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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
06/25/10 -- Vol. 28, No. 52, Whole Number 1603
Table of Contents
Self-Knowledge (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
I was listening to a lecture about the early civilizations in Mesopotamia and one of the students asked the lecturer if there is any indication that they realized just how early they were. It is amazing that being so early suffused their whole civilization and everything that it did, but they actually may not have even noticed it. [-mrl]
Why We Probably Won't See You at the Next Convention (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
(I apologize in advance to the hardworking people who put on science fiction conventions. Too often your intentions are good, but there are just not enough people committed to putting on a professional science fiction convention.)
At one time science fiction convention-going was one of Evelyn's and my favorite activities. I toyed with the idea of a perfect existence being a science fiction convention that just never ended. You go to panels, you eat in restaurants, you buy more books in the huckster room. The combination of going to panels discussing SF topics and film was just too inviting. Maybe that would not be a permanent existence, but I would have liked to try it for a month.
But years have passed and today it is hard to be that enthusiastic about science fiction conventions. These days there are few things that I used to be really enthusiastic about and that I still am. (I still like tuna fish sandwiches with too much Miracle Whip.) But most science fiction conventions just are not that much fun any more. I go in large part for the panels, but too many of them are just not worth the effort. It is a minority of the panels, but it is usually enough to really damage the convention, at least for me.
If you go to enough conventions they become too much like what you have already seen and done. The panels are all starting to resemble each other. You get the sort of thing with four panelists trying to stretch to sixty minutes a topic like "Why are we getting so many remake movies and why are they so bad?" or "Just what is alternate history and is it really science fiction?" The people who choose these panel topics must know that they have been done to death at previous conventions. They are probably hoping the attendees are new enough to conventions that they will have seen these panels only once or twice before. And the panels too frequently seem to be about the same. If it is a four-person panel three will show up. Nobody will admit to being the moderator. The fourth person will be fifteen minutes late. One or more panel members will be just a bit squiffy. They will have spent a total of twenty-six minutes preparing for the panel, besides having seen panels on the same subject their last two conventions. That does not matter so much because the panel will go off-topic in the first ten minutes and will not return, so any preparation is useless. Perhaps this sort happens at only a minority of panels. But it happens all too frequently.
If the panel involves projectors or sound equipment, there is no way anybody will have thought to test it in advance. It is assumed it will work the first time. I don't know how many panels have a meeting room full of people straining to hear an unamplified PC.
You cannot blame the panelists since they are volunteers and the convention is dependent on their good will. If you have no panelists you have no panels. So you might want to blame the convention committee who set things up this way. But you cannot blame them either because without a con committee you cannot have much of a convention. It is more or less de rigueur that attendees be grateful to the panelists and the convention committee.
Even Worldcons seem to be rubber stamps of previous Worldcons. The difference is that at a Worldcon you are spending $150 a night to stay in a fancy hotel in some part of the country that is absolutely beautiful. At least in the right season it is beautiful. You are going to this beautiful corner of the country the time of year that nobody in his or her right mind would want to go there. It is off-season, which is why the hotel room is only $150 a night. If it is winter when you come out in the morning your car will be encased in ice. If it is summer the tires of your car will be melting into the concrete. This year the Worldcon is in a nice place, but it is just about 180-degrees on the other side of the world.
There are alternatives. The frontiers of innovative fandom are mostly electronic these days. And one gets the idea that things much like conventions are getting started online. It is becoming more and more feasible to run a convention over the Internet. There are not a lot of activities that go on at a convention that do not have some electronic analog. You can socialize with your friends, attend discussions and panels, and huckster all on-line. You even can party with friends, but you have to bring your own food. I suppose you cannot go to restaurants with your friends electronically.
I suggested on-line conventions a while ago in the MT Void. Then just recently I attended an online horror film convention on my computer. They called it a Marathon Webcast, but it bore no small similarity to a weekend-long film convention. It included a 24- hour-a-day films.
To be honest I did not give it my full attention (that may be a problem) but I watched a little bit of the films and participated in some discussions via chat. The hotel was very comfortable being that it was my own house. My room was just a few rooms away from the convention center (which for me was on my desk in the den). The cost was that the movies were interrupted occasionally for ads. Too frequently they were interrupted, actually. But then the convention membership was just a few pennies on my electric bill. If I remember it was a bit rainy, but the walk from my den to my bedroom was completely enclosed and took me right through my kitchen. The convention layout was convenient.
Was it as good as a real convention? Probably not. But I really believe the future of science fiction conventions is in tele- presence and not in physical presence. [-mrl]
This Week's Reading (book comments by Evelyn C. Leeper):
This year, for the first time in sixteen years, I'm not eligible to vote for the Hugos (because I'm not going to Australia for the Worldcon), but what the heck--reviewing the short fiction nominees has become a tradition.
But before I start, a few general observations. First, this year was an all-time high for nominating ballots, and this in spite of the facts that 1) neither the 2009 nor the 2010 Worldcons (source of the electors) was in the United States, and 2) the Progress Report with the nominating ballot did not reach most United States members until well after the nominating deadline. Perhaps as a result of the latter, only about 3% of the ballots were received in hard-copy form.
Second, considering the record number of nominating ballots, the number of ties (manifested as six-item slates) this year was astonishing: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Related Work, and Fanzine.
