Posts Tagged conventions
I just got back from MAGFest (The Music and Gaming Festival) and have some longer thoughts I’m going to post on it, but before I do that, I felt I’d bring a BRAND NEW convention/conference to everyone’s attention.
An acquaintance of mine, Zoya Street, is starting up Critical Proximity, a conference focused on video game criticism. You can learn more about it here:
If you’re local to San Francisco or can get there easily, I heartily recommend signing up. Even if you’re not a games critic, the conference needs new and unique voices.
More on MAGFest soon!
I’ve been quietly lately because I’ve been extremely busy. School is taking its toll on me, and I haven’t had much time to write anything that isn’t for class. I know, I still (STILL) need to do those last Kickstarter essays, but they will happen, I just need a little more free time to research them properly.
I’m getting super burned out, actually. It’s frustrating. I’m trying to find some way to keep this all fresh and immediate, but the truth is there’s only so many fanzines and memoirs I can slog through before I want to put my head through a wall. That, and it’s hard to figure out which fanzines I need to read, and even harder to get access to them (I can’t exactly fly out to California to see that collection at… I forget which school, even. I know it’s there.) And MIT’s collection is in a closet, badly organized, and only goes back through the 70s.
I really need to think about reorganizing the book. I don’t think a straight chronological treatment is working. I still need to research this way, I think, in order to build my foundation and get a sense of the full scope, but it doesn’t read well. Not sure what my structure should ultimately comprise, though. I’m debating if I should focus on cons by type, do chapters by anatomy (ie, a chapter on logistics, on hotel stuff, etc), or to focus on the really big cons and trace back the history of how they came into being. The latter means I’d end up talking less about the really cool local cons, but it’d be easier to research and I think more marketable.
I don’t know. It’s tough, man, writing a nonfiction book.
In a few weeks, I’ll be attending Philcon. I hope to see some of you regular readers there; I know it’ll be a good time. If you want to meet up and talk, just drop me a line. If there’s also anything you think I should report on in particular, let me know and I’ll do my best to see it. I will sadly not be able to be at the con for long, as my bus arrives at 1:30 PM on Friday and I leave at 4:30 PM on Sunday. Still, I think it’ll be enough.
For some time on the Help Out page, I’ve talked about adding a PayPal button so you can donate.
Well, now it exists! If you have ever for any reason wanted to send me money to help out with the project, now you can. Observe:
You may click yon button! And then send me money! This will motivate me to keep working, as I will feel I owe you!
I can’t give you anything in return right now save sparse updates and the promise that yes, hell or high water, there will be some sort of book about conventions, eventually. Seriously. But I appreciate any and all help.
I could especially use the money right now. Last month, my phone died, and I’ve had to buy tickets for SDCC and PAXEast, both of which are quite expensive. As it’s November and my day job is at a college, I’m losing out on a lot of work hours due to Thanksgiving, not to mention losing more due to Philcon. Even a little bit helps.
Thanks, everyone. Expect more meaty updates after Philcon. Alternately, if you like, ask me a question in the comments, and I’ll do my best to answer it in a future post.
Sunday, August 21 began with a combination of the usual con-haze of “I’ve just spent two days straight running, writing, and talking” combined with a new feeling of “wow, I drank a lot last night.”
My first panel was for me probably the most important panel of the con — First Fandom: Awards, and a Look Back at the Very First Worldcons. The panelists were all attendees of the very first Worldcon, true ancients of the fandom world: David Kyle (who I’ve mentioned several times), Art Widner, and Erle Korshak (the chairman of the second Worldcon, Chicon 1). The panel began with information about each of the panelists, starting with Erle, who apparently chaired the second Worldcon by accident. He talked about hitchiking through Philly to get to the first Worldcon, since he was sixteen years old and it was the Depression. There was some talk about other methods of getting to Worldcon, and a lot of note about how many fans would help other fans out of kindness and a desire to see them.
And then… Erle mentioned the Exclusion Act. There was an audible sigh from David, though he was kind enough to explain it to the audience, there was still this clear “not THIS again.” It’s really kind of a shame that the thing David Kyle is remembered most for is accidentally causing his friends to be banned from the first Worldcon.
