Sunday, October 26, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Hallowe'en Edition!

With Hallowe'en less than a week away, I thought it would be appropriate for this instalment of the Saturday morning cartoon review to include some really scarifying shows!

Well, okay, maybe silly rather than scary, but they do feature ghosts and monsters.

We'll start with The Drak Pack, a series about the adventures of three teens who can turn into monsters (Frankie, who becomes Frankenstein's monster; Howler, a werewolf; and Drac Junior, who's pretty obvious) to battle the forces of evil in an attempt to redeem the good names of their night-crawling ancestors. I don't remember this one lasting more than a season or two, but my friends and I used to love it, pretending to be the characters and making up our own stories — except, without the weird, transformable coffin-hotrod. (intro)



Next up, we've got yet another incarnation of everybody's favourite mystery-solving mutt, Scooby Doo: The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo. This addition to the franchise sees a pared-down version of the Scooby Doo Gang, consisting of Scoob, Shaggy, and Daphne — joined by some kid (basically a human stand-in for Scrappy Doo) — travelling the world trying to snag 13 ghosts they accidentally released from a pandora-esque box.

There's a couple of reasons I like this version more than some of the other franchise instalments (including the original): first, the story is a lot more focussed — the gang isn't just wandering around (presumably in a daze from hot-boxing the Mystery Machine) randomly blundering into mysteries involving alleged monsters, where they end up foiling the same old type of under-the-table land deal. Instead, they've got a clear directive and a different bad guy to bag in each episode. Second, Daphne's smarter and more actively involved in decision-making in this version than in the others, where she's essentially limited to being a pretty sidekick to Fred's bossiness and Thelma's analytical intelligence and occasional pushiness. Third, it's pretty clear that Daphne and Shaggy have hooked-up (at least for the time being — later spinoffs would remove her and focus entirely on Scoob, Shag, and Scrappy), thereby redeeming Shag from loser status (although I always thought he and Scoob were the smartest ones in the gang, with their desire to avoid dangerous situations and their good sense of knowing when to run). And fourth, this show was cool because it had schlock horror meister Vincent Price as a character, acting in a Charlie/Bosley role dispatching the gang on their missions and providing a little advice. The writers/producers are saying to the audience: "See how ghostly this show is? We've got Vincent Price! Vincent Price, people! That must mean it's scary in a fun way! Ha ha!" That was enough for me, back then. (intro)



Lastly, I give you the awesomeness that is The Hilarious House of Frightenstein! Yes, I know, this is a live action show, not a cartoon, but coming up on Hallowe'en as we are, it would be a crime not to include this monster-themed production. Beyond that, THHOF is perhaps the greatest kids' show ever made, and therefore deserves its due.

Not only was this 1971 Canadian production (made at CHCH in Hamilton, just down the road from where I grew up, in Cambridge) immensely entertaining with its weird sketches — the witch who hosted a cooking show, the vampire constantly screwing-up attempts to animate his version of Frankenstein's monster, the castle mail room, or the old librarian who would read nursery rhymes as if they were gripping tales of horror — full of cheesy jokes, and the wonderfully detailed haunted castle sets, it was also educational, featuring segments with Doctor Petvet (about different kinds of animals and how to care for them) and The Professor (physicist Julius Sumner Miller). Most importantly, the educational components of the show weren't patronizing: the teacher characters never talked down to the kids out there in the TVland audience, which made it more likely that kids would pay attention, and much easier to absorb the lessons.

There was another massively important educational component to the show: the Wolfman and his call-in style radio program (on the castle's in-house station EECH). Somehow, CHCH and THHOF were able to use dozens of then-current major rock'n'roll songs — such as the Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash" — to play in the Wolfman's segments. The songs were played in their full length while the Wolfman and Igor (a huge, lumbering, good-natured green guy who acted as both character in many of the skits, as well as a kind of onscreen metaphorical stand-in for the kids in the audience) would rock-out (occasionally with a mannequin dressed as a mummy) in front of the camera, with an early type of blue screen behind them flashing psychedelic visuals created by camera-monitor feedback. What was important about all this was that for me (and probably some other kids watching at the time), this was my first exposure to real rock'n'roll — to good popular music. As a little kid in the mid-late 70s, I was, strangely, not exposed to a lot of good rock music, despite the fact that there was so much great stuff being created and played at the time. My dad kept the car radio generally tuned to unquestionably forgettable easy listening, and only actively sought out the Beach Boys when he wanted something specific to play. Around the house, my mom would either play records by The Carpenters in the afternoon (to this day, I find myself reluctantly sympathizing with Nicholas Cage's version of Ghost Rider, and his weakness for Karen Carpenter, because of that early programming), or classical music (and no, I'm not complaining about early exposure to Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, and Brahms — that was all good, but not at the expense of missing out on the cool things going on in rock at the time). The teenagers I knew — those who would bother to talk to a little squirt like me — were all focussed on disco, so they weren't any help either. Instead, it fell to the reruns of THHOF and its segments with the Wolfman to teach me what real rock'n'roll was really about. "Jumpin' Jack Flash" is still one of my favourites because of that show.

And then there was Vincent Price, blasting the show open with all the camp he could muster, doing the odd sketch, and closing every episode with the same rhyme that was delivered with such quiet deliberation as to leave kids really rather unsettled after the previous hour's silliness. Forget all of the films, the world should remember Vincent for his work on THHOF.

And so, let us take a tentative step back into The Hilarious House of Frightenstein! (full episode)



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mini Review 4: The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains & Echopraxia

The books in the books-to-review pile are piling up, but I'll keep this instalment short because, in the week leading up to Hallowe'en, I want to stick with the theme of recently-read books that are creepy. And Neil Gaiman's The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains and Peter Watts' Echopraxia certainly fit the bill.

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Published as one of the new mini-hardcovers that seem to be all the rage with authors and publishers these days (most less than 200 pages, this one a mere 74), and complete with colour illustrations on every page, Neil Gaiman's The Truth Is a Cave in the Black Mountains might sound, at this brief description, like a kids' book — at least, until you actually stop and look at the damn thing (with its menacing, shadowy skull staring out from under the hood of the mountain on the cover) and realize that it's far from it. A fairy tale book, maybe. But not for children. The book was released here in Canada this past summer, and I picked it up and devoured it shortly before we left for Worldcon in London, and after for Scotland and its Highlands. And it was a reading decision that would come back to haunt me. As soon as we got up into the dark, brooding mountains, leaning in over their fence of black pines around Inverness, I couldn't get the image of that cover, with its intense and frightening skull, out of my head. (To be fair, the Black Mountains are nowhere near Inverness [they're located on the Isle of Skye], but the Black Isle [not really an island] is, and seeing it looming in the distance, it certainly looked like the cover illustration on this book, and when that mental image was coupled with some of the grim local folklore we heard about the supposed origin of its name, you'll have to excuse me for mentally swapping the two.)

The book tells the story of a little man named Johnnie, who convinces former reaver Callum to guide him to a legendary island where he might find a mountain cave filled with gold. Callum agrees, though reluctantly, and throughout the journey they run into other country folk who warn them that the place is dangerous and their quest won't end well. When they do finally get to the cave, they find gold, but also a terrible darkness — a darkness watching them from within the cave, and a darkness within themselves watching each other.

