California, ConJose, and the Toronto International Film Festival

A trip report (in pieces) by Evelyn C. Leeper

Copyright 2002 Evelyn C. Leeper

August 22, 2002: This trip was a little bit of this and a little bit of that (or perhaps more accurately, a lot of this and a lot of that). It started with a week spent visiting my in-laws and sightseeing, then five days at the World Science Fiction Convention, then a week and a half in Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. So this report will be in pieces.

Flying Out
John Steinbeck Center
Arrival at ConJose
Restaurant Guide
Newsletters
Dealers Room
Art Show
Programming
Nightingale to Lark: Tips to Transition from Night Folk to Morning People
The Future of Africa, In Fact and Fiction
Mining History For Fun And Profit
Guest of Honor Interview - Vernor Vinge
The Martha Stewart Slanshack
When Does My Cave Get Cable?
The Prometheus and the Sidewise Awards
Philip K. Dick to Film
Dinner and Parties
Recent SF and Fantasy Films - Praise and Boos
Blog This! (or, Blogology Recapitulates Mimeography)
The NASFiC: Threat or Menace?
TV's Horror of Horror
Trip Reports - the Bill Brysons of Fandom
Masquerade
Hugo Awards
Parties
The Future of Fanzines
The SF Three Foot Shelf
How to Vote on the Hugos: An Explanation of What Won this Year
The Bigger the Better?
Dead Dog Party
Miscellaneous
Toronto International Film Festival

 

Part 1: California

 

We had reservations for a 3PM flight from Newark to San Jose stopping at O'Hare. We arrive at Newark airport around 12:30, only to be told that there were "flow control" problems at O'Hare. Does this mean someone turned a faucet the wrong way and flooded the runway? Probably not. It probably means that the air traffic in Chicago is just as snarled as the road traffic. In any case, our 3PM flight to O'Hare has been canceled and the later flights have no connections to San Jose. The best they could do was a 1:55PM flight to Denver arriving at about 4PM with confirmed seats on a 9:10PM flight to San Jose arriving at 10:26PM. (Our original arrival time was 7:45PM.) However, if we were lucky, we could make a 5:10PM flight out of Denver arriving in San Jose at 6:25PM.

Now, we are known for traveling with only carry-on luggage. We did four weeks in Australia out of carry-on luggage. I did a three-week business trip with just carry-on luggage. It makes those tight connections and stand-bys so much easier. But because we knew we would be getting all sorts of stuff at the convention and festival, and hence probably have to check something coming back, we figured we'd live it up and have checked luggage going out. And since we were going to check luggage going out, we put all sorts of things like pocket knives, corkscrews, and scissors in it. So when the clerk suggested we could just consolidate a briefcase into the checked bag and carry that, we couldn't. We can't win, I guess. No big deal on this trip, but it reconfirms my notion to avoid checking luggage.

We get to Denver and go to Gate 55, as our stand-by ticket indicates. Gate 55 is still occupied by a plane waiting to go to Albuquerque. As far as we can tell from the announcement, it needs a new rain shield for its radar. They had requested one from the warehouse, but someone typed the wrong number into the computer and they got one for a 757 instead of for a 767. But not to worry, because they had just sent back for the right part and would be leaving as soon as it arrived and was installed. No time estimate given, probably because it would have caused a riot.

So we check the board and discover that our (possible) flight has been moved to Gates 52. This violates some rule that says gate changes have to be long walks from each other, but we don't point this out.

Well, true "Luck of Leeper" now kicks in. First, it starts raining and the flight is delayed. Now they have to hold the seats longer for people making connections because some of them are still circling. Eventually they start calling the stand-bys. When they get to our name on the standby list, they have only one seat left. Since they won't let me sit on Mark's lap, we pass it up. So they give it to the next person. Five minutes later the captain says there was still an empty seat being held for "Campbell" and because the flight was already late, he doesn't want to hold it any longer. So they send the next person on. . . . . Well, almost. Just as she is being "wanded" (and we were cursing our luck), "Campbell" shows up, so she doesn't get on either.

Now there's a 7:55PM flight arriving 9:26PM that we're on the stand-by list for. (And we're at the top.) We get new stand-by tickets that say it's at Gate 45. No, Gate 45 is some flight to Columbus that's delayed because the plane is still in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, waiting for the weather to clear. So we check the board, and see that our (possible) flight is now at Gate 39. We go to Gate 39. After about fifteen minutes they announce that the flight is being moved to Gate 43. We go to Gate 43. We listen for our name. They call a lot of names, but we don't hear ours. When, however, we see the person who was after us and almost got "Campbell's" seat get a ticket, we go up and ask, and somehow they have two tickets for us even though we never heard our names called.

Now we've been at airports and in planes for about ten hours and all we've had to eat was a small, cold sandwich, a warm tomato juice, and a brownie. And this flight is beverage service only. Luckily, I understand the practicalities of airline travel and have brought a couple of meal bars with me. Ah, gracious living!

We arrived about 9:30PM and got our rental car after searching for one with a cassette player. (We brought cassettes to listen to in the room, and wanted to listen to them in the car as well, but the standard these days appears to be a CD player.)

I won't bore you with descriptions of things like our trips to Costco or eating at In-N-Out Burger, but we did do something of touristic interest.

This was the John Steinbeck Center in Salinas. This museum did a good job of presenting exhibits that show-cased Steinbeck's words. In addition to the obvious of having excerpts form his writings on the walls, they had displays that were taken from scenes in his novels: the refrigerated lettuce railroad car from "East of Eden", a shanty-town from "Grapes of Wrath", the laboratory from "Cannery Row". There were also audio-visual shows with readings from his works and excerpts from the films made from them. We spent two-and-a-half hours there and it wasn't enough. (But they were closing, so we had to leave.) Mark noted that it's the only museum he can remember where the gift shop is primarily books. And even in T-shirts or pillowcases, you have a wide selection of quotes to choose from.

Cultural differences in California: Fry's Electronics stores have spaces for electric cars where they can plug in to recharge while people are shopping.

 

Part 2: ConJose

 

Here ends the tourism and begins the World Science Fiction Convention.

We dropped off our rental car Thursday morning and took the shuttle to the terminal, where we got in line for the shuttle to the light rail. We met some Phoenix fans there, who said they had to ask why we were getting off the rental car shuttle rather than coming from the terminal. (Well, it is a bit odd.)

Mark complained about the light rail, saying it should really be called the "sub-light rail." The bullet train in Japan may not go at actual bullet speeds, he added, but it is at least within an order of magnitude or so.

We got to the hotel, checked our luggage (it wasn't even noon yet), and registered with the convention. The print on the badges was nice and large, but there was a different problem. For some reason they decided to use souvenir neck wallets as badge holders. This gave you a place to put your hotel key and such, but it was a bit odd to be told that the replacement cost for the cardboard badge with your name on it was $10, but if you lost the pouch as well, it was full admission cost ($200!). Also, the badge slipped into the top of a plastic sleeve. That meant that there was no place to attach the ribbons (such as "Program Participant") that normally hang from the bottom of the badge unless you attached them to the cloth wallet itself, which didn't seem secure. Better would have been tabs to attach to the top of the badge. And some ribbons were vertical and some horizontal.

There was a voodoo board, of course, but they seemed to have used up some of the font size from it for the badges, and it was in about 8-pt type and impossible to read from any distance. (It turned out that the reason was that no one had printed the voodoo board list, so someone just ripped the membership pages out of a program book and used those. And once that had been started, with pins in it and names checked off, there was no turning back. Reminder to future Worldcons: It is important to have the right sheets ready for the Voodoo Board by Thursday morning.)

The green room did have a clock--in fact, it had two clocks. It also had coffee and tea, but nothing else at first, apparently due to a need to economize when the number of late and at-the-door memberships was way down from expectations. (This was due primarily to the economy, not to increased airport security as the Libertarians claimed. And why is the economy down? Because all sorts of CEOs ignored all those pesky rules and regulations that the Libertarians want to get rid of anyway.) After a couple of days, chips and cookies appeared, which I hope indicates an improved financial situation. (I think they got a lot of Friday and Saturday one-day members.)

Restaurant Guide

The restaurant guide was a triumph of style over substance. Oh, the descriptions were fine, but there were no hours listed for restaurants, and NO MAP!! Yes, they had addresses, but you couldn't figure out where on West San Carlos number 140 was. (We think, alas, it was actually in a site now under construction.) [It turns out this may have been the one that had a typo of East San Carlos instead of West.]

The problem, in large part, was that the writers were from Minneapolis. They had done a very well-received Minicon restaurant guide--it was even nominated for a Hugo!--and someone thought, "Gee, we should have them do a guide for ConJose." What they overlooked was that the primary purpose of a restaurant guide should be to give people useful, complete, current information on where they can eat during the convention rather than a fancy book with cover art by the Guest of Honor and great write-ups of restaurants no longer there or three thousand miles away.

For example, they listed only three restaurants as both "short walk" and "breakfast." This included the aforementioned defunct restaurant, but did not include Express Deli (listed as lunch and dinner but no breakfast) or McDonald's (not listed at all, though you pass it one block before the Jack-in-the-Box that was listed).

They listed restaurants as "$", "$$", or "$$$", which were described as "Cheap", "Reasonable", or "Expensive", but with no dollar ranges to tell you what they meant. Given the really that they reviewed some very fancy places, my fear would be that their "cheap" might be an average fan's "reasonable"--or worse.

They also didn't warn the restaurants which got good reviews-- Trieu Chau was mobbed Thursday night, and boy, were they surprised! (We explained that 1) it would be like this through the whole weekend, and 2) everyone was going to come in and ask for "a Cambodian meal" because that was what the guide recommended.)

However, let me re-iterate my main complaint: The purpose of a convention restaurant guide is to guide people to restaurants. Anything that gets in the way of doing this, or supersedes it, is a bad thing.

(The response to complaints about no map was that there was a restaurant map of San Jose available from the Convention Center concierge. Well, first of all, they didn't actually tell people this when they handed them the restaurant guide, and second, the maps marked on that map were not the ones in the guide. My comments about trying to locate a particular restaurant on a map that has no street number indicators remains.)

Newsletters

The newsletters came out on time, but it took two tries to get the Sidewise Awards listed, and there didn't seem to be much of substance in the newsletters. (Program changes were on separate sheets.) The party lists from Filthy Pierre (a.k.a. Erwin Strauss), on the other hand, were prompt and reasonably readable, considering the small font necessary to make them badge- sized.

Dealers Room

The Dealers Room was large enough that the aisles were not congested, but had pretty much the same old assortment of dealers. There was one new dealer, who had old (1950s through 1990s) paperbacks and hardbacks very cheap. How cheap? Well, the paperbacks we bought were between thirty-five and seventy- five cents each. (Our friend Barbara, who came by car, bought $45 worth and didn't spend more than fifty cents a book!)

However, the Dealers Room didn't open until 11 AM. Yes, I know some dealers prefer that, and yes, I know they claim they make just as much money in seven hours as in eight. But I don't have to like it, and I find it an annoyance to not be able to use an early morning empty panel slot to visit the Dealers Room.

Art Show

I only managed to see about a third of the art show, which was in a room that was actually too large. It made the art look lost in it. (I know that's an unusual complaint.)

Programming

The Pocket Programs didn't arrive until 3PM Thursday, and were somewhat hard to read. For example, the chronological pages didn't have the day printed anywhere as a header, footer, or tab. And the maps were very small and hard to read. The "Downtown Map" was completely unusable, even with a magnifying glass. The Convention Center and Fairmont floor plans were not bad, but the Hilton ones were printed way too light.

As an example of unconscious cultural bias, I give you the following program item description: "Religion and Fantasy: ... If you are going to invent a new religion for your world, will it be based on Christian mythology or some other form of worship?" (Given that one of the panelists was Lisa Goldstein, this seems particularly egregious.)

The Pocket Program also lacked useful information such as nearby laundries, photocopiers, groceries, etc., that could have be summed up in half a dozen pages or so and would have helped immeasurably. There were three sheets with some of this information at the information desk, but when we asked about shipping places, even they didn't seem to know about these sheets at first. And no one had a clue as to places where one might ship boxes back on Sunday or Monday. This was doubly ironic, since it turned out that the Convention Center Business Office was just below the information desk on the ground floor, it did UPS shipping, and it was open all weekend! (The Convention Center concierge knew this.)

Program items were in ninety-minute slots, with six time periods per day. This compares with the alternative of eight sixty-minute slots. In addition to fewer slots, however, this added the additional problem that the last panels didn't get out until 6:45PM, and the evening events (masquerade, Hugo Awards, etc.) start at 8:00PM. This did not give one much time for dinner, and the closest restaurants were three blocks away.

I went to even fewer program items than I might normally have, because we spent almost all of Sunday at a 60th anniversary party for my in-laws.

 

Panels

 

Nightingale to Lark: Tips to Transition from Night Folk to Morning People

Thursday 1:00pm CC A6

Evelyn C. Leeper (M), Allison Lonsdale, Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Description: "Most fans left to their own devices aren't morning people. Most fans function best at night. We will try to give you some helpful tips to aid our fannish night folk in transitioning to a 9 to 5 lifestyle successfully."

Well, I'm not sure we helped people transition, but we did talk a lot about sleep cycles and blood sugar cycles. Pardon the somewhat spare write-up, as I find it hard to take notes and moderate at the same time.

While I was a Lark, Lonsdale a mild Nightingale, and Moen a serious Nightingale, we were all rather fixed in our patterns and so were not transitioning all the time. However, a lot of what we talked about would pertain to jet lag as well. We did say that transitioning takes time, and trying to go from a 2PM-6AM schedule to a 9AM-11PM schedule (or vice versa) for a three-day convention was probably not going to be very successful. (For that short a period, take the hit on sleep loss and catch up later.)

