So. Worldcon. You might think it's just a gathering of geeks, dorks, and nerds wearing Spock ears and enthusing about their latest science project, but no, it's all that and more!
First, let me tell you about the venue. If you've never been there before, Glasgow is a great city, a mini, European New York. Unlike work-a-day Aberdeen (think of Hartford, CT, insurance capitol of the world) or slick, touristy Edinburgh, best known for the castle, the Fringe, and the Book Fair, as well as the dichotomy between the old and new towns, Glasgow's heart beats firmly to the rhythm of the people who live, work, and visit there. It's not a particularly wealthy city, but I think that's part of it's charm. Unlike Edinburgh, where you look around and wonder where the poor people live, in Glasgow it's all right there. Yet for all that it's no backwater, either...
The SECC is a great venue, although with all such places the food is unbearably overpriced. I paid $2.50 for a small bottle of water.
Yeah, exactly. Alas, we didn't go to the Science center or see the Tower, but next time!
But on with the con.
There were few who dressed up at Interaction, but I suspect that's because of the famous British reserve. However, I did count one Klingon, two dragons, Edward Scissorhands (sans scissors), a couple of wenches in mid-18thC dress, a couple of Crusaders, a few folks in regular clothing wearing capes, but overall nothing spectacular.
The Huckster's room was pretty good, we picked up about 25 books (one of which I lost between our hotel and Queen St station, dammit), which for us was fairly restrained. I bought a cape, a medium weight cream wool cape with a green Celtic pattern running the edges, plus tee shirts and two tote bags. I successfully avoided all the shiny things, of which I am very proud.
However, that's not the meat of Worldcon. Oh no. Books and clothing and shiny can all be purchased seperately, but no where else can you meet authors, agents, editors, artists, and musicians who all love science fiction and fantasy. No where else can you be around thousands of your closest friends, people who understand. You'll find all ages too, from authors and fans in their 80's and 90's to the smallest fans and children of fans. There seems to be a 50:50 split between men and women, which leads me to believe the oft-repeated ratio of 10:2 to be complete crap. The one thing you won't see many of are fans of color. I don't know why.
The main course consisted of five glorious days of panels, music, partying, awards, and a masquerade. We were there for only 3 days, but they were jam-packed! We went to the following panels (descriptions taken from the convention guide, other comments and spelling errors my own):
Asexuality is the New Gay, But is That Also the Default of Science Fiction - In the middle of the sex scene do you find yourself wanting to get back to the technical description of the star drive? w/ Paul F Cockburn, Jim Grimsley, Joe Haldeman, Geoff Ryman. Not so much a discussion of sexuality so much as its use in fiction, or lack thereof. Personally I don't care for sex in my sci-fi, as for the most part it's there for show, rather than moving the story forward in any manner. LeGuin, Tepper, Lee, etc, not included.
The Digital Divide - Are we building a web-enabled society that disenfranchises those unable or unwilling to adopt the online lifestyle? Goverments justify the push for e-services on the basis of cost savings, but along with privacy considerations, what are the implications? w/ Christopher Rowe, Don Sakers, Renee Sieber, Maureen Kincaid Speller, Nicholas Whyte (I think there were different panelists here, but I can't recall who). Interesting discussion of India's Hole in the Wall, as well as what we (aka The West/The North) think those without the web should use it for versus what they want to use it for.
The Future of RPG and Computer Games - Computer and role-playing games have been an important part of SF and fandom for 25 years. What does the future hold for computer games and RPGs, especially as they relate to each other? w/ David Cake, Bill Fawcett, David Lohkamp, Klaus AE Mogensen
Drug-crazed, Mutant Sci Fi Fans Invade Glasgow: SF in the Tabloids - Just what do we look like to the outside world? Why is it they thinkg we are all Trekkies when there isn't a uniform to be seen. w/Tom Easton. Absolutely hilarious look at the tabloids, particularly the Weekly World News, wondering why people aren't embarassed to be seen reading that at lunch or on the train, but who wouldn't dare be seen reading Dune. Just what does legitimate mean?
Character vs Science in Hard SF - It is sometimes said that in hard SF, the science is a character too. What does this mean, and can or should it be reconciled with a traditional understanding of character? w/ Greg Bear, Patrick J Gyger, James P. Hogan, Justina Robson, Stanley Schmidt. I went to the dealer's room instead of this panel, and I'm kicking myself for it now! Mr Oro says it was fabulous, practically standing room only. Damn.
