Saturday, August 22, 2015

Getting Conned South of the Border - Sasquan Day 3

The sun stumbled into a sky above Spokane this morning the colour of a canvas bag of old, dirty underwear scattered across a floor. There was more smoke than sky. More ash particles than air. Sunrise over the wildfire apocalypse, and the proof was the flag at the hotel across the street flying at half-mast in honour of a group of firefighters who'd died recently battling one of the forest fires. It's getting fucking hard to breathe around here.

But we trudged through the semi-solid air across the bridge and into the convention centre anyway.

Overheard upon entering the joint: "I keep wanting to go to a [con] business meeting, but everytime I walk in, I keep walking back out. I've been traumatized." Must've been a sub-committee meeting about ordering dixie cups for the water stations or something.

I started the day at the Tomorrow Stories panel, listening to authors, artists, comic creators and TV producers talk about bringing their own projects (as opposed to a corporate-owned property project) to fruition. Lots of interesting stories and perspectives, and one of the most valuable pieces of advice was one of the simplest: "You have to know how to play well with others." I'd say that applies to life in general.

One of the panelists was author Kevin J. Anderson, and even though he had to run off to another session right away, he was kind enough to hang around for a couple of minutes and sign books for a bunch of us. I'd brought my copy of The Martian War, and was glad to get an autograph.

Then it was over to the George RR Martin-Robert Silverberg dialogue, which, for the first ten minutes or so, was actually the Robert Silverberg-Robert Silverberg dialogue. Martin was late, so Silverberg began having a conversation with an imaginary George. Think of Clint Eastwood's infamous Obama-chair dialogue, except funny and nowhere near as uncomfortable. Once Martin did show up, Silverberg needled him mercilessly throughout the chat, though George did occasionally get in a shot or two of his own. The fact that they're friends and that it's all in good fun was what made it work. Over the course of the next nearly hour-and-a-half, they shared annecdotes of Worldcons and Hugo Awards past, as well as various grand personalities from the old days.

After that, I attended a kaffee klatsch with Melinda Snodgrass. Now, I know I interviewed her the other day, but a 'klatsch is a different kind of experience. There are more people, different focus(es), and a different sort of vibe. I asked one or two questions, but most of the time the other fans did the talking, and Snodgrass shared some wonderful stories about writing and writers, books and Hollywood, and some of the projectst that she's wanted to do. She wouldn't divulge any details, but she hinted that there may be some coming developments about a possible Wildcards film, which would be all kinds of awesome if it ever gets made. All in all, the session had a good bunch of people, and was a lot of fun.

I then booted it back to the hotel to wolf down some leftover pasta from the other night for lunch, before heading back out into the murk (by mid-day it was significantly worse - with the haze creating difficulties seeing even a couple of blocks down the street) and back to the con. I'd heard the bloodmobile was on-site again (originally, it had only been scheduled to be at the con on Wednesday, but the drive had been such a success that it had returned yesterday and today), and wanted to get tapped, but by the time I got to it (on the far side of the labyrinthine convention centre), the drive was done for the day, and it didn't sound like it would continue on the weekend. Oh well,  I guess I'll just schedule a donation at my regular bloodbank when I get home.

Then it was into the line to have Vonda N McIntyre sign a book for a friend who couldn't make it, and one of my own anthologies as well. The wait went fairly quickly though, as my friends Geordie & Marianne were passing by and stopped to shoot the breeze for a while.

When that was done, there was an announcement in the main hall that voting for the 2017 Worldcon location would be wrapping up in an hour-and-a-half, so I bolted over to the voting station to add my choices to the selection process. I'll admit, I'm still kind of sore that they make you pay to vote for the site selection these days. It wasn't that long ago that site selection voting was a privilege included in your membership purchase, but not anymore. This year, Helsinki, Montreal, Shizuoka, and Washington, DC are in contention. To my mind, DC should definitely be out of the running. Sorry, Washington residents, and Americans in general, this is nothing personal. DC's no doubt a fine town and it certainly has a lot of history, but let's be fair, it's hosted Worldcons on a couple of previous occasions, and with this year's Worldcon in Spokane, and next year's in Kansas, a DC win would make it three in a row for the US, and that's just not right. This is supposed to be the World Science Fiction Convention after all, so, you know, the rest of the world should get a shot at hosting this thing far more often than is the case now. Personally, I think there ought to be a new rule that no country be allowed to host the Worldcon more than 2 years in a row (and ideally, even that's pushing it). So, in terms of ranking preferences, DC was definitely number 4 on my ballot. The number 1 spot was tough though. Nationalism was certainly calling me to vote for Montreal as my first preference, and certainly in 2009 la belle province proved it could host a very good Worldcon. Montreal's also easy and relatively cheap for me to get to. We've got friends not too far away. And then there's Schwartz's, home to the best smoked meat sandwiches in the universe, conveniently within walking distance of the convention centre. But Montreal's hosted the con in very recent memory, so I also think it's timet to give someone else a chance. And that leads me to Helsinki. As I've said before, the Fins have shown a hell of a lot of heart in their campaigning over the past couple of years, and Helsinki has not hosted a Worldcon before. Yes, it would be one of the more expensive destinations to get to, but I'm pretty sure it would be worth it: new sites to see, a new culture to expereience, and I'm certain the Fins would be able to do a good job of organizing a con of this size. I think that in good conscience, voters have to give them a shot. So Helsinki was my first preference, followed by Montreal. Shizuoka, in all fairness, sounds like it would also make a very good host city for Worldcon, and I'd love to take a trip to Japan sometime. But that country has hosted the Worldcon before, so the Shizuoka bid was relegated to third place on my ballot. Now it's a matter of waiting to see how the other members voted.

