ArmadilloCon 25 Toastmaster Speech

"Severed Heads"

by Aaron Allston

Ladies and gentlemen, last night I had a dream, a terrible dream.

I was Doctor Frankenstein, alone in my laboratory. To my right, propped up on a table, was my monster, almost complete -- missing just its head. To my left was an enormous bin of severed heads for me to evaluate.

So I took out the first head and set it on the body. It was a woman with glasses -- science fiction writer, who knew? -- and as soon as her eyes opened, I asked, "Who are you?"

"Kage Baker," she said.

I told her, "I thought cages were either riveted or welded."

Well, the look she turned on me suggested she'd heard that one before, so I asked, "If I were to attach you to this body, making you the most powerful being on the face of the Earth, what would you do?"

"I'd use my vast power to teach people a little something about the world they live in," she said. "About seeing through stereotypes and cliches. About accountability, consequence and causality. About characterization."

I told her, "Well, really, I was looking for someone who might terrorize mobs of villagers." And it was (WHACK!), and her head was rolling off to fetch up against a wall... but she wouldn't be alone for long.

The next head was male and graying, and very familiar to me; it belonged to Willie Siros. When it was atop the body and awake, I asked, "And what would you do with this body?"

"I'd terrorize mobs of villagers," he said.

"Ah," I said, "Good answer. And how would you do that?"

"I'd, um, organize literary conventions and force them to attend," he said. "And I'd assemble rare and wonderful science fiction and fantasy books for them to buy."

"That's an interesting approach," I admitted. "But too nice. Not very scary."

"Oh," he said. "Well, I could introduce them to Lawrence Person."

"I'm sorry," I told him. "Now you're too evil." And (WHACK!) it was off with Willie's head.

Next on the neck was a female head I didn't recognize. I said, "And you are?"

"I'm Anne Groell," she said. "You shouldn't start a sentence with the word 'and'."

"Obviously an editor," I said. "That's already pretty evil. So, what would you do if you possessed this body?"

"There are certain structural problems with this body," she said. "It really seems to have been assembled from a lot of different pieces that just don't work together. I'm afraid I'm going to have to pass on this body at this time."


When I put the next head on the body, lots of the lady heads in the box sighed. Some swooned. And if you find the prospect of a box full of severed heads swooning to be faintly revolting, I'm right there with you. But I'm just reporting what I saw.

Anyway, I said, "Behold the Man," and his eyes opened. "Who are you?" I asked. "John Picacio, the artist," he said. I asked, "What qualifies you to own and operate the most powerful body on the face of the Earth?" He said, "Well, I'm collage-educated."


The next head was male and professorial -- Vernor Vinge. I said, "What would you do with this body?"

"It doesn't matter what body I wear," he said. "When the Singularity comes, I'll Transcend."

"Uh-huh," I said. "And what about until the Singularity comes?"

"Oh, I'll write," he said. "Win some awards. Write some more, win some more awards..."

"I suspect you're right about all of that," I told him. "Tell you what, when you're ready to soak up some bolts of lightning and knock down a castle, you just let me know." (WHACK!)

The next head belonged to Gardner Dozois. I just looked at it a moment and decided it was too dangerous to let him talk at all. He went straight into the wall.

The next head out of the box was Elizabeth Moon. I set her on the body and asked, "How did you come to such a sorry fate?" She said, "Oh, I was riding at Spiritwood, my horse threw me, and when I hit, my head just sort of... fell off."

I asked, "Were you on a Hunting Party? Or some other sort of Loonie Activity?" And she said some words to me I suppose she must have learned in the Marines.

Regardless (WHACK) it was off with her head. Elizabeth Moon, who doesn't suffer fools lightly, given the powers of Frankenstein's monster, would probably destroy most of humanity; the Remnant Population wouldn't stand a Sporting Chance.

(After the groan, turn to John Gibbons:) "I was supposed to have some chicken wire or something set up here..."

And here was Martha Wells' head. The instant it was on top of the body, her eyes opened and she said, "I'm still younger than Joe Lansdale." So, as a courtesy, I found Joe's head and (WHACK!).

I set Joe Lansdale's head on top of the monster and said, "Bachelor Number Three, the usual question."

"I'd stalk around the piney woods," he said, "and create a legend for the people of East Texas and Louisiana to fear for a century. I'd rassle the Fouke Monster. I'd design a new system of martial arts for people who have oversized, badly-assembled bodies. I'd set up a regular gathering for the forest monsters and javelinas and squirrels to get together to talk and tell stories."

"Forget it," I told him. "All you've done is recreate ArmadilloCon." (WHACK!)

The next head was male, a bit oversized, and bearded. I recognized him at once: Walter Jon Williams. As soon as he was on top of the body, his eyes opened, but he didn't talk. He just stared at me, wide-eyed, with a strangely intense expression.

So I asked, "What the hell are you doing?"

"Oh, come on," he said. "You've seen all the same movies I have. Severed heads always have telepathic powers. I'm hypnotizing you. That's Step One of my plan to rule the world."

