No, it's not a day on a Canadian dairy farm during a constitutional crisis, it's a rough idea of how today went at Loncon 3.
It all started with me trundling into the convention centre about mid-morning, hoping to catch a programming session or two before getting in line for George RR Martin's signing at noon. I'd wanted to take in the "World at Worldcon" panel on Canadian literature (just to see who was talking and how it was being presented to the international audience), and maybe the "Dreaming England" session, but I also knew that there were probably an awful lot of people wanting Martin's autograph, so I figured I'd better see if they were already queuing up. Good thing I did. It wasn't even 10:30 yet, and already they were lined-up down the hallway, out the door, and around the corner. Since I'd lugged three of Martin's books half-way around the world to get signed, I figured I couldn't take any chances, so I ditched the programming sessions, snapped a quick photo of a guy in an awesome Deadpool costume, and got in line. Again, this was a fortunate decision, because that was right about the time the game was changed.
Up until about 5 minutes after I joined the line, the plan the organizers had told everyone (and presumably agreed to in advance with Martin's "people") was that he'd be signing from 12 until 1:30 (or 1:20, if you factored in a slightly early end to let people get to their next programming option), and that everyone was allowed to bring 3 items to be signed (and if you brought more, then after your first 3 you could go to the back of the line and resume waiting in the hope that you'd get to the front again before time was up). Now, unhappy-looking con volunteers had the unenviable duty of going along the line announcing the changes that Martin's people had suddenly made and were insisting on:
- There would be no messages written, your name would not be written (only his own initials), and there would be no photos.
- Fans would only be allowed to have 1 item signed, not three.
- No-one would be allowed to go to the back of the line to have another item signed.
- The signing would now only be until 1, not 1:20.
- Martin would be signing for a maximum of 200 people. No more.
The whole limit on the line thing was so seriously enforced, that one volunteer was assigned to count everybody in the line, and make the cutoff line at the 200th person. I remember him getting as far as me when he suddenly was called away, and he asked me to remember that I was "120", just in case he forgot. No-one was very happy with the 1-item limit, or the bans on names or personal messages, but it was the limit on the number of people and the cutting of a third of the signing time that caused the most annoyed head-shaking down the line, because many people know that Martin usually just signs his initials, "GRRM", and fairly quickly and sloppily, and is thus capable of blitzing through a large crowd with little trouble.
But his holy (or unholy) handlers had spoken, and the poor con volunteers didn't have any choice but to play by their new rules, so we all went along with it (according to another volunteer I spoke with, Martin's handlers had been a real pain with details about the previous day's reading session). At that point, it was a time for tough choices for me: I'd brought my copy of the first Wildcards book, as well as my uncorrected proof/advanced review copy of Wildcards: Suicide Kings (I'd been hoping to get both Martin & Melinda Snodgrass to sign that one), and the Old Mars anthology. While I love the Wildcards series, there's nothing special about my copy of the first book — it's a paperback, and not even a first printing. The review proof of Suicide Kings could be potentially valuable someday with autographs. And Old Mars (a first printing in hard cover) has an opening essay by Martin that really got to me with its longing for a style of storytelling that just isn't done anymore, one that I'm wistful for myself because it formed an important part of my early development of a love for written SF. So the choice was 'Mars or the 'Kings. In the end, emotion won over financial sense, and I went with Old Mars.
Now that the decision was out of the way, I spent the wait getting to know the woman who was waiting in line behind me. And that was one of the best experiences of the con. It's one of the best experiences of any con: those unexpected, impromptu discussions with other fans from wherever, where you can, briefly, form a real bond sharing your thoughts and feelings about science fiction. We talked about her life, growing to love SF as a kid back in Trinidad, then moving to England, and later to Chicago. Then a little about me and life in Canada. When we first read Martin's stuff, and what other sci-fi had an impact on us. It's amazing how fast an hour-and-a-half can disappear.
And then it was time for our audience with the wizard, and there was a quick scribble across the page (the wrong page, as it turns out, in my book, even though I'd marked the proper page with the appropriate posted note supplied by the handler) with a brief glance up from himself and a polite, if terse, "hello", and we were tossed back onto the streets of nerd city with the rest of the unwashed.
At that point, I figured I'd mosey to the back of the line, just to see if there was an off chance any of us would be able to beg for an autograph on a second item. After all, even though the handlers had set the limit at 200, Martin had almost finished everyone in the line, and it was only just turning 12:30 — waaaaaaay ahead of schedule. There were a couple of people there who had the same idea, but not many. But there was also a small crowd of people who'd just arrived, who were somewhat upset about the last-minute rule changes. And it's hard to argue with them: when the game's been changed without notice, when the new deadline is no-where near, and when Martin himself was still going strong because he'd only been scribbling initials, really, there's no reason why an exception couldn't have been made, and these people could have been let in. After all, isn't one of the main rules for con-going "Don't be a dick"? And shouldn't that apply to authors and their handlers, just like it does for the little people who buy their products and keep them fed? I can understand them turning me away, because I'd already had my chance. Fair enough. But they could have let the last bunch in, at least, and the fact that they didn't was disappointing.
