Posts tagged ‘Yuli Kagarlitsky’

 

Everything’s up to date in Kansas City.

On a day late in August, in the year of 1976, I was sitting at my ease in a very comfortable first-class seat in a four-engined jet that was just about to land at my favorite airport in the world. I was sipping on a nearly empty glass of Hires root beer, which the stew had already replenished for me twice, and I was prepared to swallow what remained in the glass as soon as the captain ordered us to get ready for landing. I was employed in a well-paid job as the science-fiction editor for Bantam Books, and I confidently expected to be offered a package including quite a lot more money as soon as I got around to sitting down with my boss and talking about that subject. It won’t be much of a surprise to you if I mention that I was feeling good.

I might have been feeling even better if I had known one important fact, namely that this was the day when I would make the best decision of my life, but that information had not yet been revealed to me. The only “best” that I was aware of in my mind was the one that related to the airport we were approaching, Kansas City Intercontinental.

Now, I emphasize right away that what I’m talking about is the airport itself, not about the cities it served. No one has ever dreamed of two enchanted weeks of vacationing either in Kansas City, Kansas, or in the other Kansas City. You know, the one that couldn’t think of a decent name of their own, so they simply swiped the name of their next door neighbor.

KCI’s superlative qualities had nothing to do with the cities it served. It’s the design of the airport itself that is the marvel. You see, when your plane lands, it will taxi to its own gate, set into the outer perimeter of one of the three great circles that hold all the jet gates in the airport. The aircraft door opens, freeing you to go up the short ramp to the walkway that surrounds the entire circle of gates.

A half-dozen or so more steps take you to the baggage claim for your suitcase. It is probably there already, waiting for you before you get there, because now it is only a couple of yards from the place where it rode out the flight, which was in the baggage compartment of your jet, and that other place where it is now, which is firmly on the solid ground of the airport’s baggage claim. You never have to search for your bag in a mass of other bags originating from Buffalo and Barcelona and Bujumbura, either. None of those bags was ever aboard this flight. (Well, I mean, unless that’s where you’re originating from yourself.) Then, bags in hand, you take ten or a dozen steps more and you’re out in the open air, standing at the curb of the outermost strip of the great wheel, waving at a cab which is slowly cruising somewhere along the wheel, and will shortly pick you up right where you stand. Or, if what you want to board instead of a cab is the bus that takes you to the parking lot, or to car rentals, or some other destination, those will also be cruising the great wheel and they will pick you up in minutes. That takes very little more effort to summon, and certainly no more walking than the cab. What more can you ask?

 
Oh, I know what you might ask to make your trip more enjoyable still. You might ask for it to be at some destination other than one of the twin Kansas Cities, and there, I must confess, I have not been entirely frank with you.

I admit I wasn’t happy just about going to either of the Kansas Cities in itself. That city is — either of those cities is — hardly anyone’s favorite gotta-go-there destination for tourism. What elevated my mood, when it wasn’t depressing it, was what I would be doing when I got there, which was attending the annual World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, which had been my custom for most of the years since 1939. (That 1939 one was the first Worldcon of all, the one that I and a few other Futurians were unjustly kicked out of. If you want more details on this event, simply pick up your treasured copy of The Way the Future Was and turn to page 76.) Anyway, that fannish rumble was long ago. Hardly anyone who was involved is still alive. Or cares.)

For me, and for my nearest and dearest, the Worldcons were the places we most looked forward to visiting each year, Sometimes they were held at places that we loved to visit anyway — London, Toronto, a couple of American cities where we had well-loved but not frequently visited friends and relatives. The specific city didn’t all that much matter, though. It was the con itself that was the attraction, the place where we could count on getting together with good friends that we didn’t see every day, because they lived so ridiculously far away — like Patrice Duvic from France, and Sashiko and Takumi Shibano from Japan, and Yuli Kagarlitsky from what was then still called the Soviet Union, and batches of others from Italy and the UK and Sweden and Spain and Brazil, and, of course, from many of the remoter parts of the U.S.A. itself as well.

So what I was really looking forward to was the people who comprised the con itself. That is, I was until I got to my hotel.

Continue reading ‘Arrival: The Happiest Airport’ »

Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

When Harrycon in Ireland came to pass, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up-— even Alfie Bester, who was getting into the more serious phases of his blindness — as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries.

