Sunday, September 30, 2012

VCon 2012 - Day 2 - Treasures from the Crash

Like any treasure-hunting expedition to the untouched ruins of a city hidden in some forgotten corner of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, it's a simple reality of going to a con that you're not going to get to everything. Sure, some try: die-hards, fueled on caffeine and willpower who pinball from panel to room party to bar to gaming room and so on in a desperate effort to take in EVERYTHING. And more power to them. Someone's gotta be the ultimate party animal. But even those intrepid souls can't do it all. Sooner or later, they choose one session over another, or crash from lack of energy. For the rest of us, there's resignation to the fact that you're going to pick and choose, and end up missing a bunch of potentially good stuff, and valuing the good experiences you do have, all the more, as a result.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that I was completely bagged from staying up until past 3 last night doing post-con blogging, and I ended up sleeping-in this morning, then grabbing a late lunch with my wife, thereby missing a whole bunch of really cool-sounding sessions this morning: Parallel Universes in Science and Science Fiction, the James Ng Slideshow, Aliens Among Us, the Connie Willis Interview, the Gregory Benford Interview, and so on. But, hey, everything in balance, right?

Arriving at the con around 2 though, I was in for a surprise - a pleasant one - right off the bat. Today, I'd decided to wear my Ghostbusters hockey jersey (courtesy of Dave's Geeky Hockey, which is perhaps the strangest, but most awesome mashup of nerdity and sportswear I've come across). While coming through the lobby, I exchanged friendly nods with another con-goer who I've seen, and occasionally chatted with, at VCons over the years - no-one I'd say I really know, but familiar and friendly enough. After a second though, he did a bit of a double-take, looking at the jersey again, and came striding over...

"I've got something to show you," he says. "Come with me!"

"Um. Okay," I replied, and followed him to the elevator, thinking that this was pretty weird. But then again, it's a science fiction convention. The whole joint's weird. And it's not like I was getting a bad feeling off of the dude, and I'm solid enough to hold my own, if need be, so up we went. I stood in the door as he rummaged around for a minute, then he turns around and presents me with a lap tray - like the kind you're served breakfast-in-bed on - branded with the old cartoon The Real Ghostbusters.

My brother and I used to watch the show (anyone remember that Arsenio Hall used to voice Winston Zeddimore before he landed his talkshow?), but I hadn't thought about since... well, since it was on 27-or-whatever years ago. Certainly not something I'd expected to be reminded of, and definitely not a piece of merchandising I even thought would have existed in the first place.

I made the appropriate appreciative noises for the pop culture relic and made to hand it back, but the guy said "No, it's for you." I said thanks, but I couldn't take his find. But he said that he'd got it from an uncle a while ago, but realized that while he likes Ghostbusters, he's not a huge fan, and with limited space to store the treasures he does love most, he figured he might as well bring it to the con and give it to someone who looked like a fan of the franchise. No charge. No trade. Just wanted to find a home for it. He saw my jersey, and figured he'd completed his quest.

So, with many thank-you's, we proceeded back to the lobby, and I brought the tray down to my car so I wouldn't have to lug it around the con all day.

But what a nice surprise! How often is it that someone singles you out, based on what you're wearing, and just gives you something because they think you'd like it? As geeks most of us, at some point in our lives, have probably been marked because of something we were wearing, or some possession we had with us, but we were probably picked-on for it. How many other circumstances are there, other than SF cons, when a relative stranger points at you in a crowd because of your attire, and, without bullying or guile, gives you something? A genuine, simple act of generosity from one fan to another, knowing that the other person might appreciate a collectible? Outside of a con, not very often, in my experience.

Now I'll have something to balance my sandwich and drink on, next time I'm eating in front of the tube.

After that, it was on to my watch my first panel of the day: the live recording of the Caustic Soda Podcast, with guests Willis and Benford. Now, admittedly, until this point, I haven't been a follower of this podcast. It's something I'd heard about in the periphery of my attention at cons in the past, but for some reason never paid attention to the talk, or didn't follow up on it. My mistake. Today, I decided to give it a shot, since I'd seen one of their hosts yesterday and was pretty impressed, and because today they were bringing two of the con's guests of honour on board.

