Friday, October 27, 2006

"The Baby Merchant" Delivers

I just finished reading Kit Reed's new novel "The Baby Merchant" a few days ago, and I’ve gotta say hats-off for another brilliant success!
The story revolves around a group of characters living in America of the not-too-distant future where birth rates have tanked (due to reasons speculated on only briefly), domestic adoptions have become more difficult than applying for a bank loan to build a paper mache donut shop in the middle of Tornado Alley, closed borders prevent trans-national adoption, and childless couples are becoming increasingly desperate to get children any way they can. Into this void steps Tom Starbird, a low-key black market operator who, for the right (and very high) price, snatches “unwanted” babies from their biological parents and puts them into the hands of his rich clients. Tom finds himself at the mercies of attack-dog journalist Jake Zorn who tosses ethics by the wayside in his crusade to get a baby for himself and his wife Maury. In the middle of the mess is Sasha Egan: pregnant with an unplanned child, escaped from the birth/adoption centre she’d chosen and on-the-run from the child’s father Gary, a one-night-stand hired by Sasha’s grasping grandmother to bring the baby back to the family compound.
I think what the book is really about, though, is imprisonment. How a person deals with it and most importantly, how they escape. And we’re not just talking about physical imprisonment here (although entrapment in institutions certainly is a factor for some characters at some points in the novel), but psychological and emotional imprisonment imposed upon one character by another or by society, and by one character upon him/her self.
Nearly every character in this book is imprisoned in some way at some point.
Sasha begins the tale imprisoned in the birthing/adoption agency. While she’s there by her own choice, once inside she’s confined and harassed like a prisoner by staff who seem to have taken their cue from “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest”. She’s there because she’s fleeing from the likelihood of virtual imprisonment if she’s found by her grandmother. Sasha views her pregnancy as a sort of shackling as well: her body isn’t capable of doing what she wants it to in terms of escaping from Gary and her girth doesn’t allow her to disappear into the crowd once she’s left the institution. The confines of her motel room in Savannah quickly start to feel like a prison to her. When the baby’s born, Sasha initially feels hostage to its needs and schedules. And in the end, when her baby, Jimmy, is stolen, she certainly feels entrapped by the police who interrogate her like a suspect after she’s called them in to help her find the child.
And yet, despite these many manacles that seemingly weigh upon Sasha, she manages to overcome all obstacles and create a freedom for herself and her baby on her own terms. Sasha enters the birthing/adoption centre as a means of eluding capture by her grandmother. She escapes the centre to get away from Gary, but it feels also to reclaim control of her life and her baby’s destiny that’s denied to her by the staff. The prison of the motel room is transformed into a home of sorts once she begins adding personal touches. Sasha endures pregnancy and the early crises of caregiving and transforms herself and is transformed by those circumstances into a mother who bonds with her son and comes to the realization that he’s a part of her life that she can’t part with and which she doesn’t want to lose. This expands within her exponentially once the baby’s taken and she goes on the warpath, turning the tables on the cops who suspected her and forcing them to give her everything she wants to get her son back. Sasha ends the novel having recovered her baby and redefining her life on her own terms, answerable to no-one other than her son.
For his part, Tom Starbird is imprisoned right from the start by the events of his own childhood – by his need to ensure that the few babies left in the country are safely with parents who want them and who will love them and provide them with the very best. Despite coming from an unaffectionate home, Tom is also trapped by the love every child feels for its mother. What’s Brandon Lee’s line from “The Crow”? Something like “Mother is the name for God on the hearts of children everywhere”? Why do many abused children desperately crave the affection of the very parents who hurt them? Tom is one of these, who, even as an adult who is determined to make sure no child is raised by a mother who doesn’t want him, still is willing to allow Jake Zorn’s blackmail and violate his personal code of conduct in order to protect the mother who ditched him front of a mall. Tom’s also a prisoner to his frigid philosophy of refusing to allow any emotion in his business dealings. While this protects him from forming attachments that could interfere with his kidnapping and baby selling, it also serves to completely alienate him from all other human beings.
