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Worldcon 2009: Montreal

Thursday 6 August 2009


Pod and I were up at 8.30 and decided to go register ourselves for the con before breakfast. We met Mormont in the lobby of the Delta and he joined us as we made our way down Rue Saint Antoine to the convention centre. We had no problems registering and picked up our bag of goodies which included a wallet-like con badge, the convention guides and two sampler books.
Sometimes you have to wonder why they bother printing convention guides in advance because there are always so many changes it renders the whole thing pointless. The updated schedules were printed on A3 paper – not exactly pocket sized and they were printing daily change sheets that you needed to pick up if you wanted up to date information. Why so many changes you wonder? Well, that is in part due to pretty bad organisation like booking an author on two different panels at the same time. A little bit of common sense and the use of a spreadsheet program would make a huge difference to the organisation of Worldcon. In fact the sheer lack of technical competence in certain areas is rather shocking for a convention filled with science-fiction geeks. You would think they would take advantage of all this modern technology stuff, make the most of what computer power and the Internet can offer.
But enough about Worldcon’s bad points for now, let’s concentrate on the good, like meeting up with old friends and making new ones.
Pod, Mormont and I hiked our way over to old Montreal where we met Tenalpia and went for breakfast in a little café. You should have seen the sticky chocolate croissant I had, it was very messy but oh so delicious. We talked Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Prince of Nothing and ASOIAF. After breakfast Tenalpia went back to her gypsy caravan lodgings while Pod, Mormont and I made our way back to the convention centre.
Just outside the dealers room we ran into George and Parris. As we walked up to them Mormont said “George, I bring you – Pod!” and he was delighted to see Pod again. I said hello again but I am pretty sure George did not recognise me from Denver. I did not notice at the time but someone told me later on that Parris was wearing a badge which said ‘GRRM is not your bitch, he is MINE!
There were not many sellers in the dealers room this year, crossing the border and dealing with various financial hassles had put a lot of them off. At the Nightshade Books stand Paolo Bacigalupi had a shipment of his book ‘The Windup Girl’ held up at customs meaning he had nothing to sell. I think it was on Friday when some delivery guy brought up a box of books and I was there as Paolo declared his undying love for him and was overjoyed to finally sell some books, several of them to our boarders. Luga, X-Ray and Paedar all bought copies and got them signed.
Anyway, I digress, back to Thursday and looking round the dealers room. Lany bought a copy of ‘The Graveyard Book’ by Neil Gaiman for him to sign as a present for her son, Brat (as he is known). There was one particular dealer with a good selection of books who was selling lots of old ‘Wild Cards’ books and the BWB bought up almost everything he had. I picked up books I and III myself, much to the chagrin of Blue Rose who arrived at just that moment. *hugs*
While we were perusing the books right then one of the real con weirdoes came up to us and made a loud honking sound like a distraught goose to make us move out the way to let him in so he could look at the books rather than us. Total freakazoid, in fact that is what I will call him even though his real name is Darryl. It was noticed when we saw him around that the ‘Freakazoid’ would look pointedly at the names on people’s con badges. Some people took to turning the badge around so he could not see.
After that we went down to the ground floor where there were some couches in the middle of the floor space. This would become our meeting point for this year. The Big Blue Bear’s Crotch of 2009 (reference to the meeting point from Denver in 2008). It was at this point that I was introduced to Silverstar’s Head, a small furry mascot representing Silverstar who could not make it to the con and had asked Pebble if she could be stowed away in her luggage. Pebble had even gone to the effort of making a Con Badge for it! Pebble was also busy taking photographs of everybody’s knees – a Pebble eyed view of the con. At some point I plan to put together a webpage with a competition for “whose knees are these?” Will let you know when Pebble and I get around to sorting that out.
Some of us wandered along the ground floor shops to buy some food and it was at this point that we ran into several other boarders for the first time. Tyria and Mr Tyria had been around the previous night but had failed to find anybody. Filippa Eilhart and John (cute couple) were there as well, although I did not see them again after that until Friday night. We made our way back to the meeting spot and not long after that it was time to take the escalators up to the 5th floor for our first panel which really got the Con started.

The Werewolves of Brigadoon


Panel: Paedar Ó Guilín, Kari Sperring, George R.R. Martin

So the first panel of the con and our very own Paedar is the moderator. Here is how he introduced things; “This panel is about American writers and Hollywood film executives appropriating Celtic mythology to their own ends. My name is Paedar and I have written a book called ‘The Inferior’ which is one of the top five books about cannibal faeries ever written. As you can tell from my accent I am indeed Irish. I am the injured party. To my left is an evil American, one George R.R. Martin who will defend the United States writers who have abused our history and mythology.”


