Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Master

So we did indeed see The Master, the new film by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix, about a cult leader named Lancaster Dodd who is, not officially but obviously at least inspired by, L. Ron Hubbard. (At the Arclight Hollywood.) And it was… what’s a good word? Gripping. Reminiscent of Anderson’s last feature, THERE WILL BE BLOOD, in the emphasis on larger than life personalities, on bravura scenes that are intense for the characters and must have been grueling on the actors — especially one don’t-blink-your-eyes-until-I-say-so scene. It’s more about the type of person Hubbard perhaps was, charismatic and megalomaniac, and the type of follower — Phoenix in this film — whose past and personality reveal why he would be attracted to such a master. No it’s not about Scientology precisely, but there’s a very similar self-help methodology and an implicit theology (characters refer to billions and trillions of years without irony) in this film, which more than one smart character perceives that Lancaster Dodd is simply making up as he goes along. I would be fascinated by reactions to this film of anyone who knew Hubbard in person… Frederik Pohl? Robert Silverberg?

Phoenix could easily win a supporting actor Oscar for this; it’s the type of unhinged, almost insane, character, that often wins in this category. Hoffman convinces; he could be nominated. Amy Adams seems too young for her role, unless the point was that Dodd likes young wives, which didn’t seem supported by anything else in the film.

Not, I think, a best picture nominee…. judging only from this observation: as the film ended and credits rolled, maybe two people in the large, almost-filled auditorium applauded. This is Hollywood; audiences are enthusiasts, often knowing friends in the credits; it’s more common than not for audiences to applaud. Something about this film fascinated, but did not overwhelm.

Chicon 7: Saturday and Sunday panels


Arrived a bit late for a panel about “Why Fantasy is Overtaking Science Fiction”, with Scott Lynch, Ty Franck, and a very passionate Farah Mendlesohn discoursing about how so many readers follow an author for a particular series only, but not to other types of books; about how certain kinds of YA writers took to SF&F without understanding that SF is about *consequences*; how some of her students loved The Da Vinci Code and others (the faster readers) hated it. An audience members’ theory was the environmentalist movement destroyed science fiction… a rather bizarre premise which Farah, nevertheless gamely, responded too. Takeaway: Farah’s passion and expertise.

A panel called “Learning to be Dangerous” took as its inspiration a 1985 Gene Wolfe speech, in which he proposed that instead of trying to ‘escape the ghetto’ of SF, SF writers should reach out and pull everyone else inside. To an extent, that’s happened; we’ve won, at least in pop culture outside of books; look how many of the top box office films are sf/f. Panelists were Gene Wolfe, David G. Hartwell, Connie Willis, and a couple others, and they talked about ghetto walls and the danger some people feel about all books, not to mention specific ones. (Like, Little Women.)

I listened in on part of a panel about Space X – the private launch firm – led by Geoffrey A. Landis, until I got hungry enough to go searching for lunch. Landis neatly captured the difference between this firm and NASA, and between NASA now and NASA of 50 years ago — that NASA now is not allowed to fail. SpaceX failed three times and kept going; when the early Mercury astronauts launched, their Atlas rockets had only a 50% success rate….

And then came a can’t-fail panel: get five SF luminaries, all good talkers, on a stage to talk about “The Secret History of SF”, i.e. stories about infamous SF convention events. Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, Mike Resnick, and (late to show) Gardner Dozois. Themes: Worldcon masquerades…The turd/peanut butter entry. Silverberg, relenting for a dismissive comment about masquerades, forced into MC’ing one. Then: The con where the rocket trophies showed up and late and all they gave out were the bases, and R.A. Lafferty, drunk, was confused about losing his. About Silverberg’s awe at an early ’50s con seeing Willy Ley, Robert Sheckley, L. Sprague de Camp, James Blish, and Theodore Sturgeon, walking through the lobby… and contrasting that awe with current cons. GRRM about the invention of the Hugo Losers’ party. Cons in the late ’60s where folks went skinny-dipping in the hotel pools — and one con where the pool was situated *above* the hotel restaurant… and several largish skinny-dipping fans were seen from below and and sighted by diners, among whom Gardner, who screamed “manatees!”. And the infamous ’68 Baycon, laced with drugs, heat, wasps, and an infinitely long speech by Philip Jose Farmer…

And ending with an anecdote about L. Sprague de Camp, at a Worldcon that shared its hotel with a Scientology convention. He was approached by an acolyte in the hotel lobby, and replied, “Young man, I knew Hubbard when he was a *small* time crook.”

The large room was packed, with an enthusiastic audience.

Had dinner that evening with my partner and his 25-year-old son James, at Capital Grille. After which, we did the room parties — exposing James to the SF culture at the Baen party (we chatted with David Marusek, Pat Cadigan, and David Brin) and two Japanese parties, one a ‘thank you’ party from the 2007 Worldcon, the second hosting an elaborate tea ceremony. I sat next to Eileen Gunn, squatting on the floor, for the formal ceremony…


Sunday morning we had a tasty breakfast, after a lengthy wait outside in light rain for a table, at the very popular Wilberry Cafe, a couple blocks south of the Hyatt and across the street from the park. (We arrived at 10am, were seated at 11.15am, and got food at 11.45am.) So I arrived rather late to a 12n panel about “The Future of NASA”, with Ben Bova, Geoffrey A. Landis, David Brin, Catherine Asaro, and Mary Turzillo. Takeaway anecdote: Brin described how a survey of science literacy among all nations put the US ahead — at 14% [not great but] — because US colleges are four-year programs, requiring a certain amount of breadth classes, e.g. Physics for English Majors and so on — whereas other countries, including Britain’s Oxford and Cambridge, are only three-year programs for Baccalaureate degrees, focused on particular subjects the way our, US, graduate programs are focused… I did not know that.

