Monthly Archives: June 2007

Travel Notes: Vancouver, Seattle, Tampa

Vancouver wasn’t quite what I expected, but was impressive nonetheless. Perhaps from reading too many William Gibson novels, I expected more of a high-tech city full of gleaming office towers backdropped by the green mountains you always see in shots of the city (link is an example I found in Google images). In fact, most of the towers are residential, dozens or hundreds of 15 and 20 story buildings that look built in the ’70s, with balconies for every unit and windows in hotels that actually open (we were on the 18th floor of the Pacific Palisades Hotel, looking southwest). I read somewhere that the downtown area of Vancouver has one of the highest residential population densities in the world…

Nevertheless, it is a picturesque city; standing on the pier by the convention center (which is undergoing a huge expansion in preparation for the 2010 Winter Olympics), looking out on the bay as the seaplanes take off and land, with green island of Stanley Park to the left and an enormous cruise ship lumbering its departure ahead and North Vancouver beyond and the green mountains embracing it all, the view is surely the most beautiful I’ve ever seen from any city’s downtown.

We drove the rental car to Horseshoe Bay, where ferries leave for spots on Vancouver Island, and had lunch, with the biggest juiciest Fanny Bay oysters I’ve ever seen, as the clouds hung low over the steep hillsides.

Icon alert: the symbol of the 2010 Winter Olympics is a humanesque figure that looks like a cross between the Michelin Man and a Pacific Northwest totem pole. It’s in the upper left corner of the linked page. It’s everywhere in the souvenir shops: jade statues, wooden frig magnets, letter opener handles.

I can confirm Vancouver’s status as a site for frequent film and TV shooting; we saw location film crews twice, once in Stanley Park near the totem poles, another in Capilano River Regional Park (after we’d passed on the C$35 admission to the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a tourist attraction that from what we could tell had no purpose other than being a tourist attraction).

Not much new to say about Seattle — I’ve been there three or four times previously — except that driving south into downtown during rush hour was just as bad as I would have thought driving out of downtown would have been. The Marriott Courtyard at Lake Union (which isn’t precisely a lake, but an inlet of the bay, in turn a corner of Puget Sound, in turn a pocket of the Pacific Ocean) is a pleasant enough hotel, close to the SF Museum, with a nice McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant a short walk away. (I ordered Fanny Bay oysters again, and they were good, but not nearly as large.)

I described the Hall of Fame ceremony in a previous post. After the Hall of Fame event the SF Museum itself was open to attendees, and while the main museum exhibits seemed identical to those on display last year (the stack of Neal Stephenson hand-written manuscripts; the Lost in Space Jupiter 2 diorama; the original Star Trek set model), there was this year a special costume exhibit upstairs on the third level. It featured a scattering of costumes from various genre films that was at least half filled with costumes from various Star Trek movies and TV series episodes. (Amanda’s dress from “Journey to Babel”! and so on.) (There was also a Blade Runner spinner suspended overhead.) What struck me about the costumes — as with the props from Star Trek and other productions — was how crude they appear in close-up. They are not finely tailored; the tricorder looks like a high school mockup. The point is that film productions imply as much as they show; it’s so much bigger on the big screen than in reality. The magic of cinema.

… After the weekend I flew to Tampa for a work-related conference, this year’s Systems & Software Technology Conference, which prior to this year had been held for two decades in Salt Lake City, but which for 2007 had moved to Tampa, Florida. I had never been to Tampa, or anywhere on Florida’s Gulf coast. The Tampa Convention Center, where the conference was held, was impressive, vast enough to host two other events besides ours. But Tampa, embedded deep in Tampa Bay, struck me as rather dull, an older city gussied up with a few glassy high-rises downtown. One afternoon when there was nothing pertinent for me to attend at the conference I took my rental car for a tour of the area, driving across the bay to St. Petersburg (whose downtown seems much more charming than Tampa’s) and across the spectacular Sunshine Skyway Bridge before looping back northward to Tampa. I’ve heard there are amazing beaches along the coast south of the bay, but I didn’t have time to check them out.

And I’ll spare you the all-too-typical agonies of my delayed and rerouted plane flights.

More soon: I just saw a preview showing of SF film Sunshine last night, and will write up my reactions to the film, and the experience of visiting the Fox lot, soon.

