This is a trip report, not final draft, for Albacon, three weeks after the World Trade Center disaster.

By Larry Niven


This is to be a trip report. I'm expanding it from handwritten notes as and when I can.

Many months ago I agreed to be Guest of Honor at Albacon, October 5 thru 7, 2001.I figured I'd visit New York too. We keep the publishing industry there.

Then "they" destroyed the World Trade Center, using 747s as big bombs.

Jerry Pournelle and I have been making notes toward a sequel to "Inferno". It seems reasonable to work on "Purgatorio" this trip.


All day I couldn't get my mind straight. I couldn't write. I'm good at daydreaming, good at building stories, but all my stories since September 11involve terrorists on airplanes.

I ettled for a 10AM flight from LAX, to get a direct flight. We're being told to arrive two hours early because of enhanced security. Marilyn and I decided to spend the night next to LAX at the Marriott. $200+, but we can get up at 6:00 instead of 4:00 and take the Marriott shuttle. LAX won't let automobiles in the airport.


I'm still pretty jittery. I picked the Marriott's buffet rather than decide what to eat.

Rumor is you can't carry much aboard a plane now. Is my day pack too large? "Did you take a fanny pack?" "No." [Note from the website managers:] I'd thought of it, then not done it. So we stop in the hotel shop and get an over-the-shoulder thing little enough to go in my pack.

Marilyn leaves me at the shuttle.

I check in. Allow two hours, right. Smooth as silk. They let me keep my pack. Murphy magic works. I stop to buy a notepad; I want to write this up. I'm an hour and a half early at the gate.

I'm the only suit and tie in sight. Bad idea, I think. At best I'm way out of style. I should take a zipper jacket so I know where everything is.

The waiting area isn't crowded. If we all came two hours early, it should be. Travelers must be sparse. Nobody seems nervous, though. There are lots of children.

Maybe I'm seeing remnants. There are folk who promised to travel before September 11. We are the ones who haven't backed out. When we run short, is it disaster for the airlines?

What the terrorists did to us is known. But what will we do to ourselves as a result?

I saw lots of police on the streets, guiding traffic. All the rules around LAX have changed.

News yesterday: an attempted armed robbery at the Promenade, a shopping center we frequent. The perp is dead. Trigger fingers are quicker these days. Does that mean crime will go down? Or are we distracting our police, and will crime go up?

Consider: we could arm all passengers on commercial flights. Terrorists would be outnumbered.

Nah. A shootout would go to the faster draw. Holes in the hull would cause explosive decompression.

What if we required glaser bullets? {They shatter on impact.}

You'd still get a few shootouts with no terrorists involved. Some asshole smokes in a lavatory, boom!

Consensus among my friends says arm the pilots, at least.

I wonder how the LAX Theme Restaurant is doing? Closed, I bet, given the new rules don't allow parking. I'll find out.

Belatedly, I'm in the Admiral's Club. I still don't see suits or ties. The coffee is welcome.

I'm still daydreaming fights on airplanes. Several friends sent me a speech by a pilot. Mob them. Throw things at them. Blanket over his head. Would his suggestion work? On one terrorist with a blade, yeah. Five?


I've heard "Mack the Knife" as background twice today. It's come to me: "Mack the Knife" is a filk! Mack Heath was the antihero in a play, maybe "Threepenny Opera". Jerry would know.

Nothing about Hell in the way of insights—except that Niven & Pournelle's "Purgatorio" will fill up with terrorists unless I'm careful.

September 11 was such a complex cluster of sins! Pride, murder of innocents, grand theft, perversion of scripture, violation of visa terms, defacing a national monument, probably coveting thy neighbor's property. Do sinners commute? Can a sinner be scattered through Hell, in several places at once?

Consecutively, I think. Where did Billy the Kid go after the demons got him? Another sin to be expiated.

HELL: Never grow older. Heal from anything.

