Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Westercon 2009

No, it wasn't the Two Thousand Ninth Westercon, but the 62nd.

62 is really a respectable number for an annual science fiction convention. But I can't keep track of conventions by their numbers, so I use the year. I even do autographs that way. And this year was a particularly nice Westercon.

Science Fiction conventions aren't like political conventions where large bodies of people send "delegates" to represent them. Cons are a 'y'all come' gathering of anyone and everyone interested in the array of topics and the professionals working in the various fields from books, e-books, and other text media all the way to feature films.

I posted my panel schedule here

And as it happened, all my programmed events actually were on time and in the scheduled location. That is the sign of a well run convention.

My husband and I arrived at the Tempe Mission Palms hotel just before 9AM on Friday July 3, 2009, and for a wonder, our room was already cleaned and ready for us to move in. The convention had even arranged for us to use the valet parking without an additional charge, so that saved a good fifteen minutes. That was a good omen and the rest of the weekend went just as well.

Those 15 minutes were important minutes as I was scheduled for my first panel at 10AM. We deployed our stuff in our room, and went to find the Green Room where program participant badges were to be had.

Finding the Green Room was easy. We were on the same floor, but far enough away that the parties in the convention's reserved corridor weren't going to keep us up all night. The Mission Palms is laid out somewhat like a Roman Villa with a square hole in the middle, palm trees waving in the court yard, their fronds on the second story level.

The sound proofing was really good since the hotel is right under the flight path for Sky Harbor airport but planes were a distant rumble. And it was a comfortable room (not that I saw much of it!)

When I arrived at my first panel, there were already people in the room holding a rambling conversation as the other panelists zipped in and the room gradually filled. And from there on, it was energy and laughter and wide-ranging well informed questions and comments from the audience.

The first moment I opened the panel room door was a total shock. Instead of the usual hotel chairs that kill your back, the whole room (including behind the panel table) was filled with COMFORTABLE CHAIRS. They had 5-spoke rollers, tilted, spun, and RAISED HEIGHT for taller people, lowered for smaller, and had CHAIR ARMS!!!! The seat and back were made of lacey open fabric that might have been carbon filament, I don't know, but it stretched nicely and didn't make you hot.

I couldn't believe those chairs. I loved them and so did everyone else.

You'd think it would make you crazy to sit facing a room full of rows and rows of these swiveling chairs and watch people fidget, rock, sway, and jigger back and forth. Guess what? FANS didn't do that to people. Everyone sat still (except me; I succumbed a number of times, then realized I had to sit still too.) Everyone loved those chairs though, even people who had to watch other people sit in them.

A few quick polls of several of the panel audiences showed that they had much reading in common and had at least seen many of the same TV shows. They didn't all know each other, but they really all KNEW each other. There were instant friendships being formed everywhere and old acquaintances re-connecting.

That thread continued through nonstop panels, hallway conversations, con suite conversations and into the evening parties.

Friday night, one of the Sime~Gen fans known as Kaires engineered a Sime~Gen party, put posters up, got a room in the party section of the con's hotel block, and put out an array of interesting snacks. Laurraine Tutihasi and her husband helped set up, and within an hour we were having drawings for door prizes (mostly books of course).

The Art Guest of Honor was Todd Lockwood ( http://www.toddlockwood.com/ ) who did the splendid cover for Sime~Gen The Unity Trilogy

While I was madly running around Friday on programming, my husband tracked down Todd (who seemed to be on programming opposite me all the time) and got him to sign a hardcover copy of Sime~Gen The Unity Trilogy for me. (goshwow indeed)

One panel I was on was about the new Star Trek movie, and I was on with David A. Williams who moderated and Alan Dean Foster who did the novelization of the screenplay.

Alan had tales to tell about how much and how little access he had to the film before having to write the novelization. He has written a number of novelizations of films so he had a great deal of experience to draw on to make the most of the very little a novelization writer gets from producers. He said he got to see a screening of the Trek movie rough cut, but couldn't record it and had to take hand-written notes to work from.

Photo taken with my new cell phone! Your left to right - Alan Dean Foster, David A. Williams (ASU space science professional), and me, Jacqueline Lichtenberg.

Between panels on Friday I stopped at one of the used book dealers in the dealer's room to sign whatever copies of my books he had (quite a stack -- I keep thinking I must have signed every one printed, but alas not yet) and while I was sitting there a couple more people came up with stacks for me to sign.

I think they may have thought it was my official autographing session, which was scheduled for 5PM on Friday. One fellow brought along three or four titles plus FACES OF SCIENCE FICTION (photos of SF authors) which I'm in. I said, "Ah, you must be a dealer," and he said, "No, these are for my relatives."

A whole family that loves science fiction? Wow.

I think I signed books and touted and sold some for the merchant for about 40 minutes.

Then I ran to another panel, and came back for my official autographing and there were only a couple of people waiting. The other person who was to autograph didn't make it to the table. A writer I'd met on facebook, Dana Davis ( http://www.danadaviswriting.com/ )brought me a couple of review copies of her own books, one of which I started right at the autographing table because there was a lull in conversations, and am still reading (with absorption). Desert Magic: Superstition, is set in Scottsdale, right here in the Valley of the Sun, and in the Superstition Mountains which I see every day I go walk in the park. (I'd see them all the time but houses are in the way.)

Jennifer Roberson likewise didn't make it to Westercon though she was assigned a number of program items. I was looking forward to seeing her again!

