Sunday, October 07, 2018

VCon 2018 - Day 3 - Turkeys for Turkey Day

As the man once sang: I hurt myself today.

No, there was nothing involving a needle or other methods of substance abuse. This was a different kind of voluntary destruction of lives. This was the Turkey Readings. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Day 3 of VCon (which was also this year's host for Canvention — Canada's national speculative fiction convention): the sleepy Sunday when the fun is slowly, reluctantly, wearily grinding to a halt and people start to head home — some faster than others in order to make it to early Thanksgiving dinners with family (technically, the holiday is tomorrow, but a lot of Canadian families get it out of the way on Sunday so that we've got Monday to rest, rather than wrestling with a feast and guests all day and then having to return to work or school on Tuesday completely exhausted). I arrived around 1:30 to meet someone, but plans changed, so I had a little time on my hands and wandered around a bit. Today's attire: a Flynn's Arcade t-shirt from Uber Torso, and, yes, one person wandering by did get the Tron reference and gave it the nod of approval.

And today I actually managed to take in some programming! I caught the "I'm In Love With The Villain" panel, which, fairly obviously, discussed villains in sf (and pop culture in general, and history) and why we love them, or love to watch them or read about them even if we hate them. A lively and thoughtful discussion from the panel, as well as the audience. In fact, I give those at the front of the room a lot of credit for striking the perfect balance between their own panel pontifications and audience participation. It kept everyone engaged and entertained. Bonus points for this panel: unrelated to their topic, they mentioned that the West Coast Science Fiction Association (which runs VCon) had published an anthology this year as a fundraiser, something that I don't recall hearing about during the opening ceremonies (and, to be fair, maybe I just didn't catch it, and I probably looked right past the book when I was walking through the dealers' room this weekend), so I had to rush over to the dealers' room once the session wrapped up to snag a copy. Edited by Ellen Michelle, it's called Power: In the Hands of One, In the Hands of Many. I think putting out an anthology to help fund the con is a great idea, and I hope it's sold enough copies over the weekend to support more volumes in the future. Now we'll have to see how it reads!

After that, I linked-up with author Charles Stross (one of the con's Guests of Honour) to interview him for the Invaders From Planet 3 podcast. We covered topics ranging from the influence of Britain's "dysfunctional society" in the 1970s and 80s on its science fiction, to how his experience working in large, bureaucratic organizations affected his stories. Stay tuned for that episode in December.

Then it was time for the pain.

Why do I go to the goddamn Turkey Readings session every year? Why? In Return of the Jedi, C-3P0 warns Luke, Han and Chewie that they're in for "a new definition of pain and suffering" as they're "slowly digested over a thousand years" in the sarlacc pit. That prospect has nothing on VCon's Turkey Readings. While this exercise in psychological torture and masochism may not actually last a millennium, it damn near feels like it. If your local con has nothing like this, then it may be a good idea to read the following description so you'll be forewarned and can use any means necessary — up to and including a full nuclear strike — to prevent this painful travesty from ever being replicated by your fan organization, or anyone else in the universe for that matter. It goes like this: three or four panelists sit at a table at the front of the room with a pile of books. These are terrible books. Some of the worst culled from the history of the genre, usually by unremembered authors, but sometimes by big names who are still talked about. But make no mistake: these tomes are abominations. They contain truly painful writing, cliched plots, and ridiculous characters. The panelists divvy-up the pile, then one will start reading a selected story aloud. Did I mention the actors? Oh yes, this is more than just an assault on the brain through the ears. They attack your eyes too. Volunteers in the audience come up to the front to "act" out the scenes as they're being read. Their performances are enthusiastic, but on the same level of quality as the writing that inspires them. Deliberately. As the story unfolds, the ridiculousness of the writing and the antics of the volunteer actors drive the audience into fits of laughter. But, really, can we say this is the laughter prompted by something truly funny, or is this the helpless braying of once-intelligent minds being driven into the putrid, hairy armpit of madness? The latter, I think. If there's any redeeming virtue to all of this, it's that the victims in the audience can open their wallets and make bids to stop the pain. Of course, this is often just a trick to give the audience victims a false sense of hope, because others among the crowd (having the last vestiges of their sanity finally shredded away) can pay more money to keep the agony going! This auction of insanity goes on intermittently until finally some desperate soul can throw down enough money to make it stop once and for all. But then, of course, the next panelist picks up his/her chosen book, and begins to administer a new round of psychological annihilation, and those of us who have wandered into this circus of pain clutch out seats, vainly waiting for a financial hero to rise from among our number to buy a few minutes of respite. The positive side to the whole affair is that the money raised at the Turkey Readings goes to the Canadian Unity Fan Fund, which pays to bring a selected fan from one part of the country to a Canvention in another province in the interests of creating bonds of friendship among fans around Canada. Maybe that's why I keep inflicting this experience on myself year after year. I'll never be one of the fans who's a part of this exchange, but I certainly support the idea, and I usually put a couple of bucks in the pot every year to help out — and to, mostly unsuccessfully, try to put an end to whatever reading is being thrown at me in the moment. Of course, there's another explanation: maybe I keep going back to the Turkey Readings because they've been successful in permanently damaging my brain. Maybe I've been driven so far beyond rational thought that I can't help returning to the scene of the crime again and again — maybe it's become just as important a part of my Thanksgiving tradition to suffer through the Turkey Readings as it is to eat turkey dinner. Gobble, gobble, gobble...

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