Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Belated Hugo Awards rundown

The Hugo Awards are fan-voted recognitions of the best writing, art, and related work in science fiction. As a member of LoneStarCon3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention held in San Antonio, Texas, over Labor Day Weekend, I was eligible to vote for the 2013 Hugos, and did so. I took notes while reviewing the nominated works, meaning to post about them, but never got around to it. Partly that was because I wanted to go back and read through the categories I hadn't had time for before, but that didn't work out due to the job and life and stuff.

This week, nominations are opening up for the 2014 Hugo Awards, to be presented at LonCon3, i.e. Worldcon in London. I won't be attending that con unless I win the lottery, but I'm considering getting a supporting membership anyway because that will give me access to electronic versions of most of the officially nominated works, which is a great value.

Regardless, I can submit nominations now for the 2014 awards because of my LoneStarCon3 membership. And before I start thinking about that, I want to finally clear away my thoughts about the 2013 Hugos.

First off, I was a bit irritated by how much the Hugo materials assumed knowledge by the voters. It took me a couple of efforts to find the complete list of nominees (here's a list from Tor), and I didn't find any description of criteria to be used in voting until too late, so I just winged it.

I started off looking at the Campbell Award (not a Hugo) nominees for best new writer. However, at least one writer's work was sent only in epub and mobi versions. I don't have an ebook reader, so I couldn't read that, so I decided not to vote in that category. Mur Lafferty ended up winning, and I've enjoyed listening to quite a few of her works in podcast form, so I was happy about that.

Next, I looked at the Best Fan Writer category. Several writers had mildly interesting articles, but I felt that far and away the best was Tansy Rayner Roberts. She had the most compelling articles on the most compelling and timely topics. Here's one of her essays ("Historically authentic sexism in fantasy. Let's unpack that"). She won my vote and the Hugo.

I skipped the Fanzine and Semiprozine categories, since I don't generally read them, but I was happy to vote on Best Fancast, since podcasts are a big part of how I try to keep up with short stories and fan news.
I did not vote for sfsqueecast.com, even though it's one of my favorite podcasts, because the participants are published writers such as Elizabeth Bear and Paul Cornell. They're obviously fans as well as pros, but I couldn't call that a fancast.
One of my other favorites is the SFSignal podcast. I don't listen to every installment, because sometimes they're talking about a book I haven't read yet, and I don't want spoilers, but the discussions tend to be pretty interesting.
Galactic Suburbia didn't interest me, and the Coode Street podcast suffered severe audio problems. I did consider StarShipSofa, which had an interesting article about airships and a nice interview, but I voted for SFSignal as the known (to me) quantity. Having listened later to several other StarShipSofa segments, I'm glad of that.
SFSqueecast won, as it did in 2012. Kudos to the ensemble for removing the podcast from consideration for future Hugos.

Graphic Story:
Locke&Key Vol. 5: Clockworks is an amazing piece of work, bringing a slight note of sympathy to a character who previously was merely hateful, and continuing to deepen the characters we already cared about, and strong art that really enhances the story instead of just illustrating the plot; however, I think a Hugo winner should be able to stand by itself, and I think a newcomer would be pretty confused by this volume alone.
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia was considerably more entertaining than Grandville Bete Noire, but neither struck me as particularly special.
Saucer Country, Vol. 1: Mexican-American governor of Arizona running for president believes she was abducted by aliens, and sets up a secret team to investigate this threat to national security.  This had some credibility problems, but it did get me involved enough to wonder what would happen.
Saga Vol. 1: Interesting new story (trans-species Romeo & Juliet on the run), occasionally moving panels, nice interplay of art and dialogue. The TV-head species bothers me, since their depiction keeps taking me out of the story.
I don't remember which one I voted for, and I can't seem to find my final ballot. Saga won.

Pro artist:
Vincent Chong and Julie Dillon didn't particularly impress me.
Dan Dos Santos: I dug all these women but two really stood out: Asiatic women with sword and babies on a shore (I really wanted to know what her story was) and Mohawk woman with bullethole in leg, looking angry and determined.
Chris McGrath: Interesting-looking people with detailed, historical-looking backgrounds, from the buddy detectives(?) to the near-future female SWAT-style person to the black woman with a sword and microcircuitry in her arm.
John Picacio: The Creative Fire, woman in jumpsuit/overall with big gun and industrial background, looking tired but tough. I'd love this for my wall. Other illustrations also show quite a variety.
It was hard to choose between the portfolios, but The Creative Fire was my favorite individual piece, so Picacio won my vote. He also won the award.

I had already read Lois McMaster Bujold's "Captain Vorpatril's Alliance," which was fun, but not her best work.
John Scalzi's "Redshirts," as I expected, was a fun ride but pretty lightweight.
Saladin Ahmed's "Throne of the Crescent Moon" had a gripping opening with vivid language, quickly letting us know some of the worldbuilding. The story swept along, continuing with strong characterizations for a range of protagonists, and came to an unexpected yet satisfying conclusion.
Mira Grant's "Blackout" and Kim Stanley Robinson's "2312" failed to open for me, being differently encoded from the others and additionally password-protected. Perhaps I shouldn't have voted in this category, either, but I was irritated by the publishers not trusting the Hugo voters, so I went ahead and voted for Ahmed's book.
Scalzi's "Redshirts" won.

I did write a post back in August about my favorite Short Story, Mono No Aware.
The other nominees were
"Immersion" by Aliette de Bodard: The thought of sinking into the virtual world while e-helpers basically take you over has been written before, but this was very well done; and
"The Mantis Wives" by Kij Johnson: Icky but interesting. Destruction in the name of art, and the lies told about it, and preconceptions.

"On a Red Station, Drifting," by de Bodard. Of station-mind and family, empire and small rebellions, revenge and sacrifice. Thoughtful, poetic in places.
"The Last Stand of the California Browncoats," by Mira Grant was another password-protected PDF that I couldn't read.
"After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall," by Nancy Kress. I was irritated by bad police procedure by the beginning, asking leading questions instead of letting a witness tell a story; I know some police do that, and this is a mathematician rather than an officer, but they let her do it, and this is supposed to be a sympathetic character. But in the After part of the story, I'm interested by Pete's grudging sense of duty and McAllister doing the best she can to keep things going. I find the During part a bit incredible, with the coincidence of all the bad things happening at once, but the ending was pretty satisfying.
"The Stars Do Not Lie," by Jay Lake had quite interesting worldbuilding, fun plot, and a satisfying conclusion.
"The Emperor's Soul," by Brandon Sanderson: I loved the idea of Forgers who rewrite the past of objects to change their present; the magic system itself seemed to depend on a willing suspension of disbelief by the users! It reminded me slightly of David Brin's "The Practice Effect," but better explained and more enjoyable, and also of "The Romulan Way" (things matter). I also loved Shai's wit and boldness, and her commands to herself to Become someone who can deal with this. This won my vote and the Hugo.

Here's a complete list of winners. As you see, I only made it through about half the categories. I didn't buy my membership and tickets until I was sure that the new hire would work out so I could take vacation, and that gave me less than two weeks before nominations closed. It took some dedicated pushing to get myself through as much as I did! As I mentioned before, the supporting membership that allows you to look at Hugo-nominated work is a great deal; I have about a month to decide about LonCon3 before prices go up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

"Sleepy Hollow" and a quick note on "lieutenant"

I watched the premiere of "Sleepy Hollow" (LOOSELY based on Washington Irving's story) on Monday and found it entertaining enough to keep watching for at least a few more weeks. My officemates also liked it, which will help keep the momentum going, along with the fact that it's being filmed near my hometown.

One thing I thought the show didn't explore enough was how disorienting it must have been for Ichabod Crane to find himself in modern times. (I did like that they gave him a moment to be puzzled by the paved road before he almost got run over.) To be fair, the pilot was just an hour long, and they had a lot of plot to cram in there, and it would have dragged the show down for him to be asking about how they can light up a room without candles, etc. He adapted awfully quickly, but I hope they keep using little points like his fascination with power windows to point out that he is a fish out of time. I expect they will, for comic relief if nothing else.

One of the ways they'll keep reminding us about his origin, without actually spending any time on it, is his accent. Ichabod was born back before America and England became "two countries divided by a common language," so although he's American, he has what sounds like a slight English accent (No, there isn't one English accent any more than there's one American accent, but you know what I mean.). The actor, Tom Mison, is English, so we shouldn't have to worry about his dropping it.

At one point during the pilot, Ichabod pronounces the policewoman's title as "lef-tenant" instead of "lew-tenant." Being a longtime fan of Masterpiece Theatre, Mystery and period dramas, I was not surprised by this British usage. But it did occur to me to wonder just why it's pronounced differently.

According to Google, many people have asked this question before me. I stopped looking after visiting about a dozen links. Ken Greenwald at Wordwizard seemed to have the most comprehensive explanation:
In any case, the pronunciations with "f" and "v" are reflected in various 14th-century English spellings of ‘lieutenant,’ which included ‘leef-,’ ‘leve-,’ ‘lyff-‘ and later ‘lief-,’ ‘live-,’ ‘liev-,’ and ‘uff-.’
Other early forms reflected a "w" pronunciation, among them ‘lu-,’ ‘lieu-,’ ‘lyue-,’ and ‘lew-.’ 
So people disagreed on the pronunciation of lieutenant long before the United States were born or thought of (yes, the U.S. took a plural back then, before becoming an it).

Greenwald went on to say that the U.S. settled on the "lew-tenant" pronunciation largely due to  Noah Webster, of dictionary fame, who "almost single-handedly promulgated American pronunciations as well as American spellings."