But Starbird also (and I think this is obviously why his last name is such an allusion to the phoenix) is reborn into some kind of freedom. First by re-defining his life along minimalist lines so that he can focus on looking into himself. But most importantly by his growing unease with his trade and final project, and his eventual breakthrough where he watches Sasha’s tirade on TV and realizes that what he does is wrong. This motivates Tom not only to arrange to have the baby returned to Sasha, but to put Zorn in his place. And more importantly still, it forces Starbird to reach out to Sasha, to contact her, and in the process knowingly expose himself to the law, to try to apologize. He is transformed into a human being through this. So, despite the fact that he will be imprisoned and possibly executed for his crimes, Tom is able to attain a freedom of spirit.
Then there’s Maury, the intelligent, attractive, confident lawyer who has it all – except a child. She’s trapped by her desire to be a mother. So much so that she’s willing to force down her unease, suspicions and legal training as her husband strings her along with his secret plan to get her a child. Maury’s shackled by her repeated, unsuccessful pregnancies in the past. By her past suicide attempt after yet another stillbirth that hospitalized her and now makes it impossible for her to get a child through a proper adoption agency. By society’s expectation that a woman isn’t a woman unless she’s a mother.
But Maury rises above it all in the end by using her intelligence and legal skill to adopt a child – legally - in need against all odds and without the interference of Jake.
Jake Zorn, the so-called “Conscience of Boston”, is a prisoner of his own ego. He must get everything he wants when he wants it, and he must show his targets that he is the utter master of the situation. Jake is a man who ultimately wants to be a god, to tell the public what he thinks they need to know, to hold the fate of her prey/interview subjects in the palm of his hand, to provide his wife with everything she wants to make her happy, to rear a son to be an everlasting symbol of Jake’s own greatness. What irks him the most is that he can’t get a baby for his wife. The system defies him. And he is denied again when he initially tries to go through Starbird. Which is why he decides to blackmail Tom into doing the job, all the while preparing to take Starbird down anyway. Jake is then literally imprisoned when Tom comes clean in the media and provides evidence of Zorn’s involvement.
Does Jake manage to escape total imprisonment though? I think so. The conclusion of the novel seems to indicate he’s not completely despicable. Despite Maury’s complicity in the attempt to illegally obtain a baby, Jake falls on his sword and makes sure the wrath of the law comes down on him and him alone. Sure, Maury’s lawfirm helps keep her clean, but what’s most important is that Jake does his best to protect her. You might, in a cynical moment, say this is another example of Zorn hogging the spotlight, but I think he takes the fall solo because he does actually care for Maury. Because of that, he is not entirely out of grace.
There are a whole host of secondary and minor characters in “The Baby Merchant” who also grapple with imprisonment.
Tom’s mother has been institutionalized in psychiatric hospitals twice. She’s been medicated to control her mood swings. She’s been in Jake Zorn’s sights. And she’s been shackled with the twin burdens of professional mediocrity and the duties of motherhood – a motherhood that initially was intentional, but came with a legion of unwanted responsibilities and no creative reward.
Sasha’s grandmother is trapped in her need for an heir to the family empire. She’s also denied access to little Jimmy by Sasha at the end.
Jimmy Egan was imprisoned in a box and a pet carrier when he was kidnapped by Tom. You might also say that his time in the womb was imprisonment of a sort, which required his birth and subsequent bonding with his mother to truly escape.
Gary, the one-night-stand who fathered Jimmy, is subject to his own greed, and is eventually killed as a result of it.
Marilyn, the owner of the motel is a prisoner to an unsatisfying life that offers no escape beyond her brief attempts to fool herself through an abuse of makeup or clothing or go-nowhere affairs.
Marilyn’s tubby son Delroy is a prisoner to his own greed and lack of morality, as well as bottomless appetite and his mother’s heavy hand.
Even the police are held captive by Sasha’s rage once the truth comes out that the baby has actually been abducted.
What’s also interesting, is that imprisonment seems to be a theme of one of Reed’s other books “Thinner than Thou”, where characters grapple with the confines of institutional confinement, mental illness, physical problems and social intolerance.