Saturday I was pooped already, and I wasn't on any programming items, so I had the luxury of going TO things instead. I saw an entry for a film titled STARWATCH that was being previewed at the convention and after showing the film there was to be a panel with the actors and producer. I wish I had a website where you could buy the DVD already, but I will be notifying you as soon as I know how you can see this film.

Here's why.

As I sat down to watch it, I recalled it was supposed to be a low budget film, but when it started I sat watching the whole first act and it suddenly occurred to me to wonder if I were in the wrong place. "Where's the low budget film?"

But no, it was the right place. It was an astonishingly low low budget film with a credit roll that took only a few seconds but the film had the look and feel of a typical theater release.

It's set in the asteroid belt after a war between Earth and a corporation that settled the astroid belt and created a whole new culture. But it's still oil and water out there -- the factions are spoiling for more fighting.

The science premise that has me intrigued is that one faction is hot on the trail of a method for "weaponizing souls" -- harvesting souls from dark-energy from the Big Bang and using the souls to transmit destructive force that can pulverize anything.

The audience and the producer didn't seem to think this particular weapons research would turn up again in a TV Series made from this feature film (if there ever is one), but I can think of more stories to tell about it.

I didn't at first realize that the fellow introducing the film (whom I was sure I'd seen at cons before) was actually THE producer of the film, but later I went up and told him exactly what I thought of it, then realized it was his work. Well, honestly, I wasn't trying to butter him up or anything. I really do like this film.

After the panel with the actors and producer that followed, I met the fellow who did the special effects (all the space ships and advanced tech), Jeremy Totel http://www.pixeleight.org/ -- that's ORG not COM; the .com is selling cameras)

And I met a couple of the stars, among them a woman I think may go far, Silvia Suvadova (http://www.suvadova.net/ ) I met her later in the restaurant and she gave me her card. I gave her my NL flyer. Today she turned up linking to me on facebook. I would love to see her as a Vulcan on Star Trek, and a major ongoing character.

Then I went to see (finally) a presentation by Todd Lockwood
http://www.toddlockwood.com/ with a blog at http://www.tolo.biz/

Todd showed slides of some of his work (mostly dragons and warriors which is his specialty) and then gave a demonstration of how he can use Corel Draw to make a dragon's head. But he says he much prefers working in oils. Today publishers often accept electronic files for artwork which makes working in electronic originals more attractive. He uses a top of the line digitizer pad to draw freehand.

And Saturday night, the 4th of July, was FIREWORKS (the hotel was very close to where major city firewords displays originate, and mundanes flock to this hotel for the vantage). The Con Committee had the genius to nail a suite for the Con Suite that had the best view of the fireworks and they held a fabulous party with good food and lots of people.

At the same time there was a STAR TREK PARTY put on by the local Star Trek fan organization one of the oldest (perhaps by now the oldest) in the country. Many members have gone on to work in the space program projects based in the ASU (Arizona State University) campus nearby, and south of here in Tucson.

I talked so much that by Sunday morning I had laryngitis. There were no microphones for the panelists and the parties were full and loud. The crowd was exuberant and joyful, even the smokers who could only smoke out-doors usually on the balconies outside the elevator lobbies.

But Sunday, luckily, I had smaller panel rooms which still had a good turnout, considering how much partying everyone had done. Even the 3PM panel I was on about making fan friendly websites was well attended.

Sunday between panels I signed some more books. By the end of the con I was ready to take off for home which was only a half hour drive. This is one of the reasons I decided to move here -- local conventions! And Los Angeles and San Diego are in reach. Even the San Francisco Bay area is available. And these days there are good cons developing in Las Vegas ( Xanadu being a case in point.) Seattle often hosts Westercons, too.

Overall, Westercon was a very well run convention, the programming mix of topics and panelists was ingenius (done by Catherine Book), the food services in the con suite were nothing short of miraculous, and the dealer's room was full of books, costumes and jewelry.

The art show was small, but high quality. In addition to Todd Lockwood's leap-off-the-wall art (the man is a master of perspective), there was a tapestry of the Hogworts coat of arms that dominated one aisle and was readable across the huge ballroom that contained art show and dealers room. It looked REAL. I've seen it before, but it was hung splendidly under the right lighting here.

The costume Masquerade actually ran short but produced eye-popping winners. I suspect the economy and the threat of the flu pandemic that's developing as worse for younger people kept some people with children home. There were fewer very young children than usual, but those that were there had the advantage of a very professionally run children's programming track.

Usually fans come to conventions whether they're sick or not, hacking and coughing, sneezing and wheezing they ignore everything just to get to the panels and parties. This time though, I didn't notice anyone who was ill.

Regional SF book-focused conventions have shrunk in size, and this year Westercon (July in Phoenix, remember) had around 700 people attending in a hotel where you had to go outside to get from one group of function rooms to another.

Since I live here, I didn't mind too much, and there were even people sitting at outdoor tables in the court yard in the 107 degree heat talking a mile-a-minute. I actually had to wear a sweater most of the time because the hotel had cold-spots. I wasn't uncomfortable in the sweater when I went outside. The dew point had dropped below 50 again, and it was nice weather (for July 4th in Phoenix).

But when I got into the car to drive home -- I checked the dashboard thermometer and it read 112F. Well ... the valet parking had left the car in the sun, but 112 is noticeably warmish.

Watch http://www.westercon.org/ for the next Westercon. Pasadena CA in 2010, San Jose CA in 2011 -- July 1-4 each one.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

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