Worldcon Saturday

Worldcon was a surprising, exhausting, self-contradictory experience.  There were highs and lows, frustrations and gratifications; neither Robin nor I have ever been to a convention that’s (more or less) basically about writing and Worldcon was both more and less than we had hoped. 

One aspect that left me perplexed is how to address most of the authors and artists we met.  I’m pretty shy and fairly formal, so my instinct is to refer to my betters (and I cannot help but think of published authors as my betters) as “Mr.” and “Mz.,” but these people are generally the same age as me.  They’re really my peers, and I should have the self-respect to treat them that way.  I’m going to split the difference and be more Victorian; I’ll refer to them by last name without the honorific, just like Holmes and Watson. 

Anyway, here’s how things went down:

Saturday 8/31

10:00 a.m.
Happy Birthday, Doc Savage!
For a legendary super hero who just turned 80, he doesn’t look a day over 33! Our panel will join Doc Savage historian Anthony Tollin in a discussion of the origins and influence of one of the all time great heroes.

Robin and I got a chance to chat with Jess Nevins about Alan Moore and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen before the panel began.  Jess is about our age, also a Texas resident, and also employed at a university like Robin; he’s pretty much the only panelist I met that I feel comfortable addressing by first name now.  His pulp hero encyclopedia will be published next spring and he’s working on writing some wuxia novels.  Chinese-styled pulp from the living encyclopedia of weird fiction?  Sign me up!

The panel itself was rather rambling.  Moderator Anthony Tollin wound up sharing as many stories about his late friend Walter Gibson (creator of the Shadow) as he did Lester Dent (creator of Doc Savage).  He did pique my interest with a description of how Doc was written as a more realistic, human character in his later, WWII-era adventures, so I might track down some of those reprints.  

11:00 a.m.
Author by Day, Poet by Night
A number of authors are also poets in the fields of fantasy and science fiction. Our panelists discuss current and past masters of the craft and the relationship between genre poetry and prose writing. Is there such a thing as “speculative poetry?”
Nancy Hightower (M), Paul Herman, L.E. Modesitt Jr., and somebody whose name I didn’t catch.

Poetry is the red-headed stepchild.  This was a very small panel (did the panelists outnumber the audience?), but it was pretty interesting.  The person whose name I can’t remember talked about a number of outlets for sci-fi and fantasy poetry that are available these days.  Robin needs to submit some stuff over there.

I’m going to have to read some L.E. Modesitt; his work sounds pretty interesting.  Paul Herman is with the Robert E. Howard Foundation, so we talked a bit about REH. 

Poetry Inside Out: Bridging Cultures through Language
Can you translate extraordinary poems from their original language and reach a new audience? Will a different language deliver the same impact and images?

Another small panel on poetry.  The discussion became much more about the challenges of translation rather than the questions in the prompt (I mean, obviously you can and should translate poetry – how the heck else would most of us read Beowulf or Homer?).

1:00 p.m.
I Married a Werewolf: Paranormal Romance
Vampires and werewolves (and sometimes even zombies, as the recent film Warm Bodies showed) are more complex creatures than they used to be. Moreover, over the years, they have become the subject of romance. Why, and in what ways?

I was not the only guy in the audience.  This was really fun; Gail Carriger and Charlaine Harris are hilarious and moderator (and pirate romance novelist!) Darlene Marshall kept the panel interesting and moving briskly.  Oddly, no one on the panel would consider themselves paranormal romance authors (not even Harris, who kind of is, but considers herself instead a mystery or horror author).

At one point, discussion turned to what supernatural creatures might rise up to join the ranks of the hunky vampires, werewolves, and zombies out there.  Robin pointed out to me that we were already ahead of the curve in our current duet game by having a half-elf/half-werepanther marry a dragon.  Combined with Harris’ dismissal of the “rules” of paranormal romance (the heroine must be in law enforcement; the heroine must have combat training), a goofy idea for a paranormal romance novel popped into my head: an honest SEC investigator falls for a shapeshifting dragon hedge fund manager, hijinks ensue.

2:00 p.m.
We had some chips and cookies from the snack bar at the Convention Center and went by the dealer room to buy a bunch of books.

3:00 p.m.
The Poetry of Robert E. Howard: The Dark Bard of Texas
Robert E. Howard wrote more than 700 poems in his lifetime. His accomplishments as a poet are often eclipsed by his genre-bending and world-building efforts. But in his day, Howard was recognized as a gifted, intuitive poet.
Bill Cavalier (M), Rusty Burke, Paul Herman

Readings from REH’s poetry.  Entertaining but not really interactive; Robin was impressed by the free verse poem “Cimmeria” but less so by his rhyming poetry.