I must say, it is intellectually freeing to read Kit Reed’s takes on what it means to be imprisoned and what is necessary to escape.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Bountiful Harvest Season For Sci-Fi Nuts

It’s been a good harvest this year for speculative fiction fans as far as television is concerned.
For years sci-fi fans were starved for decent entertainment, our hope being kept alive by the occasional successful crop in the form of “Babylon 5”, “The X-Files”, “Firefly” or the odd good season in the hit-and-miss hodgepodge of Star Trek franchises (which have averaged-out to stagnation – especially since some channels insist on running them all back-to-back endlessly – I like Trek once in a while, but not that much!). Oh sure, there were bushels of new “Red Dwarf” series’ that came in from the Brits once in a while, and I’ll even give the nod to the “Stargate” and “Buffy” franchises on behalf of friends who got a big kick out of them (I only bothered to watch a handful of episodes of each myself, and while I wasn’t thrilled, I wasn’t disappointed either). I’ll even grudgingly and somewhat sheepishly admit I’m still on the fence as to whether “Hercules” and “Xena” had any value (again, some friends loved ‘em, others hated ‘em, and I saw the odd episode that inspired respect or derision once in a while). But for the most part, television’s contributions to sci-fi over the past decade or so have been loaded with campy, televised junkfood like “Relic Hunter” or rehashes of “Conan”, “Sinbad” or “The Beastmaster”. The formula: throw some leggy lady or pumped dude into leather, contrive a quest, and set them in the backwoods of New Zealand or Canada pitted against whatever bad guy has come up again on the extras roster. In fact, for a while there, these types of visual cholesterol were all but completely clogging the arteries of Canada’s Space Channel. I haven’t a clue as to whether it was this bad on other SF-dedicated channels across the globe. On one hand, I hope not – I wouldn’t wish that kind of waste of airtime on any other culture. On the other hand, I kinda hope it was bad all around, ‘cause then it wouldn’t mean that programming here in the Great White North was leading the world in lack of quality and imagination. For a few years there were stretches where you’d be lucky to get one worthwhile show per week. Maybe two if the stars were aligned. Yeah. The harvest was bad for a while.
But things have been on the upswing for the past two years or so. And this autumn, oh, this autumn has been a bounty for tasty produce indeed. Some series are returning, putting all their energy into raising the bar, while some new shows are hitting the air with plenty of promise. It’s not like there’s something on every night, but the average is now more along the lines of at least 2 good nights out of 7, sometimes more, depending on your local programming schedule.
Coming in at the number one position: “Battlestar Galactica” season 3. This is the best show on television. It has been since the debut of the initial mini-series. I will go out on a limb and say it is easily one of the best shows of any television genre. Ever. I could easily write a whole blog entry (and there are some fans who devote entire websites) to why this show is so great. In a nutshell: unparalleled story-telling delivered by some of the best actors around, backed by top-notch directing, production, special effects and musical score. Its leap from the inspiration of the original 1970’s Battlestar is equivalent of going from cavemen eating raw grain to modern people creating all manner of baked goods like French bread or cake or Chinese soup buns. Even my wife, who’s a loyal follower of the mainstream “Law & Order” and “CSI” franchises, has become an avid “Battlestar” fan. The stories and realistic characters in “Battlestar Galactica” are so compelling that you don’t even have to have been on board with the series from the beginning – you could just pick it up on any given episode and without the back-story (although you do get a rough set-up in the opening credits) still get drawn into the lives of the people on screen. The new “Battlestar Galactica” is a shining example of how television can rise above the trough of mediocre swill to provide the ultimate in fine dining for storytelling.
I’m also quite impressed with this fall’s new network series “Heroes”. The show chronicles the lives of a group of diverse people from around the world who begin to discover they have super powers. The story lines have been solid and interesting and the cast has held its own. While my jaw hasn’t hit the floor watching this show, “Heroes” certainly has not disappointed and I haven’t regretted making a point of tuning in every week to watch. I’m eager to see where they go with this concept.