What is the truth? It's a glimpse into the terrible things men do — for wealth, for a clean getaway, for revenge — and the costs and consequences they incur, and the things — other men, mountain spirits, and their own consciences — that prey upon them.

If you're looking for something suitably unsettling for All Hallow's Read, this book would be the ideal treat.

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What could be more appropriately scary for a Hallowe'en read than a book containing vampires, zombies, madness, murder, a vast uncaring alien menace from the blackness of space, and the end of human civilization as we know it — and all of it within the realm of possibility? Welcome to Peter Watts' Echopraxia, a worthy dark companion to Blindsight.

Where Blindsight told the tale of a ship crewed by a motley assortment of technologically-upgraded humans with a variety of alternate psychologies ranging from autism to multiple personality disorder, shepherded by a genius-intellect vampire resurrected by genetic engineering, all on their way to confront an intelligent but non-self-aware alien presence on the edge of the solar system, Echopraxia paints a picture of "meanwhile, back home" — as everything back home more or less falls apart. The other vampires have escaped their think tank prisons and are on the prowl, viral zombiism and other plagues (biological and technological) ravage the world, chemicals and rogue engineered crossover genes pollute wildlife like styrofoam fast food cartoons blowing across landscapes beside highways in the 80s, people are detaching themselves from reality by the thousands — uploading themselves to a virtual environment called Heaven — and governments and other large organizations take potshots at cults of people experimenting with creating hive minds. And if that's not enough, the folks back home have begun to get an inkling that things may not be going so well with the expedition detailed in Blindsight, and that the alien presence might be securing a toe-hold much closer to home — and much faster — than previously believed.

And so we ride along with biologist (and non-augmented human) Daniel Bruks, as he's swept along from self-imposed isolation in the desert to the confines of a spaceship where there's a watchful truce between a hive-mind of geniuses, their wannabe escort, a guilt-wracked soldier, an autistic pilot bent on revenge, and an escaped vampire and her squad of zombie soldiers, all heading towards a power station orbiting the sun that may be host to unwelcome guests. For Bruks, survival means more than just avoiding an alien attack; the terrifying, initially inexplicable attention of the vampire; or threats from others who try to kill him; it also means facing the possibility that the continuation of life might require the end of self. It might mean becoming the definition of echopraxia.

Like all of Watts' works, Echopraxia is hard science fiction. Not just because the author is rigorous about creating a world and plot based on what is scientifically possible, but also because this is a story that is hard on its characters, and hard on the reader who has to bear witness to all of it. Watts' stories operate in a Hobbesian state of nature, where life is nasty, brutish, and short; where the end goal of every life form is survival by any means necessary; and where the conscious mind is just along for the ride, regardless of how much control over events it believes it does or should have. Watts' stories are full of violence: physical, verbal, emotional, and psychological; self-inflicted and administered by others; and, where it is physical, it is active (where characters are being hounded, menaced, beaten, and killed), remembered, and promised/foreshadowed/implicitly understood as inevitable.

If that's not enough to scare you in time for Hallowe'en, I don't know what is.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Flash Gordon & Dr Snuggles

Maybe you're a Count Chocula kind of person. Or maybe Lucky Charms or S'Mores Crunch are more your style. Me, I'm going for Pac-Man. But whatever your over-sugared marshmallow cereal of choice is, grab yourself a big bowl and find a spot in the middle of the living room floor, and get ready for another instalment of Saturday morning cartoons!

First up, one of the greatest swashbuckling science fiction shows of the late 70s and early 80s: The New Adventures of Flash Gordon. Follow the adventures of Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov as they battle strange alien monsters, and try to rally the diverse races of the planet Mongo to overthrow the tyrant Ming The Merciless. (full episode)



Now to switch gears and indulge in some lighter fare for a younger audience (although, on Saturday mornings, all bets were off — cartoons for kids of different ages were all aired at more or less the same time, and the cartoon time slot was, at some point, followed by a music video slot where kids fresh off the 'toons could get the shit scared out of them by Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video): the Dutch/English masterpiece known as Dr Snuggles. The incomparable Sir Peter Ustinov supplied the voice for the titular Edwardian inventor who — along with his animal, robotic, and structural friends (some of which were also voiced by Ustinov) — goes on adventures ranging from the rescue of wayward flying trees from the depths of space, to a global quest to recharge the fading colours of the rainbow. It's a gentle, kinda steampunky, magical, wildly imaginative series that crams a lot into each episode without ever feeling rushed or shallow. Absolutely wonderful storytelling for kids, and entertaining for adults too. (full episode)



Tune in next week, for another instalment of Saturday morning cartoons!

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost - But A Reboot... That's Another Thing Altogether

For years now, the fan community has been sharing rumours of a new Ghostbusters picture in the works like kids sitting around the campfire swapping ghost stories. But now, in the past couple of weeks, just like a scene from Ghostbusters itself, we've been told that it's real — that a new movie's finally gonna happen.

And then we started getting word from director Paul Feig of what this thing's going to look like, and, suddenly, I got this sinking feeling, like when someone in a movie goes into a haunted house hoping to catch a glimpse of Casper, or maybe Slimer, and they end up starting to get the feeling that they're going to have to deal with something more like the entities from Poltergeist instead.

So I started reading through the reports about Feig's plans, particularly his interview with Entertainment Weekly, and then I donned my Ghostbusters hockey jersey, and fired the first and second movies into the blu-ray player, and then I gave it a lot of thought. And while I try to keep an open mind about film talk until a movie actually hits the screen, in this case I feel like Venkman staring down the hall at Slimer for the first time, knowing that what's coming next probably isn't going to be groovy.

The biggest problem with Feig's vision, at this point, is his decision to go with a total reboot. To rip the tablecloth out from under the franchise's history, leaving only the flowers of the name "Ghostbusters" still standing. The first two films never happened, their characters don't exist, it's a whole new universe with whole new technology.

I hate the notion of reboots. Principally, because they rarely work. This is usually due to bad writing and direction, and sometimes acting, but also to the current Hollywood phenomenon of shotgunning reboots (usually to superhero franchises) onto screens within just a couple of years of their predecessors, with this often happening even though the earlier material was reasonably good. It's not only a case of unoriginality, it's a matter of these new versions being totally unnecessary. A reboot is only worth doing if the original/previous version sucked. If the earlier version was okay, then either produce a new movie that keeps the old one within continuity, or, [gasp!] take a big risk and spend your time, money, and energy on something new and original that isn't linked to any other property.

Let's take a look at some of the reboots that have come out in recent years:

Star Trek and Star Trek - Into Darkness (a remake of The Wrath of Khan, despite the director's claims otherwise) were terrible. Glaring A.D.D. fests with characters who were strident and shrill in their dealings with each other, rather than genuinely emotional, reasonable, or interesting, and plots that were so stupid that you'd think they'd been penned by a Tribble in its final, delusional moments before dying of an overdose of poison-laced quadrotriticale. These were no more serious attempts to do Star Trek than an episode of Pokemon would be.

