Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta B

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Interviews by Fans
Title: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta B
Interviewer: Franzeska Dickson
Interviewee: Roberta B
Date(s): May 27, 2012
Medium: audio recording
External Links: Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Roberta B
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In 2012, Roberta B was interviewed at MediaWest as part of the Media Fandom Oral History Project.

Length: 56:50. A written transcript is available.

For more information about the origins of this interview, where it is housed, contact information, suggestions regarding future interviewee candidates, and how to become volunteer interviewer, see the Media Fandom Oral History Project page.

Some Topics Discussed


A buddy of mine in high school was telling me about the Science Fiction Club at Wayne State University in Detroit, and I transferred to Wayne State, and he said, "Oh, great! We have a few more meetings this summer, and I'll take you to one." And I walked into this meeting room, and there was all kinds of cool people, and we all started talking, and they were on my wavelength. They knew science fiction, they liked fantasy. And a couple of women walked up to me and said, "Do you like Star Trek?" "Oh, I love it!" "Do you like Star Trek zines?" and I said, "They have them?" And that was Margaret and Laura Basta and Carol Lynn, who would end up doing "Kraith", and that evening I was introduced to science fiction fandom, Star Trek fandom, zines; a group of us went over to the Basta's house and I was introduced to filking, and the shear joy of having somebody hand me a, at that time a hand-typed, hand-corrected manuscript to read. Reading fanfic. And it was like, it changed my life. My mother figured this was a phase I was going through... A very long phase. [laughter] Forty-some years, I think? Almost? And I infected my younger sister; she's at the Con too. She met her husband at a convention, at a Trek con in Detroit. And most of my friends have been in fandom. I spent twenty-six years living in California, due to somebody I had met through Dr Who fandom.
California was great; that's were I got in to slashdom; I got in to Pros, and I was rather startled to discover that all that was being done was slash, so I thought, well, I really want to read fanfic, so, and then, it's sort of like addictive. And then I got back into Starsky and Hutch, because I was feeling homesick, and my sister sent me all my Starsky and Hutch stuff. And I thought, "Oh, so slashy, I wonder if there's fanfiction?" Well, yuh... And from then on it's sort of like, fandoms are to my mind was like beads on a necklace. Pros, Starsky and Hutch, Garak/Bashir, I can't remember all of them. And I'm currently into Stargate Atlantis. I have met, I've gone to a number of conventions. My first convention-convention was Triple Fan Fair 3, in Toronto, because WorldCon that year was in Germany, in Heidelberg. And so the NASFiC con was in Toronto, and our group got together. And I was twenty-something; I was kind of shy. I was shy at the time, which just cracks me up terribly. And I said, "Mom, the science fiction group is going to Toronto for the weekend. I want to go." And she says, "Well, you're sensible, okay." And I thought, "Woo!" that convention, I had one of these hysterical things, where I had a friend walk by and say, "Your favorite author, Keith Laumer, is here. He's in the lobby, he's wearing a tuxedo 'cause they had this fancy lunch. Go say hi." Well, the only guy in there was wearing a tux, and he didn't really look like the one tiny picture I had seen of Laumer, but you know, over the years guys shave their beard, they develop, they get glasses, they lose their hair. So I walked up to this august gentleman and I said [shy voice] "Mr Laumer, I don't want to bother you, but I've really liked your stuff for years. I just love you." And this darling man draped an arm across my shoulders and said, "Oh, Keith is a wonderful man, isn't he? I'm so sorry for your sake, dear, but I'm not him. But maybe you know me. I'm Isaac Asimov." And I went, "[Gasp] Oh, my god!" And he said, "No, no, darling. Call me Ike." And I realized, after I met, if I had done that several others, they'd have thrown my body under the carpet in the lobby... But, yeah, actually that happened years ago to Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was NOT amused. "I am not her; I am Marion Zimmer Bradley." I said, "Hey, your stuff is wonderful too. Bye!" and took off. I thought, "I don't want to get in to this here. It was a dark hallway; you look just like the picture of this other author in the program, I didn't know you were going to be here, I'm so sorry to ruffle your feathers, but, bye!"
