Chicon 7 Opening

Programming began at noon today, and I browsed various panels as I roamed the hallways of the two Hyatt towers finding out where everything was… Dealers’ room opened at noon. Art show opened at 2pm, but haven’t made it there yet.

Highlight of the day was the Opening Ceremonies, in which toastmaster John Scalzi moderated the event like a talk show host, sitting at a desk and introducing each guest of honor, who would take a seat in the armchair nearest the desk, while previous guests shifted down a spot. We had Erle Korshack, co-chairman of the first Chicon (the second Worldcon) way back in 1940; then Mike Resnick, the sister (whose first name I missed – Kathy?) of absent artist guest Rowenna Morrill, Jane Frank (art agent), Peggy Rae Sapienza (fan, who’s run the Nebula Award ceremonies the past two years), and Sy Liebergot (Apollo mission controller who was on duty when Apollo 13 happened). Everyone spoke well, and the audience was entertained.

Earlier I strolled through the dealers’ room, which is decent sized, and took a couple breaks to post today’s post and glance at email. Later I had an early dinner at Houlihan’s, right on the corner by the hotel, with a small group; we then strolled down to Millennium Park, since someone wanted to see the Bean — i.e. Cloud Gate — which I’d been to, so I led the way. And in the adjacent Jay Pritzker Pavilion a jazz festival was playing; we listened to that for a while.

Parties are presumably underway this evening, and after posting this I’ll check those out.

Chicon 7 arrival

Up at 5 this morning, flight out of LAX at 8, arrived Hyatt Regency on Wacker Drive right about 3pm local time and checked in.

No programming today, just folks arriving. I’ve been to Chicons twice before — in 1991 and 2000 — though in each case I stayed at a satellite hotel. This is the first time I’m staying at the main hotel, the Hyatt Regency, which is split into two towers, east and west, and which as I recall is notorious for long lines at the elevators in the evenings when fans are roaming among parties. I’m on the 28th floor of the west tower, with a view of the offices in the building next door. Intermittent wifi reception (grr), or this would have been posted much earlier.

Finished the Jesse Bering book on the plane, and started (not completely coincidentally, since he’s a guest of honor here) John Scalzi’s new novel.

I’d bought a supporting membership in late July just to vote for the Hugos (Locus’ last chance, apparently), and only a week or so later decided to actually attend. So first thing today I upgraded my supporting to a full attending membership.

Saw a couple folks in passing in the lobby, including Scott Edelman, whose quest to visit all the continents on Earth is apparently now matched by his attempt to visit as many of the top restaurants on Earth — guided by (I think it’s) the list at In Chicago, this means Alinea, and later I saw Scott gathering in the lobby with Liza and Gary Wolfe and others for their exclusive reservation there.

Not seeing anyone else I knew, and the only dinner restaurant in the hotel closed for remodeling, I strolled down the street and ate dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s. This con my partner Yeong is flying in on Friday to see his son Jimmy, who lives in Chicago and who broke his leg skydiving 7 weeks ago; so I can count on hanging out with them Friday thru Sunday evenings. The one invitation I have during this con is (via Liza) to a Random House party on a cruise ship Friday evening, and I managed to get a ‘plus two’ invite approved. So the three of us will be doing that.

I can’t remember the last time a hotel room had a decent desk chair. They are all too low, compared to the desktop. No way to raise them, except by sitting on pillows.

Daily Updates

I’ve been posting daily to Facebook, for the past week or so; only coincidentally because I saw a comment to a post from Nancy Kress about how ‘kids these days’ don’t do blogs, they do Facebook.

Here is today’s Facebook post. If anyone reading this has any opinions about checking my blog vs reading my Facebook account, by all means let me know….

Today after lunch at my day job I spent six hours debugging update-diagram errors on the TESTCL TVAN module [which a senior designer had redlined and it was my job to integrate], 10 minutes fixing model-advisor warnings, and then sending the final diagram (via email rather than SVN, an shortcut allowed to accommodate today’s deadline) to the senior design staff in East Hartford for the latest BA build. Get it done before you go home, were the instructions; I worked about two hours over, a 10 hour day. Sounds like fun, huh? It is stressful, actually, since the way the tools work you never know how many bugs there are until you find and fix the last one… and that kept going on, hour after hour… But there is a certain satisfaction in finally, after all those hours, getting a clean report.