Similarly, Man of Steel (a retread of Superman II) was a colossal shit pile, giving us a Superman who was more wooden than Guardians of the Galaxy's Groot, and a plot that was so dumb that the writers/director/producers/studio might as well have hired Gleek the space monkey to crap onto pieces of paper, put them into a hat, which they would then have randomly pulled out and attempted to rorschach-style decipher to fill in material on each page of the script. Seriously, this flick gets as far as having a Jor-El AI simulation take control of Zod's ship, to the point where he can slam hatches and cut off the arms of bad guys, and yet he can't just pilot the damn thing into the sun, thereby, oh, I don't know, killing all of the bad guys and thus ending the threat to Kal-El and humanity? Nah. Couldn't do that. That might actually make sense. It was also unnecessary because Superman Returns, though not perfect, was an acceptable film, and one that continued the Superman franchise (at least, one that continued the franchise after Superman The Movie, and possibly Superman II) in a reasonable fashion, rather than throw out the previous material.

The Christian Bale Batman movies were in a bit of a grey area. They were all pretty entertaining (though The Dark Knight Rises was frequently stupid in some of its plot point choices), but really, they were unnecessary. The Michael Keaton movies (we shall not speak of the others) were very well thought-out and acted, and still stand up to rewatching today.

About the only reboot that I can think of that was a success in terms of being well written and acted, and looking good, and fitting the criteria of being necessary because its previous incarnation was a disaster, was the new Battlestar Galactica.

So that's one reboot out of a whole pile in the last decade or so. Not a great track record, Hollywood.

Mostly, reboots are just a director's exercise in polishing his own ego. The director and studio want to capitalize on a known, successful property with built-in fan loyalty that will increase their modern film's chances of box office success. A reboot also allows a director to claim originality without having to actually do the hard work of coming up with something new.

Feig claims that to come back to the existing Ghostbusters universe would be "too difficult"and that if it's a world that's already had a ghost attack "how do you do it again?" Well, Paul, it's been 25 years since Ghostbusters 2, and while a lot happened back then, one would expect their world would have moved on, with other events, characters lives changing, and other characters coming in and out — just like the real world has done since 1989 and everything that happened then, like a little event called the fall of the Berlin Wall. Life moves on, and, in so doing, leaves plenty of room for developments in the world and brand new stories that aren't too constrained by the events of the past. Feig's also said he wants to have new characters and tell new stories that are really scary and have shiny new tech. See above.

And because of the amount of time that's passed, a sequel wouldn't have to spend a lot of time on the links to the original films: maybe a photo on the wall of Janine and Louis opening a franchise operation in another city, or a character walking past a memorial wall with photos of fallen members like Egon (and Peter, if Bill Murray refused to do a live cameo), or a brief scene with an elderly Ray tinkering in the lab, or Winston doing paperwork as company CEO. Anything's possible, and even the smallest nods here and there would go a long way towards establishing the new film's legitimacy.

If the original Ghostbusters had been terrible, with a deeply-buried seed of potential in its rotten core — like the original Battlestar Galactica — then there would be a good reason to reboot it. But it wasn't. And there isn't. A sequel, as opposed to a hard reboot, would allow Feig to do all of the things he wants, while still respecting the original material that built the fan base and told the story he is implicitly relying on for the success of his new movie, regardless of how different he makes it. There is simply no reason for a hard reboot, aside from self-deluding vanity.

Then there was Feig's second big piece of news: he wants to go with an all-female cast.

Why?

Feig says "it would be really fun" and "I just find funny women so great."

I agree: funny women are great. As are funny men.

I also think that this being the 21st century in western society, it's okay — and, story-wise, better — to have stories mixing both genders. After all, women and men work side-by-side in all kinds of businesses, scientific and academic settings, military operations, non-profits, etc and these workplaces are better for that mix.

Admittedly, there are some situations/settings, where a single-gender crowd is appropriate, such as Feig's movie Bridesmaids, or its male counterpart The Hangover (and sequels) and the Tom Hanks flick that film folk rarely like to acknowledge: Bachelor Party. But even these situations are not so clearly-defined when we look at modern life, as more and more men are adding women to their groomsmen lineups, and women include men as bridesmaids (my own best man at my wedding was a woman — my oldest friend since junior high — and she organized and attended the bachelor party). And so when we look at a small business startup or group adventure setting like that presented in Ghostbusters, it seems obvious that having an mixed gender ensemble cast is what most accurately and appropriately represents modern society.

Moreover, this is already a proven concept in modern film and TV. Look at Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, or Firefly, or Farscape. Remove the comedy element, and it still works: Battlestar Galactica, the various Star Trek spinoffs of the last 20 or so years, and Alien and Aliens. Throw the comedy element back in, along with horror, and Cabin in the Woods is a great recent example of how a mixed gender ensemble makes a film work (And, yes, I know, part of the point of that cast mix was to play off the idea of classic slasher film character tropes. But Whedon could have done something similar with an all-male or all-female cast, as some horror movies have done. Wisely, he didn't.).

Besides that, a mixed gender ensemble does a better job of ensuring there's someone for everyone in the audience to identify with. It's kind of like last weekend, when my wife and I were shopping for a birthday present for our niece: we were looking at Lego sets, and were a little confounded that a lot of the kit boxes seemed geared towards one gender or the other, when that kind of specificity wasn't necessary. One box for a mountain cabin set (complete with mountain!) only came with a bearded male mini fig, which might make a girl feel excluded. On the other hand, another box for a cruise ship/yacht kit only came with the new "friends" skinny girl mini figs and in bright pastel colours, which might discourage boys who would otherwise be interested in building a boat. Why can't all the boxes contain male and female mini figs, and have photos of boys and girls playing with them. It's like Lego's taken niche marketing too far. Instead, we settled on a kit from The Lego Movie with female and male figs. But getting back to Ghostbusters, yes, there should absolutely be smart, funny, caring, ass-kicking female leads. There haven't been enough of them, women have been wanting to see more of them, and men enjoy them too. But by the same token, let's not leave good male leading characters out either, because both men and women like them too.

Feig says "Bottom line: I just want the best, funniest cast."

Wouldn't that be a mix of talented people of both genders, as the other productions mentioned above have proven?

Wouldn't it be awesome to have a cast of ghostbusters that included talented people like Melissa McCarthy, Jenna Coleman, Rashida Jones, Gillian Anderson, Tina Fey, Kristen Wiig, Sara Tanaka, Rosario Dawson, or Emma Stone, AND some talented people like Jason Lee, Ken Jeong, Vince Vaughan, Jon Favreau, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Nick Kroll, Marlon Wayans or Tyler Labine?

Bottom line: as a fan, I just want any new movie to be really good, and that would be far more likely if it's a sequel instead of a reboot, and if it has a mixed cast.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons - Gone But Not Forgotten

It was with real sadness that I read a few days ago that the era of Saturday morning cartoons was officially over — October 4th was the first Saturday in more than 40 years with no cartoons in the morning lineup. To borrow from Kevin Smith, growing up, Saturday morning cartoons were my religion, and to know they're relegated to memory and reruns on YouTube and specialty cable back channels has caused a bit of my soul to wither.

