Guest of Honor - Willie Siros

Willie Siros founded and chaired two of the earliest science fiction conventions in Texas: Solarcon 1 (1975) and 2 (1976). He was subsequently one of the founders of the Fandom Association. of Central Texas and ArmadilloCon. He was the chair of the first three ArmadilloCons and the co-chair of ArmadilloCon 15 and LoneStarCon 1 (the 1985 NASFiC).

An escapee from El Paso, Texas, Willie was formerly a para-librarian at the University of Texas Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center and developed its speculative fiction collection. He presently runs the virtual bookstore Adventures in Crime and Space and has had made numerous appearances at lesser conventions around the world such as Worldcon, World Fantasy and BoucherCon.

An Interview with Willie Siros

Reprinted from Progress Report 1.

1 Give us a brief bio of Willie Siros. What makes you tick? Where did you grow up and how did you find science fiction and fantasy?

I was born in El Paso in August 1952 to a Disciple of Christ (Christian) Minister. We moved around a bit and ended up back in El Paso in 1962 when my father "retired" from the ministry and became a middle school history teacher. I graduated from Burges High School in 1970, and I graduated with a BA in Political Science in 1974. I started graduate school to work on an MA in Political Theory, and whilst in school, I found a bookstore clerk who collected virgins. Her other hobby was reading science fiction, and she knew several other customers who also read science fiction. So we all met up in the spring of 1973 and started a science fiction club. There were, of course, different visions of what "science fiction" meant, and by the spring of 1974, we had schismed. One group of people who wanted to do SCA/Amtgard stuff had discovered sex; the other group of readers (OK, nerds) hadn't. As the prudish ringleader of the latter group, I decided I didn't need anyone's help to discover fandom. See, I had been reading Lin Carter's column in Worlds of If and knew I could go to a convention and see for myself. I chose the 1974 WesterCon in Santa Barbara, where Philip K. Dick was to be GoH. I talked a friend into going and we drove straight from El Paso to Santa Barbara without a map. PKD didn't show, but I met amazing people and discovered Robert Taylor, who was also from El Paso. The rest, as some say, is history.

2 How long have you been a fan? What was your first organization? Fanzine? Convention? WorldCon? All-time favorite convention?

I started reading science fiction when I was in the hospital with rheumatic fever after the 6th grade and was tired of reading the biographies and stuff my parents brought me. The librarian snuck in some Groff Conklin anthologies. When I got out of the hospital, I discovered no one stopped me from reading "adult fiction" books. After working my way through the usual suspects in 1968−1969, I discovered Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delany and Ursula K. Le Guin, and I was never the same. Before that, in 1966, I was part of a flying saucer club, The Southwest Ufologists Association. (Remember, El Paso is not all that far from Roswell and "the incident at Socorro" happened around this time.) I was fascinated and found other weak-willed classmates to be fascinated with me. We had meetings at the downtown public library, got some "weird kids" acting weird press attention. Sadly, the flying saucers refused to pay attention to us and I moved on... Like pretty much every sci-fi fan in Texas, MidAmeriCon (Kansas City, 1976) was my first WorldCon. I had joined Disclave in 1974 and AussieCon 1 in 1975 (when I voted for the Hugo Award for the first time). I had invited Tom Reamy to be Toastmaster for SolarCon 2 and I followed him around BigMac like a puppy—watching, learning. At the 1974 WesterCon, Jack Chalker pinned me in a corner and wanted to know the real story behind Big D in '73; I had no idea what he was talking about. From El Paso, Dallas and Denver are pretty equidistant, and Houston and LA are pretty equidistant. So I had discovered West Coast/Rocky Mountain fandom long before I knew any fans in the rest of Texas. I had to find out what Big D in '73 was all about, aside from it causing the Minneapolis in '73 parties forever after. My favorite sci-fi event wasn't really a meeting. It was the 1975 Science Fiction Research Association meeting in Denver because I met Ellison, Le Guin, Ian Ballantine, Robert Abernathy and Lyman Tower Sargent (foremost utopia/dystopia expert) for the first time. It was also when I discovered I wasn't going to become an academic.

