Yes, I'm writing this entry a week after the fact, but imagine, if you will, that it's Monday September second and I've just come back from four days at ConJose, the 60th World Science Fiction Convention.
I had a great time, although I ended up adjusting my plans on the fly. Rather than spending a lot of time in panels, I ended up spending a lot of time standing in line to get books autographed. And a lot of time in the dealer's room, of course. Here's a rundown of how my weekend went:
Thursday I left work early to go to the convention, and I was glad I did. The con had a series of sessions called "Kaffeeklatches", where a maximum of nine people could sign up to meet with an author just to hang out in a room for an hour and a half (or so). Thursday at 5:30, one of my favorite new authors, Alastair Reynolds, was in a Kaffeeklatch, and I went to it. There were only (as I recall) four of us there, besides Al and his partner (whose name I don't recall at this point). So it was a nice environment for getting a word in edgewise.
Al is a very nice fellow who works for the European Space Agency (and frankly, I hadn't even known there was such a beast, but it's comforting to know there is, since it's not clear that NASA and the Russian space program are going to be entirely satisfying in this century), and writes hard science fiction. We all got some background on his books, as well as getting our books autographed, and I think it's fair to say that all of us were true fans of his work. It was certainly a great way to kick off the convention, and I hope Al got plenty of publicity for his books at it.
Afterwards I ran into my friends Jeanne and John, from Minneapolis, and we went out with some other Midwestern friends to find dinner. After wandering around downtown San Jose for a while (once our first choice proved unsuitable due to noise issues), we ended up at the Tied House for some bar food. It was mediocre, so I'm not likely to go out of my way to visit the Mountain View location anytime soon, but hanging out with them was fun.
After that I attended the Vernor Vinge interview. Vinge was the author guest of honor at the con, and as you may know he's one of my favorites. Apparently he's recently retired from his job as a professor and is going to devote more time to writing novels, and he has a 3-book contract with his publisher. So with any luck we'll see several new Vinge novels before the decade is out!
I decided to call it a night after that on the theory that I shouldn't wear myself out the first night of the con.
Friday I arrived a little after 10 am, ready for more.
I walked by a gathering of LiveJournal users first, out of curiosity, and discovered that my transplanted friend RJ was there (having strangely dyed his hair bright blonde), though I didn't know anyone else there. Here's a list of folks who showed up.
Next came my big mistake of the weekend: Rather than going to eat, I went to the dealer's room. Which meant that other than my Sausage McBiscuits I didn't eat from 10 am until about 6 pm. Must remember not to do that again; obviously I'm out of the whole con scene lately. I made sure to eat regular meals the rest of the weekend.
I'm not quite sure what I did the rest of the afternoon, though I think most of it involved the dealer's room, and getting some books signed. And then I did actually have dinner.
The special event for the evening was a presentation by Patrick Stewart of Star Trek and X-Men fame. It's hard to believe it's been 15 years since Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered; Stewart looks like he hasn't aged a day. He's quite a showman: Plenty of stage presence, and funny to boot. His brief show (he had to catch a flight) included stills from the upcoming Star Trek: Nemesis, a recent trailer for that film, and a not-yet-aired trailer for it. Plus a faux trailer for X-Men 2, which began shooting earlier this summer. He's worth a look if he's ever presenting in your area, though to be fair I didn't have to pay extra to see him.
To forestall talking about getting books signed every day, I'll break them out into their own section, here.
I waited in line a lot to get books signed. There was a nominal three-book limit for signings, but authors with short lines obviously didn't care if you gave them a couple of extra books, and some of the authors with long lines would take an extra book 'on the sly'. I don't think it was strictly enforced, except for people with lots of books. I restricted myself to three books for each author, with one exception.
I thought it would be cool to scan some of the signatures I got, one from each author. So, here you go; just follow the links to: David Brin; Lois McMaster Bujold; C. J. Cherryh; Phil Foglio; Donald Kingsbury; George R. R. Martin; Sean McMullen; Frederick Pohl; Alastair Reynolds; Kim Stanley Robinson, and Vernor Vinge.
