Smokycon—er, Sasquan—Roundup, Part 1

posted in: cons, worldcons 1

We’ve returned home at last from Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention. It was a wonderful worldcon, though for much of the time the air in Spokane was borderline unbreathable due to wildfire smoke. Here are a few photos taken at various times, during bad air and good. 

The first is a view out the convention center window, when the air was turbid with haze—and a sign that appeared on the doors leading out of the convention center that day. (Later in the evening I looked out our hotel room window over the sepia-colored skyline of the city, and saw a long train of black tanker cars winding through the center of the city. I thought I was witnessing the beginning of the eco-apocalypse.)

The next day the wind shifted, and the air was much nicer. That’s when I took these, on the riverside park bordering the convention center.

There are lots of quirky touches to the park. Sculptures along the river, molded directly into the railing. And the giant red Radio Flyer wagon, with the built-in slide for kids. Not to mention the trash-eating mechanical goat, here being fed a napkin by my wife Allysen.

The programming included a wonderful Guest of Honor speech by David Gerrold, affirming his love of science fiction. (Short version: Reading SF changes the way you view life and the universe. It builds empathy, especially for those who are different from you. Empathy is the first step toward true sentience. Follow this road long enough, and you reach the beginning of wisdom.)

I unfortunately missed the speech by the other Guest of Honor, Vonda N. McIntyre; but I did get to chat with her and to share a couple of program items, including a panel on Book View Café as a model for cooperative publishing by groups of authors. My other panel, on the New Space Opera (sharing the stage with Charles Stross, Hugo-nominee Ann Leckie, and several others) played to a standing-room-only audience. I hope I said something intelligent—but as is my practice, I leave that to the audience to decide. Suffice it to say here that space opera (once a term that was used pejoratively) is now a part of our greater cultural landscape, including not just print fiction but TV and movies, and it’s grown up a lot in the last 60-70 years.

The much-covered Sad Puppies drama played itself out in the Hugo Awards ceremony. That’s next.

Worldcon, Spokane, and Wildfire Smoke

We’re enjoying the start of Sasquan, the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention (aka worldcon) in lovely Spokane, Washington. The Spokane (rhymes with can) Convention Center is located right next to the aptly named Spokane River, with a beautiful riverside park. We’ve already seen a number of friends, and I listened to a great talk by a Vatican astronomer on astronomical models that were almost right, but not quite—usually because the astronomers of the time didn’t make the leap from the data they had to imagining the right questions to ask.

The air, however, is a bit thick here. Washington state and neighboring Canada have a lot of wildfires going, and it makes for uncomfortable breathing at times—and eerily red sunsets. My phone camera failed to catch the effect, so I don’t have a good picture. But here’s a map of the fires currently going, and you can see that the U.S. Northwest and Canada are getting the brunt of it. But the smoke is actually carrying all the way across the U.S. on the jetstream.

http://www.smokeybear.com/wildfire-map.asp

On our drive from Seattle to Spokane, we stopped off to see the Grand Coulee Dam, and I talked to a U.S. Forest Service guy who had also stopped to see the dam. He was on his way to a fire. I asked what his role was. He said he manages a group of helicopters that takes firefighters in to rappel down close to fires in hopes of cutting them off before they can spread. Gottta hand it to those guys!

Meanwhile, if you’re attending the con, I hope you’ll stop by one of my events and say hello. Today (Thursday) I’m on a panel about Book View Cafe, an author collaborative. Saturday I’m autographing, and also participating on a panel on Space Opera.

Wardrobe Malfunctions at Worldcon

posted in: cons, personal news, quirky 0

In my first post on Loncon, I mentioned a couple of wardrobe malfunctions that threatened to derail me at the con. No, I didn’t burst out of my bustier. But both stood to be just about as embarrassing.

