Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Getting Conned South of the Border - Sasquan Day 1

Can you say you've had a good con experience if you show up for Worldcon and don't attend any of the day's programming? Hell yes!

Normally I'm big on going to panels and readings, and, just like any other con, I'd planned out a rough schedule of what I wanted to check out today, but it all went out the window when other opportunities arose, and the result was fantastic.

But I should backtrack a bit... Yesterday's 8-hour drive (that's including a couple of stops along the way) from Vancouver to Spokane was a visual feast: starting with craggy, green-cloaked coastal and near-inland mountains wading through a light haze of wildfire smoke, giving way to lower, dryer peaks and high orchards and vinyards pulling the now thicker ash-air over themselves like lazy teenagers yanking up blankets to sleep away the morning, then on to high desert and canyons that look like they'd be right at home as tributaries of the Grand Canyon or in Monument Valley with tumbleweeds bumbling across the road and exploding across the hoods of cars, then onto the surreal dry farming plateau that looked shockingly like the prairies because of its flatness and the inablility to see the mountains on the horizon because of the smoke, and finally finishing with two towering columns of smoke billowing up from the north as we hit the outskirts of Spokane. We were so glad we took quiet little Route 2 through Washington, instead of the bigger highway. There's nothing like a long drive through country you haven't seen before. When we arrived, we went for supper with friends and fellow con-goers from BC, Geordie and Marianne, which is always a blast. Lots of laughs, tales from the road (they took Highway 20 - also very scenic, from what we've been told) and a chance to catch up on life in general. Then it was back to the hotel for a flurry of emails to get today organized.

Today started off like a blast from a cannon. Rather than the normal pokey shuffle along the registration lineup and stroll through the convention centre to get the lay of the land before getting into programming, I instead interviewed author Robert J. Sawyer. Over the years, I've read most of Sawyer's books and short stories, and have met him a few times at conventions and book launch readings. He's a nice guy with a lot to say, and I couldn't pass up the chance to sit down with him for a bit and ask a few questions. One of the highlights was discovering a shared appreciation for Oliver Butterworth's The Enormous Egg. Bonus points to Rob for agreeing to do an interview while fighting what sounded like a bad cold. I know if I was in that position I'd probably just want to take a day in bed, but he soldiered through the interview with a high level of energy and made some good points.

Coming out of the Sawyer interview, my wife and I wound up having a quick chat with a couple of ladies from Baltimore who were in for the con. Never met them before, but I really believe that these impromptu friendly conversations with fellow fans in the hallway are what makes cons great. You've never seen these people before; you may never see them again; and you're probably from different walks of life, but for an instant there's a connection, and that chance to engage with people who have different perspectives is important.

Then it was over to the main hall for the afore-mentioned shuffle along the registration line. I'll give the Sasquan volunteers a lot of credit: it was a long line but it moved relatively quickly. They were extremely efficient in getting attendees checked-in, badged, and on their way — and they were very friendly. While waiting in line, we had a great conversation with the guy behind us — a fan from Gainsville, Florida — mostly centring on the various cities bidding for the 2017 Worldcon. Again, different background, different perspective, and a one-off encounter that was an enjoyable way to spend time while waiting for the reg line to move.

From there we scouted out potential locations for other interviews, and had a quick look at the 2017 bid tables and the dealers' room.

Then it was time for another interview. This time, Melinda Snodgrass — another author who's work I've really enjoyed for a long time, especially her writing and editing for the Wildcards series. Snodgrass is engaging and friendly, and balances high energy and enthusiasm with thoughtfulness. While her credits include writing for the screen, we focussed most of our conversation on books — her favourites, and her approach to writing her own — and it was a real treat to find out we share a fondness for Donald A. Wollheim's children's classic The Secret of the Martian Moons. We covered a lot of ground, and the time disappeared in a flash. Before parting, she was kind enough to sign my copy of Wildcards - Double Solitaire.

After that, my wife and I went to grab a late lunch, and by the time we got back, most of the programming I'd thought about attending was over. But you know what? That's okay. I didn't attend a single programmed panel or reading today, and I had a great time — one of the best con days ever. It's not often that you get to sit down with two authors whose work you enjoy and get to pick their brains for awhile. I couldn't have asked for better — especially on an opening day. What's with the interviews? Stay tuned, fellow fans. Stay tuned.