HEAVEN: Perfect in the flesh. No hurts to heal from, but you'd heal.

LATE KNOWN SPACE: Never grow old. Heal from anything. This is the ideal we've been pursuing all along, and Dante passed it out free in Hell.

American Airlines' upgrade is wonderful. I'm riding a 767-300. First Class has full horizontal recline into a bucket-shaped shield. Business Class seats (mine, due to an upgrade) are so far apart that my extended legs don't reach by several inches. Nearly full recline, two switches to adjust the leg rest. It's wonderfully comfortable. I haven't seen Tourist Class.

Lunch was high end. Dessert: "You only get chocolate sauce on ice cream in First. Here it's just ice cream." Or tiramisu, which was delicious.

I stopped worrying as soon as the flight attendant served me a Mimosa before takeoff. Now, 3-1/2 hours after takeoff, what would bandits be waiting for?

Airplanes in Hell? We built one already. Air force? I don't think Dante's demons flew, except Geryon. Jerry? We'll HIJACK GERYON!

{Gun to the demon's head.} "Geryon, remember that I have an ethical right to lie to you. Make me an offer I can accept."

The setup: Carpenter runs across a soul, Winford, who has to reach Earth. Carpenter doesn't care where he is as long as there are souls to be helped. So he helps.

Winford could avert a disaster if only he were alive, or could talk to someone alive on Earth.

The route lies uphill, against the flow of Hell, through the impassable wall and into Dante's Wood. Check location: southern hemisphere, just opposite Rome. If we make it, we get to play ghosts.

The guy next to me is a reader. Doesn't talk.

I'm down. Marilyn, there's seating in the baggage area! How polite!

Not a wasted day. Still, I may have learned as much as I ever will from looking down on clouds, and that was all fantasy, of course.

Incoming, we didn't pass over any scar in the skyline, nor any city at all. It looked like swamp and sea.

No baggage is moving.

AA must have upgraded just before the stock market went bad. Then, September 11. That will cost them.

Because the United States built so many planes, and sold them everywhere, it has come about that you must speak English to fly; or at least land. If we lose our command of commercial air, we lose a big piece of what makes us great.

Baggage moving. Here's mine.

My driver's a kick. He braced me as I was searching through a maze of fences for a taxi stand. He's got a limo. "$40." A sign had warned me that these guys are illegal, but I felt lucky so I took it.

"What was it like for you on the 11th?"

"It was great!" At Kennedy lots of people were canceling their flights. Then they all needed taxis. They were willing to ride four at a time, four different stops, sixty bucks each, no problem.

He wants to know what happens next. I couldn't tell him. Jeez, and me an SF writer. He thinks Bush will smell like a rose at the end of his term. Hey, he knows more than I do. Predicting the near future is the hardest.

He's from Trinidad. He used to own a shoe store. His English is good. He likes politics and he likes to lecture. I got an earful of how the USA is perceived by the underclasses in foreign climes.

Meddlesome. You just can't do business if the big foreign neighbor can step in and change the rules at any time.

Most of my rocket scientist friends feel exactly the same way about NASA. Libertarians feel that way about government agencies in general: arrogant, meddlesome, too powerful. But we can't let ourselves be hurt this badly. We're going to meddle hard.

Hating -- and mocking -- thy neighbor is an old tradition. Hating/mocking thy most conspicuous neighbor is easiest: doesn't test your memory or your acting ability or make your head hurt. They want to tear us down because we block their view.

The New York streets are all screwed up. Thank God for Eleanor's directions.

My first impression of the Gramercy Park Hotel: nice. Little. European. First suite we tried, the door lock wasn't working. Second suite, looked nice. Tiny bathroom.

The restaurant is wonderful.

I didn't try to use the toilet in 1405 until way late.

It's blocked by a radiator. No problem if your left leg has been amputated high enough up. I got my leg up on the radiator and made it work. Yes, my injured leg, still healing nicely, never gave me a bit of trouble on the plane. I notice there's a bar in the tub for handicapped. Does anyone really expect a handicapped to use this toilet?

