For breakfast on Friday we had the brunch buffet at the hotel restaurant. Waffles, bacon, omelettes, all the usual stuff. It was OK, nothing all that special. But convenient.
I was particularly interested in Friday's "Engaging Our Theme" panel, entitled "What is Alternate History?". This mainly because one of the panelists was Damien Broderick (who lives in San Antonio). I've known Damien online for quite some time, and I've really enjoyed his fiction (and I've reprinted a few of his stories, and even wrote the introduction to one of his collections), but I'd never met him in in person. The other panelists were Fred Lerner, Daryl Gregory, and S. M. Stirling. The discussion was stimulating. The panelists considered things like overfamiliar jonbar points; the notion that in reality even small changes would likely mean that there would be no common people -- that is, that most people would even be born in alternate histories, due to their parents' not meeting (Stirling described in this context the very unlikely events leading to his parents and grandparents all meeting each other), or even if their parents met, changes in, oh, when they happened to conceive their children; favorite Alternate Histories, etc. Damien mentioned Vladimir Nabokov's Ada, one of the most interesting and different (and problematic!) literary alternate histories. Afterward, I did get a chance to meet Damien, and he gave me a copy of his latest novel, his revision of one of John Brunner's more ambitious 1950s novels, Threshold of Eternity (a novel which I read and reviewed in its Ace Double edition a few months ago). He also introduced me to another Australian writer, Russell Blackford (and later I met Russell's wife Jenny, whose work I had read and reviewed previously, which she remembered).
Our Noon panel was "My 12 Favorite Works by Karen Joy Fowler". Brian Attebery moderated the panel, and the other participants were Eileen Gunn, Elizabeth Engstrom, Rachel Neumeier, and Gordon van Gelder. As you might have guessed, the discussion centered around a whole bunch of Fowler's works. There wasn't any real consensus on the "best" (nor did I expect one!) -- though a fair amount of people seemed to pick We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves as a favorite. Rachel Neumeier's approach was interesting, and, it seems to me, a good reaction to being placed on a panel for non-obvious reasons. For, she confessed, she had not previously read Fowler. (I don't actually know if Rachel requested this panel or just got stuck there.) So she read a whole bunch of Fowler's work in the past couple of months, which gave her a pretty fresh perspective.
I did introduce myself to Brian Attebery after the panel, and we discussed -- at this time and on a couple further occasions where we could talk at greater length -- a variety of things, including Brian's major current project, curating the Library of America editions of Ursula Le Guin's work.
Next was a reading by John Crowley, from his new novel Ka. The reading was certainly interesting, though really I'm just waiting to get the novel (which I already have). John went over time a bit, because he had assumed that he had an hour, but readings at this con were only 30 minutes. I introduced myself to John afterwards -- I've known him for a while on Facebook, but this was the first time we'd met in person. Crowley is absolutely one of my favorite writers, but I restrained myself from gushing (I assume writers get tired of that, as it doesn't seem to me to lead to actual conversation). Instead I mentioned my friend Will Waller, who was one of John's students, and Will's admission that John found his work frustrating. John laughed a bit ruefully, and agreed that he had found Will a bit frustrating as a student, but said that his more recent work has gotten a great deal better.
I skipped the David Mitchell reading at 1:00. Which leads to one of my real regrets -- this convention featured three of my absolute favorite writers: Crowley (as noted), Fowler, and David Mitchell. I had no problem introducing myself to Crowley and Fowler. But I never did speak to Mitchell. Partly, no doubt, that's because I have corresponded with both Crowley and Fowler, and bought stories from them for reprint. But partly I think that's because I know they are both embedded in our field -- in a sense, they are "one of us". That said, they straddle the genre lines quite the same as Mitchell does. (On reflection, that may be a reason I like all three!) Really, that's on me. I did hang around the dealer room by the Small Beer table on Sunday, as we were about to leave, because Mitchell was there. But he was in what looked like an absorbing conversation with Ted Chiang, and I felt like it would have been terribly rude to butt in.
There was one more panel, "History: Secret, Hidden, or Otherwise", featuring Fran Wilde, Ian Drury, J. L. Doty, John Crowley, and Mary Anne Mohanraj. I will confess I don't remember the panel well, but I did take the time to introduce myself to Fran Wilde, whom I had missed at Boskone earlier this year.
Mary Ann and I went to a nearby Mexican restaurant, the original Blanco, for lunch. It was OK, but didn't really strike me as special. I have two favorite Mexican restaurants in St. Louis -- when I want Americanized Mexican food, I like Chevy's, which advertises itself as Tex Mex. This was for a while the most popular Mexican chain in St. Louis, but they are down to perhaps two stores now. When I want more authentic Mexican food, I go to Pueblo Nuevo, which was opened by a couple from Guadalajara in 1982, shortly after I came to St. Louis. I first went there that year, I think, for lunch (it's fairly close to where I work). For many many years, a group of us went every Thursday for lunch, and we got to know the owners -- the husband has died, alas, but his son took over -- I remember him as a child, sitting at one of the tables and doing his schoolwork. That stopped a few years ago when the day job got too intense to take long lunch breaks, plus a couple of our regulars retired. And on another visit just recently, one of the regular waiters greeted me by wondering where I'd been -- it had been three or four years, and I had a beard I hadn't had back them. Which is just to say, sometimes places become like home.