Scheduled for a signing on Friday afternoon, I went a little early to the green room to have a cup of coffee. Sitting by myself at a table, I was sorting through some of the con literature when I moved my hand in the wrong direction. Oops. Oh frak! I had just spilled the entire cup of coffee across the table, toward me, and into my lap. Yeah, right into the crotch of my pants. Oh shit, what do I do now? I can’t walk around the con like this. And my nearest set of alternative pants is forty-five minutes away by tube. Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn. Fortunately, I was saved by the sun and the wind. The green room, by a miracle, had an open-air balcony! I sidled out quickly, and stood facing the sun and open air. And stood. And stood. Thank God, by the time I needed to go to the signing, I was all (mostly) dried out. With no visible stain. Go solar!

The next day, I was all set to walk through the art show, when I felt something snap against my waist. Looking down, I found my belt loose, and my pants sagging. My belt buckle had chosen that moment to snap clean off, leaving me without any means of holding up my pants except to clutch the waistband in my fists. (My pants were a little loose that day, something I usually feel good about.) My nearest other belt was… well, you know.

I checked the dealers room for anyone selling belts, but the only thing I found was a costume belt for fifty pounds, with crossed, full-sized derringers mounted on the buckle. Uh, no.

Then along came my friend Tom Easton, who apprised the situation and led me off to the art desk. “Let’s see what they’ve got,” he said. What they had was some jumbo binder clips. Could they be used to clip the two ends of my belt together? Not really. “Let’s see what we can fashion,” Tom said. He pried the wire handles out of one of the clips. While I was trying to figure out what to do with them, he had already noticed that they could interlock, if there was a way to attach them to the belt leather. And there was. It wasn’t easy, but together we managed to squeeze the flared, open ends of the wire pieces through holes in the leather and have the handles come together just so:

The fix worked perfectly (though it took me about two hours of fiddling to get the right tightness), and it lasted the rest of the day! I have officially named it the Tom Easton Belt Buckle Mod. And someday I’m going to find a way to use it in a story. Thanks, Tom!
 

Staying on a Boat in London for Worldcon

It seemed like the perfect solution when Allysen found it on Air B&B: Houseboat on the Thames! What could be more charming? Besides, time was growing seriously short, and we really needed a place to stay at worldcon. And it was cheaper than the hotels, which were mostly full, anyway. Besides, it had a double-sized bunk, plus several singles, which was more than enough. Plus, it had a kitchen and a working toilet. What more do you need?  Well…

What we got was a charming little sailboat called the Catch-E, which really was a nice boat if you didn’t think of it in terms of B&B, or even houseboat. It did have the requisite number of bunks, but the smell of mildew and strong cleaners in the cabin caused Julia to immediately decide that she was sleeping on the cushioned bench seat in the upper wheelhouse/dining area. And the tiny kitchenette would have been just a tad more useful if it had had refrigeration. And the working toilet? Technically, it did work. But it also pumped straight out into the marina waters, so it wasn’t what you would actually call usable except in extremis. The fact was, we had to hike out to the external bathhouses for toilets and showers. For that purpose, we could choose between the one inside the marina’s gated fence (where the toilets worked but the lights and electricity didn’t), or the fully functional one that required going through two gates with pass-codes in each direction.

Still, it was cozy enough. And camping can be fun. It was pleasant to fall asleep to the rocking of the boat. And it was a very nice hike around the extensive marina area to the nearest supermarket and tube station. It was only a forty-five minute commute to the con, via foot, tube, and automated (driverless) light rail, which wasn’t bad. I had brought several outlet adapters and a power strip to charge our phones and tablets, which would have been great, except that while I had made certain all of our chargers were dual voltage, I forgot to do the same with the power strip. Which fried soundlessly, the instant I plugged it in, popping all the boat’s circuit breakers. Still, we were doing okay, in spite of its being… other… than what we’d expected.

Until the night came when—sometime after midnight—I ducked out in shorts and t-shirt to the bathroom and came back to the fence gate to find that the pass-code no longer worked to let me in.

