Archive for August, 2005

8/27/05: UK trip report, part 2: Chester and Liverpool

Tuesday morning the convention ended as it had begun, with us running into Paul and Maureen at breakfast. We had a lovely time gossiping about Charlie Stross and others before heading out to obtain train reservations and change our Scottish money for English (nominally it’s legal tender but it had been direly hinted that it would be less and less likely to be accepted as you head south). The first bank we tried wouldn’t exchange money for non-customers, and recommended the post office. The post office wouldn’t do it at all, and recommended a bank — specifically an English rather than Scottish bank. We found one, but for no visible reason as soon as we got to the front of the queue all transactions suddenly became tremendously involved and we waited, and waited, and waited… meanwhile Kate went to sit down, because she felt a migraine coming on. Eventually I did get the money exchanged and we went back to the hotel, where Kate lay down for a bit while I checked out. As warned by the convention daily zine, the hotel charged my card in US dollars, at an exchange rate north of $1.80, so I asked them to do it again in pounds. By the time I got back upstairs Kate had thrown up, which usually helps but did tend to slow her down as we lugged all our worldly goods to the station. I was getting pretty worried about making the train, but we did make it in time… and then Kate threw up again, and again a little while later. There was nothing I could do for her (she hates being fussed over when she’s sick) so I just sat next to her and tried to read. Kate slept most of the way through to Chester, by which time she felt somewhat better. We piled our worldly goods on our backs again and headed out toward our B&B, for which we discovered we had an address but not an exact location. The address was #10 Hoole Road, and we found #7, 9, and 11, but across the street was a park. Behind the park maybe? No, that was a different road. I asked at a pub and was told it was just a little way further along, and indeed it was, about two blocks later. Addresses here are just plain meaningless (and often not posted at all, anyway). Our B&B was a large and tasteful house, painted inside all in bright orange and yellow. Once checked in, we went out and found the nearby shopping street, in search of something for Kate to eat (for she hadn’t kept a thing down all day). We found a bakery that still had a few things left and got her a “fudge donut” (no chocolate to it that I could see, the gooey topping was more caramel colored and it wasn’t filled) and me a “flake cake” (chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and a piece of Cadbury Flake on top), which we devoured while exploring the rest of the street — including butcher, fruit & veg shop, fishmonger, natural foods emporium, Chinese takeaway, delightful-looking old pub, Internet café, stereo shop, laundromat, and laundry. We considered the latter two options and decided to pay a bit more to have our laundry done for us tomorrow rather than hanging around the laundromat. From there we headed into town, and by happenstance caught a free bus from the train station to the city walls. The town of Chester is a delightful melange of half-timbered, classical, and modern buildings, some dating back to the 1200’s, with an intact city wall completely surrounding the old city center, a canal, and the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. One of the town’s most notable features is the “rows”, a second level of sidewalks above the street-level shops, delightfully cool after a hot day dragging luggage hither and yon. After familiarizing ourselves with the city we set out in search of dinner, but had poor luck finding anything, complicated by the fact that Kate desperately needed a bathroom. And once that was accomplished she determined that she really wasn’t hungry — she needed to lie down, now. Tried calling a cab, but was told it would be 20 or 30 minutes. So I asked around for a cab stand and was directed to the cab company office, where there was a queue waiting outside. Kate sat down in the office and I talked with one of the boiler room phone operators (probably the same one I’d just phoned), who took my name and promised a cab would be along shortly. We waited there for what seemed like not shortly, watching cabs arrive and pick people off the queue, and finally when a cab arrived and there was no one who’d been waiting longer than us I just bundled Kate into it. “If we ever need to call a cab again in this town we’ll give your name,” I told her, and got her back into the room, where she threw up again. Poor thing! But these migraines usually last only one day. I pulled the blinds and left Kate to sleep while I slipped out to call Tom Brennan from a nearby pay phone. I left a message with his wife, and when I got back to the B&B and told the girl on duty to expect a call for me she told me she’d just gotten one and thought it was a wrong number. She let me use her phone to return the call, and I got Tom’s wife again, who relayed the call to Tom at work, who called me back at the B&B, and this is the lunch date that Jack made. Kate was still asleep, so I went out and had dinner at a nerarby place that I thought was a coffee house but turned out to be a pleasant very modern pub (well, the sign out front did brag about cappucinos, lattes, and mochas and say nothing about beer). I had a Thai beef salad which turned out to be a very nice grilled steak, sliced and served with a spicy