Sunday, August 17, 2014

Loncon 3 - Day 4

First of all, allow me to congratulate the winners of the 2014 Hugo Awards:

  • Sarah Webb (Best Fan Artist)
  • Kameron Hurley (Best Fan Writer)
  • SF Signal Podcast (Best Fancast)
  • A Dribble of Ink (Best Fanzine)
  • Lightspeed Magazine (Best Semiprozine)
  • Julie Dillon (Best Professional Artist)
  • Ginjer Buchanan (Best Editor — Long Form)
  • Ellen Datlow (Best Editor — Short Form)
  • Game of Thrones "The Rains of Castamere" (Best Dramatic Presentation — Short Form)
  • Gravity (Best Dramatic Presentation — Long Form)
  • Randall Munroe "Time" (Best Graphic Story)
  • Kameron Hurley "We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative" (Best Related Work)
  • John Chu "The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere" (Best Short Story)
  • Mary Robinette Kowal "The Lady Astronaut of Mars" (Best Novelette)
  • Charles Stross "Equoid" (Best Novella)
  • Ann Leckie Ancillary Justice (Best Novel)

Also, congratulations to the winner of the John W Campbell Award:

  • Sofia Samatar

And congratulations to Kansas City for landing the 2016 Worldcon!

Excellent efforts from everyone involved!

And speaking of effort, although far, far more mundane and unimportant, it was an effort to get up this morning and go back to the con. Not because there's anything wrong with the con — far from it— it's just that the full days, including all the walking around, supplemented by our touring around in London, followed by the late nights of blogging, and not quite enough sleep, are starting to catch up with me. But, despite the fatigue, I'm still enjoying myself immensely.

I began this morning in the authors' signing area in the dealers' room, coming in to get my Wildcards books autographed by Melinda Snodgrass. There was really no line to speak of yet, and, best of all, Snodgrass is really personable and took the time to chat, and we talked about the nearby Emirates Air Line gondola ride over the Thames (worth taking as a quick way of getting out of the Excel campus and over to the O2 area where there are more dining options).

Because it was still fairly close to the top of the hour, I decided to take in a session right away, and headed into "The Spies We (Still) Love"  panel. As I walked in, the group on the panel was making the point that the nature of fictional spies has changed in the last decade or so, in that they're less likable now, even though they have greater moral authority. One panelist said "I'd be much more worried if Jack Bauer knocked on my door than Angus MacGyver." Others wondered if the heavy tone, or lack of comedy in today's fictional spies (with the exception of Archer, Chuck, Austen Powers and a few others) is because the world seems to have become a scarier place where there's a greater capacity to harm more people. I'll give the panel credit: it was, in many ways, a more serious discussion than I thought it would be, although there were a few laughs here and there.

After that, I went over to a session asking "What Does Ireland Have to Offer?", which was really more about Irish identity in its writing, but spent a lot of time discussing the difference between what Irish culture and folklore really is, versus what it's usually thought to be by the wider world (or, as the panel put it, what Irish culture and folklore is not). Prime example: fairies. As the panelists put it, most people have an image of Irish fairies that's more like the English tradition of the Fairie Queen, where there are tall, beautiful, wise, otherworldly beings on one side, and a few ugly ones on the other. What's actually closer to Irish folklore, said the panelists, is that fairies "live over there, and they're scary and weird and don't fuck with them." This lead to a discussion of how strong the old superstitions can be, so that even today, even with people who claim not to believe in such things, there's a very real fear of places traditionally associated with fairies, because on some level, no-one wants to do anything that would honk them off.

Following lunch, I got in line for the Kim Stanley Robinson signing. This was another of those great con situations where standing in line prompts fans to connect with one-another. During the half-hour we were waiting to get to the front of the line, I got to know the semi-retired Yorkshire gardener with the MA in science fiction, and the Danish translator who were standing in line. We swapped stories about everything from our favourite Robinson books, to education, to culture and fandom, to the degrees to which sf has or has not been able to climb out of the literary ghetto and get (or not) respectability in our home regions. Sometimes the line experience is as good (or even better) than getting the signature of the author you've been waiting to see.

