A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 2

Friday at the 70th World Con in Chicago. My lingering cold and sore throat kicked back into gear, and I clearly wasn’t firing on all burners anymore. I had to start carrying a bottle of Pepsi with me as a ready-made cough syrup so I wouldn’t bother everyone too much with my coughing. Yes, I was that guy in the back of the room, with the hacking cough.

Sorry.

Anyway, back to the WorldCon.

The Venue

I haven’t really talked about the venue, the Hyatt Regency. Basically, the hotel had two towers. It also had three or four underground floors, depending on how you counted them. All events were held in one of five or so floors, within each tower, with the lowest level, the Dealer’s Area and associated display areas, spanning both towers.

There were escalators between floors on each side, and multiple connections between the two towers. Once you got used to the layout, it was extremely convenient. Everything was so stacked, that it was never too far to get to another room.

Much better than the extensive distances I’ve had to traverse in a convention center, or in dispersed buildings. Honestly, of the six World Cons I’ve been to, I thought Chicon had the best setup for the sessions and events of any of them.

The hotel fell down a little bit when it came to the parties, though. There just weren’t enough elevators. The management was aware of the problem, though, and worked diligently to maximize the elevators they did have. They had elevator operators to manage the lines on key floors and to maximize elevator fill rates. They also brought the maintenance elevators into the equation and used them as well.

All in all, the hotel did their best to alleviate the elevator issue, and deserve quite a bit of credit for their efforts.

Another nice feature of the hotel, they had a 24-hour snack bar with reasonable prices. No matter what time of day or night, you could get cold sodas, snacks, a pre-made sandwich, etc.

Finally, the hotel was right on the riverfront, with restaurants and interesting sites all within easy walking distance.

Late Start

Because I wasn’t feeling that well, I got up late and stumbled over to the Emerald Loop for a killer brunch. Highly recommended. Many thanks to Hugh Howey for introducing me to the place.

Got back to the con and circulated around the Dealer’s Room like a kid in a candy store. I’d read Mira Grant’s Deadline in the Hugo Voting Packet, and had been reading Feed, the first book in the series at lunch, so I jumped at the chance to buy Blackout, the final book in the trilogy. Picked up a bunch of other books as well (sigh, so many books, so little time, even less money, alas).

I spotted Hugh Howey in the signing area, so I bought a copy of Wool from him, and naturally had it signed. I’m looking forward to reading it after hearing everybody talking about it last night. Then I helped corral a few more people into his queue. He’s got a new book, I, Zombie, that he’s selling.

As I was exiting the signing area, I noticed that Seanan McGuire was also signing. She also has Mira Grant as a pseudonym, and her line was short. So I got her to sign Feed and Blackout, plus I’d just bought the first book in her October Daye urban fantasy series, so she signed that, too.

Writing Novelettes

I attended a session on “Writing the SF Novelette,” with panelists Eleanor Arnason, Brad R. Torgerson, Connie Willis, Michael Coorlim and Bud Sparhawk. It was a pleasant discussion without any startling revelations. Robert Silverberg was mentioned as one of the best novelette writers ever, which is absolutely true. I like his novelettes far better than his novels.

Electronic Publishing

I attended another session on “Electronic Publishing,” with Eric Flint, Amanda Luedeke, Jason Sizemore, Joshua Bilmes and Paul Genesse. What ensued was a wide-ranging discussion of electronic publishing, digital rights, the resistance of certain major European publishers to non-DRM publishing, and many other topics.

Eric Flint has been one of the pioneers in electronic publishing, particularly with his work for Baen Books and his 1632 shared-universe series. His perspectives, and those of the other panelists, were well worth the time spent in the session. The general consensus is that the publishing industry has changed forever, but nobody knows what shape it will finally take.

