flummery: (hat 2)
[personal profile] flummery

Okay, so I was not expecting to attend WorldCon this year. Thing 1 started talking about it about 8 months ago, and I was all "Eh? WorldCon? Eh?" I've attended smaller conventions, like Escapade and Vividcon, but not really bigger ones, except one of two Actor Cons that sort of... sucked.

But Thing 1 was all "No no, you don't understand, this is THE ONLY CONVENTION THAT REALLY MATTERS," and I was all with the nodding and agreeing and eyerolling, while she assured me we'd not only have to attend the entire thing, but have a hotel room, for all five days, despite the fact that it was basically being held *in our backyard.*

But, the closer we got to the date, the more worn out we both were. Vividcon just basically sucked the life right out of us, and neither of us could imagine a five day convention so soon. While I wasn't even really sure why WorldCon was such a big deal, and was bitching noisily about the cost, Thing 1, the motivating force for going in the first place, was getting more and more tired and grumpy and ready for one of her hermitages. We were both totally prepared to flake out and not attend.

If Thing 1 had been born in another time, she would have a nice cave of her own by now. Not just any cave, but a very comfortably furnished cave, a cave other hermits could only dream and be jealous of. She would be *the* top-ranking hermit, and she would throw stones at villagers who made the mistake of coming too close, and parents would scare their children into obedience with bedtime stories about her. Even in this day and age, it's a pretty close thing. She requires two or three periods every year when you are not allowed to visit her, or call her, or think about her too closely, and all electronic transmissions are pretty much suspect.

This time period was supposed to begin on Saturday this year, for her, but then... [livejournal.com profile] the_shohsanna emailed us that she'd be here for WorldCon, and hey, we should get together! And then [livejournal.com profile] astolat did the same. And [livejournal.com profile] teenygozer was all "Well, *I* sure as hell am going," and [livejournal.com profile] bayleaf and a few others were all "We should meet for brunch!". Meanwhile, I read a few things on LiveJournal, and started tugging on Thing 1's sleeve going, "[livejournal.com profile] marthawells is *going to be at WorldCon.* *Giving panels.* Maybe I was wrong about WorldCon. Do you think I could steal someone's badge for an hour?" And then, grumblingly, we both caved, and she pushed the hermitage back to Sunday, and we shelled out the $80 for a Saturday day pass, and went.

And it turns out she was right. WorldCon is that Big A Deal. And it was fantastic, and I have to say, if you have to choose one day to go, it would seem to me that Saturday is the day you cannot miss.

Getting There
So I rolled out of bed at 6:45 am, which was so early for me, that the cat was still sleeping, and shockingly unprepared for this development, since usually he has another full hour or more before he does the thing where he repeatedly walks on my head demanding... food that is already in his bowl. He responded by sleeping some more, until it became clear I was actually leaving, and then he panicked and bit me on the leg.

I called Thing 1 to wake her up at 7:15, which was so early for her, that it was actually still yesterday. She works an evening shift. It's all part of the hermit genetic-structure, is my theory. She cursed at me a lot.

We got moving a bit more slowly than we had hoped, and both of us had sort of expected that when you stepped out of the Hynes Convention Center T stop you would see... the Hynes. Nope. But we found it without too much difficulty. You just sort of squinted and found people who looked like... fans... and followed them.

We got shiny plastic badges. We attempted to decipher the map. We gave up, and just wandered until we found the Dealer's Room (Magnetic North for fans).

The Dealer's Room and Brunch

In the Dealer's Room, I nobly did not buy a Baby Shoggoth. I refrained (mostly) from urging Thing 1 on when she got terribly stuck at a table. She refrained from kicking me when I started making noises in my throat. I managed to get out of the Convention with 50% of the money I had brought for spending! Which was 150% more than I expected to make it out with. We explored the Concourse. Thing 1 noted that in previous years, the Concourse has held displays of previous years' Masquerade costumes, and that this tradition sadly appears to have been discontinued. (Still, I admired the giant dragon down on the first floor, and some of the artwork they had in the hallways).

Time passed, and I made more noises in my throat until Thing 1 rolled her eyes and we went in search of the restaurant where we were supposed to meet friends for brunch. (I would like to say this is also Not My Fault. It's a genetic condition that makes me drive people insane until we arrive places hours and hours early). So we find the restaurant... with time to spare. As we're walking towards it, there's a girl standing in the patio area, and she sort of confronts us, and it took me a bit aback. Neither her question, nor her appearance, indicated to me that she was an employee of the restaurant, so it was just sort of... strange and random, at first, and I couldn't understand why there was a problem, until we discovered that although we'd thought we were supposed to meet up at 11 am, the restaurant didn't even open until 11:30. We wandered next door to find a drink, trying to figure out if we'd confused the time, or the location, and ran into [livejournal.com profile] astolat, who told us a later email had corrected the time. So we basically hung around at the bar of the restaurant for a half an hour, watching as various party members showed up, and getting in the way of the staff opening up for the day. I started to get freaky and anxious (More so, okay? Shut up, those of you who know me well) about the timing of it all, since starting so late wiped out my plans for the noon panel, and there was no way I was missing the 1pm panel, even if I had to get up and just walk out in the middle of the meal.

But, it went just fine, of course. We got started a little earlier than 11:30, the food was good, the friends showed up! Okay, some shunned us in favor of panels (like we're not more interesting than famous authors and editors! really!), and it was enjoyable, and there was way too much to eat, so we happily shoved all our leftovers onto [livejournal.com profile] bayleaf, on the theory that she'd be heading home, and could eat well for the rest of the weekend. (When we spotted bayleaf wandering the halls at 6:30, we pointed out that the carryout, still adorning her arm, might not be... quite so safe, at this point. She was all, "Yeah, I'm starting to suspect that.")

What the Writer Needs to Know

This was a panel moderated by Robert Reed, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Martha Wells, and Scott Westerfeld. We were told that all panels have a secret title, and that the secret title of this one was, "What the Reader *doesn't* need to know." The panel focused on the fact that in order to give their story depth, an author needs to know one hell of a lot more about their world than the reader. They need to know its history, its science, about the culture, and the people, and its secrets. But the reader? Not so much. The world should be well-known to the creator, but you only need to reveal a few details to the reader as you go. Overwhelming them with "how it works" is just going to bog them the hell down. They need it shown to them, through example, and glimpses, that indicate what lies behind.

It was pointed out you'll find out you don't even know what it is you need to know until you start. Martha gave the example of getting stuck on how wine was labeled in the 19th century. Another author had to stop and figure out what the equivalent of a bag lunch would be in his society.

Examples were given on how you can reveal information about the culture of your world without sitting down and throwing it out in an ugly expository lump. In Dune, when a person spits on a table... it's not an insult. It's a form of obeisance, because water is so very, very dear. One of the authors gave another example that there was no "shrug" in his universe. Instead, a character would turn a palm face up. The fact of this is present, without it being spelled out to the reader.

A question thrown out to the authors was -- "how much do you need to explain how the things work?" and the answer was "As little as posssible." Everyone understands *that* a gun works when you fire it -- how it sounds, what it looks like, that you pull back the trigger. These would be the details you'd stick with if you described a weapon. You wouldn't need to tell them about the history of gunpowder, and metal casting, and the levers and gears involved.

I'm fascinated by this subject, because I agree that telling too much can trip you up, but at the same time, think not giving the reader enough information/structure can frustrate the hell out of them. Right now, for example -- The Harry Potter books. I enjoy the books, but think the readers' have been given way too little in the way of information about how or why a magician is a good magian, or what makes someone powerful. Is it learning the words? Is it the tools? Why would the type of broom you ride make you a faster rider than someone else, as opposed to your own inherent ability or learning? It frustrates me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I've been reading Trudi Canavan's "Black Magician" trilogy. She clearly thought out the rules to how magic works in universe, in detail, before ever starting on page one. The rules are revealed as you go, and they're all consistent, and it's a relief, and also a crucial part of the series' development.

There was some discussion of how, despite the fact that you need to be knowledgeable of your world, you shouldn't get bogged down in the research, as it's just another form of procrastination. I felt this one closely -- I do exactly that. The one Stargate story I ever attempted to write got bogged down horribly by the insane researching fit I engaged in. Eight months into the story, with 17 books on Egypt on my shelves, including a copy of the Book of the Dead, my story was torpedoed when Stargate... went and essentially aired my story. Or one close enough to it that I could not imagine anyone not thinking I was an unoriginal hack who had basically plagiarized an actual episode. And I cursed for a long time, but really, at some point, I should have stopped with the goddamn research and started writing. (The episode was "The Curse", and the only element of the story they didn't actually hit was The Eye of Ra. Which they used later.) I have a Hercules story that is suffering similarly. (God knows why, since the creators of the show never gave a damn about that kind of thing).