dressing on top of “assorted leaves” (what we’d call “greens”) and “sauteed potatoes” (what we’d call “French fries”). Good, though. I also got a bread roll to take home for Kate to gnaw on, which she was glad to have. And we went to sleep early, and that was Tuesday. Wednesday morning Kate was feeling better. Breakfast at the B&B was a bit more complex than at our hotel in Glasgow, with a huge variety of cereals as well as the full cooked breakfast (this time with baked beans instead of the black pudding). After the first day we got selective and ordered only a subset of the breakfast — our host seemed a bit taken aback but managed to cope. After breakfast we lugged a couple of bags of dirty clothes to the laundry and gave them over to be professionally cleaned — which consisted of them being dumped in a washer before we left the establishment (but we didn’t have to hang around and wait). Then we walked down to the train station to catch one of the frequent trains to Liverpool. While waiting for the train we bought some Liverpool maps, an issue of Private Eye, and the Time Out guide to London for future reference. The train itself was small and cute — just two cars — but unlike Portland’s light rail it was a real actual train. I begin to see the attraction of trainspotting. With so many different kinds of trains, and so much concrete difference between the various types in terms of comfort, features, and noise, it would be easy to start caring about which type of train you were getting on. Add a dollop of obsessive-compulsion and/or Asperger’s and you’d have a classic sad anorak trainspotting git. On the train, when I finished Private Eye (like The Onion only classier and British) the fellow in the next seat offered me his Sun. The Sun is truly appalling — like the Weekly World News except that it seems to take itself seriously. It also has a large picture of a topless woman on page 3. It was from the page 3 girl that I learned the space shuttle Discovery had landed safely. Swear to God. We arrived at the Lime Street station (picked up some more maps) and wandered out into a rather gray day, full of bustle and traffic and modern buildings and the huge St. George’s Hall (rather like the Parthenon only not nearly as ruined). We read a few of the tourist information signs, then wandered off in search of something interesting to do in the hour or so before our lunch date with Tom. One area that looked on the map like old and interesting streets turned out to be a place where the old and interesting streets had been torn down for a modern shopping center, but we also found the tourist information office (more maps!) and were interviewed about our experience in Liverpool so far by someone from the local ministry of culture. From there we headed to the Cavern Quarter, AKA the Let’s Cash In On the Beatles Quarter. The original Cavern Club was torn down, but has since been reconstructed brick-by-brick and is now surrounded by various tacky clubs and shops. But there was also some interesting Beatles-related public art, including a bizarre shrine showing the Virgin Mary (?) holding three of the four lads (portrayed as infants) and a life-size bronze of John leaning against a wall. We paused for a scone and something to drink before continuing on to St. John’s Garden, in the shadow of St. George’s Hall where we’d started. There we met Tom and his wife Sylvia (just as charming and shy as Tom himself — they were high school sweethearts, aww) and went for lunch at the café in the Conservation Centre, a museum about the art of preservation and care of old and fragile objects. After lunch Tom walked with us down to the waterfront, where he pointed out the amazing art deco ziggurat that is the offices and air shaft for a tunnel under the Mersey, and the three huge office buildings of the Port of Liverpool, Cunard Lines, and Royal Liver (pronounced with a long i) Insurance. These three beautiful buildings are known as the Three Graces and are significant to Liverpool’s maritime heritage. Over nine million people and untold tons of goods passed through this port in its heyday. The Royal Liver building is still the headquarters of Royal Liver Insurance and is topped with two enormous sculptures of the mythical Liver Bird from which the city gets its name (the bird’s name, in turn, is related to laver, a kind of seaweed). We said goodbye to Tom and walked out on the docks. There we toured the portmaster’s house, which is currently furnished as it was during WWII, complete with a working victory garden. Liverpool, being one of England’s key ports, was bombed nearly as heavily as London. Then we visited the Maritime Museum, where we learned all about the great age of ocean liners, including the mystery of the Lusitania and, of course, the Titanic. One room was filled with artifacts related to these two famous disasters, including a deck chair from the Lusitania and the twenty-foot-long builder’s model of the Titanic (later revised into the Britannic and finally the Olympic). Other exhibits included the emigrant experience, the slave trade, and the modern customs and excise service. Despite the museum’s best efforts, they couldn’t make customs and excise exciting, but the rest of it was fascinating. The exhibits on the slave trade made it plain that these people had cultures of their own — they weren’t just products. As the museum closed we wandered off, past the memorial to the Titanic, in search of dinner. We wound up at a Portugese restaurant — one cuisine we don’t have at home — before catching the cute little