Sunday, August 21, 2016

Quick Look at MidAmericon II

Quick Look at MidAmericon II

by Rich Horton

Mary Ann and I have just got back from Kansas City where we attended MidAmericon II, the 2016 World Science Fiction Convention. Last year I published a fairly long look at our trip to Spokane for Sasquan, the 2015 Worldcon. I'm not sure I'll write something as long this year, but if I do it will take a little time.

So, a quick look: first, I really enjoyed myself. I always do, really. The best part is conversations, meeting people I haven't yet met and seeing old friends. Any list I make will leave out important people, but off the top of my head, I was able to meet Jonathan Strahan in person for the first time, and we had several excellent talks. I also met Kate Baker, Ken Schreyer, Marty Massoglia, Bo Bolander, Andy Dudak, Jason Sanford, Sarah Frost, James Cambias, Heather Shaw, Sunil Patel, Carrie Vaughn, Daryl Gregory, Caroline Yoachim, Steve Pantazis, Martin Shoemaker, Ron Yaniv, Rosemary Kirstein, Jacob Weisberg, Gord Sellar, Rich Larsen, Christopher Kastensmidt, and Jonathan Eller. And of course I saw a lot of folks I've met before: John O'Neill, Ellen Datlow, Gordon Van Gelder, Charlie Finlay, Sean Wallace, Neil Clarke, Liza Groen Trombi, Kij Johnson, Christopher McKitterick, Gary Wolfe, Sheila Williams, Bryan Thomas Schmidt, Ann Leckie, Gregory Benford, Michelle Sagara West, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, John Joseph Adams, Mark Olson, Jo Walton, Joe Karpierz, Charlie Jane Anders, Steven Silver, Lynne Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, Jeremy Tolbert, E. Lily Yu, Adam-Troy Castro, Judy Castro, Travis Creason, Francesca Myman, Andrew Porter ... I know I'm shamefully forgetting a lot of people! But that's what's really great about Worldcon.

Regrets? I have a few. Well, maybe just a couple: one, for a variety of complex reasons, we didn't have as good a food week as we might have hoped. Most of this was time constraints. Mary Ann and I have both been to KC a lot, and so we think we know our way around it a bit ... in the end the only two really good eating experiences were at a couple of restaurants we're fairly familiar with: Genghis Khan, the first Mongolian barbecue I ever tried (back in about 1998 at my first ConQuesT), and Fiorella's Jack Stack, one of the great KC (traditional) barbecue joints. (This time I tried their Crown Prime beef rib for the first time, and it was truly wonderful.) Second, we didn't go to the Hugo Losers party. I didn't have a formal invitation, and I got a bit shy -- but as I understand it, most everyone was welcome, at least eventually. It would have been wonderful to see John O'Neill get his special Alfie for Black Gate (and to bask a bit in the reflected glory, because of course I'm part of Black Gate too!)

Hugos? The regular Hugos went pretty much exactly as I expected. I guess I didn't have a good idea what would win the Novel -- I've only read Ancillary Mercy so far, and I enjoyed it -- but by all accounts (including Ann Leckie's) the actual winner, N. K. Jemisin's The Fifth Season, is wonderful, and it's certainly on my To Read list. The novella winner, Nnedi Okorafor's "Binti", was the one I expected. It wasn't my personal choice, but it's a worthy winner. I do still wish, of course, that great stories by Greg Egan, C. S. E. Cooney, and Carter Scholz had made the short list, but alas it was not to be. I would have been thrilled with either of the two plausible novelette winners: Brooke Bolander's "And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead" or the actual winner, Hao Jingfang's "Folding Beijing". Those were really a tossup to me -- so no complaints here! And the only worthy story on the short story ballot won, Naomi Kritzer's "Cat Pictures, Please". I won't discuss the rest of the ballot, except to say that in general the winners were good choices, to the extent I was familiar with them.

The Retro-Hugos? Again, predictable. Novel went to Slan -- perhaps not the best novel of 1940, but a good bet for the one that would have actually won! Novella and novelette went to Heinlein stories ("If This Goes On" and "The Roads Must Roll"). Reasonable choices, I guess. The disaster category was Short Story, where Isaac Asimov's "Robbie" -- which technically should have been called "Strange Playfellow"! -- took the award. It's just not a very good story, and it only won because it was the first of his robot stories. Also possibly the least! The best story on the shortlist, by about 20 parsecs, was Jorge Luis Borges' "Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius", one of the greatest of 20th Century stories. If you want to argue that no voter in 1941 would have read the Borges story, which has appeared only in Spanish, and as far as I know, only in Argentina, well, fine. Very few voters in 1941 would have picked "Strange Playfellow" (none would have picked "Robbie", because it didn't have that title yet) -- and no one would likely have realized it would be famous as the first of a famous series. The better choice if that was your algorithm was Heinlein's "Requiem". Ah well, that's just to repeat the obvious: the Retro Hugos really truly do not work.

Programming? I had three panels myself. The best, I thought, was the last, Transcending the Genre, a Sunday panel, with Rosemary Kirstein, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Tom Easton, and Jennie Goloboy. We essentially discussed the increasing acceptance of SF (and some SF writers) in the literary world. Which is a shallow way to put it. I think we handled it pretty well, covering attitudes on both sides of the fence, marketing, history, the reasons there might be differences, etc. One other panel concerned the Small Press, which also featured Jason Sizemore of Apex; Ron Yaniv, an Israeli editor/publisher (and his insights on the market is Israel were very interesting); Katherine Wynter, and Jamie Lackey. And the third panel was Reviewing the Reviewers, with Michelle West and Gary Wolfe. Alas, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro was not able to be there due to a detached retina -- get better quickly, Alvaro. I really missed the chance to talk to Alvaro again. Michelle and Gary and I have done pretty much this exact panel before, and I think we covered it well, but, yes, it was familiar stuff.