Someone said you should stop going back and reworking the first part of your story, to make it perfect, in favor of writing more of the story. To that person, I say -- enough with the spying on my privacy, already! Out!

After the panel, I went up to say hello to Martha, and of course, went all nervous and gibbery and freakish, and talked at her way too fast. I'm not sure what I said. It was an odd thing to meet someone I'd known online longer than I'd known as an author (Sudden transformation! ACK! You fooled me into thinking you were an ORDINARY FAN! Now I must regard you from a distance!) But I was very glad I had the chance, and it was an extremely successful panel. I went away happy.

The Art Show

We decided to forego a couple of afternoon panels in order to devote the time deserved to the Art Show. This was truly a fantastic show, with everything present from student elementary school fantasy contests, to fan art of different varieties, to the more professional stuff, like the original oil paintings for various sci fi and fantasy book covers. Prices ranged from $10 to $25,000.

I started getting silly after a while, demanding Thing 1 buy me stuff, and making a list of all the prints I wanted. We were well over a quarter mill by the time we made it to the end of the exhibit. Alas, Thing 1 is cruel, and did not buy me even one measly $5,000 work.

Thing 1, did, however purchase a lovely print of the Green Man by Ruth Sanderson. They had the original there as well, beautifully painted on a round piece of wood, but of course that one was out of the question, pricewise. There were three prints of it, though, for a reasonable price, and they were still there to buy when we checked, probably because they appeared to have been shelved in such a way as to make them almost impossible to find. Then, while in the bathroom, Thing 1 actually ran into the artist herself, while carrying the print!

I'm frustrated though -- I picked up half a dozen cards as I went through the Art Show. There was no point in bidding on anything, even the stuff I might conceivably have been able to afford, since I wasn't going to be there the entire weekend. I was hoping that I'd be able to look up the artists online once I got home, and see what they had available. Half of the cards I picked up -- only have phone numbers. Some have email addresses. Two have websites -- neither of which indicate that anything there is actually for sale, or gives instructions on how to purchase from the artist.

The problem, of course, comes from being plugged into the internet for 18 hours out of any given day. I hear tell that much of the world isn't yet addicted, and hasn't put their stuff online, and do things like... sell stuff in person... but it's sort of a mythlike concept. I wasn't expecting to encounter it in person, and I want the pretty egyptian bag I saw!

The Monster In The Maze

And the secret title of *this* panel, although the panelists never named it that themselves was... "Famous authors Who Are Also Comic Book Geeks Talk About DC Comics a lot."

Neil Gaiman, the main moderator of the panel, was running late, so Simon Green hurled himself bravely into the role. Which is another way of saying he was a Giant Ham and loved it, and was really good at it. He announced that he was not Neil Gaiman, despite the fact that he was wearing black leather (and I cracked up, because I had assumed he was Neil Gaiman, for exactly this reason). Other moderators were Stephen Dedman, Yves Meynard, and Robert Sheckley. And one of them had the tallest forehead I have ever seen on a human being. I was mesmerized.

I'm not sure where they intended to go, but the focus of the panel became, "What defines an enemy as a Monster? What differentiates a Monster from a Villain?" The answer seemed to lie in both intelligence and motivation. A monster doesn't particularly engage in our civilization, or understanding of ethics, or any of that crap. It's either completely alien, or in someway, a force of nature. It eats babies because that's what it *does*. A villain chooses to be a villain. A villain understands ethics, and good and evil, and makes the choice to do what s/he does.

(Neil Gaiman showed up after about 10 minutes, running down the aisle, with sunglasses on, and a light brown round tribble stuck to his head. He never removed either. The sunglasses I adjusted to, but the tribble distressed me. I asked my friends about it later, and they repeatedly assured me it was just that one area of his hair was turning grey, in a streak. I expressed doubt. Thing 1 agreed with me that it had been too round and fuzzy to be hair. We debated this subject for far too long.)