One factor overlooked in trying to change one's sleep cycle is blood sugar level. As with a lot of other topics, this pertains to general sleep problems as well. For example, a lot of sugar at bedtime will keep you awake more than a couple of slices of whole-grain bread. And as with many other factors, it is highly individualized. But everyone agreed that to transition, you needed to eat your meals on the new cycle as well, and that in fact, that was more a requirement than an effect.

If you nap, take into account sleep cycles, and try to time your naps so you awake from the less deep periods.

Shifting to an earlier schedule may actually be more difficult than shifting to a later one, because much more exists to keep people awake. One problem with becoming a Lark is getting to sleep earlier. As noted, avoiding sugar too close to bedtime is good, and obviously stimulants such as caffeine should not be consumed for a few hours before the hoped-for bedtime. Sleep aids include exercise (but earlier in the day, not at bedtime), eating early enough before bedtime, warm milk, using earplugs and/or eye masks if needed, and using a radio, music, or a white noise generator. (These also apply to people who have trouble getting to sleep in general.)

Waking up earlier is also hard, since there is a tendency to sleep through one's alarm (which includes shutting it off and falling back asleep). Here just putting the alarm clock somewhere where you have to get out of bed to turn it off might be enough. Someone mentioned (seriously? in fun?) an alarm clock that instead of a ring or a buzz has "the sound of two cats up- chucking." (Pets, and young children, make great natural alarm clocks, though I guess goldfish would not be the most useful in that regard.)

Smells help, so a bread machine on a timer that finishes about wake-up time is good, and a coffee maker with a timer serves a double purpose.

Light matters. Don't try to go from a brightly lit room directly to bed; if possible dim the lights in your living room or wherever for an hour or two before bedtime. And if you get up in the middle of the night, try to avoid turning on full-strength lights or you will have a harder time getting back to sleep. (Use a night light.)

Be comfortable when trying to get to sleep. Adjust the temperature, and having moving air can help. If you're feeling aches or pains, take an aspirin at bedtime (good against stroke as well).

The other panelists recommended various over-the-counter sleep drugs, including some that were no longer available. Melatonin is often used for helping with jet lag.

There was also a discussion of sleep apnea. If you keep waking up at night because you stopped breathing, or if you snore heavily, see your doctor.

 

The Future of Africa, In Fact and Fiction

Thursday 2:30pm CC F

William C. Dietz, Nancy Farmer, Grant Kruger, Mike Resnick (M)

Description: "Billions of dollars of aid have been poured into this continent. The news reported from the region is filled with conflict, drought, and disease. What is the real situation there? What are the likely futures? What futures has science fiction predicted for this land mass?"

[For what it's worth, there were no black people in the audience for this panel. Also, I write up most panels chronologically, but for the one I re-arranged a lot of the comments to flow by subject rather than in the order given.]

Resnick started out by noting that one of the forces affecting Africa is global warming, and that by 2020, Hemingway would have had to have written "The Slush of Kilimanjaro." (What is the correct alternate future past tense of "to write" anyway?)

Kruger was from South Africa, Dietz lived for a while in South Africa, Farmer lived in Mozambique and Zimbabwe from 1972 through 1990, and Resnick has traveled extensively in Africa (primarily Kenya). Resnick noted that he has won four Hugos, all for stories set in Africa ("Kirinyaga", "The Manamouki", "Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge", and "The 43 Antarean Dynasties"). (Many of his other Hugo-nominated stories are set there as well.)

Resnick began by saying it was very difficult to make predictions about Africa (or at least to make predictions with some reasonable chance of coming true). For example, in 1990 Zimbabwe was in great shape, partly because the boycott in place against it from its independence in 1965 until 1981 forced it to develop its own infrastructure and economy. But when the old constitution expired recently, Mugabe had to make good on a campaign promise to break up the large farms. (The old constitution had a system in place that basically assured a veto of any such proposal, so Mugabe could keep promising it without ever having to deliver.) Small subsistence farms produce far less than large, more efficient farms, however, and the result was that Zimbabwe has gone from being a net exporter of food to being a net importer of food. Farmer (no pun intended) added that Mugabe also traded land to Libya for oil, so a lot of the land is controlled outside the country (though somehow one doesn't hear about protests against Libya for being a foreign oppressor of Zimbabwe).

And finally, there is AIDS. Farmer said 25% of Zimbabwe is HIV+, but Kruger and others noted that the figures one sees may be wildly inaccurate in either direction. On the one hand, Kruger noted that South Africa is cited as having the highest rate of AIDS, but that may well be because it is the most developed, most organized, and hence has the best reporting structure. On the other hand, countries and areas have realized that if they list people as having died from malaria, no one pays much attention, but if they list AIDS as the cause, they get far more medical and economic aid. Darin Briskman (in the audience) said he worked with Doctors Without Borders and that far more people die of diarrhea than of AIDS, and that diarrhea is easier to prevent or cure, but that AIDS gets all the attention. Other big killers are tuberculosis and malaria.

Resnick thought there must be different strains of AIDS, because though there is a high AIDS rate in Kenya, no one seems to be dying of it. (And an audience member added that the World Health Organization can only report what the host country approves to be reported.)

Medical efforts against AIDS have their problems. Even if one can convince people to use condoms, the condoms are expensive and break down in the heat. And the fact that the president of South Africa denies that AIDS is related to HIV status, combined with beliefs such as that sex with a virgin will cure AIDS, or that reddish colored oranges give you AIDS, is causing some difficulties. Farmer said that while we don't know where either Ebola or AIDS came from, "Ebola kills quickly and goes away," while AIDS is far more dangerous, lasting a long time and giving a carrier a lot of opportunity to infect others.

Farmer said that with a huge number of children orphaned by AIDS and having no parents or elders to give them moral leadership or societal structure, the society may well be like that of the Ix that Colin Turnbull studied, and which he ultimately declared unsavable.

Someone asked what more specific effects the panelists thought AIDS would have. Resnick thought that Africa wouldn't solve that problem, but that someone would. Kruger noted that even with AIDS, the sub-Saharan region is the fastest-growing population in the world.

Dietz pointed out that "Africa" was not a single country or culture. It varies from north to south and from east to west. Kruger added that it has over fifty countries, thousands of tribes, and over two thousand languages. (I read an article discussing race that concluded that genetically there are four racial groups in the world: three are in sub-Saharan Africa, and the fourth is the remaining part of sub-Saharan Africa and everyone else. A Maori and a Swede are closer than a Bushman and a Masai.)

Kruger said that the last ten years have seen some improvement in sub-Saharan Africa. There is less bad than before, though things are still pretty bad. (From now on, you can pretty much assume that when I say "Africa" I mean "sub-Saharan Africa.")

Resnick agreed that things were getting better, though he observed that when someplace like Uganda had three genocidal maniacs in a row as rulers (Idi Amin, and two others less well known: Milton Obote and Tito Okello (?)), it doesn't take a great statesman to be much better. The problems of Africa, he said, originated in Europe, where they drew political boundaries for colonies (and later countries) that completely ignored tribal boundaries. "You vote for your tribe," Resnick said was the rule in Africa. He feels that this problem of tribal conflicts will mean that South America will be the continent that comes of age in the 21st century, with Africa not coming into its own for at least another hundred years. (My father always thought that South America would be the up-and-coming place in the last half of the 20th century, but that turned out to be Asia.) The reason Botswana seems to be the one successful country in Africa, Resnick said, is that when the boundaries were drawn Botswana ended up with only one tribe. Farmer later noted that Mozambique also overcame tribal systems, but only because of the massive disruption caused by Arab slave-trading before 1910.

In addition to the tribal problems Resnick said, "We're giving [Africa] things they don't want and not giving them what they need." (See later panel on "When Does My Cave Get Cable?")

Farmer felt one major handicap to progress was a dual justice system where the two parts were in conflict. For example, the British system forbade people from bringing accusations of witchcraft to the justice system, but the tribal law insisted upon it if witchcraft was suspected. And polygamy is generally prohibited by the systems left in place by the British and other colonial powers, yet encouraged by tribal law.

Again, Dietz emphasized the complexity of Africa, saying is was not all black and white--in all senses of that phrase. In South Africa, there are major rifts between the Afrikaner- speaking white population and the English-speaking white population. (We see this in the United States as well. "Indian"--or "Native American"--covers a wide range of different cultures, as does "Hispanic.") But Kruger said that people outside of Africa tend to see the whole continent as one entity, so if (for example) Uganda is in turmoil, investors pull back from South Africa.

Kruger said Africa is advancing rapidly. A few years ago, there were a million and a half Internet users in Africa, almost all in South Africa. Now there are about three million users with only about half in South Africa. This led Resnick to add, "Well, someone in Nigeria has a computer."

The poverty of many of the countries creates some unusual problems. For example, people ask why Tanzania cannot control its poaching problem. But a Tanzanian can get the equivalent of a year's average annual income for one elephant (or now, rhinoceros). And if he is caught, he gets thrown in jail, where he gets three meals a day, and the government also takes care of his family. So poaching is a "no-lose" situation.

Resnick saw the basic underlying problems as overpopulation and cattle--in particular, cattle as currency. (A related problem is that many people and cultures have no concept of accumulating capital over time. Having enough to get you to the next harvest is their long-term goal.) If the current rate of population growth continues, by 2020, Nigeria will have more people than the United States. Can it support that many? It's hard to say. On the one hand, Resnick said that the glaciers never got to sub-Saharan Africa, so they didn't deposit a lot of minerals in the soil. On the other, people kept saying Africa was so fertile that you could just throw a seed in the ground and it would grow.

And all this means, as one person put it, "If there were no medical recourse, Africa could be a lot better off in fifty years." In other words, Africa is headed towards, if not already beyond, a sustainable population, and it is only massive amounts of medical technology and financial and agricultural aid that keep a population implosion from occurring. And such an implosion has to occur before most of the people there can achieve a reasonable standard of living.

Someone suggested that we could consider people as a valuable export from Africa. Resnick said that as long as people got technical degrees and then had to go back to villages where the most advanced technology was a light bulb, this would continue. Resnick also pointed out that another facet of "people as export" was that slavery still exists and affects large numbers of people in Africa.

The question of how to drop the birth rate was raised. (Though even that wouldn't solve the population problem at this point--see China.) Someone in the audience said that in India what seems to be most effective is educating women and giving them an opportunity to accumulate wealth on their own. Others agreed that this has the biggest effect on the birth rate of various approaches, but Farmer didn't see this happening soon because, she said, it's hard enough to get the men educated and women are seen basically as property. What little status they have is based solely on the number of children they have.

Is it all this bleak? The panelists agreed that the short- term outlook was bad, but the long-term outlook was good. (Of course, Resnick noted that by "long-term" he meant a hundred years and by "bad" he meant apocalyptic. Africa has many of the same problems that China is struggling to overcome, but even China is not entirely successful, and it is far more homogeneous than Africa, and has a far stronger government to enforce laws. Resnick's hope is that Africa can eventually produce an African solution, rather than a purely Western one. (What he meant by this is probably a whole other panel.)

Farmer summed up by saying, "I have an essentially bleak outlook for Africa."

One also learns African slang in panels such as this. In Swahili, the plural is formed by adding "wa" as a prefix. So the "Watusi" is the tribe of the Tusi (I'm assuming). Resnick at one point, when talking about food shortages in Africa, asked someone in the audience, "Have you ever seen a fat African other than a Wabenzi?" He then explained that the Wabenzis were the politicians--the tribe of those who drove Mercedes Benzes.

(A recent article in "The New Yorker" implies that Sao Tome and Principe is probably one of the more stable countries in Africa. It's also one of the smallest and least known.)

 

Mining History For Fun And Profit

Thursday 5:30pm CC J2

Pauline J. Alama, Ph.D. (M), R. Garcia y Robertson, Evelyn C. Leeper,

Sean McMullen

Description: "Feudal England. The American Civil War. The European Renaissance. Are all the good time periods already written to death? What other historical periods can be the basis for science fiction and fantasy? Can you take an episode from the past and recast it into the near (or far) future? What historical periods still contain literary gold?"

One of the panelists said when he or she first saw this title, they thought it was about the history of mining in science fiction. (Sorry, my notes don't say which panelist.)

Everyone agreed that the key to mining history was to read original sources for research. Trying to get enough information from secondary sources doesn't work, and it usually shows. McMullen later said that Joan of Arc was the first teenage peasant girl about whom we know anything, but we know quite a bit about her from almost contemporary biographies written from interviews with people who knew her.

Regarding the rewards and risks of using historical or pseudo- historical settings, Garcia y Robertson said that it saves thinking stuff up. Alama said that researching history gives you the opportunity to get concrete details about the minutiae of daily life in those periods. I said that I was most familiar with alternate history rather than historical fantasy, and in that the reward was giving people a chance to connect with history and feel that it was real. The risk was that if you get the details (or even the non-details) wrong, you can mislead people about history. (I'm sure we would all agree that one should not get one's historical knowledge from fiction--but people do. The movies are usually even less accurate.) McMullen thought the risk, or perhaps the difficulty, was in getting the attitudes of people from another era correct without alienating your reader towards them. For example, people a few hundred years ago had very different attitudes toward slavery, but expressing them in a novel might make the characters very unlikable to modern readers. S. M. Stirling has this problem with his "Draka" series. (Garcia y Robertson recommended reading Mary Chestnut's Civil War diary to see her attitude towards slavery.)

A lot of this seems to be a conflict between two apparently contradictory statements that are probably both true: People are all the same, and people are all different.

It is possible to do mixed periods and historical anachronisms well, and the example of T. H. White's "The Once and Future King" was given. (As an aside, White was the one who invented the notion of Merlin living backwards.) From the audience, Fred Lerner said that the best author of historical fiction was full of anachronisms: William Shakespeare. (I'm not sure whether he was including the history plays in the historical fiction or not.) Someone said that it was important to choose one's characters' metaphors well. Alama gave the example of a character in a fifth century setting calling another one "sadistic." That term didn't exist until the eighteenth century. On the other hand, Gilian Bradshaw gets the right feel when she has a character say, "The stars are glittering like rivets in a shield."