train back to Chester and our B&B. Thursday was our day for touristing in Chester itself. We walked down to the train station and caught the free bus again; upon alighting we immediately found several charity shops, where we picked up some cheap CDs. After picking up a walking map at the tourist info office, we wandered upstairs to learn about the Roman amphitheatre across the street. Turns out it was not discovered until the 1920s, and is currently being actively excavated; the archaeologists were working right there in plain sight and we could have asked questions if we’d been of a mind to. The exhibit was fascinating — a great mix of information about Roman amphitheatres in Britain (the practice of beast fighting as an entertainment was responsible for the near extinction of fierce beasts in Europe; over here, post holes from small booths are accompanied by chicken wing bones and beef ribs, indicating fast-food stands) with honest exposure of the messiness and open questions of real-world archaeology (many stones are missing here, probably taken away for other uses during the middle ages, but this wall was apparently untouched and we don’t know why; elsewhere, the amphitheatre is disrupted by a medieval road, which is in turn interrupted by a 20th century garage foundation). Following the walking map, we proceeded around the amphitheatre itself, down the riverfront, and up some stairs to a marvelous ruined church. I love these ruins, and thanks to Henry VIII England is full of them; I took gobs of pictures. Then we headed up onto the city walls, walking under Chester’s famous clock and spending several happy hours in the various book and antique stores which are apparently only reachable from the pedestrian walkway on top of the wall. From the wall we had a nice view of the canal that skirts the city and into people’s back gardens. Everything in these old towns is infill — houses, shops, and services wedged into the spaces between other things, and not a right angle anywhere. By now we were getting hungry and stupid, and set off in search of Chez Jules, a French restaurant Kate had read about in some guidebook. But, once again, the street numbers were irregularly assigned and rarely displayed, and we were just about to give up when we blundered into the place by chance. I’m really glad we persevered, because the food was delightful. From there we made our way to the local cathedral. I’m always astonished by the enormous churches one can find in small European towns, and I wonder what they were like in their heyday. Today Chester’s cathedral offers a digital audio guide to its art (ranging from the 1500s to the 20th century, including some spectacular Victorian mosaics and a tiny “cobweb painting” done on tent caterpillar webbing), tombs (including the alcove behind the organ where at least five organists are memorialized), and the amusingly quirky carved figures in the “quire.” Not too far from the cathedral was the local market, a cavernous building filled with stalls selling fresh vegetables, CDs, clothing, jewelry, and everything in between. Nothing touristy here — this was where the locals did their shopping. We had an interesting conversation with one of the locals about American turns of phrase — she had trouble with the expression “to meet with” someone, feeling that the “with” was unnecessary. I thought about it a moment and tried to explain that, in American at least, “to meet” someone is to encounter them for the first time or briefly, while “to meet with” someone is to engage in a more protracted encounter, typically a business meeting. We also sampled, and purchased, some truly spectacular cheeses. Some of the local cheddars explode with flavor. By then we were flagging a bit again, so we stumbled into Katie’s Tea Room for a bit of a sit-down and an afternoon snack: pastries, and tea served in antique silver (which transmits the heat very well — ouch!). The proprietor looked a lot more like an Ahmed than a Katie, but the tea and crumpets hit the spot and building was quite impressive — dating back to the 1300s, with some of the original wattle-and-daub construction still visible in spots. Afternoon tea gave us sufficient energy for a trip to the local Waterstone’s, where we picked up many of the books we hadn’t managed to find in the convention dealer’s room, such as a paperback of The Iron Council by China Miéville (it was only one of this year’s Hugo nominees, for pity’s sake!). But the energy didn’t last very long, so we dragged ourselves back to our room and fell over. Later we roused ourselves sufficiently to put together ham and cheese sandwiches from our market finds for dinner, but otherwise spent the rest of the evening watching local TV (including something that gave every impression of being CSI: Glasgow), listening to newly-acquired CDs, and reading newly-acquired books. Touristing is hard work, and sometimes you need a rest. Especially since the next morning we would be heading for London. To be continued…

8/23/05: UK trip report, part 1: Glasgow

