Stone of Remembrance

August 29, 2006

Arizona and Worldcon (5)

Filed under: Commentary, Travel — admin @ 23:19

Worldcon was sufficiently busy that I hardly had any chance to post entries while I was there. I also took very few pictures.

LACon was big and long. It started on Wednesday; we flew in from Phoenix late in the afternoon and didn’t get into the swing until Thursday morning. I was very heavily programmed: nine items, including a Kaffeeklatsch and an autograph session. My panels fell into two categories: gaming and writing about aliens. I’m happy to say that I’m qualified to talk about both.

The gaming panels were well-attended and surprisingly interesting. What’s more, they were extremely civil and polite – a nice change of pace. They did feature some of the sort of loud pontification that is completely alien to me :-) but were very informative. I had the chance to make cogent points about gamemastering; to my shock, I actually have a year or two on Steve Jackson – but am under no illusions that I know more about RPGs than he does. We had a chance to chat a bit in the Green Room after the panel we shared. I remember his mad genius from the 1980s: somewhere I have a button he gave me that reads SPI Died For Our Sins; he is the sort of guy that seems to let you know immediately if he doesn’t have time for you – and we were able to talk for a little bit, so I’m pleased not to have been filtered out. My most important comment (which apparently sold some folks on buying my books) was the idea that, regardless of the GM’s style, his/her objective was to achieve a “moment of transcendence” where the player forgot that it was a game and that the character was merely writing on a page. Having the room go quiet and attentive after I said that was very gratifying.

The writing panels mostly focused on aliens – writing about them, describing them, making them alien enough to be different and familiar enough to be readable. I made the point that dialog helps reveal alien types; for example, my rashk speak in inverted word order, my zor don’t use contractions, and all of the aliens use different numbering systems. These things are the little things – if the reader hasn’t noticed them but still feels the “third dimension” that brings reality to a story, you’ve succeeded.

I also did a panel on Sunday with David Brin, which was to have addressed the idea of a preference for monarchies in f/sf by readers who were largely descended from rebels like Thomas Jefferson. We left that quickly behind (though I observed that the larger the hegemony, the more it would have to be something like a feudal system; representative democracy doesn’t work well if it’s not possible for the representatives to get together regularly.) Well, Brin is Brin; he even describes some of his flights of speech as rants: insightful, intelligent, and rarely boring. I don’t completely agree with him, but always try to listen. Check his comments on LA Worldcon – an excerpt follows:

The con committee deliberately (not by oversight) eviscerated nearly all panels about education or outreach to a new generation – even though everyone was talking about the decline of science fiction, the drop in sales, the disturbing swing in favor of anime and feudal fantasy. Still, despite the fact that all fan organizations have charters that dedicate them to outreach and spreading the positive messages of SF, very few of them are interested at all in doing anything about it.

When he was GoH at Boskone a few years ago he made this very point.

The number of elderly people, riding scooters and wheel chairs, at least equaled the number of teens and tweens that you could see wandering the halls. As for children? My own three kids made up a large fraction of those attending. And yet, nobody seems to notice or mind, in the slightest.

The literature of youthful, forward-looking openness… is graying and (in many ways) dying, even as its tropes and glossy surfaces have been embraced as never before.

His political remarks, um, diverge from my own; so I’ll leave them aside without comment. But this observation is important and spot on. There are more youthful conventions – Arisia in Boston comes to mind; but I’ve attended cons which are exactly as described, and I see what he sees and have the same concern.

My favorite comment on any panel I attended was by one of my favorite con people, Lawrence Schoen. The Klingon Guy, who’s also a pretty good writer guy, jumped in when the infamous Jar-Jar Binks oozed into the conversation. “You know,” Dr. Lawrence said, “he’d be a hell of a lot more interesting if Lucas had just given him Tourette’s Syndrome. You know, ‘Meesa go to Boss Nass / You filthy %$%#$%@#$%@ why don’t you go #$%@#$@ yourself / Jedi help rescue Gungans.” I was pretty much useless for a couple of minutes after that.

Jar Jar and Tourette? It could work.

By Sunday I was exhausted, and so was just about everyone else. But Sunday’s festivities also featured a brief, but memorable encounter with one of my idols, Ray Bradbury. As I was helping out the autographing area I was able to get my copy of Dandelion Wine autographed – and there were two hundred more people waiting to meet the man.

Ray Bradbury, pen in hand

Sadly, I may not get another chance. Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles may have more impact and power, but for me it’s always been The Book. It’s close to his heart as well. I’m in a long line of writers who would venture to say that they could not be as good as they are without having read his work. I wish I could’ve spoken with him, even briefly, but that didn’t happen.

Next: Disneyland, and home.

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