Now, to be fair, I don't entirely blame Martin (nor even his handlers... well... somewhat.... but not entirely). After all, as fans, we're not paying him for the service of autographing (although, as a communications professional, I can say that free autographing is a good part of the value-added approach to marketing his products that he relies on us to buy), so he was in no way obliged to do it. And, I get that he's a fanboy himself and that he should be able to take time to hang out at the con if he wants (which he did, as I saw him walk by in the dining boulevard about an hour later), and that writing (even sloppy initials) for that many people can be a strain on the wrists and we sure as hell don't want to do anything that would keep him away from his writing desk. And, it is indisputably true that, as so many have said, George RR Martin is not your bitch. But, today at least, with the way the signing was handled, it certainly felt like we were his.
After that, I met up with my wife (who's really been getting into some of the programming) and hit the room to pick up some t-shirts. There's a guy selling branding shirts that advertise fictional companies and organizations from movies and TV. I picked up shirts for Encom, Flynn's Arcade, Quint's Fishing Charters, and a fourth for my brother (because he's cat-sitting while we're away, and most likely has had to clean up cat lava at least once). From there, it was onto a long, slow, lazy lunch on the concourse (and the Martin sighting), and a brief check-in with a friend who was between sessions.
From there, we headed to "The World at Worldcon: Chinese Diaspora" session, which was really fascinating — and of personal relevance, since my wife is part of the relatively recent wave of said emigration. The three panelists (two Canadian writers and one American, all of Chinese background), had an extensive discussion about identity, and what it meant to be a Chinese-Canadian or Chinese-American (or fill in your own relevant hyphenation). One mentioned the duality and friction of having two cultures, of being Chinese but having to fit in to that of the country a person lives in (or, in some cases, has been born in). Another panelist stated that whatever is written represents the Chinese diaspora, because Chinese diaspora science fiction is the science fiction written by someone from the Chinese diaspora. There was also some discussion about the value of having stories that touch upon the Chinese experience in other countries because that helps to fill in gaps in the history of those countries that might not otherwise mention the contributions of immigrant cultures. Really good stuff, and a lot of excellent reading recommendations.
Then it was off to the "Just Three Cornettos" panel, focussing on a discussion of the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Edgar Wright "Cornetto" trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End). The panel was initially funny, but then, about mid-way through, some woman came in, sat on the floor nearby, and began cleaning her feet. Which caused an odor to drift over. A cheese-like odor, but so vile, so aggressively rank, as to be unlike any cheese, no matter how strong, on this Earth. It was so violent a stench that it would have to be a Klingon cheese. You certainly could have cut it with a bat'leth. But, and call me species-ist if you like, I want no part of Klingon cheese. And the panel was starting to lose its charm anyway, so we left.
Another trip to the dealers' room to pick up one of the books mentioned in the Chinese Diaspora session, more milling around for a while, an unsastisfactory supper in the food court again, and it was time for the Masquerade. Or hockey.
Earlier in the day, we'd passed the Montreal 2017 bid tent again (I'd been there the day before to throw my support behind their bid, because if Vancouver doesn't have the guts to make a run at a Worldcon, I sure as hell think Montreal should get it once more) and they'd mentioned that they were going to be playing some shinny in the evening, round about the time of the Masquerade. A tough choice, but, while I've never been a jock, I'm like most Canadians and have a tough time passing-up a good pickup game of street hockey. So we went down to the fan hall to see what kind of game they'd organized. Sadly, another disappointment. They only had 4 sticks, and were only able to secure a 7x11 space under a tent indoors. No real ball hockey to be played here. Probably for the best though, as I'm nursing a whole set of blisters (some big enough to be xenomorph eggs that Ripley should be shooting at) from all the walking around on rough pavement this past week, and I probably wouldn't have played well, and most likely would have just hurt myself even more.
So it was over to the Masquerade. Lots of entries, some of them somewhat interesting, such as a minotaur get-up, some retro 70s Doctor Who villains, and a collection of some of Tolkien's Valar, but nothing that really blew me away. I'll give all the participants credit for putting in a solid effort, but if you ask me next week what some of the entries are, I probably won't remember any, whereas I can still tell you about my favourite from the Masquerade in Montreal back in 2009.
Back to the hotel room, then. And now, off to bed. Two days of conning to go.