Diversion over. Back at the hotel, after some time in the Dealers' room (I'll discuss the Dealers' room in a later post), we ran into John Joseph Adams, the chief editor at Lightspeed (where I am the reprint editor). John was meeting his sister Becky, a teacher now living in North Carolina, who was coming to her first World Fantasy. Becky's daughter lives in San Antonio, and she was providing a convenient base of operations for both of them. They were heading to dinner soon, and we went along with them. To another Mexican place, as it happens -- Acenar. Actually, it was just fine to go to another Mexican place -- Acenar had more of an upscale vibe, with some interesting takes on "Street Tacos", for example. (Reminds me a bit of a visit to Chicago several years ago, when Mary Ann and I met up with my brother Pat, who lives in the city. He took us to a fancy Mexican place, and when we blanched at the notion of paying $25 for an enchilada, he said that's fine, I made a couple of different reservations, and we left and went to the other place ... Acenar wasn't as expensive as that! (And John actually picked up the tab -- thanks again!)) And, I should say, the food was really nice. Probably stands as the best food we had in San Antonio. The conversation was good as well, with some family stuff -- comparing Becky's teaching experience with our daughter Melissa's, for example; and some discussion of things like John's publishing ventures include the Best American SF anthologies he does.
Back at the con, it was time for the signing session, which at World Fantasy is a mass event, with everyone lined up at tables in a big event space (that turned out to be beneath the hotel's parking garage, so a bit of a walk). I thought that really worked out nicely. I didn't realize that I could have grabbed a name "tent" and sat down myself -- I thought it was by invitation only. No matter -- I don't think I'm a particularly hot name for signatures, and I was glad to wander around meeting people. I got just one thing signed, a chapbook of "An Earthly Mother Sits and Sings" by John Crowley. I talked to quite a few folks, though, including James Alan Gardner (who finally has a new novel out); Darrell Schweitzer, whom I had not previously met; Alex Irvine; Bill Crider; Christopher Brown, whom I bumped into a few more times -- I have been familiar with his interesting fiction for a while, but I was intrigued to realize he's a lawyer who spent some time working with Congress (for example, as one of the "behind the scenes" guys at the hearings you see on CSPAN); Joe McDermott, whom I had met at Boskone, and who, as he's local, gave us a good recommendation for an ice cream place on the Riverwalk; Kij Johnson, whom I've known for a little while now (I had bought her novel The River Bank at the Small Beer Press table but was too clueless to remember to bring it to the signing session); and Steve Rasnic Tem.
After that was over, it was back to the bar, which meant quite a few more stimulating conversations. Keeping in mind that my memory will confuse which night a particular conversation took place -- I remember meeting Sarah Pinsker, and we had a really good talk about music, particularly as I recall Tom Petty, and how fortunate Mary Ann and I feel that we got to see him on his last tour. I had just read Sarah's very strong novelette "Wind Will Rove" in Asimov's, which is about music (and a generation ship!), and a sort of music I like a great deal (old-timey folk, basically). That conversation was with other people, and I'm being an idiot by not remembering who -- was it Scott Andrews? Or Derek Künsken? And somebody else too? I know I did spend some time talking to both Scott and Derek. (I finally remembered who else was in the conversation: Michael Damian Thomas.)
I also ran into Arin Komins, whom I had met (along with Richard Warren) at a previous Windycon. Arin and Rich were at that time winding up their bookselling business, so I was surprised to see them in the Dealers' room -- but they were helping out another Chicago bookseller, Dave Willoughby, from whom I have bought a number of books over the years. I did discuss with Richard the fact that his name is the same as that of my ancestor who came over on the Mayflower. With Arin we recalled our dinner at Windycon at an Indian restaurant, which everyone enjoyed except Mary Ann (she hates Indian food!)
I spent considerable time talking to F. Brett Cox too, whom I had known online back in the SFF.net days. We talked about Maine, and about Joy Division -- Brett had a Joy Division t-shirt on, and they are a band I have liked since my college years -- among numerous other subjects.
And I recall talking a bit to Peter Halasz as well, and reminding him to keep an eye out for a new novel next year from a new Canadian writer -- Todd McAulty. I really liked Todd's stories for Black Gate back in the day, and I got a chance to read an advance copy of his first novel, The Robots of Gotham, which is due from John Joseph Adams' imprint next June. (Check out advance notice about it here.)
More on next rock ...
Here are links to all five installments of this con report: