How I Spent My Summer Vacation
This is the view from the stage where the Hugos and the Campbell were given out — before the ceremony, of course (there were more people in the final audience than Laurie Mann and some motion-blurred guy). I took this picture during the rehersal portion of the day; the ceremony producers wanted to walk us through what should happen if we were to get an award, so we wouldn’t kill ourselves either getting up on the stage or walking down from it. And I figured I should get a picture then, because who knew if I would be getting up there later (well, several people knew, including at least a couple of the people walking us through our paces, because they had helped count the tallies. But I didn’t know). I’ll say that later in the evening it looked a little different.
But I’ll get to that a bit later. What follows now is a general recollection of LACon IV. As you might imagine, I liked this convention quite a bit, and a lot of fun stuff happened. Bear in mind this recounting is not likely to be chronological or even necessarily coherent, but just me banging things out as I remember them.
* I should note that before I and the rest of the Scalzi clan got to Anaheim for the convention, we spent a number of days in San Diego, visiting some of Krissy’s family and just generally relaxing. During the day Krissy and Athena went to the beach and to Sea World; I wrote a couple new chapters of The Last Colony while they were out and about. I realize that me writing on the book doesn’t sound like it constitutes vacation time, but I have to say that the change of scenery really helped me; it was a good jolt to my usual way of doing things. And I suspected that once I was in Anaheim I wouldn’t get any real writing done (I was correct about that). So it was good to get ahead. In the evening, we did family stuff. In all we had a really nice and relaxing time in San Diego, and it helps to confirm my opinion, formed a number of years earlier when I was an intern for a San Diego newspaper, that the San Diego area is where I would want to live, should I ever return to California (liklihood of me returning to California: Low. But it’s nice to have a contingency plan).
* Once we got to Anaheim, Krissy and Athena continued their plan of “do something else with the day while daddy is geeking out.” They were aided in this task by the nearby presence of two things: One, the Hilton swimming pool; two, a small, little-known local amusement park known as “Disneyland.” Yeah, I’d never heard of it before, either. Nevertheless, K&A got two-day passes for it, so while I was massively overbooked on panels and other programming on Thursday and Friday, they were off accosting Mickey. It was a fair trade in time.
Which was not to say that Krissy and Athena didn’t enjoy the convention; indeed, far from it. First, Athena, being age seven, took great pleasure in riding up and down the Anaheim Convention Center’s extraordinarily tall escalators; indeed, I daresay that as long as she had had access to the escalators, the pool and Disneyland were merely options. Athena also enjoyed her access to the dealer’s room. Here you can see her enjoying a pair of SFnal ducks, procured in the dealer’s room:
Before we came to the convention we noted to Athena that it was possible that there would be a number of people who would recognize her, thanks to her presence on the Whatever, and in particular her recent video about Pluto. And indeed she was; people came up to her saying “Hey! It’s the Pluto girl!” and otherwise noting her presence at the convention. She handled it well, or as well as any mostly normal seven-year-old would, in any event. And in general I think she enjoyed herself quite a bit, and considering it was her first convention, it was a nice introduction for her. In the exhibition center, there was a large wall divided by years, where one could sign in the year one joined fandom. Athena signed it in the 2006 section.
Krissy also enjoyed the convention, but as the primary Athena wrangler for the event was primarily occupied with that. We did manage to go out as a family for dinner with friends, and we also got babysitting for Athena on Friday and Saturday so we could enjoy some of the parties together. It was also Krissy’s first Worldcon (she’s been to a couple of Wiscons), so I had fun introducing her to people and then noting the expressions of confusion about the fact that I, a common troll, had managed to hook up with someone like her. Cory Doctorow put it best; after a dinner we had with friends, he turned to me and said, “Dude, you are totally out of your league.” My response: You think I don’t know this? Although, to be fair, Cory’s girlfriend Alice is likewise superfabulous. Dating up: A science fiction geek’s path to happiness. Now you know.
