Monday, 1 September 1997:

Back from Worldcon

This is going to be a long entry; I'm going to catch up on my doings at The World Science Fiction Convention over the last five days. Luke McGuff has put together a list of Worldcon journal entries if you'd like to see what other people had to say about it.

Thursday, August 28:

This was mainly a travel day. My roommate at the con was David, a guy I knew in grad school, and who also works at Epic, so we flew down together. On the way, I finally managed to finish John Brunner's novel Stand On Zanzibar, which was a pretty mediocre book. David commented that there was probably a good 300-page novel in that 650-page monster, and I'm inclined to agree. But it was way too long with too little payoff to be worth it.

I'm pretty far behind on updating my book reviews page; I ought to work on that soon.

The con was in San Antonio, Texas, which was a new state for me. The weather was actually quite nice, considering how far south it is. In the 80s and low 90s, and the humidity was not too stifling. (I went to college in New Orleans, so that's my basis for comparison.) It was still pretty bad, though, and I tried to spend as much time in A/C as possible.

My impression of San Antonio is that it's a little too preoccupied with trying to be a "world-class city", the buildings look very new, they have a large convention center, and they have this very yuppified "Riverwalk" running through downtown with lots of shops and restaurants on it. The idea of a walkway along a river or canal is a good one, but this seemed a little too unnatural.

I did stop to see the Alamo from the outside, but I didn't do the touristy things; I'm not a very touristy person.

David and I checked into our hotel room, and then headed to the convention center to register for the con. We then immediately went to a panel entitled "Creating Wonderful Characters and then Killing Them Ruthlessly", which we mainly went to to see Mary Doria Russell, who wrote one of my favorite books. The panel was pretty good, with discussions of what it means to kill a major character, and how you-the-writer must be careful not to cheat your readers.

David and I ate mexican food for dinner (tex-mex, really, which is still orders of magnitude better than "southwestern" crap), and made the rounds to a few parties that evening (about which more later).

"My characters don't 'take control' of the story; my characters do what they're damn well told!"
- Connie Willis, on the "Killing Characters Ruthlessly" panel

Friday, August 29:

Friday I discovered one of the basic problems with the con: The consuite, which at most cons is a place to get drinks and munchies, was only open during the evening, and was located at the main hotel, not in the convention center. So other than a pricey cash bar, there was really no good place at the convention center to get drinks or breakfast-type stuff, or even to just hang out and lounge around to rest one's feet. This was a real drag, and I think made the con about 30% less enjoyable for me than it would have been. It also meant that I didn't eat on Friday until dinner.

I first went to a panel on enjoying yourself at your first Worldcon (which was only marginally helpful, though it had several long-time fans on it who had interesting stories to relate), and then I hit the dealer's room.

Most good cons have a dealer's room, where a few dozen dealers set up tables and sell books, artwork, CDs, videotapes, jewelry, comic books, and so forth. This was certainly the biggest and best dealer's room I'd seen, and over the course of the weekend I spent a lot of money in it!

I had several things that I knew I wanted to search for. First were a number of books, many of which I found. I've been looking for a copy of George R. R. Martin's novel The Armageddon Rag for years without success, but I found three copies - hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback - here. (I bought the mass market paperback because I hadn't at that point seen the others.) I found Jack McDevitt's novel A Talent For War, and picked up material by C. J. Cherryh, Michael Swanwick, and others.

Next, I hit the several good comics dealers there looking to fill in holes in my collection. I have just a few issues of the Claremont/Cockrum/Byrne X-Men series from the 1970s to complete my set, and I bought six of the nine I needed, five at excellent discount prices. I'm also a fan of the Justice Society of America, and bought several Justice League of America comics from the 60s and 70s which featured the JSA to fill in those holes. And I finished my collection of Roger's Stern's 1980s run on Doctor Strange.

And then there were the CDs. Babylon 5 soundtrack scorer Christopher Franke released a couple of compilation CDs of the soundtrack music over the last year, but this year, debuting at Worldcon, were soundtracks of five full season three episodes. Yes, I broke down and bought all five, although I did wait until I found them at reasonable prices ($12.00 each) rather than the ridiculous price-gouging that several other vendors were selling them for. I also picked up the soundtracks to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman: The Movie, and Conan The Barbarian (a highly underrated film, in my opinion).

Later in the afternoon I went to Mary Doria Russell's panel on pulling down a book deal with a major publisher as a first-time novelist (Russell's book The Sparrow was not published under a science fiction imprint). Russell is such a great speaker! I had the good fortune at WisCon last May to be able to have dinner with her; she's a great human being.

I also went to Phil and Kaja (pronounced "Kaia", it turns out) Foglio's slide show featuring a bunch of their artwork from over the years. I rather wish they'd included more of Phil's pencil sketches (I've been a Foglio fan for 15 years now, ever since his days doing "What's New" for Dragon Magazine), but it was still entertaining. They must have a very bizarre marriage.

I also went to a panel by David Hartwell and Patrick Nielson Hayden of Tor Books on "Recent SF&F Classics", which they defined as books published since William Gibson's Neuromancer came out which are regarded as classics in the field. It turned out to be a "has this author done anything you'd consider a classic?" discussion, and books they consider classics include Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon The Deep, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (largely because it's read widely outside fandom) nearly everything ever written by Gene Wolfe, some novellas by Connie Willis, and so forth. One interesting comment is that they feel Iain Banks can't be judged yet, because he hasn't really gained wide appeal outside of Britain, although his material is highly regarded by those who have read it.

