Saturday, October 05, 2013

Arrrrrr, it's time to get Conned again! VCon 38 - Day 1

Well. buckle my swash! Avast! And timber my shivers! October's come in like a galleon under full sail, and that means it's time for VCon again! And - if the corny buckaneerisms haven't tipped you off yet - this year's theme is pirates (of the sea, space, the web, and anything else that you can cram a tricorn cap on top of).

As far as themes for the con go, "pirates" isn't a bad idea. Granted, in mainstream pop culture, most people probably see coursairs as a straight-forward part of a real, by-gone era (or, possibly still relevant in the modern era, with incidents of piracy in the waters off of Africa getting news headlines - and even a Tom Hanks movie - these days). But pirates have always comfortably commanded a place in genre fiction too - from the founding of modern speculative fiction in the 19th Century with Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, to more recent dashing swashbucklers, like Captain Harlock or Han Solo. Beyond the literary and cinematic appropriateness, the pirate theme is also a good way to challenge cosplayers to show off their sewing skills in a different way than previous years. While you won't find me sporting a peg leg or armed with a cutlass (though I have been forced to wear an eyepatch on occasion in the past, post-op), I enjoy seeing what other people have managed to put together.

The day started for me just after noon. After making a wrong turn (no, not at Albuquerque, rather on the approach to Cessna Drive - the entrance to the Delta Airport Hotel in Richmond has been a real pain in the ass for years, ever since Translink slapped a minor transit hub in front of it, blocking the main way into the parking lot), I finally managed to get to the hotel. Parking's free for the weekend, which was a good way to open the Con experience. The registration area was a bit cramped, but they were moving people through in a reasonable fashion, so I couldn't complain.

First order of business after that was to get my Con T-shirt. There was the usual inefficient payment shuffle from the T-shirt table, to the registration desk to process credit card payment, then back to the T-shirt table to take possession, but the real disappointment was this year's T-shirt design: they've gone with this year's overly cutesy mascot drawing, which looks like it belongs on an educational cartoon for 4-year-olds, and that, in and of itself, is a big disincentive for me to actually wear the thing (well, I'll wear it at least once - just this weekend - if only because I've paid for the thing). It's also just a bare-bones, white line outline of the mascot, totally lacking in detail. Really a poor showing, especially compared with Con T-shirts from years past. I was so disappointed, I almost didn't buy it. Until this year (at least in the years since I've been attending), VCon has consistently produced Con T-shirts with great designs that I would (and have!) proudly wear to other cons, showing the world the cool stuff coming out of Vancouver's local Con. This year... this year's was so lame that after this weekend's obligatory wearing, it'll go at the bottom of the Con T-shirt collection drawer and never see the light of day again. Ever. You may ask, if the shirt is so bad, why did I bother buying it? Very good question. I'm still asking myself too. I was only just barely tipped onto the purchase side of the decision because I've got every other Con shirt from the past several years, so I thought I might as well have this one to complete the collection, and every collection needs the one mistake to look the good ones look even better. Really though, I hope next year the Con organizers will choose a design that's actually worth buying - there are enough good genre artists around that they don't have to settle for this kind of crap.

Normally I don't buy anything in the dealers' room on the first day, but the Con T-Shirt left such a bad taste in my mouth, that I had to counteract it by purchasing something good, so I picked up a trio of geeky buttons, and a trio of books at the Edge Publishing table. Having just moved into a new house and reshelved all of my books, I'm all too aware of how stupidly big my "to-read/inbox" pile is, but I always look forward to picking up the latest issue of the Tesseracts annual Canadian SF anthology at the Con, and, while I was there, I saw a couple of other collections that looked cool - Shanghai Steam (edited by Ace Jordyn, Calvin D Jim, and Renee Bennett) and Urban Green Man (edited by Adria Laycraft and Janice Blaine) - and I'm a sucker for anthologies, and, what with Edge offering a deal on pricing, I had to buy all three.

Leaving the dealers' room, I prowled around the hotel a bit to find out where all of the Con session rooms, etc were, and then it was on to the first panel of the day.

