Sunday, October 05, 2014

VCon 2014 - Day 2

It was a full day at VCon today, made all the more tiring by the big backpack full of books-to-be-signed that I was lugging around, but an enjoyable one none-the-less.

I arrived around 11:30-11:40 and managed to catch the last few minutes of the "Cyberspace Security in Fiction and Reality" panel, and it was so good, I regretted having missed most of it. One of the more unsettling warnings for online security in the not-too-distant future: wait for programs that will process every available bit of information about you to create the perfect pitch that unscrupulous people can use to hit all of your psychological trust points to convince you to share your personal/security information with them. And, in a non-security way, that makes me think about how many more steps it will be before it'll be possible to use gathered info to create an actual personality analogue simulation indistinguishable from the real person, like the Keats hybrid in Dan Simmons' Hyperion?

After that, I ran out for a quick fast-food lunch down the street, but on my way out the door, I couldn't believe what I heard: some woman was complaining to a friend that she didn't want to eat in the food court at the huge Guildford Mall across the street (fair enough), but there wasn't anything else to eat — especially no sit-down restaurants — around. Huh?! Food availability is one of the things I really have to give the con organizing committee credit for in terms of their choice of hotel! Not only is there the hotel restaurant and the afore-mentioned mall across the street, there are literally dozens and dozens of restaurants of all different types within an easy 10 minute walk of the venue, all highly visible. Don't want to go to a corporate fast-food joint or big chain sit-down restaurant? No problem — there are a forest of Pho places all around, and Japanese food, and Korean food, and Indian food, and pubs, and on and on and on and on. And then there are the grocery stores, where you can buy stuff to make your own food, or buy hot prepared meals. How could you walk to the end of the block and fail to see all the choices out there? I know nerds can be picky eaters, but come on!

But I digress.

Back from lunch, I went over to the con merch table and bought myself this year's con t-shirt. I'm not a fan of this year's design, but I've amassed enough of a collection of the damn things over the years (some of which were out and out spectacular — I was especially proud to sport the totem pole design from a couple of years ago at this summer's Loncon3... where I ran into another Lower Mainlander wearing the same shirt!) that I figured I might as well include this year's version. Maybe I'll wear it to mow the lawn or something.

While in that section of the hotel, I ran into the Tasmanian Thunder God (above) — perhaps the wackiest and yet most strangely appropriate cosplay mashup I've ever come across. Bonus points to the guy inside for having the fortitude to wear that hot costume for long stretches in a crowded and reasonably warm hotel. This being Saturday, there were a lot of other cosplayers out and about, including Batman, some Sith lords, Ratchet the Autobot, various iterations of Star Trek Starfleet personnel, futuristic soldiers aplenty (in keeping with this year's Military Might con theme), and more anime characters than you can shake a Pikachu at.

From there, I went up to see the Q&A session with William Gibson. The group that was in the room beforehand took their sweet time wrapping up, so Gibson chatted with those milling around outside while we all waited. He's a cool guy, and was happy to take pictures with fans and shoot the breeze. Gibson's actually a local himself, but hasn't come out to VCon in a while, noting he's often busy, and, beyond that, is a creature of the downtown core who doesn't get out to the 'burbs very often. Fair enough. With traffic in some parts of the region being what it is, I don't blame him. Anyway, eventually we were able to get into the room and things got under way. Kudos to Donna McMahon for conducting a really good interview with Gibson and helping to field questions from the audience. One of the thoughts that Gibson shared during the session that made me think was his belief that before the internet existed, and in its early years before it became so integrated into our culture, there were a lot of cultural backwaters (like science fiction fandom) scattered around the world either in specific geographic pockets or in specialized areas of interest that were previously isolated from or unknown to the outside world, and therefore had decades to develop and complexify on their own before the wider culture knew anything about them. Now, subcultures no longer have that privacy/invisibility because everything is in the open, and they don't have that opportunity to develop on their own. After the formal Q&A wrapped up, Gibson was kind enough to sign books out in the hallway and continue to chat with fans and share anecdotes. At one point when he was signing his way through my stack of books (Neuromancer, The Difference Engine, and a trio of anthologies that had included short stories of his), he stared at a couple of the anthology covers thoughtfully and said it had been a long time since he'd seen them, and had almost forgotten he was even in them. Later, when he was chatting with a few of us, he credited VCon with being an important factor in the start of his career. Seems that many years ago, a friend mentioned to him that there was a science fiction convention taking place featuring a guest author they both liked, and suggested that they go. In those days, there was a lot more publishing business conducted at local cons, and Gibson says that while at VCon, he was able to make some connections in the business that would later be helpful when he started to write. Always fascinating to hear about these kinds of things.