We then tried to take in the (take a deep breath, because this panel had a hell of a long title) Chinese Myths and Traditions in Contemporary Literature panel, but ended up leaving at the half-way point because it was a complete disaster. First of all, one of the panelists (my wife insists she was the moderator) was obsessed with trying to foist a powerpoint presentation on the audience, even though at the beginning the convention centre or con organizers hadn't set up a screen. So she then tried to show the presentation & pictures on her laptop from the front of the room... to a room that could comfortably seat a hundred and was mostly full. No way were most of us going to be able to see what was on that thing. Later, someone came in with a screen, but it was inadequate, and even then there were problems with the powerpoint, causing even more delays. At least 10 minutes was probably wasted on this thing - and probably more after we left. Then there was another panelist who took the sopabox and ran with it, going on for nearly 10 minutes like no-one else was there. Two of the other panelists got to say a little bit, but by the time we left, the fifth panelist had hardly said anything.  There were other problems with the execution of this session, and my wife, who's from Hong Kong, was less than pleased with the affair. The whole time we were there, there was a steady stream of people leaving the audience, and I'm surprised we stayed as long as we did.

After that it was back into the dealers' room. I'd previously decided that I was finished buying books, but when I passed one of the publishers' tables, I found myself being drawn back to the book displays. The other day, SF Signal's Patrick Hester had been urging me to buy Josh Vogt's Enter the Janitor, and I'd been humming and hawing over it, but today I finally gave in and bought the thing. I blame Hester. (Hesterrrrrrrrrrrr!!!) But it certainly didn't take too much arm twisting. It does look like a fun read. My wife and I then turned to the business of getting some souvenires for our nephew & neice.  A geeky t-shirt for the boy and a couple of hand-made steel flower hair pin-broach thingies for the girl oughta do it. And then my wife saw a dragon wood carving she'd been thinking about for a couple of days, and gave it - throwing a wooden pig into the mix too. So we're loaded for bear with treasures from the con.

Then on to dinner at a charcuterie down the street before orbiting back to the convention centre for the Masquerade. By this point, smoke was roiling above the streets, people were actually walking around wearing masks to keep it out of their lungs, and the con organizers had posted dangerous air warning signs on all the doors.

When we entered, it was a bit of a different experience this time, with the con organizers giving out tickets with specified seating, rather than the normal allowance of a first-come-first-served free-for-all, but, given that our seats were in the centre and only about mid-way back, and that the seats were fairly roomy, even though we didn't get an aisle seat like I normally prefer, I couldn't complain. The show itself didn't seem as well organized as others have been in the past, feeling a bit slow and clunky transitioning between segments and participants. And rather than doing the logical thing and calling for a half-time break when the Masquerade was over, they kept pushing on and went straight into the filk concert performance. Which met with a mass walk-out by a huge number of people - including us - who either needed a break after an hour-and-a-half, or who (like us) didn't want to hang around for the concert. But for all the Masquerade's organizational faults, there were some really good costumes this year. Sadly, I couldn't get any pictures because there was something about the reflectivity of the backdrop on the stage that was interacting with the spotlights to blind the camera on my phone. Some of the best costumes included a wee little girl in a very good Miss Marvel costume, a couple of Weeping Angels, a guy doing version 2 of Wells' The Time Traveller - this time with a backpack time machine, a woman in an excellent Immorten Joanna costume, and a group that came on stage dressed as D&D adventurers facing off against an enormous Spider Queen - complete with somebody rolling on stage dressed as the world's most unlucky dice (every side was "1"). Hopefully I'll run into some of the during the last two days of the con and will be able to get pictures (I actually met Immorten Joanna in the dealers' room this afternoon and got a photo, which I'll post later).

Then it was back through the thick, ashy air to the hotel room to wheeze on my inhaler like the predator at the end of Predator 2 with his breather mask... except, you know, I'm just a fat man, not an interstellar safari hunter, and Danny Glover hasn't lopped-off my hand. No parties for us tonight because, as usual, we're exhausted.

Stay tuned for more nerdy adventures tomorrow...

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