Monday, October 07, 2013

VCon 38 - Day 3 - That's a Wrap

Sunday's always the toughest day to go to a con. Say what you will about the difficulties of getting out of work early to make it to Friday's programming, or that Fridays sometimes have the weaker sessions because programming committees might predict a lower attendance on opening day, but I've always found Sundays to be the toughest. By Sunday, I've put a couple of days of attending sessions under my belt, usually from noon through until mid-late evening, supplemented by trips to the dealers' room and art show, not to mention late night blogging, and my system's fighting off whatever con-crud I may have been exposed to among the crowds, and it's starting to wear on me. But I don't want to miss anything, and, hey, if I've paid for the full weekend, I want to get my money's worth, so I drag myself out of bed and make the effort anyway. How much worse it must be for the die-hards who stay onsite and rock the room party scene, or doggedly roll dice through the night in protracted gaming campaigns! Yeah, no matter who you are, Sundays are tough. But you go anyway. 'Cause for SF geeks, this is your scene, and that's what you do.

So. Sunday. VCon. I blasted up the highway late this morning in The Ol' Porkchop Express and got to the hotel in time to catch the last half-hour of the "Science Adventures" panel, which profiled some of the naval explorers of the past and their exploits. A good, solid, informative session, and I wish I'd been able to attend from the beginning, but I guess I missed the boat on that. Ha ha. Heh heh. Ugh. Feeble, I know, but I couldn't pass it up. Anyway, a good start to the day.

Then it was over to the "Exploring Worlds Far, Far Away - Without Hyperdrive", where UBC prof Jaymie Matthews gave an entertaining lecture on how exoplanets are found, how the search is going (something like 952 planets confirmed, as of this morning, he said, and many more waiting in the wings for verification), and the status of some of the satellites that've been launched to discover them. On that note, a big "Way to go!" to Canada's MOST satellite, nick-named "the humble telescope" for its very modest size (in the range of a suitcase) and budget (just a few million), and otherwise known as Spongebob Squarepants for its appearance, for continuing to operate and get the job done when bigger, more expensive platforms have experienced problems.

From there, it was up to the "Alternate Canada, Eh?" session, which wasn't bad, but wasn't great. There were two panelists and probably more audience participation than there needed to be. Enthusiastic crowds are great (heck, I made a couple of comments myself), but in this case, the audience started to take control of the session fairly quickly, and while there were a lot of alternate history ideas tossed around, the sheer volume of them, and the rapid-fire barrage of ideas coming from members of the audience (frequently from 5 or so of the same people) who wanted to get their two cents in, prevented any real, in-depth discussion of the ideas, or a separating of the wheat from the chaff. I enjoy alternate history panels (regardless of national or general themes) when they're done well, but to be done well, you need at least four panelists who have the depth of historic knowledge to really explore the possibilities raised, and to play off one-another, and you need a strong moderator who can set the panelists off in the right direction, and keep audience participation focussed, and limited, because this is a panel discussion, not a 30+ person random brainstorming session.

After that, I left the hotel to grab a late lunch at a local Chinese mall's food court, where I found myself eating just a table away from a guy who looked like an Asian version of Danny McBride in This Is The End - right down to the mullet. In fact, the resemblance was so uncanny, I began to worry that he was going to waste everybody's bottled water, and I didn't even want to think about what he might have done to the magazine rack around the corner. I finished my meal and fled as fast as I could before the winnebago full of post-apocalyptic minions could show up.

Back at the Con, a different kind of horror awaited me. After using a couple of "con scrip" dollars I'd found in the bottom of my registration bag to buy another nerdy button in the dealers' room, I went to the "Turkey Readings". The Turkey Readings are a VCon tradition where some of the guest panelists sit at the front of a room reading from pre-selected, old SF novels that are so poorly written that they're probably banned under the Geneva Convention, making it a miracle that the con hasn't been invaded by a UN peacekeeping force sent to dispose of these weapons of mass mental destruction and arrest those responsible for inflicting them on con members. But it gets worse. Members of the audience volunteer to act out the scenes from these "books" as they're being read. It's up to the seated members of the audience to then endure the madness that follows. Audience members can bid cash in an effort to make it all stop, but other sick individuals can counter-bid to keep the suffering going. When the "make it stop" side finally coughs up enough money to put an end to it, another panelist will crack open a different book, and the horror begins anew. Funds raised go to... well, at this point, given the lateness of the hour and the brain damage I sustained attending this session, I can't remember what worthy cause the funds go to, but the Turkey Readings do raise a reasonable chunk of change, which might be a redeeming virtue, but probably not, given the pain they inflict on the audience. Why do I keep going year after year? Sometimes the "performances" are worth a laugh, but if there's a reason beyond that, it's inaccessible behind the wall of psychological, emotional, and physical scarring the Turkey Readings have inflicted on me.

Reeling from that experience, I clutched at my chair when it was over, and waited for the Con's closing ceremonies to begin in the same room. The usual round of heart-felt thank-you's and see-you-next-years was enhanced this year with a cool announcement: VCon will be hosting Canada's national SF convention, Canvention, and the Aurora Awards (prizes for the best in Canadian SF) in October 2014! Congrats to VCon for landing this honour!

Maybe I'll volunteer at the Con next year - specifically, maybe I'll try to convince the organizing and programming committee to bring back the movie room. Things just weren't the same this year without the movie room. Don't know why they didn't have one, whether it was an issue of finding someone to man it, or of dealing with government regulations around using movies at a con, or if there's some other reason, but the movie room's absence this year just wasn't right. I'll have to send a note to the organizers to find out. If it means I have to step up to the plate next year to make it happen, then so be it. We'll see.

One of the great things about VCon, and cons in general, that I haven't talked about this year is the nice one-off conversations that strangers tend to have with each other. When I was leaving the hotel this afternoon and walking across the parking lot, I heard some strangely familiar music coming from another car... music I haven't heard in 25 years... It was a song (and video) I remember a DJ playing at one of our highschool or junior high dances back in '88 or '89 that once every few years flits like a ghost in the back of my mind, but I haven't heard it since school, and have never been able to remember the name of the band or the title of the song. Ditching my stuff in my car, I walked over and had a chat with the group standing around the other car, obviously enjoying themselves in the wash of nostalgic notes. The song was "Doctorin' the Tardis" by the Timelords (the Jams). A completely and utterly silly song, but fun as hell to listen and dance to. I downloaded it off of iTunes as soon as I got home. Many, many thanks to author Lisa Voisin for passing along the band name, song title, and YouTube link to the song! (Here's the  link to the original video)

So that's it for VCon 38. On the whole, it was fun, and time and money well-spent. Our local Con organizers know how to bring the geek community together and ensure there's something for everyone to enjoy. Thanks for putting it on, folks, and I'll see you next year!

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