Stilyagi Air Corps History

(Based on an article by Larry Tucker, with added reminiscences and editorializing by the rest of the Stilyagi) Thanks, Larry!

It all began in 1973 at Torcon, the World Science Fiction Convention held in Toronto. Ro Nagey, while working as a gopher at the Torcon registration table, noticed that a fair number of attendees were from Ann Arbor, where Ro was currently attending the University of Michigan as an engineering student. It seemed somewhat ludicrous that all these Ann Arbor SF Fen should have to travel such a dist ance to hang out with each other, so Ro decided that Something Should Be Done About It. The first step was to organize a room party at Torcon, where all the Ann Arborites could meet one another. The next step occurred when they returned home from Torcon and began holding weekly meetings in the back room of the Cloak and Rocket, a science fiction bookstore (now long defunct) where Ro was employed.

Initially, the idea was to form a literary scientific and futurist discussion group, organized under Ro's benevolent dictatorship. At one of the first meetings, Ro declared that if within one year the group was sponsoring a science fiction convention, they would have failed in their intended purpose. The group decided to call itself the Stilyagi Air Corps, inspired by a a reference in Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress to a "Stilyagi Air and Pressure Corp s". They pubbed an ish of a clubzine called "The Stilyagi Air Corps Strikes".

By November of 1973, Stilyagi filed for recognition as a University of Michigan student organization - not, as later generations of Stilyagi erroneously assumed, because most of the club members were U-M students (they weren't, and in fact for a number of years the "official" members listed on the student organization paperwork weren't even attending members of the club) but because they needed access to free meeting space (the Cloak and Rocket having gone belly up), cheap repro for the fanzine through the U-M copy centers, and a rent-free place to hold ... (gasp) ... a convention.

Then Ro made the mistake of missing a meeting. In his absence Mark Bernstein suggested that they call the next ish of their fanzine "Cap'n Ro's Whiz -Bang", in honor of William Fawcett's first comic, "Cap'n Billy's Whiz Bang" (Cap'n Billy is perhaps better known as Captain Marvel). Failing to learn from this mistake, Ro missed another meeting, where Stilyagi resolved to sponsor a science fiction convention. Belatedly sensing that things were starting to get out of hand, Ro reasserted his authority by declaring himself chairman of the convention.

Thus it was that Stilyagi hosted their first convention, the A^2 Relax-Icon, in the ballroom at the U-M Michigan League in Februar y 1974. Contrary to the name, it was not a relaxacon, but a rather ambitiously over programmed affair including panel discussions, art show, hucksters, a dance (with live music provided by Stilyagi member Mike Gould's Martian Entropy Band, accompanied by his light show, Light Opera) and a masquerade all held in one room! Guest of Honor was author, Ypsilanti resi dent, and longtime Friend-of-Stilyagi Lloyd Biggle, Jr. Some 87 people attende d, and the event was deemed to be a great success. It was so successful that Stilyagi decided they wanted to do it again, with a few modifications.

The Relax-Icon, while a rousing success in most ways, was also our first experience with the inability of mundane repor ters to report on fannish events as anything but freak shows. In amongst all the serious discussion, there was one panel at which Ro, Randy, and a couple of others came running into the room wearing nothing but towels around their waists and paper bags over their heads. Guess what picture was published in the Michigan Daily?

The next con would be held in a hotel, the newly built Briarwood Hilton in Ann Arbor, with separate rooms for all of the Con's functions. They also decided to add a movie room, with an amusing twist. Since most of Stilyagi agreed that spending the weekend watching movies was not what a convention should be about, they resolved to show nothing but crummy old movies, available free from the Washtenaw County Library, to encourage people to spend as little time as possible in the movie room and more time at the room parties, where the real action was. Plus, they wanted to add a special element that had been lacking at the first Con. Something that had been forbidden by University regulations. Something that proved its efficaciousness since they had began smuggling it into the weekly Stilyagi meetings at the Union. Booze. All of this, Ro agreed, would be a Good Idea. (As an interesting aside, it should be noted that the flyers for the first couple of ConFusions included the line "brought to you by the only slightly alcoholic Stilyagi Air Corps".)

Then Ro missed another meeting. In his absence, Stilyagi chose a new name for their convention. It was to be called "Condom", complete with a wonderful logo Randy Bathurst created... a Bathurstian alien holding a st ick at the end of which was an inflated condom with "Condom" printed on it. This las ted only until Ro got around to writing his first Con business letter. Somehow, "Ro Nagey, Condom Chairman" seemed to lack a certain amount of dignity. He tried a few variations, such as "Head of Condom", but that only sounded worse. On his own initiative, and without the advice or consent of the rest of the club, Ro scrapped Stilyagi's crude pun for a more elegant one of his own invention, ConFusion. He also tacked on a number - 13 - because he liked the sound of it and (possibly) to mislead people into thinking that ConFusion was an established convention. Instead of the expected crowd of 150, nearly 350 people showed up at ConFusion 13 in January 1975. It was a truly legendary event. When the Con ran out of nametags, Stilyagi's resident fan artist Randy Bathurst (several-time Hugo loser and creator of the bird-flipping alien who appeared on our club t-shirts, as well as the "Up? I hope..." alien on the "ConFusion Is A Way of Life" t-shirts) drew over 50 more nametags by hand while sitting at the registration table. A confrontation outside of the Con Suite between, Ro, Confusion's perennial toastmaster and legal advisor Jim Martin and the hotel's night manager (later re-enacted for a scene in Larry Tucker's videotape, FAANS) nearly resulted in the Con being evicted from the Hilton. What it actually resulted in was an event that some of us like to refer to as The Police Riots of 1975. A spontaneous public display of affection in the hotel lobby on Sunday quickly escalated into a group grope that has come to be known as the first Fondlecon - the precursor of the touchy-feely fandom that peaked during the late 70s and early 80s. So that's how it all got started.

