Sunday, August 09, 2009

WorldCon - Day 4

Some days you've just gotta role with the punches.

Today started with a punch to the gut when I made the mistake of
following the recommendation of a friend (who's a Montrealer) and some
other locals who suggested I try a fast food chain unique to Quebec
called La Belle Province. I was told their hotdogs were the best and
that their fries, though greasy, were the best. The only virtue of the
gut bomb that ensued was that it was cheap - which about sums up the
quality of their excuse for food. The dogs were small and tasteless
and the fries weren't potatoes fried in oil so much as oil garnished
with some potato slices. Hell, the chips weren't even cooked all the
way through - that might have interfered with them being a delivery
mechanism for the month-old grease. Usually it's a good idea to listen
to the locals when it comes to finding a place to eat, but this dive
represents a cultural divide that just cannot be crossed.

With that glob sourly sloshing around in my stomach, I fled for the
nerdish safety of the convention centre and went straight to the first
session I'd put on my list for the day. Or so I thought. I got to the
room, grabbed a seat and waited for the panel to get under way. But
rather than launching into an examination of a possible "peak metal"
crisis, the bunch at the front started muttering about teaching SF (or
not) in universities. I knew I had the right room, so peak metal must
have been moved to another location/time or cancelled. Sometimes it
helps to check the schedule update board at the info desk before
starting the day.

Didn't have much interest in hanging around listening to a panel
rehash the obvious (SF is not taught or respected in nearly enough
post-secondary institutions, although it should be), so I decided to
bail. There was no point in trying to track down Peak Metal because by
the time I got back to the front of the centre and down to the level
with the info desk (the place reminds me of Scroob's line in
Spaceballs about the ship being too big to walk or the movie will be
over - the Palais de Congres is that big), figured out what was going
on and got to the new room (if there even was one), I would have
missed too much.

So I went to the Dealers' Room instead. Which was a good thing because
the handout/freebie table at the back had issues of "Emerald Eye",
anthology of Irish SF, up for grabs. Not one to turn my back on a free
SF anthology, I snagged one and browsed for a bit before heading to a

This time it worked out! I went to the panel on alternate histories.
The first part of the discussion looked at why most alternate
histories these days tend to be about WWII or the US Civil War (and to
some extent the Roman Empire). Reasons offered included that's what
publishers want to buy, and that's what fans want to read (because
these wars offer clearly-defined battles of right vs wrong, and
because - in the case of WWII - readers' parents or grandparents might
have been involved). This was followed with an extended discussion of
why not WWI, which had massive pacts on our existence. The rest of the
session involved thoughts about other turning points in history that
could be fodder for good alternate histories, and some stories that
did cover other historic ground.

From there it was on to a session about the economics of interstellar
trade. It was split between non-FTL possibilities and (to a much
lesser extent) trade between FTL-enabled civilizations. Basically, in
the most likely scenario of no FTL, there's not much use for
physically travelling and trading. Information might be the only
reasonable commodity - if the other civilization even put a value on
our knowledge. Art and rare, difficult to reproduce commodities were
other possibilities mentioned. They also hashed over the "why bother"
scenario of civilizations that could invest enough resouces and
technology into making a reasonable interstellar voyage wouldn't need
to - they could make anything our civilization has themselves. And
they raised the spectre that having been broadcasting for so many
decades, we might have already given our info away for free.

The Landscape in Fantasy session afterwards had interesting subject
matter (comparing physical and social landscapes and their effects on
storytelling, culture and sense of self) and most of the panelists
were worth while. My only issue was that one of the panelists (and I
won't name any names) had a way of over-emphasizing every word that
came out of her mouth that was gigantically pretentious - especially
because she wasn't saying anything especially worth while.

From there it was the search for supper. My first attempt was a miss
when I discovered the diner I'd seen a few blocks away was closed. In
fact, downtown Montreal is pretty quiet around supper on Sunday. The
second attempt involved a pasta joint in the convention centre. Might
have been okay if they were properly staffed and taking care of
customers properly, but when the line was 40 people long and not
moving at all, I realized there was no point in hanging around. At
last I settled for St Hubert, a rotisserie chicken place that is
another one of those local legacies. Basically, the food's Swiss
Chalet quality in an atmosphere that's trying to be a bit more hip.
The food was okay and let me get back to the convention centre in
short order.

I arrived about half an hour after the Hugo ceremony had started, so I
knew I wouldn't be tweeting the results like with the Auroras. I
considered blowing off the Hugos for a session on cross-genre hard SF,
but I discovered that had been cancelled. None of the other sessions
were of much interest, so I figured better late than never for the
awards ceremony. It moved along reasonably quickly and had some funny
moments. No big surprises though.

One more day left - or at least part of one - before things wrap up
and I catch a train to Ottawa to start the non-SF portion of my

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