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  • Writer's pictureAllan Dyen-Shapiro

"Everything's up to date in Kansas City," and now my blog will be too.

Yeah, I certainly could have started with a cheesy quotation from Wizard of Oz, but the Rogers and Hammerstein lyrics were running through my head this evening. I will spare you an audio rendition.

It seems everyone and their grandmother has already posted extensive reflections on last week's WorldCon, but as those pesky things like my job and making up a sleep deficit got in the way, I have to cop to intentionality in my delay. By this point, anyone interested in the world of science fiction and fantasy has probably already heard that the racist, reactionary faction was shut down again, not winning a single award, and getting as little as 19 votes for their most bald, non-literary screed. One of their types was ejected for disrupting a panel, not a panel I attended, although many related to me that it was pretty heated, but aside from that one incident, the Puppies seem destined to drift into historical footnote territory. I do admit I was disappointed when Chuck Tingle didn't win the Hugo for best short story. Not only would that have been wildly entertaining, it also would not have been undeserved, as his story was hysterical. More performance art than fiction, true, but the man did entertain me quite a bit.

So, no big world-changing news, even fiction world-changing. As such, this post will be all about me and my reactions. I know, a bit narcissistic, but dammit, this is my blog!

Up and away (gee, I've got to get off this Rogers and Hammerstein kick before I start more sentences like that), the highlight of the convention for me was Friday afternoon. My second panel that day, fourth overall, ran from 11 AM to noon and focused on the question of whether we are actually living in a cyberpunk world. Cyberpunk, high tech and low culture, at first an idea and only later merely an aesthetic, had long been declared dead but many (yours truly included) were deeply influenced by this 1980s and 1990s movement. And sitting on the panel with me was one of the handful of innovators in the field (and the only woman among the original cyberpunks), Pat Cadigan. Knowing I'd be on a panel with one of the luminaries in the field and having only read her more recent stuff, in the month prior to WorldCon, I read through her first two novels: Mindplayers and Synners (see my reviews on Goodreads--I loved both of them). Another panelist was a Japanese university professor and scholar of cyberpunk. So why the hell was I on this panel? Someone on the organizing committee clearly liked me; maybe they saw this website and correctly determined that my work could be considered post-cyberpunk ... I have no idea, but I'm really glad they did. The panel went terrific. Pat and I truly hit it off and were bantering back and forth with the audience in stitches. After the panel, we walked back together to the program participants' room (apparently no matter how famous you are, free food is still desirable), she invited me to sit with her, and we spent the next two hours talking and enjoying each other's company. Pat Cadigan was the guest of honor at the convention. At 3 PM, when she gave her guest of honor speech (for which she told me she'd be taking attendance and jokingly said she'd be mad forever if I didn't attend, although with how packed the room was, I can't imagine attendance taking would have been easy), it was in the Pat Cadigan auditorium. (A Kansas City native, albeit now living in London, the town considered her a sufficiently important local hero to name the Convention Center auditorium after her.) After that, I would have expected a throng mobbing her. I made my way back to the program participant's room to grab a soda on the way to a few panels I thought I'd catch. Instead, when I entered the room, I saw Pat sitting alone, and she again motioned for me to come over, and we spent another couple hours hanging out. Pat is a warm, funny, fascinating, wonderful person, and I feel enriched for having met her. Parting ways that afternoon, she gave me her card, and insisted I email her right after the convention so we can keep in touch. That was one of three promised contacts I did make right from a chair in the airport. We are now Facebook friends and in email contact.

From there, I went to see Mike Resnick do a reading of his story, "The Fastest Dragon," which will be in the anthology that gave me my first professional publication. I had attended his "kaffeeklatch" the day before (Thursday). The kaffeeklatches and literary beers were one-hour sessions in which the guest of honor appears with a beverage the convention provides and nine people who managed to sign up get to talk with them. Signing up was a trip. The Kansas City security keeping guests out of the third floor must have been more used to responding to terrorists, as the threat level observed seemed a bit inappropriate to keeping convention attendees away from the sign-up sheets. When the clock turned ten, they let us race up the stairs, with nobody knowing where the information desk was. The people who found it first got to sign up. I was near the tail end of the list, but I did get a spot with Mike Resnick and another with Liz Gorinsky (associate editor at Tor Books, one of the top publishers of science fiction) that day. Resnick and David Gerrold (whose literary beer I got into on Saturday), were formal and practiced, much like a professor teaching their small class of students, but they answered anything asked and it did give some insight into their writing. Resnick is a horse racing buff; thus the story on dragon racing. In terms of useful outcomes, Resnick is the editor of Galaxy's Edge, a venue that pays professional rates for short stories and only allows invited submissions. I am now invited. And he specified the story length for which he is looking. I have a few that seem appropriate and require just a bit of polishing; they just moved up on my to-do list. Gorinsky was even more professional; she began by saying she was assuming we were all writers with questions relevant to getting published by Tor (a valid assumption) and just told us to fire away. Many insights obtained into Tor; not nearly as much into Gorinsky, but useful.

