Archive for September, 2010

Aussiecon, days 3-4

Worldcon continues to be Worldcon and it’s going quite well for me. In the last couple of days I have been privileged to spend a bunch of time in the presence of very big names. Amazingly, I have not yet lost my voice.

Yesterday I moderated a panel on “How to Sell Your Short Stories” with Cory Doctorow, Robert Silverberg, Campbell nominee Lezli Robyn (who broke in co-writing with Mike Resnick, whom she met online after losing an auction to him on eBay) and Angela Slatter. Spread across so many writing generations, we all had different stories about how we broke in so I ran with that and centered the discussion on that to begin with. We also talked a lot about networking, though I believe the work is more important. I was a bit afraid there would be problems between right-winger Silverberg and information-wants-to-be-free Cory but it was all very cordial and informative; several people said afterwards that they liked it.

During the panel, Cory folded about 15 origami cranes, without looking; he says that when he gave up smoking he took up folding cranes to keep his hands busy and still does it. I posted this amusing tidbit on Twitter. A little while later, while watching the “Online Interaction for Writers” panel, I checked my email and learned that Cory (who was on the panel) had seen my tweet and had just become my 500th Twitter follower. Naturally I immediately tweeted about this.

The “Just a Minute” game show with Paul Cornell, China Mieville, John Scalzi, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Cat Valente was very amusing once it finally started (room P1 was locked, so we all trooped to P3 and hung around there for a while before trooping back). I’m glad I wasn’t on this panel; it looked HARD. China was the best at the actual game mechanic (being familiar with the original BBC radio show helped a lot) but Scalzi played hard and won handily on points.

Yesterday evening was the Wild Cards writers’ dinner at high-end seafood restaurant “Fish,” which was awfully loud but had good food. I was honored to dine and converse with George R. R. Martin, Ian Tregillis, Melissa Snodgrass, Carrie Vaughn, Paul Cornell, and Brilliance Audio editor John Grace, who does the Wild Cards audiobooks.

The party situation at the Crowne Plaza has improved quite a bit. The London in 2014 party was extremely crowded and loud, while the Texas and Reno parties were more reasonably populated and we had nice snacks and conversation, but I was unduly irritated by having to cart hat, coat, and sweater around because of the mile-and-a-half walk in the cold drizzle between the Crowne Plaza and the Hilton. We retired to our room by midnight.

The next morning I slept in until almost 9:00. After breakfast, I headed off to watch “The Western’s Influence on SF” but was snagged on the way by an unpublished novelist named Saul, who really liked the “To Market” panel I moderated. We talked for most of the hour. It’s not necessarily what I planned to do with that time, but supporting newer writers is a mitzvah. The “Anachronist Fiction” panel was okay but they got hung up on the “punk” in steampunk, ignoring that the name was originally a joke. Complaining that there’s not enough punk in steampunk is like complaining there aren’t enough cubes in cubism.

Sunday afternoon was the peak of my programming for the convention. I moderated “Race to the Red Planet” with Kim Stanley Robinson and Jim Benford (Greg’s twin brother, I believe); it was in a big room, had a good crowd, and went well, providing an excellent lead-in to my Mars talk in the same room immediately following. But then I had to vamp for 15 minutes while the A/V techs got my computer to display on the big screen. I had made sure to suss out the computerized lectern control panel before my talk, but this particular room had just a blank space where the control panel was supposed to be, so I was entirely dependent on the A/V techs. While waiting I answered questions and sang Monty Python’s Philosophers’ Song. Despite the delay, the talk went well; almost 2/3 of the seats in the lower half of the large hall were filled and I finished with enough time for a few questions. After the talk, about 8 people followed me out of the hall and we talked about Mars in the lobby for 45 minutes. I also sold all the copies of Space Magic and The Mars Diaries I’d brought, which means I now have a little room in my overstuffed bag for books and souvenirs.

When I took my computer back to the room, I discovered that my tweet of a comment by Kim Stanley Robinson about utopias had made the front page of Twitter and got retweeted over 30 times. Then I met up with Kate and headed off to the casino food court with New Zealand knitter Miche (MicheInNZ on Ravelry) whom we’d met at the Texas party last night. I got a hamburger which, alas, broke my string of wonderful meals but the fries were pretty good. Then we attended the Hugos, a nice tidy 1.5-hour show (the Japanese and other subsidiary awards having been taken care of earlier). I’m very happy with most of the winners, especially Moon and Will McIntosh who is one of the nicest, shyest writers I know and was totally not expecting to win.

After the Hugos we elected to go back to the room at 10:00 rather than walk to the Crowne Plaza in the cold drizzle and try to crash the post-Hugo reception (to which we were not invited, but where almost everyone I know would be). Maybe next year I’ll have another nomination (Ben Yalow said “Teaching the Pig” is getting some critical attention, but with podcast StarShipSofa winning Best Fanzine, I wonder if Bento will ever have a chance again). I’m looking forward to the nomination statistics to see if we just missed the ballot this year as we have in some previous years.

10:00 panel tomorrow, so I’m going to turn in early(ish) now.