Kate and I rose bright and early Tuesday morning and met our friends Ariel and Phil, and their kids Jesse and Arthur, at the airport. Through careful planning and the use of about five years’ worth of air miles, we’d managed to wangle business class tickets. This meant we got breakfast, (unlike our steerage-class compatriots who got no free food at all — not even snacks — nor pillows). Given choice of cheese omelet or corn flakes, I took the corn flakes… which came in a china bowl, with a little bowl of blueberries on the side, plus a banana, choice of juice, and freshly baked biscuits. And plastic cutlery. Five-hour layover in Chicago passed fairly quickly in conversation with various Shattans and reading Curse of Chalion. Once our gate was announced we found a total of about ten fans on the plane, including Aynjel Kaye, who had the seat behind me and promised to kick my seat through the entire flight. Aynjel would have been my Clarion classmate if I’d gone to Clarion instead of Clarion West in 2000. She’d probably be over six feet tall even without the silk top hat. Our business-class seats for the flight to Glasgow were insanely roomy, not so much side-to-side as lengthwise. It was simply impossible for me to reach the seat pocket ahead while strapped in, and not even Aynjel could kick my seat back. The seats included adjustable leg rests, foot rests, and head rests and reclined almost all the way, as well as having a generous center console with little slide-out drink trays. As we were getting settled in the stewardess brought out individual DVD players, complete with noise-canceling headphones and a selection of disks. All free. Other entertainment options included the usual movie and audio programs, choice of real newspapers and magazines, and the books, computer, and iPod I’d brought with. (12v outlet available at each seat, too, though I hadn’t known that and had no 12v adapter.) Not to mention the food service, which was really good, again served on real china with plastic cutlery. Kate: “Bugger Scotland, we’re staying right here.” But despite all these options, what I really wanted to do was sleep. I got a couple hours here and another hour there, but mostly I just read my book and listened to the iPod. Arrived in Glasgow bleary but intact. Waltzed through passport control, baggage check, and customs. One by one the fans from this flight and another that arrived at about the same time (including Ellen Klages) gathered in the arrival lounge, all watching each other’s bags while changing money, visiting the loo, and trying to figure out how to get to our respective hotels. There were too many of us for one cab and not enough going to the same place anyway. Eventually most of us wound up on the airport bus. We dragged ourselves several blocks from the bus stop to find our room not ready yet. Leaving our bags with the hotel desk, we rendezvoused with Ellen Klages and Aynjel at the Central Station (using Aynjel herself as the rendezvous point — “because ‘gather around the dwarf’ is never a good plan”) and wandered off in search of lunch, but it was only 11am and every place was closed until noon (including a seafood place called the Mussel Inn that Kate really wanted to try). Finally wound up at The Auctioneer, which we went to because Ellen thought it actually was an auction house but turned out to be a pub, and open, and with quite good pub grub (lightest, flakiest crust I’ve ever seen on a steak pie). After lunch we visited local historic landmark Hutcheson Hall and wandered zombie-like through the picturesque streets until admitting we really needed a nap and returned to our separate hotels. But, alas, our room was still not ready. “It’ll be ready in ten minutes,” we were told. Fell asleep in lobby while waiting an hour and a half in “just another ten minutes” increments. Finally made it to room — clean, bright, smallish by American standards but perfectly acceptable, with a really interesting view down the Clyde toward the Armadillo — and fell over until 5. Having napped, we headed toward the Scottish Exposition & Convention Center (SECC) to register for the con and find some fans. It took a while to find the appropriate train to get there, the stairs to the “low-level” train being located between tracks 12 and 13 — in other words, platform 12 1/2 — but the train itself runs every 15 minutes and takes only about 10. The walk from the SECC station to the SECC itself, though, through the clouded perspex hamster tube, takes another 15 minutes. We met Amy Sisson and several others in the tube. While walking to registration we met John and Lenore from Hoboken, and decided to go to dinner with them. Then, while registering (no line at all), we met Moshe and Lise, who knew John and Lenore, so we all went to dinner together. After more than the usual amount of kerfuffle about where to go and how to get there (bus? train? cab? walk?) we wound up taking the train to a place called Charcoal which turned out to have really excellent Indian food, great service, and fine conversation all round. After dinner we accompanied Moshe and Lise to Tesco in search of supplies for their party, but we faded out while shopping and decided to pass on the party itself. Asleep by 10, we didn’t wake up until 7 the next morning. We later determined it was 33 hours from when we woke up until when we finally went to bed, and I for one didn’t get more than a couple hours’ nap during that time. Thursday: At breakfast in our hotel (quite a nice buffet of cold and cooked items) we met Paul and Maureen Kincaid Speller (and it is a measure of how deeply LiveJournal has invaded my head that I said when I saw them “look, it’s Peake and Brisingamen.”). We ought to make plans to have a meal with each other, we all said… say, how about breakfast tomorrow? Then we headed off in search of the rumored £20 cell phone, but the best I could find is one for £30 (~$60) which was just a bit too much for two weeks. So we abandoned that idea and headed off to the Burrell Collection. Again, it took a bit to figure out which train to take and how to catch