WORLDCON REPORT — SATURDAY, AUGUST 20 — Silver Rockets

And we’re back. The hurricane was quite lame, though I’m coming up on a hurricane of a different sort — the start of the semester. Things are heating up around here!

But this isn’t about my current life, this is about Renovation 2011, so I’m going to now talk about SATURDAY.

I began my day by getting gussied up as best I could, putting on a grey waistcoat and pants. If I was going to the Hugos, I wanted to look good… and… maybe pass as steampunk for the rest of the day. I followed up by utterly failing to go to the first three panels I meant to hit (those being SF Physics Myths, Technology as Cure, and The Importance of Continuity). I also failed to sign up for Pat Rothfuss’ Kaffeeklatsch, as it filled up nigh instantly and I was just a little slow that morning. I had good reason though — I was back in the Exhibit Hall with Joe Siclari of The Fan History Project, who in turn was busy introducing me to David Kyle! I also met his son, Arthur. Our conversation was a bit brief, as Mr. Kyle had a bit of trouble hearing me in the loud expo hall. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned was that according to him, he’s the reason that conventions are called (and thought of as) conventions. The story he told was this: in 1936, at that first fan meetup in Philadelphia, he and his friends were sitting in the back room of a bar owned by a friend’s father. At the time, the Republican and Democratic national conventions were going on, and this came up in the conversation. This came up in conversation, and eventually David Kyle said “Well, if they can have conventions, why can’t we?” And thus did SF meetups come to be called “conventions.”

I also talked to Joe about the split that happened in the 60s where SF cons gave way to comic book conventions, and how fandom changed there. My notes on this subject are sadly a bit unreadable (this happens whenever I handwrite anything, thanks to my dysgraphia). I’ve got a bit about a fanzine in the 1940s (I think?) which had articles about comics, something called “Xero”, the names Don and Maggie Thompson and “boondoggle.” There’s also a bit about an explosion of regional cons, Star Trek, and “mystery fandom, media fandom, comics fandom, late 60s.” What I remember about this was namely that in the early 60s fandom became divided and split over a number of issues, and as the decade progressed the large cons split into smaller regional cons, and further fans split off into other fandoms due to these disagreements. I don’t recall yet what they were over (obviously something I should research!), but there was definitively a huge influence from the growing Star Trek fandom, which decided that it didn’t feel welcome at literary SF cons and so split into its own, kicking off a split into other media cons. The first Comic Con (Which I think was actually held in New York) was held around this time — another tidbit I need to investigate. I wish I’d been able to take better notes, but sadly when I handwrite my notes I simply cannot read what I’ve written down (someday I might enlist a helper in this regard…)

After that, it was finally panel time! My first panel was The Origins of Fandom and the Very Slow Internet, chaired by Lenny Bailes, Andrew I. Porter, Mike Scott, and Mike Ward. This was an interesting if somewhat unfocused little panel about fannish behavior through the ages, and the way that fandom ultimately acts as a way to connect with people, regardless of the subject matter. Great discussion was had on the parallels between SF fandom and other fandoms, such as baseball fandom and model train fandom, the similarities and differences in behavior and how, despite developing in entirely separate ways, they still maintain parallel traditions and organizational modes. I had a great time talking to the panelists, and in the end they all gave me their business cards (and I gave them mine)!

Next up was Why are fans good at running conventions, and how did that happen? with panelists Vincent Docherty, Helen Montgomery, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rick Weiss, and Ben Yalow. Naturally this panel focused on why fans are good at running SF conventions, not conventions in general; specifically, that same elitism of “We don’t use outside sources/advertising revenue/have corporate sponsorship” ran throughout (an attitude I find a little grating from SF fandom, particularly when coupled with their complaints about media and anime cons stealing all the young folks). Still, the panel confirmed a lot of what I already felt — namely, fans are good at running conventions because of their passion and dedication to the subject matter. Fans, being geeks, are also often talented in some other field: if not finances, than at least mathematics, and a fellow who can organize a weekly DnD group or science fiction club at least has some organizational skills. Finally, fans have friends. If there’s one thing fandom is immensely talented at, it’s networking, and that seems to be the way these cons get going — massive, vicious, gung-ho networking. As someone (I forget whom) on the panel pointed out: the people who run business conventions have business skills of 4 and team skills of 1; whilst SF con runners have business skills of 0, but team skills of 5.

