Thursday, August 20, 2015

Getting Conned South of the Border - Worldcon Day 2

I won't start this post with the usual chronological summary of the day's events, but rather with a question:

At what point does asking for help in the autograph lineup turn from genuinely asking for legitimate help to being an outright dick?

This is an actual question I'm asking all of you, fellow fans... I really do want your opinions, because an experience today has left me puzzled and somewhat annoyed.

At one point today I joined a line to get an autograph from an author. Which author doesn't matter, this person has no bearing on the story. We only need to say that this author had a long-ish line of fans waiting for signatures — say, a 20-30 minute wait. Not the end of the world, but enough of a wait that there's some standing around and time to chat with other fans and check email and social media (the Spokane convention centre has excellent wifi, by the way).

Ahead of me in line was an older guy, probably late 60s or early 70s, with a leg brace and one of those walker/seat things all slung with book bags. At one point, the guy looks at me and asks "Can you hold my place in line?" To which I replied "Sure." because that's what you do. It's the friendly line etiquette that most people at cons observe, because the reality is that when lines are long enough, there's going to be a point where someone has to step out to hit the washroom, and they shouldn't have to lose their place just because nature has called. We've all been there at some point, and we've all appreciated other people honouring our spot in the queue and maybe watching our stuff for a few minutes. So, of course, because I assumed the guy was headed to the head, I agreed. No big deal.

Except it became a big deal. Turns out the guy wasn't going for a washroom break. Even with a Mad Max-style leg brace, he got out of his walker chair thing with surprising ease, dug around in one of his bags, fished out a huge stack of books, and walked over (walked, mind you, not limped) to one of the other authors who had only a short line, and stood in that author's line for 5 or 10 minutes, and got 3 books signed. Think that was all? Noooooooooo no no no. Not by a long shot. Once his 3 were inked, he turned around and went to the back of the same author's line, then after a few minutes, got to the front, and had another 3 books signed.

Was that it? NO! He then went over to a third author, who had a short lineup, and got another bunch of books signed.

Finally he came back to the original lineup for the author that me and 30 or so other people were waiting for. All the while I'd been pushing his walker thingy ahead as the line shuffled forward. He stuffed the signed books back into one of the bags, and sat down without a word of thanks, and resumed rolling forward as the line advanced.

Was it over then? Hell no! When we were nearly at the front of the line, he turned to me, looked me over, and said "So, do you only have those two books for ____ to sign?" Me, suspiciously: "Yup." Him: "I've already got my three, so can I give you another one of my books so you can have ___ sign it?"

I furrowed my brow and stood there thinking about it for a minute. Steam may have started to seep from my ears and begun to fog my glasses. Was I going to abet this line-hopper in further deking around con autograph line etiquette? (If you haven't been to a con, or you go to ones that don't have long lines or where the rules are a little more lax, the convention for autographs is that you're limited to 3, and if you have more books you then move to the back of the line and go through the queue again to get another 3 signed, and so on. That way you're not dominating the front of the line and making others wait forever while your entire library gets signed. It's a good rule.) I looked over at the guy in front of Mr Line Deker. He shrugged and said "We do these little favours for people." I grimaced. "Yeah," I said, "I know." But the situation with this guy was a lot different than any I'd seen before. Finally, I relented and agreed. He passed over the book without a "thank-you". And a few minutes later, I discovered the Uber Line Deker had pulled the same thing wtih the guy in front of him, the whole "you've only got 2 books, so why not help me out and take one of mine?" schtick.

When I got to the front of the line, I had my books signed, got The Incredible Deker's book signed, and handed it back to him. He mumbled a terse, quick, insincere "Thanks" and scooted away with more speed and agility than a person using a walker chair thing would normally be expected to have.

So I ask you, and I really do want you to leave your opinions in the Comments section below: was this old codger way out of line (pun kind of intended)? Did he take a dump on the 3-book-and-then-requeue etiquette? Should I have said "no?" to his signing request in light of his first performance? Or was his behaviour okay?

I really don't know. It certainly feels wrong to me. I've never seen anyone pull that kind of a stunt before in any autograph line that I've been a part of, and that includes Worldcons and local cons. But I'm willing to consider that maybe this kind of thing is okay at some cons. Hence my question to all of you. What do you think?