it, but we were definitely starting to get the hang of it. The Burrell Collection is smaller than we’d expected but definitely choice, including a wide variety of objects from ancient Egypt, China, and Greece as well as medieval and more recent paintings, sculptures, tapestries, armor, weapons, and embroidery. We had lunch at the Burrell’s café (I passed on the jacket potato with haggis) and took the train back to town, transferring to the train to the SECC. The ticket booth was closed but we were told that we could pay on the train. However, no one ever appeared to take our money. This was the first of several times when we managed to get to the SECC without paying anything. Said hi to Dave Langford, Catherine Crockett, Charlie Allery, and several others on our way to the fan lounge to hang out for a little bit. Then I went off to Ellen Klages’ reading. Jay Lake was scheduled to read between me and Ellen, but he wasn’t here and no one else had been scheduled in his slot so we split the time between us. I read half of “Nucleon” in that half-slot, followed by the entire prologue and chapter A of Remembrance Day in the full half-hour slot that followed (it was a tight squeeze). There was a pretty good crowd of about a dozen people, some of whom I didn’t even know, and they seemed to like it. After my reading, went down to the Moat House bar for the LiveJournal get-together Jay had planned, but apart from Lynne Ann no one else appeared. We talked with her, and then Doug Faunt, until Davey and Chip arrived. Davey, Chip, Doug, and we decided quite quickly on a Russian place that Kate had heard good things about, and we all piled into a taxi. Service was friendly but slow, food was generally good though I wasn’t too impressed with my entrée. Dinner ended around 9 (still light, though) and once again we went to Tesco, this time for breakfast stuff for Doug. Then we hiked over to the Hilton, which proved to be a long long walk and the hotel almost completely inaccessible by pedestrians. But we did eventually find it, and milled about the various hot and crowded parties for a while until realizing it was time to fall over. Friday was a very long day. After breakfast we took the train to the SECC and I hung around in the fan room for a while until Moshe showed up. We talked for about 45 minutes about my novel, and Moshe opined that it could be improved by making the aliens more alien. I said I knew this, but had done the best I could, and could use some more concrete advice. He also said that he expected to be able to talk with Tom and get an offer within 10 days after getting home (but we’ve heard this before) and that the publication date would most likely be in the winter (first) quarter of 2007. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because it allows taking 18-24 months to write the second novel but have them come out within a year of each other to build momentum. I had written up two novel ideas (out of five in my ideas file) as one-paragraph pitches and showed them both to him on paper. He liked the one I call Dark better, which is good because I like it better too. We talked about the main character and the environment and the history of the place — in some cases I already had answers, in others I made them up on the spot, and in others I had to admit I didn’t know. Much research will be required. Kate showed up at 1:00 but Moshe and I kept talking for another 15-30 minutes, so Kate and I didn’t make it through the hamster tube to Argyle Street in search of lunch until nearly 2. Unfortunately, what we found there was mostly skanky pubs, except for one nice-looking coffee shop with sandwiches. But while I, in my hunger-befuddled way, was trying to figure out whether we were supposed to order and then sit or sit and then order, another couple came in and sat down… at the last available table. We were too hungry to wait until another table opened up so we went back to our second choice, an Italian place that proved to be pretty good. It was still rather stressful. Must remember to eat a morning snack. After lunch Kate went to Jane Yolen’s GoH speech and I squeezed into a half-hour talk by Joshua Bilmes on the agent-client relationship (I asked what is usually in the agent-client contract, and he said it was usually the percentage (15% for domestic sales, 20% for foreign) and the terms for starting and stopping the contract, so I think I’m okay with the handshake deal I have with Jack), followed by… um, not sure what, probably miscellaneous chats in the concourse and dealers’ room, until my kaffeeklatsch. To my surprise, three people had signed up and four showed up: Cally Perry (who friended me on LiveJournal because of our shared interests), a friend of hers, someone who liked the Eagle story, and someone who’d never heard of me until she came to my reading because the panel next door was full. Also a fifth person who left (very apologetic) after the first five minutes when a slot opened up for George R.R. Martin at the next table. Can’t say I blamed him. An hour and a half for my kaffeeklatsch seemed kind of long but everyone seemed to enjoy it. From there I went straight to my Religion in SF Television panel, which consisted of an atheist, a transsexual pagan, and me. The room was pretty full and the discussion lively and interesting; the pagan and I wanted to talk about Battlestar Galactica but the discussion kept returning to Babylon 5, with occasional jaunts into Buffy and Angel. Interestingly, although Angel has The Powers That Be, there is no significant supernatural force for