This segued into a lot of talk on all parts about how they were all young and stupid back then — something which I think holds true of many modern fandoms. We’re all young and stupid. There was also a lot of talk about how divided fandom was — many states had at most one fan, but they stayed connected to the larger world through letters and magazines.
The most interesting thing that came out of the panel was when Erle mentioned that the ticket cost of Worldcon in 1940 was $1 — so, where did the money come from to run it? It came from advertising revenue and from exhibitors in the form of pulp publishers. I was thrilled to hear this: earlier, I’d countered someone’s observation that I was awfully young to be at a Worldcon with a retort that perhaps more people my age would arrive if the admission price wasn’t so ridiculous, which was in turn countered with “Well, Worldcon is all volunteer run, and unlike those big cons like the anime cons and comic book cons, we didn’t sell out to advertisers.” But according to Erle, Worldcon had “sold out” in the 40s! It’s all well and good to be noble, but if you’re going to complain about falling attendance numbers and a lack of representation by the under 30 crowd, then don’t act high and mighty about the fact that you don’t use outside sources of revenue. This in turn has led me to wonder — when did Worldcon get this hipster-esque “But we don’t use filthy advertisers or sponsors or corporate exhibitors!” come from? When did that start?
The other anecdotes are a bit of a blurr — Art shared a story about staying on a rich Southern plantation while hitchiking to another convention and having the best meal he’d ever had, while it came out that David Kyle won the first ever costume contest with his 1940 Ming the Merciless.
Due to a scheduling problem, the panel ended a bit early, so I wandered into another panel, namely the end of The Changing Short Fiction Market, with panelists Lou Anders, Neil Clarke, Stephen H. Segal, Rick Wilber, and Sheila Williams. I was only in the tail end of this panel, so mostly what I got out of it was that short fiction is more accessible to a younger audience, and that we’re seeing a renaissance of the novella thanks to e-publishing and the internet. Originally, novellas were difficult to publish due to paper costs, but favored by authors for giving a little more freedom than a short story but less commitment than a novel. The internet solves this problem because paper costs are a non-issue.
I didn’t get to stay in this panel long since, as I said, I was only catching the tail end. After that it was onto the Chicon 7 panel, with panelists Jane Frank, Dave McCarty, Helen Montgomery, Peggy Rae Sapienza, John Scalzi, and Steven H. Silver. This was a panel about the next Worldcon in 2012 (obviously), and the panelists answered questions about their approach to the con. All in all it sounded like a really good time — they asked the crowd to give suggestions for panels, then mentioned that some panels would be simulcast to Dragoncon (so attendees at both cons could see them) which seemed pretty cool. I highly suggest going to the Chicon website and giving suggestions (and I’ll see you guys there!)
The last panel of the day was Issues in RolePlaying Game Design, with panelists Jennifer Brozek, Colin Fisk, Steve Jackson (yes, THAT Steve Jackson), Tom Lehmann, and Allison Lonsdale. Unfortunately my notes on this panel indicate that my exhaustion had finally caught up with me, as they read: “late. Not giong to say much, i’ts a really interesting panel but I’m very tired?” There was discussion on GM-less gaming, but I’ll get to THAT in a minute!
After that it was time for the Closing Ceremony, which… to be frank, was completely boring. It was mostly a speech, followed by a symbolic passing of the torch to the Chicon committee. The highlight was when the con chair, Patty Wells, realized that she hadn’t ever officially opened Renovation, and so she declared the con open… then immediately closed. This followed on the heels of the Chicon staff accidentally saying that their con would run from August 30 to September 30 (instead of August 30 to September 3), and thus a joke that the world’s shortest Worldcon would be followed by the longest.
While at the closing ceremony, I met up with a guy named Mike with whom I had a great conversation about medieval weaponry, and also my friend Joy Crelin. After that, we headed out to the Dead Dog party, where we hung out, ate snacks, and generally decompressed from the convention. Later, Mike left, and Kevin once again joined us.
