Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Wrap up the First

Aaaaand the last few days have all gone blurry. On Friday it felt like I'd been at the Con for a week; on Sunday I couldn't believe I only had one day left. This post is going to be a bit scattershot in covering impressions of the actual Con activities. On the 6 hour drive from Montreal to Portland, Maine on Monday I had lots of lovely time to think about lots of things that I learned at the Con, and I think a number of blog posts will result. But first - the Con!

Curtis got 4 attendees for his engineering Kaffeeklatch, which was very nice. They had questions about the Space Station, and he got to tell stories (engineering campfire stories, I call them). He definitely enjoyed both that and the panels he was on. We got a very nice crowd for the fencing demonstration, despite it being at 9am on Sat. We gave all comers a chance to wail away at each other with Nerf sabres, which was received enthusiastically. More and more people trickled in as the hour went on, and we must have had more than 40 people by the end. Yay, fencing!

The Blogger Reading with Teresa Nielsen Hayden and Pablo Defendi of Tor also had a good audience, about 12. They had no idea who I was, but On Charm seemed to go over well. Teresa read Slush Killer, which I'd read before, but it was awesome to hear her doing it live. We wrapped up early (even long blog posts tend to be shorter than short stories) and had a nice conversation with the audience. At the very end we could have gotten into a great discussion in response to a question on blogging as performative writing, but then we were out of time. I'm hoping another blog post will come out of that one.

Saturday wrapped up by having dinner with some Locus folks and authors, then fireworks (gorgeous!), repaired to the bar with Niall Harrison, Nic Clarke and Abigail Nussbaum (also got to get all fangirl at Gord Sellar), then waylaid by Locus folks again before actually getting back to my room. A longer night than intended, but lovely whichever way you slice it.

On Sunday I joined the British contingent (Niall, Nic, Abigail & Paul Kincaid) tracking down the elusive "SF Theory Without Tears" panel, which had changed both room and time. I don't think it's quite what we hoped for; the moderator Ann Crimmins focused on pedagogy and using theory in the classroom instead of a discussion of theory & its uses -- a bit unfortunate since I could listen to Dr. Veronica Hollinger go on about the latter all day. Still, the panel was well attended despite the confusion, and a goodly number of folks in the crowd were teachers, so that was probably quite useful.

I ran the Q&A session with David Hartwell, and that went well. I just wish there had been more people. Still, David can be eloquent on just about any topic, as he was here. I led off with a question about his support for sf scholarship (such as IAFA), and he mentioned how much sf happens in places away from the community: stories in local newspapers in the 1830's that have steam-driven mechanical men, that sort of thing -- very interesting. Two other points he made that I'd like to highlight:
  • In response to a question about trends in sf, he thinks that sf writers who are dealing with cutting edge research on consciousness (like Peter Watts and a previous con panel) may well radically change the notion of character in literature, and that it is exciting thing to watch.
  • In response to a question on what typically goes wrong in written sf even from very good writers, he focused on setting. Too often writers get lazy on setting and end up setting stories in the generic FantasyLand (TM). He says that he often asks writers to go back and make the world come alive and make it their own. Very good advice for aspiring writers!
The rest of Sunday was spent in a haze of Hugo stuff - getting ready for the pre-Hugo reception (where everyone was too nervous or busy to make much conversation - but I got to see this year's Hugo base up close; it is really gorgeous in a way that doesn't come across fully in the pictures I've seen); attending the Hugos; being very close to passing out because I'd skipped dinner; getting dinner at the hotel; getting within ~20 yards of the Delta party hotel before once again falling into a group of Locus folks headed the other way on a mission; helping with a data recovery crisis; and then drinking & talking. Whew! That's an amazing sequence of events that led to me having my very first WorldCon where I never hit any of the parties. Still, I had my share of time talking with editors, critics, and the occasional author in the Intercontinental bar, so I don't feel deprived.

Monday was also chaotic. Niall Harrison moderated a panel on Non-fiction that might interest SF fans, which inevitably became a bit of a list-making panel, but there were some fine suggestions there (I'll post my jotted list tomorrow). I made a last trip through the dealer's room, then headed up to my last panel, where I had to moderate "Mundane SF vs Science." In the meantime, Geoff Ryman had just lived through what he described as his "worst panel ever" which involved Patrick Nielsen Hayden walking out and also people filking. So I made sure the Mundane SF panel went more smoothly. Luckily the other panelists (Mark Olson and Henry Spencer) were sympathetic to the fact that the panel title was stupid: Mundane SF is an aesthetic movement that is no more in opposition to science than Modernism was. Still, I tried to balance the time for people who wanted to talk about science and those who wanted to talk about writing; I think it went well. Of the panels I was on, it was the best attended. Afterwards I finally got to meet someone I'd been looking for the whole Con: Sissy Pantelis, an editor of the French sf magazine Galaxies and a Mind Meld participant. I'm so glad I didn't miss her altogether; it's important to get faces to go with the names, and so rare that you can meet up with people who live in Greece!

Then there was some chaos as we offered Geoff a lift to the airport; he needed to get there early as he hadn't been able to confirm his flight reservation. After a bit of logistical wrangling, we got him there in (we hope) plenty of time. Then we headed back to the states by way of Vermont, which was perfect and much needed decompression time. Got into Portland ~11:30 pm, then headed off to the airport around 5:30 the next morning, so if this post is less than totally coherent, lack of sleep is my excuse. But we're home now safe & sound - that's the important part. And while I'm processing a whole ton of things that I heard and thought throughout the Con... I'm also already starting to plan for 2010 in Melbourne. Woohoo!

PS: This is my favorite picture from the Con; I've met all the gentleman individually, but seeing them in all their 6' 5"-or-greater stature en masse was quite something. After that photo was taken, they all went zombie-walking off to the post-Hugo party.

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