At this point, I made a mistake. Having an hour ahead of me with no panels that I found particularly interesting, I should have sat down and done some reading. I should have found a chesterfield in a quiet corner and taken a nap. I should have started outlining my plans for world domination. Did I? No. Weak-willed creature that I am, I decided to go and have a look around the Dealers' Room again, to see if anything had changed since yesterday, even though I didn't intend to buy anything. Yeah. How long did that resolution last? 'Bout 5 minutes — only long enough for me to walk down one aisle of merchants, round the corner, and run smack-dab into the Edge Publishing table, where my eyes lit upon an anthology called Broken Time Blues — Fantastic Tales in the Roaring '20s that, while it was first published three years ago, I hadn't seen before, and either glanced over yesterday, or wasn't out on display yesterday. At any rate, I was locked onto it today, and being a sucker for anthologies with unique themes, my wallet was pretty much in hand right away. Of course, that wasn't the end of it, oh no. Those sweetly-smiling succubuses of book sales couldn't leave well enough alone, and had to go and tell me that they were having a 2-for-$20 sale. How could I possibly pass up another book for only $5 more? And, of course, they were all too helpful in pulling suggestions from the stacks to entice me, and, sure enough, they succeeded, and The Puzzle Box collection was added to the pile. So two more books to lug around all day. Could I have taken them down to the car in the parkade? Yes. Would that have been a wise move in Surrey? No. So, more "exercise" for the back.

On my way out of the Dealers' Room, I ended up stopping and chatting with a couple at the stand of one of the other publishing houses. Not to buy anything in this case: they'd noticed I was wearing a Loncon3 shirt (the ultra-cool flag dragon design), asked if I'd attended this summer, and said they'd been there too. We spent the next 10 minutes reminiscing about the event, talking about our respective further travels around the UK afterwards, and other upcoming cons. Real nice folks.

Then I took another spin through the Art Display, and wound up having a good talk with artist Eric Drane about some of the works he'd offered for display. He was showing an interesting combination of works, including some images of women in science fictional settings (such as a trio of very cool female Predators), some psychedelic stuff, and, most impressively — though most unsettling — some pieces that had an HR Giger feel to them (except Drane's work is more visceral, and therefore, to me more unsettling, as opposed to Giger's work, which always feels a little clinical). There were a couple of other art displays that I hadn't noticed yesterday or which might not have been on display until today, and they were worth taking some time to look at too.

Next it was back upstairs for another session; this time: "Writing about Fighting: After the Battle". This was a great panel discussion about the realities of what soldiers have to deal with when coming home from war (and police officers coming home after a day's duty). Two of the panelists had military service experience, as did some of the members of the audience, and it was fascinating to hear them talking about the experiences they and their colleagues had been through in terms of re-adapting to civilian life and reconciling what they and their cohorts had seen and done during their service. It reminded me a lot of what I've observed and heard from friends and acquaintances who are or have been in the military and police, as well as the many veterans I've interviewed during my former career as a journalist. A lot was discussed about post-traumatic stress disorder, but the panel also noted that beyond that, people with those kinds of experiences also return with a different worldview, because of their training, experiences, and introspection. Very heavy subject matter, but definitely a panel worth attending.

After a bit of a break, it was time for the Aurora Awards ceremony! Always great to see Canadians recognizing other Canadians for the work they do involving science fiction and fantasy. I have to admit though, my fingers got tired from furiously pounding away on my phone screen during the ceremony to tweet the winners of each category as they were announced! Luckily, for this later blog entry, I can just link to the awards run-down over on the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Association (CSFFA) site! An honourary Aurora was also given to Frank Johnson, who's design for the awards has been used for more than two decades. And if that wasn't enough, William Gibson and Spider and Jeanne Robinson were inducted into the CSFFA Hall of Fame. Congratulations to all of this year's Aurora Awards winners, and the Hall of Fame inductees!

With the excitement of the awards ceremony out of the way, it was time for supper. Afterwards, it was back to the con to take in the "Time Traveller Luggage" panel. While there was some serious thought given to practical, real-world items that a potential time traveller might want to take (or perhaps the most beneficial — and hardest to steal — baggage, as suggested by one panelist: ideas, which could make your life easier or change the world [such as CPR, or the Heimlich Manoeuvre, or crop rotation]) the discussion was generally light-hearted. At one point, one of the panelists noted that maps might be helpful, so a time traveller could pinpoint valuable resources. Another panelist countered that a street map of Vancouver in 2014 wouldn't do much good 100 years ago. I responded that it would, because I'd use it to identify and buy-up all of the land that would one day be developed, and thus become filthy rich. Hey, I've gotta come up with some strategy to afford all these books!

When that session was done, I caught a few minutes of the Costume Contest. It was just a bit of the amateur division, but there were some fun entries, including Baby Cthulhu (which suddenly gets me thinking about how you could use that to alter the lyrics to the old Raffi song "Baby Beluga").

I made an early exit from that event to head down the hall to catch Spider Robinson's book signing session. Again, I pulled out the stack of anthologies (Robinson was in several of the same ones that included Gibson), and as with Gibson, Robinson was pleasantly surprised to see some of the old tittles. In fact one (which shall remain unnamed), even prompted him to say "You know, I don't think I was ever sent my copy of this one!" I suggested that one of the editors may be lurking around the con at some point before the close of proceedings on Sunday, but if I remember correctly, the book was in short supply when it was being sold way back when, and it's probably harder to come by now.

At that point, I was tempted to hang around a while longer to listen to the jam session a few of the musicians at the con were going to be having, but it was mid-evening already, and I wanted to get home to catch-up with my wife and relax a bit before embarking on this blogging odyssey, so I left.

A short sleep now, then one more day.

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