This led to a discussion of the use of anachronistic dialogue and "business" in films such as "A Knight's Tale", "Shrek", and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". The consensus was that it could be done, but needed a deft hand.

Garcia y Robertson said there are many parallels in history to current-day politics. For example, his research on the Wars of the Roses led him to conclude that the Lancastrians were equivalent to the Republicans, always getting caught with their hands in the till, and the Yorkists were the Democrats, always getting caught with their pants down. (Well, he said there were other parallels as well with their attitudes toward government.) Someone asked who the Tudors were, and he answered, "Stalin." Garcia y Robertson said that after Afghanistan, he understood the Children's Crusade more than he ever did when he studied it in history.

Another real risk is the expository lump. To write fiction with a historical background, one must do a lot of research. It is important to not put everything in the book. (Alama gave the example of something like "Sarah fled the castle as the serfs screamed in terror. When she was far enough away, she turned to look at it. It was a standard motte-and-bailey castle . . . ."

There is danger in looking at history from our perspective in another way. The Lancasters and the Yorkists, for example, didn't see their history as leading up to the Tudors. "Look at history as it is," Garcia y Robertson said, and try not to see it through the filter of what it is leading to.

There was a discussion of the glorification of some of the really nasty groups of history. McMullen said that a lot of people at the convention seemed to want to dress as Vikings, but that the Vikings were really like al-Qaeda. I suggested that the Vikings had more understandable and limited motives than al- Qaeda, and that a better comparison to the latter might be the Mongols, whose motive was to flatten everything to make more grazing land. In any case, I suggested that cowboys (as in cowboys and Indians) had already gone from being the good guys to being politically incorrect.

McMullen hates when he reads in a book, "They fought for an hour." He said he has done sword-fighting and if you fight for fifteen minutes they have to carry you exhausted off the field.

As for untapped veins, my feeling was that there are lots of interesting periods, but that the vast majority of the audience is unfamiliar with them and a book set during those times either will not sell or will not be understood. Someone suggested that the Middle Ages had been over-mined, but McMullen disagreed, saying, "The Middle Ages are not over-mined, but mostly badly mined."

(As an aside, McMullen dresses all in black, and I asked if that was like the saying goes, "I am going to wear black until they invent a darker color." No, it turns out that one day he was wearing a white shirt and light pants at a meeting with his publisher and carrying a glass of red wine in each hand when someone ran into him, spilling the wine all over him. From then on, he sticks to black, at least for conventions and publishers' meetings.)

 

Dinner was at Trieu Chau Cambodian-Chinese Restaurant, with a couple of our friends. The dinner included Clams with Basil, Skewer Chicken (we ordered Skewer Beef, but we think they ran out), Ginger Oyster with Pork in Hot Pot (which seemed to have oyster mushrooms but no oysters), and Cambodian Chicken Salad. The latter was something the waitress thought we wouldn't like, but it was probably the best of the batch.

 

Guest of Honor Interview - Vernor Vinge

Thursday 9:30pm F Imperial Ball

Vernor Vinge, Gregory Benford

Description: "Come and learn more about our Writer Guest of Honor. Long time friend of Vernor Vinge, Greg Benford will interview Vernor."

Quotes a la Bob Devney (hey, he was nominated and I wasn't so he must be doing something right):

Benford noted that there seemed to be a University of California at San Diego group of writers: himself, Vernor Vinge, David Brin, and Kim Stanley Robinson all got Ph.D.s there between 1967 and 1987. Vinge replied, "I don't think that is as statistically relevant as you"

Benford asked, "You actually started out doing useless mathematics, isn't that right?" to which Vinge responded, "Pure mathematics!"

Vinge thought the current state of mathematics was similar to the 15th and 16th centuries in that we are finding new ways of looking at mathematics. He described himself as a Platonist, feeling that mathematics is out there in some ideal realm, but also that it comes from the real world.

Benford asked when the singularity would arrive, and Vinge said that it would be "within our lifetimes, actuarially speaking." (I believe he was referring to himself and Benford.)

Vinge said that he was named "Vernor" for his father's thesis advisor (before his father got his degree in geography). His middle name was misspelled on his birth certificate as Steffen; he was being named after Lincoln Steffens.

Benford wondered if there could be such a thing as a singularity for emotions instead of (in addition to) the one for intelligence. Vinge didn't know, but said, "There might be for making money," pointing out that in inflation-adjusted dollars, Bill Gates is richer than Andrew Carnegie was. However, Vinge also noted that Bill Gates has a lower percentage of the GDP than Carnegie, meaning everyone else is getting relatively richer still.

Regarding computers, Vinge said he was "fairly strongly in the free software camp" and uses emacs. He added, "I fear that the 'free software' movement has much more chance of success than the 'Free Tibet' movement."

Benford commented that Vinge had "resigned" from SDSU (San Diego State University, not to be confused with the University of California at San Diego as I originally did), which Vinge corrected, saying, "I did not resign, I retired." He is now a Professor Emeritus.

Now that he is retired, fans hope he will produce books faster. However, people used to say things like, "The story is good because you let it rattle around for seven years, Vernor," so he hopes to keep the quality up as well.

Vinge saying he didn't know whether Benford had written more novels than he led Benford to reply, "You're a mathematician; you're supposed to be able to count." (Benford's novels far outstrip Vinge's in number.)

Benford talked about how Ted Kosinsky (the Unabomber) was in the audience for some of his talks, but the FBI didn't come around to question him about it later.

Vinge's Ph.D. thesis was "External Problems in EP Space."

Talking of his academic career, Vinge said, "Mathematicians strive for a certain amount of precision." When Oliver Heavyside came up with a way to solve differential equations that was incomprehensible but worked, "They could not dismiss him as a crank, but they could mock him."

Regarding mathematics for the masses, Vinge quoted someone as saying, "Calculus was invented so that your average Joe could solve problems that previously only your really smart person could." Benford added, "The genius of science is that is lets a second-rate person like me make a contribution."

Vinge said that it looks as though (scientific) progress had made things get better, but then again, we have only one data point, and it could be an accident. Benford said that at one time, the best science in the world was in Islam, but it was wiped out in one generation.

Benford worried that the singularity might lead to the departure of all rational people. (This is another version of the "Rapture," I suppose.) However, Vinge said he suspects that "some high-IQ people might eschew the singularity for philosophical reasons." (This sounds related to some ideas in Ted Chiang's story "Hell Is the Absence of God."

Vinge said that regarding the Fermi Paradox, there may be some "clock-starter" idea such as he writes about in his "Zone" stories, and recommends Karl Schroeder's "Permanence" and Alastair Reynolds's "Chasm City" as interesting takes on it.

Vinge said that one of the big problems in the 19th century was proving something everybody knew: the stability of the solar system. Now, of course, everyone knows it's not true.

Benford asked in passing, "Why are we [humanity] that good at mathematics?" to which Vinge replied, "We're not. I don't think we have any evidence we're any good at it."

Speaking of space, Vinge bemoaned, "Our governmental interest in space is the interest of a Coast Guard." Later he explained a bit of why: "We're like a gang of people who don't like each other and are hand-cuffed together in a closet and some of us have automatic weapons and hand grenades."

Vinge was asked about how he planned his life vis-a-vis his belief that the singularity would arrive in his lifetime. "I find it difficult to do my 401(k) planning in a post-singularity world." However, he does not use the possibility of the singularity as a reason to avoid doing planning for a future without it. (Nor, one surmises, does he advise anyone else to.)

Vinge was asked to define the singularity. He said that the basic idea is that we will be able to have computer hardware as powerful as we are and be able to organize it. So perhaps we can make things much smarter than we are. When the main players are super-human, things will be very different.

Vinge felt that the power of people as a whole has been greatly increased, but this means that the power of malefactors has also. He said that John Brunner asked at one point how cheap it would be to make a weapon to blow up the world (as in "Radio Shack and B.S. degree cheap"). This would, alas, explain the Fermi Paradox. Vinge closed with H. G. Wells's observation that "human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe."

 

The Martha Stewart Slanshack

Friday 1:00pm CC B1B2

Trystan L. Bass, Sarah E. Goodman, Geri Sullivan, Andy Trembley

Description: "You painted your bathroom with mimeo ink? How fannishly fashionable! Our panel of budding obsessive Martha Stewart wannabes discuss how to fannishly entertain and decorate one's abode. How does one store one's books, DVDs, etc. when they exceed the contents of some libraries and video stores anyway? And make it look absolutely fabulous in the bargain?"

Bass is a self-described "Gothic Martha Stewart." Goodman said that despite the panel description, she is not a "Martha Stewart wannabe" and her decoration is more the "dust-bunny style" or "Zen Victorian." "My concern is building the house so you can have good parties in it."

The first question was very basic, and very important: "How do you integrate all those damn bookshelves?"

Bass said to invest in wood bookshelves, because bricks and boards will sag. (Actually, if you get your particle board thick enough, it don't. Trust me. That's what we use for history books, which are notoriously heavy. It is not, however, very stylish.) Goodman suggested standards and brackets on the wall, which she seemed to think would be easy to self- install. (Ha!) Bass thought they were okay for home owners, but free-standing shelves were better for renters.

Goodman suggested putting shelves up to waist height in long corridors, then using the space above for artwork. Everyone thought IKEA modulars were good. Someone else said buying school bookcases at government surplus sales was good, or used office furniture.

One recognized problem: once you buy a house, figure out how to store everything, and keep buying more stuff, you can never move.

People had various moving company stories. For example, the time the moving company said they didn't have to estimate the weight for a move from a small apartment because it was only an issue if it went over a thousand pounds, which of course it couldn't do. It weighed in at 7500 pounds.

Sullivan said the panel would not get into organizing books-- that was another panel. (I think I went to that last year. At least I recall someone saying they sometimes had to buy two copies of a book if it fit into two collections they had (e.g., Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes). But she did say that the addition of computer media has made things a lot worse, especially the many formats. (For example, we have 5-1/2" floppies, 2-1/4" diskettes, and CD-ROMs.)

A lot of time was spent on how to throw things out. Bass said she purges everything every five years or so, taking what she hasn't used and putting it in a box. If it's still there in six months, out it goes. Julie Morgenstern's book "Organizing from the Inside Out" was recommended, though there are many books and web sites on this topic. Someone said it was easier to get rid of stuff when it goes to someone else's enjoyment. Goodman said that one problem is that as a child you outgrow toys and games and pass them on, but your inner child never grows out of a toy you buy as an adult. Someone suggested fannish swap meets, but these can be dangerous, especially if held at your house and whatever doesn't sell is left there. Goodwill is a good destination.

I asked about inter-shelf space and was told that ideally I should allow thirty to thirty-six inches between shelves to allow walking and bending to get books off the bottom shelf. In my dreams! Obviously this is violated when one lines a corridor. However, my concern is more for free-standing bookshelves that jut out from walls being knocked over by someone's tush. The panelists also said that bookshelves should be secured against the walls, and in earthquake zones, the books should be secured as well (by a rod or railing in front of each shelf).

Cleverly-designed furniture helps. Someone described a desk with one leg that doubled as a diskette holder. Platform beds have drawers beneath them. (Regular beds get boxes shoved under there, but cleaning is harder.)

Check the loads on your floors. (We're on a slab, thank goodness.)

Someone said there should be less than ten inches between wall brackets for shelves, but I would think that would depend on the distance between the studs. (Speaking of which, someone else suggested removing wallboard and using the space between the studs for storage. Besides this being somewhat unsightly, Trembley pointed out that wallboard is a fire suppressant. Someone else said that if you were going to do this, at least make sure you didn't try to do both sides of the same wall!)

Goodman tied all this into San Jose by observing, "Sarah Winchester built the perfect original Martha Stewart Slanshack."

Louis L'Amour apparently has a wall of bookshelves concealed by doors which are themselves two-sided bookshelves. Trembley said he had seen a Murphy-bed-style bookcase. Bookshelves that overpower a room can have a fabric curtain hung in front of them. Leaving a little space on each shelf for an object d'art also makes then look less heavy.

Goodman wanted to talk about closets, saying there were never enough for the clothes. (Then again, she's a costumer. We use several of our closets for books, because we don't need that many for clothes.)

Renting storage area--pros and cons? Well, one needs to worry about heat, damp, rodents, safety, and a raft of other concerns. It seemed that the consensus was that they were okay for short- term (while you were in the process of moving, for example) but not as a long-term solution.

If you have a lot of stuff, keep your insurance up. Keep records of the contents, possibly with a video camera. Someone said to scan in the title page of each of your books. Let's see, 20,000 times thirty seconds each is a couple of hundred hours, not even counting the time to unpack and re-pack them. It's not going to happen.

Goodman says that a basic rule is that you have to have someplace to eat. I know people who barely manage that!

An audience member suggested reciprocal storage arrangements: you store you small amount of fabric with a costumer friend who has fabric storage, and she stores her large serving dish with you. This can be fraught with peril.

Luggage can be stored nested, or used to store other things (especially true of steamer trunks).

Bass said that as far as decorating, "put like with like." Put all your pewter together, or hang all your swords on one wall, rather than scattering them around the house.

People recommended the design shows on Discovery and other channels. (Chris Lowell, "Men in Toolbelts", "The Furniture Guys", "Trading Spaces", and "Changing Rooms" were mentioned.)

 

When Does My Cave Get Cable?

