Arrived a bit late for a panel about “Why Fantasy is Overtaking Science Fiction”, with Scott Lynch, Ty Franck, and a very passionate Farah Mendlesohn discoursing about how so many readers follow an author for a particular series only, but not to other types of books; about how certain kinds of YA writers took to SF&F without understanding that SF is about *consequences*; how some of her students loved The Da Vinci Code and others (the faster readers) hated it. An audience members’ theory was the environmentalist movement destroyed science fiction… a rather bizarre premise which Farah, nevertheless gamely, responded too. Takeaway: Farah’s passion and expertise.
A panel called “Learning to be Dangerous” took as its inspiration a 1985 Gene Wolfe speech, in which he proposed that instead of trying to ‘escape the ghetto’ of SF, SF writers should reach out and pull everyone else inside. To an extent, that’s happened; we’ve won, at least in pop culture outside of books; look how many of the top box office films are sf/f. Panelists were Gene Wolfe, David G. Hartwell, Connie Willis, and a couple others, and they talked about ghetto walls and the danger some people feel about all books, not to mention specific ones. (Like, Little Women.)
I listened in on part of a panel about Space X – the private launch firm – led by Geoffrey A. Landis, until I got hungry enough to go searching for lunch. Landis neatly captured the difference between this firm and NASA, and between NASA now and NASA of 50 years ago — that NASA now is not allowed to fail. SpaceX failed three times and kept going; when the early Mercury astronauts launched, their Atlas rockets had only a 50% success rate….
And then came a can’t-fail panel: get five SF luminaries, all good talkers, on a stage to talk about “The Secret History of SF”, i.e. stories about infamous SF convention events. Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman, George R.R. Martin, Mike Resnick, and (late to show) Gardner Dozois. Themes: Worldcon masquerades…The turd/peanut butter entry. Silverberg, relenting for a dismissive comment about masquerades, forced into MC’ing one. Then: The con where the rocket trophies showed up and late and all they gave out were the bases, and R.A. Lafferty, drunk, was confused about losing his. About Silverberg’s awe at an early ’50s con seeing Willy Ley, Robert Sheckley, L. Sprague de Camp, James Blish, and Theodore Sturgeon, walking through the lobby… and contrasting that awe with current cons. GRRM about the invention of the Hugo Losers’ party. Cons in the late ’60s where folks went skinny-dipping in the hotel pools — and one con where the pool was situated *above* the hotel restaurant… and several largish skinny-dipping fans were seen from below and and sighted by diners, among whom Gardner, who screamed “manatees!”. And the infamous ’68 Baycon, laced with drugs, heat, wasps, and an infinitely long speech by Philip Jose Farmer…
And ending with an anecdote about L. Sprague de Camp, at a Worldcon that shared its hotel with a Scientology convention. He was approached by an acolyte in the hotel lobby, and replied, “Young man, I knew Hubbard when he was a *small* time crook.”
The large room was packed, with an enthusiastic audience.
Had dinner that evening with my partner and his 25-year-old son James, at Capital Grille. After which, we did the room parties — exposing James to the SF culture at the Baen party (we chatted with David Marusek, Pat Cadigan, and David Brin) and two Japanese parties, one a ‘thank you’ party from the 2007 Worldcon, the second hosting an elaborate tea ceremony. I sat next to Eileen Gunn, squatting on the floor, for the formal ceremony…
Sunday morning we had a tasty breakfast, after a lengthy wait outside in light rain for a table, at the very popular Wilberry Cafe, a couple blocks south of the Hyatt and across the street from the park. (We arrived at 10am, were seated at 11.15am, and got food at 11.45am.) So I arrived rather late to a 12n panel about “The Future of NASA”, with Ben Bova, Geoffrey A. Landis, David Brin, Catherine Asaro, and Mary Turzillo. Takeaway anecdote: Brin described how a survey of science literacy among all nations put the US ahead — at 14% [not great but] — because US colleges are four-year programs, requiring a certain amount of breadth classes, e.g. Physics for English Majors and so on — whereas other countries, including Britain’s Oxford and Cambridge, are only three-year programs for Baccalaureate degrees, focused on particular subjects the way our, US, graduate programs are focused… I did not know that.
The rest of the day I dipped in and out of panels. A bit of the “Ethics of Book Reviewing”, with Jo Walton and Roland Green and Michael Lowry, where they discussed why Wikipedia doesn’t consider reviews on Amazon ‘reliable’. A panel on pseudoscience, with Mary Turzillo, James Cambias, Matthew Rotundo, and Richard Garfinkle. A panel on “Stalking the Elusive Story Idea”, which I attended mainly, as I did on an earlier panel, to put a face and identity on certain names, in this case Alec Nevala-Lee and Vylar Kaftan. Finally: “SF and the Mainstream”, a small packed room, with Gary Wolfe, John Kessel, Eddie Schneider [an agent], Beverly Friend, and Sarah Stegall. Rich Horton and Evelyn Leeper were in the audience and spoke up several times. Consensus: they are moving closer. Atwood, Vonnegut. A question was asked from the audience, name a book from the ‘mainstream’ that should be of interest to SF readers. Replies: John Collier’s Tom’s A-Cold, Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance, Bernard Wolfe’s Limbo, Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day, Walter Tevis’ Mockingbird, Leonora Carrington’s Hearing Trumpet, David Maine’s The Preservationist, Jim Fergus’ One Thousand White Women, John Hersey’s White Lotus, Kris Rasmussen, Brian Evenson, Matt Ruff, David Mitchell, Giles Goat Boy.
After that, a quick dinner with Yeong and James outside at Trattoria Isabella, west and across the river from downtown, then back to the con for the Hugo Awards. I got in line at 7:30, at the end of a huge line that extended across the bridge to the west tower, and by the time I got into the auditorium, found a decent seat only six rows from the back. But I covered that in an earlier post.
PS- It’s occurred to me to wonder about the requirements for admission to the pre-Hugo Awards reception. I chatted with several folks who were there, or who reported others who were there — e.g. Gene Wolfe — but who were not nominees this year themselves, or even winners ever (Gene Wolfe has nine nominations but has never won). I presume the con committee has policies about this, and I’m sure they are entirely understandable, concerning not only past nominees/winners but also special guests whom no one would ever expect to stand in line for hours in order to sit six rows from the back, say. Next year, Locus Mag folks might get in as press, even though they’ll not be nominees. For example.