[This speech was presented at the opening ceremonies of ArmadilloCon 16, is copyright by Bradley Denton, and is distributed with his bemused permission. We're trying to get it nominated for the Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo award this year.]
The 12-Step Program for Science Fiction Addiction by Brad D.
I'd like to begin by thanking everyone for coming to the meeting
tonight. It takes a lot of courage to attend one of these things, and I commend you all for doing so.
To make things easier, I'll go first: Hi, my name is Brad . . . and I'm . . . a science fiction writer. I haven't written for two and a half weeks -- but I know that
isn't very long, so I'm not getting cocky. I'm taking it one day at a time. It isn't easy, because that keyboard is always there, beckoning. Still, I've learned that I don't have to write that first word – and, thankfully, there's always bathroom grout to be scrubbed or a dog to be shampooed.
But all of you know that when you have this problem, avoiding
writing is only half the battle. There are also the bookstores. Some days they seem to be everywhere. Sometimes I admit that I'll go into one for something innocent and safe, like say, a copy of _The_Wall_Street_Journal_, so I can check on my investments . . . and there it'll be: The science fiction aisle, with its thousands of sincere, enthusiastic blurbs – some of which are written by people who don't even know the authors, and who actually read the books. Oh, that wicked, wicked aisle, with its eternal promises of rayguns and rocketships, heroes and heroines, mohawks and microchips . . .
And it's not just science fiction. It's the fantasies. Oh, God,
the fantasies. There are so MANY of them. And they're all so GOOD.
But this affliction can be beaten. It can all be beaten, here in
the 12-Step Program for Science Fiction Addiction.
You've all already managed Step One; otherwise you wouldn't even
Step One: Admit that you are powerless against Science Fiction,
and that outside of it, you have no life.
And whether you know it or not, by walking into this particular
room at this particular time, you have also taken Step Two:
Step Two: Recognize that a Greater Power can restore you to
wholeness – and that in this case that Greater Power is ArmadilloCon.
The choice to proceed to Step Three is entirely up to you, but
I'm going to invite each and every one of you here tonight to take that step with me right now:
Step Three: Make the decision that for the next forty-eight
hours, you are going to turn your will and your life over to ArmadilloCon.
That's the easy part. Steps Four through Seven are more
difficult, so some very special and very brave colleagues agreed to come up here in order for me to make examples of them – um, that is, in order to voluntarily serve as examples for us. And please remember, no matter what is revealed about these people – We are not here to judge.
Steps Four through Seven: Make a moral inventory of yourself;
admit to yourself and to ArmadilloCon the exact nature of your wrongs; become willing to work with ArmadilloCon in your struggle against your problem; and humbly ask ArmadilloCon to eliminate your shortcomings.
To begin with, we have Dr. Gregory Benford -- living proof that
intelligence and education are no protection at all.
He has admitted to being . . . a Science Fiction Fan. And as
everyone here should know, becoming a Fan is the first and steepest step downward in a degrading and every-accelerating spiral. I have Dr. Benford's case history right here, and I should warn all of you – this is not for the squeamish:
Dr. Benford co-edited a fanzine, VOID, for eight years, thus
willingly infecting others with his own affliction. Even now his name can be found in similar publications. Furthermore, he was an active participant in Dallas-area fandom – and even assisted those who attempted to perpetrate a World Convention to be called "Big D in '73." Fortunately, however, we and the rest of humanity were spared. One shudders to think at the gut and soul-wrenching horrors, the hideous and universal hot-chili dyspepsia, that would surely result were a World Science Fiction Convention ever to be held in Texas.
Dodged a bullet, as it were. But before I turn to the next page of Dr. Benford's case history,
I want to emphasize that all is not lost for him. Although his admittedly serious affliction as a Science Fiction Fan is what brings him to us tonight, he can be rehabilitated; he can be redeemed – just so long as he does not allow himself to take that next awful step and begin to actually write the stuff.
(Turn page of Dr. Benford's "case history"; look of horror and
revulsion crosses my face as I see that he has not only "written the stuff," but written a lot of it, and won awards. I turn on him in disgust and rage.)