Wow. What a lot of fun! The boys from the podcast are smart and funny and keep that thing jogging along at one hell of a pace. I think they were recording for an hour-and-a-half, but the time just exploded by. Both Willis and Benford were a pleasure to watch in action as well, as the discussion bounced around the con's theme of Post-Apocalypse. As guests go, Benford was more reserved than Willis, but personality-wise, he seemed kind of like a straight-man in a comedy team: watching, waiting, timing, letting the others get the shots in, then quickly stepping in with a deadpan zinger that had everyone laughing. I'd love to quote some of the great lines that came up, but that'd be a spoiler, and it's much better all around if you just go to their site (or iTunes) and wait until this episode is posted and listen to the whole thing yourself. That said, well done, everyone!

While I didn't give the 'cast any thought before, today's show has definitely made a fan out of me. Before i head back to the con tomorrow, I'll be downloading a couple of their older shows and start making my way through their archive on the drive over.

Once the taping wrapped up, Willis and Benford were both kind enough to autograph a couple of books I'd been lugging around with me. I asked Benford to sign his short story in my copy of the Norton Book of Science Fiction, "Exposures". Willis signed the Norton as well, on her story "Schwarzschild Radius", and her story "Miracle" in the Christmas Stars anthology.

With a little time to kill, I went down to the Dealers' Room. Forgot to mention it in yesterday's post (weariness was blurring the details), but I had a good chat then with my friend Walter from White Dwarf Books - I don't think we'd had a chance to catch up since he joined me on a pilgrimage to the Canadian Barbecue Championship in Whistler this summer. I'd also spend a few minutes shooting the breeze with Karl Johanson, Editor of Neo-Opsis Magazine. It's been a little while since I've read an issue of the mag, but I have read them every now and then in the past, and enjoyed them. One of the things Johanson said that stuck out in my mind was that his first criteria for picking a story is "Do I like it?" - before theme, or style, or other considerations, because his initial enjoyment is the most important test as the guy who'll be offering those stories to other readers. That reminded me a lot of what an old artist and retired UBC art professor who's a friend of the family once told me about picking art: Choose what you like. Technique, symbolism, the artist's name and popularity don't matter anywhere near as much as whether you like what you're looking at. Definitely words to live by for any form of art. And speaking of art, I also enjoyed talking with a guy who makes Doctor Who and steampunk-inspired necklaces, keychains, and various nick-nacks. We had a bit of a debate over the question of whether nerds and geeks are the same thing (I maintain they are, the crafter maintained they're not - nerds being hyper-analytical and geeks being big-picture creative, in his estimation), which put me in mind of a diagram someone put online a few years ago, but despite our differences, we both enjoyed the exchange.

Anyhow, today's first trip to the Dealers' Room was made with the intent of fulfilling my VCon tradition - buying the latest addition to the Tesseracts anthology series (showcasing Canadian science fiction and fantasy) from the Edge Publishing table. Nice folks, in from Calgary, and what was even nicer was that they were offering a deal where you could pick any two books from the table for just $20. Pretty good, considering the Tesseracts volume was about $15 or $16 on its own. So I snagged it, along with a copy of KA Bedford's Time Machines Repaired While-U-Wait, which I recall had received some good buzz when it came out a while ago. Knocked another 2 bucks off the price of those books, because I remembered I still had my "con bucks" with me. Nice.

On the way out of the room, I had a nice exchange with a lady at one of the costuming businesses, which was a bit unusual, in that I'm not really into costuming, but that's the cool thing about cons, you get to talk with all sorts of interesting people, some of whom have similar interests, others completely different, but all of them with a lot of passion for what they follow and what they do, which makes for good conversation.

