Saturday, October 20, 2007

VCon - Day 1

Launch day for VCon 32/Canvention 27 – outside: a chilly day in October with one hell of a wind and rain storm blasting in from the Pacific to lash BC’s Lower Mainland. Not unusual for the fall in these parts. But, inside the comfort of the Radisson in Richmond, things got off to a good start (for the most part).

Registration started at noon, but I didn’t get in until 3 – right around the time the first panels/sessions/seminars/whatever were getting under way. Things at the registration desk were well organized and were running quickly enough (a nice improvement over last year where long lines and registration steps that took forever greeted Con goers). This year’s Con T-shirt looks pretty cool – a black shirt with the Con logo (sporting a dragon) in red. Looking forward to wearing it tomorrow. In addition to the usual flyers for comic shops, game shops, costume designers and the like, the registration desk also featured a couple of tourism guides to the region for out-of-towners. Not a bad idea, but someone probably should have thought to type out a one-sheet list of restaurants in Richmond… the hotel’s at one end of the strip, but if you’re not a local like me, you might not know how much is farther down the road, what type of fare is available, and what the best restaurants are. During the course of the day, I heard several people ask where they could find good, cheap food. Unfortunately, in at least one instance, one of the guys at the registration desk didn’t know the area and wasn’t of any help. I offered a few suggestions, but what with the storm outside, I doubt many people (especially those without cars) went far.

Anyway, on to the Con’s content.

The first session I attended featured a topic that’s probably a staple of many cons: “Where The Heck Is My Hovercar?” Hosted by Neo-Opsis editor Karl Johanson and another fellow (whose name I didn’t catch), it was an interesting discussion with a nice amount of intelligent audience participation about technologies predicted by science fiction – some that came true (like personal communication devices – now cell phones), others that didn’t (the hover car, or the transporter beam), as well as developments and their effects that kind of snuck up on us (like the internet and all of its social ramifications). A sad irony about this session (unknown to those of us at the Con at the time – I didn’t find out until the drive home) was that while we were taking part in a discussion that used the idea of a hovercar (a mass-market available means of easy local airtravel), a small plane crashed into a condo tower nearby. Makes me wonder if it’s not a good thing that there aren’t more vehicles in the air to be prone to accidents that can affect residential areas.

Once that was over there was a time block where none of the sessions really interested me, so I wandered around for a bit. The dealers’ room was partially up and running – still a few empty tables though. I’ll probably check back tomorrow and pick a few things up. Next door the gaming room was all but empty (although it was quite busy by the time I left early in the evening). The art room was pretty much the same scene as the dealers’ – some displays up, some walls empty, more to come tomorrow. Checked out the hospitality suite for a minute, then back down to the Con floor.

An odd observation about the amenities provided by the hotel: there were several tables set up in the halls around the Con floor with pitchers of water for the attendees. But there were no glasses. There were no mugs. There weren’t even any plastic beer cups to put the water in. Nope. In their infinite wisdom, the hotel staff provided Con-goers with stacks of Dixie Cups. Dixie Cups? What, like if I’m thirsty I’d only want a shot – maybe a double-shot if I sip, of water? It’s not even like providing Dixie Cups is cheap – they’re a disposable item – they cost money to provide! A glass (or ceramic mug) on the other hand, is washable, and thus doesn’t cost the hotel anything to put out, aside from the odd break, which, let’s face it, probably only puts them out a few pennies considering they’ve got to buy glasses by the case. I heard more than one person complain about the Dixie Cups. I was glad I’d brought a couple of bottles of water in my satchel (shhhhh! Don’t tell the hotel staff- no outside food or drink allowed!). I mean, come on, if I walked around in public drinking out of a Dixie Cup, I’d feel like Brodie from Kevin Smith’s “Mallrats”. Would anybody like a chocolate-covered pretzel?

Anyhow, still with plenty of time to kill before anything interesting, on a whim I wandered into a session called Anime 101. I enjoy some anime, though I’m not a super fan, so I figured it might be an entertaining way to fill an hour. Unfortunately, no. I wasn’t entertained and I didn’t last an hour. More like about 15-20 minutes. Chalk it up to a pair of session hosts with the attitude of The Comic Book Guy from “The Simpsons”, and two guys in the audience (the Quibbler – we’ve all had to put up with this show-off before, interrupting presenters to highlight minutia, and the Refugee From His Mother’s Basement – who has the social skills of a garden slug and thinks the entire thing is set up to be a personal conversation between him and the presenters where he sets the tone) who managed to drag the session waaaaaaay off topic and monopolized far too much time. I wasn’t the first to bail out on this session.