I had a break between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and I genuinely cannot remember what the heck I did during that time. There’s nothing in my notes that suggest I went to any other panels; I did stand in line for kaffeeklatches only to discover that the person I’d wanted to see (Tim Powers) had rescheduled his for… Wednesday, and because I hadn’t been paying attention I hadn’t known. Whoops. I think I must have wandered the Dealer’s Room after that, because I honestly can’t think of what else I could have done. At some point, free books and swag were obtained (I’ll get to that in another post), but other than that? It’s all a blank. I think I may have gone to the con suite to decompress, rest a bit, and hang out with Amanda, but I honestly cannot recall!

After that I went to what would prove to be the most disappointing panel of the convention. It wasn’t necessarily because of the panelist or the subject matter, I think I simply had different expectations than what was delivered. The panel was The Futuristic Legal System — Legal Dilemmas in the Not So Distant Future. The title and panel description lead me to believe that this would be a cogent discussion on issues such as copyright law in an age where everything is online, the personhood of robots, and so on; instead it got very, very dry and academic (even for something that was part of the academic program) and focused a lot on SF films and television shows and not so much on literature. I’d hoped for some insight in how to construct the legal system of a near-future world I’ve been developing, but got nothing and instead ended up extremely bored.

For dinner, I believe Kevin, Amanda, and I went to the Bistro in the Atlantis, and had a fine meal, though I accidentally ordered something with jalapeno in it, which made it not so much a fine meal for me as “wow, I can’t taste anything.” (not a fan of jalapeno or related peppers).

Then it was time for the Hugos! Everyone was done up in suits and ties and looked so very dapper; I felt underdressed myself. First, David Kyle gave the Big Heart Award, an award for fannish service to the community; then Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. After that, the artist Marie Gelineau revealed her beautiful design for this year’s Hugo Award base, a stained glass piece depicting primitive sea life and a background inspired by the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, thought to possibly contain such life forms. Everyone was quite impressed, and all agreed that this was one of the most beautiful Hugo awards yet.

I won’t bore you by listing the results; you can see them on the Hugo Award website. I will bring up a few points though. First: there were ENTIRELY too many episodes of Doctor Who nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, and the pieces “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury” and “The Lost Thing” were absoultely robbed, especially the last one, which is a gorgeous piece of crafstmanship. No offense to Doctor Who, which is a great show, but owning three of the five entry slots is a little ridiculous (no doubt “Game of Thrones” will do the same next year…) Second: Chris Garcia of the Drink Tank had the absolute best acceptance speech, which you can see over here on BoingBoing (sorry for the ad, but it’s the only video I could find). I did give him a hug on Sunday, the guy totally deserved it.

After that, it was time for the grand Hugo tradition of drinking until you can’t see straight. Kevin, Amanda, and I headed back to the Atlantis for an evening of wandering up and down stairways, wondering where the other people were, and, well, drinking. I didn’t manage to get any guacamole at the LoneStarCon3 party, sadly enough (I hear it was fantastic). I initially had the opinion that the Klingon Black Hole party had the best booze; it certainly had the best atmosphere, with Klingons in full costume, carved faux stone decorations, a bar decorated with a cutaway view of a Bird of Prey, and a looped video of various Star Trek scenes. They had a number of drinks, including the Phaser Shot, the Warp Core (which I had), and Revenge, which if you ordered was loudly declared to be “A DRINK BEST SERVED COLD.” Sadly they were out by the time I arrived. I then meandered to the Brotherhood Without Banners, an “A Song of Ice and Fire” themed party that was VERY crowded. I had… something green (can’t recall the name at all!) before deciding it was a bit TOO crowded, grabbing a bottle of water, and absconding for clearer air.

But again, the best party of the night belonged to Lev Grossman, at the Two Moons Inn party. The conversation there was most excellent, and for a second time the beer was the most fabulous beer I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot for the life of me remember the names, but the flavors stand out: a hoppy lager that tasted of wildflowers (and I normally hate hoppy beers, but this one was not bitter, but instead mild and with a layered flavor), and a darker brew that had a distinct taste of chocolate, woodsmoke, and oak. The conversation too was excellent, though lost in a haze of “I already had three drinks and now I’ve had two beers, whoops.” The most memorable one of the night? Cordially discussing my atheist beliefs with a Muslim gentleman, and discussing his own beliefs. Reasons I love fandom, indeed.

Alas, I had to get back to my hotel room first, as I had a very early and very important panel the next day; else I would have stayed the whole night!

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