good in Buffy and in neither case — nor in most other genre shows — do the main characters have any religious faith at all. But Babylon 5 is clearly the show that has done the most with religion. After the panel I went for dinner with the pagan and her soon-to-be-husband at the bistro in the convention center, where the food was surprisingly good although they did put ice in the cider (I gather it’s a Glasgow thing) and brought me the wrong entrée. I ran from dinner to the Challenges for New Writers panel, a lively discussion in a large and fairly full hall. It started off with some discussion of how new writers should beware of people who know only a little giving them wrong advice, and I had a sudden attack of wondering whether I might be doing the same. But there were plenty of people there who could have contradicted me if I said anything wrong. Mostly it was about self-publicity, managing blogs and websites, managing your time, and getting feedback… pretty basic stuff. Charlie Allery and Anna Feruglio dal Dan were among those in the audience. After the panel I talked with fellow panelist Jay Caselberg for a while before catching a cab to the Aeon Award ceremony. I was joined in the cab by the next fellow in line, who was also going to the Hilton. He recognized my name badge and asked if I was the author of “Tale of the Golden Eagle,” which was great egoboo. We talked for the whole ride about me. I came into the crowded and very hot Aeon Award room about 8:30, which was supposed to be halfway through the previous presentation on the Albedo One anthology but the presentation actually got going a while after I got there. I sat and talked with Lynne Ann and with Ralan Conley before and after that presentation. Then came the actual Aeon Award presentation. To make a long story short, I didn’t win, but everyone involved made a point of telling me afterward just how very close the judging was… which didn’t help. Kate was late to the ceremony, which also didn’t help. But it didn’t hit nearly as hard as losing the Campbell. After thanking the judges and all, we went off in search of the SFWA suite, because I’d neglected to note in my Palm which suite it was in. After wandering the Hilton for a while we finally found a pro (Gay Haldeman, I think) who told us it was in the Moat House. So we caught a cab there, and joined the Asimov’s party in progress. We spent the rest of the evening there and in the fan room, before heading home. But there were no cabs at the hotel front door, and we stood and waited with David Moles, Jed Hartman, John Scalzi and Gordon Van Gelder as well as Lynne Ann and Roelof. It was a great conversation, but eventually we got tired of waiting and Roelof went in and had the hotel desk call for a cab, which of course made two other cabs instantly appear. But one of them apparently poached the other’s fare, which caused the first cab to pull out and prevent the second one from leaving. The two cabbies yelled back and forth for a long while before the passengers changed to the first cab and they both pulled away. Finally the cab we’d called showed up and took Lynne Ann, Roelof, and us back to our hotels. Saturday I had only one scheduled panel and dedicated most of the day to just attending the convention. We arrived just a bit too late for Jo Walton’s reading, so the first thing I went to was a panel on “Complex Families and Queer Neighbors” with Ellen Klages, Geoff Ryman, Andy Trembley, and token straight person Lynn Gold. Jack Cohen was in the audience and put in a few choice bits from his experience counseling infertile couples (he is an embryologist), which includes some same-sex couples. “Some of them like to pet anything that purrs, if you get what I mean.” Several comments from both panelists and audience members indicated that people assume that gay marriage is opposed to gay polyamory, which is certainly not the case in my experience. I talked with Geoff Ryman (one of my Clarion instructors) for a while after the panel, then showed up late for “Hobbits, Orcs, and Homo Floriensis” with Jack Cohen and others (I sat way in the back and couldn’t see the panelists), then had lunch in the fan room with Frank Wu. Kate joined us part way through. Then I ran off to “Military Vs. Civil Authority in Battlestar Galactica,” where I got to talk about all the Cylon religion stuff I’d wanted to discuss at the religion panel, plus a lot of stuff about who’s got what agenda and how much we don’t know (it was an hour and a half). Great panel. (Later in the con I talked with a couple from the audience about Galactica and writing and lots of other things. People came up to me all weekend to say they liked some panel or other I’d been on.) We had to promise not to say anything about the first few episodes of Season Two, which haven’t aired here yet. Several times I had to clap my hands over my mouth. I think that after that must have been when I saw the art show. The Jim Burns stuff was keen but otherwise not much really stands out. I probably wandered the dealers’ room for a while too. Then I tried to go to a panel about homoeroticism in fantasy, but it was too crowded so I went next door to Brenda Cooper’s reading. She was glad to have me… there were only about four people in the audience. I met Kate, Charlie Allery, and Tom Brennan (a member of my Writers of the Future cohort who lives in Liverpool) in the fan room, and we took a cab to the Mussel Inn for dinner but it was all booked up (many tables empty, but all reserved for 7:00 — this being 6:15). We walked from there to an Indian restaurant