Other programming? I attended a lot of panels. To the point that I got panel fatigue at points. I also did a few Kaffeeklatsches and Literary Beers. I find these very fun. I did them with Jo Walton, Kij Johnson, Gary Wolfe, and Jim Cambias. Good discussions every time.

Controversy? Well, yes. I was at the notorious "State of Short Fiction" panel, moderated (immoderated?) by Dave Truesdale. Dave is an old friend, and I owe him a lot, for bringing me into the fanzine field by letting me review for Tangent (the print version!) back in the '90s. But Dave really went off the rails on this one. Leaving aside the substance of what Dave said -- which can certainly be disputed -- his presentation was deliberately offensive, and that's a problem in itself. And obviously counterproductive. From my selfish point of view, the worse offense was that Dave hijacked a panel that I thought would be very interesting, and turned it into an argument/discussion about his particular current hobbyhorse. We heard essentially nothing about the state of short fiction today. We did have some discussion -- and Sheila Williams and Jonathan Strahan in particular (with good contributions from Gordon van Gelder and Neil Clarke) did try to address the substance of Dave's complaints.

As for Dave's expulsion from the convention, I have no direct knowledge of the circumstances. But I have been told -- at second hand -- that there were issues beyond just the reading of the manifesto at the panel. If that was all that happened, it could have -- should have -- been dealt with in a less extreme manner than a ban. But we don't know what else was involved, and I think everyone should withhold further comment not knowing any background.

Business Meeting? Mary Ann attended the bulk of the four day session. I attended what I could, given my other responsibilities. The basic results: the YA "not-a-Hugo" and the Best Series Hugo were approved (subject to ratification at next year's Worldcon). The 5% rule was eliminated, thank God! EPH was passed. My opinion on EPH has changed. I somewhat unconvincedly voted for it last year. But this year, after seeing analysis based on the last few years of nominating data (and eventually on this year's data (thanks to Dave McCarty for absolutely yeoman all-nighter work crunching the numbers!)) that showed that a) EPH has a rather small positive effect on the final ballots (not zero, but small); and b) it seems to actually potentially enhance small-scale slate voting (i.e., perhaps, a single author trying to get his friends to nominate him); combined with the fairly opaque nature of the algorithm; and a fourth effect, perhaps a selfish one: EPH tends to reduce the power of nominators -- like me, yes, I admit -- who actually read a substantial portion of the works eligible in a given year (in some categories). I frankly don't think that the vote of a person who has read just a few things and liked two of them should be privileged over someone (let's call him Rich H for short) who might have read a couple thousand stories and liked five. But even aside that admittedly selfish whine, I think the other problems with EPH mean it's a bad idea. 4/6 also passed, modifed to 5/6. Why not 5/8? Or 5/10? But that's water under the bridge. 5/6 is an improvement, but a very small one.

And finally, Trivia? As ever, I participated in the Trivia for Chocolate contest, run by Mark Olson, Jim Mann, and Steven Silver. And, as ever, I had the second highest Chocolate count -- I've been to 3 Worldcons, and had the second most chocolates each time. This time was, admittedly, a bit different -- there was a tie for first (26 pieces) and I was technically third (25). I blame Dr. Who. :) My Dr. Who episode count remains at 1/2. Not that I have anything against it, I'm just not really a TV guy. (And hey, I get it -- Dems da Berries! But there sure were a lot of Dr. Who questions!)


  1. I love the concept of the Retro Hugos, because they create the possibility of extending recognition to icons of the field who peaked in an era before there were awards.

    But I agree that the results are frequently baffling and disappointing. You give a good example, but an even better example was Arthur C. Clarke's win (two years ago) for a rank amateur piece published in 1938, years before he really began to make a name for himself in the field.

  2. Thank you for posting this. The suddenness of my inability to attend, after months of planning and anticipating the con experience and my reunion with friends like you, was frustrating. I'm sorry I wasn't there to lighten the load during the panel, too. Doing my best to heal, and look forward to our next encounter. Despite hearing some negative buzz, I am hoping to make WFC--my first--this year.

  3. Great to see you as always, Rich! I got to see so few panels, as my con was pretty much all about hosting the Campbell Conference there (aka "academic programming," the Campbell and Sturgeon Awards, and our Saturday morning round-table) and talking to people about the Gunn Center. But that was okay!

  4. I also read over 1,000 stories a year, but I've done the math, and I don't believe EPH reduces my influence in the nomination phase. In fact, once people get comfortable with EPH, it should be possible to remove the nomination limit; instead of picking "the best five," nominators should be allowed to nominate as many works as they like.

    It is true that if you can predict in advance which works will end up on the final ballot, then EPH does "punish" you for nominating them. (They'll suck points away from your other nominations.) But in most categories, there really is no way to make that prediction. In practice, even with EPH, you always do better to make more nominations, provided they are of works you genuinely believe were worthy.

    1. Well, I haven't done the math, so I'll take your word for that ... I have to admit that I don't much like the idea of indefinite length nomination ballots, though. It seems to me a dilution, and that is might lead to choosing more stories that a lot of people thought were OK over stories that a smaller subset were passionate about. But, again, I haven't done the math, so I could be off base.