Locus Awards Weekend, 2007

Again this year the presentation of the Locus Awards — the winners of the annual Locus Poll — was held in Seattle in conjunction with the Science Fiction Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Again this year the Locus Awards presentation took place at the official event hotel, the Courtyard Marriott on Lake Union (which isn’t really a lake), about a mile from the SF Museum, and this year it was preceded by two panel discussions with various attending SF luminaries.

The first panel, “Thinking about Humanity”, with Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, and Nancy Kress, moderated by Eileen Gunn, addressed the question of what humanity might look like after the “singularity” — or to what extent that question even made sense. Would post-singularity people even be recognizably ‘human’? Dozois made the point that even if some people ‘transcended’, many others wouldn’t; society would always be a stratified parfait, with homeless men lying in the streets somewhere. Willis had her doubts about the putative transformation of human nature, discussing social vs permanent components — the way teenaged girls are judgmental these days not about sex lives, but about food — they’re always judgmental about something. Kress didn’t think there would be any fundamental change, at least not for millions of years, and even if there was, it wouldn’t be much use to writers, who have the problem of writing characters their readers can comprehend (if not always sympathize with). The discussion wandered slightly, to the way contemporary SF can be impenetrable to newcomers, constantly raising the bar, and what works better for young readers vs older readers. From the audience Greg Bear cited Apocalypto as the best presentation of a truly alien society to a general audience that he’d ever seen.

The second panel was the flipside of the first — “Thinking About the World”, with ubergeeks and singularity thinkers Vernor Vinge, Greg Bear, and Neal Stephenson, moderated by Charles N. Brown. Vinge recounted his cautious definition of ‘singularity’, and what he suspects to be a common belief among SF readers that in some sense people in the future will be better — that maybe the future won’t necessarily always entail Chinese farmers planting rice in muddy fields. Bear described how the theme wasn’t new; Childhood’s End was Arthur C. Clarke’s singularity, broken off at the point where the author could say no more about the transformation of humanity. Stephenson spoke of reading German philosopher Edmund Husserl (if I heard him correctly) about the problems of consciousness; computers aren’t the answer, Stephenson opined; they’re merely faster. The discussion veered into the virtual realm; Brown noted how much people want to be watched these days, in an inversion to 1984; Vinge sensed a sea change about what young people are willing to give away; and Stephenson cited the guy on a government watch-list who’s put his entire life on the web, as a defense. Most people don’t have anything to lose, he said; for most, it’s a net gain to put their personal stories out there for everyone to see.

Then came the Locus Awards banquet — luncheon buffet, actually — on Saturday at 1p.m. Again Connie Willis was Master of Ceremonies, providing a history of the Locus Awards, with props held up by assistant Amelia Beamer, with a long explanation of why the awards have become associated with Hawaiian shirts, followed by the traditional Hawaiian shirt contest, including the ritual humiliation of those in the audience who, despite instructions, neglected to wear proper garb. That portion included a pop quiz on current events, where the plainly clad attendees could redeem themselves by answering questions about Paris Hilton and movies and TV shows featuring Hawaiian shirts, for the chance to choose from a selection of Hawaiian consolation prize shirts from Denver-area Salvation Army shops and the like.

Then came the Hawaiian shirt contest itself, metered by audience applause through several elimination rounds. For this I was abruptly recruited for photography duty, and was too busy lining up shots to pay much attention to who actually won. But a good time was had by all.

Then came the Locus Awards themselves, a bit anticlimactic after all that, especially since — a perpetual problem — not very many of the actual winners were in attendance. Results are posted here. Of the fifteen categories, only three were accepted by their winners — John Picacio (artist), Gardner Dozois (for anthology), and Vernor Vinge (for SF novel). Not that there weren’t other luminaries in the audience, most notably Gene Wolfe, a Hall of Fame inductee later that day, who stood up to accept Neil Gaiman’s two awards, for short story and collection. David G. Hartwell, Jim Frenkel, Eileen Gunn, L. Timmel Duchamp, Charles N. Brown, Amelia Beamer, and Carol Stevermer got up to read acceptance speeches from the other winners. An emergent theme of the awards was the idea of accepting via an ‘interpretive dance’, suggested by one or two of the (non-present) winners. Jim Frenkel made a valiant gesture in that direction, but it was Amelia Beamer who showed more enthusiasm for the idea, not just once but two or three times. Surely such dances, along with Hawaiian shirts, will become a Locus Awards tradition.