Stories to go with a few of the signatures:
So I spent a lot of time in line, but I have a bunch of fun memories to draw on as a result. And that makes it all worthwhile.
- On Monday I walked up to Phil Foglio's booth in the dealer's room and asked if he was doing signatures. "Suuuure," he said in his big, friendly drawl. I pulled out my recently-purchased hardcover copy of Girl Genius and said, "Something new..." and he said, "Yeeesss." Then I handed him my old and dog-eared copy of D'Arc Tangent #1 (and only) and said, "...and something from way back when." Phil (it seemed) took a deep breath and said, "Ahhh, yesss." He signed both of 'em.
- I'd exchanged brief e-mail with Donald Kingsbury about my review of his novel Psychohistorical Crisis, hence his inscription to me. He said he appreciates having on-line reviews, as they give a book a long-term presence on the Web. Apparently he's going to work on a sequel to his acclaimed novel Courtship Rite, which Subrata tells me I must read.
- After signing my copies of Fevre Dream and The Armageddon Rag, George R. R. Martin remarked, "A couple of golden oldies, those books." They're both favorites of mine. I want to go back and re-read all his short fiction from the 70s and 80s, too, and maybe someday crack the Wild Cards series.
- Sean McMullen is a very friendly, outgoing individual, who enjoyed chatting with everyone who came by. Apparently he used to be in a rock band. He was impressed that a couple of us had hardcover copies of The Centurion's Empire, and even more so (it seemed) that I had an Australian collection of his early short stories, though in fact I lucked into it just a few weeks ago at Borderlands Books.
- Bringing my SF Book Club edition of Gateway up to Fred Pohl for an autograph, I remarked that it may not be the most valuable or rarest book he'd see that day, but it was one of my favorites. Pohl replied, "Well, it's one of mine, too. It's the book I'd most like to have engraved on my gravestone." Then added, "Of course, I'd have to have a really large gravestone." Pohl has always been friendly and gregarious whenever I've seen him, which is all the more impressive in that he's probably outlasted almost every fan present at the con.
- Without a doubt, the friendliest, most outgoing author I've ever met is Kim Stanley Robinson. All smiles, happy to exchange a few words with anyone and everyone who came up for an autograph, it's hard to imagine a nicer guy to get an autograph from. I handed him my trade paperback collection of Icehenge and he immediately said that he really likes the reissue job they did on the book. I said that I'd probably re-read it more than any book in my collection, in part because I kept forgetting the ending, but that in a way that made it a better re-read than remembering it. So that's the story behind his inscription.
Saturday began with a panel on "How Plausible is Today's SF?", which I felt was rather unmemorable despite the participants (Vernor Vinge, Wil McCarthy and Robert A. Metzger among them). The problem with SF panels is that the idea can be interesting, but when the panel ends up being nothing more than a "Here are a bunch of cool anecdotes on the subject that the panelists know" - as with this one - it isn't all that interesting. There's no recipe for how to take a panel beyond mundanity like that, and sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't, but this time around it didn't.
Next I went to a panel on weblogs, featuring my friends Lucy and Whump, and SF editors and bloggers Patrick and Teresa Nielsen-Hayden. This was an enjoyable panel in part because Lucy was able to present some contrast between journals and weblogs, and it presented some historical perspective on weblogs and the technology used to implement them. If I ever get my baseball weblog off the ground (I finally have an idea for a title graphic; now I just have to create it), I might use one of the systems they mentioned here.
Later on I dropped in on a panel entitled "Creating Memorable Characters", which was not only kind of pedestrian, but was absolutely packed to the brim, I suspect because of Lois McMaster Bujold's presence on the panel (apparently her other panels were also packed full).
Did I mention the art show? The Worldcon art show is pretty impressive, featuring as it does many of the big name pro artists in the business. There's a lot of amateur (or bad pro) stuff, too, but that's because it's huge. I only took one turn through the art show, and wished I'd taken time for another. Oh, well. Phil Foglio's stuff was terribly amusing, particularly since the "mediums" he wrote on the piece description cards were all totally bogus and sarcastic. I lament the fact that I didn't pick up some of his stuff eight years ago in the Midwest; he's too expensive for me now. I wasn't especially blown away by any art in the show - certainly not enough to bid on it - but it was pretty to look at as gallery work.