Friday 2:30pm CC A2A7

Hugh Daniel, Alan Dean Foster, Mark R. Leeper (M), Susan R. Matthews,

Harry Turtledove, Robert Charles Wilson

Description: "It's not just Darkover anymore. We interact with technically backwards, yet complex and medieval, societies all the time, such as Afghanistan. What incorrect assumptions do we make about technically backward people and what miracles do they expect from us? How long before everyone's got a wireless phone and a Direct TV antenna?"

Foster started by saying that the reason things were quiet before the panel started was, "They haven't figured out how to run commercials before panels," to which Turtledove responded, "Buy my book! Buy my book!"

Leeper began by observing that while the Communists won the war in Vietnam, technology has won over Communism there. (For example, the Communist government was upset about the freedom of the Internet and shut down all the Internet cafes in 1998. Two years later, they were all back--there was such an uproar that the government had to back down.) Leeper also said that he was glad to be the moderator because the moderator had to have the fewest opinions.

Foster said he thought he was on the panel because he had been to a lot of developing countries. The same was true of Leeper, Daniel said he was active in spreading technology, and Matthews said she had opinions on accounting systems and industrialized societies. Turtledove is a self-described "escaped historian" and Wilson figured his connection was his latest book, "Chronoliths".

Daniels began by saying the best-known technology exports were Coke and Disney, but even he later contradicted this. Foster said, "People don't miss what they don't have, but as soon as they have something they want it." This led Wilson to worry, "My fear would be that our IT [information technology] precedes our technology." Turtledove agreed, saying that is a problem even in the United States--people see the (often unreal) lifestyles in movies and on television and want them, or feel that everyone else has them except them. However, Matthews warned that we shouldn't conclude that primitive people are stupid and would want useless things just because they see them. (Maybe that's only a trait of civilized people?) On the other hand, Foster later talked about Tuvalu, an island six miles long, narrow enough in parts that you could throw a rock across it, and with one road filled with 4x4 vehicles.

Foster, arguing with Daniels's earlier statement, said that the first thing people want is a gun, not Coke or Disney. Anthropologists studying New Guinea highlanders in the 1930s found that while the highlanders thought the phonograph interesting, what they wanted were guns. The second thing everyone wants is a chain saw, he added. (Later, someone in the audience suggested that the reason guns and chain saws were popular is because they are analogues of existing tools.)

Wilson said that what people want as soon as they see it is ready access to medical care, dental care, and plumbing. They are envious of the first world peoples "who casually live more easily and in less pain."

Regarding the Coke/Disney issue, Leeper added that no one is forcing people into McDonalds. People make their own decisions that they would rather go into McDonalds and buy a hamburger than spend the time and effort to cook. Matthews thought this was confusing cultures with technologies, but Turtledove pointed out that McDonalds is a technology--a technology of mass market food, standardized yet also customized for local tastes. Matthews said, "So you see that as a food delivery technology?" to which Turtledove agreed. Foster said, "Food is something that travels very well and very easily." Wilson said the danger of standardization was, "If you try to McDonaldize a local food, you end up with a less good version of what they're used to."

Foster emphasized that people have to adapt at their own rate. He talked about an area where everyone was given propane stoves and free propane, yet when the givers returned, everyone was using firewood in the propane stoves to cook. It was suggested that this was due to a desire for a smoked flavor in the food, or the need for ash as a by-product for soap, fertilizer, etc. So propane is an analogue for wood (as discussed above), but without the useful byproducts.

(My observation was in Vietnam, where the trash from dinner, plates and all, was thrown out the train windows. The progression from serving food on leaves or cheap biodegradable paper plates to Styrofoam went faster than the infrastructure to dispose of the refuse properly.)

Turtledove said one problem was that in practice, people who don't have what they see and want tend to resent the people who do, rather than work harder to get it. Foster said that there are also many examples of people who parents lived in primitive conditions turning around and making fun of the people in their countries who still live in primitive conditions.

Wilson said that a lot of the conflict came from the perception that "we appear to be offering them a tech/cultural package deal" rather than letting them choose selectively.

Returning to information technology, an audience member asked if it wasn't being used to distract rather than to educate. Turtledove said yes, and that it was exactly the same in the United States.

Panelists talked about the problems of technology. Zambia won't accept genetically modified corn even though they have a food shortage. But an audience member noted that if they plant the corn, they can't export any of it (since many corn importers won't accept genetically modified foods), it might spread and wipe out corn they could export, and (based on recent court cases) the corporations who developed the modifications might very well claim ownership of the entire crop. (Apparently grinding the corn first and shipping them corn meal would solve most of this, but the aid agencies won't do it.)

Foster said that Tahitian women rarely smile, because they consume large amounts of sugared soda, but don't have any natural resistance to tooth decay, or sufficient dental care). In Mexico City, it was concluded that the pollution is primarily caused by propane leaking into the air during home propane deliveries. Daniels noted that worldwide, more people die from pollution than died from Chernobyl.

Can cultures pick and choose, as was suggested earlier? Turtledove gave the example of seventeenth century Japan, which made a decision to eschew firearms. (One might say that they later regretted this decision in the nineteenth century when the Americans sailed in, and that the Russo-Japanese War and World War II were their attempts to recover the status they lost over that time.) And the wider the gap between the more technological and the less technological cultures, the more indiscriminate and less selective the less technological culture will be in what it adopts.

Daniels talked about cross-over technologies (which I can't remember what they are), and recommended http://www.simputer.org for more information.

An audience member asked what sort of resistance spreading technologies gets. Daniels said that there was governmental resistance (often more to the information technologies) and cultural resistance, but there is also resistance from the power elite (which may not be the government). Basically, anyone with an interest in the status quo will probably oppose technological change as much as any other change.

It doesn't take long to adapt to technology either. Shows like "The Beverly Hillbillies" notwithstanding, people adapt very quickly. The Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted out of Biblical- era conditions a decade ago have no problem dealing with the high-tech society of Israel, and the younger ones are in all sorts of technology careers already. Not surprisingly, some of this has drawn some opposition from the existing traditional elite in that society, and from United States and European academics, but the people want it. (Mike Resnick could have been on this panel as well, since many of his Kenyan stories have to do with trying to freeze Kikuyu society at a specific point and not allow any change.)

There was a discussion about whether McDonald's was evil or not. That could be another panel (one that I wouldn't attend).

An audience member said that one problem with giving societies advanced technologies is that they can't always support them. Rifles run out of bullets, radios need batteries, and so on. (Even Asimov covered this, with traders in the "Foundation" trilogy giving out personal shield generators that had non- renewable power sources.) One stop-gap solution for radios and lights is the hand-cranked variety, which are in fact popular in Africa and other developing areas.

An audience member talked about the interdependence of technology and culture, and Wilson observed that culture itself is a form of technology, with a set of rules, procedures, and relationships.

Turtledove reminded people that the major impact technology has had over the last hundred is not computers, or McDonald's, but medical technology. Clean water and childhood immunizations are relatively cheap, he pointed out (though by no means universal). He claimed that real mother love has arisen only in the last hundred years, because you couldn't invest that much emotion in something that had an even chance of dying before the age of five. I think many people would dispute him on this.

Someone said there is a commercial showing a remote tribesman on a cell phone. How often do tribesmen really have cell phones, and how do they recharge them? Daniels said that some of the least developed countries have the most developed cell phone infrastructure because it is so much cheaper than wire. So they have bypassed wire entirely. He said he plays "find-the-cell- tower" when he travels. Also, cell phones can be recharged on solar panels (another option for radios et al as well). Someone claimed that Somalia has the weakest government in Africa and widespread cell phone technology because the government doesn't/can't get in the way.

Someone asked about the Amish and their voluntary rejection of technology. "The Long Tomorrow" by Leigh Brackett was named as a book in which they are featured.

To sum up, Turtledove said, "Technology has got us where we are today and for better or for worse we will have to deal with it." Wilson said his hope was that spreading technology would help equalize the quality of life in the world by raising the lowest levels. Leeper said, "The good thing about technology is that it empowers the individual. The bad thing about technology is that it empowers the individual. Technology is a double-edged sword."

 

The Prometheus and the Sidewise Awards

Friday 4:00pm CC F

Description: "The Prometheus and Sidewise Awards will be presented."

The Sidewise Awards were presented first because one of the Prometheus Awards people hadn't arrived yet, and they hoped he would make it in time. (He didn't.) The Sidewise Award for achievement in alternate history (long form) went to J. N. Stroyar's "The Children's War"; the award for short form went to Ken MacLeod's "The Human Front".

The Prometheus Award for current work went to Donald Kingsbury's "Psychohistorical Crisis"; the award for past work went to the TV series "The Prisoner".

The presentations went fairly well, although Kingsbury's habit of pacing back and forth across the front of the room drove the neo-videotaper for the Prometheans to distraction.

 

Philip K. Dick to Film

Friday 5:30pm CC B1B2

John L. Flynn, Eric M. Van, Robert Blackwood

Description: " Why are films based on the ideas of Philip K. Dick so popular? Why do screenwriters want to use them? Why do studios want to buy them? Why are they so successful?"

[Spoilers if you haven't seen the movies.]

A list was provided, so let me start with that:

1962 "Out of This World" (TV series based on "The Imposter")

1982 Bladerunner (based on "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?")

1990 "Total Recall" (based on "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale")

1992 "Confessions of a Crap Artist"

1994 "Drug Taking in the Arts" (based on "A Scanner Darkly")

1995 "Screamers" (based on "Second Variety")

1997 "Bladerunner" (director's cut)

1999 "Total Recall 2070" (TV series)

2002 "Impostor"

2002 "Minority Report"

(It was suggested that "Dark Star" (1974) was really based on Philip K. Dick, in particular "Ubik".)

Van introduced himself by saying, "I believe I'm Eric M. Van, but you see enough Philip K. Dick movies and you begin to doubt that."

Only some of the films were discussed, as many of them had not been seen by some or all of the panelists.

Flynn said that "Bladerunner" requires a thinking viewer, and is a true science fiction story, as well as being one of Harrison Ford's better roles. Blackwood thought it "a very free adaptation," but Van said it was one of the five best science fiction movies of all time, and that he has seen it five times. (Actually, I think we may have seen it five times as well.)

Van said that on first viewing he gave "Total Recall" three stars, but on thinking about the stupidity of the science, he would now drop it to two stars. He said the only way it makes sense is if you believe that everything after going under is the standard spy package, including the screw-up of him finding out. Also, this project was almost given to David Cronenberg instead of Paul Verhoeven. Blackwood thought that Verhoeven managed the shift from character film ("Soldier of Orange") to action film very well, and said this was a wonderful action vehicle.

Flynn would give it three stars, or perhaps even three and a half. He said this was a better Schwarzenegger vehicle than "The Terminator" even though it was apparently conceived for Richard Dreyfuss! He described it as "Hitchcockian."

Van would give Jerome Boivin's "Confessions of a Crap Artist" three stars, even though he thought it needed one more re-write to clarify what the Dick character saw in the Ann character (his wife).

"Drug-Taking in the Arts" led panelists to comment on Dick's own chemical indulgences. Blackwood said that Dick would certainly have been around longer to write something had he not done so many drugs. (Of course, what he did write might not have been so good either. As they say in "Bladerunner", it is the brightest candle that burns out the fastest.) Van, who is pursuing an advanced degree in neurology, later said that the multiplicity of interpretations or explanations of reality come from Dick's seratonin levels, not from the drugs.)

Van gave "Screamers" two and a half stars. Flynn said he had been (positively) surprised by the film, and that the best thing is Peter Weller. Blackwood said it was similar to "Ghosts of Mars" and was more a horror film than a science fiction film.

Regarding the director's cut of "Bladerunner", both Van and Flynn prefer it to the original. Blackwood also prefers it as a science fiction film, but as a film noir he also likes the voice- over.

Regarding the television series "Total Recall 2070", Van saw one episode. Flynn saw the pilot and said that was enough. He described it as a melding of "Total Recall" and "Bladerunner".

Blackwood said that Gary Fleder made Dick's story "The Impostor" into a chase film (called just "Impostor") rather than a character film. Nevertheless, Van gave it four stars and said it was much better than its bad reputation. In particular, he felt it compared to "Gattaca" for good art design on a low budget, and he thought the lack of characterization work for the ambiguity inherent in the story. Flynn recommended the DVD, but more for the twenty-minute short that was the original film than for the feature film made from it. He also claimed it shared twelve to fifteen plot points with "Minority Report".

Regarding "Minority Report", Flynn said it views to him now as "Bladerunner" did in 1982, giving us a feel for the future. He describes "Minority Report" as "a thinking man's film" and "one of the best science fiction films we've had in a number of years." Blackwood agreed with the atmosphere and said the CGI was also well done, and built on the retro-decadent look that "Bladerunner" was a pioneer of. On his first viewing, Van thought it was a serious contender for the best science fiction film of all time. After a second viewing, however, he thought it was not that good, and that a lot of what he had liked was "flash and dazzle." But he still feels it is as good as "Bladerunner".

Blackwood asked, "Why Dick?" and then answered his own question, saying Dick has intriguing plots and asks questions like "Who am I? What am I doing?" What have I done?" Flynn described much of Dick as "ordinary people trapped in worlds not of their making." (This is a larger version of what Hitchcock used to do, with ordinary people trapped in situations not of their making.)

Flynn felt what appealed to the filmmakers was the juxtaposition of two realities: the superficial and the underlying (or if you prefer, the apparent and the real).

Van said that Philip K. Dick was very popular in Hollywood, claiming, "Hollywood is full of Dickheads" and then quickly saying that he didn't mean that in the usual sense. But he said one can see lots of small bits from Dick in non-Dick films. Perky Pat in "eXistenZ" is from Dick. The writer of "Being John Malkovich" is a self-avowed Philip K. Dick fan. And Van suspects that if you asked Andrew Niccol (the writer of "The Truman Show", "Gattaca", and "S1m0ne"), you would discover that he was also a fan. Flynn said in Hollywood, Dick was practically a franchised product, and Blackwood added that his is one of the few names of authors of the original works that one sees featured on publicity posters. Van noted that for "Minority Report", both the "Boston Globe" and "Time" magazine had side-bars about Dick. Van added, however, that as popular as Dick is in Hollywood, all the greatest Dick stories are too downbeat for Hollywood, and too expensive now for independent filmmakers.