The rest of the day I dipped in and out of panels. A bit of the “Ethics of Book Reviewing”, with Jo Walton and Roland Green and Michael Lowry, where they discussed why Wikipedia doesn’t consider reviews on Amazon ‘reliable’. A panel on pseudoscience, with Mary Turzillo, James Cambias, Matthew Rotundo, and Richard Garfinkle. A panel on “Stalking the Elusive Story Idea”, which I attended mainly, as I did on an earlier panel, to put a face and identity on certain names, in this case Alec Nevala-Lee and Vylar Kaftan. Finally: “SF and the Mainstream”, a small packed room, with Gary Wolfe, John Kessel, Eddie Schneider [an agent], Beverly Friend, and Sarah Stegall. Rich Horton and Evelyn Leeper were in the audience and spoke up several times. Consensus: they are moving closer. Atwood, Vonnegut. A question was asked from the audience, name a book from the ‘mainstream’ that should be of interest to SF readers. Replies: John Collier’s Tom’s A-Cold, Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance, Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo, Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, Walter Tevis’ Mockingbird, Leonora Carrington’s Hearing Trumpet, David Maine’s The Preservationist, Jim Fergus’ One Thousand White Women, John Hersey’s White Lotus, Kris Rasmussen, Brian Evenson, Matt Ruff, David Mitchell, Giles Goat Boy.

After that, a quick dinner with Yeong and James outside at Trattoria Isabella, west and across the river from downtown, then back to the con for the Hugo Awards. I got in line at 7:30, at the end of a huge line that extended across the bridge to the west tower, and by the time I got into the auditorium, found a decent seat only six rows from the back. But I covered that in an earlier post.

PS- It’s occurred to me to wonder about the requirements for admission to the pre-Hugo Awards reception. I chatted with several folks who were there, or who reported others who were there — e.g. Gene Wolfe — but who were not nominees this year themselves, or even winners ever (Gene Wolfe has nine nominations but has never won). I presume the con committee has policies about this, and I’m sure they are entirely understandable, concerning not only past nominees/winners but also special guests whom no one would ever expect to stand in line for hours in order to sit six rows from the back, say. Next year, Locus Mag folks might get in as press, even though they’ll not be nominees. For example.

Chicon PS

I’ve been advised that the name of the convention was Chicon, not ChiCon, and have corrected previous posts.

Still have some panel writeups to complete, probably not until tomorrow.

Chicon 7: Hugos and After

The Hugo Awards were presented this evening at Chicon 7 in Chicago, and have been well-reported elsewhere (Facebook, Twitter, Fictionmags, and of course Locus Online), so I don’t need to recount the winners. My perspective was a little different this year, not having a guest invitation from one of the Locus crew to the pre-ceremony reception for the nominees, where they usually serve decent hors d’oeuvre and provide drink tickets. (Actually, to be specific, in the past ten years I was a nominee myself twice, so got in; three of those 10 I didn’t attend; so there were five times I got in as a guest of Liza or Gary or one of the others. This year Liza and Gary took other guests.) So this year I got in line with everyone else and ended up six rows from the back in a hall that filled to capacity, with overflow sitting on the floor around the edges… Given the perspective, I saw virtually the entire event on the screens at the ends of the stage, rather than directly; there were too many heads in front of me, and the stage was too far away.

John Scalzi kept things moving along though many of the acceptance speeches were rather lengthy. My partner stayed back at his son’s condo and watched the event via Ustream, which, as quickly became known, cut off the show about half way through as the movie clips ran for supposed copyright infringement. So they, and many others at home, missed the last part of the show, with all the most important categories.

On the other hand, they did see Locus win, which was gratifying for everyone concerned since this was the first time Liza and crew won on their own, since Charles Brown died, and especially since rules changes to the Hugo category definitions, proposed last year and ratified this year, apparently rule out Locus (and a couple other perennial nominees) from this category forever more. It was nice that Liza mentioned, among two dozen other editors and contributors, me, as the ‘illustrious’ website designer.

I did not make it up to any of the parties (and the Hugo Losers party was strictly barred from anyone not specifically invited), mainly due to the long lines at the elevators, not to mention the hot and crowded conditions on the party floors that I’d already experienced the night before. I did mingle with the winners in the ceremony hall for a while, then mosey through the Big Bar several times, but then eventually came up to the room to write this.

It was mentioned to me today that my new site,, might qualify next year in the ‘related book’ category, which can include websites (such as this year’s winner). Hmm. I noticed among the statistics released post-ceremony that it took only 34 nominations to get an item onto the final ballot in that category this year. Hmm.

Tomorrow morning I check out and fly home. I didn’t get a post written last night, and have mostly panel reports from yesterday and today still to write up. I’ll get to those in the next couple days.

And I’ll also be updating with all the awards results from this weekend — Hugo, Chesley, Carl Brandon, Golden Duck, etc., soon.