Sunday, October 03, 2010

VCon - day 2

Saturdays are traditionally the "big day" for the Vancouver Science Fiction Convention. Everybody's off work, so the attendance is a lot higher than Friday, and unlike Sunday, they're not thinking about traveling home that night or going to work the next day. You also see more merchants at the tables in the dealers' room as well. Saturday is when the con pulls out the big guns: it schedules the most interesting session topics, along with big-draw events like the masquerade and the dance (which always draw a big turnout from the cosplay crowd). So why did today feel kinda middle of the road?

I'll freely admit it's probably me more than the way the con's been organized. I don't go to the masquerade or dance (I've got nothing but respect for those that do, but I don't make or wear costumes and on the rare occasion that I cut a rug, a national state of emergency is usually declared), I don't tend to gravitate towards the sword-fighting or martial arts demonstrations (which are very cool, but I prefer discussion sessions at cons), and I don't do the rounds of the parties because by the end of the day, I'm kind of geeked-out (insert gasp of amazement) and just want to spend a little time with my wife. But the sessions... the all-important discussion panels... somehow, this year they just haven't seemed as interesting to me as they have before. That's not to say today was a bomb - far from it - there were a couple of good sessions that I attended, but nothing Earth-shattering. My litmus test for con quality (here or anywhere) has always been the frustration factor in deciding which session to go to. The best cons are the ones where in any given hour (or at least three times in a full day) there are at least two (if not more) sessions that look really cool that I want to attend, thus creating a degree of frustration at having to choose only one (I'm not a session hopper - I pick one and stick with it because focus is important to get the most out of a panel discussion or interview. I only leave if the session turns out to be lame). When this happens frequently, you know your con has put together a good lineup. Hasn't happened this year though. Again, maybe that's just me. Maybe this particular year has session topics that resonate with other nerds better than my own particular bent. Maybe I'm just tired from staying up too late every night after days at the con. Maybe (and I certainly hope not) I'm experiencing some kind of con burnout. I don't know. Maybe I'll have to ask some of the old guys in the local SF community whether they've ever experienced this kind of malaise after years of con-going.

Anyhow, on to the day's activities:

I started at the Author Guest of Honour Interview (already nearly at the half-way point because I'd had to stay at home waiting for the dishwasher repairman - not that I'm complaining! I can research an author's opinions on this, that and the other anytime. Getting the dishwasher fixed - and on a Saturday! - so that I don't have to wash them, is a priority). By the time I arrived, Cherie Priest was just beginning to share her thoughts on American Southern Gothic Horror: why the setting and pre-Civil War period resonate so well with authors and audiences. Interesting shift into reflections on the mindset of people from cultures that have been defeated in wars. The only downside to the session was when the interviewer took a turn for the strange and asked Priest to do some role-playing, where he would pretend to be Boneshaker's Maynard Wilkes and Priest would be Briar, and the two of them would have a conversation where the daughter would share her thoughts with her deceased father about the novel's events and what was going through her mind. Uhhhhhhh... what? From where I was sitting, it looked like Priest thought that was a weird idea, and she did her best to squirm out of the proposal and succeeded in changing the topic. I can't speak for the rest of the audience, but I was sure grateful she pulled it off! Anyhow, she reflected further on regionality and its impact on how others perceive a person, and then moved back to the subject of ghost stories, finishing with a creepy tale involving a friend's business. For the most part, it was a good session and I'm glad I was able to catch some of it.

From there I headed over to the Upcoming Movies of 2010 and Beyond session, where podcaster/broadcaster Gareth Von Killenbach gave us the inside scoop on most of the big flicks coming up. No need to really go into detail on that stuff, as you can probably track that on your own online if there's a certain film you want updates on. What he also spent a fair amount of time on was a discussion of the controversy around the advertising of 3D movies. Seems there's a movement afoot to ensure that studios be more specific when advertising new 3D movies to tell the audience whether the films were actually shot in 3D (using proper 3D cameras and thus creating a better 3D viewing experience) or whether they were shot in standard 2D and then digitally altered to appear to be 3D (which is supposed to result in an inferior 3D viewing experience). Von Killenbach pointed out that most movies billed as "3D" are actually shot in 2D and then altered. He argues that since audiences are shelling out extra money to see a film in 3D, they ought to know which process was used to create it so they'll know if it's worth while to spend the extra. Something to think about the next time a special effects blockbuster comes out with the option of seeing it in 3D.