Someone in the audience suggested that "Minority Report" was asking, "How much imperfection are you willing to tolerate to get almost perfection in the justice system?"

Leeper said that he liked what Steven Spielberg did with the build-up in "Minority Report", but then Spielberg drastically changed the ending, undercutting the whole point of the story.

I asked about other adaptations of Dick, such as the opera "Valis". Van described it as being great, but with music at times tending to be too atonal for some audiences.

Van also listed movies that he said should be Philip K. Dick that aren't. (Note: this is not the same as tributes to Dick in movies not otherwise related.) These included "Videodrome", "Man Facing Southwest", and "K-PAX". The last two examine the borderline between insanity and divinity, another of Dick's themes. (Van warns, however, that the dubbed version of "Man Facing Southwest" is awful.) I might add "Vanilla Sky", and perhaps the whole spate of "what is reality?" movies that came out a few years ago.

 

We went to Botown Vietnamese Restaurant for dinner with Kate and Pete and shared lemongrass aromatic chicken, squid, Peking ribs, and beef with onion and green pepper. The last sounds like the very common Chinese pepper steak, but wasn't.

I spent some time at the RASFF party and a little at Nippon in 2007 (which reports hotels rooms in the $100-$200 range--in keeping with current US prices and not the way over-inflated figures I've heard tossed around. Our room in San Jose cost $164 for a triple after tax was added, and the prices quoted for Japan would be tax included as well.)

At one of the parties, John Sloan, explaining why he liked "Buffy the Vampire Slayer": "It's funny and hip. Not that I'm funny and hip, but I appreciate that in others."

Most parties started at 8:00PM or 9:00PM. The UK in 2005 party started at 2005. The Christian Fandom party started at 8:23PM. (John 8:23 reads, "And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world." I was able to research this with materials provided by my hotel. :-) )

 

Recent SF and Fantasy Films - Praise and Boos

Saturday 10:00am CC B1B2

Joshua Bilmes, Robert Blackwood (M), Randy Dannenfelser, John L. Flynn,

Buzz Nelson

Description: "Another banner year for science fiction and fantasy films! Or is it? We have the volume, but do we have the quality?"

(This had originally been titled "The State of SF Films," which would have been a more original topic. The description seems to have been ignored in favor of a film-by-film commentary instead of a look at trends.)

A list of the science fiction and fantasy films which had appeared since the previous Worldcon was handed out. Though fairly complete, it missed "The Devil's Backbone" and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's "Cure" and "Pulse". Bilmes also added that "Donnie Darko" should be on the list.

Dannenfelser started by saying there wasn't a "Gattaca" in the bunch, and that "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was a special case. Flynn observed it was a strong fantasy year, and that more films seemed to have been based on books than in recent years. Bilmes said in that regard it was a great year, and even "Publishers Weekly" was talking about it. Nelson said there were so many science fiction films now because "the suits" like to compete with each other.

This was followed by the panel going down the list and commenting on some of the major films.

Regarding "Austin Powers, Goldmember", Flynn said, "Yeah, baby!" He noted that the series had gone from spoofing Bond films to spoofing films in general. Blackwood, on the other hand, thought they were trash, getting lower and lower, and Bilmes just found it flat.

Flynn thought the original "E.T." very sweet and one of Steven Spielberg's best films. But he also felt there was no need to re-edit it, except for money and political correctness. Bilmes agreed, and said the audiences seemed to agree as well, since it got a poor audience reception.

Dannenfelser said that while the lead actor in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" looked the part, Dannenfelser didn't care for his acting. Flynn said this film was one of his favorites of the year. Blackwood said he "like it, [and] wished I had a young person to take to it." Bilmes liked it overall, but felt some disappointment. And Nelson liked the pace, but noted it was really just a traditional English school story.

Dannenfelser felt that "K-PAX" would become a real sleeper on video (which played for only two weeks in theaters). He agreed with many others that it was a reworking of "Man Facing Southeast", but also of "Simon". Flynn though it vintage Kevin Spacey, but Blackwood thought it was a little too long. Bilmes said he had seen it, but hadn't thought much about it since.

Flynn was blown away by "Impostor" (also discussed in the Philip K. Dick panel; see comments there). Blackwood thought there was too much chase sequence.

"Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" was described by Dannenfelser as "the movie we see the most down the road." Flynn said it was the best film of the last five years and that Peter Jackson caught the essence of the book. It is beautiful, and it flows well. Blackwood agreed, saying he had never seen an adaptation that was more faithful to the book without following it slavishly.

"Men in Black II", on the other hand, received a less warm welcome. Flynn said he was never enamored of the first film and all of the funny bits of this one are in the trailers. Blackwood said he laughed a lot, his measure of a successful comedy. Bilmes described this as one of those "sequels I could not possibly conceive of having a reason for walking in the theater to see."

Dannenfelser said that "Minority Report" was predictable and the substance just wasn't there, but he liked the way it was shot--it gave the movie style, a sort of future noir. Flynn agreed on style, saying it immediately reminded him of "Bladerunner", but he disagreed with Dannenfelser on the rest, saying that he thought it one of the best films of the year. Blackwood also found it lacking, and the plot seemed a little tired. (It also wasn't Philip K. Dick's original plot.) Bilmes wants to see it again, saying, "The visuals of the film are excellent," but agreed that "plot is definitely not the film's strong point."

Nelson "liked what [he] saw" in "Monsters, Inc." Bilmes also thought it was "a lot of fun." Blackwood said he didn't see it because, as he said, "I didn't have a child to take to it." Nelson suggested, "Take the inner child." Flynn wasn't negative per se on it, but said that it certainly did not belong on the Hugo ballot instead of "A.I.: Artificial Intelligence".

Of "Queen of the Damned" Blackwood said, "This is a great silent movie if it didn't have any dialogue and a great soundtrack, but. . . ."

In "Reign of Fire" Nelson thought that "the dragons looked nice." Blackwood liked the dragon, but said that the writing, characters, and plot were weak.

Flynn said that "Resident Evil" was a film for which he asked for a refund at Blockbuster. (I find it hard to believe that it would be one of their guaranteed films, but I suppose anything is possible.) It's basically the same as "Warning Sign" or one of several George Romero films. Blackwood said, "I was lucky--in the middle I fell asleep and my wife had the good taste not to wake me up." Flynn wanted to know, "Why are they still re-doing [all the horror films]?" He wants to see Jason, Freddy, Pinhead, and all the rest in a musical.

Bilmes hated "The Mummy Returns" and couldn't understand why anyone would make "The Scorpion King". Dannenfelser found the main character obnoxious. (I liked him--and I'm not a wrestling fan. Mark Leeper pointed out that the film "The Scorpion King" was more a sequel to "Conan the Barbarian" and such than to "The Mummy".)

As seems to be the case with most people, Bilmes thought that "Signs" was better than "Unbreakable" but not as good as "The Sixth Sense". He said, though, that "Signs" was exceptionally good as a mood piece. Blackwood said that the director was a great storyteller, but dislikes the "cult of victimhood" he saw in this film and finds it offensive. Flynn said there was a good build-up, but no pay-off. Dannenfelser said all the actors gave good performances except Mel Gibson, but in spite of that flaw, he liked the movie a lot.

Blackwood said that "S1m0ne" (which we saw in Toronto a few days later) had wonderful special effects, and that Al Pacino was good.

Bilmes liked "Spiderman" because it was filmed in his neighborhood, but someone commented that it was filmed in so many locations in New York that almost everyone could say that. Bilmes also said he thought it was "head and shoulders above 90% of the special effects blockbusters of the last five years," but adding that that was damning with faint praise. Blackwood said, "I identified with that geek in high school and as I look around this room, I think I'm not alone."

Bilmes said that when he went to see "Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones" there was "a lot of seat-squeaking." Blackwood found it inane. Dannenfelser said, "I had heart bypass surgery the day before this opened and there were parts of my post-op that were almost as painful as watching the movie."

[I had to leave this panel early for two reasons. 1) I had a panel I was on right after it, and 2) they seemed to be about to reveal spoilers for films, including films I hadn't yet seen.]

 

Blog This! (or, Blogology Recapitulates Mimeography)

Saturday 11:30am CC E

Moshe Feder, Bill Humphries, Lucy Huntzinger, Evelyn C. Leeper,

Teresa Nielsen Hayden (M), Patrick Nielsen Hayden

Description: "What is Blogging and why should you care? This new form of online diaries has taken fandom by storm. The mainstream world is also adopting this very fannish style of communication and community. Will they revisit our common foibles and squabbles? How does the emergence of weblogs and other online communities compare to that of fanzines?"

[I was supposed to moderate this panel, or rather a slightly different, smaller panel that got merged into this. Teresa Nielsen Hayden graciously offered to moderate when I admitted to the panelists that I knew next to nothing about blogging. Thanks, Teresa!]

"Blog" is short for "web log." (Someone pointed out that "blog" is also fannish slang for something you drink.) There is an O'Reilly book on blogging.

Blogs are more than just on-line diaries. There is a different focus and different frequency of updates. A diary is "I was just thinking . . ." while a blog is "Hey, look at that!" Someone compared a blog to a "cabinet of wonder" (an early precursor to the museum), except that instead of interesting things, a blog has interesting URLs. Some blogs, in fact, are little more than annotated bookmark files, and often serve as back-up bookmark files. "Arts & Letters Daily" ( http://www.simputer.org) is a blog of sorts. (Well, was. It shut down shortly after I wrote this. :-( Those who liked that web site should try http://www.philosophyandliterature.com/, http://scitechdaily.com/, http://businessdailyreview.com/, and =http://human-nature.com/nibbs/ as semi- replacements.)

(Someone on the panel said, in fact, that one of the things that made that site more like a blog was that the newest entry was on top.) Later, Patrick Nielsen Hayden said that many people say you shouldn't link to pages everyone links to, but he answers, "Why not?"

Huntzinger also observed that an on-line diary generally has no space for comments or email, while a blog does. On the other hand, blogs are not like APAs either--for one thing, they're much larger. (One can supposedly get an APA-like format from something called "Engaged".) The claim was that rec.arts.sf.fandom is like an APA with really fast turnaround.

(At this point, I began to wonder where mailing lists fit into all this.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden thought that the coalescence or self- awareness came in 1995 with WebRing software as the enabling technology. (I'm not sure why web rings are connected to blogs.) Huntzinger said that when she set up a web ring that actually excluded some people, there was a lot of debate over this. She found a web ring more satisfying than paper fanzines.

Humphries felt that for blogs specifically, the moment was when "blogger" software became available in 1999. People no longer even needed their own server space; blogspot.com offered space. You edited in your own browser, which was pretty ugly, but it worked.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden added to all this, however, that "the technology almost doesn't matter, as long as it's there."

As non-fan groups started blogging, the same patterns as were in fandom appeared. All groups that can communicate create flame wars, conventions, etc. Patrick Nielsen Hayden said that he thought a critical turning point was when you started seeing letters of comment commenting on letters of comment. Teresa Nielsen Hayden said she viewed Lady Murasaki's "Tale of Genji" as really advanced fandom.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden made the point that science fiction fandom survives because it is not owned or controlled by any one magazine or organization. (I wonder if that's what happened to Edgar Rice Burroughs fandom.)

Someone estimated that 500,000 people are writing web logs, but had absolutely no basis for this figure. Some people (e.g., Ted White, Arnie Katz) saw blogs as the death of traditional fanzines. Patrick Nielsen Hayden saw them as fanzines, but without all the printing and distribution expenses: "Fanzines too cheap to meter."

There does seem to be a continuum here with paper fanzines, e- zines, and blogs somewhere along it, rather than as discretely defined, unrelated items.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden pointed out that lots of mundanes are into blogging and seem to be re-inventing fandom. He felt that a lot of these demonstrate that the speed of response "encourages" accuracy, since people can--and will--attack you immediately if you get something wrong. Humphries said the ultimate he had seen was at another convention, where someone in the audience was blogging the panel, and the panelists were reading the blog in real time!

Another difference between blogs and fanzines, according to Feder, is that in traditional fandom, you knew who your audience was. I'm not sure that was always true, at least for our fanzine, in the sense that we would accept anyone who had an email address as a recipient, and now that it's on Yahoogroups, we don't necessarily know who is signing up. (At one point, Mark wrote a column about dog-sitting for his brother's dog, which was afraid of its water dish. Mark's brother wasn't getting a copy, but someone who worked with him was, and went up to him and asked, "So your dog's afraid of his water dish?" This quite took Mark's brother aback, and shortly thereafter he signed up to receive the MT VOID in self-defense.)

Someone in the audience commented on political blogging, saying, "The Bush administration hasn't started my blogging, but God knows it has given me a lot of material."

Somewhere along the line I put forth a plea to retain snail- mail distribution for those fans who are not connected enough for email or web reading (e.g., my friend whose web access is in fifteen-minute slots at the public library).

Patrick Nielsen Hayden also asked people not to restrict their reading to only those people they agreed with. Someone in the audience talked about the "long-term political consequences of blogging," saying that the persistence of Web pages meant that people's words would come back to haunt them.

I guess I would summarize my aversion to most blogs in the fact that they have no beginning, no middle, and no end. They're like an open-ended, never-ending series. Someone else observed that you don't have a sense of reading the same thing everyone else is reading, the way you would with a traditional fanzine.

(Re-reading this write-up, I have the feeling that people who didn't understand blogging before still won't. Sorry about that.)

 

The NASFiC: Threat or Menace?

