Sunday, October 21, 2007

VCon - Day 2

Climbing to the top of the stairs this morning to the hotel’s convention level, VCon32/Canvention27 seemed like a different event than yesterday. Most displays, etc were set up yesterday, but there were still some holes – some boards in the art room needed to be filled, some tables in the dealer’s room were empty, the gaming room was relatively quiet, and while there were people in attendance, there was plenty of room usually. Today was a whole different ball game. I don’t have a formal head-count from the organizers, but there were a lot more Con-goers on site – it appeared like the numbers had tripled or quadrupaled (I could be wrong, but that’s how it looked). And they seemed a more lively bunch too – more groups chatting, more old friends re-uniting in the hallways, more people in costume (although the heavy costume presence may have been due to the fact that the masquerade and masked ball were this evening). Certainly there was more spirit in the air. A great way to start off the day’s activities.

And the start for me was watching the panel discussion on “The State of Canadian SF & Fantasy”. Panelists included Rob Sawyer and Lisa Smedman, to name a few, and there were a number of authors in the audience, including Dave Duncan. The session saw passionate talk about the nature of the publishing industry and how it deals with Canadian authors. That point evolved into the classic question of what makes Canadian SF Canadian (an ironic but key facet of our national identity is that Canadians are constantly trying to figure out what exactly our national identity is), and from there into the larger issue of what makes Canadian culture unique compared to the rest of the world. Some would call this naval-gazing, and they wouldn’t be wrong, but this degree of introspection and debate is one of the things that binds us (with all of our diverse backgrounds that are not only tolerated, but encouraged) together here in the true north strong and free. At an operational level, in many ways this session was an excellent example of how to achieve a balance between vigourous discussion among panel members and the inclusion of intelligent audience participation. The first session of the day at an Con can set the tone for the rest of the day, and after this one, despite a being up waaaaaay too late last night, I came out invigorated and enthusiastic.

After that it was over to a Q&A session with Peter S. Beagle. Beagle’s an immensely charming man with a never-ending supply of stories. He gave equal attention and consideration to every question that was asked by the audience, no matter how trivial or profound, whether it was asked by old fans or young children. And his stories were all quite entertaining and delivered in a careful, thoughtful pace that never strayed into babbling or ego. He reminisced about how a painting given to him by a friend helped, in part, to inspire “The Last Unicorn”. He answered questions about his cats and told us of one white Persian who preferred the company of dogs. He spoke at length about the two actors with, in his opinion, the greatest knowledge of literature: the incomparable Christopher Lee (who was passionate about being part of “The Last Unicorn” and said in an Austrian interview it was the closest he’d get to playing King Lear) and the late Sorrell Booke (or Brooke) of “The Dukes of Hazzard” fame. Beagle told us how he once asked Booke why we was doing a show like “The Dukes of Hazzard” when he could be doing serious acting on any stage of his choosing – Booke apparently responded that one pay cheque for one episode of “The Dukes” would buy him a lot of books. Definitely a great session to just sit back and listen to a master story-teller.

Next was a panel discussion on “Killing Off Characters”. There was a lot of interesting talk around gratuitous versus plot-necessary death, audience manipulation, logic in setting up deaths, consequences and even the logic involved to bring a character back from the dead (in whatever form) without undermining the story’s credibility within itself. That being said, the session was undermined somewhat by a couple of overzealous fans in the audience who frequently attempted to monopolize the panel’s time (one of the fans in question even got waved-off by a panelist she’d tried to interrupt on one occasion and was asked quietly by another member of the audience on another occasion to let people finish). I hate to keep harping on this beef, but it’s this kind of socially maladjusted behaviour that breaks the flow of an otherwise good debate or prevents other audience members from having the time to ask questions or make points that are actually intelligent and worth while. Getting back to the panel though, one of the great examples they brought up for gratuitous deaths meant to manipulate the audience (and the financial bottom-line) was the death of Superman, where a villain was created specifically by the authors to kill the previously unkillable hero so the line could sell a record number of copies and rake in huge profits before bringing Ka’Lel back. The panel’s example of a well-thought-out and plot-logical death was the recent assassination of Captain America, who’d come out against the US government’s superhero registration laws in the Marvel universe, thus making himself politically inconvenient and a target. Panelists also discussed the nature of the body counts in horror movies, as well as the purpose of including shocking, unexpected deaths in books and film (like that of Wash in “Serenity”). On the whole, this session was worth while.

After this block was over, I had a few hours on my hands – there weren’t any panels for a while that interested me and that was fine since it was high time to step out onto the strip and grab some chow. When I came back, I made my way to the dealers room again where I bought a stack of books from a publisher’s table (including an advance copy of “Tesseracts 11” – woohoo!) and a bunch of back-isues of On-Spec at that magazine’s booth. That purchase had the added bonus of giving me a chance to meet On-Spec’s Managing Editor, Diane Walton, and have a nice chat.
I then moseyed over to the far end of the room where Peter Beagle was signing books. He autographed my copies of “The Last Unicorn” and “The Line Between”, but what was better was the chance to talk with him one-on-one for a little while. He’s a warm and personable fellow who makes a genuine effort to pay attention to the people he’s talking with and to have a two-way discussion instead of merely pontificating. He spoke about how he feels more of a muscial influence when he’s writing than visual art, and noted that he doesn’t have music on when he writes because that might distract him from the music in his head – rather, he listens to baseball and will switch his attention from writing to the game when he picks up on something major.That led him to inquire about my name and recount stories of an old ballplayer from the 50’s who had the same last name (no relation, except very distant, I think). To me, the fact that he would look at a fan’s name tag and get into a conversation focusing, at least to some degree, on the fan instead of himself, underscored the fact that he’s a class act.
More wandering around brought me upstairs to the movie room, where a small group was well into that classic hunk of cheese “ Robot Monster”, heckling it mercilessly. I stayed for a while and joined in the fun – there’s nothing like slinging smart-ass remarks at a bad movie to bring strangers together. (“Hey, that young couple’s fooling around without any birth control!” – “Yeah, but that big dude in the gorilla suit with the cheap space helmet who just wiped-out every other living thing on the planet is probably birth control enough!” – “Only if he can catch them with that slow walk!”) I left after about 20 minutes though ‘cause the room was too damn hot.

My final session of the day was “Slayers, Champions & Space Rogues: The Joss Whedon Panel”. I think I would have enjoyed this one more if I’d been a “Buffy” or “Angel” fan. As it is, my preference is for “Firefly”. Now, for all you Buffy fans out there who might be preparing to take umbrage, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trashing on that show at all. I don’t dislike it, I merely never got into it. (I’ve got a buddy who’s constantly trying to convince me to borrow his Buffy season one collection though, so someday I may give in) I’ve seen a couple of episodes of Buffy and Angel here and there and thought they were entertaining enough, but I just never felt the urge to become a follower of the shows while they were around. “Firefly”, on the other hand, got me hooked after one episode. At any rate, it felt like 60%-75% of the talk from this panel and audience was Buffy-related, so while I wasn’t put off, I sat through it feeling generally detached. What “Firefly” discussion there was was okay, but nothing scintillating.

After that, I called it a day. I could have stuck around for a screening of “The Thing” (the original 50’s version, not Carpenter’s gore-fest), but the thought of the heat in that little room turned me off. There was also the Masquerade and Masked Ball this evening, but that’s not really my scene. Better to come home, rest, post the day’s blog and figure out what to take in tomorrow.

Stay tuned.
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