Orycon 29: Better Luck Next Year

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Orycon was a mixed bag for me this year. Ultimately, that goes back to two bad decisions I made about how to go about attending this year, but let me talk about the fun stuff first.

The Petrey Auction table was placed just inside the Dealer's Room entrance again, so as to have the best chance at snagging money from unwary passers-by. They also had the mystery eggs again, still at the tantalizing price of $2 apiece, so I had five new books to read just after I'd really started exploring the con. The table displaying the actual auction items looked like Ursula K. Le Guin's garage sale: signed special editions of the Earthsea series and other books, themed bookends, and a bunch of Studio Ghibli merchandise.

That evening, the con's theme of "Pirates: Past, Present and Future" was dramatically interpreted at the opening ceremonies by having a modern-day pirate, with business suit and briefcase, describing his imminent purchase of Orycon and his plans for utilizing its assets to the fullest. He was interrupted by an attack first from a pirate of the old high seas, then from a space pirate, and it all ended in general mayhem and death.

The Endeavour Award presentation was somewhat calmer, owing to Ursula K. Le Guin being the presenter, and also to the fact of neither the winner (Robin Hobb, for Forest Mage) nor the trophy actually making it to the convention. Le Guin assured us that the trophy was lovely, that in fact she keeps hers in her study, whereas some awards she has won have to be consigned to the attic, for fear of scaring her grandkids.

Gareth von Kallenbach's upcoming movie report was great fun as usual, even though it was crammed into too small a room and it was still mostly a litany of movies I want to avoid. The main news was that the writers' strike had already pushed everything that was planning to shoot in 2008 back a year. We also were treated to a couple of his own short amateur films about a Sith Lord attempting to get by while being surrounded by an especially incompetent bunch of lackeys. I'm sure they're on YouTube somewhere.

A particular high point of the convention came on Saturday, when the hotel was finally persuaded to open up the door to the stairwell at the back of the bar. This was big news because the Marriott is divided into three sections which normally are only linked by elevators: the basement up to the second floor have escalators between them, the third floor is a little world of its own, and the fourth floor and above have staircases, but one staircase is blocked below that. The other staircase has the aforementioned door at the back of the bar. Your only option for continuing when it's closed is to head down to ground level, where the door opens right up into the lovely rainy November weather of Portland. With the con occupying most of the function space from the third floor down, plus a few key rooms on the sixteenth floor, you can see the problem.

Speaking of questionable decisions, I went to the Seattle in 2011 panel, where I discovered that the bid chair-and con chair if the bid were to win-was none other than Bobbie DuFault, lately my superior in the Nippon 2007 information division. As I absorbed the realization that I had just demonstrated a certain degree of competence, and, more importantly, a high susceptibility to volunteering in front of a soon-to-be-Worldcon-chairperson, I decided I might as well put my own neck in the noose. I raised my hand and asked if there was anything a morning person could do to help.

And, being free of fan table duty after three years of service to Nippon 2007, I had a clear shot at being at the front of the line for the chocolate auction. I arrived early and camped out with a book. Only... There was no line. I remember it stacking up all the way down the hallway before the doors opened, a few years ago! What's happened?

Now it's time to go into what I did to try to screw up all that fun. First, I thought we'd save a couple hundred bucks and travel between home and the convention each day, conveniently forgetting that the local light rail line has a tendency to have trains turn up late or vanish completely just when you really need them, and not really considering that I'd be lugging around my bike helmet, rain gear, emergency supplies, etc. all day, since I live with an evening person. And I missed being able to take a nap. I've learned my lesson, and we'll be getting a room again next year.

I'm going to try being a panelist again next year, though. I've seen enough Orycons to know that this was just an unusually bad year for programming, and what follows is not at all representative.

I started by volunteering to the contact e-mail address on the Orycon 29 Web site. My message vanished into a black hole.

A couple months later, there was still no committee list posted, but the contact address had changed, so I sent another e-mail. A reply came back, bizarrely suggesting that if I wanted to be a panelist, I should come to the next meeting and speak to the volunteer coordinator. (Later on, the same person who sent the reply would compose a message to a friend about how they hated panels and thought cons should be all about parties, and then accidentally broadcast the message to the entire Orycon mailing list.)

At this point, going to a meeting looked like my only option anyway. So at the next one, I mingled with the crowd as they finished the tour of the newly renovated Marriott, asking people at random who was running programming this year, then getting the e-mail address of the programming deputy I was supposed to have written to in the first place.

After all that they still let me onto the program. Five panels! I was excited. Then I saw the pocket program.

Now, I still have my pocket programs from the last few Orycons, and they look nice and professional. They have the panel titles in bigger letters and the descriptions in smaller letters, and there are helpful headers or side tabs to tell you what day you're looking at on every page, and it's all spelled correctly and everything. This year's program looked like someone had taken the half-edited plaintext and just pasted it into their Word file and let the page breaks fall where they might. I can't find a nice way to say this. It was awful. Most of the panels had no descriptions. Moderators weren't indicated. There were missing line breaks, bad grammar, bad spelling (one actual title as listed: "Realtime editiorail critique"), random capitalization, and generally uneven formatting. At the very back, where there would normally be an index of panelists with a list of panels each one was on, there was just a list of names.

The descriptions had been missing from the Web site, too--although at least with the online listings, you could tell who the moderator was--which led to some differing ideas of what panels were about. For instance, I showed up to "Escaping from the West: Asian, Native American, and African Influences" all eager to talk about books like The Embers of Heaven or Children of Chaos which use something other than the bog-standard American/European culture found in most sf, but Steve Barnes and Nisi Shawl came prepared to talk about There Aren't Enough Colored People in SF and We Should All Do Something About It. Michael Ehart, moderating, tried to, well, be moderate, which meant most of the panel time was taken up by books with lots of black people but still bog-standard American/European culture. Which I guess goes to show that you can never really escape the West; it'll shove its way into the conversation somehow.

Nisi Shawl made her book Writing the Other sound interesting and useful, though. It's now on my list of things I really need to get around to reading sometime.

On the other hand, no amount of pocket program non-editing can explain what happened at my first panel, "The Internet: All the Privacy of a Postcard", where Elton Elliott kept bursting into mini-speeches expressing something about how wonderful the people in fandom were, or an important thing about sf. Even extremely veteran panelist David Levine, who was moderating, floundered as he tried to drag Elliott back to the topic. We tried, we really did.

Later on Friday, "The Other Cons" went the best of any of my panels. The gist: There are lots of other cons. Go to them! They're different and fun!

"Language Construction 101" was fun, although we actually spent the time talking about random interesting language features, real and invented, rather than approaching it as a construction process.

In the last slot on Sunday, I was scheduled on "SF Awards: What Are they?" with Ben Yalow but not, as it turned out, with an audience. He suggested that anyone who might have been interested had probably gone to the panel on how to win an award on Saturday instead, and noted that this was his second panel that convention that no one had turned up for. The first had been "Reprinting Classic SF/F: Profitable or Not?". So I asked him if it was, in fact, profitable, and we chatted about the ups and downs of NESFA Press for bit.

So that was that. I really believe that Orycon will revert to form next year, and I really, really wanna do a panel on non-Western-influenced sf now, so I will be trying again next year. If they'll have me, after they've read this.

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