Kari who could make an entire quilt from her medieval history degrees got things started off with a long rant on the portrayal of the Celts as Lesbian-Poetess-Goddess-worshipping-Monk-haters. Colleagues of hers, who had tried to counter this false view of history, had been threatened with death by distraught hippies. Kari questions the value of historic fiction which fails to be accurate. ‘The Mists of Avalon’ was brought up several times as a prime case in point. The Celts were never really a group of people from a specific place, they were driven west out of mainland Europe into the remote parts of Ireland and Scotland over the course of a couple of centuries and she said that it could even be argued that the Celts are not really a people at all, but more of a culture, an identity that anyone could belong to.
George then spoke about growing up in the American "melting pot", which has now became the American "salad bowl" in modern PC terminology, but he still prefers the melting pot analogy. He spoke about the myths that arose in such situations, like for example the idea that John Dillinger had been betrayed by "the woman in the red dress", when in fact she had really worn a different colour entirely. The myth, however, was more interesting than the truth and it was a perfectly legitimate choice for a writer to use it.
George’s counter argument was therefore that adhering too strictly to historical fact is in some ways missing the point. Works of fiction like ‘The Mists of Avalon’ can lead interested readers to seeking out scholarly works which give them the real history and that can only be a good thing. For me the surprise here was that Paedar agreed with this opinion, “Does it really matter?” he said, “a few Hollywood transgressions with blue face paint aside, the historical details are not that important, so long as it is doing its job of entertaining. It is fiction and is meant to be fun.”
George also argued against the "ownership" of stories by any narrow cultural group, calling for us to emulate the science fiction he read as a youth that viewed us all as Earthmen (and Earthwomen).
It was a fun and lively panel and the audience were keen to get their say too. Paedar as moderator said about half way through “George gave me some advice on running a panel earlier and he told me not to go to questions from the audience too early because that is like admitting defeat.” But despite saying that he then allowed several people to ask questions including one woman who was the person who had originally had the idea and petitioned for the panel to be included in the programme after she had read a book about some werewolves who lived in a castle in Scotland which was just awful trash. Paedar argued is the book trash because it steals and gets details wrong or is it trash because it is badly written? Although someone in the audience did say “It sounds awesome, I want to read it now.” I think that may have been the real turning point in drawing to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter that much in the end.

Human Battleships


A half hour after the Werewolves panel started four boarders, Lany, LP, Pebble and Scott, left to go to something very different – Human Battleships! The game was organized by a Japanese group and the rules had to be translated into English which slowed the process down a bit as there were a lot of questions about how to play the game and unfortunately the organisers did not fully know the rules themselves.
Basically, each team has an even number of players and one captain. The players represent the ships and are blindfolded and armed with various inflatable weapons. The captain rolls the giant blue fluffy die and then tells one player to move that number of steps forward. Steps are either large (high speed) or small (slow speed). At the end of the steps the captain could tell them to turn and fire. One of the major debates that kept everyone waiting for ages was whether telling a person to “turn” should count as a step or not. “Fire” meant bopping the enemy “ship” over the head with a blow up weapon. Since nobody could see what they were doing getting hit actually hurt because you were not braced ready to take the hit and people were swinging down harder than they otherwise might do.
The game was fun but at times it was just too slow. In fact it was more fun to watch than play judging by the laughter of the audience. But we can’t complain about the outcome – the team with our boarders on won the game with LP left as the last ship afloat!
Lany said she would love to play again some day, but with a few changes. Water pistols would totally rock and eliminate the need to “turn” (but also increase the space needed). Steps should be in any direction. Have the captains timed so they don’t take too long making the decisions. Oh and make sure EVERYONE knows all the rules before the game starts.