Saturday morning cartoons were an important part of growing up in the mid-late 70s and the 80s. They were a common language in the schoolyard — didn't matter whether you were a sporty kid who went to hockey practice at 6am, or one of the bookish ones who stayed home — at some point we all watched at least a few shows, and so we had a common frame of reference for storytelling and play in the school yard. And the word "storytelling" is important, because, while these shows were often part of larger marketing schemes to sell toys and other merchandise, or vehicles to ensure you'd watch the commercials for sugary breakfast cereals that were just as slick as the cartoons themselves and also designed to make you want to buy things (the cereals), these shows actually had a talent for telling stories. They had plots, and differentiated (sometimes multidimensional - in terms of psychology and emotions, as well as corporeal existence) characters. There was also (aside from the toy- and video game-driven marketing fare) a no-holds-barred approach to the stories in these series, showing us endless worlds of fantasy and science fiction, from the very childish to the occasionally mature, and illustrated with texture and depth. That's a far cry from a lot of the kid-oriented animation today: the endless, static-imaged, flashing colour background, brain-hemorraged-eyed, gap-mouthed parade of Yu-Gi-O-type shows where the "adventures" of each episode are more or less interchangeable, as are the characters and action, and nothing is learned (insert image of Old Man Bloginhood sitting on his porch waving his cane petulantly and shouting "In my day-"). Even if the animation back then was a little clunky compared to today's computer-enhanced stuff, they were still a treat to watch.

We also benefitted back then from a mix of shows from different decades — a veritable intertidal zone of cartoon eras — from vintage series of the 60s re-run for new audiences, to the expanding variety of the 70s, to newer ideas in the 80s (focussing even more heavily on product marketing). This let us see animation and storytelling styles evolve in front of our eyes. It also gave the networks more stories to run, especially in years (or seasons, because the programming wasn't always the same in the spring and fall) when the studios weren't producing as many shows. Of course, by the 80s, the kid audience was so important that the networks were airing prime time specials on weekday evenings at the start of the fall season to promote their new Saturday morning cartoon lineups.

And that's just the animated fiction. Saturday mornings were also interspersed with educational shows like In the News, and the animated School House Rock, as well as live-action fluff like Bigfoot and Wildboy, The Ghost Busters, Wonderbug, Jason of Star Command, and, the king of them all, The Hilarious House of Frightenstein. Hell, I remember one of the networks up here in Canada even tried to rerun The Starlost at one point.

So, to keep the memorial candle burning, I'm going to start a new feature here on the blog: every Saturday (or sometimes late Friday night, or maybe belatedly on Sunday, because I can be remarkably lazy), I'll link to a couple of my cartoon favourites from the 70s or 80s (as culled from various sources on YouTube). Where possible, I'll link to a full episode, but, if those aren't available, you'll at least get the intro sequence.

It should be noted that there are some big-name shows you may remember from the old days that won't make this feature (like Battle of the Planets (G-Force), Star Blazers/Space Battleship Yamato, Transformers, or Gobots) on the technicality that they weren't run on Saturday (at least, not in my neck of the woods, where they were after-school shows). Others may not make it because I didn't like them.

To start things off, one of the longest-running cartoons of that era (having a couple of varying but similar titles over the years), and also one of my favourites: The Superfriends (a set of intros).



Now run into the kitchen to get a bowl of your favourite sugary cereal (complete with stale, dehydrated marshmallows), and get comfortable for Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids (a full episode).


And let's not forget Godzilla (intro).


And lastly, a one-off feature from CBS Storybreak: Dragon's Blood, based (very loosely, apparently) on the Jane Yolen book of the same name. As a kid, I loved this one because, first and foremost, it had dragons in it, and secondly because the story was pretty good. As an adult, having just rewatched it, I can say the story holds up reasonably well, and the feel of artwork is interesting, somewhat reminiscent of a kids' version of Heavy Metal — without the gore, the zombies, the boobies, or the Loc-Nar wreaking havoc. Bonus points because it's also introduced by Captain Kangaroo himself, Bob Keeshan. (full episode)



Tune in next week for more Saturday morning cartoons (well, I'd hope you come by before then to read some of the other blog posts, but, you know, if cartoons are your thing, that's cool).

Meantime, what were some of your favourite Saturday morning cartoons?

Monday, October 06, 2014

VCon 2014 - Day 3, The Finale

Sunday at VCon is kind of like the morning after a cabin party: most of the revellers have gone, but a few people are left, and while they're all still having a good time together, there's the unspoken shared bone-deep knowledge that it'll be over soon, and all around, there's a weariness of step.

I stumbled back in just after noon, in time to catch most of the "Mapping and Fiction Writing" panel. The importance of maps is a subject that has a special place in my heart - not because of any lust for the cartographic sciences and arts, but because back in 1988, as a kid in school, I was sent to the Delta Young Writers' Conference, and was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the guest authors running one of the workshops was a BC-based science fiction writer. I wish I could remember her name, because she was friendly, encouraging, and genuinely interested in the ideas the kids were coming up with, and for a goofy sci-fi nerd like me, she was the perfect mentor, if only for a couple of hours. I'd love to be able to dig up some of her stories. Anyway, the focus of her workshop was on the importance maps have in world building. Specifically, the necessity to get geography and the effects of geography right (if you have a mountain range in the land you're creating, and the wind blows from a certain direction, remember that the leeward side of the hills will probably be dry, etc). It's a lesson that's always stuck with me, and, while geography isn't a make-or-break feature of stories that I read, there's a part of me that tracks how authors lay out their landscapes to see if those worlds make sense. But getting back to the present and VCon... Today's map-questing panel did a fantastic job of taking the subject beyond land formations and weather patterns. They talked about the importance of demographic mapping to help think through population sizes, cultural capabilities, religious spread, economics, etc. Even the importance of naming came up, with one panelist noting that how an author names a city can have an effect on the plot, giving clues to its historic backstory and that of its people, their culture, and their language. A couple of the panelists even gave examples from their own writing experiences, where mapping out locations as they wrote sometimes forced them to go back and rewrite parts of their stories because the maps illustrated that certain plot moves weren't logical given the story setup and the universe's rules. Definitely a good session to take in, even from a fan standpoint.

After stepping out again for a quick lunch, I attended the "Justify the Science Flaw" session. This is one of those panels that comes back year after year and draws a good crowd because it's so damn funny. Movie or TV scenes, bits of dialogue, and images that defy natural laws or logic are offered to the panelists (many of whom are scientists, along with others who may not be scientists, but who have a solid knowledge of the sciences), who then have to come up with scientifically plausible explanations. While the panelists are usually pretty good at offering off-the-cuff scientific guesses, their jokes often show the greatest genius. Audience participation is pretty entertaining too, for the most part, although there are always a couple of people who, lacking a full understanding of the social graces, take things too literally, don't see the humour, interrupt, or soapbox, and turn the session into an endurance trial for everyone else. Sadly, this is a fact of any large gathering of nerds, and the rest of us just have to wait it out, and to that end, I'll give the panelists mountains of credit for bearing with it with grace.