The last highlight of the con began with a man walking about asking loudly if anyone wanted to play an RPG with him; I spoke up and said sure, why not. The man’s name was Jason Wodicka, and the game was called Microscope.
THIS GAME IS AWESOME. All caps and italics awesome. Seriously. This is one of the aforementioned wave of GM-less games, in this case a collaborative storytelling game that is also diceless. We ended up with a story about a great 21st century war against dragons which ended with a renegade AI killing all dragons and almost all of humanity.
Halfway through the game though I stepped out to finally meet Christopher Garcia about being Emerson students, fandom, and writing. I also gave him a hug, and then I got to hold his Hugo. We had a great conversation that ended up all over the map, and in the middle of it a lady gave me an LED on a piece of velcro (it came from her costume…? Random?) which I promptly stuck in my hair (it now lives in my hat). I then went back to playing Microscope.
Alas, we all had early flights the next day, so it was time to trade contact information and head off to bed.
UP NEXT: My swag pile, and a reflection post.
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!
I should have been tired and hung over Friday morning, but my internal clock’s confusion over the time change combined with my amazing superpower to instantly fall asleep upon taking off in an aircraft (thus ensuring that I’d gotten seven hours of sleep before reaching the con) meant that I woke Friday morning by practically throwing myself out of bed. HAD TO GET TO ALL THE PANELS. EVERY LAST ONE. OH YES.
That said, I actually didn’t end up going to panels until noon. Instead, I spent my morning perusing the Free Stuff table (and seeding it with business cards, just in case), then meandering the Dealer’s Room picking up free swag. I had a nice chat with the gentleman at the McFarland & Company booth about my book; he seemed to be of the opinion that if I could finish it, I could certainly sell it, and encouraged me to submit. Personally I think my work isn’t quite academic enough and is more on the “creative” side of nonfiction (I think of it like a combination travelogue and history book; at any rate I’m not doing much academic analysis here). Even so, the vote of confidence was nice. I also had a chat with a fellow selling books for the Eclipse Phase RPG and apparently left quite an impression.
After that, I stopped by the fanac.org table. I was a bit shy at first, they’re actually rather intimidating people (though I imagine they’ll insist they aren’t), but after a bit of lurking I got up the courage to talk to Joe Siclari, the man behind the project. Joe was very nice and patient with my questions; he offered to introduce me to David Kyle on the spot. A combination of nerves and being late for a panel prevented me from taking him up on that offer, however.
I rushed to get to the Convention Running 101 panel. The panelists were Janice Gelb, a veteran Program Ops specialist; Andi Scheter, who started out in Star Trek conventions, and in addition to SF cons runs Mystery conventions; Gary Ehrlich, a native of my own Maryland and involved in Filk cons; Charlene MacKay who founded two western cons and is working on the 2015 Worldcon bid for Spokane; and finally James Shields representing the other side of the Atlantic as the con chair of several Irish conventions.
I have about two pages of notes on this panel which I won’t bore you with. The main points were to be very, VERY careful when negotiating with hotels and appoint a hotel liaison to ensure that one can get the best deal possible, that budgeting WILL bite you in the bum unless you keep a tight leash on it, and that it’s super important to find alternate sources of revenue. The overall impression I got is that running a convention is even harder than I assumed (I already knew it was back-breaking labor, but this was above and beyond.) Particularly, fan-run conventions like WorldCon are even harder to put on than conventions like, say, PAX or ComicCon because it’s all done by volunteers. None of these people make any money, it’s all non profit, and they don’t even have corporate sponsorship.
After that panel, I went to a panel called Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy. The panelists were kind of a big deal, with L. E. Modesitt Jr., Tim Powers, Pat Rothfuss, Jo Walton, and Gregory A. Wilson. The main conclusion drawn at this panel is that magic was a sliding scale, but if the magic got too rule-based, it ceased to be magic and became a kind of science. In order for magic to really be, well, magical, it had to have some sense of wonder. That doesn’t mean that it’s not based on rules, but rather more that the rules aren’t explicitly stated; if the rules are known to the author but left for the audience to figure out, that’s how one attains consistency. All in all a highly enjoyable panel, as the panelists’ personalities played well off each other.