(I was a ‘senior’ designer way back in my SSME days, but on this project, after only a year, I’m still far from that.)

And now this evening, finishing up weekly bestsellers for the site.

Listening to Bruckner

This evening I’ve been listening to a new recording, by Simon Rattle, of Bruckner’s 9th symphony, with a completion of the final movement, which I’ve only heard a couple times before. (Initial reaction: it’s OK, will listen again, but not sure it’s essential, the way the completion of Mahler’s 10th is absolutely essential.) And it occurred to me that composers — at least the major ones we still listen to after a century or two, which may bias my thesis here — do not lapse into a mature stage where they repeat themselves unto death, the way some film directors and, ahem, writers do. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, kept re-inventing their symphonies every time. Even Bruckner, who in a sense wrote the same symphony 9 or 10 times, kept refining them; you would never say the 4th was the pinnacle and the 8th and 9th were mere repeats. Yet… it’s not difficult to think of film directors, and writers, who, after an initial ascent into maturity, kept repeating themselves…. WdyAln.. JGBld..?? (Not to mention those authors who *descended* into formula via collaborations with lesser authors, including alas ACC and LN…) Now, this apparent repetition is not *necessarily* good or bad. Some authors or directors develop a style, a theme, that can productively be explored endlessly in various new contexts. It deepens their thesis, for those who appreciate it, and are willing to keep revisiting it. (At the same time, authors who deliberately *vary* their style and theme from book to book — Norman Spinrad is the first who comes to mind — do so at the expense of a loyal readership and their financial career.)

Real Science

So, in light of Prometheus, which I admired in some ways but which is primarily deeply flawed by its idiot plot of supposed scientists doing all the same stupid things that the freighter crew of the original Alien — where it might have been forgivable, given their relative unsophistication — did, I wondered, what is the best movie about doing *real science*? The first thing that came to mind was The Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton’s first success, a movie fairly faithfully adapted from a book by an author with a medical PhD. And so I ordered a DVD of the film and we watched it last night. Hadn’t seen it in 30+ years; some key scenes were familiar though other parts seemed completely fresh. Anyway I was still impressed by its general scientific verisimilitude. io9, feel free to run with this — what are the most scientifically accurate movies of all time?? (I would include 2001, of course, for its scientifically accurate depiction of space travel, if not actually doing science. Of recent films, Contagion comes to mind. but what else?)

(I know, I’m even worse than Christopher Priest at updating my blog. But I’ve been busy! is coming, really!)

Tape vs Jiffy Bags

I don’t get many, but I do get a few, review copies of books sent to me for listing on Locus Online — mostly from small press and self-published authors hoping for exposure, but also occasional books from big publishers like Tor and Del Rey: those seem to depend on individual publicists, rather than publisher policies about sending out books. (I don’t actually encourage or solicit review copies, unlike some other prominent SF websites, since the very few book reviews that Locus Online runs do not depend on review copies….) My observation is that the packages with the most tape, those that are the most difficult to open, are generally those from the smallest, self-published, authors. As if their products are extremely precious. The big publishers toss a copy in a Jiffy Bag and send it off.

Second observation — recent review posts have generated an unusually large number of spam responses, but there are a small number of valuable comments that I do approve to be posted. Even if you’ve already read review posts, like the recent movie review posts by Gary Westfahl and Howard Waldrop and Lawrence Person, be sure to check back occasionally to see those comments.

Reading Notes – Swanwick, McDevitt, Okorafor


Michael Swanwick’s Dancing with Bears – A very rich stew, and complex, with the point of view bouncing between half a dozen or so separate characters or situations, sometimes all within a single chapter. Thinking of the many Darger and Surplus short stories, this book is rather like a TV franchise given a movie budget, and so obliged to be really really big, in a way no individual short story was – here we have renegade AIs trying to bring the destruction of the world in their hatred of humanity, in addition to D&S’s scheme involving 7 virgins intended for the Duke of Moscovy. Still, fabulous writing, a joy to read, sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph.

Jack McDevitt’s Firebird – McDevitt is a slightly guilty pleasure for me; I’m compelled to read his books, even though his 10,000-year hence future is by no means visionary, in any singularity sense; it depicts sophisticated folks on faraway planets living in nice homes, dining in restaurants, attending seminars, much like anyone in the current 1%; yet also having easy access to FTL flights to nearby and faraway planets and systems. And yet – this is hard SF, in a space opera hard SF sense, meaning that given established rules about how FTL travel works, the novel establishes a mystery about certain disappearing ships that is resolved in a brilliant and moving fashion.

Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch – Surprisingly not dissimilar to Harry Potter, but with a third world setting and culture, more colorful set pieces, and higher stakes.

More comments on recently-read books, by Goldstein, Wolfe, Joyce, Cline, Wilson, Haldeman, Gibson, McDonald, and Scalzi, in the next couple days.

Theme Coraline

I could not figure out why the sidebar column of cover images was appearing only on the main page of this blog, but not the individual post pages.

I hadn’t meddled with the WordPress settings for a while – and I suspect in the interim, the theme I’d been using, now mysteriously called ‘Unnamed Lite’, had been revised. Some conflict between widgets was interfering with one of the two sidebars. Simplest solution, just install another two-sidebar theme. This one is called Coraline. I edited out the php to display the background image, and hardcoded a display of my preferred image… Now I can update the cover images roll.

Holiday Notes – website updates; films; iPhone

Too many things going on recently to have had time to update the blog. But briefly–

Have not followed up on those tickets, beyond what I reported earlier.

Latest development on the website is that I’ve set up, just today, a WordPress blog for the Magazine pages — i.e., the monthly table of contents, Locus bestsellers, and New & Notable books. So now, every post I do (posted in the middle column of the website homepage) will be part of the RSS feed for the site.

I *have* read a few books lately, and my next step will be to update the book images in the right pane — now a year out of date — to indicate those books I’ve read lately.

I’ve also seen a few films this month, of which I will mention, again briefly–

J. Edgar: had its moments. DiCaprio is very good; he disappears into his role. Armie Hammer, less so; I wasn’t convinced by his attitude, for the time, or by his old age makeup, which was terrible.

Source Code (saw on DVD): technically impressive, Jake Gyllenhaal very good, as is Vera Farmiga. But the premise undercuts itself at the end, tries to have it both ways. Is it virtual reality, or multiple worlds?

The Descendants: marvelous and moving. Maybe my favorite of the year. Only a tiny bit in part because I happened to visit the north coast of Kauai about a year ago, and so recognized and empathized with those settings and local attitudes. Clooney really is terrific.

Hugo: marvelous and thrilling. I’d read the book, knew where the film was going and — perhaps because of this, because seeing something you’ve read and internalized and now see in a shared reality — made it all the more satisfying.

The Artist: pleasantly amusing, a treat for films buffs who know movie history. The Arclight theatre in Hollywood where we saw this had displays of the costumes from this movie. I noticed the heavy lifting of Bernard Hermann’s Vertigo score near the end, apparently subject of minor controversy.

The Adjustment Bureau (again on DVD): Matt Damon — like Jake Gyllenhaal, and Leonardo DiCaprio actually — is a really good actor. The film is well-made, if not rigorous in its deployment of the premise. The ending is too easy — OK, no problem, you’re good!

Shame: yes, Michael Fassbender is amazing. There are beautiful, and excruciating, scenes here. Does Fassbender’s character reform at the end? Or is he doomed to a lifetime of compulsive behavior, the way alcoholics never entirely recover, only momentarily suspended by a feeling of shame? My partner and I debated this after seeing it.

A Dangerous Method: Michael Fassbender again, in an intellectual, play-based, story about Freud and Jung and their common patient. Fascinating and engaging. Could have been longer.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol: spectacular, and much more true to the original TV series — in the opening music, the setup, the tricky plot — than the earlier MI films that I saw (though I’m not sure I saw beyond the 1st one). I read newspaper articles describing how Tom Cruise *really did* do those stunts on the outside of that building in Dubai… but as I watched the film, I couldn’t quite believe that most of the scenes were not done on a soundstage somewhere… In any event, the set pieces in the film were spectacular, the plot elements satisfying closed. Highly recommended.

Finally — not as a Christmas present, but coincidentally received this past week, I have acquired an iPhone. I feel like I’ve been abruptly booted ten years into the future; though in reality, I realize I’ve been languishing in the past, while the world has moved on without me, for ten years, and now I’ve caught up. [Edit -- well, 5 years; the first iPhone was released mid-2007. Still, it seems longer.] Lots of fun; very cool. A mini 2001 obelisk in my pocket.

Consumer Alert: Fie Upon Song Ticketing

(Updated 22 Dec 11 — see footnote*)

Consumer Alert — for whatever good it will do, which may not be much.