In the break that followed, I wandered around the venue one last time, taking a walk through the Dealers' Room and chatting with a couple of the merchants. Out in the hallways, I was, as always, impressed by the die-hard attitude of some of the cosplayers, who, even though Saturday is the big day to strut their stuff, keep up the effort on Sunday. Among the cosplayers I came across was a young lady (above) dressed as one of the soldiers from the anime series Attack on Titan (definitely worth looking up on Netflix) who had done an incredible job of making a spot-on replica of the outfits from the show. With this amount of talent shown by the younger con-goers, there's sure to be a lot of impressive costuming coming out of this region for a long time to come. Well done!

Next, I had a bit of a choice: attend the "Are Fantasy & Science Fiction Inherently Violent Genres?" session, inflict mental anguish upon myself by going to the legendary Turkey Readings, or take a chance and go to the "Mortars and Medals" feedback session and offer a suggestion for next year. I took a chance on the feedback session. It wasn't a large crowd that turned up to talk to this year's and next year's con chairs and their aides, but the group did have a number of worthwhile suggestions to deal with organizational issues, promotion of the con's charity of choice, and questions around photographic consent. When my turn came, I made a point of giving kudos to the organizers for getting Spider & Gibson to come, though I was told those two would have come anyway because they were getting inducted into the CSFFA Hall of Fame at the Aurora Awards — Yeah, I know, I thought, but take the compliments when you get them! I also backed the call for better promotion of the con's charity of choice (Aunt Leah's). And lastly, I went out on a limb and suggested that next year the con committee take a survey of members — or host a session — to sound members out on whether there's a desire to ever put in a Worldcon bid. Much to my surprise, every head in the room turned towards me and I was met with choruses of "NO!" and "We can't do it!" You'd think I'd just suggested we sacrifice a baby to Cthulhu or something. To my mind, it's a no-brainer: Vancouver is a big city with all the amenities, it's the crossroads of the Pacific and easy to get to, there are well-known local authors and lots of great authors from across Canada who could come, and, with all of its grand natural surroundings, it's pretty much the most beautiful city in the world. Not so simple though. Among the older members of the local sf community, there are still whispered tales of some horrific con catastrophe that happened 20-odd years ago that've got them terrified of the notion of trying to host anything big. And, even for members of the younger crowd who are willing to take the chance, there are apparently various Worldcon rules in place that preclude bids unless there's enough big con experience on the bid committees. So no love. And yet... There does seem to be some ambition out there, and an outside chance of perhaps playing a long game over many years where more people can get experience at other cons and maybe land some larger cons locally, then maybe... But that's a ways off, and we can't get ahead of ourselves. When the session was done though, next year's con chair and I had a bit of a chat — a chat that turned into an extended discussion over beer, and, to make a long story short, it looks like I've been pulled into a closer orbit of VCon, and that I'll be volunteering in some capacity with the con next year. Whether that orbit results in a gentle descent onto an enjoyable planet that I'll want to revisit again, or a maddening death spiral into a collapsar of pointless geek politics, I don't know, but for now I'm choosing to focus on the positive and say that it's good to pitch in and help the con be the best it can be. More news as it happens.

Then the Closing Ceremony was upon us, and thankfully it was short and sweet. Glad to see so many people who enjoyed this year's con, including the Guests of Honour. For myself, overall I did enjoy this year's event. There may have been a few bumps on the road, but once things got going, it was pretty good. One thing that was very obvious this year was a change in the programming — a number familiar sessions/topics that were staples of the con year over year were gone from this year's schedule, and while that caused me to do a bit of a double-take when initially looking at the program, ultimately I don't think it's bad to shake things up once in a while. That way, topics/sessions don't get stale, and it gives a chance for new points of discussion or learning to shine. Finding the balance between the old and the new is the trick. The other highlight of the Closing Ceremonies was the announcement of some of the details of next year's con:
VCon's theme in 2015 will be Time Travel (appropriate, because in Back to the Future Part II, Marty [played by BC's own Michael J Fox], Doc, and Jennifer travel forward from 1985 to 2015).
The Author Guest of Honour will be Joe Haldeman.
And the Gaming Guest of Honour (also an author) will be Ed Greenwood.

And then it was over for another year.

Almost...

As I was leaving, I ran into Robert J Sawyer in the lobby. Sawyer wasn't one of the session panelists this year, but there was word a few days ago that he might be coming by today (he mentioned that he'd just been down at a writers' convention in the US, and decided to swing by Vancouver for the last day of VCon on his way home to Toronto), so I'd packed a couple of anthologies that he'd contributed to (and edited in two cases), just in case we crossed paths. As I've said before, Sawyer's a really nice guy who always makes time to talk with fans and seems to enjoy it. Because all of the anthologies of Canadian sf I'd brought were fairly old, he (like Spider and Gibson the day before) took a bit of a trip down memory lane, and shared a few recollections, including how they'd convinced the family and estate of Robertson Davies to allow one of the great writer's stories to be included in the Crossing the Line collection at a rate they could afford. Always interesting to hear the neat little backstories of how these things come together.

And then that was the end of the con for me. Back home to my wife, the cat, supper, and a PVR'd episode of Doctor Who.

Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

VCon 2014 - Day 2

It was a full day at VCon today, made all the more tiring by the big backpack full of books-to-be-signed that I was lugging around, but an enjoyable one none-the-less.

I arrived around 11:30-11:40 and managed to catch the last few minutes of the "Cyberspace Security in Fiction and Reality" panel, and it was so good, I regretted having missed most of it. One of the more unsettling warnings for online security in the not-too-distant future: wait for programs that will process every available bit of information about you to create the perfect pitch that unscrupulous people can use to hit all of your psychological trust points to convince you to share your personal/security information with them. And, in a non-security way, that makes me think about how many more steps it will be before it'll be possible to use gathered info to create an actual personality analogue simulation indistinguishable from the real person, like the Keats hybrid in Dan Simmons' Hyperion?

After that, I ran out for a quick fast-food lunch down the street, but on my way out the door, I couldn't believe what I heard: some woman was complaining to a friend that she didn't want to eat in the food court at the huge Guildford Mall across the street (fair enough), but there wasn't anything else to eat — especially no sit-down restaurants — around. Huh?! Food availability is one of the things I really have to give the con organizing committee credit for in terms of their choice of hotel! Not only is there the hotel restaurant and the afore-mentioned mall across the street, there are literally dozens and dozens of restaurants of all different types within an easy 10 minute walk of the venue, all highly visible. Don't want to go to a corporate fast-food joint or big chain sit-down restaurant? No problem — there are a forest of Pho places all around, and Japanese food, and Korean food, and Indian food, and pubs, and on and on and on and on. And then there are the grocery stores, where you can buy stuff to make your own food, or buy hot prepared meals. How could you walk to the end of the block and fail to see all the choices out there? I know nerds can be picky eaters, but come on!

But I digress.