And I guess I discovered, in [The Professionals] fandom, in that early stage, you bowed before the British fans, who were before us, and they said, "No het stuff. We're all doing slash. No Mary-Sue, it's all gotta be slash." So, we thought, ah, okay. And the first ones I read, one was called "Consequences", which has got to be one of the grimmest, darkest rape stories I've ever read. And the other was "Remember Angola", which is a weepy wallow, where somebody Bodie knew in Angola comes up, and it brings back all these [gasp] repressed memories, and he and Doyle spend half the thing crying on each other's shoulders and tearing their hair and weeping and wailing and being a Greek chorus. [laughter] And it was the strangest, strangest combination of stories. One was this absolute soppy mess, and the other was the sort of thing that I read with my eyes side open going "Oh, my gosh!" and cross myself. And I found out later that the story was so horrendous there must be forty or fifty, over the years, of people who wrote a sequel just to try to mend it.... Oh, my gosh. And like I say, and this was my introduction to slash fandom. It was such an odd combination. Well, I can't say that. One of the folks – I was in the Detroit fan group for a long time. And that group was really anti-slash. But one of the women had a collection. She said, "Let's try it." And unfortunately, the one she picked for me, and we've tried to figure out what zine it could have been, we really can't, but it was a collection of short stories and they were all sort of AU's. And basically it was all the, "Vulcan warrior picks human slave and hauls him off to his wikiup for hours of wahoo fun."
Pros was my second introduction to fandom slash. And I thought, and I really got into it this time. Like I say, I branched out, Starsky and Hutch, all kinds of other stuff. And under the pen name Rosamund Clifford I have written slash. Not a whole lot's been published, but Kathy Resch has published them in No Holds Barred because I am like, one of the slowest writers on God's green earth. Cold molasses is fast according to me. But I've done poems; I did a Miami Vice Crockett/Castillo poem, and Garek/Bashir, Bodie and Doyle, that sort of thing. I am currently working on Stargate Atlantis. I saw the new British BBC Holmes and thought, "Oh, that is so slashy." I adored Sentinel. That was just one of those I thought, "They've got to be slashing this." I saw the first premiere because my mother and I had seen the previews and thought, "Well, that looks fun." I'm watching this going, "Damn."
I've read a lot of death stories; some of them are really good. There's a Battlestar – Battlestar? Where am I coming from? - an Atlantis called "Freedom...." "Freedom's Just Another Word." Can't remember the author. It's a post-Atlantis, John was killed in the storming of Atlantis by the Wraith, and its Rodney's survival afterwards. And I read a short interview with the lady; she said she wanted to write a story where the main character's dead, and they never say his name, but you always know who he is. And she succeeded. It's absolutely fascinating, and it covers several years in which you see this, I mean, he's both embittered by the way the military took over Atlantis and booted the scientists off. And he's lost John, and he's back to teaching, and with the security on everything he's done he's had a hard time getting a job, and he's just crushed and embittered and gradually he comes back to life. And it is one of the most fantastic stories I've ever read. God, it's great. And it's, like I say, it's death story, which I don't normally like, but this one is really good.
When Carol was doing Kraith Collected, I was one of her artists, but I, ah, my ability has been, was so far past that really, I don't do art any more, but at the time I was the only artist going. And I did have the absolute fun of seeing one of Kraith's original characters interpreted by another artist who was absolutely superb, and she looked like my T'anya. She had the same haircut and the same Greek nose and everything. It just flattered me all to pieces, because obviously, from my handful of illos, that was how people saw T'anya. And I thought, oh, god, that was just really cool.
