Denver/Worldcon, the final chapter

22 09 2008

Saturday.
Today is Ian McDonald day; he’s doing a reading at 11:30 and the kaffeeklatch at 2:30. Oh, and this evening they present the Hugo Awards.
We arrive at 8 am, an hour before kaffeeklatch signup opens. There are around 100 people already in line. There are lots of kaffeeklatches though, and it turns out Marcie, Erik and I are #s 1, 2 and 3 for Ian McDonald. Score! We briefly entertain the notion that no one else will sign up, but of course it fills up. That’s later. We go get breakfast.

As I mentioned, there are films and anime screening almost constantly. So far we haven’t seen any. This morning I decide to take a look at the anime. Marcie and I find the room. It’s still early and there is only one person in there. The program is a high school soap opera, not my cup of tea. Some of the characters look like they might change into demon warriors under the right circumstances, but we opt not to stay.

We catch the last half of John Picacio, one of the Hugo nominated artists, presenting slides of his work. I wasn’t especially struck by what I saw of him online before voting (I voted for Phil Foglio and Shaun Tan) but between this presentation and what he’s got on display in the art show, he grows on me a lot. Some of his Photoshop collage and photographed constructions remind me of Dave McKean. Plus he seems like a thoroughly decent guy.

After that it’s time for Ian McDonald’s reading. The three of us find the room early and no one is there. We sit in the second row. It’s a small room, maybe 50 chairs, feels very cozy. Some more groups come in, and pretty soon the man himself marches up to the front table. We’re talking with the other audience members, and Ian can’t help but overhear and sort of get pulled in. Marcie tells him how hard it was to read Brasyl during her post-MBA brain crash, and he agrees it’s a difficult read, “like being hit over the head with a bat.”
It’s been several years since I’ve read any McDonald. He writes densely packed prose that demands your full attention (after the first chapter of The Broken Land, I felt like I’d read an entire book). But when he launches into excerpts from his forthcoming book The Dervish House, I ask myself, what have I been reading all this time? I am instantly dazzled, transported, engrossed, exhilarated. I won’t even try to describe the story, I could only do it disservice in my limited space. Suffice to say he swings across centuries and introduces four distinct casts of characters. By the fourth segment I’m barely paying attention, overloaded with images, personalities, intrigue. It is sublime.

We meet up with Phil and Rachel for lunch. I pump Phil for info about the generation ship panel I missed on Friday. I’m supposedly writing a story about a generation ship in my spare time, so I should have gone, but there’s just too much to go to everything. As it turns out, my story ignores most of the questions raised in the panel. I’m also supposedly working on stories involving time travel, nanotechnology, and consciousness-affected quantum weirdness, and I have dutifully attended panels on those subjects. I take my sketchbook everywhere, and at odd times I’m inspired to fill in background information and plot points on my various stories. It’s nice. Maybe the ultimate reward for being here.
You didn’t know I’m writing stories? I am. Supposedly. The comics and teaching and event planning have kept my head spinning and I haven’t really written anything since getting back from Denver. Here it is, almost October, and I haven’t even finished blogging the stupid convention. So it goes. But I digress. It’s August, and I’ve got several stories slowly accumulating in various file folders and sketchbook pages, which I’m less optimistic about ever seeing the light of publication than I am my comics projects, which is not much. Just like 90% of my fellow attendees, I’m sure (except for the comic stuff. Most of these people have much more lucrative day jobs.)
Then we go to Ian McDonald’s kaffeeklatch.

It’s in one of the convention breakout rooms. There are round tables spread loosely around the room, each marked with an author’s name, coffee and tea in one corner. We find our table, which we share with half a dozen other fans. McDonald is the last to arrive. There are enough talkative people that conversation starts up right away. Our group is mercifully free of self-important uber-fans attempting to become best friends with Ian. A couple people don’t say anything at all, but everyone who wants to speak gets a chance. It is just the coolest thing ever. And Ian says several things that amaze me.

He has a day job. As a TV producer. He’s been a full-time writer in the past but prefers to do other things as well. (Makes a certain amount of sense, I guess. When I see Ben Edlund’s name pop up all over the place, I figure his towering stature as creator of The Tick opened the doors to writing and producing for Firefly. But more likely, the paltry rewards of a cult comic book empire forced him to moonlight in TV. Or something. I don’t really know anything about Ben Edlund’s life. But it gradually becomes clear to me at this con that as with comics, a science fiction author can have books in print and still not be particularly well-off. This should demoralize me, but it has the opposite affect. As with comics, it means I am not so far from my idols.)

“Writers hate to write,” he says. Writers will do everything there is to do but write the damn book. That’s the norm? I’m not missing a gene that drives one to constant profligate creation? Well I am missing that gene, but historically it seems intertwined with self-destruction. So that’s okay. I can be one of the others, the ones who struggle. That’s most of them. Us.

He gets jealous. He reads something brilliant, and his enjoyment is tainted with the wish that he had written it. That’s me all over.

He says lots of other interesting things. He signs Erik’s books when it’s all over. He won’t remember any of us. It’s the best hour of the convention, worth the trip all by itself.

After that it’s all gravy. We’ve got a few hours before the Hugo ceremony, so I take my first in-depth look at the dealer room. There’s lots of great stuff, lots of out-of-print books, lots of really witty t-shirts, but I just want one thing. Goggles. I go back to the goggle guy and after much deliberation I buy one more pair, the most obnoxious gigantic bug-eyes I can find.

Next (I know, I said final chapter. I lied.): The Hugos, Last Day

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22 09 2008
Denver/Worldcon Part 3 « Taking It Too Seriously

[…] Next: Hangin’ with Ian […]

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