Saturday 2:30pm CC E

Kent Bloom, Todd Dashoff, Christian McGuire, Mark L. Olson, Ben Yalow

Description: "With two non-North American bids on the horizon, discussion has heated up about the North American Science Fiction Convention (the site for a convention held in North America in any year where the Worldcon is outside of North America). Should the NASFiC exist and if so, why and how?"

Bloom said he was unlikely to attend any NASFiCs, Dashoff attended two NASFiCs, McGuire chaired a NASFiC, and Olson said that NASFiCs were both threat and menace, but he favored retaining them.

NASFiCs were formalized in 1970 or 1971 to try to make sure they weren't in direct conflict with Worldcons. The NASFiCs have been:

1975: (Los Angeles) (Worldcon in Melbourne)

1979: NorthAmericon `79 (Louisville) (Worldcon in Brighton)

1985 LoneStarCon 1 (Austin) (Worldcon in Melbourne)

1987 CactusCon (Phoenix) (Worldcon in Brighton)

1990 ConDiego (San Diego) (Worldcon in The Hague)

1995 DragonCon 1995 (Atlanta) (Worldcon in Glasgow)

1999 Conucopia (Anaheim) (Worldcon in Melbourne)

Someone described NASFiC as "more than a large regional but not a Worldcon."

Bloom said, "One reason we say the NASFiC is a menace is that it saps the energy of people who also work on Worldcon [that year]" (or vice versa). Olson noted that this is more of a problem if one is on the way to the other (e.g., Concucopia in Los Angeles being on the way to Aussiecon Three in 1999 versus the Phoenix NASFiC not being on the way to Conspiracy in 1987). Bloom then asked whether, given this drawback, WSFS should sponsor a convention that has such a potential negative effect on Worldcon. Is the control we get beneficial? In addition, many people outside North America are offended by the preference shown for that continent. Why is WSFS expending the energy to run the site selection for a NASFiC when it doesn't do that for any other continental convention?

Olson found those arguments "completely unpersuasive," saying that adults who work on conventions should be the best judges of where they want to expend their energies. But he agreed that a badly run or badly timed NASFiC does sap the Worldcon, and some are worse than others.

Someone mentioned Dragoncon at permanent competition to Worldcon, but Yalow noted that Dragoncon draws an entirely different audience and he estimated the overlap at maybe two hundred. Olson said, however, that Dragoncon has effectively killed off any attempt at a southern Worldcon for years to come.

Someone asked whether the need for a NASFiC still existed? Yalow observed that one reason NASFiC was created was that skipping a zone was considered unfair to that zone, but we no longer have zones. And Bloom noted that 1970s airfares were the same number of dollars as now, but they were in 1970 dollars. In other words, travel for North Americans to non-North American Worldcons is relatively cheap these days.

Yalow felt that one major problem NASFiCs have is that, while Worldcons are impossible to budget, NASFiCs are even worse. This is because people tend to make their decision to attend Worldcon and hence purchase memberships several months out, while the decision to attend NASFiC is made after people finally make their decision not to attend Worldcon.

Olson then explained why even though he thinks NASFiCs are both threat and menace, they should be retained. If WSFS drops NASFiC, then he feels someone else will pick it up and they won't limit themselves just to years in which Worldcon is overseas, thus creating a direct competition. As it is, it is risky to start up a competitor since there is always a big North American convention around that time, but without the NASFiC, they could ramp up in a year when the Worldcon was elsewhere. Yalow noted that with the existence of Comic-Con, Gen Con, Origins, and Dragoncon, people couldn't use those fan bases to leverage off of.

The question of whether it would be better to retain control of NASFiC but to vote not to hold it was raised. There was a motion to block Dragoncon, but it failed. This may be because you have to join the NASFiC to vote for it. If you don't want one, you're stuck with paying for something you don't want if it wins. (If it loses--that is, if the vote is not to hold a NASFiC, the money is refunded.)

Yalow felt that there was not as much drainage of Worldcon people, since NASFiCs tend to be almost completely local committees, while Worldcons draw from all over the world. McGuire said that when he agreed to chair a NASFiC, "I didn't know what a NASFiC was other than that I wanted" publications that were informative, spell-checked, and delivered on time; quick and efficient registration, a con suite, and programming.

Bloom agreed with Yalow, but expressed it as "most NASFiCs don't have the corps of experience that Worldcons have." Yalow thought this was true most places but not on the West Coast, due to the fact that the major regional convention there (Westercon) travels from place to place and gives more people a chance to gain experience. (Someone mentioned DeepSouthCon as another traveling convention, but others said that was more like a large party than a true convention.) Olson thought that with this natural advantage, it would be nice if we could just declare Westercon to be the NASFiC in those years that a NASFiC was scheduled. But he didn't think the Westercon people would agree; he certainly didn't want Boskone to be declared the NASFiC!

Yalow pointed out that NASFiC bids are often used to try to establish a fandom (e.g., Charlotte as distinct from Atlanta), or to establish credibility with the local hotels in preparation for a Worldcon bid (e.g., Seattle).

(Somewhere along the line, it was noted that ConDiego misspelled its own name as "ConDigeo" on some of its official publications, having assigned a dyslexic as proofreader. It was thought that this suggested that it was understaffed. Also, the most recent NASFiC, Conucopia, had about 1700 members.)

(Historical note: In 1970, San Francisco fan Jerry Jacks invented multi-track programming.)

 

TV's Horror of Horror

Saturday 5:30pm CC E

Fiona Avery, Joshua Bilmes, Mark R. Leeper, Craig Miller, Eric M. Van

Description: "Successful horror on TV has been rare. (In "Danse Macabre" Stephen King argued it was because networks and sponsors didn't want to scare viewers.) Does the success of Buffy/Angel signal a shift, or are these just adventure series with new tailfins?"

I wanted to attend this, but was scheduled opposite it, in spite of my request not to be scheduled opposite any of Mark's panels. I'm sure Mark was fabulous.

 

Trip Reports - the Bill Brysons of Fandom

Saturday 5:30pm CC G

Janice Gelb, Jerry A. Kaufman, Evelyn C. Leeper, Sue Mason, Richard Lynch

Description: "Bill Bryson has been described as 'The funniest traveler alive.' and 'Here is a man who suffers so his readers can laugh.' The same can be described of TAFF, DUFF and other trip reports. Who turned a trip report into an ongoing comedy? What are some of the funniest episodes?"

The description of this panel mutated over time, so not everyone stuck to the final wording.

Gelb and Kaufman were previous DUFF winners, Mason was a TAFF winner, and Lynch and I were just people who write about travel. (Perhaps one reason that the description emphasized TAFF, DUFF, and so on is because people who aren't "obliged" to write trip reports usually don't.)

People recommended classic trip reports such as Walt Willis's "The Harp Stateside" and Dave Langford's "Transatlantic Hearing Aid", as well as the Nielsen Haydens' unfinished trip reports. "The Harp Stateside" can be found along with "Willis Discovers America" in "Warhoon 28". ("Warhoon 28" is available for $30 from NESFA Press. Their publication of Langford's "Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man" does not contain "Transatlantic Hearing Aid".)

Most of the panelists write semi-standard-type trip reports, but Dick Lynch's travel writing seemed to fit a slightly different pattern: he writes a postcard's worth of writing--no more and no less--every day he is on a trip.

Most of the panel consisted of panelists reading humorous excerpts from their own trip reports or telling humorous travel anecdotes. I read from my Vietnam report the sections describing Vietnamese traffic. Rather than attempt to summarize (which rather defeats the point), I will point you to the panelists' trip writing itself (at least what is on-line). Mine can be found indexed at http://leepers.us/evelynleeper.htmtrips.htm. Gelb's is at http://www.smofbabe.net; Lynch's is at http://jophan.org. A lot of older TAFF and DUFF reports can be found at http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/SF-Archives/Taff/taffhist.htm and http://www.fanac.org/fan_funds/trip_reports.html as well.

 

Masquerade

Saturday 8:00pm Civic Auditorium

The Masquerade itself went fairly well, but the program inserts containing the list of competitors wasn't available until after most of the audience had been seated. And the seats in the balcony, while having a clear line of sight, were very hard.

John Hertz did an excellent job of emceeing. At one point, someone behind the curtain was trying to tell him something which he couldn't quite hear, and he quipped, "God always talks but we have to find his voice," and later, "Pay no attention . . . ." The only problem he had was that he kept "threatening" to tell Regency jokes if he had to, and the audience was actually begging him to. ("How many gentlemen does it take to change a candle?" "Five--one to order the appropriate waistcoat, two to arrange the guest list, . . . . ") Also, apparently Jerry Pournelle and friends walking back to their hotel in Brighton from the Regency Dance at Seacon, with Pournelle dressed in an incredibly elaborate period military uniform, when they were accosted by several yobbos who taunted them, saying, "I say, Governor, where's your horse?" Pournelle responded with something like, "In Wellington Barracks, of course," at which point the leader of the gang said, "That one's real!" and they all ran off!

 

We saw very little of the convention on Sunday. We left at 10AM to go to a 60th anniversary brunch for my in-laws, and didn't get back until after 4PM. (Note: We made sure to have exact change for the light rail, but still had problems: it wouldn't take bills because it was full! Luckily someone else on the platform could change a couple of dollars.)

I spent the remaining time before the Hugo Awards seeing the art show and exhibits.

 

Hugo Awards

Sunday 8:00pm Civic Auditorium

First, the winners:

Best Novel: "American Gods" by Neil Gaiman (Morrow)

Best Novella: "Fast Times at Fairmont High" by Vernor Vinge ("The Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge", Tor)

Best Novelette: "Hell Is the Absence of God" by Ted Chiang ("Starlight 3", Tor)

Best Short Story: "The Dog Said Bow-Wow" by Michael Swanwick ("Asimov's" 10-11/01)

Best Related Book: "The Art of Chesley Bonestell" by Ron Miller & Frederick C. Durant III (Paper Tiger)

Best Dramatic Presentation: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Best Professional Editor: Ellen Datlow (SCI FICTION and anthologies)

Best Pro Artist: Michael Whelan

Best Semi-prozine: "Locus", edited by Charles N. Brown

Best Fanzine: "Ansible", edited by Dave Langford

Best Fan Writer: Dave Langford

Best Fan Artist: Teddy Harvia

Best Web Site (one-time Hugo only): Locus Online, Mark R. Kelly editor/webmaster (www.locusmag.com)

John W. Campbell Award: Jo Walton (second year of eligibility)

Biggest Surprise: Ellen Datlow

Biggest Non-Surprise: "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring"

Second Biggest Non-Surprise: David Langford

Items of note: Langford declared "Ansible" a semi-prozine. It has a circulation of 3500, which is over 1000, it pays in other than copies (he buys drinks for contributors), and he has declared it a semi-prozine. This should be interesting.

This should be especially interesting since Charlie Brown announced that he was officially stepping down as editor of "Locus" (which would become "Charlie Brown's Locus" and have his picture on the cover, a la "Asimov's Science Fiction").

This ceremony was interesting for me too, as well. It was the first time in thirteen years I wasn't nominated. (I had 23 nominations; Silver and Glyer tied for the fifth slot at 26 nominations each.) So I actually had to stand in line and find a seat. Standing in line wasn't too bad, as the sun had gone behind the buildings and the temperature was down a bit from the 97 degrees Fahrenheit it was earlier. And the convention had people handing out bottled water to the people in line. (IguanaCon II in Phoenix in 1978 could have used this idea, though I don't think individual bottled waters were really available then. Maybe a guy with a tank and paper cups?)

(When I entered, Tom Galloway was one of the ushers, and I said to him, "Okay, it's been so long since I wasn't nominated that I've forgotten; where do the non-nominees sit again?")

We sat on the floor rather than the balcony for two reasons: it was cooler and the seats were padded rather than hard plastic.

Other awards given out included three First Fandom Awards (the main one to Sir Arthur C. Clarke, a posthumous award to Martha Beck, a collector's award to Robert Madle). Hal Clement accepted for Clarke, and it was stated that the computer in "2001" had not been named for him. The Big Heart Award went to Pat Sims. The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award went to R. A. Lafferty, who was described in the New York Times as "undoubtedly the finest writer of whatever it was that he did." "Minor Planet Pohl" was an announcement that JPL had named a minor planet discovered 17 March 1991 after Frederik Pohl, whose reaction was, "I've never had a minor planet before. How do I get it home?" Previously, there have been minor planets named for Jack Williamson and Poul Anderson.

The Seiun Award for Best Short Story in Translation was a tie between Greg Egan's "Reasons To Be Cheerful" (translated by Makoto Yamagishi) and Ted Chiang's "The Story of Your Life" (translated by Shigeyuki Kude), and for Best Novel in Translation it went to Pat Murphy's "There and Back Again" (translated by Hisashi Asakura). In accepting for Egan, Sean McMullen said he could understand the appeal that Egan's stories would have for the Japanese: "His fiction is as pure, as sharp, as beautiful, and as functional as a samurai sword."

Excerpts from Tad Williams's speech (a la Bob Devney):

"Many in our field believe that fantasy bears a relationship to science fiction not unlike that of infomercials to PBS." [And then a fantasy novel and a fantasy dramatic presentation won.]

Williams talked about the aging of fandom, saying that Kim Stanley Robinson's next trilogy was going to be "Mars Is Cranky", "Planet of Assisted Living", and "Would You Please Stop That Terraforming--People Are Trying to Sleep Here". And we would be seeing stories about "generation ships cruising along very slowly in the faster-than-light lanes somewhere in the galaxy with one turn signal slowly blinking . . . blinking . . . blinking . . . ."

Williams spoke of how people cannot pay back so they have to pay forward, adding, "We don't just pay forward, we dream forward." Of our stories and dreams, he said, "They are none of them real, but they are all true."