Aussiecon, days 1-2

Well, it’s a Worldcon, which means it’s all a bit of a blur, but I’ll see what I can remember.

It’s a little small for the Worldcon, about 1400 people and many of those Australians, so it’s a little thin on people I know, but on the other hand this also means I get to spend more time than usual hanging out with people I don’t know all that well, like John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow.

The brand-new hotel and convention center are in a brand-new urban-renewal neighborhood, which means there’s not much right nearby. The nearest neighbors are a huge casino (which spouts flames every hour on the hour during winter evenings) and a factory outlet mall, each of which does have some food options. You can also walk across the river to the Central Business District — “the mainland” says Kate — for more restaurants. Still haven’t had a bad meal, though, although the frites at the Belgian place were not up to true Belgian standard.

So far I’ve had a kaffeeklatsch and a reading and moderated one panel. All were moderately well attended and went well. I sold two copies of Space Magic and one of Mars Diaries out of the three copies of each I brought with me. Also attended several program items, including guest of honor Shaun Tan giving a presentation on the making of the short film of his The Lost Thing, as well as a showing of the film itself, which was delightful and heartwarming. Interesting to see reflections of Australian suburban and city life (tight-packed low hip-roofed houses, trams) in the made-up world of the story.

Have not purchased anything in the dealers’ room or any souvenirs, but did buy a pair of gloves; it’s colder here than I’d packed for. One fellow in the dealers’ room has some merchandise with pictures of Ned Kelly. This is the kind of guy who in the USA would be waving Confederate flags at gun shows, an extreme Australian (and Irish) patriot. Now I understand a bit about the phenomenon of Ned Kelly as a folk hero.

Another bit of Australian culture I’ve come to understand a bit is the square-framed clothes drying rack which is a symbol and fixture of the Australian suburban back yard. When we arrived in town there was an art installation titled Hoist in Federation Square, which used one of these racks as a place to hang photographs and writings and included some projections, and since then it seems I keep running into them. Many (perhaps even most) Australians don’t own clothes dryers, prefering in this generally dry and windy climate to air-dry their clothes, and the apartment we were staying in before the convention included a single unit described as a combination washer-dryer but that was actually just a washer-spinner; we found that the load of wash we did right before shifting to the con hotel came out pretty darn damp. Lacking a hoist, or a yard to raise it in, we had to wait until we got to the convention hotel to hang the damp clothes from a line strung over the tub.

The convention has generally been running smoothly, though the program is in rather a state of flux. The biggest problem is that the party hotel (Crowne Plaza) decided at the last minute not to allow people to throw any actual, you know, parties. There are a few “meet and greet” events (not “parties”) in hotel public space but last night I found them pretty inhospitable and spent the evening in the Hilton hotel bar instead. Ditto this evening, until they drove us away with holy-crap-that’s-loud salsa music that started promptly at 10:00.

Going to bed now. Another exciting day of Aussiecon tomorrow.

Penguins and kangaroos and emus and fans

Right after posting my last entry we headed to the Old Melbourne Gaol (misspelled Goal in some brochures), but on the way we spotted posters for the free exhibitions at the State Library of Victoria, including Ned Kelly’s armor (which is what I’d been hoping to see at the Old Gaol). We happened to get the benefit of an amusing pair of docents doing Good Cop/Bad Cop on Ned Kelly for a group of uniformed schoolgirls (though he was a common criminal, neither revolutionary nor Robin Hood, he is considered a folk hero by some Australians).

In the evening we took a tour bus to Phillip Island for the nightly Penguin Parade. This is a highly touristy event but it was recommended to us by our friends Paul and Debbie and we’re really glad we went. It was about two hours’ drive from Melbourne. You wait in these bleacher-type seats watching the surf as the sun sets, and just as it starts to get dark you see what looks like a whitecap slowly moving up out of the ocean and across the sand. As it gets closer the shimmering white blob resolves into individual birds: tiny one-foot-high penguins waddling as fast as they can across the sand. Once they reach the vegetation line they slow down and stroll as much as a kilometer up into the dunes until they reach their burrows and waiting mates, and you can walk along the boardwalk and follow them. They make a weird cawing trilling racket, and you can hear the tiny pattering sounds of their wet penguin feet on the sand. Yes, we paid good money to see penguins commute. But they were so cute!! Highly recommended.

The next day I got a long black (Americano) from the coffee bar in the hotel lobby and tried the “Tim Tam Slam.” The cookie just melted and I dropped it in the coffee. Might have worked better if the coffee hadn’t been so hot.