Kraith. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, who went on the write professional stuff, all the Sime~Gen stuff, which were really good, did her own version of Vulcan, and she moved the Star Trek universe differently. It was very intricate, very alien culture, and the Kraith is an ancient, it's a ceramic telepathic cup. At certain intervals – I think it was forty-some years – all Vulcans try to get together in a certain number of people, and there are a caste of Vulcans who have the ability to group-meld, and they reaffirm the continuity. They all get together and re-learn what logic is, and what they want their culture to be, and that is the Affirmation. And Spock is one of them. And she's got a whole vocabulary and to this day I can't remember, I can't remember whether kataytikh is the singular, and kataytikhe is the plural, and Spock and Sarek are one of these people. And it has to do, and later on the series was never finished, and other people were going to take it over, and they never did. Where, due to all the mind meld, Kirk becomes more telepathic, and if I remember it rightly; it's been like thirty years since I've read it, his only way to get a hold of this is to do the Affirmation, and learn to be more Vulcan from Spock. As I say, it's a really intricate, intricate universe... Kraith was, a lot of people just adored it. It was one of those things that you either really loved it, or you were just, "She does horrible things to Vulcan. This is stupid. I hate this. Blither blither blither blither blah." [laughter] To which Jacqueline's answer was, "What? Right your own. I don't care."... Yes it was [very influential]. It did a lot of, it made people think, be more free to write Vulcan as a truly alien culture, and to branch out into other alien cultures and stuff. Not quite so humano-centric.
I went to both T'Con and 2'Con before it was MediaWest. When I lived in California I was only able to afford to come a few times, but my sister would tell me how it was, and folks that went back would get zines for me, and hear about it. And as soon as I was able, I had to move back, because my job ended, and I took a year, and there was just no work after the economy tanked. And my sister said, "You know, come back. Move with us. We don't have any work here either, but you won't be starving on the streets." So I'm living with my sister and her husband. And they're doing security, and they bring our dogs. And, so, I'm back to MediaWest every year, which, "Welcome home." I love it. It's sad; it's kind of a shock to look around and see, when I realize, well, my first convention was in the 70's. That's, let's see, 80, 90, 200, 20 – that's forty-something years ago! I think, "No wonder we're all looking older and grayer."
Fandom has changed; at one point before Internet, everything was zines. And I was working Kathy Resch's table with her one time and it was just so strange, because when, at that time, the dealer's room would open on Friday, and they would have the people standing by the doors. And they would throw the doors open, and the hordes would pile in. It would be like a human flood... Buffalo stampede. I remember watching somebody who hadn't realized they were opening the doors literally run across the room, put her hands on her table, and vault over it before she got trampled. And it was, that was, I was real excited, because I've watched fandoms come and go, and zines get lesser, fewer and fewer, because of online, and I remember some of that, the arguments about "Oh, the Internet, it's an evil thing! It will destroy our fandom!" And I was like, "Nah, it doesn't, it just changes it. Things change. Nothing is static." You know, fandom is still there. It just changes.
A zine is an intact thing, as opposed to, which we all do, print it out and staple 'em together. I know when I was reading Pros fandom, the story circuit was big, and an awful lot of those, a lot of people, British paper is a little bit longer, and so people would print it on American, and then you'd get hand-written with the two bottom lines that had been cut off hand-written in. And some of these things were just so badly done it's impossible to read. [laughter] Oh, my gosh. But it took a while for Pros zines to come out because the Library Circuit was so pervasive. And that was just kind of different, where people would say, "Oh, So-and-so from London sent me a whole bunch of new stuff!" and you'd photocopy it, and send it around, and then send the originals back. And it was just very, very hands-on.