Then there’s “Eureka” a creation of the Americans’ Sci-Fi Channel that’s essentially the bastard child of “Northern Exposure” and “Men in Black”. A cop becomes the sheriff of a small town that just happens to be a genius colony. Many zany inventions toted by quirky brainiacs. Normal-guy cop tries to keep his bearings as adventure and mystery ensue. I missed the pilot, but have watched a few episodes and have been reasonably entertained. Something that I’d watch if it was on, but not a show I’ll be actively pursuing. If this degree of quality becomes the bench-mark for “average” TV sci-fi fare, I’ll be satisfied.
And there’s the much-applauded “Jericho”. I have to admit, I haven’t seen more than a few minutes of this one. It’s not because I dislike the show, merely that I missed the pilot and since then, by chance, I haven’t had time to watch a full episode. That being said, I have friends who’s opinion I respect who are giving “Jericho” high marks, so I’ll keep my mind open and at some point I figure I’ll catch it in reruns and get up to speed.
Last on my boob-tube list is the new season/series of “Dr. Who”. Now, this is a show that’s got more than a little nostalgia value for me. I grew up with The Doctor running on TV Ontario. My favourite of the previous incarnations was the gangly Fourth Doctor with his long scarf. Fast-forward many years (no Tardis required) to last year when the new series hit the airwaves here in North America. For some reason, maybe it was the portrayal of the Doctor, maybe it was the story lines, I wasn’t terribly impressed with the revival. This year is a whole other story. I’ve managed to catch a couple of episodes with David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor, and the show has been terrific. Maybe it’s the Doctor’s vacillation between serious scientist/explorer and his tendency to behave like a wacky 10-year-old on a romp with some cool toys. Maybe the story lines are a little more interesting. I’m not sure. I do know that what I’ve seen has given me plenty of incentive to start watching the new “Doctor Who” on a regular basis.
Of course, regardless of the show in question, the real test of the truly good ones is whether they can maintain their quality and better yet, exceed the benchmarks they’ve already set and offer us new flavours, or whether they’ll tire and sink back into blandness. I’ve got my fingers crossed for all of the shows listed above.
So what are you watching this season? Is there something the rest of us should be keeping an eye out for?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

More On VCon 31

Just came across two other favourable reviews for VCon31. Check out author Robert J. Sawyer’s blog entry from October 10th:
And another from Ahmed A. Khan that Sawyer recommends on his site:
I’ve gotta say, one of my regrets about not being able to take in Saturday & Sunday at the con was that I wasn’t able to meet Sawyer and congratulate him on an amazing body of work. My favourites among his novels are “Calculating God” and “Flash Forward”. Sawyer is a writer who excels at combining high concept plot points like being able to get a glimpse of the future with hard science to form the background of stories involving believable, three-dimensional characters. Admittedly, I’m not a ravening fan who grabs everything he publishes as soon as it’s out – I haven’t bothered to pick up the last couple of issues of Analog just to get my hands on the serialization of his newest creation “Rollback”, but you can bet that once the installments have been gathered and printed out in the form of a single novel, I’ll add it to my collection at some point. I haven’t come across a Sawyer novel yet that hasn’t been a good read.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Busy Weekend: Thanksgiving, Mid-Autumn Festival, Our Anniversary and Getting Conned - VCon 31

Happy belated Thanksgiving everyone! For those of you from other corners of the internet marketplace of ideas, Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving at the beginning of October, unlike our friends to the south who don’t tend to have fowl dreams until well into November. The advantage of scheduling the festivities at this time of the season is that after the initial feast at a dining room table groaning under the weight of a massive, juicy roast turkey with crisp, brown skin and rivers of thick, heady gravy flowing down mountains of garlic mashed potatoes across the plains of your plate to crash into cliffs of flakey butter buns, and then after the weeks of piling through leftovers in the form of re-plated bird, ‘taters, stuffing and the like, or turkey soup, or gravy bread, or turkey sandwiches, or turkey burritos, or…you get the idea, after we’ve slogged through all of that, we can turn our minds to the sweet gluttony of Hallowe’en and then have the better part of two months to let it mellow into a fond memory simmering just below the surface to prime us for eager anticipation of another turkey dinner come Christmas. The Americans, on the other hand, get a turkey double-tap with scarcely a month’s gap – so close it’s surprising they can even tolerate the thought of a second face-off with a gobbler mid-winter. At any rate, Thanksgiving was good this year. Although the holiday was technically on Monday, we celebrated on Sunday for convenience – easier to do prep on Saturday, cooking & feasting on Sunday, and contented recovery on Monday. Lots of good food and a bunch of good friends gathered around the table.
