A Few Straggler Books

Ahem. I am mildly furious at my WordPress install right now.  I had written about a thousand words on this post two nights ago, and noticed that the autosave feature was chugging along nicely.  However, a bit past midnight, while still writing, we lost power in my house.

Now, I write these posts on my 7-year-old laptop because it has a nice big screen.  What it doesn’t have is a battery that works for more than 1 or 2 minutes.  So, trusting that autosave had been doing its thing, I quickly shut down everything and powered off the computer.  I knew I might lose a little bit, but not a huge amount.

Sadly, that whole thousand words is gone.  There is no evidence of any autosave revisions anywhere that I can find.  So I’ll have to recreate it, but I don’t have the will to re-blather that much again, so—perhaps luckily for you—you are in for a much more succinct version of this post than I had originally intended.

As a quick aside on the title, I had actually started this one right after my last post, and had intended to publish it in short order.  In that context, “a few straggler books” makes sense, since this post finishes off my discussion of books I’ve finished reading recently (for values of “recently” that encompass the last 8–12 months).

It is just as well that I didn’t post it right away, since I haven’t done much in the past month.  (I did get out to see one movie, 50/50, which was very well done.  Both touching and funny, and a lot less vulgar than I’m used to for a movie with Seth Rogen in it.)  So now I have something meaningful to post, more or less on my usual (i.e. monthly) schedule.

(One of these days—when my PhD is done—I will cultivate a more regular blogging habit.  I know you all shall be waiting with bated breath.)

Anyway, my thoughts on some more comparatively recently-finished books are blow.

The Sorcerer’s House, by Gene Wolfe

I won this from the Ranting Dragon giveaway as part of their Locus Reading Challenge.  I am somewhat ashamed to admit that, despite owning a number of Wolfe’s most famous works and hearing nothing about praise for him, The Sorcerer’s House is the first book of his I’ve actually read.

Thankfully, his reputation does not seem to be overstated.  The book is an epistolary novel, mostly letters from ex-con Bax to his twin brother, his brother’s wife, or his old friend from jail.  The letters relate the strange goings-on as, recently released from prison, he finds himself the heir of a large house in a town he was just passing through.  Things get stranger from there.

While the plot is compelling enough, Wolfe is most lauded for the quality of his prose, and such praise is well deserved.  His writing is rich and nuanced and complex, and he expertly gives each character a unique voice that comes across on the page.  He seems to hit on all cylinders: complex, interesting characters doing interesting things via beautifully-written prose.  Just what I look for in a novel.

Though I did read it in a couple of days, I will say The Sorcerer’s House was not a quick or easy read.  The epistolary structure and potentially-unreliable narrator meant that you definitely had to pay attention to what you were reading.  So Wolfe is perhaps not what you are looking for when you want some brain-dead entertainment that is a fun way to kill some time.  He offers a richer reading experience, one that I look forward to partaking in again as I read some of his classics.

You know, when I get around to them.

The Floating Islands, by Rachel Neumeier

I picked up The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier because it had a pretty cover.  I bought it because I like floating islands.  Well, that, and I had a discount, and one of the staff at Bakka had posted a complimentary blurb about it on the shelf.  This is a YA novel, and so a bit out of my usual purchasing pattern, but it turned out to be an enjoyable read.

The story opens with recently-orphaned Trei arriving at the aforementioned Floating Islands where he is coming to live with his mother’s relatives.  On the way, he sees their winged warriors flitting about and vows to become one of them.  His relatives are nice, and after a rough start, he and his cousin Araene become close.  Araene chafes at the restrictions put on women in her society, but has found a number of clever workarounds.  Together, they face new tragedies, danger in the form of an invading army, and adventures neither of them could have imagined.

This was a quick and enjoyable read.  It was reasonably inventive throughout, and had some incredibly cool bits.  There were a few stylistic quirks that bothered me a bit, but I think that is mostly attributable to the, well, YAishness of the book.  I don’t read a lot of YA, but what little I have read has some… quality… that I can’t quite identify but that stands out for me just enough to make me notice it.  Anyway, quite a fun book overall.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

Of course, I was just saying I don’t read much YA, and yet here I am, talking about another YA novel.  I picked this one up mostly due to the overwhelmingly-positive buzz, and I had seen the author on panels at Worldcon in 2009 where she impressed me.  Most of her work that I’ve looked into doesn’t quite strike me as being the kind of stuff I generally like to read, but when this one—a children’s fantasy that was the favourite book of a character in one of her other novels—came along, I figured it was time to take the plunge.

