ConDor, The Surprise, El Terminator, and The Holy Field: San Diego 2012

Back from a sojourn in San Diego pushing Merkabah Rider and talking immortality at ConDor XIX.

The Con was not the greatest match for MR, sorry to say…mainly science fiction focused. I only had about 45 minutes to sell books, so no bills will be paid this go ’round. Thanks to those who showed up at my reading, though.

HMS Surprise: Figurehead

In between reading and my panel, the inimitable Jeff Carter and my son Auggie’s godfather Elliott and I took a jaunt to San Diego’s Maritime Museum, located on the harbor. For years I have been trying to set foot on the deck of the HMS Surprise, Jack Aubrey’s warship from the Peter Weir/Russel Crowe movie Master And Commander: The Far Side Of The World.

Lucky Jack's Great Cabin

I’ve always loved the movie. It got me quickly hooked on the excellent Patrick O’Brian novels featuring Lucky Jack and his sometime spy sometime naturalist all the time surgeon Stephen Maturin. I’ve tried to get to the museum during Comic Con but have always failed, last year, because I received a call from my wife that she was in labor with my son.

Anyhow, this time I made it. I love history of all sorts, and while I’m not overly familiar with the Age of Sail, it’s a time period that’s always interested me, and that I’d like to return to in my writing sometime after Merkabah Rider reaches its conclusion. The tween deck I believe must have been lowered from its original position because the cannons (all bearing colorful names like Inferno, one of them after a famous female dancer, Nancy Dawson) were on sort of raised steps, yet still looked comfortably out through the gun ports. Grabbing the double wheel of the Surprise and standing on her quarterdeck was an indescribable feeling. You get the sense that (and I believe this anyway) Aubrey and Maturin really did exist somewhere in some time. Maybe not in this world, but in some other.

At the wheel

As Melville said of the cannibal harpooneer Quequeg’s island birthplace in that other maritime favorite of mine, ‘It is not down on any map; true places never are.’

Never mind the manuvers....just go straight at 'em.

In the belly of the beast

In the belly of the beast

We also got down and squeezed our way through the Russian B-39 diesel submarine they have birthed behind The Surprise (interesting to see the two vessels side by side, like some weird encounter from the writers of The Final Countdown or something). When I was in Cub Scouts in Chicago we had a father son outing, spending the night on board the submarine USS Silversides. I remember it being cramped and hot. The B-39 was even more cramped (so much that I got a brief flash of my claustrophobia about midway through the walk), but strangely cool the farther down ladder you went. I don't even know what I'm looking at....but it's pretty dern complicated.

It was interesting to see the English labelmaker stips pasted on the dive plane controls. Reminded me of when the Enterprise crew had to relabel all the Klingon Bird of Prey consoles in Star Trek IV.

Aft torpedo section - this way to the egress, comrade.

Aft torpedo section - 'This way to the egress, comrade.

After that we got on board the Star of India.

Star of India's main cabins

First commissioned as The Euterpe, after the Greek muse of music and poetry, she was built with and iron hull in 1863, kind of an experimental vessel for its time. After a long history that included hauling cargo and emmigrants, she was recommissioned as The Star of India and continues to sail around the globe with a volunteer crew every year. After the relative smallness and simplicty of The Surprise (which dwarfed a replica of Columbus’ Nina which I went aboard in Chicago maybe fifteen or sixteen years ago), Star Of India seems like a luxury liner. The cabin is laid out with beautiful woodwork (a small four poster bed in the Captain’s digs!), and though the accomodations are small, they’re permanent, as opposed to the hammocks and removable bulkheads of a British naval vessel.

After seeing the ships it was back to ConDor where I moderated a discussion of the pros and cons of immortality (though the cons came up the most) in speculative fiction (no real immortals stepped up to particpate, so we confined the talk to speculative fiction) with a bright group of writers and RPG designers including Kevin Gerard, William Stoddard and Elwin Cotman (the jelly fishes are Turritopsis nutricula, Elwin. No wonder you couldn’t remember the name.). The discussion was lively and illuminating. My personal feeling remains that if immortality were to come calling, I wouldn’t kick it out of bed. I’ve got plenty of hobbies. Seriously, if a man’s lifespan were to coincide with the infinity of the universe, then how much would there be to see and learn? Maybe I watch too much Doctor Who.

Ven conmigo, quieres vivir.

Following the close of the con, we went to San Diego’s Old Town, which I’d always thought was the same as the Gas Lamp District, but is more like Los Angeles’ Olvers Street (though larger and a little less authentic). Lots of old Spanish haciendas converted into Anglo-friendly Mexican restaurants with too tangy salsa. We were greeted outside Miguel’s Cantina by a pretty embarrassingly stereotypical animatronic Mexican in a sombrero and serape who chided us in a sleepy Cheech Marin-type accent to come in for some burritos. The Mexican terminator jokes and the cervezas did flow.

After dinner we headed down the street to a little walled in graveyard with white crosses and plank tombstones Jeff had spied from the window of the Star Destroyer.

The dirt plot with a few twisted old trees, surrounded by a low stone wall and situated between an out of commission Thai Restaurant and some other business, is El Campo Santo (The Holy Field) Cemetary, a graveyard dating back to the 1840’s that was apparently partly paved over by the march of progress. The little graves scattered throughout the graveyard (which I have to admit upon reflection, was weirdly quiet considering it was surrounded by bars and eateries on a Saturday night) are marked with facsimilies of old period newspaper clippings and historical notes.

Who dug the gravedigger's grave?

Apparently the graveyard was also used as an execution ground, and a good deal of Native American insurrectionists who had rebeled against being taxed without representation were hung and buried there. There was the grave of a gentleman who had commandeered a rowboat with intent to hijack a berthed sloop in the harbor and wound up getting executed for horse thievery on some weird 19th century technicality. Leaning against one of the white crosses was a shovel. This grave marked the repose of an Indian man who had apparently attacked his wife with a knife, and upon confessing it to the local priest was sentenced to be El Campo Santo’s gravedigger from then on.

There was a fascinating newspaper article describing the funeral of the infant daughter of a local Spaniard. The little body was not enclosed in a coffin for the funeral procession, but borne on an open bier to the cemetary, led by the priest and an altar boy holding the cross, flanked by six little girls in white dresses, with a Mexican boy lighting firecrackers bringing up the rear.

On a billboard inside the little cemetary was a huge partial list of the interred, whose bodies now resided beneath the freeways and streets, houses and businesses surrounding. Included was a little blurb on the discovery of ten mass graves for which no account could be found or determined.

“Zombies,” I said.

“Probably from some battle,” said Jeff.


So it's every hand to his rope or gun, quick's the word and sharp's the action. After all... 'Surprise' is on our side.


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