Stilyagi, the Xanadu project, and the Web

The Xanadu hypertext project had a fair amount of overlap with the club... Michael McClary is a stilyagi. One of the old-timers. He was peripheral to the Xanadu project, but his connection to Stilyagi was mentioned in wired/3.06, not by name, but as "the local science fiction club". At that time, the Xanadu project was developing a Hyper Link product, very much a precursor to the Web, but without an Internet to hang things from. At that time, UUCP was the standard method for transfering data long distances, and FIDO was barely being used. The ArpaNet was around, but only major universities and big businesses could manage to get connected to it.

Hugh Daniels was involved with the Xanadu project fairly heavily. Chip Morningstar was mildly involved.

The computers were set up for a while in Dave and Maggie Woodcock's house in the early 80's, where Hugh used to crash under the basement stairs after programming until he dropped.

It was a common practice to have a "Dave&Maggie day" once a month after Stilyagi meetings at the League, and all the bi-weekly Stilyagi parties were at Dave & Maggie's (Dave still lives there).

Instead of going to the bar, everyone went out to Dave&Maggie's and played volleyball, hung out, played with the computers, etc.

Other Xanadu notables in the club included Steve Andre, Steve Eberbach and Naomi Reynolds (Ted's oldest daughter) who married Roger Gregory. Roger was also in the Stilyagi crowd, (though not heavily involved in running the conventions).

The entire Xanadu project was running full steam around 1982, about the time the 'Kiddie Corps' joined Stilyagi. (The residue of these folks are now the old guard, Margaret Bumby and Gail Christophersen are the only survivors I can think of offhand from that crowd, but it also included Marianne Skupski, Garth & Michelle, Amy Owlsley.)

Xanadu was running a Sun-2, an Onyx, and a shitload of Ann Arbor Ambassador terminals. They even brought a proto-type of the Xanadu Hypertext System to at least 2 ConFusions in 1982 and 1983. There may have been more. A couple AAA-60 terminals have been seen in ConFusion computer rooms as recently as 1995.

Around 1984 or 5, the entire project (except Michael McClary) picked up lock, stock, and disk drive and headed for the west coast to try and get funding and interest for the Xanadu project. At that time, they had a Sun 1 (or maybe two), and some of the other early Multibus 68000 based new "Super Micro computers".

Chip ended up leaving the project shortly after they hit California, and got a job working for LucasFilms video games group, and I lost track of him and Janice a few years later.

About 1990 Autocad decided that it needed a hyperlink package to merge into the CAD product to allow them to do things like define the plumbing fixtures in a blueprint, and then generate the necessary data from a click on the drawing of the pipe. They picked up the Xanadu proclick on the drawing of the pipe. They picked up the Xanadu project lock, stock, and etc.

As Michael reported the exchange to me, Roger Gregory had always promised to call Michael McClary some day and make him an offer he couldn't refuse. With the backing of AutoCad, and a real project, he did, and Michael packed up, sold his house and left for the coast within about a month of AutoCad buying the Xanadu project. So far as I'm aware, Michael is still working for Autocad, but Clif hasn't run into him for a couple years or so.

Hugh Daniels got involved with starting the Well, when it was the first real commercial multi user BBS system. This was an outgrowth of Hugh's interest in M-Net here in Ann Arbor; the system that Marcus Watts wrote Pin M-Net here in Ann Arbor; the system that Marcus Watts wrote Pico-Span for. The Well was one of the first commercial sites to use Pico-Span. A typical stilyagi reaction to the news that Hugh had finally gotten some money from Autodesk was "great, I hear he bought his own really nice stairs out in California to sleep under now!" [editor's note: I don't remember who said that, and hope Hugh doesn't mind, he's a nice guy].

This is all the outgrowth of discussions on the stilyagi email list with Clif Flynt, Greg Cronau, Steve Andre, Alan Salmi, and Elessar Tetramariner. Greg observed that WWW/html/web-stuff-in-general was really the fruition of Nelson's earlier dream. Whether Xanadu itself ever actually worked, the current web is close to the original concept of a global hypertext system. It still has a long ways to go, but it has the potential to be what Nelson envisioned.

Stilyagi has continued to push the envelope. We had the first science fiction convention to have a regular computer room, through the efforts of Alex Tons in the 1980s. We had heavy involvement in the Amiga community, with early demos of the Video Toaster and a separate Amiga room. Amoung the first to have a website, starting with ConFusion XX in January 1994. The first to have a separate Internet room starting with ConFusion 10101 the next year. What's next? I'm looking forward to seeing!