4:00 p.m. — 5:00 p.m.
We walked a few blocks and had dinner at Zocca at the Westin Riverwalk because they’ve got some good wine and gluten-free options.  Good food, but the heat was terrible.

6:00 p.m
Beyond Godzilla vs. King Kong: Monsters of Japan and the Americas
Both East and West love monsters. The ghostly Japanese creatures known as yokai are many and varied, and have a broad Western analogue in cryptids such as the Sasquatch and the chupacabra. The giant city-smashing kaiju, well the West has a few of those as well. But what are the differences, and what are the similarities, between these monsters? Why do adults still love monsters, and what do monsters mean when they appear in fiction, film, or folklore? Come and find out!
Seia Tanabe (M), Masao Higashi, Toh EnJoe

This was one of the highlights of the con.  Robin and I are Japanophiles from early childhood, but we had drifted away from anime and manga over the last decade.  I’ve been missing things Japanese during the last year, so we’ve played some Japanese-setting campaigns and been watching more anime (thank you, Hulu!).  Sitting in the front row at a discussion of kaiju and yokai really felt like coming home.

We were actually able to help with translation efforts.  Neither Robin nor I actually speak or read Japanese, but we’re both familiar with a lot of Japanese terms and cultural references.  Nathan Collins – son of comics and crime fiction author Max Allan Collins (damn, I wish he’d mentioned that at the time) – was drafted in to translate for the all-Japanese panel, but he admitted up front that he’s a translator, not an interpreter.  Nathan did a great job, but my proudest moment of the con was when Masao Higashi (editor of publications on kaiju and the supernatural) was trying to list American giant monster movies he liked and was stumbling over the name “rhedosaurus” and I was able to explain that he was referring to The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms.  

Apparently moderator Seia Tanabe was impressed as well, because she gave us a couple of tankobon volumes on Fortean phenomena.  We were very honored; even though we don’t actually read Japanese, as least we can tell what most of the articles are about by the pictures.  I have to admit that there’s something jarring about seeing a Japanese article on Bigfoot.

As everyone chatted after the end of the panel, Nathan told us about a really interesting project he worked on called MM9; it’s a novel about a kaiju prediction and containment agency that should appeal to fans of Dai Guard and Pacific Rim.  MM9 and the Japanese presence at the con was organized by Nick Mamatas of Haikasoru, an imprint of Viz Media that publishes Japanese sci-fi and fantasy novels.  Mamatas is also co-author of the Hunter S. Thompson/Cthulhu Mythos pastiche The Damned Highway, so I made a point of bringing my copy of that book for him to sign on Sunday.  My sincere thanks to Tanabe-san, Higashi-sensei, Nathan Collins, and Nick Mamatas for making a couple of American otaku feel special.

7:00 p.m.
We left the con proper for an informal off-site event called Drinks with Authors, which was exactly what it sounds like: a bar full of authors and people who wanted to talk to them.  While there, I randomly won a signed copy of A Thousand Perfect Things from Kay Kenyon, who appeared as surprised as I was.  Thankfully, I am the perfect audience for a Victorian fantasy about a young female botanist (despite also being a Robert E. Howard fan).

One of our goals in going to Worldcon was to meet Mary Robinette Kowal, author of the Regency fantasy series The Glamourist Histories and spouse of Robert Kowal, winemaker at City Winery in Chicago.  Robin wanted to evangelize Texas wines a bit and I wanted to get some insight into creating an alternate Regency setting (Regency/gothic and the Arthurian Regency project are not quite dead).  We almost literally ran into Kowal and talked with her for a bit, cementing our plans to attend the kaffeeklatsch with her on Sunday. 

Hopefully, we did not make complete asses of ourselves.  She was a bit leery of the idea of good wine coming out of Texas and was baffled by the thought that we could grow good Viognier, but Robin promised to give her a bottle the next day.  I confessed that I’ve never been able to find any of her books in San Antonio to which her response was to suggest I special order them; ouch!  I hate buying books sight unseen, even though I’ll impulse buy them off of jacket copy alone; I know it’s weird, but I can’t help it.  When I mentioned trying to write a Regency game, Kowal pointed out she has a game on her website.  I promise to give it a try soon. 

Robin was hoping to get invited to one of the after-parties, but no invitations were forthcoming.  Frankly, I didn’t mind; my weekday schedule is 5:30AM to 9:30PM and I was already dragging.  We left Drinks with Authors and got home about 10PM, fed the cats, and went to bed.


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