But before Webster, even with various people disagreeing for centuries on how to pronounce it, was there any preferential rift in pronunciation between the two sides of the ocean? I wonder if the English-American split may have arisen or broadened during the American Revolution when non-British Europeans came to help drill, advise, and lead the Continental soldiers. Baron von Steuben probably would have used the Deutsch "leutnant" (loit-nant), but the Marquis de Lafayette would have assuredly used the French pronunciation (as "in lieu of"). Lafayette was popular, so that could have helped his way of saying it to become preferred.

If anyone has better explanations or links, do let me know!

UPDATE 11/20/13: We found out several episodes ago that Ichabod was actually a British soldier who decided to fight on the American/anti-apocalypse side, not someone born in North America. So that explains the accent. And yes, the show has continued to give us merry-making moments of Ichabod agog and/or aghast at modern life, such as a 10% tax on breakfast pastries, whereas the 2% Stamp Act tax was enough to foment rebellion in his day -- oh, but it turns out that the Tea Party was actually just a fortuitous diversion for secret anti-apocalypse operations. I love the combination of action, emotion, humor, and crazy in this show.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Non-spoilery review of the Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal

I read Mary Robinette Kowal's debut novel, "Shades of Milk and Honey," a few years ago when it came out. It's a novel of manners set in Regency England, with the addition of magic. The form magic takes in this world is glamour, a limited form of illusion that is mostly women's work, used for adorning the ladies and their homes, although there are a few male professionals who basically combine art and interior decoration. Much of the plot is similar to a somewhat simplified "Pride and Prejudice," although some elements are reversed and it builds up to a dramatic action-adventure conclusion. I thought it was a good read, entertaining if a little light, and I planned to look for her later books.

Last week, I spotted her third book in the Glamourist Histories, "Without a Summer," and checked it out. I also tracked down SoMaH again and found the second book, "Glamour in Glass." I figured it would take a week or so to get through them.

I finished them in three nights, one per night. I couldn't put them down, not even SoMaH, which was better than I remembered.

GiG is similar in tone, and like the first, it has a slow, weaving build to a dramatic finish, but other elements are very different. Although the protagonists have interesting, character-based conflicts, they are in Belgium and are increasingly affected by world events, including Napoleon's return to France, rather than mere social mores and misunderstandings. The viewpoint character, Jane, has to make hard choices and endured real consequences. The implications of glamour are examined and expanded. Another satisfying read.

But it was "Without a Summer" that really sold me on the series and the author. We see more of the social strata of the world now, with prejudices (examined prejudices, obviously not the author's views) spurring some people's actions. Along with historically accurate class, racial, and religious prejudices, the public irrationally blames coldmongers, specialized glamourists who help preserve food and suchlike, for the unusually long-lasting cold weather of 1816. The coldmongers were seemingly a convenient throwaway element from the first book, but here they become a major plot element. I love it when backstory comes to the forefront like that.

Other elements from the first book are also revisited in the third book, and revelations about longstanding misperceptions occur. In fact, MRK uses a wonderful metaphor for this cascade of revelations, and I was gasping, "Oh! OH! Wow!" as they all coalesced and bound all three books together. A meta-metaphor, if I can use such a term.

I went through a number of passages from the first and third books today, and yes, there were some strong hints of the hidden truths there, so MRK definitely played fair with the readers. But like Jane, I had glossed over those things as I kept following the current main actions, and so they were simultaneous revelations for me.

Some significant mistakes and misjudgments are made by the viewpoint character, who is so smart and perceptive in other ways, and MRK acknowledges Jane's debt to Austen's "Emma" in her afterword.  I'd be a little disenchanted, so to speak, if I thought MRK were just going through Austen's canon and adding glamour; however, the second book is its own thing, and even in the first and third books, there are plenty of non-magical plot elements and character actions that Austen would never have dreamed of writing. MRK can and does thank Austen, and I also noticed a few fun Easter Egg references to other authors' works, but she is definitely building her own rich world here. I can't wait to see where MRK takes this series next.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

My favorite Hugo nominee: Ken Liu's "Mono no aware"

I just submitted my Hugo ballot, a few minutes before voting closed at midnight CDT on July 31. Because I got my Worldcon membership just two weeks ago, I wasn't able to get through all the books and stories that were e-mailed to me, but I did the best I could, and finished roughly half. I'll post my more complete reactions later, but I wanted to go ahead and praise one of the nominees.

Ken Liu's "Mono no aware" moved me to tears. I had to stand up and walk around for about 10 minutes before I could return to my self-imposed reading reading marathon.

What an extraordinary work this is, heartbreaking, breathtaking, and inspiring. In this 32-page short, Liu packs an amazing amount of story, context, understanding, and poetry.

“The stars shine and blink.
We are all guests passing through,
A smile and a name.”

According to an interview with the author, mono no aware means an empathy for the inevitable passing of all things.  The protagonist draws strength and motivation from this concept, but his actions also exemplify some of the things from life that endure: courage and love. I must find more of Ken Liu to read. As far as I am concerned, this short story is the all-category winner, the Best in Show of the Hugos.

Friday, July 26, 2013

WorldCon56-Bucconeer Panels Appendix

As I mentioned yesterday, I'm swamped with reading Hugo nominees, so I'm too busy to write original material right now. Instead, I'm posting an e-mailed trip report from the 1998 WorldCon. This is the appendix, where I wrote about individual panels at the con.

OK, here it is:

Panels appendix to my report on the 56th World Science
Fiction Convention (WorldCon 56, "Bucconeer") Aug. 5-9
in Baltimore, by Patricia Elkins Matson.

I had a blast, although I was run ragged a lot of the
There were many, many activities offered most days
between 10 AM and midnight and beyond. On one hour in
one day (Fri. 1 PM), I counted 23 offerings. My
activities included many panel discussions. Many of
the panels were fascinating, and none of them were
boring to me. Some I picked by topic, some by authors
appearing. Detailed descriptions of 1-hour panels
appear in this Appendix. An (M) after a panelist’s
name denotes that the panelist was the moderator.
Note: by no means do I agree with all the opinions
expressed herein!

2:15 - went late to last part of panel
"Faster-than-Light: Only in SF?" at Convention
Center. Panelists: Catherine Asaro (M), John G.
Cramer, Eric Kotani, Richard Stoddart.
Can’t remember anything.
3:00 – tried to go to "Life Under the Ice:
Possibilities on Europa" panel but the panelists never
3:30 – gave up and went to end of "Media Tie-Ins: Good
Idea or Work of the Devil?"
Panelists: Ginjer Buchanan (M), Roger MacBride Allen,
Susan Shwartz, J. Steven York.
This panel was on SF books taken from TV series,
movies, etc.  All the panelists had written media
tie-in books and were thus apologists, but it was
interesting anyway. Ominous fore-shadowing quote from
panelist Roger McBride Allen: "I’d like to point out
that it’s 3:30 on the first day and there are already
2 people asleep in the audience. Pace yourselves,
4:00 - "How do Authors Collaborate?" panel. Panelists:
Michael Capobianco (M), A.C. Crispin, Elizabeth Moon,
John Maddox Roberts and Wendy Old.
Very interesting panel (if you’re interested in
writing or the authors mentioned).  Best quote, John
Maddox Roberts on "collaborating" with Robert Howard
on his Conan books: "There are advantages to
collaborating with an author who’s been dead for over
50 years."
ACC and EM, respectively, say that Andre Norton and
Anne McCaffrey are easy to collaborate with.
JMR would love to be a senior writer (as opposed to
the junior partner in a collaboration, his usual role)
because that would mean his name was a brand name that
helped sell books.
6:00 - "Historical Research - Getting the Details
Right" panel. Panelists: Susan Shwartz (M), Lance A.
Harrop, Laura Frankos, Walter Jon Williams, Connie
Willis. Interesting.
LF: The key is to keep your mind on the story and
characters, don’t overload with irrelevant details.
CW: Pick your time and place to put details in.
SS throws everything in and then lets her editor cut
WJW feels he’s lucky he only has to write about stuff
he cares about anyway.
?: If you know what you’re doing, it’ll show.  Some
details about the past and the general period
environment/atmosphere should come out/be exposed in
the characters’ thought processes.
LH: the salient point (critical determinant) of armor
is whatever it’s designed to defend against.
WJW: Sometimes there’s just one telling detail that
makes it all come real. (e.g. how itchy a gorget
(throat-protector) is)
CW: Imagining what it really was like is what makes it
come alive.
LF: The telling detail is like the tip of the iceberg.
You know the whole background, but only the relevant
10% is presented.
SS: "The Bozo Filter" useful when researching.  You
know which Web pages or books will be good or useful
or trustworthy because you have some methodology to
choose, or filter out bad stuff (e.g. throw out
anything that mentions the great Knights Templar
CW: You must trust, follow and explore your interests.
Don’t ultra-focus; look for connections with many
other things.
WJW: Like the Knights Templar popping up everywhere!
That’s neat! (gently disputing SS)
CJ: Books for children are great for giving you the
right level of information without overwhelming you.
SS - she gets really involved with
research/characters; she’ll go shopping and the
characters will start telling her what they want, or
they had a shirt like that but it was stolen, etc.
SS reads travelers’ diaries for picking up background
WJW - read the sailing masters’ logs, not just the
LF - Go to the contemporary sources. Avoid the
filtering by interpreters.
CW - one way to find out a fact is to extrapolate and
put the guess in your book.  If you get it wrong,
you’ll get lots of letters telling you so, and find
out the real fact.
Audience - one great way to slip period details in is
with the chapter headings/short insertions of other
CW - of course, if you’re intellingent and charming
enough, you can get away with putting in anything you
want. (Charles Dickens, and some book that opens with
a 3-page description of the London fogs.)
LH - dig a little deeper than the secondary sources so
you’re sure you’re past all the Bozo Factors.
CW - you’re sure to come up with more stuff you want
to research after you start writing.
But be warned, just because someone is contemporary
doesn’t mean they really understand what was going on.
Contemporaries can be morons too.
SS - get someone who knows about the stuff to
proofread your work.
Audience - don’t trust people who have an axe to
grind. But sometimes axe-grinders are right. (Panelist
cites/ridicules how historians for years didn’t refer
to slave accounts of ante-bellum South because the
slaves would obviously have been biased against the
Audience - to make it a story, you have to see it thru
characters’ eyes, not just your own.
CW - Yes, it’s all just an illusion. You’re doing a
trick, putting many elements together and making it
look convincing.
9:00 - found Omni hotel for "I can explain that!"
panel, which offered many ridiculous explanations for
audience questions about various science fiction
Panelists: Charles Sheffield (M), Catherine Asaro, Hal
Clement, Judy Lazar, Jack McDevitt.
Fun, but nothing that stuck in my mind afterward.