And from the Soviet Union a party of four: my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, the USSR’S only author of a scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika?; Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boy’s magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them in cash — in rubles and kopecks; a young woman with an unclear role; and a dark, heavyset man from the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic who claimed, in Russian, to be a writer of children’s stories but was considered by everyone else to be the group’s KGB minder. He didn’t appear particularly menacing His principal activity seemed to be sitting in the hotel lobby and watching Irish TV.

Harry Harrison (the Harry of Harrycon) had planned a program for the opening day which mostly comprised introductory remarks by the principal attendees, starting with our Soviet guests. At first that did not go well, because the first up was Comrade Probable KGB, who spoke, fortunately quite briefly, in his own tongue, which even the Russians had trouble understanding. After a few moments of everybody looking at everybody else the young woman got up from where she was seated at the back of the audience to say, in English, that he had just told us that this was a historic event and he hoped it might be a first step toward a better understanding between our peoples. Everybody clapped briefly.

Next was Vasili, who also elected to speak in Russian and was not at all brief. By then we had a system going, with Vassili pausing frequently to let the young woman put his remarks into English. That was understandable, if bit tedious, because Vassili too chose to comment on the historic aspects of the meeting.

Then another problem came up. There was a small group from Brazil who had managed to get themselves to the meeting in spite of the fact that none of them spoke English. No one present but them spoke Portuguese, either. Gay Haldeman solved that crisis for us. She spoke idiomatic Spanish, and so then after the young woman had put Vassili’s remarks into English, Gay, turning around in her chair to face the Brazilians behind her, gave them a Spanish translation, which one of them understood enough to pass on the gist to his fellows.

Well, that was amusing, but Yuli had yet to speak. Fortunately, he chose to do it in his quite serviceable English, and, even better, what he talked about was how he discovered sf, first through H. G. Wells, whom he called “The Master,” and then, one by one, the great Americans. That was at least a subject everyone was interested in, and when Yuli was followed by Brian Aldiss, everything was going smoothly at last, both then and for the next day.

Then Harry laid on a fine Irish dinner for everybody, complete with some moderately fine Irish wines, and a small Irish orchestra, playing on traditional Irish instruments, to entertain us. This they did, although to be accurate I should say that the most entertaining part might have been when the musicians let some of the authors try to play their instruments. I got the Irish bagpipe. After considerable experimenting, I did get a couple of blood-curdling yawps out of the thing.

(Oh, that bit about the Irish wine. I should mention that a few centuries earlier, when Europe was enjoying the Medieval warm period, Irish people did make wine out of grapes they grew locally, and apparently the art was not entirely lost.)

Most of us hung around another day or so to see the sights of Dublin — some to check the museum’s collection of early books, others to recap Leopold Bloom’s 24-hour roam around the city in the pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses — and to get to know each other a little better. All in all, I would call it one of the best cons ever.

 
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Harry Harrison

Harry Harrison

After the Harrison family settled in, just outside of Dublin, I feared we would lose touch with them again. That didn’t happen. Those were the years when the airlines were cutting their prices and increasing their amenities every week or so; world travel became easier for many of us, and tempting science-fiction cons and other events kept cropping up in all sorts of foreign settings. Both Harry and I took full advantage of the new opportunities, and if I didn’t run into him in Rio de Janeiro I was likely to have another chance before long in Milan.

We weren’t the only sf jet-setters, either; fans and writers like Brian Aldiss in England and Sam Lundwall in Sweden covered about as much of the Earth’s surface as Harry and I. We were together in some town when Harry got a truly brilliant idea. We all, on one occasion or another, had visited the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries, and we had all had the experience of meeting a local or two who turned out to become a friend.

And then one of us said, “What a pity Russians can’t get visas to come to Worldcons.” And Harry spoke up, with a sudden big smile, “You know what? Your countries and theirs wouldn’t give them visas because of the Cold War. But I’m from Ireland, and Ireland isn’t a member of NATO!”

And as soon as he got home he began talking to some friendly Irish diplomats. They all confirmed that there wouldn’t be any political problem to inviting Russians to a Dublin con.

So Harry immediately set about creating one.

