As far as I could tell the convention was a success; no major snafus in programming, no difficulties with the facilities. Three impressions linger. First, the bizarre discontinuity of the convention crowd with the casino setting, as mentioned previous post. One aspect of this disparity was that there was no central bar, as at many conventions, for folks to gather in the evening, especially professionals and hangers on looking to congregate and network. The only bars in the Atlantis were in the casino area, and none of the con members seemed to hang out there. Second, the dominance of steampunk fashion and accouterments. For all that someone on one of the panels declared steampunk passe because it was subject of a major article in the New York Times, it was highly in evidence at Renovation — men and women in period garb, a big display of steampunk paraphernalia in the main hall (alongside a throne from The Game of Thrones, a favorite photo opportunity). Third, since I’ve attended smaller cons the past few years but not a Worldcon since Denver in ’08, the distinctive fan crowd, whose demographic characteristics I will not detail but which you can readily imagine.
Particular panels or events I attended included an ‘academic’ panel by ones Ryan Nichols and Justin Lynn, two guys from CSU Fullerton moonlighting from their majors to do a quantitative analysis of texts of stories from several best-of-year anthologies in order to determine the difference, if there is one, between science fiction and fantasy. The results they showed were supposedly statistically significant — in terms of p-values vs null hypotheses, which actually I am somewhat familiar with — though at a glance the bar charts, of the frequency of various clusters of terms in ‘sf’ texts vs ‘fantasy’ texts, looked remarkably similar. More interesting were their suggestions of how such data might be used — to evaluate the saleability of manuscript submissions, for instance — which led to rousing audience objections and comments, from Cory Doctorow and many others.
More typical panels I attended included ones on consciousness, with Nancy Kress moderating effectively as always; one of past and future of SF, with Gary Wolfe and Farah Mendlesohn and others, discussing mainly foreign authors. (Interesting points: Dan Brown opened the doors for the acceptance of mainstream/pop novels with fantastic themes; and, the current popularity of loooong fantasy novels diminishes their chances of translation into other languages, simply due to the expense of the translation.)
I heard Tim Powers’ guest of honor speech, laden with effective anecdotes (his teenage conflation of HP Lovecraft with Simon & Garfunkel; his neighbors’ lightening rod that attracted unreliable ghosts), and which was significant for his explicit disavowal of fantasy as bogus — yes, that’s what he writes, but he doesn’t *really* believe in ghosts; fantasy teases the supernatural circuitry left us by evolution to explain the unknown.
Saturday morning I was part of a panel on web vs print magazines, effectively moderated by Michael Ward, with Stephen Segal, Gordon Van Gelder, Jed Hartman, and Lee Harris. We talked all around the various aspects of the topic, and I think I managed to discuss the workings of Locus magazine vs online without sounding too incoherent.
After that I attended a “Killer Bs” panel with Greg Bear, David Brin, and Gregory Benford, doing their usual shtick — serious discussion mixed with playful banter, verging on BS — and here came the most bizarre moment of my Renovation experience (or of any recent convention experience). The three were discussing their ‘second’ Foundation trilogy, the three novels they wrote with the approval of the Asimov estate, and at one point Benford said, And you know who I based my version of Hari Seldon on?
And he pointed straight at me — in crowd of two or three hundred people.
Mark Kelly, he said, the online Locus editor, who’s right there.
I was wearing a bright gold polo shirt, so he had easily spotted me. Everyone turned to look. I held up my hand and waved, demurely. Perhaps Greg was serious (I’ve known him, in a casual five-minute chat fashion at various conventions, for 15 or 20 years now), or perhaps he was invoking the make-it-up-as-you-go-along free-spiritedness of the panel…
The serious points of their discussion were fascinating and worth noting — the way Asimov himself kept arguing with his writing of a decade before, for his entire career; trying to get more Democrats to read science fiction; the way NASA has done exactly was the advisory committee said they should do — get out of the way of private business investing in space. And it was Greg Bear’s 60th birthday.
On Sunday there was a presentation by Kim Stanley Robinson about one of his passions, the Sierra mountains, an extended slide show with personal discussion of the geology, of the sunsets and the water and the rocks and flowers and people, and asides about how this has shown up in his fiction, including of course the three Mars novels.
There was also a panel about the enduring appeal of Robert A. Heinlein, with Harry Turtledove and surprise Hugo loser William H. Patterson…
The Hugos on Saturday evening were dominated by the shtick of Jay Lake (currently bald, due to chemotherapy) and Ken Scholes, which was intermittently amusing. The ceremony was efficiently presented, but was prolonged early on by Dave Kyle’s Big Heart Award presentation, and later by the clips of the dramatic presentation nominees, in two categories. (I realize that Hugo ceremonies show clips of all the dramatic presentation nominees because they *can*, but I have always somewhat resented this resultant dominance of those categories in the overall ceremony compared to the four principal fiction categories…. it’s not as if they read excerpts from the fiction nominees.) It was nice to see Sheila Williams and Lou Anders, frequent nominees in the past, win their first Hugos; the surprise win for me was something called Chicks Dig Time Lords, about women who love Doctor Who, which beat out Patterson’s Heinlein biography in the best ‘related work’ category.
Which reminds me that the Worldcon business meeting (here’s a link) apparently passed changes to the ‘semiprozine’ category that will rule out Locus Magazine and three of the other five current nominees, if I understand this correctly, from future consideration – depending on ratification at next year’s Worldcon. Since I have no horse in this race, websites having been dismissed from category consideration years ago (if not distinct ‘semiprozines’, they are to be considered indirectly via the ‘best editor’ or perhaps the ‘related work’ categories, not that this has ever happened), I note this only in passing.
My drive home was uneventful. I took the interstates, I80 through Donner pass (a route I’ve never before driven) and west to Sacramento, then I5 all the way down into LA; partly to avoid the speed-trap risk of driving through small towns on route 395. (I also considered a route down through Nevada, via Tonopah, but dismissed this as likely to take too much time, considering promises to keep etc.) Ironically, the interstate trip took just as long as the earlier trip. Reno is west of Los Angeles (think about it, then look it up). The interstate return trip was faster, but longer — driving west to Sacramento, then southeast down the 5, was 515 miles, vs the 452 miles from LA up the 395 to Reno via Carson City. I like long car trips; someday I’ll drive those roads through Nevada, and someday I’ll drive across the country on blue highways.