The past few days have been hectic, what with preparing for and traveling to Orlando for this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, ICFA, which this year has relocated from its previous 20-some-year venue at a hotel at the corner of the airport in Ft. Lauderdale. The new venue is a big Marriott at the corner of the airport in Orlando. But it’s a big, more modern hotel than the facility in Ft. Lauderdale, and there are a bunch of restaurants within walking distance, which wasn’t true in Ft L, even if they are all chains.
Of course the principal event of recent days was the death of Arthur C. Clarke, which I first heard about on NPR while driving home from work on Tuesday afternoon. As it turned out the news was only an hour or two old, but by the time I stopped at the market and got home, there were 8 or 10 emails alerting me of the news, more than one of which rather irately wondered why Locus had dropped the ball and not yet posted anything. Well, I am sorry; as I’ve described here in this blog on numerous occasions, my current East Coast red pen authoritarian employer blocks most non-work websites, not to mention personal email, and I had no way of learning the news let alone updating the site during the work day. I wish it were otherwise, but there’s no way to support a staff to run the website, and this part-time, some-time support is the best we can do.
My impression is that there’s been greater notice of Clarke’s death in the general press than for any other SF author ever, including Heinlein and Asimov, who did not have the high profile Clarke gained through his involvement with the film 2001. Dozens of others have written tributes and appreciations about Clarke, so I will not attempt another, except for a couple personal notes. Of the ‘big three’, Asimov Clarke Heinlein, Clarke was my favorite, the one I’ve reread the most often. 2001 was the formative experience of my life: I was 11 or 12 when I was turned on first by “Lost in Space” and then by “Star Trek”, but the quantum leap between those two was dwarfed by the majesty of 2001 and 2001 the book — I *read* the book before I saw the movie, and so I knew, I’ve always known, exactly what the film was supposed to depict, and I’ve always seen the wordless, abstract ending of the film as a cinematic illustration of the sort of transcendence that can barely be expressed in words (though that was of course a recurring theme of Clarke’s fiction), rather than some invitation to drug-addled mysticism. I think 2001 remains in some sense the only SF film, the only SF film that both takes on a big serious theme and has the discipline and artistic integrity to do it right in its depiction of the mechanics of spacecraft and space flight, and in developing the consequences of its central premise, in contrast the countless examples of ‘SF’ films since then that to some extent pander to the naive expectations of the unsophisticated audience. (Swoosh! goes the Enterprise, in every one of its incarnations.) Of course I am drifting; the film is as much Kubrick’s as Clarke’s; but the film has always represented for me the seriousness and non-religious, in the conventional “it’s all about me” sense of the major Western religions, cosmic philosophy that underlies so much of Clarke’s fiction…
So, then, a solid hour Tuesday evening compiling an obituary/summary of Clarke’s career to post on the site. Then weekly bestsellers, another hour and a half; then packing for the trip; then up early for the drive to LAX and the 5 hours flight (fortunately nonstop) to Orlando. (I should mention that more impressive than my hasty online obit is the fact that the Locus Magazine staff put together a complete obituary for the April issue, swapping out a couple pages already sent to the printers, and had updates to them, including a revised cover from Arnie Fenner, for the final issue by Wednesday morning.) The flight was uneventful. I read half a John Varley novel which was, coincidentally, about flying into Orlando. I arrived about 4:30 p.m. local time, checked in, and on my way down to find registration and see about dinner, stumbled over an electric cart in the hallway outside another room on my floor with a name tag affixed to the front reading “Charles N. Brown”. So I knocked on the door and said hello to Charles and to Liza, and subsequently joined them for dinner, along with Ellen and Eileen and John, at a high-end seafood restaurant miles and miles away from the hotel (close to that mouse place, I think), where we ate oysters and stone crab and key lime shrimp and wahoo and drank 5 bottles of wine among the 6 of us (over a 3 hour period). It was great, though it rather blew my food budget for the weekend, and I’ve resolved to eat more modestly from now on.
The conference actually began Wednesday afternoon, though I didn’t see any of it until today, Thursday. As always, the bulk of the program consists of grad students reading papers about various aspect of fantasy — this year’s theme is “The Fantastic in the Sublime” — along with readings by attending authors. There are buffet lunches on Thursday and Friday, and a buffet awards banquet on Saturday evening. Today’s luncheon featured a Guest of Honor speech by Guest of Honor Vernor Vinge. If Vernor Vinge is not the first person you might think of as headlining a fantasy conference, he nevertheless gave a speech supporting his role, first claiming that SF, along with peripheral genres like magical realism, is a part of fantasy, and then discussing various ‘meta-scary’ things, that is things that are scary to writers of fantasy. These included the demise of books, first as printed objects, then as textual bodies that have fixed associations to particular authors — just as where we started, in the age of the Odyssey and Iliad, when stories were passed on and amended by tale tellers.
Tonight’s dinner was more modest, a salad and quesadilla in the casual hotel restaurant with Chris Barzak, then drinks and chatting with people hanging out in the bar, as usual. The hotel has a lovely indoor/outdoor pool, and a gazebo situated by a pond, but it’s actually been rather cool the past couple days, in contrast to the typical mugginess of Ft. Lauderdale, and most people are staying indoors. We’re far enough north to experience a different weather pattern, I’ve been informed.