Back from lunch, I went over to the con merch table and bought myself this year's con t-shirt. I'm not a fan of this year's design, but I've amassed enough of a collection of the damn things over the years (some of which were out and out spectacular — I was especially proud to sport the totem pole design from a couple of years ago at this summer's Loncon3... where I ran into another Lower Mainlander wearing the same shirt!) that I figured I might as well include this year's version. Maybe I'll wear it to mow the lawn or something.

While in that section of the hotel, I ran into the Tasmanian Thunder God (above) — perhaps the wackiest and yet most strangely appropriate cosplay mashup I've ever come across. Bonus points to the guy inside for having the fortitude to wear that hot costume for long stretches in a crowded and reasonably warm hotel. This being Saturday, there were a lot of other cosplayers out and about, including Batman, some Sith lords, Ratchet the Autobot, various iterations of Star Trek Starfleet personnel, futuristic soldiers aplenty (in keeping with this year's Military Might con theme), and more anime characters than you can shake a Pikachu at.

From there, I went up to see the Q&A session with William Gibson. The group that was in the room beforehand took their sweet time wrapping up, so Gibson chatted with those milling around outside while we all waited. He's a cool guy, and was happy to take pictures with fans and shoot the breeze. Gibson's actually a local himself, but hasn't come out to VCon in a while, noting he's often busy, and, beyond that, is a creature of the downtown core who doesn't get out to the 'burbs very often. Fair enough. With traffic in some parts of the region being what it is, I don't blame him. Anyway, eventually we were able to get into the room and things got under way. Kudos to Donna McMahon for conducting a really good interview with Gibson and helping to field questions from the audience. One of the thoughts that Gibson shared during the session that made me think was his belief that before the internet existed, and in its early years before it became so integrated into our culture, there were a lot of cultural backwaters (like science fiction fandom) scattered around the world either in specific geographic pockets or in specialized areas of interest that were previously isolated from or unknown to the outside world, and therefore had decades to develop and complexify on their own before the wider culture knew anything about them. Now, subcultures no longer have that privacy/invisibility because everything is in the open, and they don't have that opportunity to develop on their own. After the formal Q&A wrapped up, Gibson was kind enough to sign books out in the hallway and continue to chat with fans and share anecdotes. At one point when he was signing his way through my stack of books (Neuromancer, The Difference Engine, and a trio of anthologies that had included short stories of his), he stared at a couple of the anthology covers thoughtfully and said it had been a long time since he'd seen them, and had almost forgotten he was even in them. Later, when he was chatting with a few of us, he credited VCon with being an important factor in the start of his career. Seems that many years ago, a friend mentioned to him that there was a science fiction convention taking place featuring a guest author they both liked, and suggested that they go. In those days, there was a lot more publishing business conducted at local cons, and Gibson says that while at VCon, he was able to make some connections in the business that would later be helpful when he started to write. Always fascinating to hear about these kinds of things.

At this point, I made a mistake. Having an hour ahead of me with no panels that I found particularly interesting, I should have sat down and done some reading. I should have found a chesterfield in a quiet corner and taken a nap. I should have started outlining my plans for world domination. Did I? No. Weak-willed creature that I am, I decided to go and have a look around the Dealers' Room again, to see if anything had changed since yesterday, even though I didn't intend to buy anything. Yeah. How long did that resolution last? 'Bout 5 minutes — only long enough for me to walk down one aisle of merchants, round the corner, and run smack-dab into the Edge Publishing table, where my eyes lit upon an anthology called Broken Time Blues — Fantastic Tales in the Roaring '20s that, while it was first published three years ago, I hadn't seen before, and either glanced over yesterday, or wasn't out on display yesterday. At any rate, I was locked onto it today, and being a sucker for anthologies with unique themes, my wallet was pretty much in hand right away. Of course, that wasn't the end of it, oh no. Those sweetly-smiling succubuses of book sales couldn't leave well enough alone, and had to go and tell me that they were having a 2-for-$20 sale. How could I possibly pass up another book for only $5 more? And, of course, they were all too helpful in pulling suggestions from the stacks to entice me, and, sure enough, they succeeded, and The Puzzle Box collection was added to the pile. So two more books to lug around all day. Could I have taken them down to the car in the parkade? Yes. Would that have been a wise move in Surrey? No. So, more "exercise" for the back.

On my way out of the Dealers' Room, I ended up stopping and chatting with a couple at the stand of one of the other publishing houses. Not to buy anything in this case: they'd noticed I was wearing a Loncon3 shirt (the ultra-cool flag dragon design), asked if I'd attended this summer, and said they'd been there too. We spent the next 10 minutes reminiscing about the event, talking about our respective further travels around the UK afterwards, and other upcoming cons. Real nice folks.

Then I took another spin through the Art Display, and wound up having a good talk with artist Eric Drane about some of the works he'd offered for display. He was showing an interesting combination of works, including some images of women in science fictional settings (such as a trio of very cool female Predators), some psychedelic stuff, and, most impressively — though most unsettling — some pieces that had an HR Giger feel to them (except Drane's work is more visceral, and therefore, to me more unsettling, as opposed to Giger's work, which always feels a little clinical). There were a couple of other art displays that I hadn't noticed yesterday or which might not have been on display until today, and they were worth taking some time to look at too.

Next it was back upstairs for another session; this time: "Writing about Fighting: After the Battle". This was a great panel discussion about the realities of what soldiers have to deal with when coming home from war (and police officers coming home after a day's duty). Two of the panelists had military service experience, as did some of the members of the audience, and it was fascinating to hear them talking about the experiences they and their colleagues had been through in terms of re-adapting to civilian life and reconciling what they and their cohorts had seen and done during their service. It reminded me a lot of what I've observed and heard from friends and acquaintances who are or have been in the military and police, as well as the many veterans I've interviewed during my former career as a journalist. A lot was discussed about post-traumatic stress disorder, but the panel also noted that beyond that, people with those kinds of experiences also return with a different worldview, because of their training, experiences, and introspection. Very heavy subject matter, but definitely a panel worth attending.

After a bit of a break, it was time for the Aurora Awards ceremony! Always great to see Canadians recognizing other Canadians for the work they do involving science fiction and fantasy. I have to admit though, my fingers got tired from furiously pounding away on my phone screen during the ceremony to tweet the winners of each category as they were announced! Luckily, for this later blog entry, I can just link to the awards run-down over on the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) site! An honourary Aurora was also given to Frank Johnson, who's design for the awards has been used for more than two decades. And if that wasn't enough, William Gibson and Spider and Jeanne Robinson were inducted into the CSFFA Hall of Fame. Congratulations to all of this year's Aurora Awards winners, and the Hall of Fame inductees!

With the excitement of the awards ceremony out of the way, it was time for supper. Afterwards, it was back to the con to take in the "Time Traveller Luggage" panel. While there was some serious thought given to practical, real-world items that a potential time traveller might want to take (or perhaps the most beneficial — and hardest to steal — baggage, as suggested by one panelist: ideas, which could make your life easier or change the world [such as CPR, or the Heimlich Manoeuvre, or crop rotation]) the discussion was generally light-hearted. At one point, one of the panelists noted that maps might be helpful, so a time traveller could pinpoint valuable resources. Another panelist countered that a street map of Vancouver in 2014 wouldn't do much good 100 years ago. I responded that it would, because I'd use it to identify and buy-up all of the land that would one day be developed, and thus become filthy rich. Hey, I've gotta come up with some strategy to afford all these books!

