Monday, October 22, 2007

VCon - Day 3

The Final day of VCon32/Canvention27 and I was off to a late start. Some of the morning programming looked to be of middling interest, but I was up too late last night and I need to get up too early tomorrow morning for work to pass up the opportunity to sleep in a little.

The first activity I attended today was the convention banquet and Aurora Awards ceremony. The lunch itself was pretty lame – no fault of the organizers, this was all the hotel’s doing (remember, this is the same hotel that’s making Con guests drink outta Dixie Cups) – serving beef satays that could only be called beef in that the vastly overcooked chunks of wood on the skewers might have once been shown a picture of a cow. But I was at a table with some nice folks from Whitehorse, Yukon; Missisauga, Ontario; Rockland, Ontario; and Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Aurora ceremony itself was entertaining. The keynote speech, “I am not what I seem”, about personal alienation and how that can be reflective of a writer’s place in society sometimes, was delivered by author Matt Hughes. Author Robert J. Sawyer, who ended up winning one of the awards himself, acted as MC and joked he was giving up his signature Hawaiian shirt-wearing look in favour of wearing black leather jackets like Neil Gaiman. Sawyer went on to point out that where Gaiman had made the mistake of choosing to wear black leather to an outdoor awards presentation this summer in China in 40 degree heat and had suffered for it, he at least could wear a leather jacket in Vancouver in a chilly October and be comfortable.
As for the Aurora Awards themselves…
FAN ACHIEVEMENT – PUBLICATION: Guillaume Voisine for Brins d’Eternite
FAN ACHIVEMENT – ORGANIZATIONAL: Cathy Palmer-Lister for Con*Cept
FAN ACHIVEMENT – OTHER: Christian Sauve, Eric Gauthier & Laurine Spehner for the blog
BEST WORK IN ENGLISH – OTHER: Karl Johanson for Neo-Opsis Magazine
BEST WORK IN FRENCH – OTHER: Jean-Louis Trudel for an article in Solaris Magazine on “The History of Little Green Men”
BEST SHORT-FORM WORK IN ENGLISH: Robert J. Sawyer for “Biding Time”
BEST SHORT-FORM WORK IN FRENCH: Mario Tessier for “Le regard du trilobite”
BEST LONG-FORM WORK IN ENGLISH: Dave Duncan for “Children of Chaos”
BEST LONG-FORM WORK IN FRENCH: Elisabeth Vonarburg for “Reine de Memoire 3. Le Dragon fou”
Congratulations to all of this year’s Aurora Award winners!
Next year’s Auroras and Canvention will be held at Keycon in Winnipeg.
I do have one complaint in connection with the Auroras (aside from the food) - that’s the notable absence of a camera crew from Space – The Imagination Station (Canada’s science fiction and fantasy-oriented cable TV channel). It’s disappointing that Space’s sci-fi news show “Hypaspace” will show some coverage of conventions in Toronto (the location of the CTVglobalmedia head offices), or send videographers to San Diego or to various video game trade shows hither and yon, but they can’t be bothered to send a videographer out, let alone dispatch one of their company’s local cameramen or contract an independent shooter, to cover Canada’s national award for excellence in speculative fiction. You’d think they’d keep tabs on this sort of thing, being an SF channel and all. I’m not going to get into any Toronto-bashing here, I just think this was a dumb oversite on the part of the producers at Space. I intend to send them an email regarding their absence in the next couple of days. More to come.

After the Auroras, it was time for the afternoon’s programming.

I managed to catch the tail-end of the “Inventors, Patents and Mad Scientists, Oh My!” featuring a trio of scientists regaling the small audience with tales of wacky experiments and displays, blunders and general oddities. One of the most memorable was a story about NASA allegedly sending a copy of the specs for the Orion spacecraft that were drawn-up and abandoned to an author, then calling him up several years later and asking if he’d let them have the copy back because they’d lost the originals.