After escaping into the hallway I wandered around for a bit before attending a reading by Canada’s Dean of Science Fiction, Rob Sawyer. I’m a big fan of Sawyer’s stuff, so this was the highlight of the day for me. Aside from the content, it’s enjoyable to attend a session with him because he’s a nice guy who gives a lively performance when he’s reading. Unfortunately, before getting into the reading of his short story “Biding Time”, Sawyer noted that it would be his last work of short fiction. He noted that medium doesn’t pay particularly well and his time can be better spent writing novels. He also pointed out there weren’t many people who’d been steered to his novels by his short stories. Personally, that’s exactly how I got hooked on Sawyer. Once I read his short story “Just Like Old Times” in the anthology “Northern Stars”, I knew I had to see more of what this guy had to offer and began reading his novels. It’s a pity he’s getting out of short fiction (although he did announce a collection of his short stories would be published in February), not only because he’s good at it, but because it’s a form (or length, if you will) of literature that’s still valid – moreso in today’s hurried world where it’s hard to make time to sit down and read a novel for a couple of hours when you’ve got work and family to attend to. But, the man’s entitled to make his own choices and if it means he’ll have more time to write more good novels, I certainly won’t complain. Anyway, Sawyer didn’t disappoint when it came to his reading performance. It was the first time I’d encountered “Biding Time”, and, in fact, I don’t recall having read (or heard) any other story featuring his character Alex Lomax before either. The tale has a definite flim noire mood, heightened by the character of Lomax, the detective, who struck me as very Humphrey Bogart-ish, especially during his conversation with the rotund fossil dealer in the opening (it could have been Bogie and Sidney Greenstreet) and in his interrogation of his suspect at the climax. I had a chance to have a quick chat with Sawyer later out in the hallway when he was signing copies of “Calculating God” and “Flash Forward” for me and he said that when writing the Lomax stories he’d watched all of Bogart’s films to get just the right feel for that type of plot and the people who inhabit it. I’m very much looking forward to that collection of his so I can take a gander at the other Lomax installments.

From there it was on to the opening ceremonies. Strange that the opening ceremonies come near the end of the day, but who am I to argue, this is my second VCon and only the third con I’ve been to (the first was the ’96 WorldCon in Winnipeg, Manitoba). Things got off to a bit of a late start and the opening remarks rambled a bit, but aside from some people being hungry (it was scheduled over the supper hour), most folks know that there’s an easy pace to this kind of thing and thus took it in stride. Then the various Guests of Honour were introduced, the highlight among them being Peter S. Beagle, author of “The Last Unicorn” (among other works). Beagle was warm and sincere. I was struck how his voice is reminiscent of William Shatner’s - the difference being that Beagle isn’t as strident as Shatner. He has a quiet self-confidence, an aura that he’s comfortable with himself and his surroundings and doesn’t neet to show off or prove himself – something Shatner could learn from – and that’s reflected in his voice. Beagle gave a nice speech about his career as a writer, how he sees himself as an artisan, rather than an artist – someone who has to work at his craft and who acknowledges that sometimes it takes a lot of effort to get it right, and that once in a while the results cold be better. His point was that he keeps working at it, and when that kind of dedication is combined with raw talent, it produces something worth while.

After a hearty round of applause, things broke up for a bit. Some people stuck around for the Guest of Honour Concert, the flicks up in the movie room, or the Buffy Sing-Along, but I chose to head home to spend a little time with my wife and cat and get some rest. There’s a blurb in the beginning of the Con’s programme (coined by Ross Pavlac for Windycon XXIV) called “The Four Rules of Con Survival”:
1) Get at least five hours of sleep each night.
2) Eat at least two meals a day.
3) Do not confuse rules 1 and 2.
4) Show, brush teeth and change into clean clothes at least once a day.
I notice that it’s getting really late and that tomorrow will be a full day at the Con, so it’s time to observe Rule 1.

Stay tuned for more updates tomorrow.
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