3 What is the craziest thing you have ever done at a convention? The furthest you traveled to attend a two- or three-day convention?

Among the craziest things I've ever done at a sci-fi convention was following Bob Vardeman and Victor Milan in breaking onto the roof of the Oakland Claremont to watch the fireworks over the Bay at the 1975 WesterCon. The furthest I traveled to attend a three-day con was driving from Austin with Robert Taylor and Pat Mueller Virzi to throw an LSC1 bid party at MarCon in Columbus, Ohio in 1983. Driving straight through, 24 hours each way was pretty damn crazy, too.

4 The 1985 NASFiC was something you were responsible for. What was different about that convention? What are your best memories of it? Do you have bad memories from it? Would you do it again?

Nothing was different about it. It was a very large ArmadilloCon. It was a lot of fun. My birthday party on the riverboat was a high point, as was discovering Clayburn Moore and meeting Richard Powers. I could have done without the freon leak rumors, and I've always been sad that several people burned out afterwards. If I were still the person I was 30 years ago, I would certainly try to do it again. But as Dirty Harry tells us, "A man's got to know his limitations." One good thing that came out of doing LSC1 was Robert and I knowing we needed to train people in what we were planning. We started InstaCon in 1983 as a convention planning/training opportunity and dragged people like Ben Yalow and Jim Gilpatrick down to help teach. I think it was a success.

5 Top 10 SFF novels? Short story collections? Series?

Varies depending on my mood. Favorite writers are Clark Ashton Smith, Iain Banks, Gene Wolfe, early Delany and early Zelazny, J. G. Ballard, Jack Vance, John Crowley, Jonathan Carroll and Charles de Lint. Never read as much short fiction as I have novels.

6 What reference books should be on everyone's shelves? Why?

With Wikipedia and, there's not much need for reference books. I find I still use my L.W. Currey, Science Fiction & Fantasy Authors: A Bibliography (G.K. Hall, 1979) and John Clute's The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993) and The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) a lot. They're often faster than opening search windows since they are at my desk. Clute's encyclopedia is now online as well.

7 You are a noted book collector. What is the most exciting book you ever found and bought at a convention? What writer did you travel furthest to see? What writer did you never meet that you wanted to?

As many things do, "exciting" changes over the years as I learn more. At the World Fantasy Convention in 1976, I was giddy about finding a pretty Hillman edition of The Dying Earth by Jack Vance for what at the time seemed the crazy price of $10.00. Most great finds were in local bookstores when I was traveling to and from conventions. I found a Kelmscott Press book in an antique shop in Victoria Texas for $30.00 in 1983, which I traded to Lloyd Currey for an Atomsk by Felix Forrest (AKA Cordwainer Smith). I found a pretty first edition of Slaughterhouse 5 in a used bookstore three blocks from the 1976 World Fantasy Convention for $4.00. I suppose the writer I traveled the furthest specifically to meet was Philip K. Dick, who, alas, I was never able to meet. I've met so many writers over the years, some of whom happened to be at conventions I attended. That's how I met John Brunner and Alfred Bester; they happened to be there, and I hadn't known they would be. Besides PKD, the writers I most would have liked to meet and talked with are Stanislaw Lem and J. G. Ballard.

8 Your all-time dream convention. Who would be your lineup—two writer guests, an editor guest, an artist, a musical guest, a fan guest and any one other person? Who would they all be?

Of living folk: Iain Banks and Kit Reed for writers. John Clute for editor. Robert McGinnis for artist. Weird Al Yankovitch for musical guest, Paul Krugman for fan guest, and Umberto Eco for special guest. Of the not so living: Clark Ashton Smith and J. G. Ballard. The Fermans, pere et fils, for editor. John Schoenherr for artist. Ferman and Schoenherr never got the recognition they deserved. Tom Reamy for fan guest, and Arthur Machen or maybe Sir Richard Francis Burton for special guest.