called Bombay Blues, which sounded good in the convention’s restaurant guide, but proved to have very strange service. First the waiter insisted we wanted the buffet, but we wanted menus. Then, when Kate ordered an Indian drink off the card in the middle of the table, he told her she didn’t want that. Then, after ordering (including naan), we said we wanted rice. “How many?” “Well, how big are they?” “About so.” “Two, then.” “Oh, you’ll want four.” “All right, four then.” Tom: “I’ll have that yellow rice… what’s it called?” David: “Pullao.” Waiter: “Right, that’s two plain rice and one fried.” David: “No, three white and one fried.” Repeat until thoroughly confused. The food was reasonably good, though. After dinner I wound up sitting with Charlie and Tom in the fan lounge and basically never budged from that spot for the rest of the evening. Charlie Stross sat down next to me a while later, complaining of his rigorous day of signings, readings, interviews, and talks with agents and editors, and I realized how I must sound when talking with writers who haven’t sold as much as I have. Charlie and I wound up reminiscing (or was that just bitching) about nasty man pages we’d written. Kate and I wound up splitting a cab back to our hotel with Andy Duncan, whom I did not recognize until he spoke, and his wife. Sunday we slept in, and by the time we got up the selection at breakfast was very limited. But it was quiet at breakfast, unlike most other mornings when we had to compete with a busload of French or Italian or Spanish tourists all of whom were trying to eat and get to their bus. I realized I’d have to hurry to make my 11:00 panel on Lost so I took off without Kate. I arrived a few minutes early and was surprised to be the only one sitting at the front of the room until somewhat after 11. But then Priscilla Olsen arrived, along with the rest of the panelists, and berated me for not checking in at the green room. The panel, which included Joe Haldeman on the panel and Greg Bear in the audience, was mostly concerned with speculations about the big secrets of the island and whether the explanation was fantastic or realistic. Joe said that The Numbers (Hurley’s lottery-winning numbers, which crop up in several places) made it fantasy rather than SF. Priscilla kept coming up with big theories (e.g. “They all died in the plane crash and everything’s taking place in Locke’s mind as he dies”) which would be so, so disappointing if they turned out to be true. A series this complex deserves a complex explanation (or, better, a number of interlocking explanations). But I said I thought the ending could not fail to disappoint — look at X-Files and the Riverworld books — even Babylon 5, which had about as good a conclusion as you could hope for, was somewhat disappointing. Priscilla also kept saying that there were two different monsters, but I don’t understand where that came from. After that panel that I hit the dealer’s room, and decided to actually buy something. I picked up GoH Christopher Priest’s latest, The Separation, which had been getting a lot of attention at the con (Paul Kincaid did an academic paper on it), and Iain M. Banks’s latest, The Algebraist (which, unfortunately, Giulia de Cesare said she couldn’t finish). Banks himself was going to be signing in the dealer’s room in 15 minutes after I bought it — his only appearance at the convention — but the dealer I bought it from said he was not at the con because he was going through a very difficult patch and needed his privacy just now, and besides the book was already signed. So I went all the way to Scotland and didn’t see Iain Banks, alas. I also talked with Jo Walton at Elise’s table and wound up writing Elise a check in US dollars for cash in pounds, a favor for both of us. Lunch was a chicken, cheese and pineapple panini which was mostly mayonnaise, alas. Then I decided to invest an hour in watching an episode of the new Dr. Who. The large auditorium was mostly full, and most of them, when asked, raised a hand to indicate they’d seen the episode (“Dalek”) before, so I had high hopes. I must confess that when the theme music came on — I hadn’t heard it for ten years or more — I got a little lump in my throat. But though the episode did have its strong points, including complex characterization for the Dalek (hmm, similar to the revamped Cylons on Galactica) and CGI effects much better than the crap effects of yesteryear (though the biological creature inside the Dalek shell was a rubber monster that would have been right at home in the Tom Baker years), I found aspects of the writing weak. Why, oh why, do the human soldiers continue to pour bullets at the Dalek when it’s been plainly demonstrated they have no effect at all, while the Dalek calmly picks them off one by one with its death ray? And how come this Dalek can levitate (neatly puncturing the old “all we have to do is run up a set of stairs” gambit) when this was never the case before? And this Dalek was not a new model — it fell through time from the climactic battle of the Time War, in which the Time Lords and the Daleks wiped each other out forever (leaving the Doctor and this Dalek as the last of their respective species). The episode was followed by a half-hour Q&A with the writer, and I hung around and talked with him in the hall after that (along with a half-dozen other sad anoraks). Some of the most egregious problems were the result of the producers meddling with the script late in the game, but it was still a bit disappointing all in all. After that I attended the