4:15 - Came to "InfoWar: High Tech’s Role in Military
Conflict" panel.
Panelists: Susan Shwartz (M), C.J. Cherryh, Tom Cool,
Peter Jackson, Kevin Randle.
Lots of interesting things to think about.
Disinformation to troops, crashing systems, etc.
SS - Will the forces of 2010 really be leaner and
meaner, or just sort of skinny and unhappy?
Audience - brings up the War of Lies - WWII Allied
deception campaigns, disinformation against Rommel,
SS - If you’re wrong at the base of the information
pyramid, you’ll be REALLY wrong by the time the
disinformation filters to the top.
CJC - mentions her "Hellburner" book relevance.
KR - CIA etc. try to guard against disinformation. But
point people at what they expect to see, and they’ll
usually see it.
Audience question from a self-called grunt soldier:
You guys are ruining our wars. How do we guard against
being spoofed? (Seemed to expect an instant, tangible,
applicable answer.)
KR - The American Army has traditionally been famous
for everyone getting the information. (Contrast:
Japanese in WWII, only officers know what’s going on;
only officers’ gas masks have capability to talk.
Like traditional Russian style - officers important,
grunts are cogs.) But now, it seems as though only the
people back at the Pentagon will be able to see the
whole picture clearly and at once.
PJ - but this really upsets the experienced ones. The
advantage of the American system is that the guy on
the ground knows what’s going on and reacts quickly,
and therefore can deliver surprises to the enemy.
Audience Q - We need a virtual-reality Cultural
Berlitz program (like Berlitz language courses) so
that a soldier can learn about the place he’s being
sent to.
Audience - Food logistics used to be important, but
now it’s information. How do you control the info
Audience - Getting info may be easy, but how do you
use it? How will the enemy use it?
CJC speaks of the Grenada syndrome - ordinary citizens
(American med school students) called back to the U.S.
from payphones. Now warzones will have the Internet
there. Information PROTECTION will be much harder,
with people telling about stuff they don’t even know
is important (giving away where troop positions are,
CJC and KJ - the Soviet Union collapsed partly because
of all the info flowing in. The Soviets would project
bad information about the US (poverty, racism, traffic
jams), but Russians saw good stuff inadvertently
included (traffic jams, yeah, but look at ALL the CARS
those people have!)
Audience Q - how do you train people to ask the
question that they actually want to be answered?
KJ - maybe the flood of info will help people to think
more precisely.  Do a Web search with just one
keyword, and you may get thousands of sites. But add
conditions, and you’ll narrow it down?
SS - and maybe the flood of info will help people not
to confuse information with knowledge (let alone
5:00 - "Molecular Biology and Space Opera: Two Great
Tastes…" panel.  Panelists: Wil McCarthy (M), Steve
Gillett, Shariann Lewitt, Linda Nagata, Walter Jon
Not just molecular biology, actually about a whole lot
of new tech and thought-patterns and how they can fit
into future space operas.
LN - the kinds of stories that resonate today are the
kinds that made up the classics of yes-teryear.
WM - You’re painting on the largest canvas available,
so stories have room to be great.
SL - What if tech means individuals each have more
power, and they can set up their own mini-societies?
WW - Space operas have been stuck in ’30s style, with
empires predominating (just like all the
nationalism/empires of early 20th century).
Also, writers didn’t realize that the future might not
be monocultural.
LN - In space opera, even the rare strong female
usually follows masculine patterning. Also, the future
is North American, and alien cultures are monolithic
with no politics.
SL - It would be nice to see people getting smarter,
not having the same old problems.
WM - SO uses outdated hardware, no sophistication.
Rays and projectiles used, but those are really just
blunt instruments. What about sneaky, subtle things -
pathogen-type things?
Also, on battles, human pilots probably unrealistic.
Also, you’re talking enormous distances. You send off
weapons and wait… drop chaff, dodge. Also, in reality,
battles can be very short - e.g. an Olympic fencing
match that has two parries is really a long battle,
unlike in movie fights.
WJW - "Aristoide" changes everything and nothing at
all. The problems you DO have are a whole new order of
magnitude. Biological systems, compared with the
vastness and hostility of space, are fragile. We’ll
send out robots to find worlds we can survive on, then
they’ll re-build/download the species.
LN - Well, because of the experiences different people
undergo, that actually causes them to end up with
different brain structures (because of how neurons
grow and connect?)
Relativity should be realer. The more difficulty
characters have, the better the stories are. FTL is a
cheat, and cheats spoil stories.
WM - Now things (computers) are more powerful when
decentralized (network computers as opposed to the old
mainframes), so you have less control.
We’ll define technologies and societies by their
emergent characteristics.
LN - I may be an anarchist, but I still have to obey
the laws of physics.
WJW - for real future warfare, you want something that
will go in and infiltrate quietly, and then go off at
a later time - like a sleeper virus.
6:00 - "What if Alpha Centauri Had a Peace Corps?"
panel. Panelists: John J. Kessel (M), Keith R.A.
DeCandido, Barry N. Malzberg, Dr. SETI, Toni
What if aliens come, will their "help" be good or bad,
as viewed by us?
The (U.S.) Peace Corps as a propaganda tool - Kennedy
started ours as much for prop as for pro bono, quite
as much for Cold War purposes as to help people. U.S.
sends out "advisors" - hope the Alien PC isn’t like
some of our "advisors" (military advisors)…
Assume they can’t come here, they only want to talk to
us. What if it were us? What would we say to a
Missionaries tend to be from more technologically (if
not socially) advanced cultures, just because they’re
the ones who can travel farther.
Would the species helping us be homogeneous? Wouldn’t
we be more likely to get caught in some ideological
Analogy - U.S. PC told African mothers not to
breast-feed because it’s primitive and unsanitary -
disregarding question of finding potable water to make
up the baby formula.  What realities of ours would
Alien PC fail to take into account?
Out to 50 light years - right now - we’re already
announcing "We’re here" with broadcast, atom bombs,
etc.  50 years from now, the  announcement sphere will
be 100 light years.
"Information by its very nature is disruptive."
Reference to "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode
of "Darmok" - will we be able to interpret the
signals at all, or will we only be able to tell that
someone’s out there?
"The translator is a traitor" - truly accurate
translation is practically impossible.
If they can come here at all, they can probably do
anything at all that they want to do to us. If energy
isn’t expensive, all bets are off anyway. With costs,
telecommuting is cheaper, but motives (religion?) may
outweigh costs.
Cultural demoralization - give alcohol to Indians,
etc. Also just feelings of inferiority. Of course,
demoralization may not be all bad for humanity.
Cargo plane culture/religion of (South?) Pacific
islands referred to.
"I’d like to contradict something I said earlier."
U.S. PC can’t just decide to go into countries, it has
to get permission from the govern-ments.
How will PC help us? Will they decide we’re
overpopulated, and make 90% of males sterile, or
something even more disruptive?