That day we had signed up for a Savannah Walkabout along with Seanan McGuire, two other fans, and four non-fans. The point of this expedition was to view Australian fauna in the wild; if this had been Africa it would have been a safari. We drove out into the boonies (passing through the small town of Little River, after which the band is named, to You Yangs Park and Serendip Park), viewing a billabong (Australian oasis) and many cockatoos, corellas, magpies, gullahs, and other birds along the way. In the park we were joined by a nature guide who had been out spotting koalas for us; she led us to three of them, munching contentedly in their trees. After lunch and the Billy Tea Ceremony (which consists of swinging the billy (kettle) rapidly over your head to settle the sediments) we went off looking for kangaroos and emus. (How to tell the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby: if you see one by itself and it’s less than waist-high it’s probably a wallaby; bigger and in mobs are kangaroos. “We’re not a mob,” said Seanan. “We are respectable business marsupials.”) We stalked the wild kangaroo and emu all afternoon, sneaking to within good binocular distance of the kangaroos and closer to the emus. The kangaroos and emus hang around together; the emus, being faster, provide an early warning system for the kangaroos. The ‘roos watched us at all times while we were near, and when we got too close (or when, for reasons of their own, they decided to move) they loped gently and silently away. We also saw the skeletonized remains of a ‘roo, which Seanan found fascinating (but she did not wish on its paw; probably wise). An exceptional day.

Today we checked out of our pre-con hotel and met up with Murray Moore, Leslie Turek, Pricilla Olsen, Karen Schaffer, Mike Ward, Andy Porter, and others to visit Bruce Gillespie and Elaine Cochrane and their suburban home, cats, garden, and collection of Ditmars. Elaine fixed us a delightful lunch and we spent the middle part of the day smoffing and chatting about fanzines. Then we returned to Melbourne, dragged our bags over to the con hotel, and checked in. The brand-new South Wharf Hilton has a lot of dark wood and glass and feels like the Doug Fir restaurang in Portland. We met George R. R. Martin, Amy Thomson, and John Scalzi in the hotel lobby, and had dinner with Lenore Jones at Cafe Keyif across the river (“on the mainland” says Kate). As we were finishing up dinner, Doug Faunt came in and we chatted with him for a while before returning to our hotel. We didn’t manage to get registered at the con but our convention has already begun.

We didn’t take this picture but the penguins are that small, that close, and that cute

Jeanine, our guide for the Savanna Walkabout

Took this shot of some ‘roos through my binoculars

Emus and kangaroos together

Jeanine and emus

Seanan was thrilled by the dead kangaroo

We got closer to the emus than the kangaroos

Happy Melbourne Day!

We’re having a great time in Melbourne, but haven’t blogged because free wi-fi isn’t widely available. Today is Melbourne Day, the 175th anniversary of the city’s founding. We saw a couple of hot-air balloons from our 28th floor balcony this morning.

The flight to Australia was about as painless as one could hope for. We’d upgraded to business class using miles and got these great lie-flat seats. I slept about 7 hours and spent the rest of the time eating and working on my current YA SF novel (it’s not going well, alas). On the first day we managed to keep going until dark and then crashed at 8 or 9, waking up around 6 the next morning, so we’re working on approximately Australia time, which is not to say we aren’t suffering from jet lag. It’s hard to tell the difference between jet lag and fatigue from touristing too hard.

Melbourne in August reminds me a lot of Vancouver in November (though not quite so cold) — multinational, multilingual, multicultural, and subtly not-American. It’s a very civilized place, very walkable and well-supplied with trams, and the tourist info office in Federation Square is top-notch. Many fine cafes and shops and much cool architecture can be found in the chaotic network of “laneways” that fill the spaces between major streets. We also haven’t had a bad meal or a bad cup of coffee yet. Given Australia’s location it’s not surprising that there are a lot of Indonesian, Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian restaurants, also Bangladeshi and Nepalese. Many aspects of the language here strike me as a weird mix of American and British; for example, tickets are one-way and return (American: one-way and round-trip, British: single and return) and the Parliament consists of two houses called the House and the Senate. Australia also has its very own words for many things, such as coffee (a “flat white” is a latte with no foam, a “short black” a shot of espresso, and a “long black” an Americano).

So far we’ve been touristing around Melbourne’s central business district, including the Tim Burton exhibit at the Australia Center for the Moving Image (ACMI). Spending that much time in Tim Burton’s head was kind of disturbing. Also very cool at ACMI was their exhibit on the history of film and video in Australia, including some snippets of Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. That kangaroo could do some amazing things, including getting letters out of the mailbox and reading them — Lassie was a piker by comparison. Also on display: a replica of the Last of the V-8 Interceptors. Yesterday afternoon we took the tram to St. Kilda, a slightly shabby beachfront tourist town featuring keen little amusement park Luna Park. I can’t imagine how crowded it would be on a summer Saturday.

Random notes and pics:

  • My god, the moon really is upside-down here!
  • Both Sydney and Melbourne from the air are a sea of tight-packed single-family houses, with remarkable uniformity of roof (all hipped, all red-tiled).
  • All my instincts about “what is that bird” are wrong. Both crows and seagulls look almost the same as back home but sound very different. Pigeons, though, are still pigeons.
  • Fluffy gray-green eucalypts look like lichen trees on a model railroad layout.
  • Vegemite spread thin on a toasted English muffin is actually quite nice. Tim Tams cookies also very nice; have not yet tried the apparently traditional “nibble off two opposite corners and suck hot coffee or tea through the Tim Tam” thing.

Gog and Magog in the laneways

This is not the entrance to the Tim Burton exhibit

This is the entrance to Luna Park