Part II: Wednesday and Thursday
Wednesday morning we slept in just a bit, and decided to get to the convention and register before eating any breakfast. The hotel staff said the walk to the convention center would take about 10 minutes. It was more like 20 (admittedly we're not the fastest walkers, but I do think they scanted their estimate a bit). Very pleasant walk, right along the Spokane river, under the Division Street Bridge and then by hotels and offices including the other Red Lion (at the Park), then over a bridge to a nice little park, then over another bridge to the Convention Center.
Perhaps I should briefly describe our hotel ("but first", he said ...). It's pretty old, is the main thing. Only two stories, but stretching quite a long way along the river. The rooms are just fine, but the general look and feel is faded. We had signed up for a single king bed but they explained that the third party that the convention used for hotel bookings had messed up, and their were only a few king rooms ... so we ended up with two queens, which in the event worked just fine. And we had a little patio ... not that we ended up making much use of that. And you could walk right out to the river from the door at the end of our corridor.
Back to the con. After a rather interesting time figuring out how to get into the convention center (not helped by approaching it from the back), we had a rather interesting time finding the main exhibit hall where registration was conducted. This would be an ongoing theme through the con ... the convention center is split into two parts, with the attached Doubletree Hotel adding an extra fillip of confusion, Every time I decided I knew my way around I got lost again. I can't say it was awful, and I was never late for anything. It's more a matter of the sort of thing you can expect in a large venue.
The line for registration was very long, but it moved efficiently, and I have no complaints about the process. Once registered, as there was not much I really wanted to see at the con on Wednesday, the plan was to visit Idaho, to add one more state to our total. In the mean time I ran into Scott Edelman, only editor of the still much-lamented '90s magazine Science Fiction Age, and also a member of an active mailing list I'm on. Scott said he'd gone to Idaho as well, because he'd heard the barbecue there was better than in Washington. While as Missourians our expectations for barbecue outside of Missouri (and we'd allow Tennessee, Texas, and the Carolinas as well) were not high, barbecue sounded good. Spokane is only 20 or so miles from the Idaho border. So we got in the car and headed for Couer d'Alene, the semi-big city just about 15 miles into Idaho. The main place there seemed to by called Porky's, but the GPS took us to a Chinese restaurant instead (I assume Porky's is defunct). We also found a place called Porky G's, but it was not impressive looking (mind you, not necessarily an argument against a barbecue place). We decide to look at Lake Couer d'Alene anyway, and found views both downtown (in a very crowded park) and on the outskirts. Nice enough looking town, pretty mountain lake. (Mountain lakes, I deduce, look a lot like the manmade "wide spots in the river" that we have in Missouri, such as Lake of the Ozarks and Table Rock Lake, but they are natural, a product of the widely varying terrain in the foothills of mountains.)
(A side issue -- the town of Sandpoint, ID, is about 50 miles north of Couer d'Alene, on Idaho's largest lake, Pend Oreille. No big deal -- except Sandpoint is the childhood home of the great writer Marilynne Robinson, and it's the model for the lakeside city Fingerbone, setting for her magnificent first novel Housekeeping. Another side issue -- we also haven't ever been to Montana, and the Montana border is only about 50 or 60 miles east of Couer d'Alene, and we briefly considered driving that way, but decided that would be silly (especially as the first city of any note, Missoula, is a fair bit farther east.)
Having struck out on barbecue in Couer d'Alene, we headed back west to Post Falls, right on the border, and found Famous Willy's (which is also where Scott ended up). It proved to be a very satisfying joint, run by a couple from Texas, presumably the source of their BBQ chops. Then back into Washington.
There still wasn't an awful lot on the con schedule that evening, so we decided to explore the park area near the convention center. We walked over in very pleasant weather. There is a huge Radio Flyer wagon in a play area, with the handle serving as a slide. Not sure why ... Radio Flyer is a Chicago company, doesn't have anything to do with Spokane. I guess just for fun. We kept walking in search of yet another gondola ride (we'd been on two already, if you count the gondola like elements of the Ferris wheel in Seattle). This one was inexpensive and not crowded ... it offers a ride over the Spokane Falls. It was a pleasant ride, and the falls are a nice sight, and the sight of the city is pleasant as well. And that was all for that night.
