Monday, October 06, 2014

VCon 2014 - Day 3, The Finale

Sunday at VCon is kind of like the morning after a cabin party: most of the revellers have gone, but a few people are left, and while they're all still having a good time together, there's the unspoken shared bone-deep knowledge that it'll be over soon, and all around, there's a weariness of step.

I stumbled back in just after noon, in time to catch most of the "Mapping and Fiction Writing" panel. The importance of maps is a subject that has a special place in my heart - not because of any lust for the cartographic sciences and arts, but because back in 1988, as a kid in school, I was sent to the Delta Young Writers' Conference, and was pleasantly surprised to find that one of the guest authors running one of the workshops was a BC-based science fiction writer. I wish I could remember her name, because she was friendly, encouraging, and genuinely interested in the ideas the kids were coming up with, and for a goofy sci-fi nerd like me, she was the perfect mentor, if only for a couple of hours. I'd love to be able to dig up some of her stories. Anyway, the focus of her workshop was on the importance maps have in world building. Specifically, the necessity to get geography and the effects of geography right (if you have a mountain range in the land you're creating, and the wind blows from a certain direction, remember that the leeward side of the hills will probably be dry, etc). It's a lesson that's always stuck with me, and, while geography isn't a make-or-break feature of stories that I read, there's a part of me that tracks how authors lay out their landscapes to see if those worlds make sense. But getting back to the present and VCon... Today's map-questing panel did a fantastic job of taking the subject beyond land formations and weather patterns. They talked about the importance of demographic mapping to help think through population sizes, cultural capabilities, religious spread, economics, etc. Even the importance of naming came up, with one panelist noting that how an author names a city can have an effect on the plot, giving clues to its historic backstory and that of its people, their culture, and their language. A couple of the panelists even gave examples from their own writing experiences, where mapping out locations as they wrote sometimes forced them to go back and rewrite parts of their stories because the maps illustrated that certain plot moves weren't logical given the story setup and the universe's rules. Definitely a good session to take in, even from a fan standpoint.

After stepping out again for a quick lunch, I attended the "Justify the Science Flaw" session. This is one of those panels that comes back year after year and draws a good crowd because it's so damn funny. Movie or TV scenes, bits of dialogue, and images that defy natural laws or logic are offered to the panelists (many of whom are scientists, along with others who may not be scientists, but who have a solid knowledge of the sciences), who then have to come up with scientifically plausible explanations. While the panelists are usually pretty good at offering off-the-cuff scientific guesses, their jokes often show the greatest genius. Audience participation is pretty entertaining too, for the most part, although there are always a couple of people who, lacking a full understanding of the social graces, take things too literally, don't see the humour, interrupt, or soapbox, and turn the session into an endurance trial for everyone else. Sadly, this is a fact of any large gathering of nerds, and the rest of us just have to wait it out, and to that end, I'll give the panelists mountains of credit for bearing with it with grace.

In the break that followed, I wandered around the venue one last time, taking a walk through the Dealers' Room and chatting with a couple of the merchants. Out in the hallways, I was, as always, impressed by the die-hard attitude of some of the cosplayers, who, even though Saturday is the big day to strut their stuff, keep up the effort on Sunday. Among the cosplayers I came across was a young lady (above) dressed as one of the soldiers from the anime series Attack on Titan (definitely worth looking up on Netflix) who had done an incredible job of making a spot-on replica of the outfits from the show. With this amount of talent shown by the younger con-goers, there's sure to be a lot of impressive costuming coming out of this region for a long time to come. Well done!