Of recent events: "2001 didn't turn out quite like we expected, but then again neither did 1984. You win some, you lose some."

[A transcript of his speech is available at http://www.conjose.org/wsfs/wsfs_hugo_tad.html.]

Connie Willis filled in for Ferdinand Feghoot as a presenter, explaining that Ferdinand couldn't be here. It seems that Ferdinand was investigating the Robert Blake case, because he had watched "Baretta" on television, but somehow Blake shot him in the foot and he had to wait for it to stop bleeding and "clot too--Baretta nicked toe." (This story ran much longer on stage.)

The actor who played Samwise (Sean Astin) was one of the acceptors of the Dramatic Presentation Hugo and said he was looking for something written by Tolkien himself that would be appropriate when he ran across a quote in which Tolkien referred to his American fans as "my deplorable cultists." You win some, you lose some.

The Hugo for Best Novel was presented by Vernor Vinge, whom Williams described as having just hit a "four-bagger": Vinge was presenting the Hugo for Best Novel, had won a Hugo for Best Novel in a previous year, had just won the previous Hugo (for best novella), and was the Guest of Honor at the Worldcon where he was presenting. (This is cheating a bit--I think the Guest of Honor usually presents the Hugo for Best Novel.) Neal Gaiman was thrilled to win the Hugo for Best Novel. He said as a youngster one of his dreams was to win the Hugo for Best Novel, but as he grew up "it became painfully obvious I was not growing into the sort of writer that won a Hugo for Best Novel." He closed by looking at the Hugo, and saying, "F**k! I've got a Hugo. Thank you." (Asterisks so that there's some chance of this report making it through all those "nanny filters.")

Mark and I snacked on dried squid. Kate Pott tried some and reported that "the taste of squid lasts for the duration of a Hugo ceremony."

There has been much discussion of the length of the Hugo Awards Ceremony and where the time goes. So I clocked it, and here it is, to the nearest minute:

Start   End     Length  Item
2005    2016      11    First Fandom
2016    2019       3    Big Heart
2019    2028       9    Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery
                           (6 minutes intro, 3 minutes award)
2028    2029       1    Minor Planet Pohl
2029    2041      12    Seiun
                           Egan was announced at 8:33
                           Murphy was announced at 8:35
2041    2046       5    John W. Campbell Award
2046    2101      15    Toastmaster Speech
2101    2104       3    Display of Hugo Base
2104    2105       1    Introduction of Hugo Administrators
2105    2107       2    Best Fan Artist
2107    2110       3    Best Fan Writer
2110    2113       3    Best Fanzine
2113    2115       2    Necrology
2115    2117       2    Best Web Site
2117    2119       2    Clip from "Fellowship of the Ring"
2119    2121       2    Clip from "Harry Potter"
2121    2124       3    Best Semi-prozine
2124    2126       2    Clip from "Monsters, Inc."
2126    2127       2    Clip from "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer"
2128    2130       2    Best Pro Artist
2130    2132       2    Clip from "Shrek"
2132    2139       7    Best Professional Editor
                           (4 minutes Willis Feghoot story, 
                           3 minutes award)
2139    2147       8    Best Dramatic Presentation
2147    2151       4    Best Related Book
2151    2153       2    Leonard Zubkoff Announcement
2153    2156       3    Best Short Story
2156    2158       2    Best Novelette
2158    2204       6    Best Novella
                           (4 minutes Silverberg talking 
                           about Willis Feghoot story, 
                           3 minutes award)
2204    2209       5    Best Novel
2209    2210       1    Closing

Summary: 130 minutes long, 65 minutes (exactly halfway) to the first Hugo. (It was at this point that Williams said, "If it's anywhere as warm out there as up here, we don't need levity, we need brevity." This was a little annoying--after spending an hour on non-Hugos, now everyone is asked to speed up!)

The greatest time savings would be to move the First Fandom awards, the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. and the Seiun Awards elsewhere: these total thirty-two minutes, a quarter of the time, and are not Hugos. (My understanding is that the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award was supposed to be elsewhere, but signals got crossed.) The Toastmaster Speech is long, but generally entertaining. It certainly was this time.

Cutting the movie clips wouldn't save much.

 

Parties

I went to a couple of post-Hugo parties, but nothing memorable. After twelve years of going to "Hugo Losers" parties, it was strange to have to figure out what parties to go to. Still, I did better than Kate and Mark, who went out looking for food and couldn't find an open restaurant (at 10:30 PM). One restaurant that had said they would be open late apparently had to close earlier because they ran out of food!

 

The Future of Fanzines

Monday 10:00am CC C1C2

Tom Digby, Evelyn C. Leeper (mod), Fred Lerner, Nicki Lynch

Description: "Are fanzines obsolete?"

[Thanks to Mark Leeper for taking notes for me for this.]

I suppose at some point I should give my background in fanzines and this is as good a place as any.

I got started in 1969 with the UMassSFS clubzine (ZOBEE, later GROK, later BETELGUESE). In 1978 Mark and I went to work at Bell Labs, discovered they had no science fiction club, and started one. Meetings required meeting notices, and these gradually grew longer, with movie reviews and book reviews, and later editorials and articles. When we retired in 2001, the clubzine became our perzine (personal fanzine), titled "The MT Void" (pronounced "empty void", "MT" being the internal mail designation for the Middletown location, where it was last renamed). Because of divestiture and such, the volume number is currently "21" even though the zine is closer to twenty-three years old. It is a weekly zine, distributed almost entirely through email in a very basic, ASCII form, though converted to HTML for posting on my web site. Its audience is primarily non-fans, being people whom we worked with at Bell Labs (though this is changing).

Digby has been editing various fanzines since 1965; Lerner has also been doing fanzines for about forty years. Lynch also seems to have started in the 1960s, so I guess that makes me the "newbie."

The short answer to the panel's question is, "No, but they are changing."

I began by saying we first needed to define what we meant by "fanzine".

Lerner said that his fanzine, "Lofgeornost", is a perzine and has no electronic form (other than one copy he produces in ASCII for a blind fan). As far as he is concerned, though, the finished product is the paper form.

Lynch's roots at in APAs, she said, but her current zine is an online zine. (She and her husband Dick had both done APAs, then a clubzine, and out of that came the Hugo-winning "Mimosa".)

I said that although we have always had paper copies, "The MT Void" is now primarily electronic, and (as I noted above) goes primarily to non-fans. Now that it no longer has a connection to any corporation, we have started posting announcements of it to Usenet.

I expressed the idea that the paper fanzine would become obsolete, but Lerner said this would not happen in his lifetime. I asked him, "What do you like about paper?" He replied that there are inherent rules: a finite amount of space, and hence limited possibilities. One has the challenge of accomplishing a specific task. There is a body of precedent, but you can work in or out of this tradition. For example, he limits himself to eight or ten pages each issue, with four issues a year, and sees it as a "conversation with friends." He has no interest in publishing online to an unknown audience.

Lynch said she was asked if she got responses from the electronic version. She said that people will email letters of comment, but they still want the paper fanzine, so the physical fanzine will always exist. She added that at least the people she talks to don't get letters of comment from the electronic version. (We, on the other hand, do, but not many--maybe one or two a week. Still, this is more than we got when it was on paper.)

For some people, all the electronic version seems to allow is being swamped by mail. Lynch said that one of people she reads has 3000 unanswered email messages!

Someone said that there are different communities, and that there are a lot of people in fandom who are not habituated to paper. There was a suggestion that producing PDFs would give you Lerner's limitations with the low-cost of electronic distribution.

I noted that for a long time after we switched from sending out paper copies to everyone to email, we still formatted them for printing. Making all the paper copies was wasteful, but for those who wanted it printed out, we used nroff. (Boy, my age is showing!) We didn't want to do it in MS Word as that is not as universal as ASCII. Bob Devney sends out the "Devniad" in Word and even though I find that his margins are too narrow for our printer to handle without fooling around with formatting, I print it up and read it as a printed thing. This seems like a good compromise: deliver electrons but expect it to be printed at far end.

Digby said that his zine is sent out every new moon in plain ASCII, not paginated. If people want to print it, that's is their business. He also started a separate email discussion group for letters of comment. I added that we always ask the commenters if we may print their letters in future issues, because our readership is not used to that. Lerner said that he writes for a community that knows the rules of discourse in advance. I noted that I have occasionally sent letters that were more directed at the editor over something specific and was surprised when they appeared (though not unduly distressed). Lerner and Digby agreed that in general the default is for publication, but that you can say something is not for publication. Lynch said she once got a piece of mail saying, "How dare you publish my letter?" and there is always someone who thinks everything they write is sacred.

I noted that I have also seen what might be another aspect of having a limited, known audience, perzines in which the author unburdened very personal stuff that I couldn't imagine anyone posting. Lerner said that he had sent some items to zines a while ago that now made him glad than steno fades. When they first write items for fanzines, people worry that their parents might read it. Later, they worry that their children might. Someone said one concern about web pages is that they never seem to really go away, particularly with sites like Google caching everything. I noted that people used to complain about electronic zines because they were too evanescent and not permanent like paper, but it may turn out to be just the reverse. (Of course, later, we all bemoaned the fact that web sites seem to vanish without archival. The individual pages may be out there, but the linkages are gone.)

From the audience, Ernest Lilley noted that at least on paper there is a certain immutability, whereas with web pages, new ones can over-write the old

Someone asked about mailing costs. I said for us it wasn't an issue, because we mail out only five, and we batch several weeks together. I also said I thought that "Ansible", for example, kept its costs down by Langford handing out copies at the London Tun, but someone said he doesn't do that anymore, just relies on electronic distribution. However, it was agreed that for some people who do fairly thick zines, handing out some of the copies at meetings or conventions cuts costs. (My father-in-law hands out the newsletter for his men's club to the people he sees regularly at bocce ball or lunch to save postage, so it's not exactly unique to fandom.)

Lerner said for him it was not a big deal, only 150 copies, and since he limits the size, it costs about what membership in a regional convention does.

Digby said he gets no requests for a paper copy except from completist collectors. Lynch said that because theirs is thicker than most, they don't make money at all, even when they sell for five dollars apiece. (It costs about $1500 per issue.) I noted that for us copying costs outweigh postage because we photocopy the few copies we do, so five two-sided sheets would cost fifty cents to copy and thirty-seven cents to send out.)

Digby, like I, sends his zine out in email, puts it on the web, and keeps a paper archive.

I noted that in addition to liking to be able to carry a fanzine around, in our house Mark and I contend for our screen, and there's only so much I can put on my palmtop.

Lerner said that with an electronic fanzine, you didn't have to worry about line breaks (orphan lines, etc.), but Digby said he worries a lot. I don't recall spending a lot of time worrying about this when our fanzine was on paper. I do hate to break URLs, though, and in general don't want word breaks, so I go back to un-hyphenate words.

The question of web pages constantly changing came up, and I said that for us at least, there was a notion that a set of articles was an issue and didn't get changed. The only exception was if the following week there was a continuation of an article, I would go back and put a forward link to it in the previous issue.

Lynch said he finds mutability a problem with web pages. He described reading something in Sci-Fi Monthly, but later being unable to locate it because it had been pulled or changed. Lerner said that sometimes this is done with later editions of newspapers, but there is still a notion of "the copy of record." In his day job as a librarian/cataloguer he has run across on- line professional journals that will pull or change articles and he had to explain that if they were going to update and change the "issues," they would not be included in the index that Lerner maintains. First, a professional journal is supposed to allow one to track the history of an idea. But also the question will arise of whether can you trust the source material at all. (Eventually, I believe, the journal went to the same idea of a copy of record.)

I pointed out that the Hugo for the Best Web Site had that issue--people who were looking at the sites to decide how to vote were really voting on what the sites looked like in 2002, not 2001. And there doesn't seem to be much going on yet in the way of archiving web sites. (I do have pretty much full back-up snapshots of my web site at irregular intervals, but I don't think, for example, that anyone could re-create the Millennium Philcon web site as it was in July of 1999, for example.)

The point was made that many people who started in fanzines went on to start small press publications, including Advent Publishers. It was noted, however, that there are not as many small press magazines for science fiction short stories as for other genres, because there is a market for professional science fiction stories, and a feeling that if the fiction is not good enough, it's not worth publishing. Similarly, the authors are more interested in professional magazines than in supporting a small press magazine. (I'm assuming that "small press" here might apply to what is also called "semi-prozine," and most of those seem to be more focused on non-fiction than fiction.)

Regarding small press magazines, Lilley said from the audience, "Our reason to exist is proselytize, and we work to not go broke." He publishes some stories, and may pay five cents a word, but it's still primarily non-fiction. (Lerner noted that nobody write science fiction to make serious money. Lynch said that unfortunately the urge to perform is no indication of talent.)

Someone said that in mundane fanzines, there are lots of people who want to get published, and that one man he knew had thousands of poems in fanzines.

Lerner thought that was a good summing up: the motivation for fanzines is prestige and self-expression. "I like appreciation," he said, and as long as pride remains a deadly sin, the future of fanzines is solid.

Digby said that the original life form is mutating to something smaller in numbers, and that paper is obsolete in the same way the horse and buggy is. I disagreed, saying that I thought paper would stay around for a long time.

 

The SF Three Foot Shelf

Monday 11:30am CC A5

Peter Heck, Fred Lerner, Debbie Notkin, Lawrence Person

Description: "What are the definitive science fiction and fantasy books to own if you only have a three foot shelf to put them on?"

Lerner started by saying that three feet was picked because a standard library shelf is three feet long, and that he calculated that this would hold twenty-five average-sized hardbacks, so that was the constraint. (I will note that many choices were omnibus volumes somewhat thicker than average. No one seems to have pulled out their choices, shelved them together and measured.)

The criterion included selecting works that shaped the field and are a part of the discourse, works that are representative of areas and viewpoints, and works that are "in and of themselves excellent reading" (Heck) or which make you say, "Wow! That's a great book!" (Person). The panelists tried to limit each author to only one book (with occasional cheats by listing omnibus volumes).

