Thursday, August 14, 2014

Loncon 3 - Day 1

There's a point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the movie, that is; it's been so long since I've read it, that I don't remember if this is in the book) where the boys have to rescue Trillian from the Vogons, and they encounter a seemingly endless bureaucratic lineup. Arthur Dent steps forward and says something to the effect of "Leave it to me. I'm British. We queue better than anyone."

This is true, as I found out today at Loncon 3.

Today was Day 1 of the con, and when my wife and I arrived this morning to register, the dozens of fellow fanboys and fangirls we'd seen around the Excel campus over the past couple of days had swollen into a couple of thousand. And a couple of hundred of them were lined-up, waiting to register when we came in the door. So we joined them. One of the con volunteers was working the line, keeping everyone in order and making sure we knew the score, and, surprisingly, she said the wait would be about 45 minutes. We had initially figured that, with the number of people in front of us, it would surely be more like a couple of hours. Better still: it only took us about 20 to 30 minutes to progress to the front. Truly, the British are masters of the efficient queue.

How could it get any better? Free candy, that's how! While we were in line, a nice lady from the Helsinki Worldcon bid team was working the crowd, passing out Finnish candy to encourage people to back their group. You can't argue with candy, but really, wouldn't it have been more culturally appropriate for the Fins to set up a sauna and invite everyone in for a relaxing steam — and then some non-relaxing slapping with birch boughs? On second thought, maybe the candy was the right move. (Cue Monty Python's "Finland" song)

So we got our badges in short order and started exploring the Fan Village (or, hall of the bid teams, gamers, kid zone, and all-purpose lounge for everyone). Actually, it wasn't so much of an exploration as a blitz to the area where the con organizers had set up a replica of the TARDIS. Mandatory pictures with said vessel for both of us, of course. Then my wife ditched me to do some more touring around London on her own. Which was okay, because there wasn't much that interested her on today's program, while I, on the other hand, found plenty that was interesting, so we agreed to meet up in the evening by the TARDIS when she returned.

The first panel of the day for me was "The World at Worldcon: Nordic SF/F", where authors from Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark discussed the state of SF in their countries. I'm quite eager to attend as many of these "World at Worldcon" sessions as I can, and give a huge amount of applause to the Loncon organizers for including them in the programming, because I'm fascinated by the science fiction coming out of other countries. In Canada, we have a strong speculative fiction culture of our own, and, of course, we get nearly overwhelming exposure to US product, and to some British writing as well. But beyond that, things get pretty sparse. Once in a while, our bookstores will get anthologies of Australian science fiction, but that's about it. And it's too bad too, because we know there's a lot going on elsewhere in the world, we just need to find what's been translated. Those are voices I'd really like to experience. But getting back to this particular set of voices, it was a good panel, with the group of soft-spoken authors making interesting points about common themes in their native literatures, like the presence or absence of light — something their people are emotionally sensitive to, because of the dark winters — as well as an awareness of nature. It was also interesting to hear about the high level of English language SF they're exposed to, while at the same time, how little the Nordic cultures share amongst themselves (for various cultural, if not linguistic reasons). A comment from one of the panelists that really stood out was "One of the best Nordic SF books is Neil Gaiman's American Gods." It's too bad that during my later perusal of the dealers' room I couldn't find any anthologies of Nordic SF translated into English. It would have been nice to follow-up the panel with a chance to read some of the material they were talking about.

From there, it was on to the book signing by Patrick Rothfuss. A couple of years ago, Rothfuss and his bushy beard (I say that with utmost respect, as someone who can't allow his own beard to get that voluminous) came to VCon not too long after the debut of The Name of the Wind, and, not having read the book yet, I missed the chance to get him to sign it. I didn't want to miss the opportunity this time, so I hiked that damn thing half way around the world, and today stood in line for a few minutes to get a quick autograph. We didn't really have a chance to chat, but Rothfuss is a nice guy — and, in case you haven't read his stuff yet, one hell of a writer. I'm looking forward to seeing his next book.

After that, I went back to broadening my cultural horizons, and took in "The World at Worldcon: German-language SF/F". Unlike the more reserved Nordic authors in the earlier sessions, the panel of Germans was boisterous and funny as hell. Seriously, each of these cats would be awesome to have at a party — lederhosen or no lederhosen. A lot of their talk seemed to centre on science fiction, as literature, as culture, still being very much in the ghetto that it was relegated to in North America until recently (and which, in some cases, it still may be in). As one author on the panel said "Having a novel labeled 'science fiction' does not help. You can have a story on the moon with spaceships, but it's all a metaphor!" Sounds familiar — an awful lot like the "science fiction cooties" that Peter Watts has rightly accused Margaret Atwood of having. Another panelist followed up with "The impression you get is that Germans have a hard time being entertained. Or that fantasy is for children, and science fiction is probably written for very strange old men." The panelists observed that SF "is classed below the academic educational levels." Sound familiar? I recall at least one prof laughing at me when I mentioned SF back when I did my English major. It's too bad German writers and readers still have to contend with a major stigma on sci-fi, but hopefully it'll start to gain the acceptance there that has brought it into the mainstream here. This was another panel where I wished, when it wrapped up, that someone had brought some English-translated anthologies to sell, or that some had been available in the dealers' room. Oh well. Someday.

When that session was over, I tried to get into the interview with Connie Willis and George RR Martin, but that room was packed balls-to-the-walls, so I went next door to listen to Kim Stanley Robinson read an excerpt from a new novel he's developing, about a generation ship. The text is rough, but deliberately so — it all makes sense in the context of what's going on, and promises to smooth-out later. I was able to get enough of a sense off of it that I think I'll probably keep an eye out for it and buy it when it eventually hits the shelves.

Then I decided to scout the dealers' room for a while. A few temptations, to be sure (at least one book I need to complete my Wildcards collection, a couple of cool t-shirts, and something that I think will make a good souvenir for my niece), but I stuck to my self-imposed rule (see my recent post on the 5 Bonus Rules for Con Survival) and didn't buy anything on the first day. The t-shirts and the item for my niece will probably still be there tomorrow, and if the book isn't, then it's not the end of the world. It's always best to step back and take a breather, and avoid what could simply be first day impulse buying.

At that point, I went over to the signing area to get my old copy of A Place so Foreign, and 8 More signed by Cory Doctorow. Doctorow's a really cool guy (and I'm not just saying that because he's a fellow Canadian, although it does substantially add to his coolness) who had a friendly greeting and handshake for everyone, and took the time to chat for a few minutes. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see him when he comes back to the Great White North this fall for the writer's conference in my neck of the woods, but if not, it was good to meet him this time.

More prowling around the dealers' room, and then a look at the art display. A large selection of generally very good art. And luckily, only one artist had submitted paintings of cats. I'm a cat owner, but when fantasy cat paintings are kept to a minimum in a con display room, that's a good thing.

Lastly, I went to the "Tolkien Society Presents: The Unpayable Debt?" session. The authors on the panel started by answering the focus question of what they owed to Tolkien (which included one relationship that ended in happy marriage, and another that resulted in a fortunate split), but eventually started to veer off topic into a discussion of JRRT's influences. It went a little long, so I had to bail early to meet my wife for supper.

Tomorrow: gaining purchase in the dealers' room, and more panels.

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