Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The angels have the Hugo

I always feel that even the worst-run con is much better than anything I could do, and Denvention was far from being the worst-run con, but I'll be honest and say I didn't have as much fun as I thought I might. That would be because there weren't as many of the usual faces as I generally see, I was pining for my lovely wife, and I wasn't on very many programme items. Okay, I could have raised more of a fuss about that last bit. I advertised my panel topic experience as sex and sexuality in Y/A fiction; getting published for the first time; military sf; political themes in sf; time travel and associated matters e.g. the grandfather paradox; and depictions of / relationship with religion. I'm sure I've done more than that but that's what I could remember. I also volunteered to moderate. And so they put me on panels about time travel and Christianity in science fiction (not moderating either), and gave me a reading. Then they cancelled the time travel one. (And no one came to the reading, which didn't hugely surprise me as I'm not exactly front page news over there.) So I felt under-used. I listed my publications when I volunteered; maybe I should have told them what they were about.

But the programme itself was good and wide-ranging, and everyone knew where, what and who was meant to be happening. Maybe it was a bit too wide ranging as I perceived quite a bit of duplication which I thought could have been tidied up. Why, for instance, were there panels on Science Fiction & Religion and Science Fiction & Christianity - and why were they scheduled at the same time, thus dividing the likely audience?

The nice thing about a con on this scale is that if your brain starts to hurt from too much intensive serious stuff, you can go to something a little further down the intellectual scale for relaxation. For instance, should I go to something on the pitfalls of on-demand publishing, or a panel discussion on who's the best Doctor? The latter proving to have Stephen Baxter in the audience, lurking hard to preserve his reputation as a hard science fiction author and only breaking cover to cast the sole vote for Patrick Troughton. (Possibly because he was the sole attendee who remembers Patrick Troughton.) The session on young adult fiction got me a good list of titles to look for, even if the presentation was deathly dull; rather than discussing what makes a good Y/A title, it just ran through the panellists four or five times nominating favourite titles, until they ran out.

The last event of the con was an enlightening talk by Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith on writing as a business, which I enjoyed both for its content and for the fact that I finally got to meet Kris, who bought "Pages Out of Order" off me in the mid-nineties. "You must have been a baby when you were selling to me," she said. I told her I'm 43; "oh, in that case you age well."

I got to see Razor, which I wanted to see but probably wouldn't have spent money on; and of the ones I've seen or read, I really couldn't argue with the Hugo results.

The event that raised the most eyebrows was surely scheduling Guest of Honour Lois McMaster Bujold's reading from her next Miles novel - something similar to Jane Austen reading the first chapter of "P&P2: What Lizzie and Darcy Did Next" - in a room that was far too small. I counted 180 seats, and people were standing around the walls and in the aisle. I bet that the room across the way with 300 seats wasn't packed to capacity for its panel on the Wild Cards series, which was happening at the same time.

But this is quibbling and I heard few other complaints. Cudos for the team for bringing off the annual impossible task. Anyway, Farah Mendlesohn is organising next year's programme; she knows me and she knows my strengths. Even if the full range of familiar faces weren't there, a smaller range was, and I got to meet some new ones too; the fine folk of Christian Fandom, for a start. At Sunday morning's ecumenical service, the speaker did a quick vox pop to ask if we would like illustrations drawn from The Dark Knight or the Honor Harrington series. As there were people who still hadn't seen the former, he went for Harrington.

The Colorado Convention Centre Center is massive, with room for another convention going on at the same time with plenty of empty space between us.

Walking down one of the airport-huge empty corridors was almost eery, like finding yourself in an unused district of Diaspar. Oh, and there's a big blue bear looking in at the front window.

This was the rendezvous for the programme' s most inspired innovation - a daily walk around a couple of blocks, starting at the most unfanlike hour of 9 a.m. but still getting a good draw. Farah said she intends to use this idea for next year. Obviously this will only work in certain American cities; someone said that at LACon a couple of years ago, in pedestrian-averse Los Angeles, the nearest equivalent would have been everyone getting into their cars and doing a fannish cavalcade around the city.

Another inspired idea was the free Fan Hydration Device ...

... handed out to all participants, to combat Denver's combination of high altitude and low humidity.

In short and to sum up: not the best con I've been to, not the worst either, and definitely towards the better end of the spectrum.


  1. Now that's a shame re the "best Doctor" panel - I'd probably have voted for Patrick Troughton as well. Either him or Peter Davison.

  2. I've no first-time-round memory of Troughton but he deserves eternal credit for pulling off the first regeneration, if nothing else. I like a lot of his stories but I've not seen enough of his actual performance to make a judgement. Davison gets my vote as Best Actor Wasted By A Crap Producer.


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