We also celebrated the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival this past weekend. Take your pick of the many legends behind this holiday, whether they have to do with goddesses in the moon or heroes shooting down burning suns with their bows. The season sees Chinese children staying up late to play with lanterns and candles under the moon while everyone munches on Moon Cakes. Salty or sweet, depending on your preference, and the more duck egg yolks buried in the Moon Cake’s centre, the more money you’ll be paying to buy them – never mind how much you’ll spend trying to get your cholesterol down later!
What do these holidays have to do with speculative fiction? You might argue not much. But, there is a certain magic to these celebrations… epic myths from ancient China, mighty Thanksgiving feasts in the West that harken back to harvest revels in days of yore where stories would be shared over a groaning mead-board piled with good food as everyone sought comfort before the coming winter. There is a magic to any time that brings people of many backgrounds together in friendship. Sentimental? Sure. But no less true. I think of the almost-four-year-old son of our friends who were over for the feast on Sunday night, playing with his golden lantern, still content from a Mid-Autumn festival celebration the night before, as he chomped on turkey dinner or a pumpkin-shaped cookie at the first Thanksgiving his family had taken part in, and I think there’s a certain magic in that too… where a boy can grow into the future enjoying the best of two different cultures. What fiction can equal that? Like I said, sentimental but true.
This past weekend also marked our first anniversary. My wife and I took some time Monday evening to talk about the past year and watch our wedding DVD for a few laughs.
And if that wasn’t enough, I took in day 1 of VCon 31 – the Vancouver Science Fiction, Fantasy and Gaming Convention on Friday, which I enjoyed immensely. I must confess, it’s only the second con I’ve attended. The first was ConAdian – the 52nd World Science Fiction Convention held in Winnipeg, Manitoba back in Sept. 1994.
It’s not that I haven’t wanted to attend other cons, it’s just that higher priority family events, work obligations or money or timing issues (or combinations of the four) have interfered. And even if none of the above had stood in the way, I’m not sure that I would have attended all the annual cons in whatever province I was living in, or some of the bigger national or international cons here in Canada or the US. I think that while I am, as a fan, a member of this community, I don’t feel the need to immerse myself in it all the time. I’m more of a passive observer who occasionally dips into the experience. I guess if the con scene was a city and the people who attend it were its citizens, I’d be someone content to live in the suburbs who makes the odd foray into town to keep in touch and see what’s happening.
That being said, I do enjoy these trips into Conville, and where time, money and personal and work scheduling permit, I may find myself making more excursions. This year was a no-brainer: Vcon 31 was held at a hotel in Richmond (just south of Vancouver) just a stone’s throw from the house – I could have walked there in 20 minutes, instead, pressed for time, I drove there in 5. And the stars were aligned for scheduling, because I was actually able to make some time to attend this year. So I went. To be sure, the seeming convenience of holding the con over the Thanksgiving long weekend was actually problematic – if you’ve got family, it’s difficult to be able to take in the entire event. In fact, the holiday might have prevented some from attending altogether who would otherwise have come. For my part, shopping and prep work nixed the chance of attending on Sat, and Sun was out because of the cooking during the daytime and feasting in the evening. So it was Friday, opening day, by default. And while there were a number of panels I would have loved to attend on Sat & Sun, what I was able to take in on Fri did the trick.
It was a small turnout on Fri (I expect, given the number of people I saw checking in at the end of the day, things were busier later during the weekend), but that didn’t detract from the appeal of the con. In fact, it’s actually nicer to have your choice of seats in the rooms holding the panel discussions, or to be able to take your time checking out the art displays or browsing in the dealers’ room.
