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Currently Reading: The Undivided by Jennifer Fallon

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Aussiecon4 (Worldcon) Report - Day Three

I enjoyed a sleep-in (it was Saturday after all) before struggling over to the Con. I snuck in for the end of Kim Stanley Robinson’s presentation titled ‘Time and the novel.’ Sadly I don’t remember much of what was said, and I didn’t write anything down, but I think that’s a reflection on the big day that followed rather than the quality of Stan’s insights.
Me and George.
Sometimes you have to squee.

As I implied in earlier posts, the Con was never an overwhelming press of humanity, not even in the Dealer’s Room immediately after the Opening Ceremony when there was literally nothing else to do. With the exception of kaffeeklatsches, George R. R. Martin’s reading (prologue of A Dance with Dragons) was the only full house I experienced (and there was still reasonable standing room if people were desperate). I felt very privileged to be there. Although the content has apparently been released on the internet to hear such a visceral passage read by a master story-teller was inspiring. Not that I had time to dwell on the experience, because I had to race everyone else in that room to George’s signing.

George sure pulls a crowd.
A promise from George,
in writing!
Unsurprisingly this was the biggest signing event of the Con. The line wrapped around the hall and out the door. I was by no means first, but I was at the right end. However, the organisers did enforce the two book limit for George (which was fair enough) so I got to join some fellow fans back at the end. Recognising that the hour was going to expire, and after they announced a second signing time, I decided to go and meet Jennifer Fallon and Jay Lake (after sneaking into the Dealer’s Room to buy one of Jay’s books). Jennifer was lovely and Jay was inspirational. I’m not familiar with his work, but given the way the speculative fiction community operates I knew that Jay was a fellow cancer sufferer and was in a pretty dark place health-wise (I can happily report now that he is a fellow remission enjoyer) so I wanted to give him what encouragement I could. Plus he showed such a great sense of humour and fun on the previous day’s panel that I figured I have to enjoy his writing. 

Guest of Honour Kim Stanley
Robinson. Far away from me.
I was similarly inspired by the optimism and enthusiasm of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Guest of Honour speech (link to ABC News article), which, this time, I remeber in detail. He questioned why dystopian themes dominate our fiction and challenged the community to try to produce definitive and positive utopian works. It was personal and open, and I was glad to be able to thank him personally at his signing later that day.

You too can use the internet!

Stan was followed by a panel which I enjoyed probably more for the people it brought together than the actual content (‘The writer and the audience: online interaction and public personae’). The lovely Mur Lafferty moderated for creative commons crusader Cory Doctorow (alliteration is for winners), Howard Tayler, Peter V. Brett and agent John Berlyne. What I took away – like, use Twitter and stuff, but remember weird dudes are out there (and by weird, Cory Doctorow means ‘pathological’).

Just A Minute.
After snaring two more signatures from George I headed downstairs for the single funnest hour of the Con. It wasn’t a panel in the traditional sense. Hosted by Paul Cornell, numerous speculative fiction luminaries including China Miéville, Ellen Kushner, John Scalzi and editor extraordinaire Patrick Nielsen Hayden played a game based on BBC quiz show Just A Minute. It was off the cuff hilarity. It was also organised at the last minute, which saw about two hundred people waiting for a venue (and gave me another chance to chat to Mur Lafferty and Peter V. Brett). No harm done!

George and barrell girl Peter V. Brett.
The Masquerade was always going to struggle to top that afternoon, and it didn’t. I have no basis for comparison but it seemed a little small and weak. Not that I kitted up, so I can’t complain. Luckily the night was saved by the Brothers without Banners (the George R. R. Martin fan club who do, ironically, have an emblem) and their party over at Crown. George himself was in attendance, as was Peter V. Brett. I met some fellow fans and failed spectacularly to buy Peter a drink, since he was just getting one for Gail Carriger and didn't want me taking his shout apparently. He's welcome in Australia any time. I also came up empty handed in the raffle, but you can’t win them all.

Convention Day 1
Convention Day 2
Continue to Day 4
Lessons from the Convention

Aussiecon4 (Worldcon) Report - Day Two

I had missed the kaffeeklatsch with John Scalzi by arriving at the Con at 12:15pm on Day One (registration opened at 12). I was not going to miss China Miéville. I strode confidently into the convention centre at 8 a.m. It was very empty – I was well and truly first in line (the next person showed up around 9). A solid line was forming by 9:30.

At 9:55 we were informed that the kaffeeklatsch had been rescheduled for the following day. Frustrating, but I was happy to do it all again the next morning. After all, Worldcon comes to Australia once in a decade. Still, not the best start to Day Two.

Scalzi, moments before learning
something my mum has
claimed for years...

Yep... I say nice things.

It would get worse, though I was blissfully ignorant for a few hours. During that time I enjoyed Howard Tayler’s reading of a humorous essay he had written about his transition to writing Schlock Mercenary full time, then rushed to be near the start of John Scalzi’s signing line before attending the ‘Unthinkable! Indescribable!’ panel in which China Miéville, Terry Dowling, Carrie Vaughn and Shane Jaraya Cummings (I doubt I spelt that correctly) discussed the limitations of language in describing horrors outside any human experience (for those who were both lucky and inclined, you could have enjoyed 6 straight hours of China, starting with this panel).