(To Dr. Benford.) You ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. All these
stories, all these novels – My God, I READ these. I even read some of these when I was just a KID – a young, impressionable, Coke-bottle-lensed, four-eyed kid, innocently and contentedly chewing on the corner of a hay bale in a sunny Kansas field. And then: I read a story called "Doing Lennon," and my life was over. And just a few years later came a novel called _Timescape_ – and I was doomed to eternal frustration, knowing that I would never write any book as good, and knowing at the same time that, even so, I COULDN'T STOP –
I just realized something. I'm YOUR FAULT. Live with that. But we're not here to judge . . . No, no -- that's the job of the EDITORS. Editors like Gordon Van Gelder. Editors who stand like furtive figures in long, grimy coats just
outside the flimsy chain-link fences surrounding the schoolyards of our imaginations. Editors who slyly beckon us over to the jagged slits they've surreptitiously snipped in those fences; editors who, in practiced, honeyed tones, say:
"Psst, kid. C'mere. I hear you wrote a story. Oh, a novel too,
eh? Well, lemme see 'em. No, I won't laugh. Noooo. C'mon, c'mon, all you have to do is hand 'em through . . . yeah, and you can come through too, sure. You know, if you lemme read 'em, maybe I can get them, you know, published. It'll make you feel real good. Who, me? Would I do that? Would I reject you? Hey, I'm your friend, kid. No, really, I WANT to read them . . . I want to read them just because I LIKE you . . . No, no, really –
(Demonic voice now:) "IT WON'T COST YOU A THING." (To Gordon.) You ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. (Pause.) On the
other hand, you have found, bought, edited, and shepherded to publication some very good books. Some incredibly good books. Some stunning books. Some books that just got remaindered and are now stacking up in my garage.
And I'm almost finished with another one. Listen, Gordon, you know that schoolyard thing was just a gag,
right? Right? You doing okay? Can I get you anything? Water, soda, Dr. Pepper? Ovaltine? How are you fixed for cash?
After all, we're not here to judge. And it's not as if the
editors shoulder all the responsibility for our affliction. They have a lot of help. For example, what is it that draws us down that slippery sci-fi aisle in the first place? What is it that makes us pick up those books and think to ourselves, "Gee, this looks like it might be good . . . "
Whom do we blame for that? The ARTISTS, that's who. Particularly the artists like . . . David Cherry. The artists who
can take a scene and make it come to life. The artists who can render character, action, and setting so vividly and meaningfully on a dust jacket or paperback cover that we can't help but believe that what transpires within, in the mere words, has vividness and meaning to match. The artists whose expertise so entrances the multitudes that nominations and awards are heaped upon them, whose original paintings are auctioned off for thousands of dollars, and whose cover art sells so many books that their publishers are made happy and rich.
In short, the artists who might as well be pistol-whipping us and
taking the money directly from our pockets.
(To David Cherry.) You ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. But once again, I want to emphasize that we're not here to judge.
After all, no publisher would ever have need of a piece of cover art were there not a book around which to wrap it. And there would be no books were it not for the original sinners of this seductive Eden – the WRITERS.
Writers like Guy Gavriel Kay. Writers who are prolific and
infectious and who write big, wonderful, expensive books; writers who, like assassins and serial killers, always seem to have three names. Writers who write books like THE SUMMER TREE, THE WANDERING FIRE, and THE DARKEST ROAD. Writers who sell tens of thousands of these books in American bookstores, to Americans, but who – we have learned – don't even come from this country.
(To Guy Gavriel Kay.) You ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. However, we're not here to judge. After all, it's not someone's
fault if he suffers the misfortune of being a foreigner. Far worse is the native-born American who sees fit to corrupt her countrymen and women.
Worst of all is the native-born TEXAN who does so. A native-born Texan like Elizabeth Moon. And that, I have no doubt, is part of why Elizabeth Moon is our
Guest of Honor. She's our Guest of Honor because she's a widely-read author of eye-popping science fiction and fantasy, yes – but also, and perhaps more importantly, because she's our neighbor, and we want to be sure that she knows we're watching her.