The story concerns a girl, September, who jumps at the chance to visit Fairyland when the Green Wind shows up and makes the offer.  (That was something of a refreshing change. She didn’t go there by accident, or while trying to get away from something else—it just sounded like fun!)  She makes new friends, sees wondrous things, and general wackiness ensues.

Valente’s Fairyland come across as a bizarre mashup of classic fairy tale tropes, Disney films, and clever original ideas.  It feels both familiar and new at the same time, and makes quite an interesting backdrop for September’s adventures.  Along the way September meets an entertaining cast of companions and enemies, and tries her very best to accomplish her quest.

The book, like Fairyland itself, walks the line between familiar and comfortable and wholly original.  I really enjoyed it, and bought a second copy to give to my niece.  As I had suspected after her panels at Worldcon and after reading her blog, Catherynne M. Valente is a clever and talented writer, one who is well worth checking out.

The Lifecycle of Software Objects, by Ted Chiang

This book is really only a novella, published in a fine edition by Subterranean Press.  Oddly, this was perhaps the most disappointing of the four books I talk about here.  That is not to say that it was bad, by any stretch—it was interesting, thoughtful, well-written, and eminently readable.  It was disappointing because the last thing I read by the author (the legendary Ted Chiang) was the short story “Exhalation“, which BLEW MY FREAKING MIND!

So it’s a case of my expectations being set too high.  I had been hoping this novella would be as awesome as “Exhalation”, and perhaps for some readers it is, but not quite for me.  So The Lifecycle of Software Objects was a letdown compared to “Exhalation”, but still very good overall.  Such is the life of a writer so lauded as Ted Chiang—even he can’t always live up to his own hype, I guess.

Anyway, this novella is an exploration of the issues surrounding artificial intelligence, and the implications of having to “raise” them from infancy in order for them to be useful in any way.  As I said, it is well done, thoughtful, and easy to read, though—uncharacteristically for stuff I read—nothing blows up.  (That I was still compelled to keep reading is perhaps a strong sign of Chiang’s skill as a writer.)  It wasn’t quite what I was hoping for after enjoying the hell out of “Exhalation”, but I still look forward to delving more into Chiang’s earlier works.

I Actually Read Some Books!

As anyone who reads this blog has no doubt noticed, it is mostly miniature movie reviews.  That is not at all what I intended this blog to be, and I am still confident that it will be more than that in the future, but for now, with the crushing weight of finishing my PhD research pressing upon me harder every day, it will have to be enough.

Except for today.  Today, I am going to talk about books, rather than movies!  While my love of collecting books never lessened during my graduate studies, unfortunately the time I spent actually reading for pleasure did.  When I left Toronto last fall and realized just how willing I was to sit and watch reruns of TV shows I had already seen, I decided I needed to remedy this sad neglect of my library.

While I have not come remotely close to the number of books I would like to be reading, I’m on track for at least one per month this year.  (Usually the book gets read over the span of 3–4 days, then nothing for a few weeks.)  I have also started going through the years worth of unread comics I have been collecting, to try and catch up.  Those will perhaps get their own post later on.

Anyway, here are my thoughts on some of the books I have been reading, in no particular order.  Originally—as with many of the movies I see—I had intended to grace each of these with their own, more in-depth blog post, but since I read some of them quite a while ago, some briefer musing are in order.

The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher

Though urban fantasy is definitely not my thing when it comes to reading, I actually picked up the first book of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files a while back after reading a blog post and discussion about series that keep getting better with every book.  The Dresden Files was suggested by many, many participants, with no qualms, caveats, or exceptions.  Since it was up to book 9 or 10 by that point, I figured it might be worth checking out, so I grabbed the first volume, Storm Front.

I think I read it in its entirety that first night.

As I said before, the general content (Harry Dresden, the protagonist, is a Wizard private investigator in Chicago) is not really my thing, but Butcher tells a story with break-neck pacing, lots of humour, and a compelling mystery.  It’s not a deep book—I wasn’t thinking about it for days after, or anything—but it was incredibly enjoyable.  The book was told in first-person (again, not usually a favourite), the action took place over a few days, and the world-building, plot development, and character development were deftly intertwined to keep the pages turning effortlessly.