Conclusion

Another great day at the World Con, despite feeling a bit under the weather most of the day. There’s just so many other things that I wanted to do that I never got to. I think I need that time travel spell that Hemione Granger had in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

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A Report on the 70th World Con: Part 1

I flew from Washington Dulles Airport to O’Hare International Airport to attend the 70th World Science Fiction Convention, or World Con as it’s usually called. This was the first World Con I’d been able to attend since Denver in 2008, so I was really looking forward to the event.

Getting into Town

It was pretty easy to make my way into town, I simply took the subway to downtown Chicago, to the area they call “the Loop.”

I’d never been to Chicago before, so the subway was a great way to go. Much of the track was elevated and went straight though the city, so it was a great exposure to some of the old buildings and architecture that’s prevalent in the city.

Once I got off the subway, it was an easy walk to the Hyatt Regency where the convention was being held. As soon as I entered the hotel lobby, I knew I was in the right place. It’s hard to mistake the kind of crowd that attends a World Con. I’m part of that crowd, and we definitely move to different drummer than a lot of other folks out there.

Opening Ceremony

I got my room situation settled, dropped off my suitcase and laptops, and went looking for registration. This was simple, painless, and just a few minutes later I was settled in the back of the Main Auditorium for the Opening Ceremony, hosted by John Scalzi.

This event was run like a late-night talk show, with Scalzi interviewing guests on-stage, including Erle Korshack, who co-chaired the original Chicon in 1940 (the first time the World Con was held in Chicago — this was the fourth time it was being held in Chicago), Guest of Honor Mike Resnick, Kathy Morrill (sister of Artist Guest of Honor Rowena Morrill, who was absent due to health issues), Artist Agent Guest of Honor Jane Frank, Fan Guest of Honor Peggy Rae Pavlat and former NASA flight controller Sy Liebergot. Oh, and let’s not forget Deb Kosiba, the designer of this year’s base for the Hugo Award.

I’d never seen the Opening Ceremony food a World Con before, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I also liked the early reveal of the 2012 Hugo Base, and the presentation Deb Kosiba gave about the influences on the design. Well done.

Storytelling Time

After the Opening Ceremony, I attended a few sessions. My first choice was, I think, directly influenced by experience with Toastmasters and my efforts to improve my public speaking abilities. I’ve become interested in storytelling. Not interpretive reading, but outright storytelling. So I attended a very entertaining session called “Storytelling the Old-Fashioned Way,” featuring M. Todd Gallowglass, Marie Bilodeau, Deirdre Murphy, Michael R. Underwood and B. A. Chepaitis.

Each panelist started out by telling a short story, which ranged from your basic short joke to an elaborate fairy tale that required audience participation. They talked about what worked and what didn’t work when they told stories, as well as some specific stories about when things went wrong. All in all, it was good fun.

Self-Publishing or Not?

Next, I attended a panel called “To Indie or Not to Indie,” which was about the pros and cons of self-publication. Panelists included Mike Shepherd Moscoe (an established writer and the moderator), J. Kathleen Cheney, Hugh Howey, Matt Forbeck and Bill Housley. An interesting discussion ensued, with the moderator, the most established writer, coming the closest to defending the status quo in publishing.

Of the Indie-published, Hugh Howey appeared to be the most successful, with an Amazon bestseller, and a story, “Wool,” that had been optioned by noted film director Ridley Scott. The general conclusion seemed to be that it was a great time to be a writer, because you had so many publishing options.

By the time the session ended, it was about 7:30 PM and I was starving. Hugh Howey announced that he was meeting a bunch of his fans at an Irish restaurant, the Emerald Loop. Any of us who were interested in talking further were welcome to come along.

Hanging Out at the Emerald Loop

I, and a bunch of other folks, followed Hugh Howey to the Emerald Loop, hanging out at the bar until the rest of the folks arrived, and then taking over the back room. I met some of Hugh’s fans, who told me emphatically that his best book was “Wool Omnibus,” which collected all five wool stories into one complete volume.