I spent both Saturday and Sunday evenings mainly hanging out in the fanzine lounge - on the same floor as a consuite - since there was a party there each night. Lucy and John were there, too, as well as various other fans I have more or less familiarity with. Trish stopped by Saturday night and hung out with us, which was fun. Lucy gave her an Iron Chef book, which Trish went ga-ga over.
I never really hung out all that late any evening. Since I generally had things I wanted to go to in the mornings, there didn't seem a lot of point to killing myself. 11:00 or midnight generally seemed late enough.
Sunday I spent a lot - a lot - of time standing in line for authors. Most of the books I got signed were signed this day. A lot of time. Wow.
I filled in the time between standing in lines by going to the dealer's room. I bought a bunch of neat stuff this weekend.
For instance, I asked my Dad if there was anything I should look for on his behalf, and he said the Science Fiction Book Club printed six volumes of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars novels back in the early 70s - with Frank Frazetta covers - and if I could find the four he didn't have for reasonable prices, to pick them up. Well, I found all four of them, three at very reasonable prices, and one at the "going rate", and grabbed them all. They're pretty nifty; I might need to get copies for myself someday.
For myself, I picked up a number of paperbacks, including a copy of Daniel Keys Moran's The Long Run, which I've never even seen spite two years of looking. I nearly completed (save for the last volume) my set of the original run of the Starblaze editions of Robert Asprin's MythAdventures series. And I found a hardcover copy of the omnibus collection of William Sloane's two horror novels, The Rim of Morning. Considering the book is 40 years old, I think what I paid was a pretty good deal. And I picked up various odds-and-ends like nearly all of the Julian May Pliocene Exile/Galactic Milieu novels.
My big coup was probably finding out that one of my favorite novels - Jack McDevitt's A Talent For War - had a hardcover edition in the U.K., and finding a copy for only $10. Other than a recent and pricey omnibus hardcover of his first two novels, I don't think Talent ever had a U.S. hardcover edition, so I was really happy to find this one.
I also ran into Al Reynolds in the dealer's room this day, and we chatted for 15 minutes, which was neat. Sounds like he had an astoundingly busy con. At least he's taking some vacation time after the con ends.
The evening was the Hugo Awards ceremony, in an extremely hot auditorium. Toastmaster Tad Williams was an outstanding stage presence, worth the price of admission alone. In addition to the awards, Fred Pohl was awarded a plaque for having a large asteroid named after him: Minor planet Pohl. "I've never had a minor planet before," said Pohl. "I wonder how I get it home?"
Vernor Vinge won for best novella for "Fast Times at Fairmont High", and then Neil Gaiman made a cameo appearance to pick up the Hugo for best novel, for American Gods, which - not to brag - I had predicted ahead of time. Though not, I admit, with a great deal of confidence. IMO the field this year was not terribly strong (except in name recognition: MacLeod, Bujold, Willis, Gaiman, Mieville, Wilson). The awards show was worth going to - much more fun than in 97, I think - but man, it was hot in there.
Monday was an abbreviated day, as the con was winding down. I finished up my purchases in the dealer's room, and got my final autographs. Went by an uninspired panel about adopting new technology, and did some reading. Subrata said he might stop by, but he didn't until after I left, apparently due to traffic problems on I-880. On the other hand, I did finally - and briefly - run into Marissa Lingen, who actually looks just like her photos. She seemed pretty preoccupied - possibly because they were heading off to lunch - so it was a brief encounter.
And that was about it. I came home and had a late lunch and then mostly lounged around for the rest of the day to unwind. And enjoy all of my new stuff. And pet the cats. Not a bad day, at all.
This is probably way more about my Worldcon experience than anyone really needs to know. Maybe more than any other journaller has written about it. If you've made it this far, I hope you enjoyed it, and you have my congratulations on your endurance!