WTF?!

No, it really didn’t work anymore. I hollered to Julia, who was reading in her bench-seat bed. She came to help, and she couldn’t make it work, either. Finally we were reduced to me walking along the outer fence while she walked the long dock, looking for a boat with a light on inside. (Most of the boats in the marina really were houseboats.) Finally she knocked on a boat window and found a kind soul who lent her his entry fob long enough to blip me in. On returning it, I thanked him and said we hadn’t been told about a change in the pass-code. “The swine,” he said. “They never do.”

The next morning, I got the new code (it changes fortnightly) from the marina manager, who was surprised to learn that we were paying to stay on the boat a few days. “Really,” he said. “Because that’s not allowed here.” He was perfectly genial to me, but it was clear that the owner of the Catch-E was going to have some ‘splainin’ to do.

We were able to laugh about it, most of the time. It certainly was different from your cookie-cutter con hotel room. But when we checked out of it after the con, and into a hotel near Greenwich (thank you, booking.com), we fell with joy upon the spacious beds and gaped with positive wonderment at the included bathroom, complete with shower!

Back from the showers
Laundry day on Catch-E
Tea time!

 

Back from London, But a Bit Under the Weather

We returned from England a couple of days ago, after going to Loncon 3 at the Excel Center and then spending another five days seeing London, Greenwich, and Nottingham (where lives an old friend of Allysen’s). It was quite an adventure, starting with staying on a sailboat (more on that in another post), and ending with a very nice train ride into Robin Hood country, where we ate at what is reportedly the oldest pub in England. The worldcon was a bit of a wash for me in professional terms, but Allysen and Julia had a fantastic time and I did enjoy myself despite a couple of wardrobe malfunctions that I’ll also save for another post.

Overall, it was a memorable trip, with one major downside. I picked up a nagging cough at the con, and by the time I got home I was pretty nonfunctional with a great, hacking cough and pneumonia. A bit of a setback there. Also, it was kind of a lousy way to celebrate my 65th birthday, which was the 25th. On the other hand, the wonder of still-functional antibiotics was a great way to celebrate my birthday. I’m doing much better now, though I’m still a little sub-par in terms of mental focus and concentration. Not up to writing much yet, but I’m turning into a mean movie-watcher.

There may be a lesson in there, though I can’t be certain. Prior to the trip, I had a bunch of really nasty poison ivy (or something) rashes, which were taking forever to clear up. The dermatologist put me on a short dose of prednisone, which did a remarkable job of clearing up the rashes. But it also may have suppressed my immune system just enough to lay me open to the pneumonia. My take-away from this is, try to avoid travel while taking prednisone.

Also, when in London, have the fish and chips!

London parks are beautiful.

 Did you know they have 500 miles of canals in London?
I didn’t, either.

 The Tower of London, complete with lions. 

Upcoming Appearances!

I haven’t posted about this in a while. I’ll be showing my face in public in two very different events in the next couple of weeks.

This coming weekend, August 7-10, I’ll be conducting several workshop sessions in science fiction writing at the Cape Cod Writers Conference, in Hyannis, MA. It’s not too late to sign up! (At least, I don’t think so.) This one is for the general public, and last I heard, there was still room in my workshop, which is just part of a much larger conference. So if you’re in the area, and you’re interested, check into it right away!

After that, I’ll be in London for Loncon, the annual World Science Fiction Convention! This will be the first worldcon I’ve attended in a number of years, and I’m looking forward to it. Cool fact: My wife Allysen went through Air BnB and got us a place to stay on a boat on the Thames! How can you beat that? I was late in registering, and apparently too late in asking to be put on the program—because they didn’t schedule me for anything, not even an autograph session. Ah well, that may make it a more relaxing trip, after all. 

If you’re at Loncon, keep an eye out and say hello if you see me!

EDIT: I’m signing at 3 pm Friday. Please stop by!

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