts this as one of his finer moments.
Maybe it was. At the same time, however, he's never quite taken into account the undeniable fact that it was Earl Kemp and no one else who arranged this moment of truth in the first place. Nor has he yet got the message his Higher Self was trying to pass on to his Crazy Monkey by means of this fundamental choice that he compelled himself to make.
Photos from The
Proceedings; CHICON III, courtesy
of Advent: Publishers