I had an excellent Fish & Chips dinner, some great conversation with Hugh and the other folks who were there. When I went to pay for my share of the evening, Hugh told me he’d already paid for everything.

I said, “You do realize, I’m like the only person here who hasn’t read any of your books?”

He just laughed and remarked about what a great time we’d all had. Heck, I’d even had my picture taken with him, and I wasn’t yet even sure whether I was going to like his books (although I’d already resolved to buy his “Wool Omnibus” that everyone had been talking about.

What a great first day at the World Con.

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Live Concert With Collective Soul

I got to see alt-rock band Collective Soul in Atlanta for free last night. They’re a nationally known band, with seven mainstream rock #1 hits. Even better, they proved that they’re a great live band, making the most out of their capability to interact with the audience in a small venue.

Where was this? Well, there’s a longer story attached to this concert extravaganza. In my day job, I’m a web architect for a government contractor. In fact, I even blog on career-related technical subjects at KeenerTech.com. One of the big conferences that my company exhibits at is the GFIRST Cyber Security Conference hosted by the Department of Homeland Security.

I was in Atlanta because I was speaking at this conference. One of the big sponsors of the conference was RSA, the company that makes those ubiquitous ID tokens used by many government organizations and security-conscious firms. The tokens provide 6-digit auto-generated numbers that change every 30 seconds, and can be leveraged to provide additional security beyond just a simple login-with-password scheme.

RSA desperately wants the goodwill of said organizations, so it throws lavish parties at conferences that are heavily attended by potential customers. This is particularly true given that they had a severe security breach about a year or so ago.

Their August 22nd party was held at the Hard Rock Cafe in Atlanta, GA, which they rented out in its entirety. The event was open to all attendees of the GFIRST 2012 Conference. It was, indeed, an event to remember.

They had all the food you could possibly eat, from salads to juicy slices of beef carved right off a full roast. They had all the beer you could drink, from 6:00 PM to almost 1:30 AM (even though the party was supposed to end at 11:00 PM).

They had rock music. They had dancing. They had a photographer there to take your picture with different (amusing) props.

And let’s not forget the live concert with Collective Soul. I got to see them play from roughly 10 feet away. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. Rock on, RSA!

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A Little Inspiration: Road Trip

I like this iconic image. A group of vehicles traveling on a road on some desolate, alien world. There should be a story here, somewhere. I know there’s a story in my head where this image fits exceedingly well.

Where Are They Going?

You can’t help but wonder… Where are they going? What are they running from?

The image is from Prometheus, the new SF movie from famed director Ridley Scott.

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My 2012 Hugo Vote: Novel

Hugo-nominated novels for 2012

We’re up to my vote the Hugo award for best novel now.

There’s A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, the fifth book in his A Song of Fire and Ice series (and the basis for the HBO series, A Game of Thrones). Martin is a great writer, and I enjoyed the novel, but it suffers seriously from middle-book syndrome. The War of the Five Kings is winding down, revealing the long-buried plots for a more dangerous and all-consuming war. If anything, this book widens the scope of the series even further. If Martin wants a Hugo for this series, I’ll be happy to give it to him if he manages to bring it to a successful close. But this isn’t that book.

Then there’s Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey, a pseudonym for the writing pair of Daniel Abraham and Ty Frank. It’s set in the asteroid belt during the run-up to a potential war within the solar system, and also features a major find of alien origin. It’s an excellent story and I enjoyed it a lot. I’m not quite sure that it was ground-breaking enough to be a Hugo winner though.

Embassytown by China Mieville was an interesting, but strange, book about humans, their interactions with aliens and language. I enjoyed it but never quite though of it as a Hugo winner.

Deadline by Mira Grant, a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire, was a true stand-out for me. It’s the second book in her Newsflesh trilogy; the first book, Feed, was nominated for a Hugo last year. In the book, the zombie apocalypse happened some two decades ago. Humanity survived but has had to learn to live with the fear of the zombie plague. It incorporates some excellent world-building, a consistent scientific basis for the plague, action, conspiracies and oddball characters. I loved it.