Third, the source for the short fiction was the most varied ever: Of the "Big Three" magazines (F&SF, ANALOG, and ASIMOV'S) only ASIMOV'S is represented. The rest are small-press books (e.g., Subterranean, Tachyon), semi-prozines (e.g., "Interzone"), web sites (e.g., tor.com, Clarkesworld), collections (e.g., CYBERABAD DAYS), series anthologies (e.g., THE NEW SPACE OPERA 2, ECLIPSE THREE, THE SOLARIS BOOK OF NEW SCIENCE FICTION: VOLUME THREE), and stand-alone anthologies (FOOTPRINTS, WIRELESS).
On the quirky side, two unrelated works titled "Palimpsest" were nominated, and this is the first time in twenty-one years that Dave Langford is not on the ballot for Fan Writer (though his semi- prozine, "Ansible", is nominated).
And finally, while in the past authors tended to put their nominated works up on the Web, for the last couple of years they have relied more on packages of all the nominated fiction which are sent only to eligible voters. But since I am not a member of Aussiecon 4, I am not eligible, so there is one work I was unable to read. (Well, yes, I could buy it, but is only available as a book from a small press at a somewhat large price.) Luckily, most of the others are available on-line or through my library.
I will cover the novellas this week, and the novelettes and short stories next week.
"Act One" by Nancy Kress (Asimov's 3/09) adds to Kress's body of work of medical/biological science fiction. In this instance, it is a story about genetic modification--and not surprisingly, about the Law of Unintended Consequences. As in most such near-future science fiction stories, Kress recognizes that anti-genemod laws passed by individual countries will be basically useless, as people will just "offshore" their procedures. (Indeed, Ireland already discovered a variant of this. It had made abortion illegal, and also tried to legislate against Irish citizens traveling to England for abortions. But it ran afoul of European Union laws which mandate that all citizens have unrestricted travel among the member countries. Ah, you might say, but the United States prohibits travel to Cuba. Well, not really--it prohibits giving or spending any money in Cuba. But even so, when a genemod clinic can be set up on a ship in international waters, what exactly could be legislated here?) I will refrain from revealing the actual genetic modifications, since that is to a great extent the point, but it is at least made plausible. Is this Hugo material, though? I'm not sure.
"The God Engines" by John Scalzi (Subterranean) is one of the stories I have no access to.
"Palimpsest" by Charles Stross (WIRELESS) seems to be heavily inspired by Isaac Asimov's THE END OF ETERNITY crossed with Poul Anderson's "Time Patrol" stories, with a dash from John Kessel's CORRUPTING DR. NICE. It was fine up to a point, but I would have preferred something maybe at the novelette length. (In his afterword, Stross explains why he did not make it a short novel, and also implies he would have liked to add another hundred thousand words, which would have produced something longer than a short novel.)
"Shambling Towards Hiroshima" by James Morrow (Tachyon)
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/20/2009]
"Shambling Towards Hiroshima" by James Morrow (ISBN-13 978-1- 892391-84-1, ISBN-10 1-892391-84-8) is an alternate history in which the United States developed a secret biological weapon towards the end of World War II: Gorgantis, a giant lizard designed to stomp Japanese cities. But in order to demonstrate its power, they enlist the aid of Hollywood to fake a demonstration using a man in a suit, and that man is horror film star Syms Thorley.
Now, Syms Thorley is a fictional character, as are many of the other Hollywood personages, but many others are real (though in our world not involved in a giant reptilian weapon). Just to cover a few that appear relatively early: James Whale and Willis O' Brien are of course real, and THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is a real movie. Gorgantis is obviously a copy of Gojira/Godzilla. Kha-Ton- Ra is obviously a copy of the cinematic Im-ho-tep (who is also mentioned). Crepuscula is completely made up. Siegfried K. Dagover appears to be a fictional relative of Lil Dagover (from THE CABINET OF CALIGARI). Producer Sam Katzman, director William ("One-Take"), cinematographer Mack Stengler, and art director Dave Milton are real.
All this should make clear that the book is aimed at fans of the horror films of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. If you like Morrow's other work, but are unfamiliar with the films, this book is not going to be very meaningful.
"Vishnu at the Cat Circus" by Ian McDonald (CYBERABAD DAYS) was the one new story in the collection CYBERABAD DAYS, and frankly, the least engaging. In fact, I had started it, given up, and was about to return the book to the library when the Hugo nominations were announced. So I went back and read it, but still could not managed to get enthused about it.
"The Women of Nell Gwynne's" by Kage Baker (Subterranean) is really only marginally science fiction. The basic story is about someone in Britain trying to sell military secrets to the highest bidder (instead of giving them to Britain like a loyal subject). That this particular military secret has a science- fictional aspect, or that there are some gadgets of a steampunk/Q- out-of-James-Bond nature is really rather marginal. (I am reminded of Austin Mitchelson's THE EARTHQUAKE MACHINE and HELLBIRDS, two 1970s Sherlock Holmes adventures involving science fictional inventions that came out well before "steampunk" as a genre was invented.)
My voting order would be: "Shambling Towards Hiroshima",
"Palimpsest", No Award, "Act One", "The Women of Nell Gwynne's",
"Vishnu at the Cat Circus"
Unable to rank: "The God Engines"
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: The intellectuals' chief cause of anguish are one another's works. -- Jacques Barzun, 1959
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