Then it was up to another panel: "The Shadow, Doc Savage & Sky Captain: The Pulp Movie Problem". The session analyzed why pulp fiction, which was so popular in the early 20th Century, somehow has not been able to come back and gain box office success in the movies. It started out a little slow, but built up momentum and became quite entertaining. Best comment off the top was probably Stan Hyde's "Pulp fiction is not what Quentin Tarantino thinks it is."

One of the interesting exchanges involved R. Graeme Cameron suggesting something along the lines of:

"Modern comics work in film because they are living pop culture. Most of the pulp fiction characters are fossils. They're dead."

To which Hyde responded:

"Pulp characters do work on film. There is a movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Good stuff.

After that, it was more good stuff - back in the Dealers' Room, though it was more good discussion, rather than a purchase. I had some time to kill before anything of interest, so I went down for another look at the SF Canada table, and ended up having an in-depth discussion of Tolkien with one of the ladies there. For an hour. How many times can I say it? That's what a con's about, good discussions with interesting people. As many others have pointed out about this and many, many other cons, some of the best times you'll have are outside of the sessions: in the bar, the hallways, the elevators, the room parties, and, yes, the Dealers' Room. Just a delightful way to spend time. At the end of it, she gave me an invitation to the SF Canada Members room party later on.

From there, I took in the Costume Contest, which was already under way by the time I got to the room, but there was still quite a lot to see. Nice work by many of the costumers. Lots of variations on the post-apocalyptic badass, in keeping with the con's theme, but there were a few that went their own way. Big kudos to the woman who made a working mermaid costume (meaning she can swim in it, not that she'd somehow bioengineered herself to be half fish), and the big guy who geared-up as Thor. Coincidentally, Thor had to carry the mermaid from her seat to the stage about half a dozen times, because, with the tail on, she couldn't even hop without losing her balance. The big prize of the night, however, went to a couple dressed as David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly in Labyrinth - except the dude didn't have the frighteningly large codpiece bulge that the Goblin King was sporting in the movie. Worth checking back to the con website to see photos of all the entries once they're posted.

When that was done, I adjourned for dinner (very definitely offsite, this time) and when I got back, most of the panels were done and the socializing was well under way in the hospitality suite, dance hall, and room parties.

I tried to get one more session in though. Tried. "Randomness with Professor Whovianart" was truly painful. A few people came into the room and left after just a couple of minutes. I held out for about 10 minutes before I decided that listening to the guy at the front babble about the cool stuff he owned was too much. I dunno, I seem to be having bad luck with these end-of-the-night panels this year.

Anyhow, dancing's not my thing (and my wife wouldn't approve of me busting a move with another lady), and the hospitality suite was crowded, so I headed for the elevator and went up to the SF Canada room party. And stopped outside the door. And didn't go in. Part of this was because I don't know anyone who was there. Now, admittedly, I've just gushed repeatedly in this post about entertaining conversations with strangers at cons, but for me, there's something different between random chit-chat in the halls, and actually going into a party where you don't know anyone. I'm not saying I don't warm up at parties, I do, it's just a lot more comfortable - and fun - to go in when there's at least one person I know who I can start with. An anchor, a friendly face, or, let's call a spade a spade, a security blanket, if you will. And I was tired after a long couple of the days. But the nail in the coffin was a feeling of inadequacy. It was a party for authors and their guests. What am I? I'm a writer by profession, but not of fiction. In terms of fiction, I submitted a story that landed third place in an On Spec postcard fiction contest a few years ago, but those of us in the top three only had our stories posted to their website, not in the printed magazine (and I'm not even sure the link exists anymore). Not bad. In fact, it's something I'm proud of. And yet, there was that nagging feeling outside that door tonight that maybe I haven't earned my stripes yet to have a place in a party for authors. I dunno. Maybe that's true, maybe not - the invitation to come was extended with friendly intent, after all. Probably a missed opportunity to hang out for a little while with some cool people. Maybe it's something that'll motivate me to put some of the stories in my head to paper, finally. In any case, I went back down the elevator, got in the car, and headed back home to share my day's adventures with my wife.

And now to put my nagging self-doubts to bed.

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