12:00 - "It’s all SF: Science Fiction/Southern
Fiction" panel. Panelists: Toni Weisskopf (M), James
S. Dorr, Andy Duncan, Edward Kramer, Mark L. Van Name.
A lot of interesting things were said, but I often
felt that this wasn’t MY South that they were talking
Southern Fiction traits: obsessive self-obsession and
Traits for both: Feeling that you have to be familiar
with predecessor-writers, building on them or
contradicting them, but taking them into account.
"Plus, the South is just (expletive) weird."
"The landscape is a permanent, oppressive part of
Someone mentions James Lee Burke, a Southern writer.
The Southern culture historically has been an indirect
culture - lots of talking, but the real info may be
hidden.  Culture of deceit and indirection.
Talks about slavery & guilt, swampy atmosphere,
difference between sense & sensibility.
Storytelling tradition. Each locality has a lot of
history; kids grow up hearing adults telling stories.
They may not understand, but they feel the power of
the stories.
Isn’t SF looking forward while Southern fiction looks
back? (but the future is based on the past).
Antitechnology stance is elitist - average people
embrace technology.
Someone from audience says the biggest turning point
in the South isn’t from the Civil War, it’s from the
general introduction of air conditioning.
Remember, there are many regional differences even
within the South.
The South has long experience with living side-by-side
with an alien culture.
Intermingling of white&black cultures.
Trying to keep blacks down eventually just made the
race question all-pervasive.
Incredible classist structure. Poor whites actually
have lots in common with blacks, but everyone knows
what class everyone belongs to.
Southern approach to religion and SF approach to
faith. John Kessel’s "Good News from Outer Space."
Other recommended S/SF authors: Greg Benford, Michael
Bishop (Bischoff?), Gene Wolfe, Terry Bissan, Manly
Wade Wellman, Harry Cruz, Rudy Rucker, Joe Lansdale,
David Drake, Anne Rice, Tom Dietz, Willie Gibson,
Robert E. Howard, Orson Scott Card, Sharon McCrumb,
Joan Hess (spellings not vouched for)
Note differences between Southern culture and
Appalachian culture. There are and have always been
many Souths. W.J. Cash. But there’s also 1 South.
1:00 - "Extrapolating Known Science into Science
Fiction" panel. 
Panelists: Ian Randal Strock (M), Michael A. Burstein,
Karl Kofoed, Dave Kratz.
Began with one of the panelists upset about having to
speak into the microphone for the tape (tapes of all
lectures are available for sale) because the panelists
aren’t getting any of the tape proceeds. He said, "I’m
not bitter, I just find this absurd."
By the end of the 19th century, most physicists
thought the major discoveries had been made and that
the rest would just be refinement.
Robert L. Forward, James Hogan are good. Hal Clement’s
"Mission of Gravity"
Taking known science and using it is so much more
interesting than just saying ‘OK, we have FTL, let’s
go on from there.’
One guy says good science is good, but good characters
are also necessary for good SF. Cites Greg Benford and
Greg Bear.
Difference between science-based hard SF and
tech-based hard SF?
Also goes back from SF to use ideas for producing
real-world applications.
"Important question - what the HELL is known science
"A beautiful theory destroyed by an ugly fact."
New facts make much old SF questionable, though it
seemed possible at time of writing (Venus as jungle
planet, e.g.)
6:00 - "Ridiculous Medicine in SF/F/H" panel.
Panelists: Elizabeth Moon (M), Lee Killough, Judy
Lazar, Perrianne Lurie, Joan Slonczewski. Pretty
funny, all about silly errors writers often make when
medicine enters their fiction.
LK - blood transfusions in Dracula with no blood
EM - broken bones heal too quickly without help.
JS - Humans and aliens producing babies. Parts
shouldn’t fit, egg&sperm shouldn’t fit,
genes/chromosomes shouldn’t fit.
JL - Michael Bishop’s "Transfiguration."
"Salem’s Lot" - Anemia vs. High blood pressure - one
shouldn’t exclude the other.
Unlikely to be able to catch independently evolved
microbes from each other. But you’d probably get
immunological responses to foreign proteins, as we do
from terrestrial things.
Genes can be picked up from one bacterium to another.
EM - irritated by John Wayne wounds in the shoulder
that never hit anything vital. Also, the harmless
concussion people bounce back from. Actually, the
longer someone’s knocked out, the worse off they’ll be
for longer.
Bright arterial blood spurting from the jugular VEIN!
Allergies you’d get on a terraformed planet. The soils
would have toxic, different makeups.
Animals instinctively knowing what’s good for them -
Earnest paramedics who easily know what to do for
aliens. What are the limiting factors? Does it even
Whenever we get an alien contact, veterinarians will
instantly gain more respect. Drugs that will heal cats
will kill dogs, etc. Also, you can’t ask where it
hurts, etc.
Universal antibiotics - bad enough - but which will
also work against VIRUS from alien world.
What’s to keep the body from rejecting nanotechnology?
Even today, implants are a problem.
Cloning. Mixing species to make centaurs. Clones that
grow up in 4 days and have the same memories as the
parent/twin. Cloning from red blood cells!
Radiation that produces lots/high proportion of viable
mutants. Anti-radiation injections!
Organlegging urban legend (You visit a foreign city
and wake up minus your kidney).
Long dying speeches.
Brain transplants OK, but you can’t heal a damaged
spinal cord.
Genetic engineering.
Baselines - normal can be a funny and varied thing.
Adaptation to society can be seamless even for someone
with an irregular brain, as shown by dissections.