Person said he limited his works strictly to science fiction, not including fantasy or horror.

The lists were given by period, so I will list all choices for each period, with the initials of the panelists who made that particular choice).

Pre-1926 (ph-5, fl-3, dn-2, lp-2):

The "H. G. Wells Omnibus" contains "First Men in the Moon", "The Food of the Gods", "The Invisible Man", "The Island of Doctor Moreau", "The Time Machine", and "The War of the Worlds". The better-known Dover seven-novel volume adds "In the Days of the Comet".

Lerner said he had originally chosen "The Island of Dr. Moreau" because it was still so topical, but then crossed that out and picked "The War of the Worlds". Person said if he had to choose only one Wells, it would be "The Time Machine", though the Martians in "The War of the Worlds" are still more alien than 90% of the aliens being written now. "H. G. Wells is still kicking our ass," he said. Person didn't pick Shelley's "Frankenstein". He thought that the creature was a good character, but "Victor's like a whining momma's boy."

Notkin said that she was embarrassed to admit she didn't even think of Jules Verne. Lerner picked "Frankenstein" but admitted he hadn't read it.

1926-1945 (ph-3, fl-4, dn-2, lp-2):

"The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" has one volume of short stories (edited by Robert Silverberg) and two of novellas (edited by Ben Bova), though different editions may have more or fewer physical volumes. (For example, I think there was a paperback edition of the short stories volume that was two physical books, but I could be wrong.) According to Person, Tor is planning to re-issue them soon. Lerner said he would have listed it/them, except the anthologies had been removed from their shelf due to painting and he just didn't remember them. I suspect they might have replaced his anthology choice. To truly represent this period one must have an anthology, since the vast majority of works were short fiction rather than novels. (I would add as an alternative Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas's Modern Library "Adventures in Time and Space", which up until Tor's re- issue has been at least somewhat more available.)

The Leiber "volume" does not exist. I mention this so you don't run around looking for a single volume of all the "Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser" stories. Why no one has done an omnibus of this I have no idea.

Lovecraft's "The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre" is a Del Rey volume reprinting many of his best works. "The Outsider and Others" and "The Dunwich Horror and Others" are original Arkham House collections from the 1930s. "The Outsider and Others" is, I think, the rarest Arkham House book, so you will not actually be able to find one, and certainly not at an affordable price.

1945-1964 (ph-8, fl-6, dn-5, lp-3):

Notkin said she should have included Orwell's "1984" (which Person called "the most important novel of the twentieth century"). Lerner said he did not include it because while it was very important sociologically and politically, he at one point tried but could not think of any important science fiction work influenced by it.

Person said that had he been including a Bradbury, it would have been "The Illustrated Man". He didn't include Tolkien because his list was strictly science fiction. Person also pointed out that people who chose "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" didn't need to choose Sturgeon's "More Than Human" since the first part, "...And Baby Makes Three", is in that volume.

1965-1980 (ph-5, fl-7, dn-7, lp-4):

Person said that had he picked a Heinlein, it would have been "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress".

Smith's "The Rediscovery of Man" is the omnibus NESFA volume. Zelazney's "The Chronicles of Amber" includes the first five books, issued as a two-volume omnibus set.

Regarding Herbert's "Dune" and its sequels, everyone agreed: "If you can possibly do it, read 'Dune' and stop."

Heck described Delany's "Nova" as "space opera with brains" and chose Le Guin's "Wizard of Earthsea" rather than "The Left Hand of Darkness" to have some cross-over into young adult fiction. Lerner noted that Le Guin's "The Left Hand of Darkness" was so ground-breaking that it was unclassifiable under Alastair Cameron's existing "Fantasy Classification System".

Lerner included Roberts's "Pavane" as the best example of an alternate history, while Heck and Notkin went for Dick's "The Man in the High Castle". Person felt that Niven and Pournelle's "Lucifer's Hammer" is one of the earliest (and the best) of the cross-over science fiction disaster novels.

Person quoted someone as having said that the 1970s were "a vast wilderness," to which Notkin responded, "People who call the Seventies a vast wasteland [sic] were not reading the women." Ironically, her list of seven includes only one woman author.

1980-present (ph-3, fl-4, dn-6, lp-14):

Person's listing of Gene Wolfe's "The Book of the New Sun", "The Book of the Long Sun", and "The Book of the Short Sun" as one entry is the most egregious cheat of the batch.

"The Book of the New Sun" is four books: "The Shadow of the Torturer", "The Claw of the Conciliator", "The Sword of the Lictor", and "The Citadel of the Autarch". (These have also been re-issued as two books: "Shadow & Claw" and "Sword & Citadel".)

"The Book of the Long Sun" is four books: "Nightside of the Long Sun", "Lake of the Long Sun", "Calde of the Long Sun", and "Exodus from the Long Sun". (These have also been re-issued as two books: "Litany of the Long Sun" and "Epiphany of the Long Sun".

"The Book of the Short Sun" is three books: "On Blue's Waters", "In Green's Jungles", and "Return of the Whorl".

There will not be a quiz.

Martin's "Songs the Dead Men Sing" is a somewhat recent edition of his short fiction. If you cannot find this, "Nightflyers" and "Sandkings" are two earlier collections that cover the high points.

Waldrop's "Strange Things in Close Up" is a British edition of what appeared in the United States as two volumes: "Strange Monsters of the Recent Past" and "Howard Who?" Egan's "Axiomatic" is also a collection.

Heck chose Dozois's "The Year's Best Science Fiction: 2000" just to give a snapshot of the field. The volumes for 1999 or 2001 would be just as reasonable a choice, he said.

Heck and Lerner seem to have listed only twenty-four each, Notkin only twenty-three. However, Heck specified "two volumes" for "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" and Notkin may have counted just the short stories volume (which she specified) as two, even though it's one volume and the novella part is two volumes. Lerner probably counted "Hyperion" and "The Fall of Hyperion" as two volumes, while Person counted it as one.

The two volumes I was surprised not to hear mentioned by anyone were Walter M. Miller's "A Canticle for Leibowitz" and Harlan Ellison's anthology "Dangerous Visions". (Nor was the earlier noted Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas's Modern Library "Adventures in Time and Space", undoubtedly because its function was served by "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame".)

The only book everyone agreed on was Gibson's "Neuromancer", though the volumes of "The Science Fiction Hall of Fame" were listed by three and one who said he probably would have had he remembered. There were three mentions each for Shelley's "Frankenstein" and Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings". Each of Wells, Lovecraft, Heinlein, Delany, and Zelazny got three mentions, though there was no consensus on which book or collection to list.

The good news is that most of the works listed are in print and the ones that aren't (primarily earlier collections or anthologies) are generally not that hard to find in used book stores.

[Someone asked how I was able to take notes to keep up with this panel. Trust me, it's a lot easier to write up this sort of panels than the one on, say, blogging. One advantage I may have is that with the exception of the O'Leary, I was familiar with every work mentioned, so I didn't have to write down authors' first names, or even names at all--"Wolfe BotNS" or "Earthsea" was sufficient.]

 

How to Vote on the Hugos: An Explanation of What Won this Year

Monday 1:00pm CC B3B4

David Bratman, George Flynn, John Lorentz, Kevin Standlee

Description: "You didn't like the Hugo results? Why didn't YOUR favorite story win the award? Come hear the Hugo administrators explain the preferential voting system and why your second favorite choice may have helped pick the winner."

Alas, I guess I am forced to explain what is (erroneously) called the Australian ballot, and is more accurately called the "instant run-off" ballot.

Briefly, if there are more than two candidates, each voter rates the candidates as first, second, third, etc., choice. The first-place votes are counted. If one candidate gets a majority, he wins and that's that. But if not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the ballots which listed him as first place are pulled out to see who the second-place choice was, and those votes are distributed to the remaining candidates. If then a candidate has a majority, he wins, otherwise this is repeated (with third-place choices if first- and second- have been eliminated, or second-place choices if only the first-place choice was eliminated). Eventually, one candidate will get a majority, and he wins.

This is not entirely fool-proof. First of all, Arrow's Theorem basically proves there is no perfect voting scheme. And second, it is a bit ambiguous what to do if two candidates are tied for last place. Eliminating them both is what is usually done, but in a close race, it is often the case that eliminating just one of the two results in a different winner. (This was actually the situation in the balloting in 1998 for Best Novelette, in which depending on whether one eliminated one or both last-place candidates, one got three different results!)

"No Award" is treated like any other candidate, but it is often one of the first eliminated. One thing, therefore, that voters should know is that voting "No Award" first and something else second, with the rest blank, has the same effect as voting for that candidate--probably not the voter's intention! If you aren't familiar with all the items, there are three suggested approaches:

1) Don't vote in that category. This makes sense if you know only one or two items, but seems a bit harsh if you are familiar with all but one.

2) Vote the items you are familiar with, then stop and leave the rest blank. This has the effect of voting the items you are unfamiliar with last.

3) Vote all the items, making your best guess as to where to put the unfamiliar one(s). For example, if you are familiar with the work of the author of a short story you can't find, you might position it based on your general opinion. Or you might vote it above "No Award" if you want to vote other items below "No Award."

One reason the Oscars seem so weird sometimes, by the way, is that they give the award to whoever gets a plurality (i.e., the most votes) on the first-round voting. So someone could win with around 21% of the vote. The only Hugo winner this year to win on the first round was "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" for Dramatic Presentation, with 588 first-place votes out of 885 ballots. (The last work to win on the first round was "Star Wars", twenty-four years ago.)

One interesting item to note this year was that Vernor Vinge's "Fast Times at Fairmont High" got the fewest nominations of any qualifying novella, but went on to win. This is attributed to its appearance in an anthology--not as many people saw it before nominations closed as saw the magazines, but once they knew of its existence, they sought it out and liked it.

There was a complaint that there was not enough time to read all the nominees between the middle of April (when the nominations are usually announced) and the end of July (when ballots are usually due). I don't think I'd agree--I always managed to find the time even when I was working--but panelists said that there was some expectation that people who are voting would have read at least some of the works beforehand. I would say a bigger problem might be the Dramatic Presentations, which have vanished from theaters by mid-April and may not be out on video before the balloting closes. And given that in 2005, the Worldcon will be four weeks earlier than usual, that will probably lead to an even tighter schedule, and less time for reading.

Standlee said that the last ballot of this year was received electronically at 23:59:40 PDT. People were apparently sending email to buy a membership and hence get the PIN necessary to vote on-line almost up to the last minute, and someone was standing by to process the credit cards in as close to real-time as possible. (This would seem to encourage ballot stuffing more than the older methods.)

 

The Bigger the Better?

Monday 2:30pm CC B1B2

Martin Easterbrook, Mark L. Olson, Geri Sullivan

Description: "Do cons reach a size where they're too big to handle? If so, what strategies can we use to limit attendance without causing a war?"

The consensus seemed to be that, yes, cons can reach a size where they're too big to handle and should be limited. (Though Easterbrook said, "Holy law is that fandom is where they have to take you when you're thrown out of home, and when you make a convention smaller, you break that holy law.")

From the audience, Priscilla Olson said that one sign a convention is too large is when you start creating "people sinks" (like dances) to absorb large numbers of people.

The feeling was that 3500 people is really the maximum size for fan-run conventions. (This means Conadian and Aussiecon Three were the only reasonably sized Worldcons in the last decade.) There are large conventions, but they have "fewer rings in the circus" (e.g., Gen Con, Comic-Con), and hence are simpler to run. (Someone gave the example of ConJose at 11:30 AM Saturday having 23 scheduled items, plus on-going displays.)

Easterbrook warned that size limitation has to happen early: "If you've already got the big convention, it's too late."

 

Dead Dog Party

Since we weren't leaving for Toronto until Tuesday morning, we actually had a chance to go to the Dead Dog Party. Even with the larger room, it was still too noisy for my tastes. (I like the sort of party where one can have long philosophical discussions. For this, one had to go out into the hall.) It appears, however, that the earlier financial worries had been solved, as there was a lot of flats of soda still unopened, and I doubt they would have bought extra had they been that strapped for money. (The party took place, not in the Con Suite, but in what had probably been the Ops Room, so there was a lot of stuff stored there.)

 

Miscellaneous

Every convention gives people new questions to ask prospective Worldcon sites. For example, Intersection made people start asking, "Do your meeting rooms have ceilings?" The question added by ConJose would have to be, "Is your convention center or hotel right on the flight path for a major international airport?" (Having dealt with New York theaters, I might also ask, "Is it directly above a subway line?") The interior rooms seem insulated from the noise, but those on the outside edges were at times disturbed.

One panel suggestion I heard for future conventions that I didn't mention elsewhere was "Washing Tips for Costumers."

ConJose on the whole was reasonable. There were some initial organization problems, and the distance between the two clusters of meeting rooms made it at times seem almost like a two-hotel convention. The main problem was the lack of restaurants close to the Convention Center, something I would not have expected in San Jose. (And if anyone says, "Oh, there were lots of restaurants nearby," my response is that I couldn't find them. See my Restaurant Guide comments.)

Glasgow won the bid for 2005 (no surprise, as they were running unopposed), and Interaction will occur August 4-8, 2005. The meeting rooms in the convention centre there now all have ceilings. Next year's convention is TorCon 3, held in Toronto August 28-September 1, 2003. See you there!

[After ConJose, we flew to Toronto for the Toronto International Film Festival. My report for that is available as a separate report at http://leepers.us/evelynleeper.htm/tiff2002.htm. If you're interested in how to take part in next year's TIFF in conjunction with TorCon 3, see http://leepers.us/evelynleeper.htmtifftips.htm.]


Evelyn C. Leeper may be reached via e-mail or you may visit her Homepage.