Posted on April 23, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 10 Comments
I’m back from Penguicon 4.0, where I was a “nifty guest,” and indeed I had a nifty time; it was lovely to see a bunch of Michigan friends and writer friends (and, indeed, also the writer friends who live in Michigan). I keep forgetting how close Michigan actually is to me — the convention was in Livonia, which is in the Detroit metro area, and it was only a three hour trip from my door to the door of the hotel. Considering that when I was a film critic in Fresno, I used to drive three hours to see a movie preview in San Francisco and then drive back in the same night, three hours ain’t nothin’.
I have to say I didn’t much like the hotel, however. There were a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the most interesting example came on Saturday, when I, M. Keaton, Jeff Beeler and Barbara Trumpinski-Roberts were supposed to do a panel on “Warfare in Science Fiction.” The location of the panel was in a place charmingly known as “The Pit,” a small area in the lobby where a big-screen TV usually resided (one imagines guests usually watch sports there or whatever). Just before the panel was supposed to begin, however, we were told that the hotel management was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in the lobby area. Mind you, this is the same hotel which for the two nights on the con allowed security demonstrations in which convention members stalked the halls with semi-realistic toy guns. Apparently clearing and sweeping the third floor was allowable, but discussing spaceship warfare in the open lobby was not.
The hotel wanted us to do the panel somewhere else, but where they wanted us to do the panel was already being used by people playing games, eating lunch, and by a “stuffed animal tea party,” at which, you guessed it, a bunch of stuffed animals were having a delightful afternoon repast. So there was nowhere for us to have our panel. Writer Dave Klecha suggested that maybe we should change the panel to “Tea parties in Science Fiction” instead.
So we did. When the panel started, I as the moderator noted to the audience that the hotel was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in an open area, so we were going to discuss tea parties instead — you know, as in those famous science fiction books The Forever Tea Party, and Starship Tea Drinkers, or my own novel, Old Man’s Tea Party. And thus, “war” became “tea party,” soldiers were “tea drinkers,” boot camp was “tea training,” firing on another soldier was “serving tea,” and clearly you wanted to serve tea before tea was served to you. If you were served tea, you didn’t die, you “went to the lavatory.” And off we went, and had a sustantive discussion of the subject, both among the panelists and with the audience.
And it was beautiful, for two reasons. One, because everyone understood what was being said and was able to roll with it; the panel was actually a panel on the subject at hand, and not just a smirky pun fest (there was a little of that, of course. Because why wouldn’t you. But it was mostly serious). Second, of course, every time we said “tea” and meant “war,” we were just pointing out the over-cautious stupidity on display by the hotel management. Which, I think, amused the panelists and the audience to a great degree. The fact that everyone involved — panelists and audience — twigged to the situation, ran with it, and had a good panel anyway gives you the idea of the intelligence and sense of humor displayed by both; Penguicon chose good panelists, and had smart, smart convention goers. Toby Buckell was in the audience and recorded the entire panel; when he puts up the recording (he says he will), I’ll post a link.
There were other issues I had with the hotel but there’s no point going into them too deeply; suffice to say I wouldn’t cry if the convention were held elsewhere next year.
Hotel issues aside, Pengicon was tons of fun. My panels aside from the tea/war one were generally very good, and among the writers and other guests at the con, I got to spend time with Toby Buckell, Karl Schroeder and family, Dave Klecha and family, Chris DiBona, Frank Hays, Howard Tayler and “The Ferret.” I was also fortunate to spend a fair amount of time chatting with author guest of honor Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, who among other things shared some great anecdotes about their own previous con experiences. They’re lovely people, and I’m glad to have been able to meet them. And of course it was lovely to see Anne KG Murphy and her husband Bill. I also had quite a lot of fun with Penguicon staff and con-goers, many of whom I’ve known for a couple of years now and consider pretty good friends, but am distressed to say I know not by their actual names but by their LiveJournal handles. It says something about LiveJournal, or at least, about me.
In any event, I had a very good time. But it’s also nice to be home. As much as I enjoy conventions, by the last day, I’m always a little strung out. So it’s good to come back to the family. And speaking of, now I’m off to spend a little time with them. Chat with you later.
Your comments about the poor quality hotel reminded me of a completely off-topic comment which may still be amusing to some. On Sunday morning of a typical Fri-Sun convention, there was on the main convention bulletin board a large note which said, “What kind of chicken hotel is this that doesn’t allow salad oil in the jacuzzi?” I never found out the backstory of that note, and I am nor sure whether I want to.
You cannot post that link too soon.
So the management was worried about spooking the other guests, or the folks in the lobby bar really wanted to watch the afternoon’s games on that big screen TV.
Do you know if it’ll be possible to get a transcript of the “Worldbuilding” panel in which you participated? I’m very curious to hear more about that. If there’s no transcript, would you mind sharing some of the high points in another entry sometime?
(And that whole “no war talk in the lobby” thing is exactly why I have turned my back on my Hospitality Management degree and gone for jobs that are much less ridiculously stressful.)
Do you know if an audio recording of the tea party discussion exists? Would make for a good podcast, I’m sure.
The whole tea & war panel just reminded me of the Eddie Izzard “Cake or Death” bit. :)
And I’d just like to say that the panel on blogging was absolutely fantastic – definitely one of those moments where you learn how little you know on a subject for me.
Oh, excellent. Glad the blogging panel worked because I was only nominally functioning on that one. Something about a late night beforehand.
Wait no longer, the Tobias podcast can be found on his blog:
Nice seeing you, John. Next time you’re in town for socializing a bit of dinner may be in order. No licking of the head. I promise.
Dinner’s definitely on, Chuck. I know I’ll be in the area in September, possibly before then too. We’ll see.
I was catchin’ up on the ol’ Scalzi when suddenly I realized, I know those people playing games, and their Stuffed Animal Tea Party!