11:00 - went to "Guest of Honor Speech by C.J.
Cherryh" with Sarah.  CJC really seems like a
fascinating and good person.
Talks about early life, finding a home with fandom.
"The late 20th-century attention span is geared to the
commercial break. Now, we
talk-talk-talk-talk-talk…" (watch-talk-watch-talk as a
lifestyle/primary mode of "interaction" and
experiencing life.)
The amazing changes she’s (and we’ve) lived through in
the century - TV, political borders, the moon,
As computers work faster, "the worker is being driven
faster and faster and faster by the machine."
Dealing with the Data Monster - inundation by data.
Students - everything they’re learning now may be
ephemeral - disappear or be useless by ??? years. An
increasing flux.
Ideological stereotyping seems to be replacing former
ethnic, etc. stereotyping.
Tendency to oversimplify: There’s so much to
know/experience that we look for short, quick ways to
identify things and move on. Books are being marketed
this way now, as brand-name fiction. People get
information by skimming the data-peaks and
extrapolating whatever data mountains the peaks might
People are impatient of ideas that question their own.
They want a short burst of info-tainment that supports
what they already believe.
Internet very important to fannish community, keeping
us together and helping young/new people, encouraging
exposure to new ideas. The core fan community is
actually growing now. CJC hopes for virtual SF
conventions someday, supplementing/reporting fully the
real conventions now. CJC drops into chat rooms,
online, meeting and helping newbies. "Newbies,
frog-hopping their way across the lily-pad web pages
toward fandom, ‘organized’ fandom - more power to
Q: What does CJC think of modern education? A: You
need both sets of anchors - a grounding in the past
and a concept of the future. The older generation has
a tendency to oversell things to youth, as if they’re
trying to convince their own generation. Don’t do
gloom&doom when teaching about the environment, tell
kids what they can do about it.
Q: What to do about really tightly-focused people? A:
They need some friends. The more diverse people you
know, the more willing you’ll be to leave your own
familiar interests and explore others.
If you see a T-shirt you don’t like, remember that
that’s not the whole person inside.
Q: The gender difference in fandom. A: Certainly more
females now than when CJC started. But there’s some
gender division within numerous interest groups.
Sometimes you just have to screw up your courage and
go cross that line. A smile goes a long way.
Q: feminism? A: CJC classifies herself as a
human-rights person.
Q: How do you choose among data piles etc.? A: First
form some friendships, then form a network and branch
out. Get your friends to help you find out what’s
worth learning. You suddenly discover that the people
at the table with you have so many different
experiences and viewpoints, yet they all come together
on something or other. Cross-pollenization.
When you come to these cons, the resources everyone
can bring to bear on problems is amazing!
Q: People (fans) should make a point of talking to
library acquisition people. A: Yes, local fan groups
can have a great effect on libraries. Fan impact does
make a difference.
Q: Any audio books in the works? A: No offers yet;
maybe pronunciation is a problem. (She’s poking a
little fun at herself here, since many of her
character names have gutturals and sneezes and
apostrophes in the middle, etc.)
2:00 - "Maim ‘em Right" panel on how authors can write
realistic battle/sickness scenes and avoid stupid
Panelists: Kurt Siegel (M), Lee Killough, Elizabeth
Moon, Lisa Freitag, Dale Ridder.
KS - mentions the current resurgence of tuberculosis
DR - problem with anthrax is that the spores don’t
break down
KS - the World Trade Center bombers also planted
anthrax, but luckily the explosives burned it up. Look
at vectors of contamination in the Middle Ages.
EM -  Usually authors make someone sick or die for a
plot purpose, but you can accidentally dissipate
dramatic tension by flubbing something. Figure out who
you want injured and how long they’ll be hurt, then
take it to an expert and ask what thing will make that
DR - Frogs, reptiles are about 10,000 times more
resistant to nerve gas than people.
And up until WWI, if you got wounded you’d have a 25%
chance of dying from gangrene. Some Middle Ages
folklore said that moldy bread would help a wound to
heal.  And where does penicillin come from (where
discovered)? Moldy bread.
EM - Most societies have a wide range of knowledge.
Pragmatic, tradition, etc.
Q: Roman army medics used wine to wash a wound and
then honey as a poultice. That usually works IF you
do it early enough - before sepsis sets in.
EM scenario - space station, with terrorists with
multiple child hostages. Can’t pump in sleepy gas,
because the same medication dosage affects different
people differently - so it’s likely that one terrorist
would drop first, and then the others would start
shooting. Also, enough drug to make some people
totally unconscious would make others stop breathing
Can’t fiddle with reality too much - too many
coincidences are bad.
Purpose of a John Wayne wound is to create sympathy
for the hero. Put the wound on the OUTSIDE of an arm,
not the middle of the shoulder where all the bones,
arteries, etc. are. Remember, if the weapon is too
sharp, you’ll slice all the way to the bone, and if
it’s too blunt, you’ll release toxins. If you use a
gun, don’t have a high-velocity slug.
A host is where the bug lives, the vector is what
transmits it. Example - hosts are animals in Africa,
vector is the mosquitos that transmit malaria or
4:00 - "The Coming Environmental Disaster" panel.
Panelists: Joan Slonczewski (M), David Brin, Dave
Some good points and some I disagreed with.
DK - disaster is a catastrophic disruption, anything
to cause long-term changes.
DB - operative emotion in almost all cultures has
always been fear. When the fear horizon is high,
threats are close - "Will my children get enough bread
to eat?" When fear starts to decline, people join up,
say, as villages to protect against other villages
(fear is for more long-term threats). You can see this
with American Indians - they hold big intra- or even
intertribal gatherings in times of plenty.
Nowadays, if you hear that a dolphin is stranded, you
may run to the beach with the same speed as your
ancestors - but with entirely different motives (you
to save, ancestors to eat).
JS - mentions eco-disaster of the appearance of
oxygen. Dr. Ian Malcolm in "Jurassic Park." When we
talk about eco-disasters, we really mean OUR ecosystem
that keeps us comfortable and looks nice, etc.
Sam Shiner - Professional ecologists have been talking
about these kinds of things for a long time. But we
don’t talk about disasters as such because that begs
the question, a disaster for whom? But disasters have
happened before, anyway - e.g. Permian extinction.
Doug Frost - the current worst disaster is the slow
ongoing loss of ecosystems, species, etc. (Slash&burn
in Brazil, etc.)
JS - why do we care about all this anyway? Well, you
never care about anything until you’re in danger of
losing it. Indian myths and the tradition of closeness
with nature may have come with their realization that
they had killed off most of the large species in the
DB - knowing the self-interest inherent in altruism
does not take away from the beauty of altruism.
"Earth" and "The Transparent Society." DB talks about
first-order and second-order effects, rants about the
Republican Congress actions. Mocks Gregory Binford’s
(sp?) ideas on fighting global warming (dump something
- was it iron - in the seas to absorb/react)
SS - It’s not at all clear that people WANT to save
the environment. People want the Disney version - the
pretty stuff but NOT the ugly parts that coexist and
help the ecosystem run.
DF - population driving the problems.
Education/poverty correlations with overpopulations.
Q - overfishing and dumping of toxins.
SS - Today, point-source pollution is really the worst
problem. But you can attack the problem - witness
Chesapeake Bay, etc.
Q - what about rain forests and oxygen?
DF - we’ll die of too much CO2 long before we die of
lack of oxygen. The danger is that the soil is bad in
rainforest territory, so if you lose the rainforest,
you can’t re-establish it.
DB - we’re already smearing species across the world,
contaminating ecosystems.
Books - Silent Spring, Where Late the Sweet Birds
Sang, Timescape. George Stewart’s "The Earth Abides,"
John Brunner’s "The Sheep Look Up" and "Stand on
Zanzibar," "Bladerunner"
Quote - "Whatever your cause is, it’s a lost cause
without population control."
America is using so many resources, it’s hard getting
the Third World to listen about popu-lation control.
But we can’t be driven away from problem solving
simply because of accusations of hubris.
Our technological development (harmful as it may have
been in the past) is what helps us be able to solve
problems now.
5:00 - "Transplant Technology: Miracles or
Organlegging?" panel.
Panelists: Judy Lazar, Larry Niven, Ronald C. Taylor.
Also Ronald Taylor, a transplant coor-dinator; someone
who interfaces for a transplant board; and Mike,
someone who’s had a transplant.
A lot of the questions were just about the state of
the technology now and near-future. Some panelists
were pretty dictatorial about cutting off debate on
Larry Niven surprised me a little - I expected someone
high-energy, and he seemed pretty laid back. Bearded
balding guy with glasses, wearing a fanny pack, with a
high-pitched voice. Says transplants are fairly old as
fiction, pretty recent in fact. LN’s been writing
about them since before people did them. He perceived
societal dangers, yelled a lot, noticed doctors’
groups popping up on transplant ethics, stopped
yelling. He’s not really up on the field now.
Transplantee says it was painful at the time, but
later you don’t notice it.
Coordinator says it’s still pretty hard to get donors.
One of the panelists says that anyone who hasn’t
signed their organ donor cards shouldn’t even be here
listening to the panel. After this, numerous people
who ask questions preface with their good
faith-credentials by saying they’ve signed.
Many people are working on various aspects of problems
in transplants.  Example - genetically engineered
LN - my problem 30 years  ago was over condemned
criminals being obvious targets for organ harvesting.
LN asks about possibility of harvesting criminal
JL - mentions a death-row criminal who volunteered to
have his body thin-sliced for study.
RT - Human genome project, etc. We’re getting a grasp
on control signals for genes being turned on &off,
eventually affecting organ transplants.
Q from audience says Chinese killing prisoners &
selling organs.
Telemerase, vague hope of making us immortal, bigger
hope of killing cancers.
Q: mechanical organ replacements. Coordinator: now,
primarily used as a bridge while waiting for
JL - work done on artificial pancreas to monitor blood
sugar and give insulin.
Q: In 2 countries in Europe, there is mandatory organ
donation UNLESS you actively fill out forms to opt out
Q: New technology lets people push margins (e.g.
anti-lock brakes just get people driving faster). Will
easy transplantation let people just abuse their
bodies more?
LN answers - it’s all a dance. People may smoke more
because they can replace lungs, but then anti-smokers
will feel more free to punch them, because fixing
someone is easier.
Q: If you want to sell a kidney for $10,000, to boost
your life or pay for kid’s operation or whatever, why
can’t you have the freedom to make that choice?
Answer, pretty dictatorial and of a tone to cut off
debate, with contempt-frustration at "foolish"
question: Selling organs is illegal because it’s just
too easy to abuse.
LN mentions urban legends of organlegging, countries
executing someone but not quite kill-ing them, then
selling organs.
Back to the organ-selling question: Blood donations
were the first transplants. But the people who want
to sell blood are the people whose blood you don’t
Cloning for organ transplants. Skin is already on the
Q: Growing organs  - could you do it fast enough? A:
well, you’d have to do it with universal organs that
could go into anyone. (Answer was from the "auxiliary
panel," a husband-wife team of medical researchers who
often popped up to interject thoughts or answer
Giving blood tends to lower tendencies to heart
disease. Also reduces iron content and oxi-dative
Q: This is an era of overpopulation. Why transplant,
wouldn’t it be better for the planet to abstain?
RT answers - not overpopulation everywhere. Japan
doesn’t even have replacement (more die than are born
each year). Nor does the U.S., nor Canada.
Q: How do you prioritize transplants?
Q: When do you stop trying? If someone’s rejected
organs twice, shouldn’t someone else get a chance?
A: That issue is still up in the air.
LN - actually (looking at watch - panel is ending
late), we "stop" NOW.
6:00 - "Mad Lib SF" - not really a panel because
designed for lots of audience participation.
"Panelists" were Ray Ridenour and Tom Whitmore.
Passages chosen from literature, L. Ron Hubbard,
Victorian plush-red-velvet romance, and the progress
report from the San Francisco 2002 convention
committee. Fun, some clapping, but not many belly
laughs.  A couple of my suggestions were taken (e.g.,
a long verb was called for, so I said "hopping down
the bunny trail.").
7:00 - "Influences of C.J. Cherryh" panel. A lovefest
on how great CJC is, but some really neat stuff was
brought up anyway.
Panelists: Elizabeth Moon (M?), G. David Nordley,
Paula Lieberman.
EM - says how tired she is. "If I had to get on a
horse right now, I’d have to get on a mounting
block." EM tells the tale of how she’d pretty much
given up on writing SF (or getting it published) until
she read CJC’s "Merchanter’s Luck."
GDN - was blown away by the Chanur series. The
universals and idiosyncracies of
intelligence/sapience. Balancing of reproductive
strategies for other species, many other things.
PL - a fairly recent critic, not a writer? Mentions
some idiot writing about superior womyn leaders who
used "Downbelow Station’s" Captain Signey(?) Mallory
as an example of cooperative leadership! Ha! Mallory
is usually pretty autocratic, ruthless when needed.
EM first stumbled across the Faded Sun - Kesrith
books. Read first two, couldn’t find third. Very
frustrating. Stopped for a while, then led back by a
used book dealer who didn’t have the third book but
had "Merchanter’s Luck." This book helped EM go on
with writing. Her first SF convention was NASFIC in
Austin in ’85. EM went to a CJC reading. CJC advised:
Don’t write big fat books at first, tackle something
manageable. This coming from CJC, who mostly writes
big fat books all the time! So EM was inspired by a
desire to be up there at the podium - if CJC can do
it, I can do it.
GDN - says he finds all these tough, resourceful women
in CJC books something of a turn-on. Also, he says
something about conscious/unconscious influences
creeping in (to his own writings?)
PL  - finds "Rimrunners" very believable in terms of
her own military experience (except there’s no gym for
exercise on the spaceship)
GDN - of course, like anything, things change, and the
written universe is now getting more touchy-feely.
But CJC understands the space environment.
And the whole issue of cloning - "Cyteen."
EM - CJC is brilliant at atmosphere. The people and
their reactions to science, LIVING with the advances
in technology, let alone the reactions of aliens
living among humans.
PL - CJC does a lot of interesting things with her
cultures. In the Chanur books, the human is the
EM - prefers CJC’s hard SF to her fantasy work. EM’s
looking for something in fantasies that doesn’t appear
in CJC. The insistent realism prevents the fantasy
from breaking loose. A little too didactic.
PL - certain themes resound: Trade is about ideas, not
goods. Taking the long view.
GDN - "Cyteen" with evolved Union culture, a
meritocracy government, with more-or-less castes,
backstabbing and brown-nosing.
EM - CJC’s very realistic "Wave without a Shore." The
difficulties encountered by people with opposing long
views. CJC doesn’t ever make things too easy, but all
the problems flow seamlessly from her characters. EM
disagrees with saying fantasy should be just wild and
free - it’s just that you’re using different rules
from another place.
GDN - has trouble setting one law aside without
thinking of other ramifications.
PL - CJC was early "Thieves’ World" contributor,
started "Merovingen Nights" series and did some of the
"Sword of Knowledge" books.
GDN - says "Merovingen Nights" books are not
PL - "Serpent’s Reach" characters have been
genetically modified. Also says that because of
relativity, S. Mallory reappears after long timespans
without aging much.
EM - relativity/ long view - people get in and out of
phase with their worlds, their pasts, etc. CJC dumps
you in the middle of something, full speed ahead. The
reader then gets a better picture of what it’s like to
be in the action of the story. She’s big enough to
take/accept the risk/certainty of readers being
confused and dropping her books.
GDN - the richness of CJC’s books.
EM - if you read classical language in the original,
you appreciate what just a scrap of it can mean in
terms of making connections.  To make a culture feel
real is to build layers and textures unobtrusively.
Implies a history going back to Rome.
PL - Some of CJC’s books are much more accessible than
others. "Downbelow Station" is tough because all these
people on the station are dropped into the middle of a
war, and they each see only their own part. "Gate of
Ivrel" has very ambiguous characters with ambiguous
goals. How do they react in stress? Whether you’re a
hero or a villain depends on who’s looking at you.
EM - Attitudes toward sculpture (& architecture?) go
back all the way to Babylon - the concept of the
importance of having a public space. "Wave without a
Shore" and a discourse on space.
GDN - Back to the scraps and connections - it’s
fascinating the things that survive from one culture
to a later one. Everyone knows what an Achilles heel
is, for example. CJC’s use of survivals to enhance
rich atmosphere.
EM - I didn’t copy CJC’s prose style, but I did look
at CJC’s techniques to see how she’d try to adapt
DJN - CJC doesn’t really have good versus evil. She
has shades of gray. Seems so much more real.
EM - It’s not just black&white, and there’s not just
shades of gray. (Evil is real, conflict between
good&evil does happen in the real world.) Stories of
good versus evil can be complex. CJC, on the other
hand, has ethics and morality, but not really any
dimension of spirituality.
PL - disagrees, there are indications of spirituality
in Chanur (as background?)
GDN - Heinlein’s "Revolt in 2100" - the Prophet is
just bad.
EM - Heinlein’s epilogue - essay says the book is a
prediction of what happens if things go on along the
way they are.
PL - of course, Heinlein had to be more black&white
because look at the culture/times he was writing out
of and fighting among.  What would CJC’s books look
like if she’d been writing in his era and suffered
the restrictions he did?