I'll have to change rooms again.


New room, looks good. A guy with long legs would still be blocked from the toilet. My telephone is clicking regularly: message from Eleanor Wood, after the phone rang with nobody on. It took me ten minutes, four phone calls, to get it to stop clicking.

Lunch date at Simon & Schuster, with John Ordover and Eleanor. I got there early. I finally met John. He seems fannish, and why not? In his youth I pulled him into the Magic Goes Away universe.

He immediately got me talking about "Ringworld's Child". (Maybe make that "Children".) He loves it. Forget that I'm doing it for TOR, he's still into new stories.

Lunch was delightful. Afterward Eleanor took me to her new office. I never saw her old office. The new one, several rooms, has a cluttered look, but she loves it. Then she took me by subway (I wouldn't go in there without a guide) to the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History.

Marilyn found this place for me in an LA Times article: "The Cosmic
Cathedral". It's so new that some of the buttons in the downstairs exhibits aren't installed yet. But it's mostly complete, and it's wonderful. What it will teach best is a sense of proportion. Circling that great sphere in the center takes you from the size of the universe down to the size of a quark. Down the ramp covers the age of the universe…that still varies a little, twelve to fourteen billion years. (It was eighteen billion when I memorized a number; fifteen when I was writing the DC Comics background.)

I went back to the hotel by cab and turbaned driver, along Fifth Avenue, a nostalgic trip.

Price ixe menu, mussels and a very good duck.

The Park is only open 7 to 7. Yes, I thought of taking a cab to the disaster area, and didn't.

I no longer have access to the Internet when I'm away from home. I'll have to get Eric to set that up. Last time it was like pulling teeth.

I hate the touchpad feature of this keyboard. Every time my thumb brushes it, I lose the cursor. Then again, I hate not having backup when I realize that my mouse has quit working. Oh, futz, it's probably safe to get it disabled.


Breakfast. This hotel is short on fruit, but they're solicitous. I got the doorman to let me into the Park, and rapidly wished that I'd saved bread from breakfast. Squirrels and pigeons surrounded me.

Walked to the Analog offices, eleven blocks. Bought a camera. My leg is feeling the exercise, but holding up.

Lunch with Stan Schmidt and a young editor ran well. I got my fruit fix. Stan's eager for short fiction, no surprise. He thinks "Finding Myself" is absolutely wonderful.

I hope I printed the correspondence with Brenda Cooper when we were building "Finding Myself". I want it in SCATTERBRAIN. The letters have disappeared off the bottom of my file, but I may have copied them and sent the stack to Bob Gleason. Or Brenda might have them. I spent a lot of wordage telling Brenda how difficult a story she'd chosen, where every aspect of the environment is optional.

Bob Gleason's out of town. Too bad, I would have liked to talk to him.

I bought a second camera because I thought I'd messed up the first one. Now I think I didn't. I'll use up both. Ghu, these things are cheap. I found three produce markets on Park; bought cashews and a banana and fake maple fudge.

I got myself into the little locked Park again. There's one wonderful two-faced sculpture (out of a selection.) I took several pictures. I was afraid I'd missed the squirrels; not hardly! One accepted a cashew.

I don't want to see the scar of the World Trade Center! What would I see? Only rubble that hasn't been trucked away. I don't want to be a camera-laden tourist in sight of, or in the way of, people who are doing real work. I didn't want to last night -- a dangerous notion anyway -- and I don't want to this afternoon. The news is giving all the detail one could possibly want, and more. Somebody mentioned the stench; it must be awful, with 6300 dead and irretrievable inside all that concrete. I have enough data to describe a rubble pile in Hell well enough to raise echoes in a reader's mind.

I want to see the New York around me, and listen to the stories.