I was tempted to continue the series right away, but I try to vary the authors I read, so I put off reading the next books until earlier this year, when I read books 2 and 3 (Fool Moon and Grave Peril) back-to-back over a couple of days.  I’m happy to say that so far the trend is holding.  The follow-ups to the first one are not necessarily better, but they are certain as good.  Each book so far is also standalone; while they do refer to events from previous books, they are definitely their own stories, as well.

About the only quibble I might have is that a lot of character development is done off-stage.  Since each book takes place over the course of a few days where months might pass between books, we have newly-blossomed relationships suddenly appearing, new characters well-known to the protagonist introduced in media res, and so on.  Butcher handles this very well, but all the same, a lot of that kind of stuff is what I might like to read about.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading more Dresden Files, albeit after I get a few more authors read in the meantime.

Angelmass, by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn is probably best known for revitalizing the Star Wars brand—of novels, at least—with Heir to the Empire.  As you can see if you view his bibliography in that first link, he has written quite a lot outside of the Star Wars universe, and Angelmass is one of those.  I picked this one up ages ago; in my younger days I had read Zahn’s Star Wars novels, so if I see a new book of his I always at least pick it up to have a look.  This one sounded interesting.

he initial premise is that there is a black hole—Angelmass—that emits particles that cause humans in their proximity to behave calmly, reasonably, and without lying.  An empire of human colonies called the Empyrean requires that all politicians wear them; the rival human empire called the Pax believes the “angel” particles are an alien plot, and send in a spy to learn more about them.  Naturally, wackiness ensues.

Of course, by “wackiness”, I mean a sort of complex, multi-layered thriller that weaves several narratives together, peeling back mystery after mystery until we reach the end.  I think it paid off on that initial premise in spades (though at this point I forget if we ever learned exactly what the “angels” were), and I was happy to have read it.

There was one aspect of the novel’s structure that irritated me a bit, though it is really about personal preference.  The novel has a number of viewpoint characters, all of whom start apart in what appear to be entirely unrelated stories that eventually converge.  (I have noticed this structure in a number of other big space opera and hard SF novels, too.)  I find it irritating in the beginning—I hate being sidetracked from one character’s story into another one that seems entirely unrelated!  As I said, though, it all comes together, and that quibble really is just because a preference of mine.  (I don’t mind novels with multiple viewpoint characters, but I prefer when they start together and later split up.)

Anyway, Angelmass was an interesting and enjoyable novel.  I will definitely keep my eyes open for Zahn’s other non-Star Wars books.

The Sunless Countries, by Karl Schroeder

Karl Schroeder is one of my favourite writers these days, and I’ve talked about his works here beforeThe Sunless Countries is the fourth book in his Virga series, and is, perhaps, a bit more standalone than the previous two, even though characters from earlier books do show up.

The Virga series started big with Sun of Suns, which introduced us to a world that was a giant bubble floating in space, with people living in rotating cities that floated inside, clustered around artificial suns.  (As you may have gathered, I think this is awesome sauce!)  The follow-ups Queen of Candesce and Pirate Sun expanded the ideas and the world, and happily this trend continues into The Sunless Countries.

Apart from the awesome ideas and mysteries presented as part of the plot, what delighted me most about this book was the fact that the main character—one Leal Hieronyma Maspeth—is, essentially, a grad student.  (Technically, I think she was a postdoc or lecturer, but her life was close enough to grad student for me.)  She gets caught up in events much larger than her, but rather than just letting herself get swept along, she begins to chart her own course.  She is a fun character who more than holds her own in the face of big events and even bigger ideas.

I really enjoy this series.  You should too.  It is full of exciting plots and characters backed by ideas that are truly big.  Just what I want out of my science fiction.

Hammered, by Elizabeth Bear

I have read a number of short stories by Elizabeth Bear, drop in on her blog periodically, and have bought several of her novels, but only with my recent purchase of—oddly enough—her first published novel, Hammered, did I actually sit down to read one.

Hammered is the first book of Bear’s Jenny Casey trilogy.  Jenny is a retired augmented soldier who is simply trying to endure the pain of her physical and psychological trauma and lead a quiet life.  Her former employers want her back, however, and aren’t willing to take no for an answer.

(How’s that for movie tag-line writing! I should get paid to do this kind of stuff.)

