9/3/03: Worldcon

Word count: 25672 David D. Levine’s rather scattered and incoherent Torcon 3 report THURSDAY Officer Obie went to put us on the plane, he said “Kid, I’m gonna put you on the plane, I want your wallet and your belt.” Despite that, and the pizza at DTW (“Detwoit”?), we made it to the convention as scheduled, arriving at the hotel at 8pm. Immediately ran into old friends Spike Parsons and Tom Becker, who were also eager for dinner, so off we went. While crossing the street we met Jay Lake, Mary Anne Mohanraj, and Catherine Crockett coming the other way — similar to the Classic Worldcon Experience of seeing the person you’ve been wanting to meet all convention going the opposite way on the escalator, but with the added thrill of possibly being run over. We had dinner at the Armadillo, a BBQ joint with Texas tchatchkes on the walls. As I ate my fajitas under a chandelier made of tequila bottles and a stuffed armadillo, I kept reminding myself “We’re in CANADA! CANADA! CANADA!”. At the head of a short but slow-moving after-hours registration line we received a tote bag containing a pocket program which, signs everywhere assured us, was not to be believed — we should instead believe the daily schedule grids, which were not available here. Also not available here: souvenir book, restaurant guide, program participant information, and Hugo nominee information. We went to the George R. R. Martin / Howard Waldrop interview, only to find it wasn’t there. Later we learned it had been somewhere else, but did they post anything to that effect at the originally scheduled room? Communication was not this convention’s strong suit. Hit a few parties, met many friends old and new, but went to bed rather grumpy. FRIDAY Kate and I hiked over to the St. Lawrence Market for a breakfast treat you can’t get anywhere other than Toronto: a peameal bacon sandwich. Yum. Attended several panels, including “I’ve Written a Story, Now What?” where I had a brief chat and exchanged business cards with editor Eleanor Wood. She advised that publisher spotlight sessions at conventions are a good way to find out what kind of books that publisher wants, and that you should look at the imprints on your own bookshelves to determine which publishers are likely to want your stuff. The “Believable Aliens” panel was notable for Frank Wu’s defense of the coolness of invertebrates. “Over half of the phyla on this planet are worms!” he gushed. “The newest phylum consists of one species, which lives in a lobster’s mouth in Spain!” Enthusiasm. I like that in a man. Lunch with Mike Ward, Karen Schaffer, and their friend Pat Diggs at Movenpick. We spent most of the time talking about slash and how “slash” differs from “gay fiction”. It’s all about power relationships and has almost nothing to do with how actual gay people live their lives. Karen confessed that she usually spells “GLBT” as “GBLT”. No matter how it’s spelled, I usually pronounce it “giblet”. I hit the SFWA suite, got my Sticker, and talked with Walter Jon Williams about the Rio Hondo workshop. I’m afraid I may not have made a very good impression on him. The “Bad Writing Habits” panel quickly got off of what I (and some of the panelists, apparently) had expected it to be about — overcoming cat vacuuming and all those other things that keep you from putting your butt in your chair — and onto the kind of bad habits you can fall into in the writing itself. But with Gardner Dozois and Teresa Nielsen Hayden on the panel it couldn’t fail to be entertaining and informative. Gardner on openings: “Cut right to the jets of semen!” Karen Haber: “The secret of great writing is peanut butter.” Gardner: “In the modem!” Karen: “No, it’s the protein – you need to eat properly to be creative.” Teresa: “There is no habit so stupid that some writer hasn’t used it successfully.” Dinner with Kate, Neil Rest, Lise Eisenberg, and Colin Hinz at an Indian place called the Bombay Palace, with good food (though Neil wasn’t impressed) and spotty service. Best lino of the evening: “I’m listening with one ear and talking with the other.” The Tor party was packed, but not as airless as it has sometimes been. Had nice chats with fellow Writer of the Future Carl Fredrick (his first Worldcon) and old friend Martha Soukup, a fine writer who isn’t writing much these days. Hit a bunch of other parties, the SFWA suite, and the Fan Lounge before crashing. L.A. does know how to throw a party. SATURDAY My most heavily scheduled day started