Did she really think that such overtly addictive and therefore
codependence-fostering books such as _Divided_Allegiance_, _Hunting_Party_, or the just-published _Sporting_Chance_ would escape our notice, or that shamelessly subversive short stories such as "If Nudity Offends You" would fail to set off our 12-step alarm bells? Or that she could even get away with writing in collaboration with Anne McCaffrey in order to further her – and our – addiction?
To tell you the truth, I doubt that she ever once considered the
consequences. After being exposed to her fiction myself, I can only conclude that she writes what she writes for the joy of it, for the love of it – as if that were an excuse.
(To Elizabeth Moon.) You ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. But in any case, we're not here to judge. After all, there is
still a way out, for Elizabeth, for her fellow guests, for all of us; a way to make up for the things we've done and are still doing as a result of Science Fiction.
Steps Eight and Nine: Make a list of the people you've harmed,
and become willing to make amends to them; then, make amends – except where such amends would cause harm or expose you to retaliation.
I've just started working on these steps myself; in fact, I have
the first draft of an amends letter that I'd like to share with you. This is a letter to my mother, who raised me, who sacrificed for me, who always encouraged me to better myself and to make something of myself – and who then had to watch her son (who had so much promise, and who could have been anything he wanted) give in to his baser nature and become a science fiction writer:
Dear Mom: If I've disappointed you, tough shit. Love, Brad
As I say, it's a first draft. But those of us on this stage aren't the only ones here who have
amends to make. ArmadilloCon and the 12-Step Program for Science Fiction Addiction are also here for:
(Read alphabetical list of attending guests.) And now that we all know who's here -- and consequently, who
needs help – I'd like to leave you with the final three steps you'll need to take this weekend:
Steps Ten through Twelve: Continue to take inventory of yourself
and to admit your faults; vigorously pursue your contact with and reliance upon ArmadilloCon, asking for knowledge of ArmadilloCon's will for you and for the power to carry it out; and, finally, carry this message to others and practice these twelve principles in all your affairs, at least until after the Dead Dog Party.
And how, you may ask, are you to do this? How are you to
implement the 12-Step Program for Science Fiction Addiction while at a science fiction convention – by definition, a source of great temptation?
Paradoxically, that question is the key to unlocking the
all-healing power of ArmadilloCon. Because the one real way to truly overcome your addiction is to indulge it to the point where you can't take any more. So if you're sincere in your desire to be healed, do this:
For this entire weekend, live, breathe, and eat Science Fiction.
Attend the Bruce Sterling Rant-Off and make hooting noises at the
Go to panels and argue with the blowhards who populate them, even
after the panels are over.
Eat breakfast with a fan, lunch with an editor, dinner with a
writer, and then stay up all night drinking Shiner Bock with all three.
Make a circuit through the dealer's room every time you pass it,
dropping at least twenty-four-ninety-five each circuit; and when you run out of money, offer to trade clothing, leather goods, sexual favors, and your grandma's dialysis machine if it'll get you more books.
Make ludicrous bids that you can't afford on everything in the
art show, even the unicorn stuff, and charge it all to a credit card you stole from a nun's pocketbook.
Dance on Saturday night until your feet are numb and your head is
buzzing and you've produced at least three different bodily fluids all by yourself.
Go to Howard's reading stoned. No one will notice. _Trust_Me_. Do it all, and when you've done it all, do it all all over again,
and when Sunday evening finally comes, eat barbecue until your shirt turns orange and your digestive tract burns with the fire of ten thousand swollen suns.
Do all this, and by Monday morning, ArmadilloCon will have cured
you . . . and you won't want or need any of it ever again.
Really. I mean, I wouldn't lie to you, kid. I'm your friend. I'll even
read your manuscript, first thing Tuesday. Sure, we're not here to judge. Go ahead and indulge yourself. NO, really . . .
(Demonic voice:) IT WON'T COST YOU A THING. Or, to condense a very long shtick to just four words; Welcome to