* Most of my convention daytime was given over to the participation on panels: I had eight of them (not counting my signing and my reading), and here you can see me on the “Politics and SF” panel (photo credit: Tom Suter). I thought the selection of panels I was on was… well, idiosyncratic is probably the best word; I was on a couple of medical-related panels, which was somewhat random, while I was on no film or blogging panels. Now, it’s entirely possible I expressed interest in these panels and not others (this will teach me to fill out the program participation questionaire, semi-comatose at 3:30 am), but it’s still a little weird.
At the very least, however, the panels were generally interesting. The politics and the medical panels were — as you might expect — rather contentious, although you might not have expected that the medical panels were more contentious than the politics panel. At “The Future of Medicine” panel I got myself in hot water by replying to an audience member’s assertion that we were headed toward a theocracy by saying that, in fact, we’re not (I think we’ve gone about as far in that direction as we’re going to go, personally — although I will note that the Fear of Theocracy seems to be huge in SF fandom at the moment, and I expect I’ll address that in a later entry). Later, only the direct intervention of the moderator kept me from leaping over the panelist table and hammering on some jackass audience member with a eugenic bug up his ass, who was spouting about how it was shameful that certain people were allowed to spread their filthy genes (yes, he used those words), and that they don’t have a right to do that. My response was going to be “Let me introduce you to the Constitution of the United States, you fucktard,” but the moderator rather prudently cut short that line of conversation before I could open my mouth. A smart moderator, he. Meanwhile at the “Swimming in the Gene Pool” panel I and the moderator (whose name escapes me at the moment) went around on a number of subjects while Jody Lynn Nye, who was sitting between us, listened to us bicker with a deeply amused smile on her face.
The other panels had their moments, too. On the “Extraterrestrials” panel, Geoff Landis took a hardcore position on whether there is intelligent extraterrestrial life out there — no — and then used stats to hammer at anyone daring to disagree with him (which makes it sound like Geoff was being a jerk, which he was not. He was just enjoyably adamant about his position). On the “Might Makes Right” panel, panelist JG Hertzler (who has played a number of Star Trek roles) came to the panel in a modified Nazi uniform with corporate logos where the Nazi insignia normally went, and then began to monologue about current politics until members of the audience more or less told him to shut up so that we could get back to the topic of the panel. Once Hertzler twigged to the fact that we were talking about SF more than current politics, he was a fine panelist, however, and I suspect his final statement (some clever wordplay based on a topic raised in the panel) won back a number of audience members he’d irritated earlier.
Of all the panels, the one I enjoyed the most was the “Parody, Pastiche and Humor” panel, because all the panelists were funny, we had a really good discussion about humor and SF, and the audience was loose and fun and into the subject as well. A real high point.
* I’m also happy to say that my reading seemed to go very well indeed, which I understand was unusual — not because I’m so great, but because the readings were tucked into the third floor of the Hilton, and the third floor was this dimly-lit, poorly accessible, low-ceilinged floor which no one could find unless they had actually been there before, and even then not always. Fortunately, I checked out the floor before my reading, realized no one would ever find it without actual directions, and then proceeded to give directions to everyone I saw. It also helped that I had a signing directly before my reading, so I pimped the reading to everyone in my signing line, also giving them directions. It worked, because the room filled up pretty well. I ended up reading from the first chapter of The Android’s Dream, which is fun to read from, I have to say.
* Speaking of my signing (which also went well — whee!), I’ll share with you a story which I think deserves to go down in the annals of Worldcon history. I’m signing my books next to Allen Steele, who is one of my favorite writers and also one of my favorite people in SF — he and I went to the same high school, albeit many years and 2,000 miles apart — and he mentions to me as we’re signing that his first Hugo award was at LACon III, which took place ten years ago. “Now that we’re here, and you’re up for some awards, I should pass my luck onto you,” he says, then whacks me upside the head, hard. Naturally, I’m surprised, but I’m also delighted, since for the rest of the convention I now have a way to taunt and needle Allen, because, after all, he did physically assault me. The best of these was while Allen was signing at the Asimov’s/Analog table; I had Athena walk up to the table and ask “Mr. Steele, why did you hit my daddy?” in her best sad and wee little voice. Allen looked both confused and stricken until he saw me grinning behind her, and then I suspect he was ready to whack me upside the head once more.
