14 September 1999
Return from Down-Under
I returned last Friday from the trip to Australia to attend the World Science Fiction Convention in Melbourne. Before the con Charles Brown and I spent four days in New Zealand, attending a Maori hangi, buying jade, and stepping among colorful, steamy geothermal pools. After the con we drove (well, I drove us) via the Australian southeast coast and the capital city Canberra to Sydney, where we attended the opera, shopped for opals, and ate in fancy restaurants. It was too short a trip, of course. I ate kangaroo (with charred beetroot), but never got a chance to see a live creature. I did see an emu, in a field along the highway, and I saw platypus and plenty of penguins in aquariums in Auckland and Sydney. From a beach in Lakes Entrance I saw Alpha and Beta Centauri, the Southern Cross, and the Magellanic Clouds for the first time in my life (except perhaps for Alpha Centauri, which I may have spotted once very low on the horizon from the high desert of Southern California, many years ago in my amateur astronomical youth--but I was never sure).
The convention had its share of problems; the pocket program, for instance, was declared worthless by the first day and was replaced by daily schedule sheets to keep up with the numerous programming changes. But overall it was worthwhile and rewarding. (It couldn't have been too bad since Locus won a Hugo, right?) Every big convention provides a mixture of three opportunities: meeting old friends, meeting new friends, and seeing new sights. Go to conventions long enough and you realize you encounter a certain set of professional and personal friends at virtually every one, no matter where it is; movable feasts, of sorts. This con was no exception. With the con in Australia this time I had a chance to meet a number of Aussie writers, editors, and publishers who do not usually attend conventions in North America or Europe. The intersection of these two groups was Locus alumni Marianne Jablon and Jonathan Strahan, now living in Perth; Jonathan handed out copies of the debut issue of his new review-zine, The Coode Street. The con was less successful for me on the third count, seeing new sights. Since I ended up working the Locus table in the dealers' room for most of the con, I saw relatively little of the city of Melbourne. Next time, perhaps.
Highlights of the con: an invitation-only party at Peter Nicholls' fabulous house; an electrifying one-and-a-half-hour Guest of Honor speech by Gregory Benford; a lean and mean Hugo Awards ceremony lasting little over an hour. I'll write a more detailed Worldcon report, with descriptions of several interesting panels I attended, for the November Locus Magazine.
Technical Difficulties: Please Stand By
For once while traveling I had virtually no trouble connecting to the web and to e-mail from the various hotels we stayed at. I collected Compuserve network phone numbers for each city before I left, and had most of the the power and phone adaptors with me (except for New Zealand phone jacks; but hotels in both Auckland and Rotorua were able to provide them). We were able to check e-mail daily, keeping in touch with the Locus staff back in Oakland, and I checked CNN every couple days to see if anything important was going on in the world outside of the convention, unlikely as the possibility seemed. It's remarkable how trivial the local news back home seems when you're traveling abroad.
The computer gods took their revenge on my trip when I got home last Friday, though. I switched on my desktop PC, got a few moments of silence, a couple chirps, and then a polite request to supply a boot disk in an appropriate drive. My hard drive, after sitting without power for two weeks, had expired. The dreaded hard drive crash!, the worst catastrophe to befall any computer user!
I contacted my PC-consultant friend Charles Barrett, who has come to my rescue several times before and should be credited as an unofficial technical consultant for Locus Online. (If you're in LA and need someone, but all means look him up; he specializes in home office systems.) Charles arrived Saturday morning with his bag of tricks, removed the drive from its mounting, and applied the sort of arcane recovery procedure known only to sophisticated computer savants. He rapped sharply on the side of the drive case with a screwdriver handle. Miraculously, after the fifth or sixth such rap, the drive began spinning. My PC was alive!
So I spent that afternoon copying to zip disks all my data files. (My last regular backup had been in June.) Then I went out and bought a new hard drive and spent the rest of the weekend rebuilding my PC, recovering its initial Windows 95 load, reinstalling the scanner card, the zip drive, updating to Windows 98, installing all the software, and all the data files (including the various databases that support Locus Online).
This is why there have been no updates to Locus Online the past few days. I might otherwise have spent the weekend cataloguing the books I brought home from the convention, as well as the remarkable number of noteworthy new books that have appeared in bookstores during the past two weeks (the Summer doldrums are over, the Fall publishing season has begun, it seems), and generating new pages for the website. These pages will appear instead over the next few days.
Meanwhile, note the increased media coverage of the J.K. Rowling/Harry Potter phenomenon. Rowling was profiled on 60 Minutes this past Sunday; the same day a New York Times Editorial Notebook discussed the series' success; and this week Harry Potter is on the cover of Time Magazine! Is this unprecedented for an author or work of fantasy or SF? I spent the flight home from Sydney reading the third Harry Potter book; I find the books delightful, for the characters and the plotting, though as fantasies they are conceptually kitchen-sink assemblages. (But I'm a SFnal reader by inclination and find most fantasies similarly arbitrary.)
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