I’m in Orlando, attending this year’s International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, at the conference’s new permanent site in Orlando, at the Marriott just north of the airport. It’s been overcast, even a bit rainy, the whole time I’ve been here, a stark contrast to the typically sunny, albeit hot and humid, weather the same time of year in Ft. Lauderdale, the location of the conference until two years ago.
The theme of this year’s conference is “Race and the Fantastic”, and it’s played out in the identities of the guests of honor — Nalo Hopkinson, Laurence Yep, Takayuki Tatsumi. (Perennial special guest Brian Aldiss is emeritus this year, not in attendance.) The theme hadn’t sunk in for me until today’s Author Guest of Honor speech by Nalo Hopkinson, who spoke about science fiction and fantasy as a vehicle for addressing the social iniquities brought about by racism, which sounds dry, but the speech wasn’t — most of it consisted of Nalo ‘channeling’ an alien observer who was confused by various Earth phrases concerning racism and culture, and offering various proposed (hilarious, ironic, bitterly funny) translations. The speech got a standing ovation, is will be worth looking up if and when it’s posted or published.
As always with ICFA, the conference is bound by the hotel grounds, with people gathering in the lobby, or bar, or out by the pool, with nowhere else much to go within walking distance. Last night, after arriving at the hotel around 5pm (2pm west coast time), I checked email and worked the magazine listing for the site for a while in my room, before I was ready to eat dinner, at 8 or so, then wandered down to the casual restaurant by the bar, where I was joined by Brett Cox and his wife Jeanne Beckwith; we talked about awards juroring and Facebook and Lost, among other things, over salads and salmon. Later there was an Opening Reception for all attendees, and I said hi to Liza and Amelia (the Locus Magazine contingent) and (or maybe it was in the lobby or elevator) Gary Wolfe and Russell Letson.
The main program at ICFA consists, of course, of graduate students reading academic papers about.., well, about the fantastic in the arts, which most of the time means in literature, but sometimes means in movies and TV and even video games. There are also readings by the 30 or 40 attending authors, and the guest of honor lunches; a book sales room, and a silent auction. I ducked in and out of these throughout the day, in between updating the website and taking a nap (still on West Coast time, staying up too late in the evenings).
After dinner — at Capital Grille, a high-end steak house, with Liza and Amelia and Gary and Russell and Graham, and Peter Straub and Ellen Klages — there was a late evening panel back at the con about writers and research, with Peter and Ellen, and Nalo and Stephen Donaldson and Andy Duncan and others, which discussed Google and using the web to contact specialists. Then I hung out in the bar, at a table with Jim and John and Ted, and eventually Brett and Kij and Jebediah (Berry, whom I met earlier in the day for the first time), talking about awards procedures and Jim Gunn’s contacts with famous writers over the decades — some while John (Kessel) was working with him. Lots of stories, about Gordy Dickson, and Ted Sturgeon, and of course Harlan.
Tomorrow Amelia Beamer reads from her new novel The Loving Dead, which seems to be attracting quite the buzz; and Takayuki Tatsumi speaks at lunch.