Finally, there’s Among Others, by Jo Walton, a book that mixes magic, tragedy and the discovery of science fiction into a coming of age story for a teen-age girl. It’s an odd, powerful and uplifting book that resonates strongly, although it’s probably less accessible to those with only a limited knowledge of the science fiction genre (however, those aren’t usually the people who vote for Hugos).

I’m giving my vote to Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) for Deadline, because I think it’s pretty ground-breaking for someone to do what she’s done…to bring a true nuts-and-bolts, hard-SF sensibility to the old-fashioned zombie tale. However, I’ll also give a special mention to Jo Walton’s Among Others, which was also pretty extraordinary. I’d be pleased if either one of these novels won the Hugo award.

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Storm Over DC

One of my Facebook friends posted this long-exposure photo of a lightning storm over Washington DC. I don’t know the original source of the photo, but it’s awesome. It looks like something Hollywood would do for some big sci-fi action film.

Storm Over DC

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My 2012 Hugo Vote: Novella

Novellas are one of my favorite forms. They’re longer than novelettes, but shorter than novels. Novellas are long enough to develop the kind of complex stories that I really like, but lean enough that they typically focus on only one main plot line.

Of this year’s nominees, “Silently and Very Fast” by Catherynne M. Valente was my least favorite. It’s jumpy, full of brilliant imagery and almost poetic in places, but it simply wasn’t my type of story at all.

“The Ice Owl” by Carolyn Ives Gilman was an excellent coming of age story about a young girl realizing both the limitations and importance of her family as she inadvertantly stumbles across the lingering ripple effects of a long-ago genocide. It was powerful, evocative and captured the sweep and flow of history excellently. I really liked it, and look forward to discovering more stories by this author in the future.

“Kiss Me Twice” by Mary Robinette Kowal was a futuristic police procedural about a crime that targets the police force’s critically important AI. I liked it quite a bit, but never quite thought that it had what it took to be the winner. Interestingly, I found myself wanting to read more stories about those same characters (hint, hint).

“The Man Who Bridged the Mist” by Kij Johnson was a simply incredible story, full of everything that makes me a science fiction fan. In the Empire, there is a mysterious poisonous mist full of potentially deadly mist “fish” that flows downhill to the ocean, usually in channels on top of rivers and streams. A major river divides the Empire in half, forded only by those brave enough to ferry boats across the mist. Until Kit Meinem of Atyar comes to town to build a suspension bridge across the mist. Utterly brilliant. Once I read it, it was impossible for me to conceive of anybody else winning this award.

I really liked “Countdown” by Mira Grant, which is a pseudonym for Seanan McGuire. It was an excellent story about the beginnings of a zombie apocalypse, and is linked to her excellent Newsflesh trilogy (of which two novels, Feed and Deadline have also been nominated for Hugos). It captured the pathos and tragedy behind the zombie plague, filled in some nice back-story for the Newsflesh trilogy, and was entertaining all on its own. I really liked it, but it wasn’t going to get my vote because Kij Johnson’s story was so awe-inspiring.

Finally, Ken Liu’s story, “The Man Who Ended History,” was a powerful story about Japanese genocide during World War II and time travel, all cast in the form of a script for a documentary. Brilliant, powerful, and disturbing in places. Well worth reading, but not the winner, in my opinion.

After reading all of the novellas, my 2012 Hugo vote clearly went to Kij Johnson, for “The Man Who Bridged the Mist.” A new science fiction classic.

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Hugo 2012 Voting Closed

The image below says it all. The voting for the 2012 Hugo awards closed last night at 2:59:59 AM EST. I got my vote in with just a little over an hour to spare. I’ll be blogging shortly about some more of my individual votes, including Best Novel, Best Novella, Best Graphic Novel and others.

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