After that, I went to Tim Powers’ Guest of Honor speech. He meandered a bit, but was largely entertaining. My favorite quote (at least, that I wrote down!) was this: “What I think I read [science fiction] for is vertigo, disorientation, dislocation, precariousness. I assume you’ve read Flatland; I want to be A. Square experiencing ship rigging or a cathedral. Despite the weirdness, I want it to be believable. I want to experience the events, not merely know them.”
He also told a great story about a time that a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to his door. They asked him if he knew about Jesus, and he answered that he was Catholic, which they responded to by saying that was even worse than being an atheist, and he was surely going to hell. He listened politely, then said that he could prove that they were wrong, he just needed to see their bible. They handed it over, and he took out his magnifying glass so he could get a better look.
Now, it just so happened that it was a bright, sunny day, and he was angled so his magnifying glass caught the light just so…
Needless to say, he was never bothered by Jehovah’s Witnesses again; and the Witnesses maintain their low opinion of Catholics.
Following that panel, I think I went for lunch, but cannot actually remember. I believe I may have also taken a short nap, but my lack of sleep plus running around a convention center all day was catching up to me!
My next panel was called F*** Your Knight and the Horse He Rode In On, with panelists Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Christopher Kastensmidt, and Ken Scholes. The panel was about challenging the traditional fantasy staple of the medieval western fantasy by using elements from other cultures. The authors on panel, for instance, used everything from Aztec mythology to 16th century Brazilian folklore to Arabian myths. Everyone in the audience seemed to agree that we’re all very tired of medieval European fantasy and want something fresh. As for me? I ended up with four more authors on my giant “To Read” list.
I ended up fifteen minutes late for my next panel, Post-Modern Fantasy, Epic and Otherwise. Of all my Friday panels, this one was the most disappointing. The panelists were N. K. Jemisin, William Lexner, Nick Mamatas, Peadar O Guilin, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks. By the time I arrived, the panel had gone from discussing postmodernism to a large argument over just what postmodernism really was; not only that, but several audience members grumbled about how much they hate the genre and wished that SF writers would stop trying to use it (to which I could only ask “Why are you HERE then?” I’d gone in with the hopes of seeing some real discussion and finding yet more books to add to my list, but was ultimately disappointed on both accounts. Most of the panelists didn’t seem to have any background in postmodernism and thus no idea how to talk about it efeffectively. I did briefly get to chat up Brandon Sanderson after the panel, so not all was lost.
After that, I caught back up with Amanda and Kevin and we went for dinner at the Gas Lamp Grill. The fare was decent enough and far better priced than the stuff at the Atlantis. Unfortunately, I’d already come down with what I like to call Con Nerves, an affliction whereby nervousness and anxiety means I can’t eat very much. The food was still very good, I just couldn’t get any of it down. The conversation was pleasant, and all three of us shared our various in-progress stories (makes me wish I could go back to writing fiction – I miss it. Soon… soon.) Alas, the excellent conversation meant we were very, VERY late for the Masquerade. The event was hosted by Phil and Kaja Foglio, and was… rather long, actually. The costumes were good, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it all, particularly because everyone had hyped up the event so much. Far more entertaining was Paul Cornell hosting “Just A Minute”. The contestants were Bill Willingham (who was quite drunk), Seanan McGuire Lauren Buccas (I have spelled her name wrong, I know, but I don’t have a written list), John… … John “I can’t hear his last name on this recording, sadly”. (The recording is here, so if anyone can correct these names please do.) Seanan won by a landslide thanks to her mastery of the ridiculous list.
The awards themselves were poorly organized, so the three of us adjourned to the Atlantis, where I eventually wound up at the Convolution party. They tempted me in with sushi-shaped candies and delicious chicken satay… none of which I actually ended up eating, oddly enough. Even so, the atmosphere was great (the whole room was decorated in a dark urban fantasy motif) and the conversation excellent (though damned if I can remember what was said. Again.)
At some point, we ended up back at the hotel, but when exactly I can’t recall.