Anyhow, enough of the autograph line angst. On to the daily run-down.

On the way across the bridge to the convention centre this morning, we ran into the Ribbon Kid. This kid looked to be about 13, and had a million-and-a-half ribbons hanging from his membership badge. He said his goal was to outdo his personal record of 87 ribbons, and have a 13-foot length of them which he could then use as a kind of Tom Baker-esque scarf. Everyone's gotta have a dream. You go, Ribbon Kid. You live that long ribbon scarf dream.

The first panel I attended was Future Pharma. Lots of interesting discussion about the nature of the pharmaceutical industry and its scientific research and ethics. I was especially intrigued by the discussion around the growing possibility — especially in light of the growing DIY culture in our society and the availabilty of a wide variety of equipment and substances for private purchase — of people getting into home brewing/DIY pharmaceuticals and research in their garages. What are the dangers? What if there was a valid and useful discovery — would an individual working out of a basement have a chance of being taken seriously, even if they'd discovered a cure for, say, diabetes, and would there be any funding and follow-up or ethical permission? What if people just buck the system and start making and using pharmaceuticals on their own? The whole thing was especially interesting to me because as part of my other life as a freelance writer, I have clients who have me interview scientists involved in chemistry and pharmaceutical research.

After that I queued-up for an autograph from Joe Haldeman. Enjoyable conversations from that line included meeting a 50-something guy and life-long fan who's attending a con for the first time. As someone who's first con was also a Worldcon (Winnipeg, back in the '90s), I know what it's like, and it was nice to hear about how much he's enjoying it. There was also another guy showing pictures of his home library — an absolutely beautiful multi-room basement affair with big dark wood bookcases housing something like 7.5 tons of books. If only my wife would let me take over the basement like that!

When I had the signature, I went over to take in the rest of the Anatomy of a Pandemic panel. Not surprisingly, lots of scary stuff about how bugs can get around and get out of control, and a good counterpart session to the earlier Pharma panel.

After lunch I went to a reading by Connie Willis. Before getting into an excerpt from her new novel (which was very funny and had banter that reminded me a lot of her Christmas story "Miracle"), she shared some annecdotes that had the crowd in stitches. Not only is she a good writer, she's a hell of a live entertainer.

From there it was on to the Mike Resnick signing (as a fan and occasional collector of Hawaiian shirts, I was suitably impressed with the loudness of the aloha shirt he was rocking today), and then over to the George RR Martin reading to catch the last half of an excerpt from his new book, and the audience questions. Best quote: "No work of fiction can possibly be harmed by the addition of turtles." Tell 'em, Thomas Tudbury!

I then took in The Changing Face of Hard Science Fiction, which went pretty much as expected. The best part was meeting David G Hartwell afterwards — even though he was in a rush to get to another panel, he was kind enough to take the time to sign my old copy of Northern Stars. As a Canadian, this is a big deal. Northern Stars was one of the first widely-seen anthologies (it was published in time for, and promoted and sold at the Winnipeg Worldcon back in the '90s) to celebrate Canadian speculative fiction writers, and it meant a lot for an American with a big reputation for anthologies to give the project his attention and help bring it into being. I already have signatures from a number of the book's contributing authors, and Hartwell's will tie it together nicely.

The last programming item of the day for me was the Greg Bear signing, after which I did the obligatory daily tour of the dealers' room, and did the obligatory buying of a book. This time it was the new steampunk anthology The Best of Penny Dread Tales.

I then met up with my wife, who'd had her own full day of programming, and we went over to an Italian restaurant, Luigi's, which I think had about half the con in it for a pasta feed. Good food, and we've got leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

On the walk back, we talked about going to a room party or two this evening... We'd heard the Montreal bid team was serving smoked meat from Schwartz's, and, let's face it, it's worth giving Montreal another Worldcon just to get a sandwich from Schwartz's. There was also another party hosted by the Fins of the Helsinki bid (although it's not a real party with Fins unless there's a sauna involved). But, bulging with pasta and with a long day behind us and another coming up tomorrow, we were just feeling our age too much and longing for bed rather than a nerdy kegger. So here we are.

More news tomorrow, but in the meantime, let me know what you think about that old dude deking around the 3 book limit rules for the autograph line.

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