Back from the Anticipation, the 67th World Science Fiction Convention, held in Montréal, Québec, Canada. So much to say, so little time, as I'm off to Texas tomorrow to give two talks twice each at the NETLS symposium on Friday (held at Allen Public Library, 300 N. Allen, Texas) and I'm still tweaking one of the speeches, and playing mad-out-of-the-office-for-a-week catch up.
But, what a con! They had me on about 14 programming items (including participating in three awards ceremonies), and I sandwiched all my various meetings in between, such that I was still taking meetings as late as 10:30pm on Monday night! But Montreal was lovely, the city beautiful, the food good, the company what always makes the experience.
The general level of the programming was up over recent years. The talk between Nobel-prize winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and Charles Stross was exactly the sort of thing that I wish science fiction conventions would do more of. Over 1,000 people in attendance, to see two very smart people in dialogue. Fascinating and relevant, and exactly the sort of thing that WorldCon can do (and that a venue like the San Diego Comic Con can't or wouldn't). I'd like to see more conventions leverage these already-available resources for this sort of production. Also, was great to find out Krugman is a geek at heart, and a huge Stross fan. (And see how the event is described in the Ottowa Citizen, which is exactly how I'd want the press to cover it.)
On a much smaller scale, but playing to a packed-house nonetheless, the best panel I was on myself was Friday's "Modern Graphic Design in Publishing," which featured Your's Truly, Tor.com's Pablo Defendini, author Sarah Micklem, five time Hugo-nominated artist John Picacio, Baen graphic designer Jennie Faries, and moderated by Weird Tales Hugo-winner Stephen H. Segal. It was a slide presentation where the panelist talked the audience through the process of how a cover comes together, from initial concept sketches, to experiments with layouts, and how they address both artistic and marketing concerns. Really fascinating to hear the other panelists, though since Picacio brought a cover he did for Pyr (his Chesley winning art for Fast Forward 2) and I brought covers he did for us as well (his amazing Age of Misrule work), a lot of it was the John and Lou show. We got a lot of good feedback from folks in the audience, but feel enormously guilty that we ran out of time before Stephen got to show his own slides on the evolution of Weird Tales look/feel. Deep appy polly loggies, man.
But these and other panels really had a dignity and relevance and level of sophistication that is what I personally want from programming. I've been at too many conventions with panel topics like "Why do panels drift?" With all the ground we are loosing to media cons in recent years, this sort of Best Foot Forward programming is wonderful to see and experience (and I'd like more cons to actively promote this sort of thing to the local community before the con, you know).
Not to digress - but just looking at the pro attendees, and ignoring the obvious demigod that is Neil Gaiman, you had folks like Melinda Snodgrass (scriptwriter for Star Trek: The Next Generation), DC/Vertigo superstar & Fables creator Bill Willingham (and when you follow him around, it is an endless series of people doing double takes and then being overwhelmed to learn he was there/thrilled to meet him), Doctor Who television writer and Marvel comics author Paul Cornell, and artist and creator of Y: The Last Man Pia Guerra. Just recognizing them on the attendees list, then finding away to make their fan bases aware of their presence, and organizing some special programming specifically around them, and you could really leverage their presence to double the size of the convention, without having to become a giant "media con" at all --as if there is any chance of that. Really tired of people saying they don't do this because they don't want WorldCon to turn into San Diego. Please. As if that were even remotely possible. But leveraging these already available resources just might stop the scary con-shrinkage of recent years, combat the graying of fandom, and make sure there IS a WorldCon for us to go to in 2020...
But rant over, back on track, it was an honor to accept the winning awards for Mary Rosenblum and Chris Roberson for the Sidewise Award for Alternate History. Mary won for "Sacrifice," published in my own Sideways In Crimeanthology. Chris Roberson for The Dragon's Nine Sons,both published by Solaris books.