What follows is a peculiar sort of novel.  Or, at least, peculiar compared to the stuff I normally read.  While the novel has plenty of action, not much of it rests on Jenny’s shoulders.  Hell, for much of her story, she can’t even take any action.  Sections from her point of view are in first person; it shifts to third for the other characters.  And despite the machinations around her, the story is basically about Jenny’s personal growth.

But it works.  It works well.  It kept me up late at night reading it.  This kind of book is not the sort of SF I normally read, but I’m glad I did.  I do, perhaps, wish the ending had been a bit punchier—I was a little irked that the book ended just as they were exposing some cool stuff that I wanted to know more about.  Of course, I guess that’s what the next book in the trilogy is for….

Napier’s Bones, by Derryl Murphy

I picked up Derryl Murphy’s Napier’s Bones at Ad Astra last April after hearing some good buzz about it (and because it was pretty, like all of CZP’s stuff).  Uncharacteristically, I actually got around to reading it!

The world of Napier’s Bones is one in which numbers have a power that underlies everything, and a select few can manipulate that power.  Those select few—numerates, like the protagonist Dom—tend to seek out artifacts that boost their mojo, often battling it out with other numerates seeking the same item.  (It’s kind of like Highlander except with numbers instead of swords.)

This is probably the most relentlessly fast-paced novel I have ever read.  It starts off with Dom on the run after just barely escaping another, more powerful numerate, and I’m pretty sure there was not a single chapter thereafter in which he was not in immediate peril at some point.  It’s almost like the novel was all climax and no rising action or denouement.  (A tantric novel, perhaps?)

This led to Napier’s Bones being a rather intense read, as the characters—and the reader—never get a chance to relax and catch their breath.  Help is found (mostly unexpected), mysteries are unraveled, and a lot of craziness goes down.  Minds may have been blown.  It was a lot of interesting and bizarre fun, and I am happy to have read it.

Another Delightful Screed from Hal Duncan

I haven’t yet managed to read any of his well-regarded books, but from time to time I drop in on Hal Duncan’s blog.  There, he holds forth quite frankly and eloquently on any number of topics.  What amused me most recently was his response to a mainstream newspaper’s discussion of genre fiction, all of which you can find starting here.

This Hurts My Soul

So, I came across this New York Times article, Selling a Book by Its Cover, via SF Signal.  Feel free to go and read it for context, but I’ll summarize the key things that impacted me as I go along.

My first thought as I began reading was, “Cool!”  I was delighted to know that it’s easy to find a vellum-bound set of the works of Goethe in the original German.  I mean, I can’t read German—but I could learn.  And I know people who could read it.  I would totally love to have such works in my library.  (I’d probably want English translations, too, but I’m a sort of completist that way.)

Now, I should perhaps explain that I’m a big fan of books as artifacts.  I own over a thousand books, and one day I hope to read them all, and more besides.  My favourites—as physical artifacts—are the pretty ones, the durable ones, the impressive-looking ones.  I like the notion of books that last, the idea that a hundred years from now, or five hundred, the books on my shelves might still exist, sending their content forward through time for others to discover and read.  Hence my preference for the hardcovers and acid free paper over the yellowing paperbacks that may not survive my own lifetime, much less any thereafter.

This is not meant to imply that I am a Luddite when it comes to the e-book revolution.  I  haven’t quite jumped on that bandwagon yet, mostly because the readers aren’t quite good enough to do what I think they should.  I actually hope that e-books become the new and cheaper mass market, and that printed books become higher quality—that way, I can read the e-book, and if the book impresses me a lot, I’ll by the artifact to grace my shelves.  (I would hope this would lead to more reading and less shelving in my life, but I have my doubts because I do like the pretties.)

All of this is my roundabout way of saying that I have a lot of respect for well-made printed books, and I think they are something that should be preserved.  And so it was that when I got to the part in the article when they started talking about books as set dressings, it hurt my soul.  It was especially cringe-inducing to read about books being mutilated so they could fit on shallow shelves as spines-only, or being completely rebuilt into artwork (“Making trees from books”).

Rationally, I know this is silly—there are lots of books out there that are no good to anyone, and if they aren’t used for these sorts of things, they’d probably end up trashed.  It still hurts to hear about used bookstores selling stock into destruction however.

Egad.  Maybe I should have been a librarian or archivist.