After that I took a break for a late lunch. Coming back, there really wasn't much on the panel schedule that really interested me, so I browsed through the dealers' room (exercising self-control and getting out without buying anything) and had another look at the Chinese steampunk prints in the art room (reminding myself I'd already spent my allotment yesterday). Still lots of time though before anything remotely interesting was going to start, so I walked way, way, waaaaaaay over to the hotel next door where the con had stashed the movie room today (not sure if it's going to change locations again tomorrow).

I have to say that irrespective of whatever's running on screen, the movie room at this year's con is a real blast. The volunteer running it goes by the monicker of Uncle Victor. He sports a wild shock of white hair and a lab coat that's covered with miniature replications of old SF movie posters that have been dyed into the coat's fabric like a T-shirt would. I'm told Victor was a fixture at Keycon for many years, and now that he's moved from Winnipeg to the Lower Mainland, VCon benefits from his presence. Uncle Victor's a warm guy who's got a smile for everyone. He's added homey - if geeky - touches to the movie room, bringing in an inflatable Christmas Mickey Mouse, a plastic monster arm and hand, a statue of a winged pig (subject of a naming contest), and his ubiquitous plastic Darth Vader head that's filled with Hallowe'en candy. Anyone who comes into the room gets chocolate. That's the rule. Even when he leaves his lair, Victor's determined to put a smile on everyone's face and an extra centimeter on their waistlines, tossing mini chocolate bars across the room to people attending other sessions or meetings. Walk into the movie room on the rare occasion when nothing's running, and he'll immediately make you welcome and chat you up about all kinds of movies from every decade and country. Just an all-around great guy.

Anyhow, when I walked in, Earth Versus the Flying Saucers was starting to wind down. As others started to arrive, no-one was too eager to wait it out, so Victor was happy to swap it off for something else. The group ended up choosing to take a break from SF and we ended up laughing along with a Best of Saturday Night Live Commercials collection. Mmmmm... bass-flavoured milkshakes from the Bass-o-matic!

Once that had wound-down, I headed over to the Buffy vs Edward: What would Dracula Think? session. It was okay. Nothing amazing, but it was a way to fill an hour. The panel talked about how pop culture has changed the nature of the vampire over the years, in terms of its abilities and quirks, as well as the nature of the beast, from vicious monster to something romanticized. Plenty of discussion about the highly-watered-down end of the vampire spectrum occupied by the current Twilight craze. And while the panel talked about the more traditional (in terms of abilities and characteristics) rural town vampires of an old X-Files episode (kudos to them for referencing that classic!) or the more menacing bunch in the True Blood series, they didn't include in their discussion of vicious bloodsuckers the excellent Bram Stoker's Dracula done by Coppola in the early 90's (I think they touched on it briefly, but given the way the discussion was going, it deserved greater depth), or John Carpenter's Vampires (the absolute opposite end of the spectrum from the sissies of Twilight), where James Woods' character gives that awesome line about vampires being nothing like the "whiny good-looking Euro-trash in the movies" (or something to that effect - I apologize for any misquote, as it's been a few years since I've seen it). Someone in the audience asked for the panel's take on how science fiction authors have treated vampires, citing Peter Watts' scientific explanation for them. But while some on the panel were familiar with Watts' Blindsight, overall they said they tended to prefer a more traditional horror or fantasy take on vampires, noting they wanted some mystery with their monsters. I dunno... the fact that Watts made his vampires so alien in the way they think made them mysterious enough, and plenty frightening. On a slightly different tack, I was also pleased that someone else in the audience brought up Spider Robinson's vampire Piotr in the Callahan Chronicles, who copes with his vampirism as one would an addiction. Unfortunately, this prompted the panel to reminisce about Forever Knight, which though valid for the discussion, was none-the-less a lame show that's best forgotten.

After the session let out, I took a break for supper. Coming back later, I found the hall where the masquerade was being held was pretty much standing room only, so as cool as some of the costumes probably were, I didn't figure they were quite worth standing behind the door, craning my neck around the corner and trying to see past a horde of heads. Instead, I moseyed back down to Uncle Victor's movie room, where, ultimately, about 20 of us enjoyed Serenity. While I own it on DVD and watch it once or twice a year, there's something about seeing it on a larger screen with a gaggle of fellow fans that you don't get at home.

Anyhow, tomorrow is wrap-up day. Must get to bed.

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