Then I broke one of my long-cherished rules for con survival: I spent money in the dealers' room on the first day. It started with a stroll back towards the land o' merch, and we stopped a bunch of the tables where teams bidding for future Worldcons had their displays. We chatted with the folks at the Dublin 2019 table (and we're really leaning towards going to that one) as well as the New Zealand 2020 group (another tempting destination — though another expensive trip, and back-to-back with Ireland potentially makes it an extra burden on the bank account... if they win their respective bids). But then we spent a lot of time looking at the bidders on this year's ballot for 2017... We had a good chat with the reps for Montreal, which, as a Canadian, I feel something of an obligation to support, especially since they did such a good job with Worldcon 2009, and because a win for Montreal would mean a walk down the street to Schwartz's for a smoked meat sandwich for me, and that is universally recognized as an absolute good. The folks from the Japanese bid were also a really nice bunch, and plying me with strange candies was a good tactic. The "White & Nerdy" t-shirt I was wearing (my obligatory attire for day 1 of any con) prompted a couple of us to discuss our mutual love of Weird Al Yankovic while we were there, and, as far as attire goes, I had to admire the team's commitment to showing their spirit by wearing some very nice kimonos. After that, it was over to talk to the Helsinki team. These guys have impressed the hell out of me for a while now. Hitting con-goers up in the registration line on day 1 last year in London by giving out weird Finnish candies was a good start, and since then I've heard their bid mentioned on a few different fronts. I've always been impressed by how much heart this team has. While it's doubtful we'd be able to attend a con in Finland, I'm a very strong believer in the idea that if this thing is actually going to call itself a "world" con, it needs to be held in many different locations around the world, and, most importantly at a greater frequency than it has been historically. Look at the current line-up: Spokane this year, Kansas next year, and there's a strong bid for DC in  2017. That's a little much. The Americans certainly know how to put on good cons, but two years in a row, and potentially three, is too much. Spread the love around, fanboys and fangirls. Spread the love around. I haven't definitively decided which bid I'll vote for this year, but it won't be DC. But getting back to Finland... the Helsinki team has impressed me so much, and because I also have a buddy currently in Waterloo who's of Finnish stock (and is quite tolerant of my frequent sauna and Monty Python "Finland Song" jokes), I thought it was time to put my money where my big mouth is, and bought a Helsinki bid supporter t-shirt. I like the bear on it. And they gave me more weird Finnish candy. You can see it isn't hard to win my love.

We then dove into the dealers' room, and it wasn't long before I threw the tradition of first day restraint completely out the window and I started buying books. I blame the people at the Edge Publishing table. They know my weakness for anthologies, and they're more than willing to exploit it. By the end of the stop at their table, I'd forked over for 3 anthologies for me (Tesseracts 18, Nevermore, and Professor Challenger - New Worlds, Lost Places) and a new collection from Suzanne Church for my wife. They're nice folks. But they're book bullies. I felt like a kid who's been beaten-up in the school yard, except instead of leaving me with bruises, they left me with books. And who am I kidding? I'll be back for more punishment. If that wasn't enough, I stopped at another dealer, where I picked up a used copy of Wildcards - Marked Cards that I'd needed for my collection. They also had a good copy of Wollheim's The Secret of Saturn's Rings, but at $100, it was too rich for my blood. For her part, my wife saw a couple of necklaces that tempted her, but she showed more restraint (for the time being) than I did.

After that, we had a first look at the art display, then wandered outside to the park in the middle of the river to check out the con's First Night festivities. More display tables, a demo by the SCA (or some similar group) which was fun, and various other activities. All under a blood red sun that would be the envy of Krypton, and a sky turned a sickly orange-grey by the wildfire haze.

Super followed at a nearby restaurant (the Steelhead — not bad), and then we made a leisurely circuit of the area to check out other eateries for the next few days.

Back to the hotel room then, exhausted, to file this report and hit the sack. Tomorrow: more adventures.

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