Final Thoughts on Worldcon 2009

I had promised some final thoughts on my first Worldcon, and in the nearly three weeks since it ended I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate and absorb other people’s con reports.

First of all, it was a great lot of fun!  My girlfriend and I had an absolute blast, and are already making a list of people we plan to press-gang into going to the next one we can feasibly manage.  Everyone we met was friendly—or at least perfectly polite—and while I wouldn’t say we made any new best friends, well, that wasn’t really why we went.

I was happy to meet several authors I only knew of from their writing or online presence, and find out that they do indeed seem to be pretty cool in person, too.  My biggest regret was that my attempt to travel with minimal luggage limited the number of books I could bring for them sign.

The panels were, by and large, delightful.  We always had plenty to choose from, and in some cases, making a decision between them was really tough.  We attended some that were truly excellent, many that were good, and a few that just weren’t quite what we’d been looking for, but such is the way of things.

I even enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Hugo Awards.  I’m not usually one for ceremony and pomp, but everything was kept moving briskly and infused with humour.  It was particularly fun watching the shock and delight on the faces of some of the award winners (David Anthony Durham, Ann Vandermeer, and Frank Wu come to mind).

I attended a lot of the panels on writing, as I have aspirations in that direction, and while they were uniformly excellent and and full of good general advice, most of it I have encountered before in one place or another.  Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve gotten all the general advice there is to get, and there’s nothing left for me to do but practice, practice, practice and seek out specific guidance and help.

So, all in all, a truly delightful time.  I took a fair number of pictures, most of which didn’t turn out, but I have posted them to Flickr anyway.

Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners
Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners

Now, given that this was my first Worldcon, I have no idea how it compares to previous ones in terms of attendance, programming, organization, or, well, anything at all.  The comments that follow should be read with my general ignorance kept firmly in mind.

One thing that sort of concerned me was, to put it bluntly, how old a lot of the attendees were.  When people talk about they graying of fandom, all they need to do to make their point is take a picture of the audience at a Worldcon panel.  Perhaps I’m phrasing this too harshly—I don’t mean to complain that there are a lot of older people, but rather that there didn’t seem to be that many younger people.  I’m 30 and still felt young compared to the majority of attendees.  At the very least I had expected myself to be near the median.

My concern is, well, where are the new fans going to come from?  The current fans aren’t going to live forever (well, barring breakthroughs in senescence research), and so the con—and the Hugo Awards—will need a constant influx of new people, and it’s not something I saw happening in a big way.

This is in stark contrast to the San Diego Comic-Con, which continues to grow as a massively popular media event among young people.  I have two friends who have made a trip to see SDCC, whereas I doubt they’d heard of Worldcon before I’d talked about it with them.  Now, no one wants Worldcon to be overrun by TV, movie, and video game content like Comic-Con has, but at least that brings in young people.  And an infusion of more people could do Worldcon a world of good.

Now, perhaps my concerns are overstated—there was a sizable chunk of teen and youth programming, so perhaps there was a sizable chunk of youngsters secreted away somewhere.  Similarly, there may be lots of younger people who would like to go to Worldcon, but can’t due to their economic situations—as they age and prosper, perhaps they will be the infusion of new blood.  However,  I can’t help but agree with Lou Anders (who I unfortunately did not get to see on any panels, despite his near-omnipresence and my enjoyment of his blog and many Pyr titles) that if Worldcon raised its profile a bit, it could boost attendance and ensure a long and healthy future.

Anders cites the opening night conversation between economist Paul Krugman and author Charlie Stross as the sort of thing that could raise said profile, and I agree.  A Worldcon built around a set of high-profile events like that as anchors of the programming, promoted and advertised well in advance, might attract more people interested in seeing what it’s all about.

I mean, I’ve been reading SF and fantasy for more than 20 years, but only in the last year or so have I started going to cons, or even wanted to, and part of it was ignorance of what goes on there and why I should go.  For a distributed community of Sf fans, who don’t all come from larger population centres with local cons, having a big draw like that to get new people in the door can only help bring more people into the fold, without corrupting the essence of Worldcon.