Question Time with Neil Gaiman


Everyone from the Human Battleships game got back to the Werewolves panel just as it was finishing up and a large group of boarders congregated in the corridor. Mich had arrived at some point during the panel so this was the first time a lot of us were introduced to her. What can I say about Mich that has not been said before? She is smart, funny, kooky in that cute Canadian kind of way and has extremely good taste in music. I could tell from the ‘Disturbed’ T-shirt she was wearing.
At this point we had a choice, go for lunch or go to the Question Time with Neil Gaiman panel. One person made the right choice and that was Luga. She just moved off at speed and was gone while the rest of us were still dicking around trying to make a decision. So the rest of us went to lunch, more on that below.
Apparently the room was packed, it was one of the biggest rooms available in the centre but it was completely full, people were standing at the back and outside the door, they could not get in. Neil was led in by the Moderator like some kind of coronation and then he did a big joke by putting down his name tag as if people would not know who he was. One reporter thought ‘oh no is he going to be all full of himself?’ but no, he could not have been nicer. The panel was a hilarious and raucous affair, people in the genocide panel next door were wondering what the heck was going on in there.
Fans submitted questions beforehand and the most interesting ones were picked. One question was about whether because Neil is such a big name author now whether he considers how his audience will read his books just because it is him and does his writing change because of that. His answer was that he always imagines himself as someone who has never read his work before, so he is writing for an idealised version of himself.
Neil spoke a little about working with Terry Pratchett on ‘Good Omens’ and how they had a rule that they would “make mock” of important things and when the book was released they were surprised that the public were not more upset by it. They thought it was going to be somewhat controversial but people just thought it was hilarious.
Another question asked was “which medium would you most like to work in?” an interesting question given that he has worked in comics, novels, TV, movies and children’s books. His answer was – haunted houses! That’s right, Neil wants to design and build his own haunted house. Can you imagine how incredible that would be? I so want to go to Neil Gaiman’s Haunted House.
But more than that I really wish I had gone to this Q&A – Luga said it was “AWESOME man! One of the most AWESOME things I have ever seen.” When Luga says the word awesome it is always capitalised. “Neil just talked about stuff, and oh it was AWESOME. He spoke a lot about Good Omens and working with Terry Pratchett. Neil is such a great speaker, so funny and so interesting and so AWESOME. When he spoke it was like he was personally speaking to you but he also, like, included everyone. You should have all been there, I mean what the fuck? It was AWESOME.”
Apparently I get the impression we missed something quite awesome. I have to ask - Luga was it you that wrote this on the message board for Neil? Come on you can admit it now…
Speaking of the message board this seems like an appropriate time to relate a notice that Mormont spotted from someone looking for accommodation in Montreal. It read: 'Room required. I have only two bags and will really only be around to sleep and shower. Non-smoker, over 35. I have three Star Trek Next Generation Starfleet tunics.' Clearly he put down all of the most pertinent information because you do need to know he has 3 Star Trek uniforms so that people know that they really don’t want to room with this guy!

Lunch at Les 3 Brassuers (The 3 Brewers)


But what can I say, we were hungry, so 15 of us traipsed through the streets of Montreal to find this brewery/restaurant that Pat had recommended. After several stops to consult a map with everyone standing around wondering where we were going we found the place and the staff managed to put together enough tables for us all to sit together.
Time to reel off the list of boarders who were there, starting with me at the head of the table going clockwise: MG, Mr Tyria, Kat, Mich, Pod, Mandy, Lany, Regina, LP, Scott, Pebble, Tyria, Blue Rose, Mormont and Tenalpia. :deep breath:
The food was great, the service was great and we had a great time. Not much else to say about it really. Right at the point where we finished eating Luga arrived and ordered some lunch. She was sat at the complete opposite end of the table from me but I could hear her use the word “AWESOME” several times.
At this point two things happened: 1) most people decided it was time to leave, and 2) it started to absolutely chuck it down with rain [US translation: rained heavily]. The sensible people stayed at the restaurant to continue hearing about how “AWESOME” Neil Gaiman is while the crazy ones went out in the rain with no coats and got soaked. In fairness to them they did take to the underground precincts and did not get that wet in the end. They found an SAQ on the way and bought a goodly supply of alcohol for later on.
So back at The 3 Brewers MG, Kat, Luga, Lany, LP, Pebble, Regina and Scott waited out the rain. Well Luga was still eating and we did talk about a few things other than the awesomeness of Neil Gaiman. After about half an hour we decided we could not wait any longer so we decided to brave the rain, at which point it stopped raining entirely. Result!
I was walking with Kat and Luga back towards the conference centre when I realised the others were going back to the hotel and had gone across at the last junction when we turned. The girls were going to a panel for some dead author I had never heard of and the others had been calling me so I went up and across to join the larger group and walked back to the Delta Hotel. You would think I had learned my lesson the first time, because that panel for some dead author turned out to be…

The Life and Work of John M. Ford


Panel: Authors - Neil Gaiman and Jo Walton. Editors - David Hartwell, Teresa & Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Beth Meecham and Harriet McDougal (widow of the late Robert Jordan)

And yes this was also “AWESOME” and “MOVING”. In fact many people including both Kat and Luga report being misty eyed at several points during this bittersweet panel, especially during Neil Gaiman’s poignant reading of Ford’s prophetic ‘The Last Connection’.