Stan was in town September 11 (only comes once a week.) The trains were stopped for awhile, then ran limited, filling up, then stopping at every stop, and not collecting tickets apparently. He feared the tunnels but getting out was worth it .

I met Eleanor Wood and Tom and Tanya Doherty in the hotel bar. Off to a play, "Metamorphoses". It's based on Ovid's legends, and worth seeing: it's played largely in a shallow pool of water.

Dinner at "11 Madison". Very nice, I'd like to go back. We talked politics in a high noise level that eased as diners became less of a mob.Tom agrees with me and the limo driver: our government has been characteristically meddlesome. He knows way more than I do about current events, and he dubs the gov't clumsy too. "We should never have broken up the Ottoman Empire -- " but they were supporting the Axis, so it must have looked good then. And how can we not meddle in Afghanistan after September 11?

We put Eleanor in a taxi, and then the Dohertys walked me back to the hotel.


I walked to the Flatiron Building. You can't lose it: it's angled.

Tom got me to sign some books, gave me a copy of Ender's Game—which I should have read years ago—then introduced me to Jennifer Marcus. She's publicity director. We spent some time talking.

I saw two bookstalls on the sidewalk. Best sellers generally; nothing by me. I wanted to photograph one, but a guy -- maybe a clerk -- stopped me with gestures. I think he was putting me on, but I let him stop me.

The trip to Albany was hassle free, but loud: propeller engines. Joe Berlant picked me up. He played tour director going in. Schenectady is a wonderful town. I was told repeatedly about the weather forecast: two days hot, then cold.

Signed in. At six, went to join the Art Show crew for work and pizza. I helped set up, moving pipes and so forth, then assembling the maze. I've never done that before. I'm still unskilled labor, but…have to try this at LosCon.


Kurt Siegel picked me up for a tour, as promised. He's a fireman; he was active in the rescue operations at the World Trade Center. He grew up here and knows it all. We drove, then walked around the Stockade area, where all the houses are centuries old. He pointed out marks of age and damage and renovation. Brick that sags, bricks that were put in endwise in alternate rows. Steel rods that pull a brick house back together, their endpoints marked with decorative stars. Back yards huge in extent. The river. Asphalt siding that turns a building into a tinderbox, on newer buildings outside the Stockade.

Lunch at an ancient market: turkey sandwiches, the whole turkey fresh out of the oven. We explored the college and the wonderful Nott Memorial. I forgot I had a camera on me, dammit. I'm not used to carrying one.

The convention started 4PM. My panel was at six. Afterward I got coat and tie and joined Dave Hartwell and his family, and Hal Clement.We couldn't get into our first restaurant so we followed Joe's directions to a steakhouse. Back too late for the Ice Cream Social, but the Regency Ball was in progress. I got my wonderful vest, bought with Marilyn's approval at a craft show in Santa Monica, and danced. Left to attend the Art Show Reception; dropped leftover grapes off at the Con Suite; danced some more; watched a horrible movie; returned to my room.

Half past midnight: found a message from Eleanor. Call her, at home if need be. Vince Gerardis needs a decision.

I called.

It was about movie rights. I wish Eleanor had said, "This is not for discussion." But I probably woke her up.


As promised, it rained this morning and it's still gloomy. I brought sweaters. Walking past the video room, I caught "The Slaver Weapon" playing.

Breakfast in the Con Suite. Librarian with a puppet dragon. "Hi, kids, I'm the dragon who teaches you to read!"

I said, "Lends new meaning to the term 'bookwyrm'."

"Who aid bookworm?"


"Genius! Oh, that's right, you are a genius."

I saw him later and he'd labeled the dragon, correctly spelled: BOOKWYRM.

Panels ran okay, maybe better than okay. I doze off only when I'm in the audience. What I caught of the New Planets panel sounded interesting. If a red or brown dwarf has a fat gas giant companion, it'll be tidally locked, but the moons won't be locked to the sun. You'll get day and night. That's half the stars in the sky. I'd better tell the chirpsithra: give them companion species.