The Ethics and Effects of Colonisation - Life on a colony is likely to be dangerous, deprived, lonely and years from medical and social support. The first generation might be happy with this, but will subsequent generations feel the same way? Do we risk recreating Pitcairn Island on Phobos? Also, what are the risks of having unaccountable groups with the resources and energy budgets needed for spaceflight? Do we risk terrorism by meteor strick (imagine The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress from the Earth's point of view)? w/ Ken MacLeod, Farah Mendlesohn, David Moles, Dav O'Neill, Karen Traviss (again, the panelists were different but apart from Karen Traviss I can't recall who was who). Fascinating panel, bringing up things I wish I could recall now. Seriously, though - who's going to go out there first? I'm betting it's going to be religious fanatics...or political ones. I used to think it would be fascinating to be one of the first, but really, life is going to be brutish, nasty, and short. When you think of all the failed colonies in the early days of the Americas, or the later 'towns' during the Gold Rush, the mining towns of northern Canada, life on the oil rigs...it's going to be damned harsh. Mr Oro says life on the oil rigs wasn't bad, but you always go home after a couple of weeks, which isn't going to be possible on an off world colony, not for hundreds of years, presuming technological innovation remains the same, never mind the constraints of distance, etc. Besides, what if there's someone already there? What if the colony has only limited resources? Karen Traviss' book, City of Pearl, raises all these questions and more. She's English, so it's fairly depressing, but stil a fab book.
How Mediocre Movies Can Become Good TV Shows - What do Stargate SG-1 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer have in common? They were both mediocre movies that became good TV shows. Poor TV shows get remade as good ones e.g. Battlestar Galactica. How can this happen? w/ Arthur Chappell, Jim Mann, Cindy (Huckle) Mohareb, James Swallow. No one knows, although it would appear that episodic TV allows for character growth and story arcs as well as a single director/writer/producer to take control, unlike films with a limited amount of time to do everything. Of course, since most new shows depend on gaining an audience with a pilot and maybe two episodes, this general argument may no longer hold true. Certainly shows like The X Files or Farscape wouldn't make the cut. Oh, wait, Farscape didn't at the height of its popularity...silly Sci Fi Channel.
The Sting: SFWA [Science Fiction Writers of America], Atlanta Nights and Publish America - Disgusted by Publish America's claim to be selective and concerned about quality, a group of SFWA authors concocted the worst novel imaginable. This monstrosity was submitted to Publish American who enthusiastically offered to publish it. Gotcha! w/ Robin Hobb, John Jarrold, Darlene Marshall, Steve Saffel. Horrifying true story about Publish America, basically a vanity press that signs authors up for 7 years, then does nothing. They publish the book, then it's up to the author to buy the copies, sell, and distribute them. Unfortunately, they don't tell the authors those minor details...I've ordered Atlanta Nights, though. All proceeds go to the SFWA Medical Emergency Fund.
Reductio Ad Absurdum presents Lucas Back in Anger - Lucas Back In Anger is Reductio Ad Absurdum's latest epic production. Following on the huge success of their previous shows, which include The Matrix: Remaindered, A Fistful of Hobbits and Dune,or The Sand of Music, Phil Raines and Ian Sorensen present their spectacular version of the complete Star Wars saga - all six movies in 60 minutes. You'll laugh, You'll cry, you'll kiss an hour goodbye! w/Phil Raines, Ian Sorensen. Alas, I was exhausted and we ended up going to our hotel before the show began. Mebbe next time...
Harry Potter Has Put Children's Fantasy Back Fifty Years - Children love Harry Potter. But his universe is quaint, relies on gimmicks and is, 'a little derivative' in its plots. Has its success been a good thing? Does new material, by the likes of Steve Augarde, Cornelia Funk, and K.A. Applegate, match up to the classics of the past? w/ Julie Bertagna, Sharyn November, Graham Sleight, Elizabeth Wein, Jane Yolen. There was a thing on the BBC about Terry Pratchett dissing J.K. Rowling over some recent comments she made about Fantasy. You can read the article here, and the following are my comments made on another board concerning the whole thing:
post 1: I just tried reading the first Harry Potter and Couldn't even make it halfway through. The writing's mediocre and very 'high' English, with poor characterization, nevermind the stereotyping. Very disappointing.
post 2: Well! At Interaction there was a panel entitled:
Harry Potter Has Put Children's Fantasy Back Fifty Years - Jane Yolen, Sharyn November, Elizabeth Wein, Julie Beragna, and Graham Sleight as panelists.
Basically, the answer is yes. However, here's the one thing we all agreed upon, whether or not we like her work; she can certainly tell a story. She's gotten kids (and adults) reading. The works of far better authors such as Yolen and Susan Cooper have become not only much more popular, but their back catalogs (books that have gone out of print) are being republished, which is great. And how's this for tricks, because of Harry Potter, every single one of Diana Wynne Jones' books are now back in print. These are Good Things ™.
However. Her popularity, in all seriousness, is down to two things: her publisher, Bloomsbury, throwing every thing they had at a marketing campaign because they were about to disappear into the great publishing house in the sky, and her personal story, which was pushed pretty damned hard. So, lots of people bought the book because they wanted to support this poverty stricken single mom, whose flat was so cold she had to take her baby and go write in a nearby cafe for hours at a time.