Another concern—or perhaps this is more of a comment or question—related to the Hugo Awards.  It was apparent that winning the Hugo meant a lot to the winners of the Fan awards, or to the writers and editors of the fiction awards, and semiprozines, and art, and the like.  Even the newly-minted graphic story had a few of the nominees in attendance, and I think that award may grow into more prominence in the coming year.  But, apart from the Metatropolis crew, I don’t think any of the nominees for dramatic work  (short or long) were present.  With that being the case, I sort of felt, well, why bother?

I mean, I can see that the Hugo Awards are fandom’s way of signifying and rewarding the things we liked most in a year.  But I feel that it should be meaningful to the nominees and winners as well.  This article has suggested that a Hugo for video games is overdue, but perhaps the Hugo voter demographic isn’t engaged enough with that field, and, well, do the game writers even care?

Perhaps this ties back in to needing to raise the profile of Worldcon.  While the prestige of a Hugo for Dramatic Presentation will never eclipse the significance of an Oscar or Emmy, it would be nice for it to be regarded as prestigious nonetheless.

Anyway, I suspect these concerns will resolve themselves over time, as I become more familiar with the ongoing history and life of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards.  In the short term, I just hope to be able to make it to the Worldcon in Australia next year.

With that, my 2009 Worldcon adventures have come to a close.  Time to start reading potential nominees for next year’s Hugos….

Worldcon: Day 5 Recap

NOTE: I tried to post this yesterday, but my web host seemed to go down.  Hence, this is a day late.

The morning started off with sleeping in a bit—there were no 9:00 AM panels that grabbed our interest more than sleep did, and so it was at 10:00 AM that we hit up the “Movements in Fantasy” panel, which talked about the rise of literary movements within the genre.  Among the key points discussed were that such movements are usually only identified after the fact, often arise from a group of like-minded authors reading each other’s work and responding to it (usually pre-publication), and need a defining work to kick them off and an ideologue to promote it.  Interesting and entertaining stuff.

At 11:00 AM, my girlfriend went to the “On Editing” panel featuring David Hartwell, while I went in search of autographs from Charlie Stross, Julie Czerneda, and John Scalzi.  I was happily successful, and they were all very warm and friendly, though due to the lines for each, it meant I could only get to “On Editing” for about the last 5 or 10 minutes.  What I saw of that panel was good—Hartwell is a very entertaining and engaging speaker.

After lunch, we took in the panel on “Hard SF: Is It What You Do, or How You Do It?”, which explored whether the definition of the genre is fixed in the rigorous application of science, or in the appearance of the rigorous application of science.  They did admit that hard SF could still incorporate “magic” technology, but otherwise no one held forth a conclusive answer, which, I suppose, it not terribly surprising.  Interesting, but after an hour the audience ran out of questions and a lot of ground had been covered, so it ended early.

We did a brief run through the Dealers’ Room again, though thankfully did not spend any further money, and then we went to a reading by Robert J. Sawyer.  He’s a generally entertaining reader and pretty genial guy, and he entertained us with a reading of his story “Mikeys” and a prose poem (not in that order), and then I got him to sign my copy of the Distant Early Warnings anthology I’d been collecting signatures on all weekend.

Next, at the request of the girlfriend, we went to a reading by George R. R. Martin from his forthcoming and eagerly-anticipated book A Dance With Dragons.  Fans of the series (which has been optioned by HBO, and a pilot episode is currently in production) seemed to enjoy it, and I thought it was okay—a little too descriptive and verbose for the kind of reading I’m into these days, but I could see why he has a huge fanbase.  I will no doubt pick up this series when I’m back into reading big books.

And then it was the closing ceremonies, which were brief and too the point, handing off things to the Melbourne Worldcon organizers for next year.  It was surprisingly well-attended, and a sort or sad send-off back to the real world.


After successfully acquiring dinner at Le Steak Frites, we hung out back at the hotel for a while, before heading to the Dead Dog party at the Consuite at the Delta.  It was surprisingly packed, and we ended up in some long and varied conversations with some very nice people before heading back to our hotel after 11:30, because I seem to have come down with the plague.

Or a slight sore throat.

I’m not sure which.

Anyway, that was the Worldcon.  Once I’m back in Toronto, I may do a wrap-up post of my thoughts about it, post some pictures, and possibly update these posts with panelist names and such.  Yesterday, however, was about seeing a bit of Montreal.

Worldcon: Day 4 (Part 2)—The Hugo Awards

Sunday evening was the main event—the Hugo Awards presentation.  Before that, being human beings of a hungry sort, we decided to seek out food.