I said, "That's an idea you're going to have to spend quite a few Days Atoning for. And you're never going to get to Step Two, since you're not Hardwired to this body." And it was (WHACK!).

The next head was another one I recognized: Lee Martindale. I asked her, "So, what would you do with this body?" "I'd use it to crush everything that stands in my path," she said. I told her, "But you do that already." She said, "Oh, yeah." (WHACK!)

And on and on I went, digging down through the pile, interviewing each head in turn, never quite finding the perfect one to complete the monster's body.

Then I came to the last head in the bin. I set it on the body and his eyes opened right up. And he said, "Fish fear me."

"Howard Waldrop!" I said.

"I'm back."

"How did you end up at the bottom of the bin?"

"I always go last."

"Okay... So, what would you do if you possessed this body?"

"Well, I'd have me some ugly fried chicken and some Occam's Duck l'orange, and then I figure I'd do A Dozen Tough Jobs --"

"That's it," I said, and gave him an extra-forceful (WHACK!).

But when Howard's head finished rolling, he didn't stop talking. No, he just launched into a story, and all the other heads I'd spoken to started into a conversation. They were talking about fiction and politics and sex and movies and sports and food -- and then I woke up, and it was still going on!

Because, ultimately, that's what ArmadilloCon is: A while bunch of talking heads who have gathered here to talk about fiction and politics and sex and movies and sports and food -- and to have them, whenever possible. They can't be relegated to a dream, or stored in a bin, and they certainly can't be made to shut up. But that's okay, because they tend to be a lot of fun.

And best of all, you get to experience them without all that drippy neck juice.

So it's time to meet all the people I've been talking about, and a lot more who are equally ready and able to enlighten, offend, or entertain you -- or, in many cases, all three. That's especially the case this year, with ArmadilloCon 25, which reunites so many of the guests of honor from previous conventions.

I'm going to run through these names pretty quickly, since there are so very many of you. When I call your name, please stand up, or at least wave vigorously, so your fans can get a good look at your head.

Our Guests for ArmadilloCon 25:

Guest of Honor Kage Baker
Fan Guest Willie Siros
Editor Guest Anne Lesley Groell
Artist Guest John Picacio
Special Guest Vernor Vinge

Our Returning Guests of Honor:

Neal Barrett, Jr.
Kurt Baty
Tom Becker
Scott Bobo
Ginjer Buchanan
Ellen Datlow
Bradley Denton
John Douglas
Gardner Dozois
Brad W. Foster
Steven Gould
David Hartwell
Teddy Harvia
Debbie Hodgkinson
Al Jackson
Joe R. Lansdale
Elizabeth Moon
Harry O. Morris
Spike Parsons
Mary Rosenblum
William Browning Spencer
Bruce Sterling
Robert Taylor
Gordon Van Gelder
Pat Virzi
Howard Waldrop
Martha Wells

And Walter Jon Williams, our Guest Emeritus. Remember, it's all about Walter.

Don't get impatient, folks. At this point, we have about six more hours' worth of names to announce.

Our Program Participants:

Daniel Abraham
Lou Anders
David Lee Anderson
Allison Baker
Eric Bakutis
Carol Berg
Jayme Lynn Blaschke
Michael Bracken
Lillian Stewart Carl
Suzy McKee Charnas
Deborah Chester
Cat Conrad
Roxanne Longstreet Conrad
Kathryn Cramer
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Aaron de Orive
Dotti Enderle
Mark Finn
Andrew Fox
Cathy Freeze
Mitchell Graham
Eileen Gunn
Peggy Hailey
Beverly Hale
Jennifer A. Hall
Marty Halpern
Jason Henderson
Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
Rick Klaw
Alexis Glynn Latner
Jane Lindskold
Lee Martindale
Dennis L. McKiernan
C. J. Mills
Laura J. Mixon
Jess Nevins
Cary Osborne
James Owen
Lawrence Person
Doug Potter
Dusty Rainbolt
Jessica Reisman
Carrie Richerson
Chris Roberson
Tony Salvaggio
Patrice Sarath
Kate Saundby
Lucius Shepard
Mark Shepherd
Caroline Spector
Warren Spector
Mikal Trimm
Dennis Virzi
Sage Walker
Lynn Ward
Don Webb
Mark London Williams

And last, but by no means least, the members of the ArmadilloCon Convention Committee:

Chairman John Gibbons
Art Show Coordinator Kimm Antell
Dealers' Room Coordinator Charles "Chuck" Siros
Dan Tolliver, in charge of the Historical Display
Hospitality Suite Coordinator Charis Roueche
Hotel Liaisons Fred Duarte Jr. and Sara Felix
Programming Director A.T. Campbell III
Program Book Editor Lori Wolf
Treasurer Renee Babcock
Volunteer Coordinator Elizabeth Burton
Webmaster Shane Cook
Writers Workshop Coordinators Wendy Wheeler and Jennifer Evans.

Ladies and gentlemen, let's have a hand for -- well, everybody. And welcome to ArmadilloCon 25.

(Presented at ArmadilloCon 25 Opening Ceremonies, August 8, 2003.)

(Copyright © 2003 by Aaron Allston.)