Among acceptors of publisher’s scrolls — the Locus Awards are unique in explicitly honoring publishers of winning works — was Rome Quezada, newly appointed editor of the Science Fiction Book Club, making his first appearance at an SF event, assuring the audience that original titles, like Dozois’ One Million A.D., which published Charles Stross’ winning novella, would continue.

Later that day was the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the SF Museum, staged very similarly to last year’s event, with a dessert buffet (albeit a smaller one than last year), and a program that included guest star presenters of each award together with film collage tributes to each inductee’s lifework. Neal Stephenson was the droll Master of Ceremonies, noting the absence of Museum curator Therese Littleton due to illness. John Picacio expertly introduced the film tribute to artist inductee Ed Emshwiller, with Eileen Gunn accepting on the family’s behalf. Next Generation actor Will Wheaton (see footnote*) introduced inductee Gene Roddenberry, presenting the ensign bars Roddenberry had given him on the set many years before to acceptor Eugene Roddenberry, Jr., on stage. Warren Etheredge introduced inductee Ridley Scott — who, though still alive, was unable to attend — noting the feat of achieving Hall of Fame status on the basis of just two films. And David G. Hartwell introduced Gene Wolfe — inadvertantly repeating some the remarks captured by the film intro, a distillation of two hours’ filming. Wolfe, the one inductee in attendance, exclaimed how so many other people seemed to know this Gene Wolfe better than he himself did, he had little to say, other than he was shaken to the core.

And the ceremony was finished early!

I’ll have more later about other events of the weekend and my own recent travels.

*Footnote: Taking a shuttle van from the hotel to the SF Museum for the ceremonies that evening, my partner and I were joined by a polite 30ish young man who apologized when one of us moved to the rear, third seat so he could climb in after us into the second row. As we alighted at the museum, I noticed a couple of fans stopping him to ask for autographs–but it still didn’t register. It wasn’t until we were settling at our tables before the ceremony, and someone said there’s Will Wheaton, whom until then I hadn’t even realized was on the program, and my partner said that’s him, him in the van, that I realized — oh, why so it is. I hadn’t recognized him. It’s been 12 years since I last saw him, on TV, and we’re both that much older…

Vancouver Seattle Tampa

I’ve been on the road — or I suppose the phrase should be in the air, these days — since Wednesday, which I reveal to explain the relative lack of new posts on the Locus Online website since then. The central event of my recent schedule was the Locus Awards and SF Hall of Fame induction this weekend in Seattle. Before that, my partner and I flew up to Vancouver for a couple days, and following that, I’ve flown to Tampa for a work-related conference, where I’ve just arrived after a typically nightmarish long day of cancelled flights and re-routed itineraries.

I’ll post more about Vancouver and the Locus Awards and Hall of Fame in the next day or two.

Paper, Plastic, or World Fantasy Con Tote Bag?

My latest bit to be environmentally conscious is to take a cloth tote-bag to the grocery store with me, so that I don’t need to choose either paper or plastic. I’ve been using my 2003 World Fantasy Con tote bag, with the orange straps. My local Ralphs supermarket gives me a whole $.05 credit on my bill for not using their paper or plastic bags. If I shop twice a week, and remember to take my tote bag each time, I’ll save in a year’s time a whole… five dollars.

Weirdly, my local Ralphs has recently remodeled, closing for 10 days last month to do so, upgrading to look more like a Whole Foods Market, or a Gelson’s, with more prepared food counters and high-end liquor shelves at the front, while actually reducing the shelf space for ordinary canned and bagged goods now at the back. It’s weird because I realized after 2 or 3 visits to the reopened store that the entire staff has changed. None of the old checkers or bag boys are there. I’m afraid to ask. It’s as if Stepford clerks, or aliens, have moved in and taken over.

Quills Scope

I’d say the finalists for this year’s Quill Awards — by McDonald, Marusek, Walton, MacLeod, and Rothfuss — are better representative of the field than the bestseller-oriented selections in the previous two years… and would attribute this to the removal of open voting to the public to determine the nominees. On the other hand, the current procedure amounts to the award being a function of Publishers Weekly magazine, whose editors and reviewers determine the finalists.

But what struck me about the list is the selection of categories. There is, most glaringly, no science category…. Apparently, the awards intention to “honor the most entertaining and enlightening titles” includes religion/spirituality, and cooking, and health/self-improvement, and sports, and even poetry (!), but not books about science or technology…