The fourth of these sessions I attended, also on Saturday, was totally different. With Resnick and Gerrold, I felt like a student, with Gorinsky, like I was a novice granted an informational interview, but with Rachel Swirsky, it was like meeting at a dorm party back in college. That informal, that friendly. As we sat down, her first question to any of us was asking me where she knew me from, as she was sure she'd just heard my name. No clue. The conference program, perhaps? Our mutual buddy Adam-Troy Castro? Her next was for a man wearing a yarmulka. Turns out most of us at her literary beer were Jewish (as is Rachel). Indeed, an Israeli woman with whom I had lunch on Wednesday before the programming started had professed great surprise at what a high percentage of speculative fiction writers were Jewish, but running into Jews at the conference wasn't a surprise to any of us in this group. So, the group talked for a while about religion in science fiction. And then the discourse continued in a fashion not unlike what I'd later experience in the Marriott hotel bar. Very friendly, very personable. I'd signed up for Rachel's literary beer because she'd written so many stories I'd enjoyed--this is an insanely talented woman, very innovative. Overall, the kaffeeklatches and beers were definitely worth it (even if participants weren't provided beer or coffee).

Speaking of the Marriott hotel bar, the late night party scene was completely unlike typical American bar hopping. Almost as a culture, everyone was insanely friendly. One would walk up to a group of strangers and instantly be included, and then repeat the cycle when the group finally dissolved. And absolutely everyone was doing this, regardless of their degree of fame. Saturday night, I had stayed for the Hugo Award presentation (much like the Academy Awards), so the partying started after midnight for me, and I only hit the Marriott lobby bar. The night before, that was the eventual destination after hitting all the open parties sponsored by the publishing firms in hotel spaces. The Tor party was overcrowded and noisy as all get out, so Gil (the editor who had bought my story for Clash of the Titles, who roomed with me) and I gathered a few more people and headed to the Del Rey party (the former in the penthouse of the Crowne Plaza where I was staying; the latter in a deluxe room at the Marriott). I witnessed the most amazing competitive geek competition I had ever seen. Brian Trent, with whom I had corresponded over Facebook (also a Clash of the Titles author), despite looking like an all-American athlete off of the cover of a sports magazine, managed to best an impromptu opponent. Not only did he know more Lord of the Rings details, he could also recite much of Beowulf in the original Middle English.

So, what else? Oh, my panels. I've spoken about the cyberpunk panel; immediately before it, I was the moderator (again, somebody on the organizing committee--thank you if you are reading this but I have no idea who you are--clearly liked me) on a panel on intellectual property. The panel included Cory Doctorow: Boing Boing editor, blogger with millions of followers, author of some terrific novels, and digital rights pioneer with the Electronic Freedom Foundation. Also on the panel was Eric Flint, a publisher who had published Cory Doctorow and an author in his own right, mostly of alternative history (he runs the alt history magazine Grantville Gazette). And others with impressive qualifications in the area. Fortunately, I had caught Doctorow's panel the day before and noticed he was radically inclusive when he was moderator, so I guessed (correctly) that he would want a panel that would equally include all participants and not be "The Cory Doctorow show." Nonetheless, of all that came up on the panel, I found his campaign to rid the world of DRM and other technology blocking information freedom truly fascinating. The panel mainly focused on the mismatch between archaic laws and the reality of the tech world as well as the problems caused. As I was the only one on the panel with a biotech background (and judging from audience reaction, plenty in the audience did want to hear about that to inform their fiction writing), I took five minutes near the end to jump in and talk about biotech and patents, focusing mostly on the problem of patenting of enabling technology. I lived through that nightmare; I am quite qualified to discuss it. Indeed, I lectured on it when I taught a "science in context" class back in my Florida Gulf Coast University Associate Professor days, when I focused the whole semester on biotech, presenting it from angles as diverse as religious perspectives and literary perspectives, with the students being mostly political science and communications majors. One of the other panelists told me I did a good job moderating, so I'll take her word for it; it was my first time as a moderator. My only regret is that I didn't get a chance to kibbitz with Doctorow; I had to shake his hand and leave quickly to get to my next panel, which started ten minutes after this one ended and was at the other end of the convention center.