Friday night I discovered that there was a reciprocal problem to the consuite issue: A common way of getting in touch with folks at conventions is through a message board, and Worldcon did have one, and a very nice one at that. However, it was located only in the convention center, which was locked up after 7 pm! This meant that tracking someone down in the evenings was nearly impossible! Especially since the consuite was rather poor seating-and-food wise and many people never went there!

I've also discovered that I'm not much of a party person at cons. Most parties are given by people making Worldcon bids or other people trying to (essentially) sell you something. (The best parties are those like Minneapolis in '73, which once was a bid party, but is now simply an ongoing excuse to throw a party.) And many parties are very crowded and loud. It's just not a great way to hang out. I prefer a more sedate atmosphere. So in some ways this made the Worldcon night life a washout for me.

But at least it meant that I got enough sleep during the con!

Saturday, August 30:

Saturday, the main event was J. Michael Straczynski's 2-hour presentation of Babylon 5 information. People packed into a 3000-person hall with two large screens flanking the stage at the front. Straczynski is a low-key, but amusing and intelligent speaker. I sometimes get the impression that he is dissembling a bit too much, but he's only human, and anyone given the scrutiny that he's had over the last 4+ years is going to look a little foolish once in a while.

Straczynski showed us blooper reels from season four, and then treated us to some upcoming scenes from the final season four episodes, and the first episode of season five, as well as the two TV-movies which will air along with season five on TNT next year. It all looks pretty cool, and it sounds like the final episodes of season four will be quite exciting and interesting. Babylon 5 is not perfect by any means, but I do think it's the best science fiction series ever to air on television.

I do wish we could learn more about Sinclair/Valen and the Great Machine, however.

Right before the B5 show was a selection of previews from upcoming movies. I must say that the upcoming Starship Troopers film looks really lame (of course, I'm not much of a Heinlein fan to start with, and I'm tired of bug-eyed-alien movies). I was intrigued to learn that a movie of David Brin's novel The Postman is due out in November. Coincidentally, that's on my immediate reading list.

A couple of weeks before the con, some on-line diarists had made tentative plans to get together and meet at the con, under the banner "Online Diarist Confront". For whatever reason, this never materialized (maybe we were all expecting someone else to get the ball rolling), so I never got to meet C. J. Silverio (although I think I saw her in the main convention room once or twice, but I didn't feel sure enough to risk making a fool of myself) or Diane Patterson.

However, I did end up playing message-tag with Cera Kruger, and we finally ran into each other when we were both looking for the screening of the B5 episode "Severed Dreams", which was up for a Hugo Award (it turns out we were about an hour too early). So we got to talk for a little while, which was good. It's nice to get a real-life perspective on people sometimes.

I had ended up loosely hooking up with the folks who were publishing the con's newsletter, although I didn't do much directly for a newsletter. However, I did get recruited by Bill Humphries (an expatriate Madison fan) to help report on the Hugo Awards in real-time via the con's Web site. The ceremony was about 2 hours long, and after Bill did the set-up of the laptop on which we worked, I ended up doing most of the typing of the report, saving every couple of minutes to keep people up-to-date. The results of our efforts are still available if you want to see them. It's a lot of work to try to type and keep up with a fairly fast-moving ceremony up on stage!

For this I got some ribbons to mark my con badge as a member of the "press".

Sunday, August 31:

Sunday I was pretty lazy, but I did go to some more panels. First I went to a panel where some editors read examples of stories and cover letters from the slushpile of unsolicited stories they receive. (SF magazines actually make great use of unsolicited submissions, but as with anything there's a small fraction of submissions which are just unutterably strange or just-plain-dumb.) Then I went to lunch with my friend Jim Rittenhouse and his wife Susan; we has a leisurely lunch, so I missed another panel on the editorial slushpile in the afternoon.

I went to a panel on SF comic books, where it was largely agreed that if you don't consider superhero books as "science fiction" (a justifiable viewpoint, I think), then there isn't a lot out there. Some books that were mentioned include Wandering Star, Matt Howarth's stuff (apparently he's finished a comic adaptation of Colin Wilson's novel The Mind Parasites), GrimJack, Vermillion, A Distant Soil, and Buck Godot: Zap Gun For Hire. It was a kind of lame panel, though.

And at the end of the day I went to a panel on science fiction mysteries, which turned out to be a discussion of fusing science fiction and fantasy with detective stories, whereas I'd expected something a little more along the lines of a discussion of puzzles and scientific investigations, a la James Hogan's Inherit The Stars.

Monday, September 1:

Monday was my last day at the con, and I spent most of it hanging around in the dealer's room, and hanging out and chatting with some friends. I also went to lunch with Jeanne Mealy, John Stanley, and some Minneapolis friends of theirs. (Jeanne and I met through an APA we were in together.)

And then it was back to the airport and back on the plane. We were on the same flights as Madison fans Hope Kiefer and Karl Hailman and their kids; I spent most of the flight reading Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves, which was pretty good. We got in after 10 pm, and I came home and caught up on my e-mail before heading off to bed.

All-in-all, I had a good time at the con, although the layout of the con was not such that it catered to my particular social skills (which are decidedly peculiar), so I didn't meet many new people. And the lack of a decent consuite was a real drag.

Now I'll have to decide whether I want to go to Worldcon next year, in Baltimore...

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