Except, she actually lived in a pretty posh part of Edinburgh, and the nearby cafe was pretty damned ritzy.
And the story is basically Cinderfella! Not that I have a problem with that, honest. However, even for a children's book, the adults are all fairly stupid and many of the charaacters themselves are stereotypical and derivative. The writing is appallingly (Jane Yolen says she could write the dictionary of adverbs based upon Harry Potter) mediocre and quite frankly, that's the thing that stamps on my last nerve the most.
That is the single thing that keeps be from reading the rest of the book. I can overlook a lot, but bad writing, no way.
post 3: Someone in the audience at Interaction said that one of Rowling's books - maybe #4? - was 2.5 years past the publishing date, and as a consequence, some 400 other books were dropped, ditched because they were to be published on the profits of Rowling's late book. So, that book was rushed into publication, and the basic gist was that due to a) unrealistic publishing dates (hello, Rowling's agent!), cool.gif the fact that most editors are overworked and c) the other fact that Harry Potter will sell regardless of how poorly they're written means that it is more or less up to Rowling to do the editing.
This might be a surprise to the non-writing public, but it's actually well known in the trade. That's still no excuse for poor spelling, editor or no.
Jane Yolen said that same thing happened with Frank Baum's Oz books in the 30's, books she loved as a child and which are still popular today. She said she was horrified when reading them to her granddaughter at how badly they were written, but again, if it gets kids reading...I have to wonder, though, why aren't parents reading to their kids?! What's up with that??
How Do We Reinvent Time Travel? - The genre seems to have run out of steam, no one even wants to subvert it anymore. What can we do? w/ Stephen Baxor, Harry Harrison, Kim Stanley Robinson, Connie Willis (Connie was a no-show, but her book To Say Nothing Of the Dog is fantastic).
Grey Eminences: Pulling Agents Out of the Shadows - So you've written a book, and now you have to sell it. Your first stop is to find an agent. Why? What can they offer? Does it matter if they are SF/Fantasy specialists? w/ Joshua Blimes, Ian Irvine, John Jarrold, Mary Turzillo, Claire Weaver. The single most important thing I took from this panel was that when writing synopses, it doesn't insanely important that the specifics of the agent's requirements are covered 100%. For example, if they request the first 3 chapters and a 30 page synopsis, so long as what happens after the first 3 chapters is covered, i.e. how the story ends, it doesn't particularly matter how dull and boring that synopsis is. The point is to show that the novel is complete. Which takes a load off my mind, because by the time I get to writing a synopsis my brain is mush, can't see the forest for the trees if you know what I mean.
It Can't Be Fantasy - I Like It! - What makes certain apparently generic fantasies stand head and shoulders above others? What about the fantasies that aren't marketed as such by mainstream publishers? w/ Laura Ann Gilman, Katherine Kurtz, Darren Nash, Jessica Rydill. I can't remember a damned thing about this panel.
Quiz: Just a Minute - Panel game in which our contestants have to speak uninterrupted for sixty seconds on a given topic wihout hesitation, repetition or deviation. w/ Pat Cadigan, Andy Duncan, Sydney Duncan, John Meany, Ian Watson, Connie Willis (and the chick who just won this year's Nebula, sorry, didn't catch your name!) Absolutely hilarious game that had the audience rolling in the aisles. I'll never think of Goldfinger in the same way again.
Whew! Doesn't sound like a lot, and I think I may have forgotten a couple of panels, but it's all very intense. And you have to remember that at any given time there are 5-10 panels going on at the same time. Chosing which ones to go to can drive a person mad, I tell you, MAD! Here are a few we missed:
Post Colonialism and Cargo Cults
So, Private Spaceflight Is Here
The Limits of Open-Source KnowledgE
Hans Christian Anderson and the Dark Side of the Fairy Tale
Privacy or Paranoia
Terraforming Starts at Home
What Is the Future of the Developing World?
You Can't Copyright My DNA, Can You?
When Is Genocide Justified?
Has SF Lost Its Faith in Social Science?
Introduction To Japanese Science Fiction
what's New in Astronomy and Cosmology
You Killed Off The Old People: Depicting Older People In SF
The Agent-Client Relationship
The Developing World in Space: Through Poverty to the Stars
Is Genius Gendered?
Race, Migration and Refugees
Byzantium at our Borders in the 21st Century: The Future of Europe
Rainbow Over the Future: Complex Families, Queer Neighbors
The Down Sides of Fantasy
And those were just from Thursday noon to Saturday Noon, with 2.5 more days to go!
So, I guess, the next time a Worldcon is near you, mebbe you should check it out, even if you're not necessarily a fan of SF or F...