So for me the convention proper started on Thursday. We got over at about 9:00 -- right when the doors open (indeed, we were a couple of minutes early). One reason was that we wanted to make sure we had a seat at the Business Meeting, which was expected to be crowded. But it turns out they had got a nice sized room, and though the meeting was very well-attended there was no problem finding seats. This first day was "preliminary", to a great extent involved with introducing people to parliamentary procedure. Chairman Kevin Standlee did an exemplary job at this ... and indeed throughout the four sessions, though he did lose his temper once or twice, mostly when fans got a bit too silly and wasted time. I'll discuss the business meetings more later ... a lot went on. Mary Ann sat through all four of them ... I had to miss much of them because of other commitments.
At the meeting I saw Chris Gerrib, a friend from Chicago, who was one of then main sponsors of the "4/6" Hugo Nomination proposal (which I supported, though I much prefer my suggested variant, "5/10", or a slight variation on that "5/8". I plan to discuss those more in another post.) (I later talked to Steven desJardins, another key sponsor of "4/6", whom I remember from the early SFF.net days.)
I had my first scheduled panel at 11:00. "Not Always Far Apart: The Mainstream Intersection with SF". My Locus colleague Gary Wolfe, one of the really outstanding critics we have, whom I had met and had some very enjoyable talks with at Chicon in 2012, was the moderator, and he did an excellent job. The other panelists were Elizabeth Anne Hull (whom I had met at a Windycon in the past), Rick Wilber, and Robert Silverberg. I had never met the latter two, and I was excited to meet both. Rick Wilber is a very fine SF writer, and he also has a St. Louis connection. His father, Del Wilber, was a Major League Baseball catcher who spent his first four years with the Cardinals, beginning in 1946. Del wasn't a great player by any means, but along the way I had heard of him. Rick Wilber's stories have occasionally had St. Louis settings, and he's also written the occasional baseball story (and edited an anthology of baseball related SF, Fields of Fantasy). As for Robert Silverberg, besides the fact that one of the very first SF books I read, probably at the age of 10 or so, was his first novel, Revolt on Alpha C, he's a member of an email list I'm on, so I've known him electronically (as it were) for some time, but this was the first time we'd met (I'd muffed a chance to meet him at Chicon).
The panel focused a fair amount on the history of mainstream/SF interaction, or lack thereof, and to a certain extent on the current modest rapprochement (SF stories in the New Yorker, etc.). I don't think we broke any particularly new ground, but I for one think it's always worthwhile to remind SF readers that there's a lot of good reading (some of it fantastika!) in the so-called "mainstream" field. (Worthwhile to remind "lit-fiction only" readers that there's a lot of good SF out there, too, but the likes of Sven Birkets don't often show up at Worldcons!) (By the way, the panelists pictured are, left to right, Rick Wilber, me, Gary Wolfe, Elizabeth Anne Hull, and Robert Silverberg.)
One of the really cool (and unexpected) things about panels is that people come up after them to meet you -- and I confess, I don't see myself as someone people are necessarily clamoring to meet. After this panel I as really happy when Susan Palwick, an exceptional SF writer, came up and introduced herself. Mary Ann was in the audience, and though I've read a lot of Susan's work since her first novel, foremost in my mind was the fact that Flying in Place, one of the most moving novels I've read, is one of the fairly few SF novels that I've recommended to Mary Ann and that she really liked. (Most of the rest are by Karen Joy Fowler, I think.) So I told her that ... and she was happy, I think, but in retrospect I remembered that sometimes writers want readers to mention their latest books, not their first!
After the panel I decided I wanted to see Mary Soon Lee's reading, largely to meet her -- she was an active member of SFF.net back in its most active days, as was I, so we knew each other that way. She also wrote a lot of very fine short SF (one of the best being "Pause Time", which was one of the first stories I recommended we reprint at Lightspeed, and which we did, in February 2013). Lately she's been concentrating on poetry, and her reading was of a number of linked poems from her latest book.
The previous night I had realized that the Kaffee Klatches (their spelling, I'd have said Klatsch) required signup, and I also realized that most of them were already full. It turns out Rick Wilber and Linda Nagata, two writers I was quite interested in talking with, had Klatches at the same time, and I wandered by to see if there was room ... I ended up going to Linda's Klatch, partly because I had already talked to Rick (a bit) at the panel. I do like the Kaffee Klatch format, and Linda's conversation was very interesting, perhaps most notably in discussing what might be called her encounter with the dreaded "death of the midlist", a malady she has just begun to pull out of, largely by self-publishing a military SF novel she really believed in, against lots of advice.