12:00 - went late to "Fantasy in the Real World" panel
with Sarah.
Panelists: Lawrence Watt-Evans (M), Brenda W. Clough,
Brett Davis, Jody Lynn Nye.
All I can remember is a comment from Lawrence
Watt-Evans: He was going to say something about
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but it came out as "BUCKY
the Vampire Slayer." Re-member, the con mascot is
Bucky the Crab. So this slip drew a big laugh, and I
had this hilarious mental vision of a little blue
crab wielding a cutlass in one big claw and a stake in
the other.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Worldcon 56/Bucconeer

I had a wonderful, although short, vacation with my family last week. Now I am snowed under again. This time the duty is reading for pleasure: I have decided to go to LoneStarCon3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention, and I have about a week to decide on my votes for the Hugo awards. I've read some of the materials, but there's a lot more to try to get through.

I'll probably post about my votes and reasons after that, but I don't have time for original writing right now. Instead, I'll post the contents of an e-mail I sent out to friends and family in 1998 after Bucconeer, the 56th WorldCon. (Appendix will be posted tomorrow.)

OK, here it is: My report on the 56th World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon 56), "Bucconeer" (Buc-CON-eer), Aug. 5-9 in Baltimore, by Patricia Elkins Matson.
Sarah took care ahead of time of making hotel reservations and con registration. Con events were at Convention Center and several hotels in Inner Harbor, all walking distance (1-10 blocks unless you get lost). We both came Wednesday and left Sunday. I had a blast, although I was run ragged a lot of the time. There were many, many activities offered most days between 10 AM and midnight and beyond. On one hour in one day (Fri. 1 PM), I counted 23 offerings. As soon as I saw the schedule, I ruled out seeing any movies, because of all the other events offered. I can rent a movie anytime. My activities included many panel discussions, an art show and a big dealer’s room, 2 gaming sessions, a Regency Dance, and a dinner with Andy and Daphne (last name redacted) and Sarah. Many of the panels were fascinating, and none of them were boring to me. Some I picked by topic, some by authors appearing. Detailed descriptions of 1-hour panels appear in the Appendix. Costumes I saw: The name Bucconeer was chosen partly because of its closeness to "buccaneer." Thus many costumes (and convention paraphernalia) were pirate-themed. Some people just wore street clothes and an eyepatch (usually worn in center of forehead so as not to interfere with vision). In addition, many people wore SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) costumes, medieval through Renaissance. SF costumes I saw included Boba Fett, X-Wing pilot, Klingon, Minbari. I did not wear a costume, but I wore T-shirts related to pirates and/or science, and a dress for the Regency dance. Con mascot: Bucky the Crab, a friendly-looking blue crab wearing pirate gear. Anti-mascot: Bucky’s evil twin, Yucky
WEDNESDAY: I finished packing, left around 11:30. Got to Holiday Inn around 1:30, couldn’t check in yet but was able to park car. Went to Convention Center and registered. Was wearing T-shirt from Larry: "Scientists should always state the opinions on which their facts are based." Got 4 compliments and 1 "I don’t EVEN want to get started on that."
2:15 - went late to last part of panel "Faster-than-Light: Only in SF?" Can’t remember any-thing. 3:00 – tried to go to "Life Under the Ice: Possibilities on Europa" panel but the panelists never showed.
3:30 – gave up and went to end of "Media Tie-Ins: Good Idea or Work of the Devil?" This panel was on SF books taken from TV series, movies, etc. All the panelists were had written media tie-in books and were thus apologists, but it was interesting anyway. Ominous fore-shadowing quote from panelist Roger McBride Allen: "I’d like to point out that it’s 3:30 on the first day and there are already 2 people asleep in the audience. Pace yourselves, folks."
4:00 - "How do Authors Collaborate?" panel. Very interesting panel (if you’re interested in writing or the authors mentioned). Best quote, John Maddox Roberts on "collaborating" with Robert Howard on his Conan books: "There are advantages to collaborating with an author who’s been dead for over 50 years."
5:00 - wandered, looked at info-booths, future convention bid tables; picked up freebies.
6:00 - "Historical Research - Getting the Details Right" panel. Interesting.
7:00 - went back to hotel, checked in, brought up luggage. Looked at gaming schedule Sarah had dropped on my bed. Ate apple.
9:00 - found Omni hotel for "I can explain that!" panel, which offered many ridiculous explanations for audience questions about various science fiction boners/cliches. Fun, but nothing that stuck in my mind afterward.
10:00 - cruised the convention bid parties at Holiday Inn to find dinner - famished by this time. Subs, cheese&crackers, cookies, root beer at various places. Bid parties, by the way, are parties thrown by city-based SF clubs that want Worldcon in their cities soon - e.g. Phil-con 2001 for Philadelphia.
11:30 - back to room, read schedules etc, slept. Woke up briefly when Sarah came in.

THURSDAY: 8:30 - exercise at hotel gym (Stairmaster). Legs badly sore Friday from this - I usually treadmill.
10:00 - breakfast at hotel buffet. Hearty but expensive.
11:00 - Art Show with Sarah. Many SF book-cover original paintings, many independent creations. Drawings, crafts, including a really cool miniature working Carnival-of-the-dead style roller coaster with skeletons in the cars, etc. One painting that made me laugh was of apes in the jungle with Tarzan standing on a limb above them, with his back turned, with body language of tense unhappiness, entitled "Teenage Angst." Ah, yes, the alienation of the youth! Sarah and I were both impressed with a painting of a boy drawing with chalk on a sidewalk, having drawn steps leading down from the sidewalk to a golden door. What was behind it? There was a well-done painting of a sea-dragon coming up out of the waves to attack a ship. The green glint of its scales under the blue-green ocean reminded me of a beautifully-done painting of a ship at sea in a storm, "The Wave," that I saw in 1996 at the Rings exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta during the Olympics.
1:30 - paid $2.25 for a measly pint bottle of water at the evilly expensive Con Center cafeteria.
2:00 - walked to Hilton with Sarah and signed up for games.
3:00 - went to Dealer’s Room at ConCtr. Bought many buttons, including for Sarah, Larry and people at work. Work buttons say "Morning people are respected, night people are feared." Also saw a funny T-shirt "Cthulhu for President. Why vote for the lesser evil?" (Explanation: Cthulhu is from the H.P. Lovecraft horror fiction mythos, an extremely evil elder god who went into hibernation aeons ago. So voters who are tired of voting for the lesser evil can go ahead and vote for the greater, world-comes-to-an-end evil and get it all over with.)
4:15 - Came to "InfoWar: High Tech’s Role in Military Conflict" panel. Lots of interesting things to think about.
5:00 - "Molecular Biology and Space Opera: Two Great Tastes…" panel. Not just molecular biology, actually about a whole lot of new tech and thought-patterns and how they can fit into future space operas.
6:00 - "What if Alpha Centauri Had a Peace Corps?" panel. What if aliens come, will their "help" be good or bad, as viewed by us?
7:00 - Luna-C presents "Xena, Warrior Milkmaid" skits on many topics, not just Xena. Started off with 3 "Babylon 5" skits; the Hades Hair Club for Men (would you sell your soul for this toupee?"; a skit on Fox Mulder and Yoda; a skit on Xena, Warrior Milkmaid, who offended Calf-phrodite, the goddess of love and milk, who send Cowllisto to punish her; a "Masterpiece Theater"-style reading by a Klingon of the "Slaughter of the Tribble Brigade," a parody of the "Charge of the Light Brigade"; The Dating Game with Xena and 3 warlords; Xena does an ad for the Original Club, for preventing horse theft - with a cameo by Richard III, shouting "A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!" If he had only had the Club… ; "Outdoor Cooking with Xena", in which she keeps starting to cook something, gets attacked by bandits, and has to use/destroy her cooking implements against them; a promotion for milk — "Milk does a body good" — by a busty Calf-phrodite; a top 10 list for Sunnydale parents, on how to tell if your daughter is a vampire slayer; a promotion for Klingon Home Security burglar system: There are no lengthy police reports to fill out, because no bodies are left behind. KHS not responsible for disruptor damage; a skit combining Star Trek with horror movie "Scream" on the rules of redshirt deaths; Klingon-Swedish chef "The Brutal Gourmet" says always use a phaser, never a disruptor, for heating foods, because if you disrupt your food, you’ll disrupt your digestion;
8:00 - Met Sarah, went to a restaurant at 8:30, but by 9:00 no waiter had greeted us, let alone taken orders, so we left and went our separate, hungry ways.
9:30 - showed up at the Hilton for role-playing game, "Call of Cthulhu: Dreams Carved in Stone," which actually started around 9:50. 8 players, but half of them left around 12:15 when they realized how much longer the game might last. I played Perinnia Dieter, a geologist at Moonbase 1. I held up pretty well for most of the game but then went insane, gamewise. The party performed quite respectably for most of the game, but unfortunately, at the very end we dithered, hesitated and thus were lost: Everyone died, and the Moon was overrun by evil creatures. The game lasted until 2:30 AM. Luckily, the gamemaster, Greg, was also staying at Holiday Inn and walked back with me.