But this was the perfect combination, because not only was there good company in the line, but at the end, Robinson was a cool guy. I'd brought my copy of The Years of Rice and Salt, and we spent a couple of minutes talking about the effort Robinson put into writing it, and how it's his favourite among his own books. Nice to hear, as it's certainly my favourite of his works, and probably in my Top 10 of all science fiction books.

After that, I made the mistake of strolling through the dealers' room again. "Mistake", because the trio of old guys who were selling-off their collections had opened another box and put some more treasures out on their table this morning — treasures I couldn't pass up. I didn't want to buy any books today, really I didn't. But when I was walking past their table, I noticed a volume of Isaac Asimov and Martin H Greenberg's The Great SF Stories sitting on top of the pile. A volume that I didn't have in my own collection. And this is important, because that series played a major role in my science fiction education. I had purchased volume 14 at my local bookstore as a young teen after my uncle introduced me to Asimov and Frank Herbert, and I was eager to get my hands on anything with their names on it. When I cracked open that anthology of the best sf stories from the chosen year, I was exposed to all the giants of the past, and some of the most influential short stories of the genre. As each new volume came out, I learned more and more, developed preferences, and started to notice trends. It really was an intense education in the anatomy and evolution of science fiction and fantasy. And so, when I looked over today and saw volume 1, I had to have it. And then I picked it up and saw other volumes, and still more. So I handed over volumes 1, 5, and 6, paid a reasonable price to the old fan on the other side of the table, and thought: now I have even more books to lug around the UK and then back home! I shudder to think what might happen if I go back in there tomorrow!

When that was done, I joined a friend for the "Brian Aldiss — 40 Years of Cover Art" session. There were a couple of other panels I was interested in during that time block (which is pretty much everybody's story at this con, because it's been organized so well and there's just so much to do), but I thought I'd attend this one because I've never seen Aldiss speak live before, and he's getting up there age-wise, so this might be my last chance. The name of the session was a bit of a mislabel, because even though the cover art of his books was mentioned a couple of times, most of the time was spent allowing Aldiss to reminisce about various experiences over the course of his life: everything from serving with the British Army in Burma during the Second World War, to getting stories or books published, to some of the famous people he's befriended over the years. While Aldiss' memory did fail from time to time, he still has some marvelous stories to tell, and a great sense of humour. The session ended with the audience singing "Happy Birthday" to him. And many more, sir!

Then I went to another of the fantastic "The World at Worldcon" sessions, this time, profiling the sf scene in Australia and New Zealand. Well, almost entirely Australia, because there were no New Zealanders on the panel. To be fair, the Aussie writers and editors did do a good job of rattling-off the names of several Kiwi writers when asked by a member of the audience, but mostly they stuck to discussing the state of sf in their own country. And, despite their prolific output, there is a problem with Australian science fiction, according to some members of the panel, the problem being that there is no Australian identity to their sf because of the nature of the country's book marketing system. They noted that if Australian writers want to work, they have to leave their country, or write for an American audience, which causes them to usually step back from exploring their own national identity. They noted that the small press scene is helping an Australian voice and identity start to emerge. But even that was qualified, with one panelist noting "there is a group that wants to celebrate Australians and everyday Australian life, but there is also a cultural cringe where people don't want to deal with stereotypes". Some also noted that the country's speculative fiction tends to be fantasy-heavy, and that more science fiction should be fielded, and that there's a definite need for greater diversity in all ways. Near the close of the session, there was a sort of call to action from the panel, with one member saying "what we need is a real breakout writer with a real breakout novel who will take the world by storm" to inspire other Australians to celebrate their unique voice and take it abroad.

At that point, it was time to meet up with my wife for supper, and then take in the Hugo Awards ceremony. Overall, the awards show was a good production. There were a few technical glitches, and it looked like the hosts were trying to buy extra time for some reason near the end when they started engaging the audience in some English Tube-related word game before announcing the winner of the Best Novel category, but everyone seemed to be having fun.

With that done, we headed back to the hotel, and got one final treat for the day: I don't know what the occasion was, but when we got up to our room, we looked out the window and saw fireworks across the Thames, somewhere in the distance on the south shore. Whatever the reason, it was a big, expensive display and a pretty way to end the day.

Tomorrow: the conclusion.

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