Best. Panel. Ever.
While trying to wrap my mind around China Miéville’s claim that (if I interpreted it correctly) he imagines characters and settings in his stories in words, rather than visual images I stumbled into the most enjoyable panel of the Con. Moderated by Jay Lake, Peter V. Brett, Carrie Vaughn and Howard Tayler discussed ‘Keeping pace: maintaining momentum in fiction.’ The panellists had great chemistry, tremendous humour and some terrific insights. It was perfect!

Interlude: At this stage it probably sounds like I am the biggest Howard Tayler fanboy on the planet, or that I was just generally stalking him. The truth is that I am very new to his Schlock Mercenary work but love his contribution to Writing Excuses (the best podcast for new and growing writers of Speculative Fiction, in my opinion).

Teaching is the most
noble profession.
I opted to dodge the start of China Miéville’s signing in favour of attending a kaffeeklatsch with Kate Elliott. I had met Kate the week before at Infinitas Bookshop (if you follow the link, that’s my back!) and had a great conversation. After showing her respect for school teachers like myself she had secured a fan for life. Once again, Kate demonstrated her love and understanding of writing and provided a great thrill for some long term fans (who frankly put me to shame). Out of the corner of my eye I couldn’t help notice that China Miéville had left his signing table, and my plan to catch him at the end had failed. I figured I could still grab some signatures at the kaffeeklatsch.

After grabbing some lunch I hit up the organisers’ table to make sure that China Miéville’s kaffeeklatsch wasn’t opened early. This was where things started to get messy. One of the guys I had stood in line with earlier caught me and asked if I’d heard what happened with the Miéville klatsch. Confused, I reminded him that I had been there that morning to hear about the postponement. It was one of those times when you suddenly feel that something is wrong, and sure enough, my friend told me that China’s kaffeeklatsch was full, and happening upstairs as we stood. Massive organisational fail.

The peerless George R. R. Martin.
I was pretty cut up about it, but in the end you can’t really get too angry with people who are just volunteers. The net result was that I was free to go and see a humorously lonely George R. R. Martin discuss A Game of Thrones on HBO. It also meant that I regularly harassed the organisers for the next two days to make sure nothing would go wrong with George’s kaffeeklatsch.

I rounded out my afternoon with a reading from the talented (but as yet relatively unknown) Ian Tregillis, who read a short story associated with the setting of his tremendous debut novel, Bitter Seeds. My luck was improving as I returned to the fan lounge to see China Miéville engaged in conversation over near the signing table. As I approached I heard a familiar voice. China was being interviewed by Mur Lafferty, unofficial queen of podcasting, most notably of I Should Be Writing. Two for the price of one. I got to quickly meet Mur before hitting China up for some autographs. Success!

Sorry guys, best I could find.

A slightly mis-advertised and powerfully charged panel about racism in speculative fiction provided an emotional ending to a rollercoaster of a day.

I had to rush out to the airport to pick up my wife and two of our friends, hoping to get back to the Con in time for the Nightmare Ball. After introducing them to the masks they would be wearing we headed over. The ball was probably a little smaller scale and different in general to what I was expecting, but was nonetheless an enjoyable end to the evening. My friends and I burned up the dance floor a little (very little) and I partook of several beverages, knowing that there was no need to wake up early to line up for China Miéville’s kaffeeklatsch (yes, still bitter, apparently).

Aussiecon4 (Worldcon) Report - Day One

Aussiecon Day One was the first day of my first convention. It was initially a little overwhelming and very exciting. Shortly after arriving I passed Hugo nominee Howard Tayler (of Schlock Mercenary fame) on the escalator and had my first fanboy moment. These became far more frequent but much less intense as the Con continued - Howard himself was constantly available in his Dealer’s Room booth, and I felt like every time I turned around I saw Peter V. Brett or Ian Tregillis. In fact, I’m sure I was constantly surrounded by industry professionals, given the small size of the convention, I just didn’t know what they looked like.

Morris, Tayler, Harland
My first panels were excellent. Howard Tayler, Tee Morris and Richard Harland discussed ‘The balancing act of speculative fiction comedy,’ then the delightful Kate Elliott moderated a panel (which included Hugo nominee Catherynne M. Valente) entitled ‘Steal the past, build the future,’ which was essentially about using history and folklore in your fiction. I plan to reflect on some of the better panels (including these two) in my next post, so I won’t go into detail about content at this stage.

My copy is safe from Corelings.

My afternoon ended with Garth Nix (the one author who looked exactly like the pictures I had seen, and actually was as tall as I imagined) signing my three books from his Old Kingdom series (which I enjoyed greatly in my formative reading years). I also enjoyed a quick signing and great conversation with Peter V. Brett in which I had the opportunity to complement him on the brave direction of The Desert Spear (the second book in his Demon Cycle). Peter very kindly warded the title page for me, you know, in case of demon attack. If you haven’t read The Painted Man, you should. Then read The Desert Spear.

By this point I was tired, having woken up at 3 a.m. to drive from Sydney to Melbourne, and I was carrying vast amounts of books (there were giveaways, I couldn’t resist) so I headed back to my hotel. I had plans to get up early. Well, early for a ‘holiday.’

Continue to Day 2
Convention Day 3
Convention Day 4
Lessons from the Convention