FRIDAY: woke 10 a.m. got note from Sarah that she had called Andy and we would eat that day with him and Daphne, but I had to set up details. Couldn’t reach him. Ate apple.
12:00 - "It’s all SF: Science Fiction/Southern Fiction" panel. A lot of interesting things were said, but I often felt that this wasn’t MY South that they were talking about.
1:00 - "Extrapolating Known Science into Science Fiction" panel. Began with one of the panelists upset about having to speak into the microphone for the tape (tapes of all lectures are available for sale) because the panelists aren’t getting any of the tape proceeds. He said, "I’m not bitter, I just find this absurd."
2:00 - The Regency Dance at the Hilton Ballroom. Master of Ceremonies was John F. Hertz, who has researched and re-created various dances from the Regency period (early-mid 19th century? After Waterloo, anyway, I think, and definitely before Victoria) in England. Program notes specifically mention Georgette Heyer novels for charm and accuracy to period. The dance is a Worldcon tradition, though I don’t know how it got started. About 150 people came. Some were in street dress, some (mostly women) were in Regency dress or varying imitations thereof (some half-hearted, some quite beautiful), some women wore party dresses or ball gowns. One guy came dressed as a Minuteman, and 2 men were in kilts. Besides that, there were the convention costumes - a lot of SCA/Renaissance Faire costumes, numerous pirates, and a few aliens: a Klingon, a Minbari (Babylon 5) and some guy wearing devil horns. I realized that I had forgotten to take my camera to the con - arrgh!
John Hertz wore silvery pants-to-the-knee and hose, a white shirt, silver-on-silver patterned vest and blue coattails. John Hertz said that wearing a period costume helps you understand what people of that era lived through, especially women’s corsets. But he also talked about the general move toward comfort in that era - from hoop skirts to Empire waists, for example. He said that the style of the time was elegant but comfortable, straight but not stiff.
Hertz had numerous other opening remarks, trying to get us in the spirit, and also sprinkled comments throughout the afternoon. For instance, if anything ever goes wrong in a dance, it’s always, by definition, the gentleman’s fault - if nothing else, he must not have been leading his lady correctly. "I’ve done everything I can to wash the skill from these dances," he said, about simplifications to be able to teach dances in an afternoon rather than weeks with a dancing-master.
"Take small steps. Don’t try to get anywhere. Remember, these dances are pastimes," he said. Compared Regency "leisure class" to 20th-century mode of always being in a rush to get somewhere, do something. Also said that with smaller steps, mistakes don’t matter as much - you won’t bump into the person next to you in a line dance if you’re both stepping small. While stepping, "don’t lurch, and don’t clutch."
Another point Hertz made is that with these dances, footwork is far less important than the shape that the dancers are making together - a circle, two circles inside each other, a square or rectangle, two parallel lines, two parallel lines at the perpendicular to the previous lines, etc. He seems to have been right; after he said that, I had a much easier time keeping my place in the dances.
Dances: We started with a quadrille called "Hole in the Wall." The quadrille is a set dance, which means it’s composed of sets of couples. In this case, everyone line up in two long parallel lines, men on one side, women on the other (Actually, there were enough people in the ballroom that we had 3 double-parallel-line groupings). Each line was divided into sets of four people (quadrille - get it?). Each set had an "A" couple and a "B" couple. Each couple per-formed various maneuvers with each other and with the other couple in the set, and after the maneuvers were done, the A couple moved up the line, and each couple got a new A or B couple to dance with. After reaching the head of the line, each A couple became a B couple and started moving down the line again. My partner tended to forget what he was doing, so I quickly learned to give him cues as we went along.
Next was a group of waltzes. I didn’t get a partner for this, so I sat on the sideline and watched the pageantry. But I already know how to waltz, so it was OK. During the waltzes, they did promenades, open and closed waltzing, and waltzing with a smaller circle of dancers inside a large circle of waltzers.
Next, we did a set dance called the Bath Carnival. My partner this time was a woman, also named Patricia. This set dance is in long parallel lines, like Hole in the Wall, but this time there are 3 couples in each set, "A," "B" and "C." Here the B couple becomes a C, and the C couple becomes a B, after each set-repetition of maneuvers is over; however, the A couple, after each repetition of maneuvers, moves down the line toward the foot or end of the line, staying an A each time. There was great confusion and repetition of instructions. After John Hertz was done giving instructions, and before the music started, I sang, "When you’re an ‘A,’ you’re an ‘A’ all the way…" and a guy a couple of places down the set obligingly finished, "from your head to your toes, to your last dying day!" That got a really good laugh from those who heard and understood my reference (a takeoff on "When you’re a Jet" from "West Side Story") - about 10 people laughed, I’d say - so I was in a triumphant glow all through that dance.
There was one more dance starting after that, but it was 4:40 so I had to leave to make a phone call, sadly. 4:50 - Reached Daphne, set up dinner rendezvous. Walked back to hotel but got lost, so walked about 35 minutes instead of 10 minutes.
6:00 - "Ridiculous Medicine in SF/F/H" panel. Pretty funny, all about silly errors writers often make when medicine enters their fiction.
7:15 - went to meet Sarah, Andy and Daphne outside the ConCenter. Sarah showed up first, and Andy&Daphne had driven in from Rockville, parked a few blocks away and didn’t see us for a while. We walked to an Indian restaurant that had been recommended to Sarah. There was a long wait, and the service was slow, but the food was excellent. Andy and Daphne are so nice, and so much fun to be with (I know Andy from Trinity, by the way - Larry&I went to their wedding, and they went to ours). After they invited me, I said I’d visit their new house the next time I go down to see Sarah. Around 11:00, S&I walked them to their garage, and then they dropped us off at our hotel.

SATURDAY: 11:00 - went to "Guest of Honor Speech by C.J. Cherryh" with Sarah. CJC really seems like a fascinating and good person.
12:00 - went to dealer’s room with Sarah; she left for another event after a while. I bought a copper earcuff and a pretty little silver rocket brooch with a gold-colored flame shooting out.
2:00 - "Maim ‘em Right" panel on how authors can write realistic battle scenes and avoid stupid errors.
3:00 - Ate ridiculously overpriced lunch at the cafeteria downstairs in the ConCenter. ($18 for 2 sandwiches, potato salad, cookie, and muffin for later).
4:00 - "The Coming Environmental Disaster" panel. Some good points and some I disagreed with.
5:00 - "Transplant Technology: Miracles or Organlegging?" panel. A lot of the questions were just about the state of the technology now and near-future. Some panelists were pretty dictatorial about cutting off debate on ethics.
6:00 - "Mad Lib SF" - not really a panel because designed for lots of audience participation. Passages chosen from literature, L. Ron Hubbard, Victorian plush-red-velvet romance, and the progress report from the San Francisco 2002 convention committee. Fun, some clapping, but not many belly laughs. A couple of my suggestions were taken (e.g., a long verb was called for, so I said "hopping down the bunny trail.").
7:00 - "Influences of C.J. Cherryh" panel. A lovefest on how great CJC is, but some really neat stuff was brought up anyway.
8:00 - "Masquerade" - the one boring and infuriating event I went to. Costume contestants were introduced before and after their appearances (set to 1-2 minutes of music), and the emcee made unfunny jokes in between. Plus, the emcee’s wife knocked the trophies off the podium, and they were pieces of art by Michael Whelan (highly respected in the field), and they were broken. After an hour, they had gone through 17 of the 52 contestants. Thank goodness Sarah was with me to alleviate the torture.
9:00 - S&I left. We went to the Hilton and watched some anime, part of "Bubblegum Crisis, Episodes 1-4". A stirring mix of drama, pathos and unintentional humor.
10:00 - "Call of Cthulhu" game (forgot title of module). Sarah also played. 8 players. This time I played a university professor (history&mythology) and Sarah played a reporter. The group was going to an island to investigate a predicted UFO landing, but unfortunately, the setup and character interactions took up so much time that by 2:30 AM, we saw a UFO fly over our ship, but we still hadn’t arrived at the island! Aieee! The players unanimously agreed to quit playing at that point. But we stayed long enough to vote on the best role-player, and I took second place. I chose a "Cthulhu in ‘96" campaign packet as my prize.

