Monday, August 20, 2018

76th World Science Fiction Convention

Informally only "Worldcon 76" - the traditional city-name-inspired titles by which the previous San José Worldcon was called "ConJosé" seem to be on the way out. Because it was so local I was inevitably drawn into its orbit and attended, although my interest in these events has been rapidly decreasing, and this is the first Worldcon I've been to since the last one within reasonable driving distance, Reno seven years ago. I'm not expecting another in my time.

Like its local predecessor, the con was held at the city's convention center, a corridor extending along a long city block, anchored by attachments to major high-rise hotels at each end, with programming rooms - most of them far too small for the numbers who wanted to attend items - at either end and a giant ballroom and an even vaster concrete exhibit hall in the middle. The latter had art show at one end, dealers at the other, and miscellaneous exhibits and lounges in between.

My principal interest was in the dealers' room, into which I immediately disappeared and emerged with eight books, to which I added four more later. Most of them were single-author short-story collections, my favorite kind of box to consume science fiction from, though one of late only much available from small-press publishers.

Saturday's costume presentation in the giant ballroom was mostly notable for the number of times that tech failed to play the presenter's chosen music, and for the on-stage nervous breakdowns these glitches gave the emcee.

The Hugo Awards, Sunday, same venue, went smoother. The winners were inspiring, especially N.K. Jemisin with her unprecedented third consecutive Best Novel win. She's the big cheese in SF writing now, no question. But despite noble intentions I hadn't read any of the nominees or voted, so I viewed it from a figurative as well as literal distance.

Of the other evenings' ballroom events, Friday's series of concert sets - mostly songs with guitar - by the convention's various musically-enabled Guests of Honor was very pleasant. But of Thursday's original stage musical inspired by Snow White, the less said the mercifully better. Perhaps I should have gone to that night's alternative programming, a reception presenting the 1943 Retro Hugos, even though it was to be immediately followed by the truly shudder-inducing prospect of an 80s dance. (Why not a 40s dance? Bring on the Andrews Sisters!)

I didn't attend a lot of programming, and indeed was prevented from a few by lack of seating. Not all were worth attending.

1. A talk by the author of a forthcoming biography of famous old-time SF editor John W. Campbell featured his explaining how his publisher had persuaded him to focus on some of Campbell's authors as well, and he'd picked Asimov, Heinlein, and Hubbard as both important and central to Campbell's own story. This was followed by cluelessly name-collecting audience members asking why not Poul Anderson, Henry Kuttner, Eric Frank Russell? To all of which the author gave the same reply, which he'd already given before they asked.

2. A panel on the future of libraries, at which I'd hoped to learn something, was half-filled by the panelists giving detailed accounts of their vitas, and didn't say anything of note in the other half either.

3. A memorial panel for Harlan Ellison ran with the accepted mixed view of his legacy. I wrote down some of the quips. "Harlan never met a deadline he really liked"--Christine Valada. "I knew Harlan for about fifty years. I think we were friends for about thirty of those years"--David Gerrold. "When he was good he was very good. You know the next line"--Robert Silverberg.

A couple panels that actually discussed Tolkien were more intellectually productive, and I'll write about those in a subsequent post.

Fortunately I had something else to occupy a lot of otherwise dead time. I attended the Business Meeting, something I don't often do. Last year's Hugo Administrator, Nicholas Whyte, had proposed a technical constitutional amendment in the Hugo rules, and not planning to be present this year had sought out co-sponsors. As a former Hugo Administrator myself, I liked his proposal and volunteered. Of the three co-sponsors, one wasn't present at the meeting when it was considered (though he was at the con) and one was the sergeant-at-arms, so I was the principal speaker in its favor at the brief schedule-setting session. The motion was rejected from full consideration by a vote of 59-26, which is closer than it looks because it requires 2/3ds of those voting to do so. This continues my unbroken string of being on the losing side of any Worldcon Business Meeting motion I speak on, but besides being based on only 5 or 6 data points over many years, it's neither bad luck nor malevolence, as I am not a skilled parliamentarian and only speak when the arguments I support are not being presented more ably by someone else. Which means they're probably going down.

SF cons are famous for their room parties, but I only attended one such party during the entire con, hosted by my friend and former editing/publishing colleague Lisa Harrigan in memory of her late husband (also a friend, and a mighty mentor in computer hardware) Harold. It was quiet, mostly people who knew Harold. I spent most of it in detailed conversation on reading-reception issues with the erudite John Hertz.

One other perception enlivened Worldcon, best conveyed in a quick exchange I had with a passing personage on Thursday, the first afternoon of the convention.
ME: So far, sir, I have been mistaken for you twice.

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