Of course, the really funny thing is that it worked — I did walk away with an award, after all. Now, some may say that Allen’s whack around the brain came after the vote tallies and what have you, but I say: You weren’t the one getting slapped upside the head. I suspect the mighty beat-down Allen Steele laid upon me smacked me directly into the alternate universe where I was an award winner. And for that I am grateful.
And now you know: You want to win a major SF award, Allen Steele is your man. Just bring some aspirin for afterward.
(snagged from John Joseph Adams’s flickr photostream)
* A little bit about the awards. No, I wasn’t stressed at all about the Hugo — as I mentioned earlier, I had no expectation I would win it, so I wan’t worried about it in the slightest, I just enjoyed the ride. I was majorly stressed about the Campbell, however, and I’ll tell you why, although with the caveat that what follows sounds appallingly egotistical. Ready? Okay:
The problem with being a front-runner for an award, which I was for the Campbell, is that people often appear to transmute the expectation that you may win the award into the conclusion that you will win the award, or indeed that you have won the award, and will thus address you as if your award win is already fait accompli. I don’t know how other people deal with that, but frankly, it stressed the hell out of me. There’s a difference between saying to someone “I’ve heard good things about your chances,” or such, which is perfectly fine, and saying something like “dude, you’re so totally going to win it,” which I heard variations of, or “congratulatons on your Campbell,” which more than one person said to me in the days before the actual ceremony.
To be clear: I don’t think people meant to stress me out about the Campbell — people were genuinely passing along their good wishes, and I did take those wishes in the spirit in which they were offered. Please don’t read this as a criticism of the good will people were offering to me; I am very glad they offered it, and humbled that they would. With that noted, there were two reasons the “you’re going to win” and the “you did win” phrasings got to me. The first is simply that I felt it was (very often unintentionally) minimizing the other nominees, any of whom could make a legitimate claim to the Campbell based on the quality of their writing — this was, if I may say so, a very good Campbell class — and I wasn’t comfortable with that minimizing.
The second was more personal: Dude, what if I didn’t win? It was entirely possible, you know: Chris Roberson and Sarah Monette have big online followings and also a deep pool of SF fans and friends and they were in their second year of eligibility. Brandon Sanderson, the other first-year nominee, has made quite a splash, and both Steph Swainston and KJ Bishop have a solid core of supporters from places other than the US. And as noted, all of them write to beat the devil. Yes, I knew I was the front runner; I also knew that any of these writers could push me off the heap. And if one of them did, I wasn’t looking forward to the commentary along the lines of “frontrunner John Scalzi was shockingly upset in the Campbell vote by… ” because a) given the nominee quality, it shouldn’t be shocking, and b) because I wasn’t looking forward to being a mildly tragic figure.
Again, I’m not criticizing anyone for wishing me well — I really did appreciate it, and I still do. Simply for future reference, in the unlikely event I will be a frontrunner for anything ever again, remember I’m susceptible to stress when you tell me I am going to win, rather than you think I have a good chance of winning. As one person noted, getting stressed out about being told you will win is something of a high-class problem (i.e., we should all have these problems), and I certainly agree with that. But there it is.