From there it was on to a panel discussion on “Writing Historical Fiction” (featuring, among the panelists, the day’s Aurora winners Jean-Louis Trudel and Dave Duncan). Lots of fascinating explorations of where to draw the line on the amount of detail to include in a story in a historical setting – how much is too much and will the strangeness of the environment alienate the audience. Alienation was a hot topic, coming out again when the panel chewed over how to properly portray the mindset of people in cultures of the past whose way of thinking was completely different from ours. They noted this is especially a problem given the shift in values over the decades/centuries/millennia – how does an author create an engaging protagonist who might, because of their times, have beliefs or take things for granted (like slavery, for example) that we today would find repellant. Lots of excellent audience participation too. I really enjoyed this session.

And then it was time for the “Turkey Readings”. A strange combination of fun and torture I’d never encountered before. The Turkey Readings are a long-standing tradition at VCon. A panel of various speakers of the Con is assembled. A box of really, really, REALLY bad SF novels are brought in. Each panelist is given a novel and must read from it. Meanwhile, volunteers from the audience are called upon to come up to the front and act out what’s being read. The “acting” by the volunteers is absolutely hilarious. But their antics just can’t override the sheer awfulness of the story that’s being read. I’m talking crap with lines like “genitals jiggling merrily”. I’m talking the worst pieces of pulp garbage where the “author” was clearly using a thesaurus to pad-out the text – they frequently have used every alternative adjective under a word listing, stacking them all, in an effort to increase the number of words in the book (and I’m guessing their pay cheques). And it’s utterly painful. One guy in the audience remarked “I’m less afraid of the author than I am of the editor who let this happen!” Oh, how right you are, fanboy. But that’s where the bidding comes in… The other angle to this event is that while the reading and pantomime are under way, members of the audience can bid money to bring the damn performance to a stop. The catch is that other, more masochistic, members of the audience can counter-bid to keep the thing going. And back and forth and so-on until finally someone puts up enough money to stop the madness that no-one’s willing or financially able to out-bid them. The money goes into a fan fund to bring fans from the other side of the country out to this event to foster a sense of national community. This was my first Turkey Reading session, and as painful as it was, I’m looking forward to watching it again next year.

This brings us to the closing ceremonies and the “Elron Awards”. The closing speech rambled and went way too long. I was tempted to leave in the middle of it, but I figured I’d put in enough time that I’d better see it through, and I wanted to see the Elrons.
The Elron Awards are a tradition at VCon going back years, where these spoof prizes are “given” to various individuals and organizations for their less-than-stellar achievements. The philosophy behind them is “If we honour the greatest, should we not also recognize the least?” VCon organizers are quick to point out “The name of the award has absolutely nothing to do with a former science fiction writer who founded his own religion. “ It award itself has, for many years, been a bronze lemon mounted on a GOR novel (in answer to a suggestion from author Ursula K. Le Guin that GOR author John Norman deserved “a bronze lentil for semi-literate fetishism”). These days, the lemon has been replaced by other items deemed symbolically appropriate for the “winner”. This year, the GOR novel was replaced (because organizers couldn’t find one) with a copy of Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code”.
This year’s Elrons went to a number of different recipients. The first went to the Sigma group, a collection of science fiction authors (Greg Bear, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven) who gave advice to US government officials about the future and threats to that country. Others went to the governments and military organizations of the US and Russia for crazy weaponry schemes. Another group was awarded an Elron for a plan to mount an expedition to the arctic to drill a hole into the Earth in hopes of finding a hollow centre it could explore. A company garnered one of the dubious distinctions for trying to market Star Trek-themed coffins, urns, tombs and other funerary merchandise. The producers of the Simpsons were foisted with an Elron for having a giant outline of Homer painted next to the famous hill giant in Britain as a promotional scheme for this summer’s movie. A concept performer who’s had a medical procedure to grow an extra ear on his forearm got an award for wasting time and money that could have gone towards helping someone who legitimately needed medical assistance. Frank Miller was awarded an Elron for the titanic amount of historical inaccuracies in the comic and movie “300”. And the final award, which always goes to John Norman for pretty much any reason the organizers can make up from year to year, went, of course, to John Norman, for the plans by Dark Horse comics to publish an omnibus edition of the GOR novels, even though the company hasn’t posted any information on its site nor made any official statement.

And with that, so ends VCon32 and Canvention27. Congratulations to the Con organizing committee and a big thank-you to all of the special guests and panelists. Overall, I had a pretty good time and I’m looking forward to next year’s gathering. But for now, after three days of Con immersion, I’m pretty beat. G’night, all.
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