Today was really a tale of two cons. I ended up missing most of the day’s sessions at VCon because I had to go to a fitness conference (yes, go ahead and laugh. I assure you, you’re not laughing harder than me) my employer was hosting in Burnaby. As the resident communications guy, I had to be on-site to escort a TV crew and help them line-up interviews and find good locations. In short, I had to play the con pimp. That was about four hours of my day. Luckily, when it was over, I was able to leave fairly quickly, get a quick bite and hit VCon by 3 for the last couple of hours. I had missed-out on a couple of sessions earlier in the day that looked interesting: “Great First Lines”, “Books We Read As Kids That Influenced Where And Who We Are Now”, Robert J. Sawyer’s reading, the discussion on artificial intelligence, and “Beginnings, Middles and Ends: The Challenges of Longer Forms”. That being said, there were still enough good ones left in the day that it was worth coming.
I started with the “Canadian SF: What distinguishes it?” session. I had toyed with the notion of attending the panel on “Magical Crime Scene Investigation”, but I’m a sucker for a well-organized discussion about the state of Canadian SF. Sure, I attend this session every year, but as someone who reads a lot of SF (Canadian, American, British and international), I see it as my duty (as well as great pleasure) to not only read the home-grown stuff, but to, in some way, be part of discussions about it. MCSI might be a fun topic, but it just doesn’t carry the same importance ultimately as an analysis of our country’s SF output. And it was a good choice. In many respects, the discussion covered some of the same issues as it has in previous years – national identity, what separates our culture from those of our founders and neighbour, the national humility taken to the extent of underestimating our own worth, the hallmarks and flavours of our SF, etc. – but what made it worthwhile was that different points were raised. Certainly we’ve all heard before how much Canadians value consensus. Panelist Mary Choo made the seemingly oxymoronic, yet none-the-less true comment that “Canadians will go to the mat for compromise” to explain just how much value we place on talking things out. If anything, I don’t think the discussion went quite far enough in examining just how much that defines who we are as a people and explains our behaviour and our literature. Fact is, I’ve always believed that at the heart of our cultural identity, regardless of ethnicity, age, sex, sexual orientation or religion, we are a nation of debators. At every moment in our history, great and small, you can bet that two or more Canucks were arguing, negotiating, complaining and hashing out some mutually-acceptable if somewhat distasteful compromise at every step of the way. And that’s certainly reflected in our SF literature. In fact, if I tried to catalogue all the examples, we’d be here all week, but look at Rob Sawyer and his love of courtroom drama in his novels. Here’s someone who enjoys seeing varying philosophies collide and mix and having characters (and readers) be required to examine them from many points of view and not necessarily resulting in clear-cut resolutions. I’d say the first half of this session was great, but then it took a turn somewhere along the way and became an exchange on the state of publishing which was a bit too far off topic. Not a bad discussion, just not along the lines of the session theme.
After that, it was a choice of entertainment over intellect – or rather intellect-destroying entertainment over intellectual stimulation: I attended the grand VCon cultural tradition of the Turkey Readings, rather than choosing the tempting sessions on “Bringing Order to Chaos” or “Using Myths and Fairy-Tales in Writing”. Before you jump to conclusions, no, the Turkey Readings do not involve arcane rights where the internal organs of some poor fowl are probed for secrets of the future. That’s not the case. The Turkey Readings, in fact, are high comedy manufactured from low writing. Panelists are each given three or four books (usually published in the 70’s for some reason) that are profoundly poorly written. I mean, we’re talking the literary equivalent of “Plan Nine From Outer Space” here. Stuff that’s truly painful to read. And, after finding especially stinky passages, that’s exactly what they do. As a panelist reads his/her selection, members of the audience are chosen to come up to the front to pantomime the action. The catch is that the only way to stop a reading/performance is to pay – someone in the audience puts in a bid (usually 50 cents to a couple of bucks) to put an end to it. Problem is, someone else might pay more money to keep it going. And so on and so on. The money collected goes to the Canadian Unity Fan Fund, designed to help pay to bring fans from one part of the country to cons in another region. As awful as the text is, the exaggerated reads and over-the-top acting are generally pretty funny. Some bits even had us in tears. Bringing con-goers closer together by laughing at the worst the genre has produced is a great way to end the event.
And that brings us to the end. The closing ceremony speeches were mercifully short and for the most part a lot of fun. They were capped by a speech by author Patrick Rothfuss who quoted Charles Dickens and Einstein on the benefits, and, in fact, the necessity of fostering the imagination, most especially in times like these. From there it was on to the annual Elron Awards. The Elrons (which the VCon organizers strenuously stress have nothing to do with a certain science fiction author who founded a, er, religion that’s armed with plenty of money and lawyers) are a VCon tradition where awards are given for disservice to SF. Among this year’s winners (there were 9 or 10, I think): MGM for cancelling “Stargate Atlantis”, anyone who bought-into the Georgia Bigfoot hoax, and, of course, as is tradition, John Norman for writing the “Gor” books.
And that’s it for VCon 33.
Even though it’s only been a couple of hours, I’m now looking ahead to the con scene next year. While I’m not looking forward to another VCon in Surrey, I’ll probably end up going anyway for the content and the people. That being said, the con I’m really looking forward to next year is Anticipation – the 67th WorldCon, set to be hosted by Montreal. I missed out on the Toronto WorldCon a few years ago, so I’m determined to make it to Montreal (armed with my broken highschool French) for this one. More updates as they unfold.
Remember to go to Not A Planet Anymore and sign on for our commemorative online challenge Blog Like It’s The War Of The Worlds, which is set to take place October 30th!