(image nicked from Kathryn Cramer’s Hugo Flickr Set)
* Toward this end, you know who kept me from imploding into a ball of stress about the whole Campbell thing? Sarah Monette and Chris Roberson, who were two of my fellow Campbell nominees. Both of them are friends on mine and that helped tremendously, because they were both people who were going through the same process I was, and also because they were people who I could be happy for if they won, and who I knew would be happy for me as well. Chris is damn funny, and his sense of humor about the whole process was a release valve for me and allowed me to relax, and Sarah’s incredible warmth and empathy helped keep me centered. My only real regret about the Campbell is that I can’t share it with the two of them. A three-way tie between us would have been hellaciously cool.
* I take that back. I have one other regret about the Campbell thing. My acceptance speech was basically praising my co-nominees and exhorting the audience members to stop by the dealers’ room before they left and to pick up their books, because the books rock. And I went down the list of books… and blanked on Chris Roberson’s books. Because, you know, it was all I could do not to pee myself by that time. And of course, as soon as I got off stage, I was all oh, crap, I forgot Chris’ books! And as soon as the ceremony was over I zoomed over to Chris and apologized abjectly. He was pretty good about it: “It was your Hilary Swank moment,” he said (referring to when Hilary Swank won an Oscar and forgot to mention her husband Chad). Be that as it may, I still feel bad about it, especially because those are some fine books Chris wrote.
So: Chris’ books are Here, There and Everywhere and Paragaea. Won’t you give them a good home? You won’t regret it, particularly if you like the Beatles and/or rockin’ old-school SF pastiche. You’ll get great books, and I’ll restore my karmic balance. I thank you in advance for helping my progress, however fractionally, along the Wheel of Suffering.
* Aside my own high note, I thought this particular awards ceremony moved along at a pretty good clip — Connie Willis as toastmaster and Robert Silverberg as her erstwhile nemesis were quite amusing, and most of the award winners were both gracious and brief, which is always appreciated. The most fun thing to see was David Levine win for short story; he ran up with such excited energy that he literally tore the stairs off the stage, and then proceeded to leg-hump presenter Harlan Ellison in his excitement (Ellison, it must be said, gave as good as he got with that one). It’s good when people want their awards, you know? And it really was a joy to see Robert Charles Wilson get his Hugo for Spin. He had the best line of the evening: “If I knew I was going to win an award, I would have worn better shoes” (he wore sneakers with his suit). Not to mention David Hartwell, SF’s Susan Lucci, who got his Best Editor Hugo after being nominated 13,745 times. As they say, the crowd went wild.
The photo session afterward went pretty well, too. I’ve heard people complain that the photo session takes too long and keeps people from their parties and whatnot, but you know what? No one on stage was really complaining about being there. Heck, we were doing Rockettes-like leg kicks and singing an adapted version of “New York, New York” (“Start spreading the news, I got one today, I got me a shiny rocket, named the Hugo!” or some such). So yeah, the “post-ceremony photos are boring” thing is totally a “don’t throw me in the briar patch” moment.
(stolen again from Kathryn Cramer)
What I was really happy about was that I got to say something to Patrick Nielsen Hayden during the photo shoot. I’m up there on the stage, standing next to Robert Charles Wilson and David Hartwell, all of us getting our picture taken, and PNH is down on the floor, looking like a kid whose Christmas gifts just keep on coming. So I look at him directly, and as writer to editor, say, “So, can I get an extension?”
His response: “One week!”
My response: “I knew I should have won the Hugo! Then I would have gotten two weeks!”
Thank you, I’ll be here all evening. Tip your wait staff.
* I saw so many cool people that trying to name-check them all would take me the rest of my day, and would doom me in its incompleteness, and I really do have to start doing paid work at some point. But let me note some highlights:
— Meeting Brandon Sanderson and his sneaky friends who got me to sign a piece of LEGO (the explanation for that will come at a later point, when I get pictures). This year was Brandon’s first chance at the Campbell; I hope he gets another next year. His work certainly deserves it.
