Saturday, September 29, 2012

VCon 2012 - Day 1 - Posts from the Apocalypse

A lone man travels through a perilous land, facing hordes of hostile beings, in a desperate effort to reach a last sanctuary for like-minded individuals.

Sounds like the plot of any half-rate post-apocalyptic thriller, I know. But it's nothing so grand: merely a description of my commute this afternoon, fighting traffic through the Massey Tunnel and across the roads of Surrey on the way to Day 1 of V-Con - the 37th annual Vancouver Science Fiction Convention.

Given the similarities between the rush hour commute and the end of the world, it's fitting that this year's theme for the con is "Post Apocalypse."

By the time I arrived, it was about 4:30, so I hadn't missed much in the way of early programming. Plenty of time to register and poke around. I've been to this particular hotel many times on business, so I already know the lay of the land, but it's always a good idea to find out where all the amenities like the dealers' room and the art room are before immersing in programming.

And speaking of programming, this year's event looks like it's shaping up to be pretty good. Science fiction Grand Master Connie Willis is the Author Guest of Honour, author and astrophysicist Gregory Benford is the Science GoH, and James Ng, the local genius behind a series of Asian-inspired steampunk paintings, is the Artist GoH.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Wandering around...

A quick look in the art room revealed a mix of "the usual suspects" - the same artists who display the same stuff every year (some of it very good, other stuff... meh) - along with a couple of new additions. As always, Ng's works caught my eye, and this may be the year I give in and buy a print.

After that, it was over to the dealers' room for an exercise in self-control. I try not to buy anything on the first day, and definitely not on the first pass through the room. There's always something I want to pick up, and, by the end of the con, someone in the dealers' room is likely to part me with some of my money, but the first time through is when I get a sense of the room and start setting priorities for what I absolutely need to buy (books!), versus other nick-nacks that might be nice to have, but wouldn't be the end of the world (there's that inevitable apocalypse reference again) to pass up. This time, I found myself coming back to a table selling Doctor Who action figures, with an eye towards maybe picking up a Dalek, or one of the Doctors. But we're planning a move in the next couple of months, so maybe more toys are not what I want to be lugging around.

By the time I peeled myself away from the dealers' room and had gone upstairs to start attending the programming, the Opening Ceremonies were pretty much over, so I headed down the hall for the "The Plural of Apocalypse" session. What a thoroughly entertaining panel! Moderator and Caustic Soda podcast host Joe Fulgham, UBC biology researcher Kristi Charish, author Geoff Cole, and Willis were smart, personable, and an absolute riot as they chewed over different types of world-ending events, their likelihood, and their cultural and fictional significance.

The most memorable quote of the panel - and something to add to the "Things You'll Only Hear at a Science Fiction Convention" list - was Willis' remark during the introductions:

"I've ended the world in a number of ways."

Of all the different varieties of apocalypse discussed, the group seemed to spend the most time talking about the very real possibilities of diseases mutating (probably naturally), getting beyond our control, and significantly thinning humanity's herd, if not wiping our species out entirely. Everyone got a chuckle when Charish said:

"If the apocalypse is a disease, at least with my background I'll know when to run for the hills."

Later on, they moved on to other likely causes of destruction, like meteorite impacts - something common in science fiction, but almost completely overlooked by the public. I couldn't have agreed more with Fulgham when he said something to the effect of:

"The meteor likelihood is one of the reasons I'm unapologetically pro-tech. All those people who want to go back to living in the forest... Guess what? One of these days, that forest isn't gonna be there."

The session was over faster than a flash from a nuclear inferno, and the group could have easily done another hour without losing momentum or the audience (and they were a good bunch too, letting the panelists do most of the talking, but raising some good examples and questions from time to time too). What a great way to start the con. This is what a panel should be.

Bonus points to Fulgham for telling Willis early on "It's an honour to be on a panel with someone who was interviewed on Prisoners of Gravity." Anybody who references PoG is fairly awesome. Bonus points as well to the woman in the audience who gave Don McKellar's brilliant Last Night as an example of personal and society reaction to an impending apocalypse.

From there, I went back to the registration area and bought this year's con T-shirt (now glow-in-the-dark!), then took a break for an unsatisfying supper in the hotel restaurant that took far too long (I know, I know, get out of the hotel when you're looking for something to eat, that's the best way to get a good meal; but I tend to feel a bit guilty at these things if I don't have at least one meal in the host venue). By that point, it was a little after 9, and there wasn't much choice in the way of programming left.

I went to the "Post Apocalyptic Vampires?" panel, and ended up wishing I hadn't. Only two panelists, and it seemed like after about 20 minutes they'd exhausted every angle they could figure out for life - or unlife, as the case may be - for vampires after a major calamity. Seriously, from that point on, every 8 minutes or so, they kept asking if the audience wanted to leave early, or if anyone had anything else to mention. I don't blame them, aside from running through their material, there were a couple of people in the audience who were doing a lot of talking, and - though I can only speak for myself, I'm pretty sure a couple of others would have agreed - it was all stuff we could have done without. You know the types, the non-stop yapper who figures he ought to be on the panel; the guy who has to snarl everything he says as though it's all beneath him, even though he's inflicting his opinion on everyone fairly frequently; and the monotonous guy who suggests things that are, well, just dumb, goes quiet for a minute or two, then starts droning on about the same thing again as though no time has passed, then repeats. I'm no nosferatu or bloodsucker wannabe, but by the end of this session (yeah, it got relentlessly dragged along like a fresh victim with blood still seeping from the puncture wounds to the neck - all the way to the end of the hour) I was just about ready to drive a stake into my own heart. Why didn't I leave, well, within a minute of when I'd first entered and realized what I'd got myself into? A sense of politeness for starters, I guess. I would feel kind of rude getting up and leaving in the middle of a session when there aren't any other sessions going on and nothing else to see or do except hit the bar.  My mistake. Next time I'll bail.

Speaking of bailing, I've been up since far too early this morning, so, with nothing left to report, it's time to bail from this post. See you tomorrow, for another report from the apocalypse!

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