 

When Harrycon happened, it was a blast. A couple of dozen top sf writers showed up, as well as numbers of editors, fans and general hangers-on from all sorts of European, North American and South American countries. And from the Soviet Union, among others, my own personal best Russian friend, Yuli Kagarlitsky, author of the USSR’s only scholarly book on science fiction, Shto eta fantastika, and Vasili Zakharchenko, editor of a boys’ magazine that sometimes published translated American sf stories, and paid for them, in rubles and kopecks, in cash. And when it was over four of us — Harry and I, plus Brian W. Aldiss and Sam Lundwall — kept wishing we could do it regularly, and among the four of us, we thought up a way of getting it done.

The USSR, and indeed almost all the Stalinite countries, wouldn’t let their people go abroad just for fun. But if the purpose was to be delegates to some world literary or scientific societies, well, certainly they wanted the hammer and sickle flag displayed on the world stage.

It turned out to be the easiest revolution we ever caused. We constituted ourselves a scholarly body called World SF, printed up letterheads with Harry listed as president and the other three of us, our countries of origin prominently displayed, listed as vice-presidents and began mailing invitations to people of interest. And almost at once they began to arrive.

Of course, to invite people to speak at international meetings required that we cook up meetings for them to address. But that was easy to do, and, somewhat to our surprise, the World SF meetings themselves became important annual events. Some were quite small, involving twenty or thirty, or rarely even fewer, in attendance, but some were huge, for example the one hosted in Chengdu, China.

World SF kept going until the collapse of the Soviet Union began the changes in many of the world’s repressive governments that eased travel restrictions. Then it wasn’t needed any more and it gradually withered away, but it did the job Harry wanted it to, and without his driving energy, it might never have happened.

Harry was a good and crowd-pleasing writer. He was also a human being who did his best to make the world a kinder place. We’ll miss him.

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(This isn’t exactly the next installment in my memories of Isaac Asimov. It’s just additional detail on some points that I wanted to make quite clear. I’ll get to Part Next soon.)

 
When I wrote that Isaac and his family were “Russian Jews,” rather than just Russians, I thought of trying to explain why it was appropriate. It was a digression, though, and although I love to digress, I felt I was doing too much of it in that piece. The thing is, in Russia in the time Isaac was still there — I don’t know if it has changed since — Russian Jews, like all Russians, carried internal passports, and theirs invariably declared their Jewishness.

In the days when I was doing a lot of traveling, my best friend in the USSR was Professor Yuli Kagarlitsky, a Moscow academic, theater expert and science-fiction fan, the author of the first (and, for a long time, the only) critical work on science fiction published there, Shto Eta Fantastika? (translation: What is Science Fiction?). He showed me his passport, and that’s how he was identified.

Yuli’s wife, and the mother of their son, Boris, was not Jewish, and therefore Yuli, with a certain amount of trouble, managed to get the baby’s passport issued to describe him simply as Russian, in order to make his life a little easier when he grew up. (In the event, Boris didn’t make it all that easy for himself. He got politically active as an opponent of the Soviet system and spent a couple of years in Lefortovo Prison as a result. (But when he got out, the world was changing, he ran for office and, with the help of my manual on the subject, Practical Politics, got elected to the Moscow city council (and how’s that for a digression?).))

But all that’s another story.

Anyway, being Jewish in the big cities was somewhat less troublesome than being Jewish out in the villages, as you know if you’ve ever seen Fiddler on the Roof (and if you haven’t, what’s the matter with you?). And the place where the Asimovs came from was somewhere in between.

* * *

While I’m on the subject of Jewishness, Isaac didn’t practice the religion, didn’t join many Jewish organizations and from time to time collected large tonnages of reproach for not helping to support Jewish causes. I remember one incident he mentioned, all but the name of the other person. (This is a pity, because the name is the point of the story. I’ll have to make one up — say, “Brewster Adamson.”). Anyway, old Brewster very publicly and harshly reproached Isaac for not joining more Jewish organizations and working for more Jewish goals, suggesting that Isaac owed other Jews an apology for turning away from the culture of his people,. Isaac got uncharacteristically angry and, also quite publicly, told the man that “Isaac Asimov” didn’t need to apologize to “Brewster Adamson” for turning his back on his Jewishness.

 
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