— Seeing Scott Westerfeld experience Instant Karma for his Pluto-hayta ways with his star-crossed travel plans (all right, this isn’t a real highlight; just funny his travel went askew the day Pluto was officially demoted). More generally, Scott was in town to get the coveted Golden Duck award, and I am delighted he did, because it gave me and Krissy an excuse to hang out with him where we wouldn’t have otherwise.
— Hanging with Doselle Young, because Doselle knows everyone and sooner or later everyone comes to see him (it’s amazing, really). Athena practically adopted Doselle, because why wouldn’t you. Also through Doselle, meeting his friends Kay and Erin, with whom I bonded through the power of 80s rock; watching Kay’s face as I recounted the terrors of 80s Canadian metal bands was worth the price of admission alone.
— Nick Sagan, time-warped in from 1896!
— Dinner with Cory Doctorow, Issac Spinzel (I hope I’m spelling your last name right, Issac), Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Cory’s gal Alice, and his friend Quinn Norton and her husband who my faulty memory tells me is Danny, but don’t count on that, but who was a riot anyway. Great company, great Thai food. Just as cool: Lunch with Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Elise Matheson, Nancy Kress and Ellen “Pool Shark” Klages, who I am very sorry I was not able to introduce to Athena.
— Signing books at the Borderland Books corner with Jake Lake and Mark Budz, and spending time with the whole Borderlands crew, who I think rocks in all sorts of inexpressible ways. Likewise, it was nice to meet the acquaintance of the folks from Mysterious Galaxy books from San Diego, whom I missed in that city (alas), and also to see the folks at Larry Smith’s table. Larry’s got a lot of signed books of mine, so when people came to my signing only to see the books were already signed, I said “Got this from Larry, did you?” And then I personalized the books, because that’s what you do.
— Spending a nice, destressing moment after a contentious panel with Deanna Hoak, SF’s most rockin’ copyeditor, and Josh Conviser, author of the hot new novel Echelon. Thanks, guys. I really needed that.
— Raph Koster, stalking me wherever I went.
— Meeting the very awesome David Marusek, and then accidentally sucking him into an interview for public radio. Sorry, David. You gave good quote!
— Getting a “Hugo Loser” ribbon from George RR Martin on Sunday, after the awards (he has a pack). “I don’t know that you should get one,” he said, noting the Campbell win. To which I said, “Well, I did lose the best novel Hugo, you know.” I got my ribbon. Look! Pretty!
— Being able to share some of Worldcon with my beloved high school friends Natasha Kordus and Deven Desai, the former who visited me on Friday and came with me to a number of parties, and the latter of whom attended the Awards ceremony with me and Krissy. Having them there and sharing some of the wierd and wonderful world of SF with them gave this convention an extra level of happiness for me.
— Having a genuine and purely unexpected moment of grace on Sunday by becoming part of a spontaneous acapella version “Down to the River to Pray” lead by Ellen Kushner, and featuring harmonies by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Delia Sherman, Ellen Klages, Elise Matheson, Madeleine E. Robins, Elizabeth Bear, Sarah Monette, Benjamin Rosenbaum and yours truly. Ellen Kushner and a couple of the others had started singing it in the Hilton bar where Patrick, Teresa, Elise and I were having lunch, and Elise went “harmonies!” and headed over, followed the NHs and me, and we all eventually joined in. Ellen, who had her eyes closed the whole time she was singing, opened them when she was done and was a bit surprised to find her chorus had grown. And we were all on key.
Now, those of you not in science fiction (should you have read down this far at all) might think it strange that a bunch of science fiction writers, editors and fans might suddenly start singing southern gospel in a hotel bar, right next to the pool table. Well, that’s because it is strange. Strange is what we do, by profession and by inclination. But I will tell you this: After the wonderful, long, tiring, frazzling, exciting, and just profoundly overwhelming experience that was LACon IV, the simple act of singing a song of praise with people with whom I share bonds of friendship and community restored me, replenished me, and reminded me how lucky I am to be part of this community. Because I am, and I know it.
It was a good convention. I’m glad I was there.