last half-hour of a panel about script writing, then rendezvoused with Kate, Lynne Ann, and Roelof for an early dinner before the Hugos. Lynne Ann called the Mussel Inn — amazing to hear her slip into Irish cadences and vocabulary (“brilliant!”) while talking with the Scottish proprietor — and we finally did make it there for a delightful dinner and conversation, including Banoffie Pie. And then the Hugos, with Kim Newman and Paul McAuley MC’ing from an alternate universe in which the award is named after Victor Hugo and the world is dominated by France. The Hugos were largely won by hometown favorites — including Ansible beating Locus for Best Semiprozine, a first — and I was generally pleased with the results (yay Battlestar Galactica!) even though I thought Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell would have been better if it had been cut down to about three-quarters of its current length. The Hugos were over amazingly quickly and we adjourned to the fan room, followed by the SFWA suite (which was a bit underpopulated, but we had a nice time talking with party host Jane Jewell). Monday I hit the ground running and made it to the green room well in advance of my 11:00 “Future of Malware” panel, because I was moderator. The panelists were well chosen — a tech support author from Sophos, a guy who left a career in IT to go to law school and become an IT lawyer, and a network administrator. Mostly we talked about the present of malware, but there was some discussion of the future. I met Catherine Crockett for lunch, and we wound up eating sandwiches in her room while watching Colin sort fanzines in the nude (yee ha). Then it was time for the Fan Room Closing Ceremony, part of which consisted of me providing narration while someone called Ang performed her now-traditional (this being the third time she’d done it) recap of the entire convention in interpretive dance. I had no idea going in what I was going to do, but everyone said it went well. We skipped the convention’s official closing ceremonies in favor of taking a train to the Pollok House museum. But the train from Central Station to Pollokshaws West (not to be confused with Pollokshaws East or Pollokshields West) didn’t leave for twenty minutes, and then was delayed and finally canceled before leaving the station. There was another train in half an hour, but it had gotten so late we would have had less than half an hour at the museum, so we bagged it and went back to the room for a nap. Then we returned to the Moat House to meet Steve and Giulia and Marci Malinowycz for dinner, as well as Alyson Abramowitz who tagged along. It was a bit of a hassle getting the six of us to the restaurant, since cabs are limited to five, and the service at Fratelli Sarti was incredibly slow, but the food was marvelous. Back to the Moat House for the dead dog party, amazingly crowded and noisy but full of some of our favorite people (including some we hadn’t seen all con, such as GoH Christopher Priest and newly-engaged Janice Gelb with her Australian fiancé) making it difficult to tear ourselves away. But tear we did, sharing a cab with Lynne Ann and Roelof, because we had a train to catch in the morning. To be continued…

8/20/05: Home again, home again

Well, we’re back from the Worldcon and Chester, Liverpool, and London afterwards. Had a great time. Proper trip report is forthcoming. We gave out a new issue of Bento at the con, and it will be in the mail soon to those who weren’t there. I did not win the Aeon Award, though everyone involved made sure to tell me just how close the competition was between my story and the winner. Oh well. At least the story will be published in Albedo One, some time before the end of this year. Upon my return I found a surprise in my mailbox: author copies of the October 2005 Realms of Fantasy, including my story “The Ecology of Faerie” with an excellent illustration by artist Andrea Wicklund. I hadn’t known when this story was going to be published. I also surprised to find, upon reading the printed story, that it actually gave me chills. It was written back in 2002, spent a couple of years at markets with very long response times, and I never got galleys for it, so I hadn’t read it in years. I’m very pleased with it. I also got a couple of rejections, and news that another story had gotten lost in the slush pile and was only now, five months later, being sent to the editor (an editor reknowned for taking a long time to decide). Oh well. One of the rejected stories has already gone back in the mail. The other… it’s been to all of the pro markets I can think of that might be appropriate for it, and it’s been a near-miss at just about all of them. I feel strongly about this story and want it to succeed. I may take a hard look at the editors’ comments, rewrite it (possibly with a different main character), and send it out again to the same markets. I really should write a new story or two too, and revise some of the ones that have never been submitted. One other bit of news is that I have decided to attend World Fantasy Con rather than OryCon this year. It was a hard, hard choice (I’m really going to miss a lot of the OryCon people, including Kate) but by then I expect that I will have either a sold novel to publicize or a rejected novel to resubmit, and the people I should talk to in either case will all be there (including my agent). Oh, and my infected toe cleared up within the first couple of days of the trip. Thanks to all who expressed their concern (and raspberries to those who suggested amputation).