The 1:00 session of "Meet You At The Airship Terminal" (a panel about alternate history) was a bit problematic. Seems that due to some scheduling confusion, the session had already taken place at 12. But since the Con program listed it at 1, a pair of the panelists stayed on to do a bit of a recap for our (very) small audience. The panelists were nice guys, so I stayed for the whole thing, but they only ran for half an hour, it felt very much like a highlight reel, rather than an actual panel discussion, They also occasionally made historically incorrect statements (Such as one offhandedly mentioning that Britain had lost its legends when Charlemagne invaded. Charlemagne? Um. No. That'd be William the Conqueror.) - and not in the same deliberate way as when they were giving examples of alternate history in literature or film - which was pretty jarring. Something that's always made alternate history panels at previous/other cons interesting and worth attending is when the panelists are actually well educated in history, and make accurate references to real history as the basis for discussing alternate history, and so today's session, lacking that, seemed more than a little amateurish. As an audience member, there isn't a lot of incentive to ask questions or engage in discussion with panelists if it isn't clear that they know what they're talking about, or that they have an in-depth perspective on the subject matter (in this case, a real knowledge of history in order to be able to discuss alternate history significantly).

Since that session ended early, I did a little more poking around, and found the hospitality suite. Then it was on to the panel that was simply titled "ARRRR!", concerning pirates. Unfortunately, I didn't find the panelists to be terribly engaging, and rather than getting into any real detail about piracy in a speculative fictional sense or from a historical perspective, there were just a bunch of bland statements about pirates being terrible people, but how they represent freedom - mixed with the occasional bit of strangeness, such as one panelist stating that pirates were people of ultimate principles (even if some of them were bad), like mobsters. Really? Anything historical I've read or seen about pirates seems to indicate that while some of them had occasional quirks that were somewhat principle-like in nature, most were, as most criminals are, unprincipled people who would do whatever they had to, and whatever they thought they could get away with, regardless of their code or their shipboard quasi-democracies. Despite being located in one of the larger session ballrooms, this panel had a fairly small audience turnout (to be fair, it was the middle of a Friday afternoon, not the busiest time of the Con weekend) - not more than half a dozen of us, which didn't help with the energy level in the room. But it was the general blandness of opinion on the panel and lack of meaty discussion that did me in though. I called it quits after about 10 minutes and left to grab a bite.

Sadly, things weren't much better with my late lunch. A nice view of the marina from the hotel restaurant that's perched out over the river, but the service was shockingly slow, and the food was overpriced and - I hate to use the word again - bland.

After lunch, I ambled over to the ballroom housing the art display, and here I was really impressed. Lots of good entries this year. Some are the same artists and works that have appeared in previous years (hell, the Con just wouldn't be same without some of the same damn pictures turning up year-in, year-out), but of those, there were more entries from the more talented artists. And there were new entries from new artists - many of them extremely skilled. I was especially interested in a set involving glass and plants - one especially that looked like a glass human head, used as a terrarium, with a watering tube as a sort of crown. Not sure it, or the other works in that particular display, would fit in with the decor at our house, but I really enjoyed looking at it.

At that point, I bailed-out of the Con for a little while to run some errands, but I was back in time to catch the last couple of minutes of the Opening Ceremonies (which had a pretty good turnout).

From there it was on to a pair of back-to-back sessions on how to work with audio: "Kitting Out Cheap: Building Audio Toolkits On A Budget" (we all had a laugh when a couple of people arrived a few minutes late wondering where the session on "knitting" was being held - "kitting", not "knitting") and "Home Recording 101: Using The Kit You Built". These sessions were a real pleasure to attend. Admittedly, they were perhaps a bit too technical at times, but the information covered was absolutely necessary for anyone toying with the idea of home recording for podcasting or music recording. The hosts were also friendly and engaging, and clearly very passionate about working with sound, and helping others learn how to do it right. The two hours blew by in a flash.

At that point, I thought about grabbing a quick bite, then coming back for a couple of late evening panels, but I'm tired and not feeling 100%, and I've got to get up early tomorrow to drive my wife to her volunteer gig before the Con, so I figured best to call it quits and head home.

On the balance, I'd say a 50-50 start to the con, maybe leaning slightly more towards the positive because of the art room.

One thing I do miss though: the movie room. I looked high and low through the program and the hotel, but I couldn't seem to find it. What a shame. The movie room has always been a highlight in the past - the perfect venue to drop in on during those lulls in programming where I (and others) just couldn't find any panels of interest, and there was always an ever-changing crowd of easy-going, nice people to chat with, jointly heckle the movie with, and sometimes quietly enjoy films with. I hope the lack of a movie room was just a Friday thing this year. If it's off the roster completely, perhaps I'll have to send a polite request to the Con Committee, or maybe even get off my lazy butt and volunteer to run it next year.

Oh well, let's get the next two days of this year's Con out of the way first.

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