So the question is why do so few people know the work of John M. Ford when he is considered by many critics a true genius of the Sci-Fi genre? Well, Ford avoided repetition not only of the work of others, but also of his own work. As Neil Gaiman pointed out during the panel Ford never wrote the same kind of work twice. This reflected his genius and aversion to doing what people expected, but sadly also meant that few people have heard of him because he never stuck with a recognisable style. He recreated himself anew with every piece he published.
The panellists recounted several stories behind John’s many award-winning works, told personal tales, and read unpublished verses, many of which had been posted online or emailed as responses to online discussions. Both Luga and Kat were moved and inspired by this panel and left feeling like they really should go and read some John M. Ford books, and you know what, I think we should probably all join them too.

Dinner at Pizzadelic


So you may be wondering where I was through all this, as mentioned above I returned to the Delta with a few others where as luck would have it we ran into the earlier group who had been to SAQ to buy alcohol. After that we ended up in Lany and LPs room though I don’t really remember why. Then we walked to the convention centre to join a large group of boarders congregated at the meeting place with the intention of having dinner and going back to the Delta Hotel for tonight’s parties.
We were specifically waiting for two people, Sophelia and Mentat. They had spent most of the day on a coach coming back from Quebec City where they had a wonderful time. I say coming back because they had already spent a day or two in Montreal before taking that trip. After the con they would be going to New York City for a few days, kind of the mirror opposite plan to what I would be doing. In case you had not guessed it, yes they are now a couple, the cat is well and truly out of the bag. I think back at the York Meet in May things were kind of new for them and they were not so open about it there, but now they are very comfortable and happy with each other. Definitely another cute board couple to add to the growing collection we have.
The thing about large groups of people at Worldcon is that things don’t really go according to any kind of plan. The things you end up doing, the people you end up hanging with is just really very random. Chaos theory in action you might say.
The reason I say this is that I had every intention of going with the rest of the group but when we left the convention centre, Soph, Mentat, Kat and I were at the back of the group as they disappeared off down the street towards the Delta Hotel and we decided we were hungry and did not want party food, so we decided to split off in search of a restaurant. For a while we had trouble finding anywhere, but then up towards Old Montreal we found a pizza place called Pizzadelic. We had some good pizza and made plans for when and where we could fit Live Mafia into our schedule. The only real opportunity was Friday at 5 pm when there was a stunning lack of interesting panels taking place.
A little while later we called Pebble to let her know we would not make it back to the Delta Hotel for the start of the parties and it turns out she was only just leaving herself and was hungry. So she came to join us and had an enormous burger. Kat left to go and get changed for the party. By the time she got back we were ready to go.

Thursday night parties


We made a tour of the other parties, Reno, Chicago, Texas, Tokyo – but decided that the best party of the night was the Tor Party. We completely took over one corner of the room for a while, close to the snacks table.
At some point during the party X-Ray and Mr X arrived. They had driven up from New York City today and it took a couple of hours longer than normal due to difficulties finding a place for dinner in Plattsburgh and an hour wait to get over the border. At least they had an entertaining story to relate about the border guard that dealt with them. When they told him they were on the way to a science fiction convention, he asked if they had anything with them besides clothes in the car, such as "ray guns or phasers," adding that if they did, "I have to ask you to set them on stun - we don't want lethal phasers in Canada." Oh what a comedian!
Some random guy came over to our group and said hi, most of us just kind of ignored the weirdo but Kat said hi back and ended up in a long conversation with him about how he does improv poetry on the streets in places like Paisley and Slough. He also believes highways should all be raised ten feet to avoid death by deer. Mr X said “But... the deer would just go up the ramps...” Mormont replied “Let it go, Doug.” Several times through the rest of the con she ran into him again and he would always say “Hi Kat” and she would be all embarrassed and creeped out about it because she had forgotten his name.
There was chat, laughs and good times. I promised to get up early the next day and attend the Intellectual property and Creative Commons panel with Mich – getting up early, what was I thinking? At length various people drifted away and went to bed. Around 2 am I left myself and went to bed, but for some reason I was completely unable to sleep that night. I got maybe 2 hours in total. Just the excitement of the con or something I guess.
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