We went across the street from the Convention Center to Azteca, a Mexican restaurant. It was perfectly fine, pretty standard Mexican.
It finally seemed time to hit the dealers' room. As always I visited Larry Smith's table. He asked me to sign the copies they had of my books, which was flattering. I bought a couple of books from him, notably Neal Stephenson's Seveneves. I also visited Patrick Swenson's Fairwood Press -- it was neat to meet Patrick, whose magazine Talebones was one of the really good small press 'zines back in the day. Fairwood publishes a lot of cool stuff -- original novels, story collections, and some reprints, including a lot of Michael Bishop. (And if there isn't better evidence of the problem of "the death of the midlist" than that someone as brilliant as Michael Bishop is relegated to the small press (though Fairwood is doing a great job with him, as far as I can tell), I don't know what the evidence would be.) By the end of the con, I had copies of James Van Pelt's new YA novel Pandora's Gun, and Ken Scholes' collection Blue Yonders, Grateful Pies, and Other Fanciful Feasts. I also visited a dealer (name forgotten, sorry!) who had a great collection of old SF magazines -- I bought a bunch of Amazings and Fantastics from the Cele Goldsmith Lalli era, a special interest of mine. In the dealers' room I also met Stefan Rudnicki, our podcast editor at Lightspeed, and Gabrielle de Cuir. And I went by the Locus table, and the delightful Francesca Myman insisted on taking my picture ... probably a good thing, as I have it on good authority that my current pictures, er, make me look fat. Also notable near the Dealers' Room was a display of historical Hugos -- by common consent the coolest of all was the Hugo from Japan, featuring Ultraman.
The next event that interested us was a Trivia Quiz, Pub Quiz style (similar to Trivia Night style, for the St. Louisans out there), hosted by Dave O'Neil in the Fanzine Lounge near the Dealers' room. The questions were fun -- they were often quite tough (partly because of the media focus, alas my weakness), but Mary Ann and I still finished second. I saw Dave later in the Business Meeting, and still later recognized him as a (very sensible) contributor to the comment threads at Black Gate ... small world, eh?
Neil Clarke had a Literary Beer (like a Kaffee Klatsch, but with beer!) right after that (actually Pat Cadigan had one the same time as the trivia, and I took the time to meet Pat and see my long time friend Ellen Datlow at the same time). I kind of crashed Neil's beer -- I hadn't signed up, but there was one opening, except shortly after the guy who had signed up showed up, so me and Sean Wallace ended up in a corner talking, and also listening to Neil and talking with him. This was the first time I had met Sean, who is my publisher at Prime Books, and also the first time I met Neil, editor of Clarkesworld Magazine, one of the very best online 'zines, and also the publisher of my anthology Unplugged. We had a real good conversation, and Neil was very interesting talking about the details of publishing Clarkesworld, not to mention his rather harrowing heart attack experience. (At a con, no less!)
Then it was dinner time, and Mary Ann and I explored downtown Spokane until we found Mackenzie River Pizza. This was OK but all things considered a mild disappointment. (It seems to be a small chain that started in Bozeman, Montana.) We had the pizza, nothing wrong with it, but nothing too special either. The sun was quite striking as well ... very science-fictional in how red it was. This was due to the smoke in the air from the wildfires throughout the Western US ... as became even more clear (pun intended) on Friday.
The one late night event I was most interested in was Trivia for Chocolate, something of a tradition at Worldcons, or so I understand. Steven Silver had been involved at Chicon, and I had managed to finish second. Steven was supposed to be involved at Sasquan, but he had to miss the convention due to back surgery. (I understand it went well and he is convalescing nicely as I write.) Mark and Priscilla Olson ran the trivia, and it was a good deal of fun. Once again, I finished second, by one piece of chocolate. Oh well, I have to admit, trivia is like a drug to me. Mark Olson, I should note, is a Chum on a mailing list I frequent, and I am embarrassed to admit I didn't realize until the next day that the two Mark Olsons are the same.
That was enough for that day, and, then, so to bed.