This proved to be more problematic that we could have imagined.  We first decided to go back to Le Steak Frites, but found them to be booked full until 8:30 or later, which was no good, since the awards started at 8:00, and, well, we didn’t want to wait that long.  It seemed to be full of Con people, and perhaps there were officials being dumped there, and such.  So we went back to the convention center to try a restaurant there, only to find that was full.  We had had trouble finding a place that was open near the convention center the evening before, so we decided to go back to our hotel and try the restaurant there.

Food was only being served at the bar, and was not especially cheap or appetizing.  So we set out again, thinking maybe of the nearby Dairy Queen, before ending up at Eggspectation, where I had a satisfactory panini sandwich.  After all that questing, we were running a little later than expected, but still arrived at about 7:55 PM, where we had to sit toward the back of the massive Main Tent, as it was quite full.

The Hugo Awards ceremony was generally well-run.  There were a few tech mis-cues, and a few times we had to wait slightly long before somebody came out or got to the stage, or whatnot.  None of the speeches were unnecessarily long, and so the evening went by quickly and pleasantly.

The results can be found here, at the official Hugo Awards site.  It was nice to see Neil Gaiman win for The Graveyard Book at the Worldcon where he was Guest of Honour.  David Hartwell also won Best Long-Form Editor, and he was Editor Guest of Honour, and also damned entertaining.  I enjoyed all of the winners, and felt a little bad for the “losers”, many of whom were my first choice, but it was a fun and exciting evening overall.

After the awards ceremony, we did one more panel, from 10 to 11 PM, called “Young Turks”.  It featured a few writers who were basically emerging as forces to be reckoned with, and because the audience was small enough, it became a sort of cooperative Q&A whereby they talked about why they wrote, how they got to the point they were each at, techniques and tools they had found helpful for their writing, and the like.  For a panel so late, and day 4, after the Hugos, it was a pleasant surprise to have such an engaged and active set of panelists, and such a fun and interesting panel.  Kudos to them for pulling it off.

At that point, we called it a day.

Worldcon: Day 4

The fourth day of Worldcon was also a big one, and quite full.

We started at 9 AM once again, with a panel on “How Not to be a Jerk Online”.  I went to this because John Scalzi—whose blog and work I am a fan of—was one of the panelists, and I suspected it was a topic he would hold forth entertainingly about.  I was right, although the other panelists (whose names I will call forth in a later update) also had excellent and amusing contributions.

The next panel I wanted to see was “Deities and Demigods”, because I wanted to snag panelist Paddy Forde to sign a book I had, but alas, it was cancelled.  That did leave me free to join my girlfriend at another panel I was interested in, on “English-Canadian Small-Press SF Publishers”, which was an illuminating and honest look at the business and economics of small press publishing in Canada, with the attendant advantages and disadvantages.  Kind of interesting and depressing.

Next was another panel on “The Singularity: O RLY”, which was pretty entertaining, although with my own reading in the area and the panels I’ve been to this weekend, I may be singularitied out.  I did get a signature from Peter Watts after, though, and had an entertaining conversation with him about genetic algorithms as they might be applied to FPGAs that was punctuated him him being mind-boggled when he noticed my {Terror} t-shirt form Dr. McNinja.

Then it was lunchtime, followed by spending too much money in the Dealer’s Room, where my girlfriend bid on a print in the art show, and I bought a Con t-shirt, another book, and ended up subscribing to OnSpec.

The next panel we saw was “Which Histories Get Alternates?”, wherein the panelists discussed why so many alternate histories focussed on the same events (eg. American Civil War, WWII, etc.), and partly concluded that it was needed because the audience had to have strong familiarity with the events in question to understand how it is alternate.  A list of other types of alternates was also volunteered by the audience.

Then it was on to “Economics of Star Traders”, which discussed whether it could ever be worthwhile to have trade between planets, first in a relativistic universe, then opening it up to FTL-capable universes.  Some interesting ideas bandied about.

We were pretty exhausted by panels, so we wandered around a bit, outside, before heading back so I could get some books signed by Robert Charles Wilson.  Then it was in search of dinner, about which I will complain in the next post.