Next, I had a bit of a choice: attend the "Are Fantasy & Science Fiction Inherently Violent Genres?" session, inflict mental anguish upon myself by going to the legendary Turkey Readings, or take a chance and go to the "Mortars and Medals" feedback session and offer a suggestion for next year. I took a chance on the feedback session. It wasn't a large crowd that turned up to talk to this year's and next year's con chairs and their aides, but the group did have a number of worthwhile suggestions to deal with organizational issues, promotion of the con's charity of choice, and questions around photographic consent. When my turn came, I made a point of giving kudos to the organizers for getting Spider & Gibson to come, though I was told those two would have come anyway because they were getting inducted into the CSFFA Hall of Fame at the Aurora Awards — Yeah, I know, I thought, but take the compliments when you get them! I also backed the call for better promotion of the con's charity of choice (Aunt Leah's). And lastly, I went out on a limb and suggested that next year the con committee take a survey of members — or host a session — to sound members out on whether there's a desire to ever put in a Worldcon bid. Much to my surprise, every head in the room turned towards me and I was met with choruses of "NO!" and "We can't do it!" You'd think I'd just suggested we sacrifice a baby to Cthulhu or something. To my mind, it's a no-brainer: Vancouver is a big city with all the amenities, it's the crossroads of the Pacific and easy to get to, there are well-known local authors and lots of great authors from across Canada who could come, and, with all of its grand natural surroundings, it's pretty much the most beautiful city in the world. Not so simple though. Among the older members of the local sf community, there are still whispered tales of some horrific con catastrophe that happened 20-odd years ago that've got them terrified of the notion of trying to host anything big. And, even for members of the younger crowd who are willing to take the chance, there are apparently various Worldcon rules in place that preclude bids unless there's enough big con experience on the bid committees. So no love. And yet... There does seem to be some ambition out there, and an outside chance of perhaps playing a long game over many years where more people can get experience at other cons and maybe land some larger cons locally, then maybe... But that's a ways off, and we can't get ahead of ourselves. When the session was done though, next year's con chair and I had a bit of a chat — a chat that turned into an extended discussion over beer, and, to make a long story short, it looks like I've been pulled into a closer orbit of VCon, and that I'll be volunteering in some capacity with the con next year. Whether that orbit results in a gentle descent onto an enjoyable planet that I'll want to revisit again, or a maddening death spiral into a collapsar of pointless geek politics, I don't know, but for now I'm choosing to focus on the positive and say that it's good to pitch in and help the con be the best it can be. More news as it happens.

Then the Closing Ceremony was upon us, and thankfully it was short and sweet. Glad to see so many people who enjoyed this year's con, including the Guests of Honour. For myself, overall I did enjoy this year's event. There may have been a few bumps on the road, but once things got going, it was pretty good. One thing that was very obvious this year was a change in the programming — a number familiar sessions/topics that were staples of the con year over year were gone from this year's schedule, and while that caused me to do a bit of a double-take when initially looking at the program, ultimately I don't think it's bad to shake things up once in a while. That way, topics/sessions don't get stale, and it gives a chance for new points of discussion or learning to shine. Finding the balance between the old and the new is the trick. The other highlight of the Closing Ceremonies was the announcement of some of the details of next year's con:
VCon's theme in 2015 will be Time Travel (appropriate, because in Back to the Future Part II, Marty [played by BC's own Michael J Fox], Doc, and Jennifer travel forward from 1985 to 2015).
The Author Guest of Honour will be Joe Haldeman.
And the Gaming Guest of Honour (also an author) will be Ed Greenwood.

And then it was over for another year.

Almost...

As I was leaving, I ran into Robert J Sawyer in the lobby. Sawyer wasn't one of the session panelists this year, but there was word a few days ago that he might be coming by today (he mentioned that he'd just been down at a writers' convention in the US, and decided to swing by Vancouver for the last day of VCon on his way home to Toronto), so I'd packed a couple of anthologies that he'd contributed to (and edited in two cases), just in case we crossed paths. As I've said before, Sawyer's a really nice guy who always makes time to talk with fans and seems to enjoy it. Because all of the anthologies of Canadian sf I'd brought were fairly old, he (like Spider and Gibson the day before) took a bit of a trip down memory lane, and shared a few recollections, including how they'd convinced the family and estate of Robertson Davies to allow one of the great writer's stories to be included in the Crossing the Line collection at a rate they could afford. Always interesting to hear the neat little backstories of how these things come together.

And then that was the end of the con for me. Back home to my wife, the cat, supper, and a PVR'd episode of Doctor Who.

Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

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