off with a subway ride to Mel’s Montreal Deli for French toast and “smoked meat” (does anyone else find that phrase vaguely disturbing?). I was a little concerned about the transit time, but we got back with a few minutes to spare for my first scheduled panel: “Meet the Campbell Nominees.” A delightful bunch of people and I’m honored to be on the ballot with them, particularly Charlie Finlay who is one of my heroes. He and Wen Spencer (the eventual winner) both have the advantage of lacking a day job, though stay-at-home parenting is a time sink of its own. After the panel I made my way toward the dealers’ room, but on the way I met WizKids editor and penny-squasher Janna Silverstein and spent most of an hour talking with her. When I did get to the dealers’ room I almost immediately ran into Tobias Buckell (and a friend of his from New York whose name I have managed to forget) and spent most of the next hour talking about the life of a neo-pro. Wound up in the food court across the street, eating a sandwich called “Stay Young and Healthy”, at a table with Toby and a bunch of other denizens of the Rumor Mill, including the elfin Leonora Rose, the energetic Frank Wu, and gorgeous redhead Lori Ann White. Marvelous conversation. Despite my attempt to “Stay Young and Healthy”, I succumbed to the temptation of the Tim Horton’s doughnuts in the middle of the table at my Writer’s Workshop section. (Good, but a little heavier than Krispy Kremes.) This was my first Worldcon workshop as a “pro”, and fellow pros Trey Thoecke, Karen Traviss, and James Alan Gardner made it a delightful experience. The manuscripts under critique varied in quality, of course, but I think all the authors showed promise and one of the stories was nearly publishable. Interesting to see how many different ways there are for a story to not work. And yet all of them also worked, in different ways. From the workshop I went directly to “Imaginary and Future Genders: The Sexual Perspective” with me, Jack Chalker, the distinctive Aynjel Kaye (who would have been one of my classmates at Clarion East if I hadn’t gone West), and others. This panel had all its panelists and a decent audience despite being moved to a different room at the last minute. There was another panel on the same topic with the sociological perspective, so we focused on the plumbing aspect of gender. I brought up some of the deeply weird ways Earth creatures reproduce, and recommended the book Doctor Tatiana’s Sex Advice for All Creation. It was a fun and silly time. After that I had one hour to take a quick nap and change into my tux for the big Hugo doo-dah. Kate was resplendent in her new shimmery blue thing. Before the ceremony there was a reception with excellent dim sum and conversation — an interesting mix of fan and pro luminaries, with me somewhere in between. We paraded up the escalator to our special reserved seating (with extra-wide aisles so the winners wouldn’t have to step on any toes — literally, anyway — while accepting their awards) for the Spider Robinson Show, one of the best Hugo toastmaster performances I can recall. I sat in the same row as Charlie Finlay, Ken Wharton, Frank Wu (that’s pronounced “WOOOO!!”), and Geoffrey Landis. When Wen Spencer’s name was announced as the winner of the Campbell Award I felt neither surprise nor disappointment. I guess that, deep down, I really wasn’t expecting to win. If anything, I think I was more disappointed for Charlie than for myself, because I’m eligible again next year. (Poor Charlie was also crushed under the steamroller of Coraline in the Best Novella category. But I know he’ll be back.) The rest of the ceremony was snappy and entertaining, especially the Big Heart Award surprise sprung on John Hertz and Geoff Landis’ enthusiastic sprint to the podium to accept the Short Story Hugo. We lucky Hugo losers were escorted out of the hall (leaving the poor winners to swelter under the photographers’ lights) to a party hosted by Noreascon 4 — those Boston fans really know how to throw a party. Best food of the whole convention. We were each presented with a tote bag saying on one side “I was nominated for a Hugo Award and all I got was this lousy tote bag” and on the other, approximately, “tote bags will get you through times of no Hugos better than Hugos will get you through times of no tote bags.” Also a small candy-filled rocket, which is going on my mantelpiece as soon as I unpack. Chatted briefly with Shane Tourtellotte, who remarked “I’m the guest of an accepter — that’s as low on the totem pole as you can get and still be here.” The Hugo nomination and voting statistics were being passed around at the party. Turns out I squeaked onto the Campbell ballot by just one nomination, so I really appreciate everyone who nominated me. And, though I didn’t win, I did beat No Award, and it is an honor just to be nominated. I hope you will all consider nominating me again next year, my second and final year of eligibility. In other categories, Bento nearly made the ballot for Best Fanzine (missed it by just 5 nominations), and both Kate and I were in the top 15 for Best Fan Writer. Eventually even the Hugo Losers Party palled and we moved out to the Secret Librarians of Fandom party (I think I must have been a librarian in a previous life, it was a very comfortable bunch) and finished up in the Gay Fandom party, talking about Norwescon with Dave Howell, before collapsing around 2am. SUNDAY Despite the Hugos on Saturday, Sunday was my “feel like a pro” day. Dragged myself out of bed with just enough time for yogurt and an execrable bagel in the hotel before my panel on “Computing Interfaces, The Next Step”. David Brin was very polite, though he did promote himself and his new company rather heavily and at one point he started spouting off conspiracy theories about Microsoft. He seemed to be serious about the conspiracy theories, but at the same time I got the tiniest twinkle of an impression that he was just being outrageous for outrageousness’s sake. Much of the conversation centered around the disappearance of good-old-BASIC from the standard Windows package, but there were a wide variety of backgrounds on the panel and some good ideas about the pros and cons of various potential user interfaces. After the panel I talked in the hall with fellow “baby writer” Brenda Cooper. We were interrupted by Tekno Books editor John Helfers who took us aside to tell us about his new Five Star publishing project — he was pitching to us! We were so jazzed. “Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon” — Susan Ertz. So it is for me on many a convention Sunday, and so it was for me on this one. With nothing scheduled until 6:30 I wandered randomly about, indecisive about whether to go to a panel, hang out looking for keen people to talk with, or take a nap. Eventually I realized I was just stupid from hunger, and went across the street to the food court in search of something edible. But I ran into a well-meaning friend there, who said I could find better food elsewhere and gave me directions that (as interpreted by my food- and sleep-deprived brain) were half a block off. So I wandered randomly some more. Eventually I encountered Bill Higgins, on his way to the Mobius Theatre play, and decided that sitting in the dark and being entertained for a couple of hours seemed like a good idea. But I still needed FOOD! I wound up getting a sandwich from the Tim Horton’s near the Royal York, which I ate while watching E. Michael Blake portray the alien “Fax the Velp” in his play Reply from Extraterrestrial Intelligence. The play was well presented, but after an hour and a half I realized I didn’t care what happened next, so I left. Heading back to the convention center I ran into Ellen Klages and Nalo Hopkinson, who were heading up to the Strange Horizons / Ideomancer Tea Party. I always mean to go to this event, but often manage to forget to. I tagged along. This was the only time all weekend I was in the Crowne Plaza hotel, and it was really nice with great views. The lobby was architecturally impressive, too, but as a hotel lobby it failed completely — cold and oppressive, with no gathering place. Anyway, the party was great, crowded with fun people including the editors of MarsDust and Fortean Bureau as well as Ideomancer and Strange Horizons. I now have lots more places to send some of my stories. Later I made Mary Kay Kare spew ice tea out of her nose by mentioning that I always thought “Palm Pilot” sounded like an Australian synonym for “wanker”. Maybe it was the accompanying hand gesture. I had my reading at 6:30. I read all of “Charlie the Purple Giraffe Was Acting Strangely” and a little bit of “At the Twenty-Fifth Annual Meeting of Uncle Teco’s Homebrew Gravitics Club” (as it happens, my two longest titles ever). About 10 people were there, including old friends, new friends, a couple people to whom I’d handed invitations that afternoon, and one or two I didn’t know at