Tuesday, November 14, 2017

World Fantasy Convention, 2017, Part II: Day 1

World Fantasy Convention, 2017, Part II: Day 1

The convention didn't really start until the afternoon on Thursday. Thus we had the morning free. One thing we like to do when traveling is find local breakfast places. You can usually find a good breakfast at hole in the wall joints most anywhere. We settle on Pancake Joe's, a ways northwest of downtown, in a typical looking residential neighborhood, near Thomas Jefferson High School. It was quite satisfactory.

Next on the agenda was antique malls. We found one not too far from Pancake Joe's, Ironside Antique Mall. It was an odd sort of place -- it seemed that many of the booths were operated independently from the mall itself, and several of them were closed. In the end, not terribly satsifying. The other one was downtown, Alamo Antique Mall, only a couple of blocks from the Alamo. This was convenient, because a visit to the Alamo was another objective. We were able to park in front of the Mall, and we went through it -- a fine three story antique mall, fairly typical, worth visiting. We decided to walk to the Alamo  from there, reasoning (correctly) that parking would be dicier close to it. We walked through the Alamo -- which was a bit smaller than in my mind. We watched the short film they have on the history of the place, done in collaboration with the History Channel, and done fairly well (though they did kind of skate over the fact that a major motivation for the then Texans do want independence from Mexico was that they owned slaves and Mexico might have outlawed that practice). The site itself is interesting too. We also of course visited the gift store and bought a couple of souvenirs.

Back to the hotel. We had picked up our registration materials that morning when I just wandered up to the area and found that they were happy to give me our folders. The first panel we attended was the Introducing Our Guests forum, at 2:00 PM. The guests were, I should mention, Toastmaster Martha Wells, writers Tananarive Due, Karen Joy Fowler, and David Mitchell, artist Gregory Manchess, and editor Gordon van Gelder. A pretty distinguished guest list, I thought. The intros including some discussion of what the Convention's theme meant: Secret Histories and Alternate Histories. The most noticeable theme, that kept popping up in panel after panel, was the sort of meta version of Secret History -- the history of people who have been either ignored or forgotten in the official historical accounts. Another subtheme is histories -- especially personal or family histories -- that our sort of suppressed, even by the people most involved (like the gay uncle, or the embarrassing family problems such as perhaps abusive behavior). These are important threads, and very much worth discussing, but I kind of felt that the more traditional "Secret History" got short shrift -- that is, stories that try to offer complete alternate (often bonkers, often conspiracy-oriented) explanations for acknowledged historical events.

Next up was a panel designed to directly "Engage our Theme": "Is Our History True?", with Jack Dann, Greg Bear, Joe Haldeman, and Karen Joy Fowler, which continued to some of the same central ideas, not surprisingly I suppose: What lies do well tell about our own family histories? And what do we suppress about our true national or world history? Not at all uninteresting, I suppose, and perhaps the best way to deal with the specific question raised.

Our final panel for the day was "Exceptional Characters in Horrible Times", in essence about how to create characters that are believable but still sympathetic, when they hold views that were essentially universal to their time but which we disapprove of now. The panelists were David Mitchell, David B. Coe, Christopher Brown, and Howard Waldrop. I will say that I personally think some (a lot) of the burden here is on the reader: if you can't sympathize with a character with some unpleasant views, you have a personal problem, I'd say -- and you should shudder to think what future people will think of some of your views. That said, there are some views that are really hard to stomach. Still, I recall for example stories about characters in the Aztec Empire who unhesitatingly supported human sacrifice, and writers of sufficient skill still made them sympathetic and indeed heroic. The panelists suggested things like giving the characters particular personal burdens so we'd sympathize anyway, which seems like a) a copout; and b) the sort of thing you do to your main characters anyway. But there was universal disdain for the all too common practice of giving one's historical character convenient 21st Century attitudes.

Three panels in a row is a lot, and we actually ducked out early on this one. And here's where I confess that I was wrong in my part I report -- we didn't eat at Waxy O'Connor's on Wednesday night. Instead we ate there Thursday night, with the unfortunate wrong turn on the Riverwalk I had mentioned.

On Wednesday we actually weren't that hungry -- the barbeque in Waco had been in the middle of the afternoon, so we just snacked -- and, of course, watched Game 7 of the World Series. San Antonio, of course, is not terribly far from Houston, so we can assume a lot of locals were quite thrilled with the Astros' victory, but in reality no such partisanship was obvious at the Con, of course because the guests came from everywhere. Mary Ann and I were both mostly agnostic, but slightly in favor of the Astros, perhaps mostly because they had never previously won a World Series. For my part, I'm a big fan of Jose Altuve, and also of Justin Verlander, so on those grounds alone I'd cheer for the Astros. (That said, I think Clayton Kershaw easily the greatest pitcher of our time, and I'd like to see him win a championship some time, though of course not at the expense of the Cardinals.)

I'm going to mention various people I met and talked to over the weekend, but I will admit up front that I'll probably totally mess up the chronology. I spent significant time in the bar (mostly that!), and  a couple of room parties, and the con suite, and the autograph session, each of Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. And I met a whole lot of people, not to mention saw a lot of people I already know. I'm certain I'll forget to mention some folks.

So. I did spend some time at the bar Thursday night, as well as at the Con suite, and maybe in a room party or two -- things have gotten blurred. I spent some time talking to the very impressive Canadian writer Derek K√ľnsken, whose work I have reprinted. He's just finished his first novel, and he told me it was soon to be serialized in Analog (and on coming home, the new issue of Analog announced the serialization in its forthcoming issue preview). Derek also mentioned a forthcoming trip to China, and, if I recall, his novel is also being published quite soon in China.

I also talked to another Canadian writer, Alexandra Renwick, who thanked me for reviewing one of her early stories in Locus. I was briefly puzzled, until she revealed that her early stories were published as by "Camille Alexa". I do remember those stories well, mostly in some of Eric Reynolds' fine anthologies for his Hadley Rille imprint. Alexandra is also married to an old online friend of mine, Claude Lalumiere. Alexandra has roots in Austin, in California, and in Canada, if I recall, and she and Claude live in Ottawa, very close to another brilliant young Canadian writer, Rich Larson. I got an invite to CanCon, and to their apparent mansion (grin) ... which I would be delighted to accept, but now it looks like my most likely convention in Canada next year will be Jo Walton's Scintillation, in Montreal next October. (My birthday weekend, actually, which means I'd miss Archon.)

I also talked to Gavin Grant, of Small Beer Press, on a variety of topics, most notably, to my memory, the closeness of my Dad's hometown of Hadley, MA, to Northampton, where Gavin (and Kelly Link) live. Gavin noted that Hadley happily hosts the big box stores such as Walmart that Northampton (and also Amherst) are too snooty to allow.

I ran into Ellen Datlow, whom I've known, it seems, forever, and we discussed among other things the Omni relaunch, which features a really impressive set of authors. I also met Jenn Reese for the first time, though we really had no chance to talk. Likewise Caroline Yoachim. I did get to talk to Daryl Gregory for a while -- we discussed his wonderful new novel Spoonbenders, and also my unfortunate failure to get to his signing of that book in St. Louis a few months ago. Liza Groen Trombi (Locus editor) was there as well. Jim Minz. Mary Anne Mohanraj. David Levine.

That's enough for now, I hope. Much more to come in future installments!

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