Immediately following this, I received one of the highest honors of my life when I received the Chesley Award for Best Art Director. Was so not expecting it that I didn't even have an acceptance speech, and cannot begin to tell you what this means to me. That John Picacio had just won for Best Paperback for my anthology Fast Forward 2 (for which John and I really, really put in the collaborative work as artist and art director), made this an evening I'll never forget. And indeed, I didn't really realize until I got there, but I had three stories I edited on the Sidewise ballot, three covers I art directed on the Chesley ballot, and two stories I edited on the Hugo ballot, plus the Chesley win, the Best Editor-Long Form nomination, and the discovery (after the Loser's Party) that I missed making the Best Editor Short Form by only two votes. All of which ads up to making this a very special convention for me & Pyr.
But what really makes a convention special is the people! Spent a lot of time with my brothers John Picacio, Paolo Bacigalupi and Paul Cornell, whose company I can never get enough of. Some combination of us (and Monday night all four) were hanging out all week, a scaffolding of friendship upon which the convention hung.
On the new friends category: Really enjoyed hanging out with Lev Grossman (about which more later) and had a very quick meeting my last day with Stéphane Marsan, directeur éditorial of Bragelonne in Paris, France. Stephane is kindred spirit, and I hated to cut it short, because I felt I could have talked with him for much, much longer, but thoroughly enjoyed the conversation we had. (And thank you to consuling editor Tom Clegg for the introduction!) Really enjoyed meeting Dani Kollin, on half of The Unincorporated Man,and a very smart, nice guy I hope I get the opportunity to dialogue with further. Also got to talk to Alexandre O. Philippe, Writer/Director of the documentary film The People vs. George Lucas. Most of that conversation was held across opposite sides of a camera, but thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless (and worth the sea of hate mail I've probably set myself up for.) Meanwhile, fantastic to meet author Daniel Duguay and his lovely wife, who came all the way from Serbia (though they are Canadian), to be at the con. And though he wasn't a new friend, my old friend Graeme Burke, who didn't attend the con but traveled two hours each way on the train just to hang for two hours, a gesture that was deeply appreciated. Just prior, lunching and strolling with Liza Groen Trombi of Locus and her three-month old baby was a joy.
What else can I say? Exhausting, rewarding, over too soon. This con report from Time's aforementioned Lev Grossman (whose own book, The Magicians: A Novel,debuts any day now), sums up the convention nicely. "It's pretty overwhelming when you first walk in. At any con you always have a few people who you know you're going to see, but you -- or at any rate I -- also have the impression that every single other person there knows every single other person, and you're the only one who's wandering around friendlessly. That impression fades after a while. As at every con I've been to, the people are extraordinarily nice and welcoming." Lev's article has the added bonus of mentioning me, but I think I'd enjoy it regardless. He comes in a newcomer and seems to grok its essence pretty quickly and thoroughly. (Meeting and hanging with him was also a highlight of the con for me.)
Now contrast it with this report from Clarion grad Megan Kurashige. She characterizes it as, "My first time being surrounded by several thousand people who love a certain kind of story, or at least a certain range of flavors, enough to spend five days celebrating them and enjoying the related trimmings." So, two very similar perspectives from two different newbies, one just starting out as a writer, the other as a (fantasy) novelist. And yes, this one also has the added bonus of mentioning me. What can I say?
Coming home involved a five hour delay at the Montreal airport, while a dent in the plane got examined and signed off on by two different specialists, and then, once we did board, the day-long beautiful weather instantly transformed into a lightning and rain storm, which saw us sitting on the runway. However, that meant I spent the day in the airport with (at various times) , Mike Resnick, Lee Modesitt Jr, , , David H. Brummel, and Jeremy Lassen - making the airport an extention of the con and the conversation. I was very glad to get home to my family, but always loath to leave this special space that British fantasy author Graham Joyce so wisely termed a roving Brigadoon. And like any good Brigadoon, leaving it always sees a small bit of your soul left forever behind in that far away place.