all. They laughed in all the right places, applauded at the end, and didn’t eat all the chocolate I’d brought. James Patrick Kelly showed up near the end and we hung around talking for a while afterward — a real nice guy. Wound up at Le Papillon, a fine French-Quebecois restaurant we’d spotted on the first day, with Kate, Lise Eisenberg, Brenda Cooper, and Tor editor Moshe Feder. Brenda and I got a lot of good publishing info out of Moshe as well as a delightful evening of chat and a wonderful dinner. One of the best meals I’ve had in weeks. Thanks, Moshe! After dinner Kate and Lise went off to The Dominion (cue ominous ST:DS9 music) on a shopping expedition (Kate wound up buying Canadian Kool-Aid to dye yarn with, which is a whole ‘nother story) while Brenda, Moshe, and I returned to the con. Alas, we found we’d missed the Masquerade completely, which is a shame because I’d hoped to see Julie Zetterberg’s group costume of “The Trumps of Amber”. I’m told it was quite spectacular. I drifted up to the Baen party, where I wound up sitting at editor Toni Weisskopf’s feet and giving her a copy of Bento. Many keen people came and went, including Esther Friesner, but mostly I talked with a couple of Torcon committee members (one was Alex Von Thorn, I think) about what went wrong with the program and publications. What a mess. A couple of other people at the party suggested that if I want to publicize myself for next year’s Campbells I should put some stories up on Fictionwise — sounds like a good idea. I’ll need to check my contracts and see which ones I have the appropriate rights for. On my way out of the Baen party I ran into Kate, who was just coming to find me. Soon after that we encountered Mike Resnick, who bubbled effusively about my story “Nucleon” (he was one of the judges who selected it for the James White Award, and then he bought it for New Voices in Science Fiction). I was grinning like an idiot. Ended up the evening in the SFWA suite, where I talked with Diana Sherman and Art Widner and Walter Jon Williams and introduced Ideomancer editor Chelsea Polk to Gardner Dozois. I don’t know whether to hope Gardner remembers me, or hope he forgets. Later, in the hall, we passed Samantha Ling and Jae Brim and Jay Lake on their way from somewhere to somewhere else. It all gets kind of fuzzy in there, but I believe I fell over around 2am. MONDAY The end of a convention is always sad. Packed up, checked out, caught the last ten minutes of the “Ethical Fantasy” panel. After the panel we talked with Rumor Miller Leonora Rose, who had left her badge in her room and was trying to steel herself to confront the Guardian of the Escalator for entrance to the art show so she could pick up her stuff there. This led me to muse for a while on privilege. As a person with a badge, I could just walk onto the escalator and not even notice that there was someone checking badges. As a SFWA member, I could enter the publisher parties (and the SFWA suite, of course) without trauma. Suddenly I have entree to all the places I have wanted to be for years, but it feels very natural and ordinary. When you are on the inside of the privilege curtain, it becomes very easy simply not to see the problems of those on the outside. This helps to explain why some people don’t understand the importance of gay marriage and other civil rights for minorities. We bought our L.A.con memberships. I got my photo taken at the Noreascon booth. We browsed the fan history exhibits. We took one last swing through the dealers’ room (though, despite all the time I spent there, I realized later that I bought absolutely nothing at this convention other than food), where we ran into Bill Higgins. We wound up having lunch at Shopsy’s deli with him, Sam Paris, Bonnie Jones, Steve Stringfellow, and one other whose name I didn’t catch — I think that was the only purely fannish meal I had all convention, with no writers or editors present. We laughed a lot more than at the other meals I’d had. (Steve: “Do you have free refills?” Waitress: “Yes.” Me: “I’ll have one of those.”) And so the time came to leave, and we took the bus to the plane to the plane to the cab to home, with a good Japanese dinner at the Minneapolis airport in between. That was my Worldcon. I didn’t win the Campbell, and there are a lot of people — especially fans — I wanted to spend more time with than I did. Apart from that it was a great time. Next year in Boston!

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