Hats off especially to the organizers for assembling some great writers' panels with interesting, intelligent themes. In fact, I think that’s what impressed me the most: the commitment to intelligent discourse about speculative fiction, writing in general, about science and history. No crowded halls of drooling fans quizzing actors about pointless minutia of their shows. No authors expounding on their own greatness (something that really turned me off of one grand matron of the genre back in '94 - but that's a story for another time). These sessions encouraged the panelists, and for the most part, the fans, to debate moral and scientific issues, to investigate literary style.
I was fortunate enough to attend the following panels: How Stories End, Near-Future SF, Living on the Moon and Mars and Historical Fiction: Where Does History End and Fantasy Begin?
My favourites, without a doubt, were How Stories End and Near Future SF. Both featured lively debate among smart panelists with some interesting questions and comments from the audience.
How Stories End explored why authors write the endings they do - what literary logic is involved in steering the story’s course, how much does the author have a responsibility to the demands of the audience for a particular ending and how much should this be taken into consideration, the impact of focus groups on television and film and whether this “tool” of Hollywood would have corrupted the endings of pre-focus group movies of the past, along with many other issues. The session also featured a bit of tension between a couple of the panelists, but that served to add a little more energy to the debate and things did remain professional. Another panelist, during the "how would focus groups have affected the outcome of older movies" discussion, dropped a quick reference to my guilty pleasure: "Walt Disney's The Black Hole". It came during another panelist's pause for a breath, so I don't think too many other people caught it, but I'll grudgingly admit it gave me a surge of pure fanboy glee. That being said, it does raise the strange question (which would have made a great discussion if the panel had seized on it) of whether a focus group could actually save a movie from a bad ending. Would it have been possible for a randomly selected collection of yokels representing the "average" moviegoer to have moved the mighty Disney machine to change the ending of "The Black Hole" to make it, well, make sense? One can only wonder.
Near Future SF was not, as some might fear, a simple checklist of what author made what prediction and was it right or wrong. Rather, the panel examined the effects of technology, nature and changing human psychology and sociology on culture and humanity itself, and how authors have interpreted these factors and reflected them in their fiction.
I’d say the only real downer on the day came during the Living on the Moon and Mars panel. It was a display of utter crassness from some audience members that became the perfect example of where fandom can get a bad name. And, to be clear, I'm not talking about the stereotypes of how fans look. Personally, I don't care whether someone is dressed in non-descript clothing like I was, whether they look like the epitome of the computer geek with the coke-bottle glasses, whether they're in Renaissance period costume, whether they're muscled and sporting flowing tresses, or whether they're a 350 pound transvestite goth. All of those physical types and more were present at the con and these panels, and pretty much all of them had worth-while comments to share and behaved with caring and consideration towards each other, the panelists/guests and the organizers. No. I'm talking about the shitty attitude a very small minority of people (without reference to any physical type of mode of dress) carry around that makes them think that they, even though they've probably never been published or been publicly acknowledged or applauded by any member of the speculative fiction community or have any degree of scientific or cultural expertise, are intellectual giants who have the right to take cheap pot-shots at anyone who's from outside their own limited experience or who has the guts to address a crowd. I'm talking about the self-deluded few who's snideness has transformed them (likely without their knowing) into living charicatures of the worst aspects of fandom - the Comic Book Guy from "The Simpsons". What's saddest of all is that society in general tends to hold the mistaken belief that this tiny percentage of fandom actually represents everyone who loves speculative fiction. These fuckers give us all a bad name and I'm sick of it.
Here's how the debacle went down: Sci-fi author and retired physics and astronomy prof James C. Glass and David Bigelow, who builds electrical control panels and is a sometime writer, were the panelists. Things took a turn for the pointless right from the start. During the introductions, Bigelow identified himself and made some mention of a particular career he is or was involved in (I can’t remember what) - a pursuit that was not related to astronomy. Without missing a beat, some complete jackass in the audience pounced on Bigelow, saying something to the effect of “Then I guess you don’t know anything about what’s involved in traveling to or colonizing the Moon and Mars!”
