Sunday, September 30, 2012

VCon 2012 - Day 3 - I Went to the Apocalyptic Wasteland and All I Got was this Lousy T-Shirt

Okay, I admit, the venue was not a post-apocalyptic wasteland (only conceptually, as panels were discussing this year's theme for VCon; although sometimes the hotel had problems with the plumbing, in which case it approached cataclysm), and I ended up buying more than a T-shirt, and the this year's T-shirt was pretty cool - in part because it glows in the dark and under ultraviolet light - but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity for a lame T-shirt joke in the headline.

But that's all beside the point.

Today, much to my sleep-deprived brain's chagrin, I hit the con earlier than the previous days, which is to say noon. Still not early enough to make it to a science panel I really wanted to see, "The Red Empire" (what a cool session title!), about the prevalence of red dwarf stars in the Milky Way, and the likelihood that alien life might evolve on planets orbiting them, and what that would mean. Woulda been cool, aside from the subject matter, because the panel included Gregory Benford, and UBC astrophysicist, VCon veteran, and all-around interesting and entertaining dude, Dr. Jaymie Matthews. Oh well. Can't see 'em all.

What I did arrive in time to see was the "Dealing with Your Clone or Doppleganger" session, which wandered off topic somewhat due to the presence of Benford on the panel. Seems Benford has an identical twin, so much of the discussion turned to questions about, and Benford's reflections on, life as a twin, rather than clones and dopplegangers (although both were mentioned off and on briefly).

The best line on cloning, and what would you do if you were cloned and you ever met your clone, came from panelist, and Artist Guest of Honour, James Ng, who said "If I met my clone, I think I would learn a lot about myself - before we fight."

On what it's like to be a twin, Benford got laughs with "Of course we're unique - there are just two of me!"

After the session was over, I went down to the art room to see if I could buy a print I've had my eye on for a while, but it was too late, they were already packing up most of the works and preparing for the final art auction. So I ducked out for a quick lunch.

When I returned, I hung around the art room for a bit waiting for the auction to start (it was running very late, and I decided not to stay, especially since there was nothing on the block I was much interested in bidding on), then thought about, and decided against, attending the "Elron & Faned Awards" session (the Elrons are a tradition at VCon - mock awards for stupidity in science fiction and science). I've seen that award session a few times in the past, and while it's fun, it's not a "must-attend". So, I headed up to Uncle Victor's Movie Room. Last year, I spent quite a lot of time in the movie room - there were a lot of films on the roster I was interested in watching, Uncle Victor is a fun host, and there were a lot of time blocks last year where I wasn't interested in the programming. This year, there was a lot of interesting programming, and most of the movies I could take or leave. This time, I watched most of an hour of 2001 before moving on to another session.

That session was called "You'll Get My Books When You Pry Them from My Cold, Dead Hands". The panel and audience debated the merits of paper books versus e-books, and the likely future of publishing. Nothing new at all in the discussion, but I can't say I was bored or wanted to leave. I won't criticize anyone for reading e-books (I keep a couple on my iPhone, in case I've got time to kill and I'm without something from my bookshelves at home), because in an age where it seems fewer people are reading books, reading them in any format is a good thing. That said, my preference is very much for paper books. I prefer the sensory experience of a physical book, and I like to have my collection. Smaug had his pile of gold; my treasure is shelves of books. I also prefer to know that when I pay for a book, I own it and no-one can take it or mess with it without breaking into my home and fighting their way past the cat, whereas it's been demonstrated that it's pretty easy for publishers to put limits on the usage of electronic files on e-readers, or withdraw them or alter them, when the mood suits the company. No thanks. Not when I'm handing over my money for. I also want to be able to leave my book collection to loved ones when the page is eventually turned on me. I'd like them to get the same enjoyment and intellectual stimulation from them that I have, and, perhaps, in taking-in my collection as a whole, they might gain a little more insight into me.

Next, it was over to "Grocery Store or Gun Shop" where the panel and audience discussed strategies for dealing with a number of different types of apocalypse. The consensus: get out of big cities where unattended infrastructure and runaway fires or floods as a result of that could be hazardous, and where decaying bodies would pose a threat of disease. Head for the countryside, but be sure to stock up on food and medicines, and small but important implements like needles and fish hooks that would be hard to make in the wasteland. As to the question of whether to hit the grocery store or the gun shop (not that there are many gun shops in Canada - unless you count hardware/outdoors stores, like Canadian Tire, where they can be purchased), well, food's more important, and you have to figure that the people who own and work at gun stores will know how to use guns, and be fairly vigorous about defending their turf, and those who would try to take down a gun store would probably be pretty rough themselves. Let the bad guys fight it out while you get the resources that'll let you survive the winter - and go to the bookstore while you're at it, for survival guides, medical texts, manuals for brewing and distilling (alcohol giving you safe drinking liquid, and, if made strong enough, good for sterilizing wounds and equipment), and any other how-to books you might need. Besides, as one of the panelists put it, a bookstore or library is the last place you'll run into violent gangs in the wasteland.

The downside to the Grocery Store/Gun Shop session was I fear I've exposed myself to con plague. The person next to me was coughing and sneezing through the whole thing, and stopped to talk to me, standing right in front of me not two paces away at one point (I held my breath the whole time), so if I come down with a bug this week - the week before Thanksgiving, no less, when we're going to be hosting the family next weekend - I'll know I brought more than a T-shirt home as a souvenir of the con.

Anyhow, after contagion roulette, it was time for the closing ceremony. Highlights of this year's goodbye (where Benford left us with a "So long, and thanks for all the fish!") included a late presentation of an Aurora Award (Canada's top honour for science fiction and fantasy). Turns out the winner couldn't make it to the con in Calgary earlier this year, which was hosting the awards ceremony, so they forwarded it on to our con committee for presentation. Congratulations to Tarol Hunt, for winning an Aurora for his graphic novel Goblins. Congratulations to the others present who were presented with Aurora nominee pins. Well deserved, everyone!

The other highlight of the closing ceremonies was an impromptu charity auction. For the last couple of years, VCon has been fundraising for a local non-profit, Aunt Leah's Charity that helps young, single mothers with young children. Usually money from the Turkey Readings session (where panelists read from a selection of some of the worst SF ever written, while audience volunteers act out the plots, and other audience members bid money to try to make the "performances" stop, or to out-bid the stoppers and keep the torture going) and a few other activities goes to the charity. This year, in addition to those efforts, Author Guest of Honour Connie Willis heard about the fundraising, and donated copies of five of her books to the con committee to auction off. Willis was pleasantly astonished, blushing, when she saw how quickly the closing ceremony audience members stepped up to the plate. A paperback copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog went for $80. When Blackout and All Clear were offered as a package, the bids went back and forth until one guy landed them for $100. In all, the five books raised $290 for the charity in just 10 minutes. Way to go audience!

With that, there were a few more closing remarks, and VCon 37 was all over except for the "dead dog" party for organizers and volunteers (and any other die-hards who were still able to stick around).

Next year's theme: Pirates & Piracy - sea, space & web. If the committee does the same kind of job with that theme as they did this year, it's going to be a top-notch event.

Until then, all we can do is fondly remember this year's get-together, and maybe scream:
(sorry, couldn't help it)

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