This past month, I wrote a novel in my Spade/Paladin universe. The stories are mysteries, set at science fiction conventions. As the conventions became more acrimonious, ‘long about 2015, my willingness to write more Spade/Paladin slowed down. I hated getting criticized by people of every political persuasion for something I did for the love of it.

But I finished a huge project in December, and I needed to clear my palate. I asked my muse what she wanted to write, and she told me she wanted to write the Spade/Paladin snowed-in convention story, which I knew was at least a novella, maybe longer.

So I wrote it, and realized, as I did, that I felt free to do so. I’m not that involved in sf fandom these days. It’s safe to say that it has, in some ways, passed me by. I let it do so, because I didn’t want to be in all that acrimony that ate the conventions alive in the past five years. The last few I went to hadn’t been all that much fun.

It didn’t help that at one convention, an up-and-coming writer decided to humiliate me in front of an entire group of writers, by telling me how old and out of date I was. This was in 2015, by the way. And, um, his career has imploded since then. Or maybe he just vanished. Anyway, he’s not publishing at all anymore. Which happens a lot to posturing jerks. I’ve known quite a few of them in my day.

Once upon a time, though, the posturing jerk moments were mitigated by the good friend moments. Only most of my good friends no longer go to conventions. We see each other other places now.

Those of us that remain, that is. I made the mistake of listing the friends I’d lost at the end of the novel, and the list went on for paragraphs. Big Name Fans, book dealers, writers, editors, publishers—all gone now.

Including the guy who got me started writing this column and who asked me for the first ever Spade Paladin story. Mike Resnick. Conventions with Res were fun and crazy and always unpredictable. I joined him at dozens of them, including a memorable one in France. Mike, his wife Carol, Gardner Dozois, Susan Casper, Laura Resnick and I spent days in Paris around that convention and had a blast. Half of that group is gone now.

It’s weird how many sf experiences I’ve had in which I’m the only one who is still around to tell the stories. I guess I never thought that far ahead, even though I should have known it was coming.

My friend Julius Schwartz–who was Mr. D.C. (Comics) to so many people—used to have a traveling roadshow of photos of his pals in sf, people who were no longer around. He would play the slideshow at every convention he attended. One hour, in which Julie showed pictures, told stories, and made us all laugh. Sometimes there were only five of us in the room. Sometimes there were fifty.

I met Julie when he was 75 or so. He took me (and others) to dinner on DC at every convention we went to. He took me to plays when I was in New York. A car service would pick us up and take us to the show, and then bring us back to wherever we had to go. We talked—he talked, mostly—and I listened to hundreds of stories. Brian Thomsen—who is also no longer with us—got Julie to tell him the stories, and Brian wrote them in a book about Julie, that Julie signed and gave away to everyone.

I miss Julie. I miss the roadshow. I also understand why he did it. He made new friends at every convention he attended, but his old friends were the ones he missed.

I think after the hell that was 2020, many of us understand where Julie was in those later years. I think those years came earlier for those of us who have gone through the pandemic. Our lives won’t be the same on the other side.

Weirdly, though, that change enabled me to write Spade/Paladin again. I don’t know much about current sf conventions. The book is about the older conventions, and a lot of my friends are in there, often as bystanders to the action. It’s my way of holding an sf roadshow, I guess.

It was fun to write the book, but I don’t really want to return to sf conventions.

Well, that’s not true. I don’t want to return to modern sf conventions. I’d like to see old friends like Mike and Julie at a convention like the ones we attended 20 years ago.

I know that’s part of getting older. I also know it’s part of the way the world changes. I know this, but I don’t think I understood it until this year.

I put some of that understanding in the book, but not all of the understanding. Because I don’t think I’m done processing yet. I figure it’ll take me years to get through what I’ve—what we’ve—lived through these past 12 months.

I wish I had a quippy ending for you here, some kind of strong conclusion, but I don’t.

It was kinda nice to know that fiction works in reverse. Writing the book was an escape—just like reading is. And Lord knows, we all need an escape right now.

And we probably will for some time to come.