When that session was done, I caught a few minutes of the Costume Contest. It was just a bit of the amateur division, but there were some fun entries, including Baby Cthulhu (which suddenly gets me thinking about how you could use that to alter the lyrics to the old Raffi song "Baby Beluga").

I made an early exit from that event to head down the hall to catch Spider Robinson's book signing session. Again, I pulled out the stack of anthologies (Robinson was in several of the same ones that included Gibson), and as with Gibson, Robinson was pleasantly surprised to see some of the old tittles. In fact one (which shall remain unnamed), even prompted him to say "You know, I don't think I was ever sent my copy of this one!" I suggested that one of the editors may be lurking around the con at some point before the close of proceedings on Sunday, but if I remember correctly, the book was in short supply when it was being sold way back when, and it's probably harder to come by now.

At that point, I was tempted to hang around a while longer to listen to the jam session a few of the musicians at the con were going to be having, but it was mid-evening already, and I wanted to get home to catch-up with my wife and relax a bit before embarking on this blogging odyssey, so I left.

A short sleep now, then one more day.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

VCon 2014 - Day 1

If I was a religious or otherwise superstitious man, I'd say the universe was trying to tell me earlier today that I shouldn't go to VCon. I was up late last night — later than I should have been. Consequently, I was up late this morning — later than I wanted to be. When I left the house to go to the con, I had to turn around and go back because I'd forgotten to print out my receipts from my online registration (sure, I normally don't need them, because online pre-registration means I'm already in the con's reg system by them I arrive, but it's always a good idea to have receipts in hand, just in case there's a screw-up of some kind — then one can at least prove that one's already paid, and leverage a quick solution). When I finally got things printed and got out the door and on the road for real, I took a wrong turn — three times. This, despite the fact that I know my way to the con hotel like the back of my hand. I've been there a million times, both for previous VCons and for other events that I've had to attend in a professional capacity. There's no reason to go the wrong way. Three times. But I did. Three times. And when I arrived (finally), just before 2:00, at the Sheraton in the Guildford neighbourhood of Surrey (just up the road from my home in South Surrey — but a very long way up the road, as long as it would take to get into Vancouver), there was confusion between the hotel and the con as to which organization would handle the parking fees for attendees using the downstairs parkade. In years past, it had always been the hotel. So, upon coming up to the lobby from my car, I automatically queued up in front of hotel's front desk — for a 15 minute wait because the hotel didn't have adequate desk staff in place to deal with the six of us lined up and the occasional phone call. Normally the hotel's pretty efficient, but not today. When I finally got up to the counter and asked about paying, the staffer told me that was being handled by the con. Ummmm, okay. Never happened before, but there's a first time for everything. So I walked over to the registration line, thinking at least I'd kill two birds with one stone. At least, maybe after what turned out to be a 10 to 15 minute wait. Not a long line, but a slow moving one. Fair enough. Shit happens. Except I got to the front and found out that there was a separate line for pre-registered people like me. Yes, I saw the sign earlier, but no, it didn't look like a separate line at the time because there hadn't been a line-up extending back from that desk (not that there could be much of a line, because the reg desks are crammed into a narrow hallway). At this point though, there were three or four people crammed in together in front of the pre-reg table, so I dutifully walked over and joined them. Luckily, this line moved quickly, and I received my badge and con package in fairly short order. Problem was, the guy at the pre-reg table didn't really know anything about the parking situation and tried to direct me back to the hotel staff. When I explained what had happened, he brought me over to another registration volunteer who knew a little bit about what was going on, but had to find someone else who knew more than he did, and there were a couple of people already ahead of me wanting to sort out parking payments. At this point, it was nearly 2:30, I'd had enough of being pingponged between lines, and I wanted to get up to a session that was starting in a minute or two. So I tabled the parking payment issue for the time being, and went in to find the session room.

That's when I thought that if I was a religious or otherwise superstitious man, I'd say the universe had been telling to tell me I shouldn't be there. Luckily though, I'm not, and (knock on wood, rub yer rabbit's foot, or whatever) that it seems to have been the end of the blockades and otherwise bad omens. For now.

One good thing about spending all that unnecessary time in line though, was the chance to chit-chat with other con-goers. One of them was in front of me in the registration line, and happened to be someone I'd run into just under two months ago at Loncon3. She was one of the Montreal 2017 bid team volunteers who'd been spearheading the attempt to get some hockey going at Worldcon this summer. It was interesting to catch up with her now and get the inside scoop on some of the bid team's experiences there (all of them off-the-record, so I won't repeat anything here), and look ahead to next year's vote (Personally, just looking at membership numbers from London, I get the feeling that for the 2017 Worldcon, Washington, DC might be the frontrunner [easy for a lot of US fans to attend], followed by Helsinki [they've been pushing hard for a couple of years now, and maybe all of the Europeans who came to London will figure another Worldcon in their neck of the woods would be a good thing], with Montreal and Shizuoka as the dark horses. I really want Montreal to win, but if they can't, I'd really like Helsinki to get it, 'cause those crazy Fins have worked so damn hard to land a Worldcon, they deserve it [and who wouldn't want a con with a sauna around every corner?].). As I've said time and again, it's the little one-off encounters and conversations that really make a con worth while.

After registration (with parking still unresolved), I headed upstairs for the Spider Robinson reading. I got to the room a little early — before the previous group had finished — and was waiting outside when Spider arrived. I was a little shocked at what I saw: he was grey (actually grey!) thin-to-almost-wasted-away, and looked exhausted. The last time I'd seen him was a few years ago at a con (I've been fortunate enough to run into him several times over the years, and he's always been good to shoot the breeze with), and while he was always lanky, he always had colour in him and a vibrant energy like a guitar string that's just been plucked. Of course, that was a couple of years ago, and since then, life has curb-stomped him. Repeatedly. His wife, Jeanne (a hell of a nice lady — I met her too a couple of times) died four years ago of cancer, then his daughter was diagnosed with cancer, and then he got bushwhacked by a heart attack, and, since then, from what I hear, his muse has been rather stingy. To see him early this afternoon, every one of those things appeared to be hanging off him like Jacob Marley's chains. But, for all that, he's still a very cool, very friendly guy, and we talked about this and that for a few minutes before he went to grab some coffee before the reading. When the half-dozen or so of us who came managed to get into the room, Spider weighed the reading options. There was something he's been working on for a while, but he said it wasn't writing easy and it wouldn't be published soon, and from his face, it looked like he wasn't entirely happy with it. Then he smiled, and offered instead to read the intro chapter from Starseed, which he'd co-authored with Jeanne years ago. He mentioned that Jeanne had written that portion of the book entirely by herself, and that this would be the first time that text had been read aloud at a con since she'd died. It seemed right, and the little gaggle of us sitting around him gave a collective appreciative nod and sat back to listen. It was easy to tell that reading it made Spider happy, and that made all of us happy. Afterwards, with only a few minutes left, Spider paid homage to his old hippie friend, Stephen Gaskin, who died this summer, by reading the intro he'd written years ago to Gaskin's Haight Ashbury Flashbacks. Another sombre reminder of death driving a reading, and yet, as with the first, this reminiscence of someone special made him happy too. And that's a good thing. When he was done, there was no time left — the con volunteer and next group were already coming in to give us all the boot — so I wasn't able to get any autographs in the anthologies I'd brought along that contain his short stories, and I couldn't ask him in the hall because he ran into an old friend and they went off to grab a bite. Which is fine. As a fan, an autograph is nice, but I'd already had something better today: a chance to have a real, if brief, catch-up conversation, and I'll take real communication over a name scrawled on a page any day. Besides, there's plenty of con left, and maybe the books will get signed later. As a post-script, I ran into him briefly later in the afternoon, and in the exchange of "how's it goin'?" in passing, Spider looked a much healthier colour. The afternoon at the con, the connections with people he'd met (not me, but others more important), and a bite and some coffee had done him good. Very nice to see.