One great example that was thrown out was Dr. Who. In most of the Dr. Who episodes, there were monsters. They'd show up on acts 1, 2, and 3. But in act 4? The villain, controlling the poor monster, would show up. The one with the *motivation* and the intelligence to cause the events to happen, to set the monster loose upon people. The monster just wanted a meal. The villain wanted revenge, or a specific goal.

There were a *lot* of references to comic books, and King Kong. There was discussion of how King Kong, between the first movie, and the remake changed. In the first? An evil monster which you could not sympathize with, that hurled men to their deaths, kidnapped women, and stepped on people uncaringly. In the latter? An innocent animal that was basically kidnapped from his home and forced into barbaric zoo conditions.

Best quote of the panel? "I'm Batman, and I'm coming to take your nipples."

The Vid Show
So somehow [livejournal.com profile] astolat managed to get the Committee folks to find space and time for a vidshow amidst all the other things that were happening. They didn't manage to get it listed in program book itself, but did get mention of it out in one of the flyer updates. (Although, they listed it as Fan Videos, and given some of the other things shown in the media rooms, there is one hell of a lot of potential difference between a "fan video" and a "fan music video.")

We were a little late for the vidshow, because it was supposed to start at 5:30, and the Monsters Panel ran until 5:55. It turned out that the show had started late, however, and so we only missed the first two vids. We arrived in time for Tainted Donuts.

My reaction to the vidshow was sort of disturbing, and gave me something to think about. I began to wonder just how accessible vidding is to the wider fannish community. At WorldCon, these vids were definitely being shown to fans. But they weren't the fans *I know.* This was a larger, different fanbase, from the one I'm used to, which has definitely been developing its own customs, and language. As vidding has gotten more and more sophisticated, in some ways, it has definitely gotten a bit less generally accessible. When I first started watching vids, a few years back, it was definitely just pretty pictures and music to me. It took the time for people to sit down and explain some things to me, for me to listen to people in Vid Review Panels, for me to start to get the hang of it. And I felt strangely, desperately aware that to a lot of the audience, this would seem alien.

I'm not sure why I *cared*, since the idea here was to expose them to new things, but it did. I huddled at the back of the room for most of the show. When did I feel confident enough to stand up for a vid? During Razzle Dazzle. It was source universally known, speaking of jokes universally understood, and it had no problem cutting through barriers. (One old guy at the back was very audible when he muttered, "Finally, one I understand!") The Mountain also went over very well.

I think the experience freaked me out because it made me wonder how insular I've become. If I write, maybe only a hundred people will read my story. Maybe less. But the broader base of fans doesn't need an explanation of fanfiction, or what I'm doing, or what the rules are. It's vast, and it's our most basic fannish language. Vidding? and Media Vidding in particular? It made me feel... well, like a *fan*, showing my work to a group of *mundanes*. (Luckily, they were fans, and made of sterner stuff).

But after the show, a couple people seemed very interested in the whole thing, and that made me feel much better. At least one had me give her the addresses for both the vidder and vividcon mailing list, as well as the vividcon website, and expressed enthusiasm at the small con size, and I would have stayed longer to give her more info, if I hadn't looked up and noticed my (so-called) group of friends all tromping out the door WITHOUT ME on their way to dinner. So I apologized and fled.

The Hugo Awards

Neil Gaiman was the Master of Ceremony for this year's Hugo Awards. This meant that, not only was he on stage for 3 hours in front of thousands of us, but he was also broadcast, in Ultra-Big Picture, on the two gigantic screens on either side of him. The camera people, to keep us interested, I guess, rotated between showing him from the front, from the right, and from the left. This meant I had plenty of time to scrutinize, in ultra-big screen, the tribble on his head. And determine that yes, in fact, it was just a patch of hair that was turning, strangley, not white, but sort of sandy tan.

Then, I felt bad for a while, for mistaking his hair for a tribble. It's not like we don't all have hair issues.