About three weeks ago I decided to order tickets for a Christmas concert by Chanticleer — a 12-member, all male, a capella, choral group — at Walt Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. I went* to the LA Philharmonic at Walt Disney Hall website, found the concert date, reviewed available ticket prices, and selected two $75 tickets, in a section on one side of the stage (the hall has seating on all sides, including behind the stage). I clicked purchase, was advised that the total with taxes etc. would be $191, and clicked accept.

A few days later I got an email from Song Ticketing [] advising me that their databases had not been updated, and the section where I’d ordered tickets was sold out. They could provide alternate seating for the same price in another section. OK… I replied that I would accept the alternative.

I received, by Federal Express, two paper tickets. (You’d think they could have sent electronic documents that I could have printed out, but no, I had to sign a FedEx note to have the two pieces of paper delivered to a neighbor, since I’m not at home during the workday.)

It turned out the tickets they supplied were two $30 tickets in a section behind the stage.

I confirmed, when we attended the concert on the 15th, that the tickets were worth $30 each.

We were behind the stage — in only the 3rd row back, but looking at the backs the performers, for most of the concert. (It was nice that a few of the singers thought to turn around and look behind them, to acknowledge the applause from back there.)

After which, I replied to ‘Song Ticketing’ that I thought some refund was due.

They replied that they are a broker, of some sort, and have the right to sell any ticket at any price, above or below the nominal price, depending on consumer demand, and this is explained in the fine print on their website.

Now, I had ordered the tickets from the LA Philharmonic website, which does indicate an affiliation with Ticketmaster. And in fact, the paper tickets I received by FedEx said ‘Ticketmaster’ at the top. But no connection with ‘Song Ticketing’ was suggested. I never had reason to go to the Song Ticketing website, much less examine their fine print.

I did quick Google search and discovered Song Ticketing @ Pissed Consumer, which has many stories similar to mine.

Point of fact, the hall was not full. If it was sold out, there must have been 20% no-shows, in the orchestra section in front of the stage, and on the sides, where I’d tried to order tickets. Song Ticketing’s response might have been plausible had those sections actually been full.

So it strikes me as unethical, if not fraud, for Song Ticketing to supply cheap tickets in response to an order for expensive tickets, and claim this is OK because of fine print on some website I never had any reason to visit. I doubt any Song Ticketing employee would be happy if, say, they arranged a car loan for an expensive car and got delivered a cheaper car, with an email pointing out some excuse in the fine print on some website.

I replied to Song Ticketing and told them so, and Happy Holidays for your dicey ethics.

No reply.

Bottom line: I was charged $191, and got two $30 tickets.

Not sure how I could prevent this in the future. I sent a complaint to the LA Philharmonic website, and they responded that they had no affiliation with Song Ticketing.

I suppose I will never order tickets this way again. I suppose if I did try to order individual tickets like this again, I would be very aware – beware – of any contact with Song Ticketing, and try to divert their interference with a response to the original order.

However I did like the concert, and am pleased to recommend Chanticleer for any of your holiday, or male vocal, music needs. (I especially admired Matthew Knickman.) Amazon has complete collection.

* Upon investigation, trying to reproduce the Google search I used when I bought tickets in the first place (I’d set the browser to keep only 7 days of history), it seems I did *not* land on the actual LA Phil website. The Google search results showed “” at the very top — but it’s a paid ad, which I hadn’t noticed, and I must have used that to order tickets. It’s “powered by”, who sent me an email receipt when I did the initial purchase. Oddly, that result appeared at the top of my search results on one PC, but at the bottom on another, though I don’t recall ever editing Google search options in any fashion on either PC.

Anyway, LA Phil is not implicated.

***Further update 22 Dec 11 evening*** — I noticed this evening that the tickets I received — delivered, inconveniently, as two pieces of paper, by FedEx (I had to sign to have them delivered to a neighbor, since I’m at work during the FedEx delivery day) — do in fact say “ticketmaster” across the top. This confirmed my earlier conviction that I’d ordered through LA Phil/Ticketmaster. Reconsidering, it seems that I must have ordered through, which was a front for, which in turn must have ordered tickets — two $30 tickets — through Ticketmaster, and passed them off to me in exchange for my $191 credit card charge. The tickets even say “purchased by AILEEN CAMPBELL”. Who would she be, I wonder? I will follow up with them tomorrow…