And that was Friday! My Saturday and Sunday reports will have to come at a later date, as I’m quite tired and I have a lot of work to do over the next two days…
Again, as a reminder to those of you who got Kickstarter rewards: don’t make me come after you. If you don’t tell me what photos you want, I will not be able to send them to you!
My Renovation experience began in earnest when I stepped off the plane Thursday evening to meet Amanda, a person whom I had only known for about a month through an online RPG. We didn’t even play with each other; it was through a conversation with someone else entirely that we discovered we were both going to WorldCon, and we figured well, why not? It’s this kind of random friendship-from-thin-air that I feel really makes a con. To put it another way, a convention is anywhere between three hundred and thirty thousand friends you never knew you had.
The first order of business was to hit the hotel – not the Peppermill or Atlantis, mind you, but the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Reno Airport. I’m a graduate student, there’s simply no way I could have afforded the other two, much as I desperately wanted to stay in the Atlantis! The Hawthorn Suites was cheap though, and breakfast was included, so I can’t complain. Amanda was staying in the hotel right next door, so she helped me drop my stuff off, check in, and get situated. Then it was off to the Peppermill first for some gaming!
Our journey was perilous indeed, as it involved crossing – gasp – a casino floor. It’s been years since I was last in Nevada, and I’d almost forgotten how labyrinthine casinos can be. The Peppermill was especially bad: my friend Kevin described it as “a Gibsonian nightmare,” a not inaccurate descriptor considering all the damned blinking lights. It took us a while to get through, but eventually we figured out where the gaming rooms were.
They were surprisingly empty, but I put it down to this first not being a gaming con and second to the parties all being in the Atlantis (and alcohol is a great motivator.) I briefly looked in on the tail end of the Dresden Files LARP, just finishing that very hour. I was quite sad my flight hadn’t got in earlier, as the rules looked interesting. All was not lost, however, as Amanda and I soon found ourselves a game of pick-up DnD Encounters. It took four editions, but I finally had my first taste of edition-hate – Encounters really doesn’t deliver the experience I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but everything felt a little too board-gamey for my tastes. Great as a pickup game, but not DnD. While there, I was also entertained by stories from the Dresden Files LARPers, and from meeting a new friend, Robert, who I kept running into throughout the con.
After that, I suggested we go pick up my roommate for the con, Kevin. Kevin was over at the launch party for The Magician King, and it’s at this point that things begin to get a little fuzzy for me, as there was an awful lot of free alcohol. I do recall speaking to a kilted gentleman who had provided the beer, which was excellent. This would become a theme – basically, Lev’s parties were where the good beer was. While in the midst of a conversation, someone popped in from across the hall to shout “THEY HAVE A JACCUZI FULL OF BEER AT THE TOR PARTY!!!”
Enticed by this image, I was compelled to cross the hall in search of more beer. The beer in question was far less fine than the stuff at the Magician King party, but more abundant, and it was getting to the point that I was having difficulty telling the difference.
At some point, I ended up telling a story about my time in Japan, which segued into a talk about my project. Apparently, talking about fan history draws old fen like flies to honey, and I was soon surrounded, sharing (drunkenly and incoherently) my drive for the project, my nervousness that I would not be able to finish it (apparently even delicious beer can’t shake my anxiety!) and what research I’d done so far. One gentleman saw fit to inform me of the locations of several excellent fanzine collections, including the one at UC Riverside. He gave me his email address, and it was a solid three days before I realized that the man in question had been David Hartwell! This encounter set the tone for the rest of Worldcon – I made so many contacts and encountered so many big name fans and authors that my head is still spinning.
At this point, I suggested going back to the hotel. I think Kevin likely wanted to stay a bit longer, but Amanda was tired and I was jetlagged, so we headed on back. Kevin and I managed to keep each other up with good conversation until four in the morning. I’m fairly certain I finally fell asleep in the middle of a thought, my body vetoing my mind’s desire to keep talking.
NEXT UP: FRIDAY
In every convention, there are always panels we have to miss, be it due to time constraints, schedule mixups, or being too tired from partying all night the night before. I’m aware of this fact. I’ve come to terms with it.
… except this time for Worldcon, I’m just kicking myself for not going the full five days.