But anyway. The Ceremony itself was screamingly and wonderfully funny and good, and Neil Gaiman was perfect as the Master of Ceremonies. Basically, you're in a room full of SciFi and Fantasy fans, and everyone who is there knows this is where they are Meant To Be, and the presenters didn't have to tone it down the way they might have for some kind of other "Professional" Convention. Yes, it is in fact Professional. In fact, this is the goddamn top of the heap, this set of awards. And yet, being there gave me such a sense of how this area of literature, at least, is still so tightly united to the people who create it. Not just the authors, but the editors and publishers and fans and people who just run the conventions. They all speak the same language and understand certain basic truths and would probably all run into a burning building in an attempt to save their books. There was no one there who wasn't just basically a Great Big Geek at heart. The fact that someone a professional writer didn't mean they suddenly weren't a fan themselves, anymore. In fact, the professional writers were now ultra-fans. They were there because this is where a fan would want to be. It felt like being *home*. I hadn't realized how much I missed that feeling until the Hugos.

The Highlight of the evening was Certainly the Hugo Retrospective, given by Robert Silverberg. Robert Silverberg, it turned out, had been to every Hugo Awards ceremony... ever. This boggled him, and it boggled me as well. He told stories from the early years, when they were brand new, and when he couldn't afford to go to the convention feast ($5.75!) but his friend Harlan Ellison *could*. He told us of how Heinlein would appear, out of nowhere, whenever he won a Hugo, wearing a white dinner jacket. He told us about how Isaac Asimov, who had never won a Hugo, bitterly complained about this fact all through the ceremony he was presiding over, until, alas, he discovered the last award of the evening was a special Hugo being presented to him. He made me want to attend the next 50 Hugo Awards. (And he made me wonder just how on earth he had *managed* it, particularly in those early years, when he was basically a starving artist, and the Con must have been travelling around).

Then, there were the awards.

Both the Noreascon Special Committee Awards, and the Big Heart Award, were given to Erwin "Filthy Pierre" Strauss. Filthy Pierre, it turned out, was the man playing the hand organ in the hallways during the Convention, and had been doing background work for WorldCon since... forever. He is also the Inventor of the Voodoo Message Board(!!!).

The Seiun Awards were Japanese Awards given out for the best Translated Short Story and Novel. I had a brief moment of confusion when Seiun was translated as "Nebula", since... there are also Nebula Awards. I had a not so brief moment of liking the ceremonial paper lanterns far more than the actual awards that were handed out.

Best Reaction to Winning went to Frank Wu, when he won for Best Fan Artist. He went down the aisle too fast for the camera operator to even catch up with him, forsook the stairs in favor of leaping onto the stage, bounded across the length of the stage, grabbed his Hugo, and just flung his arms UP! I think he shouted "I LOVE YOU ALL!" and then just wandered off the stage in a daze.

Melinda Snodgrass thanked Worldcon for finally creating the category of "Best Dramatic Presentation -- Short Form" so that those with less than movie-length entries could finally find a place to call their own, where they wouldn't have to compete with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. And then, of course, "Gollum's Acceptance Speech at the 2003 MTV Movie Awards" won the Hugo.

John Grant, Elizabeth L. Humphrey, and Pamela D. Scoville won for Best Related Book, and their presence on the stage pointed out the fact that the podium was *way* too freaking tall, for those of us in this world who are *short women.*

Neil Gaiman won for Best Short Story, and seemed perplexed by the whole thing.

Lois McMaster Bujold won for Best Novel, and gave an extremely touching and heartfelt thank you to the fans.

So then Neil Gaiman thanked us, and we all rose, and staggered out, blinking, into the light, while I stamped my feet and wondered at what point sitting still for three hours became something that caused *pain*, and there was milling, and running into people, and some chatting and hugs, and of course, that desperate run for the bathroom thing, and then [livejournal.com profile] teenygozer, whose knowledge of downtown Boston is a fearsom thing, led us through a maze of malls and buildings and connecting hallways and hotels until we reached the Back Bay station, without once ever setting a foot outside.

So I get home, and I shuffle around, decompressing, and checking my email, and settling in, and finally, paranoia hits, because I didn't actually see Thing 1 get home, but dropped her off a little ways away, so I call her up to make sure she's alive. And you can *hear her* thinking about not picking up the phone, but she finally does, and goes, "Yeah?!?!" with that voice she gets, and you just know she's got that pile of stones all built up by her front door, with a couple backups inside, just in case, and she's thinking "Oh my GOD, it's 48 minutes into Sunday, and she's calling me during my HERMITAGE! I WILL FEAST ON HER BONES! " And I said "Just checking!" and all was well.

(Until my cat woke me up on Sunday morning by stepping on my face.)
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