Monthly Archives: August 2011

Renovation Wrap-up

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…

Anyway.

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.

Renovation

I am indeed at this year’s World Science Fiction Convention in Reno — after having missed the past two years’ Worldcons — though I am not going to try to blog about what I do at the con every day, as I have for many past conventions. Just a few comments for now.

I drove here, to Reno, from Los Angeles, a 450 mile trip through mostly very scenic countryside, along the eastern Sierra Nevada, past Mt Whitney and Mammoth Lakes and Mono Lake. I was stalled for 1/2 hour by a freeway wreck on Route 14, all lanes stopped for 45 minutes, got caught in a prototypical small town speed trap in Lee Vining (despite my scrupulous attention to such matters) — I was let off with a warning about speed, but a ticket for not having a front license plate — and passed a huge brush fire south of Carson City, before entering the elongated suburban sprawl of Carson City on its way up to Reno. In a sad sense all American cities seem to be the same, these days of the early 21st century; all populated by the same national chains of fast food restaurants and retail outlets.

The convention facility is huge, the main hall containing the dealers’ room, art show, and fan lounge, the size of an airplane hangar. The Atlantis Hotel adjacent to it is a tad bizarre, a full-blown Nevada casino, with a smoke-filled room of slot machines and gambling tables on the main floor — you can’t enter or exit the hotel without passing through this noxious zone — populated by the usual sad assembly of committed gamblers, smoking their cigarettes and drinking their drinks and pushing their quarters into their slot machines (even at 7:30 this morning, when I was looking for breakfast). That crowd and the convention crowd are like two contemporaneous cities occupying the same space…

I was on two panels today, one about the ‘necessity of reviewers’, whose main attraction was panelist Lev Grossman, and one about the past and future of Locus, which drew a crowd of about two dozen. (I’m on one more panel Saturday, about online vs print magazines.)

I dipped in to several other panels/presentations, as usual. The dealers’ room is admirably dominated by book dealers. The art show has a spectacular corner of artworks owned by a private collector, featuring Richard Powers and Kelly Freas and Paul Lehr and Chesley Bonestell and many others, worth seeing, though the main show of artworks for sale is of course nowhere near as impressive.

And it’s hot here, in the 90s during the day. But cooling off at night.

A Note about Locus Online’s Monitor Listings

As just posted on yesterday’s New Books page, in the freshly installed WordPress Monitor blog:

Beginning August 2011, Monitor listings will be based on publisher schedules and availability on Amazon, rather than on confirmation of physical publication (i.e. via purchase, review copies, or sightings in bookstores). As before, titles are listed only once they are published; we do not list galleys or advance reading copies.

In addition, some titles (especially latter volumes in ongoing series) will be listed at the bottom of each page, without description.

Locus Online will endeavor to list, with or without description, all significant titles from the principal SF/F and mainstream publishers (omitting for the most part YA, horror, media and gaming ties, and self-published books). Publishers are welcome to alert Locus Online of scheduled titles, but such notice does not guarantee listings; and again, galleys and ARCs are discouraged.


I alluded to this change in my last post here, as a direct result of the closing of Borders bookstores and the consequent dearth of physical bookstores to browse and try to verify that scheduled books have actually been published. With Borders gone, there will be two Barnes & Nobles near me, in Woodland Hills and Calabasas, and then… I’m not sure how far to the next physical bookstore (let alone independent bookstore). There are B&Ns in Santa Monica and West L.A., each 12-15 miles away; independents are Book Soup in West Hollywood and Vroman’s in Pasadena, 15 and 20 miles away…. And that’s about it. In a big city. Times, they are a-changing.