Saturday, October 01, 2011

VCon 36 - Day 1

Another year, another VCon. While nothing really wowed me about the programming schedule ahead of time, there's still something comforting and homey about the con (in a geeky sort of way) that makes me look forward to going back each year.

VCon 36 got off to a bit of a late start for me... I don't think I arrived until just before 4:00, which is okay because while registration and some of the displays and movies fire up at noon, most of the major sessions don't get under way until about 4, and there was nothing that was really standing out to me right away. I knew things were beginning well right after I finished at the registration desk when I was called over to a display table run by the Ghostbusters of Alberta fan group. Seems one of them had taken a liking to the "White & Nerdy" t-shirt I'd picked up at a Weird Al concert a few years ago and wanted to know if they could pick one up locally. Sadly, there's no local connection for Yankovic merchandise that I know of when he isn't coming through on tour. That being said, we had a nice chat and I had a good long look at some of their equipment. I don't know which was more awesome: their replica proton pack signed by Dan "Ray Stantz" Ackroyd, or the club's white stationwagon out in the parking log tricked out to look like the Ecto-1 (or, the Ecto-1EH as they call it, eh). Will try to grab some pix tomorrow to share. Lots of other great costumes out and about today as well, especially with the 501st Legion out in full force (pun intended).

From there I did the usual prowl around to get a feel for a layout of the convention hall's various session rooms, the dealers' room, the art room, Uncle Victor's movie room and the hotel in general. Bit of an unusual experience in the art room though... Larry Niven, who's the con's Author Guest of Honour this year, had been in there looking around and shooting the breeze with the room supervisor; after a while, round about the time I was looking at the cool Chinese steampunk prints by James Ng, I hear Niven walk over to the entrance to get his bag or whatever from the room supervisor on the way out the door, and while he was waiting he started singing "Some Enchanted Evening". Not big, loud, room-filling singing, mind you, just that sort of that light, only somewhat audible, half-unconcious singing that some people do where others might just hum or whistle. Didn't last too long though before he got his bag and was off about his business. Really not something I expected. And ya know, he may be a good writer, but that singing is really not something I'd want to hear again.

The Opening Ceremonies were thankfully light and pretty quick. Anyone who's been to cons knows that when the mic starts getting passed around the front table during introductions there's the serious potential for people to start talking and just not stop, but this year's VCon front table team didn't waste any time. Indeed, probably the longest spiel came from Niven, who rambled on for about 10 minutes on the subject of his 1971 book Lucifer's Hammer, the chances of a person getting killed by a meteorite, the risk of comets and asteroids to the Earth, his book Lucifer's Hammer, nuking said celestial bodies, other means of pushing in-bound threats away, an amusing anecdote about John W. Campbell and Analog in the 40's having to do with atomic weapons, oh, and did I mention Lucifer's Hammer and nuking space rocks? Still not entirely sure what all that had to do with "here we are at VCon", but it was kind of entertaining anyway.

From there it was on to physicist Rob Knop's "The Science Behind Larry Niven's Neutron Star", with Niven himself sitting in the audience. A good general lecture on neutron stars, gravity, tidal forces and basic physics.

Next I ambled over to the Book Launch for a couple of minutes to ask Niven to autograph my copy of Ringworld and the first page of his short story "Not Long Before the End" in The Oxford Book of Fantasy. Asking him to sign his contribution to TOBOF is something that's a couple of years overdue for me. I just happened to be reading not only that anthology, but that very story a couple of years ago when I was attending Worldcon in Montreal and ran into Niven at a session one morning. We were both sitting in the back row and I had the book in my bag and figured I'd ask for his autograph when the panelists were done. Problem was, a couple of minutes after the session got started, the old author nodded off. He was still asleep an hour later when the discussion came to an end and I didn't think it would be right to wake him to pester him for his signature. Luckily he was wide awake this evening.

After that it was down to the hotel bar for a leisurely supper watching the first quarter of the Lions-Eskimos game with fellow con-goers and other hotel guests. Hats off to the kitchen for doing a delightful scratch-made caramel bread pudding. Not only was it tasty, it was huge: as big as the Death Star and probably quite capable of destroying the blood sugar levels of an entire planet.

My next session after dinner was "Our Green Future Does Not Have to be Soylent". What was supposed to be a panel discussion about the possibility of a sustainable future given human population growth and activity degenerated after just a few minutes into a sustained diatribe about the general uselessness and evils of government and business. Now, I'm not going to chug koolaid and defend irresponsible political decision making or blind corporate self-interest, but on the other hand I would certainly have appreciated a more balanced discussion because not everything has gone to pot, and, call me a hopeless optimist, I don't think it's a foregone conclusion that as a species we've slotted ourselves and our planet into a straight line towards extinction. I suspect our remarkable ability to adapt may buy us at least a small chance of survival.

At any rate, the last panel I attended today was "Old School Vampires", where the folklore origins of these creatures of the night were explored, along with discussions of their evolution to the portrayal of vampires that we know today. It was pretty informative and moved along quickly, and while the panelists weren't able to completely avoid discussing the current Stephanie Meyer spin on the undead, they did make every effort to not dwell too much on sparkly vampires that suck.

Speaking of creatures that stay up all night, I've spend half it already and should probably turn in so I don't miss all of tomorrow's programming.

Stay tuned for the next VCon 36 update tomorrow night, and of course the odd Twitter update as things unfold.


Karl Johanson said...

The Soylent panel did hit a number of "things are bad" points. I was attempting to point out how some things in our world paralleled what happened in "Soylent Green" and "Make Room, Make Room," and pointing out that things are better in the real world. For one example, in the novella and movie, almost all of the crops grown were soybeans, lentils and peanuts. The parallel to the real world is that a substantial percentage of the world's food is provided by a limited number of crops (80% of the food by 15 crops was what another panelist claimed), and that, while of concern to many, is quite a bit better than the situation in the stories. I'm thinking of doing an article on this topic & maybe I can get my points out more articulately than on a panel. Good to get audience feedback on the ideas though.
Karl Johanson Editor Neo-opsis Science Fiction Magazine.

Robin Shantz said...

That's certainly a fair point, Karl. I do recall you noting some of the SG/MRMR details and pointing out things in the real world hadn't degenerated to that level.

That being said, I think what I was getting at was that, in general, the tone of the session was pretty pessimistic and, to me at least, frequently felt fairly one-sided. To be fair, certainly there were comments from the audience which contributed to that, and perhaps it was just my read on how things went. I guess what I was hoping for was more vigorous debate on the hows and whys and where-do-we-go-from-here's.

Thanks for the heads-up about your article (presumably in Neo-opsis?); I'll definitely keep an eye out for it.

All the best,