There’s no excuse for putting a guest speaker down, especially not before the discussion’s even begun. Clearly this idiot in the crowd is so high on himself that he’s incapable of considering that maybe, just maybe, the con organizers chose Bigelow to take part in the panel because even though he’s not a pro astronomer he may have put a hell of a lot of research into this kind of stuff on his own time and might just know what he’s talking about. Or maybe that his different field of expertise might be relevant in some way that this loser can’t conceive. Or maybe that he's read a ton of the stories in the field that concern colonization and can comment on its literary portrayal. More to the point, the know-it-all doesn’t understand or care that the rest of us in the audience who are aware of the concept of respect didn’t pay our con membership fees to listen to the likes of yappy little freaks like him. The fact is that while Glass, as the expert in the room, spoke in the most detail about the practicalities of colonization and deep space flight, Bigelow did have a number of worthwhile things to say. For his part, the idiot in the audience did not.
And that brings me to the other matter that bugged me about that session: a general problem at cons… outta control fanboys. Audience participation at panel discussions, when kept focused and carefully moderated by the panel, can be intelligent, entertaining and worth while. But some members of audiences should be actively ignored or better yet, shut down quickly by moderators, and never allowed to speak their minds (or their pathetic excuses for minds) either because they have nothing to say beyond “you know what’s cool…” or because they’re rude, or because they won't shut up - they believe in their heart of hearts they're members of the panel too, or because they're determined to steal the spotlight for themselves because they’re not actually interested in listening to the panel.
The Living on the Moon and Mars presentation was an example of where two losers in the audience took every opportunity they could to hijack the session and pontificate on their own views of what deep space exploration and colonization would be like, irrespective of the actual science involved that Glass and Bigelow were discussing. It bugs me that these two fools wasted probably 10 minutes with their blather, taking full advantage of the politeness of the panelists who allowed them to speak. I would rather that time had gone to the panelists to make their sound predictions, or even that we had been able to use that 10 minutes to leave the room early to stretch our legs before the next seminar, than to a pair of dweebs interested only in masturbating their own imaginations in front of the rest of us. You wanna share your half-baked notions? Write a story, produce a television pilot or movie, or launch a blog. If the rest of the human race is remotely interested, people will read, watch, or log-on, and maybe then you'll eventually earn your place at a panelist's table to share your views with an audience. Until then, on behalf of everyone else who's parents and/or life experience taught them basic respect for others: sit down, shut up, and quit wasting our time! We didn't come to the con to listen to you!
Of course, that begs the question, why didn't ol' bloginhood or someone else in the audience take the initiative and shut these jokers down? Simple: respect for the panelists. The two idiots had already hijacked enough time, and getting into an argument with them would have just wasted more. And getting into a scene in the hallway afterward (in addition to being waaaaay too highschool) would have also probably failed to achieve results, and would have interefered with getting to the next panel on time. No, I think in these cases, it's up to the panel moderator to stare the grandstander in the eye and say "Thanks for your comments, but you're off topic and we'd like to give the panelists a chance to speak." In the case of out-and-out rudeness such as the insult at the beginning of the panel in question, I think it's up to the moderator, on behalf of the con organizers, to either give the offending fanboy a warning or to ask him to leave.
But, I guess there’s no such thing as a perfect con and if there were only two losers in an entire day of panels at the event, then the con was batting a pretty good average. And that being said, what Glass and Bigelow had to say about underground colonies, supply issues, radiation dangers and other practicalities was quite interesting.
I was also quite happy with the dealers’ room. Granted, some of the tables were empty Fri afternoon (I got the impression the room would be full by Sat), but I was able to spend some time chatting with the friendly folks at the Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing table, where I picked up some very nice back-issues of anthologies that you just can’t find on bookstore shelves anymore. I was able to secure copies of the “Tesseracts” anthology – volumes 1, 3 and 4, “On Spec: The First Five Years” and “land/space: An Anthology of Prairie Speculative Fiction”. The bonus: they were all old warehouse stock, so I was able to get them for the original cover prices! He shoots, he scores!
All in all, a good weekend.