From there, it was back downstairs to the reg table to get the parking situation sorted out. Luckily, things had been sorted out in the intervening half-hour since I'd last been there, and I was able to pay (although I would have been just as happy not having to pay, but I've gotta stay honest) in fairly short order and get on with things.

Something odd I noticed at that point though: there was no con t-shirt stand near the reg table. I looked around for a second, then asked the reg table guy. Yes, apparently there are con t-shirts this year; no, they had not arrived yet (and still hadn't, by the time I left early this evening). Okaaaaay.

Something else noticed: con security was called to deal with some guy who'd just finished registering around the same time I'd just finished taking care of parking. Didn't look like he was making trouble at the reg desk (though he did make some snotty remarks about philosophers versus natural philosophers), and I can recall having seen him around the con just about ever year since I've been going, but I overheard some other attendees mentioning he'd been banned from the con. If someone gets banned from the con, it's for a good reason. I wasn't able to catch what he'd been banned for, but off to the side with the security volunteers, he sure as hell wasn't happy about it. I decided to keep heading into the Dealers' Room, rather than watch the rest of the scene.

 The Dealers' Room had a few interesting items at some of the stalls. I stopped for a few minutes to chat with the knitting lady, who'd sold my wife and I the excellent TARDIS toque and 4th Doctor scarf last year, and managed to exercise some will power and refused to give into temptation when she pulled out some new wares — including a comfy-looking blanket with the Serentity on it. I also had a talk with the folks at Edge Publishing. Didn't see anything that grabbed my interest (or the contents of my wallet) this time (the latest instalment in the Tesseracts anthology series isn't out yet), but it's always nice to spend some time at their table. The lady heading the Edge delegation (I can never remember her name, much to my shame) takes everyone under her wing and makes you feel like she's welcoming you home, rather than just trying to sell you books. Elsewhere in the room, I came across some guys with a 3D printer selling nerdy trinkets, including little thumb-sized replicas of the TARDIS (left). They'd also concocted a 1/3-size replica of the Glaive (minus retractable blades) from Krull, which prompted us to trade jokes about whether they ought to make some custom action figures of Rell the cyclops and Ergo the Magnificent (but only if Ergo's was accompanied by a gooseberry pie). I kept to my policy of never buying on the first pass, but later in the afternoon I came back to this table and bought a little TARDIS for my wife to put on her desk at work, to replace her TARDIS coffee mug which was broken a couple of months ago. No, I wasn't the one who broke the mug, but hopefully this little present will help get me out of the dog house the next time I am responsible for some mishap. Back to the con though, something that didn't seem right about the Dealers' Room this year was the absence of White Dwarf Books. As Vancouver's only specialty sf bookstore (and the only one in Western Canada, and one of only two in the entire country), they've been a fixture at the con — and in the sf community — for a long time. Whatever the case, I hope to see them there next year.

After the temptations of the Dealers' Room, I meandered next door to the Art Show. There were a number of the usual suspects who have displays every year — some of whom I very much enjoy revisiting — but there were also some new works from different artists. I may not buy things at the Art Show, but I always like to spend time there.

Then it was time to head into another session. This time, I took in the "What Is Magic Realism?" panel. What is it? Well, the panel generally seemed to agree that it's mostly a matter of semantics as to whether there's a difference between magic realism and fantasy — semantics employed by publishers, critics, and even writers and readers for a variety of reasons. Good discussion from the panel, and some solid points made by the audience. The best was when one of the panelists quoted Terry Pratchett as saying magic realism "is like a polite way of saying you write fantasy." Spot on.

When that session wrapped up, I wandered around a little more and found another display table area in one of the halls upstairs, including an offering from a steampunk group. For all the gaslight gadgets on their table, the one that really attracted my attention was the thing beside the table: a steampunk robotic dog. (above). He was even remote controlled and they had him wheeling around, flashing his eyes. Very cool.


At that point, it was time for the Opening Ceremonies. Good thing I arrived relatively early, because the room ended up being too small for the crowd, and I was lucky to get a seat. By the time things were under way, it was standing room only. The best part of the event might have been after most of the crowd was in, just before proceedings got under way, when author David Weber made a grand entrance, whistled-in and accompanied by a troop of uniformed members of the Royal Manticoran Navy. I've heard of Trekkies, of the 501st Legion, of Browncoats, and Bronies — even Achievers (big fans of The Big Lebowski) — but until today, I'd never heard of a dedicated Honor Harrington fan club, much less a costumed one. Well, if that's what you like, what the hell. While the first half of the event was thankfully quick and to the point, the final section was strangely irrelevant and tedious. Oh well. On the whole, the Opening Ceremonies didn't run more than half an hour or so, and, having a chair, that was fine with me.

After a bit of a break, I went to Weber's first signing (in a smart scheduling move, the con organizers have anticipated that Weber's probably going to have a large number of fans looking for autographs, so they've booked a couple of signing sessions for him over the weekend). I haven't read much of his stuff, but a friend of mine, Sarah, who lives back east, is a huge fan of Weber's, and since she couldn't make it out to BC for the con, I offered to get a couple of her favourite books signed for her (Basilisk Station and The Apocalypse Troll). While I was at it, I figured I'd get him to sign my copy of The Space Opera Renaissance anthology, which includes one of his stories. One thing that hit me right away: with three books in hand, I probably had the shortest stack in the room (hey, it's not the size of your stack that matters, it's the books you've chosen!). Five seemed to be the minimum, and most people had more than that. Some, after they'd received their autographs, were even talking about hauling in more piles of books tomorrow. Happy is the author with such dedicated fans! And Weber himself did seem pretty cheerful. I'd been told before that he likes chatting, and, true to form, he kept up a non-stop patter with everyone who asked for a signature. Lots of interesting anecdotes, and, overall, a nice guy who knows how to give his fans a good signing experience.

Mission accomplished, I decided to call it a day. Yeah, there were a few other sessions going into the evening, and the Book Launch event, but none of them really looked interesting to me. Better to get some supper at a reasonable time and spend the evening with my wife, who's been nursing a cold these past few days, before hitting the computer and typing up this nonsense.

Now, let's see how early I can get started tomorrow! Or not.