Thursday evening, I was on a panel called Edison's Concrete Piano, about crazy things that had been patented. The first panelist decided to lead with a half-hour powerpoint. Now, I was interested, so I did find some things that held my attention, but a power point? With a packed hall? I had decided that especially since this was a 6 PM panel with most of the audience having skipped dinner, what was called for was a comedy routine. I used the USPTO database and did a "you can't make this stuff up" type of comedy sketch. Am I a great stand-up comic? I don't know, but when your lead-in is a power point, you don't have to be. The audience clearly thought I was pretty funny. The other two panelists hadn't prepared anything, so they just chimed in when they could play off of what I was saying. It worked.

My Thursday morning panel was the reason I went to WorldCon. This was the one on Clash of the Titles, discussing the conceit of the anthology: editor lists 200 titles on Facebook, you grab one, you write the story, you work back and forth with the editor via Facebook chat, and he takes the best stories. He took mine. Gil's influence clearly improved my ending--it was my third attempt that he liked well enough for acceptance. Our panel was in a prime time slot, competing with several other major panels, so the crowd was much less than with my other three panels, but it went well. Gil had an audience member videotape it, and he said he was going to get it up on Youtube this week. I'm looking forward to seeing what I looked like. For various reasons relating to people's schedules, Gil and I were the only ones on this panel.

So, what else? I participated in a writing workshop on Saturday. As I'm close to the point of looking for an agent, other eyes on my first two chapters were certainly welcome, so I signed up. The format: three submissions, critiqued by each submitter and two "professionals." In my case, the professionals were both authors and teachers of writing: Alyx Dellamonica and Rachel Neumeier. The group came up with some excellent suggestions, so I was quite pleased with the process.

The other panels I attended were all good and generally useful. I learned why the top places had rejected two of my flash fiction pieces (that later were both published elsewhere): all of these places use a similar checklist to accept their one in two thousand or so stories. I had missed one element on both stories. Whodathunk a complete character arc (changes in the character) would be expected in a story as short as 300 words? Well, my next intended submission to these big name places does indeed have a complete character arc, thank you very much, so we'll see how it does.

I was schooled in how to use Twitter effectively as an author by a very savvy and sharp pair of young authors with whom I sat at the Hugo Awards ceremony. By random chance I also ran into one at the airport and we rode together for the first leg of my flight back. I have now followed the folks she suggested I follow and checked out the sites she suggested (thanks, Sarah Stover!!).

And ... barbecue. Yes, Kansas City deserves its reputation. Why have I gone through this much of my life without ever having heard of a burnt end? The three meat combination at Jack Stat's Barbecue--I opted for the burnt end (beef), beef ribs and lamb ribs--oh, boy was that good. And the sauce...

I digress. Dinner both Thursday and Friday was with my buddies from the South Florida Science Fiction Society plus their friends and friends of these friends, the circle expanding to include a lot of cool new people to meet.

So, you get the sense I had a good time at this meeting? Helsinki next year is out of the question for reasons of budget, but I might consider NASFIC (the North American meeting held any year WorldCon is outside of the Western Hemisphere). It will be in San Juan. And in July, so I don't have to miss work for that one. And I can probably rope it into a family vacation--my wife seemed amenable. So a definite maybe.

Bottom line: anyone who became my new friend from this meeting or who is a current real-world or online friend who is considering San Juan, tell me; it will definitely help make my decision.

Other bottom line: Boy, do I have a lot of stuff to do! But right now, the laundry takes precedence, as I'm flying back out for a family event this weekend. "Everything's like a dream in [suburban Cleveland]" ...

Okay, that one even I'm glad I didn't try to sing.

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