SUNDAY: 11:00 - woke up, checked out at 12:00: 12:00 - went late to "Fantasy in the Real World" panel with Sarah. All I can remember is a comment from Lawrence Watt-Evans: He was going to say something about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" but it came out as "BUCKY the Vampire Slayer." Remember, the con mascot is Bucky the Crab. So this slip drew a big laugh, and I had this hilarious mental vision of a little blue crab wielding a cutlass in one big claw and a stake in the other. After panel, said farewell to Sarah.
1:30 - paid parking garage and left Baltimore. Drove back to West Chester, went to work at the DLN at 4:30.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

What do you do with a graphic novel?

I was telling my sister about Kings in Disguise, a fine graphic novel that follows a boy as he rides the rails during the Great Depression, encountering The Ford Hunger March/Massacre and various other situations, but saying "I read it" seemed inadequate for how I experienced it. One reads a book or an essay, but a graphic novel uses art to inform the text, and text to inform the art. One views a painting or looks at a sculpture, but that's not how one describes the act of, well, going through a graphic novel. Is there a separate word for what you do with a graphic novel? I can't think of one, but it seems as though there should be.

Growing up, I never thought of what I was doing with comic books as anything but reading them, but then again, I was much more focused on the stories than on the artwork. Occasionally, I would stop and admire a particularly well-executed panel, but to me, they were basically densely illustrated short stories. I was more interested in what Spider-Man was doing than in what he looked like while he was doing it -- of course, subconsciously I was taking in many details about the atmosphere and situation and perspective while I was skimming through the pages, and I realize that many people did and do care much more about the art of comics/graphic novels than I did at the time, but the story was what I focused on then.

I stopped following comics regularly sometime after Marvel started publishing about five versions of Spider-Man and at least three of X-Men -- I couldn't keep up, monetarily or temporally. However, in college my friends introduced me to other, independently published comics (not Marvel or DC), expanding beyond superhero struggles to new stories ranging from A Distant Soil (dystopian SF featuring some openly gay major characters, revolutionary back then!) to the beginnings of "true" graphic novels such as the Pulitzer-winning Maus.

A couple of years ago, my county library started developing collections of graphic novels, and I caught up on some classics and began broadening my horizons with new ones. This is where I found James Vance's "Kings in Disguise" recently.

Lots of definitions of graphic novels exist. Some people just consider the term a pretentious renaming of comic books, and there are plenty of publications called graphic novels that are simply hardcover volumes that bundle runs of regular periodical comics. I prefer to use the term to refer to a novelistic, stand-alone story, or at least a well-defined, self-contained arc within a series, told through a combination of artwork and words.

But again, what is it that you do with a graphic novel, to experience the story? What naturally occurs to me is "read," although that seems too limited, so I'll do what I often do and check out definitions and origins.

The very first listing from Merriam-Webster is "to receive or take in the sense of (as letters or symbols) especially by sight or touch." Huh, that's actually not very limited at all. There are about 30 other definitions and sub-definitions of the word. Maybe it's not that the word "read" is too limited, it's just that I've been thinking of it in unnecessarily narrow terms.

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that the word "read" comes from quite a number of roots, ranging from Old English to proto-Germanic to Old Church Slavonic, mostly meaning something along the lines of to advise or consider. It started to be seen in writing with the meaning of "to make out the character of (a person)" in the 1600s, and was gradually transformed into interpretation of written symbols after that. Aha, here's something pertinent: "Most languages use a word rooted in the idea of "gather up" as their word for "read" (cf. French lire, from Latin legere)." So other languages use different words -- obviously, but coming from different roots, to describe the act that English speakers call reading. Maybe they'd be even more applicable!

I'd be interested to find out what other languages do with the concept of graphic novels. I have a germ of German and a speck of Spanish, but neither kernel of knowledge extends to nuances. Do Japanese people simply "read" manga, or do they use some word separate from "reading" that explicitly combines interpreting text with looking at art? Can any of my multilingual readers tell me?

Edited to Add:
Coincidentally, I just ran across an interview with James Vance, the author of "Kings in Disguise."
Tom Spurgeon at "The Comics Reporter" interviews him about his recent KiD sequel, "On the Ropes" (which is actually based on a play he wrote before KiD), but he also asks him about KiD:
JV: "The truth is, I thought of it in terms of a collected work from day one, and that's the way we approached it. If you look at those individual comics, you'll see there's no concession to serialization in the story itself, no cliffhangers or any of the mechanics that you see in regular monthly comic books."
When he's asked about OtR, he discusses the labor movement as well as how his characters make their decisions and realize the consequences -- fascinating. I hope I get a chance to read OtR, too.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Memory and strings

"Tie a string around your finger."
This is an old-fashioned memory prompt from before when memos started arriving via PDAs, computer calendars and smartphones -- you tie a string around your finger to help you remember that you're supposed to remember something. It doesn't tell you what you're supposed to remember, mind you, but at least you'll be aware of the need. Sooner or later, it will chafe, or you'll just happen to notice it, and maybe at that point, you'll be able to buy milk on the way home, or otherwise accomplish whatever deed you could only remind yourself about before.

In the modern era, of course, strings have another meaning related to memory. A string is a linear artifact with a beginning and an end; in computer coding, a string is a sequence of characters. A character string generally stands for something; it can represent a variable or a constant, and you (or your computer code) can manipulate it or compare it with other strings in order to make a decision.

One type of character string that many people use daily is a password. You must enter all the password's characters in their correct sequence, like the numbers for a combination lock, except that here you're matching a data string instead of clicking tumblers.

I was thinking a few days ago about the character strings I hold in my own memory. I used to remember a lot of telephone numbers, for my office, my home, my parents, and several other relatives and a few friends. Now I know only two full telephone numbers -- my home and my cell -- and four-digit office extensions for myself and two other people. Everything else is stored in my cell or written down somewhere.

However, there's a lot else I have to remember: My work terminal password, my work software ID and password, my work email password, and a few other strings that I use daily for work; at home, I have a couple more e-mail accounts, four social media accounts, and several more log-ons that I use often enough to hold in my memory, all with different IDs and passwords, plus my Social Security number, PIN, and some more identifiers.

So even though I feel a little silly sometimes because I don't know anybody's phone number anymore, I need to remember that actually I'm giving my memory a pretty good workout most days. I'm counting 32 strings, although I may have forgotten one or two!

How about you? Can you count up how many character strings you use often enough to carry around in your head? Tell me! If you don't have time to tally them up right now, well, maybe you can just tie a string around your finger.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Compale (a portmanteau)

I was in a meeting Tuesday and the guy next to me stumbled over his words, saying something would "compale -- I mean, pale in comparison to" something else. I knew what he meant by "compale" before he went on to correct himself; it seemed perfectly obvious to me.
I rather like the idea of "compale" being a word of its own -- it's a little more efficient than the parent phrase, and I can't think of any other single word that already exists to fit this niche.  Although its spelling is nearly identical to "compile," the pronunciation is quite different, so I don't think it would be too confusing.
I am going to look for an opportunity to use this in conversation sometime, and see what kind of reaction I get.
I'm thinking of it as an intransitive verb, used with the preposition "to" -- e.g., Jean Grey's Marvel Girl compales to her incarnation as The Phoenix, at least as far as power is concerned. If I used it as a transitive verb, which takes and acts on a direct object, that would seem too active, as if I should be using it the other way around (The Phoenix compales Marvel Girl). I want to keep the subject as the weaker, more faded counterpart, as in the original phrase, so I'll make the verb intransitive, not transitive.
Compale would be an example of a portmanteau word, a new word created by combining parts of two or more words to make a new one that also fuses their meanings. This is a little different from a contraction, which uses an apostrophe to signal that two words that normally go in sequence are being compressed into one, or a compound word, which simply runs two words together, with or without a hyphen.
A portmanteau is similar to an elision, which omits sounds within a word or phrase for laziness, to fit a poetic meter, or simply because the speaker thinks it sounds better that way. However, eliding a word or phrase doesn't change the meaning, whereas a portmanteau often tweaks the meaning of the parent words so that the definition is also slightly different, although related. For instance, "spork" is a portmanteau word combined from spoon and fork, but it's a little different from each.
What do you think of my plan to try putting "compale" into usage? Do you have a favorite portmanteau word you'd like to share with me?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle

Now that "Iron Man 3" is out, I can finally admit that I was an extra! They made us sign fierce nondisclosure agreements, so I wasn't able to talk about it before. I'm still not going to say much, to avoid spoilers, but I wanted to share at least a little bit. As for what it was like being an extra, the two previous posts ("Ready for my close-up, Mr. Wells?" and "I Am (Not) A Camera") talk a lot about my experience in a previous production, except that one wasn't so secretive (no NDA).
I didn't keep an exhaustive log for this production, but I did write a poem. I chose the villanelle form because the back-and-forth weaving and repetition of the refrain lines seemed to capture the mood of the extras as we went from Holding to the set to Holding to the set to Holding again so many times. Back in August 2012, I could only share it within a secret, closed group on Facebook for the IM3 extras. I hope my readers here like it as much as they did.

Holding Pattern: A Villanelle
by Patricia E. Matson

Hope is hovering in our hearts:
Some screen time, and a check, our goals.
We want so much to play our parts.

We speculate on Casting’s charts
And wonder how we’ll fill their holes;
Hope is hovering in our hearts.

Some are here for love of the arts;
A few might even sell their souls,
They long so much for bumped-up parts.

We move on set; star-watching starts --
We see HIM!  Crew says, “Back, you proles!”
But hope still hovers in our hearts.

Off at Holding, the wait restarts;
Food, cards, songs, dance, all have their roles.
We wait our turns to play our parts.

The magic nighttime rush departs.
Nine, then midnight, 3 a.m. tolls
While hope still hovers in our hearts;
We want so much to play our parts.