Late Night Notes from the Final Night of This Year’s World Science Fiction Convention

(This post drafted on Sunday 19 August, late night in my hotel room; cleaned up and posted today, Tuesday 28 August.)

I’m in San Jose, late on a Sunday night after this year’s Hugo Awards have been presented, and after I’ve sat in my room for an hour updating my Science Fiction Awards Database, sfadb.com, my one creative endeavour still under my control, with tonight’s results, and thinking to write down, while still fresh in my mind, some impressions from this weekend, before posting reconsidered selections on Facebook, if I do.

I’m at the Hilton adjacent to the Convention Center, the same convention center where the 2002 Worldcon was held, where I won my Hugo. In 2002 though I think I had a room at the Fairmont Hotel, the grand hotel in this area of downtown, whereas the Hilton is a perfectly nice but also perfectly ordinary hotel. The Hilton also happens to be almost directly underneath the flight path of incoming jets to the San Jose International Airport. My room looks out to the west, and so as the jets come in, they’re only a couple hundred feet above and to the west of my hotel window. There’s a Southwest, there’s an Alaska; they’re all smaller jets, likely 737s. I’m so fascinating by watching them fly over, that I think if I lived in such a place, I would be perpetually preoccupied by watching the planes and trying to identify them, that I would not get anything else done.

In fact, only a week ago Saturday, Yeong and I and the boys visited one of the boys’ cousins, Angela, at her new place in Foster City, an area along the SF Bay just south of the San Mateo bridge, where, on the flats, a series of canals and small lakes have been excavated, and lined with townhomes. That’s where we rowed a canoe (as I mentioned on Facebook). The location looks up, to the east, at the flight path of incoming planes to SFO, not just 737s, but the big 747s from all around the world. Again, I think if I lived there, I would become preoccupied by learning how to identify the various planes, checking the landing schedules at SFO, and trying to identify specific flights as they arrived…

(Actually, I could do the same from where I live looking out at the Oakland Airport, but I would have to use binoculars.)

I am out of the convention party loop, in part because I’m not staying at the party hotel, the Fairmont, and because as a non-SFWA member and a non-Hugo nominee I am not eligible to get into the really good parties, or even know about them. On the other hand, Locus held a 50th anniversary party last night in the south tower of the Fairmont, but they publicized it so heavily that so many many people showed up and the large suite they’d rented quickly filled to capacity… and they closed the doors, at a point we happened to step out.

The dynamics of conventions have changed for me over the many years since, 30 years ago, I attended the Worldcon in New Orleans in 1988. I’d attended the 1984 Worldcon in Anaheim, not long after abandoning grad school and getting my first industry job, but at that con I was just a spectator. (I have some pics of that con, with 1984 versions of Greg Bear, Connie Willis, and others, that I will try to post here eventually.) In early 1988 I started writing a monthly column for Locus Magazine and by the time of the Worldcon in New Orleans that Fall, I realized these great professional writers whom I admired knew who I was, and had some respect for me (not entirely just because I had liked their stories, but because I wasn’t the kind of reviewer who reflexively liked everything, or only reviewed stories I liked.. I think). The key event that I recall from that entire convention was when I chatted with Connie Willis, I think it was, and she invited me to have lunch with, as it turned out, Kim Stanley Robinson and his wife, Greg Bear (who offered some sage advice about contracts as we ate), James Patrick Kelly, and John Kessel. (I have a journal from that year with a long description of the entire convention.)

Perhaps I was spoiled by that extraordinary lunch in New Orleans; it never got any better. I’m not by nature a party-goer, or a schmoozer, and this year’s Worldcon proved again I’m a terrible meet-up person, the kind of person who’s able to make spontaneous plans for lunch or dinner with someone encountered in the hall after a panel, or in the hotel lobby early evening. After all these decades, my typical convention experience is to have many small passing conversations with professionals (or a very few fannish friends) I know, before they are busy running off to some other engagement. In the early years of my association with Locus Magazine, Charles Brown took me under his arm, inviting me along for meals with various New York editors or big name authors, but only for a time, before he encouraged me to go off on my own, and then in subsequent years would barely speak to me during conventions. Independently of that, for many years there was an annual Locus dinner party at one convention or another, with everyone from Locus, editors and reviewers, attending; but those passed; when Liza came into power she didn’t care. And so in recent years I’ve found myself adrift at conventions, knowing no fans (I’m not a joiner of clubs), having only passing familiarity with many professionals, who always have their own plans to run off to for lunch or dinner. And so the past few conventions I’ve been to, especially in Reno for the Worldcon in 2011, I’ve eaten all my meals, over four or five days, alone, with perhaps only one or two exceptions. In Chicago in 2012, and this weekend, it’s been slightly better because my partner has been there part of the time, someone to have dinner with at least, even thought his interest in science fiction conventions is no more than polite; his being there is a mixed blessing.

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I did a Fb post on the Dozois memorial, two days ago, on Friday. Especially on Saturday, perhaps because of single-day memberships, many of the panels were heavily overcrowded. Again and again, I went to a panel I thought interesting, and found the room overcrowded to the point of SRO, Standing Room Only, with people standing along the walls of the room or sitting on the floors. (Supposedly forbidden by fire marshals, but not enforced.)

There was a Harlan Ellison memorial panel on Saturday, the day after the Dozois panel, and the Ellison memorial was so overcrowded that I got a seat only because I sneaked in to the previous panel in that room and sat there for 20 minutes until the Ellison panel began.

The Ellison Memorial was the quintessential convention panel: the audience gathered before a panel consisting of Tom Whitmore (moderator), Robert Silverberg, Chris Barkley (standing in for Adam-Troy Castro, who couldn’t be there), David Gerrold, Christine Valada [widow of the late Len Wein, and project artist of the gallery of b&w photographs of famous SF authors that has been displayed again and again over the decades at the Worldcons], and Nat Segaloff, author of the recent Ellison biography that’s nominated for a Hugo this year [it didn’t win].

And I saw PNH and TNH in the elevator this evening. In 2011, at World Fantasy Con in San Diego, PNH entered an elevator with me, alone, and stared silently at the opposite wall as if I didn’t exist. This time I think he might have made the barest of nods in my direction, without speaking. Progress, perhaps.

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I might amend this post as I think of other items.

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