Tony and Sue Lewis got in midnight Friday. Sue caught me in the hall Saturday. The plan: meet for dinner, then do a 9PM interview. It all worked. We went with Joe and Edie Siclari. The restaurant was slow, the food good, and we were back in time to catch some anniversary cake.

The interview ran just fine. Having told Marilyn about the Mandell accord, I felt free to speak of it to the audience. It never occurred to me that I was speaking for the Internet, for someone who would garble the data.

Joe and Edie threw a sweet wines room party. Very nice. I went on to other room parties, watched a few minutes of Flesh Gordon, then bed. No surprises this time.


Pills, breakfast, exercise and swim. Autograph at eleven. Sunday's panels didn't look exciting.

I drafted David Stephenson for lunch; we'd been seeing each other on panels and everywhere. Hotel restaurant was vacant of staff. We rethought, then followed Joe and Edie Siclaris' directions to Mike's Diner. Good sausage sandwich. Conversation: getting into space, of course. David doesn't trust Zubrin's "Mars Direct": another ten year plan, like Apollo.

Conversations in the reception area.

Joe Berlant took us back to the steak house: me, Hal Clement, and the bookseller Larry Smith.

Reception area, more conversations. Too much about Ben Ladin. We're bombing Afghanistan. I wonder how that will affect airport security.


Breakfast with Hal Clement. Joe took me to the airport and Hal to his train.

I'm hoping for an uneventful flight. Memo: carry ear plugs when flying. Propeller planes are worse than the jets.

Again I arrived with two hours to spare and found no hassles. I wanted a picture of Security at Albany Airport. Asked. The woman got her supervisor. He gave permission. Then one of a line of armed soldiers took it back.

There's a Meditation Room at the airport, and I did snap a picture of that. There's no icon for any specific religion, just a nice, relaxing place.

The flight was pleasant, the seats not so far apart, but far enough. My seatmate and a woman ahead of her were interacting, trading information, hard at work. Dinner was earlyish: lunchtime by LA time. The movie: "Tomb Raider". If I'd turned the volume up enough I'd be deaf now, so I didn't try to follow the plot

Marilyn wasn't in Baggage Claim. LAX wasn't allowing cars inside the airport when I left eight days ago, so she's probably at Lot B. I tried to call her cellphone. Failed.

My luggage didn't arrive.

I put in a bid at the luggage office. The woman's guess proved correct: it didn't get loaded from the Albany flight. Airlines never have hired enough baggage handlers, and now they must have fired a few.

I pushed my way onto a Lot B bus. There wouldn't have been room for my suitcase, I think. Cheerful crowd: glad to land without a sniff of a terrorist, just like me. Marilyn was at Lot B. She'd pushed the wrong button on her phone.

I was ready for dinner again, and Marilyn had missed hers. We stopped at an IHOP, then home.


Call from Vince Gerardis, my TV/movie agent. I called back.

He's seen an announcement on a Hollywood web page. It derives from what I said during Saturday evening's interview. Vince is sure it'll shoot down any movie deal that might have been made.

Damn. I wasn't told to keep my mouth shut, but I also didn't realize I was talking for the Internet.

My luggage arrived late afternoon.


This was a trip on which I didn't try to make anything happen. I took whatever was thrown at me, and wrote it up. Mostly it went fine. New York is functioning after September 11. Schenectady is wonderful if you can sightsee with the eyes of a firefighting native. The airlines are working, hassle-free if you don't need your luggage right away. The airports are another matter; you have to plan around that.

Once we ruled the air: most passenger airplanes were built by the United States. Is that age over? It might not even be tragic. The age of flight may be given over to the age of communication. Modems, virtual reality, tourism without tears.

Computer gurus train themselves, by playing with computers until they learn how to program. Only in a free country can this happen. We will rule the worldwide net too.