On a side street in Van Nuys is a building painted a pale shade of yellow with a sign that says DE PROFUNDIS AD ASTRA — "from the depths to the stars." Spelled in larger letters is the name of the 79-year-old club: the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society.
The clubhouse faces a hulking power relay station whose transformers and beams evoke the tomorrow of yesterday.
While I was outside taking a photo of the mailbox, a woman with dark purple-tinged hair and large clear glasses opened the front door and told me she was Michelle Pincus. We'd spoken on the phone (she's the registrar).
Pincus took me to a courtyard called the Null Space after Bob Null. She referred to the dead man as an "animationally challenged member."
The club has a lending library (and a 25-cent fine for each week a book is late); the library does double duty as "Callahan's Crosstime Saloon," which, I am told, is a reference to a Spider Robinson novel.
Johnson explained that taking the library position was strategic. "I'll never get dragged into (higher office)," he said, facing president Poliner.
Poliner told me the lending library has over 23,000 items.
Old members are everywhere in photos. Michael "Scratch" Galloway (called Scratch, he said, because there are too many Michaels) said the woman in the bottom left corner made that costume in 45 minutes.
When the library has more than one copy of a book, the extras go on this shelf by the entrance. Charges for the books are "on the honor system," both Poliner and Pincus tell me.
In the display cabinet are the artifacts of the club's almost 80-year history. Here, member badges, to the right of Rotsler's urn.
Photographs of members both famous and half-forgotten crowd the shelves of the cabinet (as I ask questions, Poliner determines that she and the club historian will go through the items in the case and label them).
The cabinet is where the club keeps its members' Hugo Awards.
Marc Schirmeister left in the middle of an argument about the relative merits of the Los Angeles and New York Times to draw this "reptilian hexiped" for me.
"It's basically like a cocktail party in print," Marty Cantor said of the APA publication — "Amateur Press Association." "If you read what we write about each other, you're gonna think we're gonna kill each other."
Pincus walked me over to some younger members. "Doctor Who," the girl said immediately when I asked what they're interested in.
Pincus, who is a board member and the head of marketing at LASFS, was eager for me to speak to published writers. She introduced me to S.P. Hendrick, who had bright red hair.
Charles Lee Jackson II is "a little sloppy about genre specificity."
Richard Foss is a food historian who loves "alternate history," he said. He doesn't have a special degree in food history, but "25 years of being obsessed with something, you'd be amazed what you can learn about it."
I first met Frank Waller in the kitchen, where he did an excellent Igor "yes, master" and then grabbed his head and made a honking noise. He was wearing this Star Wars bear around his neck.
Waller showed a first-timer the video collection.
Waller told me he did not pose for this book.
Of nine photos, this was the only one of Tim Trzepacz that wasn't blurry.
After I talked to an amateur paleontologist named Albert Sheean, a man with long dark hair and green shoes told me he was known as the Hare, but his full fan name was His Dyslexcellency of Grahillia.
John DeChancie didn't want to be photographed, but he showed me where his books were in the library.
Aldo Spadoni was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a manicured black beard when he gave his presentation on designs he's done for science fiction novels.
During the presentation ("program," as members called it), almost every time I looked over at Galloway, he was rubbing this woman's shoulders.
After the meeting, Poliner and Galloway opened up the display case and handed me some of the items, including this cup.
Galloway held up the photo of a robot suit from a movie whose name neither he nor Poliner could recall. Galloway's hand was shaking, and Poliner held one side of the frame to steady it ("Don't ever have a stroke," he told me again).
At the end of the night when we walked outside, the sign was lit.
CORRECTION: The science fiction writer is named Charles Lee Jackson II. An earlier version of this story misstated his name. (8/18/13)