I mean, and unlike some people, I will watch slash vids, I will watch gen vids, I don't care. I like vids. So, good heavens. Like I say, I was really, "I can't watch vids." I was just so standing there looking at the room going, "Cognitive dissonance. What is wrong with this picture?" Like, "It's not that late. Where are the vids?" [laughter] It was like, at the slashcons, well, FriscoN and Bascon always had really fantastic vid programs. And you could go up any hour of the night, and they would have, like, retrospectives. Like, "Do you remember Starsky and Hutch?" And there'd be like two hours of Starsky and Hutch vids. You'd just think, "I remember this one! I remember that episode!" And people who were in the show would, "Did they really look at each other like that?" "Yeah, uh-huh, they did. Well, actually, they didn't actually do that, but they quick-cut it together, but yeah, yeah, that’s the essence." And vids are just fun. I love 'em. Like I say, I was never a vidder, but I knew folks who were, and I was just like, that was a talent that really impressed me.
I remember when it was all Star Trek; when some of the other ones came in they were like, "Oh, anathema, you cannot bring those other things in. Oooohhhhh..." And when friends in our group got in to Starsky and Hutch, I was thinking, "Well, I don't care much for the show." And then somebody handed me a zine and said, "You've got to read Connie Faddis's "Mojave Crossing." And this story was so mind-blowingly good. She was a superb writer. I thought, "Ok, I have to watch the show." And after that, I know an awful lot of people got in to shows via fanfic. A lot of people got into Sentinel from the fiction. [laughter] And, like I say, and then after Starsky and Hutch was sort of accepted. And then Star Wars hit, and that started coming in, and that just opened the breach. It's like, all of a sudden, everything's welcome. It isn't like you're just a Trekker, it's like, like I say, some people go for one, and they just drop the others totally. And others are like me, are like it's, fandom is a string, the base is a cord, and all your other fandoms are beads. I would say I've got a fairly large necklace by now. [laughter]
: I didn't watch [Blake's 7], I didn't get into, I was dragged kicking and screaming into Blakedom [laughter] because at a MediaWest we were introduced to it by a handful of women who really giggled and carried on and passed on pictures of somebody named Avon, and they told us the basic premise, and then they showed us the last fifteen minutes of the last episode.... And I'm sitting there going, "I want to watch a show, where everyone dies at the end, I don't think so."... Yeah, and like they said, "It was just so cool, I mean, there's a blackout, and all you hear are five gunshots - " [laughter] And a woman next to me said, "He was so despondent he tried to kill himself? And missed the first four times?" [laughter] Like I said, I was dragged into it, kicking and screaming.
Well, there is that attitude [that poems in zines are simply fillers], but when you run in to a good one – and a lot of them are really good, that's not filler, that's – there's a one-shot zine of Starsky and Hutch. It was about Starsky and Hutch and the fantastic, and all the stories had a supernatural element. And there was a very short poem in it that compared police to sheep dogs. The fact that, from the viewpoint of the sheep, that "they guard us, and we respect them, but they stand aloof. They don't shelter with our fur, and we don't think that they will. They guard us but if they have to drive us, they will, though it kill us." And that one just made me go, "Ooo!" I really liked that one, and some of the illos were good. And, "Scales of Justice," I think that was it. And, like I say, it was a one-shot, and I just loved it. I don't know whatever happened to my copy. When I moved from California, I think it ended up in a pile of zines to be sold, or something. But there were a lot of really good poems in that. And I like poetry. But I'm picky; there's a lot that you read it and go, "Oy vey. [laughter] This is, uh, okaay...B+ for effort, D- for achievement." [laughter] But I really don't think they're fillers. If I had been a zine editor, I would be willing to give a free zine for a poem. I would think it would be completely justified, just as I would for an illo.
Fandom has been a constant friend, and through some really rough times in my life, knowing that there are people out there I can contact, who had my back even if they couldn't actually be there, was literally a lifesaver. And I'm just so grateful that I have been fannish all my life. I have met a whole lot of cool people, I have gone to science fiction conventions and had conversations with a lot of really cool authors, and met a lot of other neat people, and fans are just really fun. And it's just been a really great way to live. I've always been a FIAWOL – "Fandom Is A Way Of Life" – person. The "Fandom is Just a God Damn Hobby" – no, that's not my thing. [laughter] I always liked the person who combined them into, "Fandom is just a goddamned way of life." [laughter] So, you know.