Worldcon: Day 3 Recap (Part 2)

After a quick lunch, my girlfriend had hoped to take in the panel on “Montreal Local History”, but it was apparently cancelled.  I headed to “Building Realistic Worlds”, but it was so full that there wasn’t even space to stand at the back of the room, so I went to my other option, “How Are We Getting on Towards the Singularity Then?”.  This was also quite full, but I could still find room.    It was a decent panel, exploring the different ways we are approaching the Singularity (or not).

The next panel we both went to was “Online Magazines Represented HERE: A Good Market”, in which several people who work in various capacities at online fiction magazines discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the format.  Advantages were mostly in the negligible cost of distribution and international reach, but the downsides were the lack of a business model and combatting obscurity—how does your magazine get found among everything else online?  The panelists were all good and played off each other well.

Then there was a panel on “How to Pitch Your Novel… and how not to”, which was good at offering practical advice from publishing professionals on how you can get someone to look at your novel.  Thankfully, I had encountered most of the information before, so it seems like my research into publishing in the field has been successful.

Next up was a panel titled “Aunts in Spaceships”, which my girlfriend was interested in seeing.  She was hoping it would more be about why aren’t there more characters with extended families (or families at all) in SF literature, but it was concentrated more on older women characters, and became something a chance for the panelists and audiences to list examples of such characters.  Given that it was a 90-minute panel, and wasn’t quite what we were looking for, we ducked out a bit early and visited the dealer’s room again.

At 6:30, there was a short event, featuring author Karl Schroeder and his Tor editor David G. Hartwell talking about the process of working together, and how their relationship and working approach has changed over the course of working on 7 novels together.  It was really interesting, and actually felt like it ended too soon.

Then we went looking for dinner, but found a large number of places were closed, so we ended up going to an Italian place that was fine, but a bit slow because they were overwhelmed with other Con-goers.  As a result, we were late getting back, and missed the first hour of the Masquerade costume show.  We saw a few minutes of it, but I was interested in another event, “Gaiman Reads Doctorow”.

As an experiment, Cory Doctorow is releasing his next short story collection as a self-published Creative Commons title, and using it to explore a number of different ideas a business models, including a free audiobook read by friends (in this case, Neil Gaiman, star of the Worldcon), print-on-demand, and high-cost hand-made limited editions.  Gaiman read quite well, as he is wont to do, and then they both fielded questions after the recording was done.  Gaiman and Doctorow were both gracious, funny, and passionate speakers, and I felt the event was well worth missing the Masquerade.

The last event of the night was a fireworks display that we could watch from the top floor terrace of the convention centre.  The fireworks were not part of the Worldcon (it was for the Festival of Fire, I think, being a South African entry), but it was a nice way to end a very long day.

Worldcon: Day 3 Recap

Day 3 of Worldcon was a very panel-heavy day for us.

We started with “Writing for the Non-Adult”, which had a nice mix of panelists that played off each other well, and talked about the difficulties of writing for children and young adults, both in terms of craft and the market.  This included elements such as boys being unwilling to read books that look like they’re for girls, and the gap where many boys stop reading at all.  Overall, it was a nice discussion.

From there, my girlfriend went to the “Archetypes Without Stereotypes” panel directly, while I ducked down to the signing area to get a book signed by Cory Doctorow.  When I mentioned I had studied cryptography in grad school, he showed me his wedding ring—it was an Enigma cipher custom-designed by Bruce Schneier and made by Schneier’s daughter.  Very cool.  He had a fairly sizable line (though smaller than Robert Silverberg), so I didn’t get back to the panel till it was about half done.  I view this as exceedingly unfortunate, as the part of it that I saw was brilliant.

The five panelists (Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Ben Jeapes, Nalo Hopkinson, and Doselle Young) worked together perfectly.  They were cracking each other up, getting big laughs from the crowd, hitting all the big points, going back and forth with smooth banter, no one was stealing the limelight… they just worked with each other and the audience really well.  I think this may have been the best panel I have ever seen, even though other panels have had subjects of more focussed interest to me.  Kudos to the panelists.

From there, we moseyed over to “What Makes a Good Story?”, but since it was quite full, we tried “Abby Normal: Comedy and SF”, which was also full, but we didn’t want to run to yet another place that may or may not be quite full, so we stayed.  It was a fun panel, talking about different kinds of humour, though it mostly focussed on film and TV rather than written SF.  Halfway through, I ducked out for 10 minutes to get a book signed by James Alan Gardner, who is a very nice guy.

That took care of the morning.  More to come later today.