I have my reasons! It’s pretty expensive to do a Worldcon, and at the time I thought I’d be working. It’s just, coincidentally, I’m actually working fewer hours this week (which I didn’t know in advance) so I feel like a moron for not going for the full five days, hotel costs be damned.
The panels that I’m missing, though, would have been a huge boon for my work. I’m going to list them here, for posterity. And actually, if anyone reading this blog happens to be going to these panels, I’d love to know what’s said at them! Or heck, if there are, for whatever reason, youtube videos, or anything really, please point them to me.
Opening Ceremony — 3:00 pm, C04 — Self explanatory. I’ve actually only been to one convention opening ceremony before in my life, period; I feel like I should go to more. Not this one though, I guess.
Done to Death: Program Topics that have Outstayed their Welcome — 4:00 pm, A10 — “Which common panel topics should be retired, and why? When does a topic become outdated and cliche?” This panel would have been a great way to get a feeling for the convention environment, to see what people want to talk about and what con veterans are tired of.
Tim Powers’ “On Stranger Tides” — 4:00 pm, A13 — Okay, I admit it — this one isn’t so much for this project as it is because I just really liked On Stranger Tides. That, and a friend of mine did ask me to write him an 800 word article on Tim Powers! But even if I was there Wednesday, this’d conflict with the “Done to Death” panel.
Fandom Online: Is the argument over? What was (is?) the argument about? — 5:00 pm, A16 — “Many SF fans are part of the online community too. Yet we seem to keep emphasizing opposition rather than overlap. Are some of us always looking for a fight or is there still real cause for concern?” — For me, this would have been just more of a barometer for SF fandom itself, getting a feel for what the online community is like.
Convention Running 101: Legal Compliance for Non-Profits — 11:00 am, A18 — “So you want to run a convention? What do you need to do to be a nonprofit? You’re working on a con? What can you write off? What are your obligations?” Do I even need to explain why I wanted to go to this panel? Do I??? Holy mother of god, this is everything I’ve been wanting and needing to know! I’ve been looking for so long to find out the technical aspects behind running cons, and this is just the ticket, especially since I got asked to help run a convention for the fans of the webcomic MS Paint Adventures (Don’t quote me on that — not sure if I can make the commitment). But I can’t go, as I will be on a plane until 8:30 pm.
Anime Cons: When will they grow up? 12:00 pm, A09 — “Is the program at anime cons essentially free publicity venues for distributors? If so, will this change?” This has been a question in my mind ever since I broke out of the anime con circuit and realized that at other cons, you have panels that are actually about things. Like, for instance, the state of the industry, or how to break in, or the physics of superheroes, or nanobots, or whatever, while anime cons you have panels on… Gaia Online. Or Yaoi panels that are basically an hour of fansqueeing with no real discussion about anything. It also would have been a good way for me to launch my research into anime cons, to get really started with that avenue of inquiry.
How did we get to where we are? A Brief History of the Hugos — 5:00 pm, A16 — “We take a look at the awards from the first Science Fiction Achievement Awards in 1953. Categories have come and gone over the years, including the #1 Fan Personality. What category was strongly considered to be dropped in the mid-70s. Why were there so many variations in the categories? How were the winners chosen, really? Other alternatives?” — History of the Hugos, folks! This is stuff I need to know. Again.
Regional and National Conventions: Past, Present, and Future — 5:00 pm, A18 — “The regional and national SF convention, while it does not date to the very beginnings of fandom, has a long and interesting history. Our panel looks back at days gone by and speculates on the future.” I would have had to pick between the Hugo panel and this one; I’d pick this one. This panel is about the thing I am writing this book on, right here, it is the perfect panel. And. I’m missing it. Whoops.
This isn’t to say that I’m not going to a whole bunch of great panels. Indeed, tomorrow I’ll have a full schedule up of the panels I’m trying to go to. This is just me lamenting what I’ve missed. Again! If you or someone you know are going to these, please tell me, so I can press them for information.
Even with me missing Wednesday and Thursday, I’m looking forward to this con. I just hope I can afford Chicon 7 next year (it’s… unlikely. But I’ll do my best.)