Denver, At Various Altitudes

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I've finally found a train trip I don't like. To get from Portland to anywhere on the California Zephyr, one takes the Coast Starlight south overnight, then gets dropped off in Sacramento at 6-something in the morning, then waits until 10-something for the Zephyr to come through. Oh, one could reasonably assume that Amtrak's customary lateness will shrink the layover, or at least give one enough time for a decent breakfast on board, but it leaves one totally unprepared for the possibility that the Starlight will pull in early and one will be kicked off the train before the dining car even opens. Plus the eastbound Zephyr, even though Sacramento is very close to the start of its trip, managed to be half an hour late.

We were saved when I went out to see where food could be got nearby at that hour of the morning, and was struck by some faint childhood memory: There is a Denny's around here. The freeway! It's just the other side of the freeway!

Actually it was the same side of the freeway, at 3rd and J Street, but right the other side from the California Railway Museum, which is what I probably remember it from trips to. Anyway, it was there, and it was open, and they were advertising breakfast to go with menus to go, so it was a simple matter to take one back, get Chris's order, and have a nice solid breakfast in the station.

The actual train part of the trip was relaxing and panoramic as usual. I bought a puzzle magazine at the Portland station and opened it up later to discover that fat fantasy fever has even made it to the logic-puzzle world. This issue featured a 3-part challenger puzzle, the first detailing the various hands a ring of great power had passed through; the second about the journey of a pair of intrepid heroes to the place where it had been forged; and the third, like so many unfortunate Tolkien imitations, devolving into a plot coupon hunt. Chris and I also determined that the table in a Superliner roomette is just big enough to play Dragon Dice on if you both keep careful track of which die belongs to which army.

Shortly after Glenwood Springs, a few hours before Denver, there was a little meetup of online fans. Well, it was supposed to be shortly after Glenwood Springs, but was delayed by a breakdown somewhere ahead of us. The Zephyr went back to the station and most passengers took the opportunity to get out, stretch, and maybe visit the nearby pub.

But after everyone settled back into the train, we had Chris, me, a guy from Ireland and a guy from Sweden who were travelling eastbound because they'd wanted to see the Rockies, and three nurses from Reno who hadn't heard about the Worldcon bid for 2011 yet. To be fair, they didn't know Seattle was bidding either. Given the choices, there was an immediate unanimous decision for Seattle on the basis of climate. We all took pictures so we could prove that we'd gotten a head start on the con.

We seemed to be nearly on time when we spotted the lights of Denver but had reckoned without the train needing to take the long way in to lose altitude. Denver, I suddenly discovered, is not actually in the Rockies, despite the impression it cultivates. It's actually on the Great Plains! I feel cheated! So the train has to zig and zag and go in circles in order to get down to the city level.

Signage at the station was a little confused as to where the 16th Street Mall shuttle was, but we found a stop, and the system worked as advertised. So a little while later, we were at the Crowne Plaza, ready to get some sleep and tackle the start of Worldcon the next day.

Wednesday morning, our first look at Denver in daylight showed us an otherwise normal-looking city which for some reason had both right-angle and diagonal crosswalks, leading to a complicated traffic-light cycle which I never quite got the hang of. It was three blocks to the convention center and the legendary Big (gigantic!) Blue Bear, and then another couple indoors to the con.

Among the usual stuff, Registration was handing out jumbo-sized sport bottles with "Denvention 3 Fan Hydration Device" printed on them, a sign they'd been really serious when warning us beforehand about the dehydration risk. Ironically, it would spend a lot of the weekend raining.

In the Art Show, I fell in love with a print titled "The Fellowship of the Submarine", which depicted the Fellowship of the Ring in Yellow Submarine style, but would eventually lose the bidding on it. At the fanzine lounge, I dropped off a bunch of Picofarads and leafed through a few zines on display. This quote, from Eric Mayer's column "Stalking the Perfect Fanzine: Statistical Analysis", in The Whole Fanzine Catalog #22-25, possibly from 1982, caught my eye:

"If we can believe those myriad inky glimmerings scattered through the twiltone depths of last year's WoFan, the fannish universe is a tumultuous and volatile place. 16% of all fanzines are first issues. Only 2/3 are ever published again and only ½ a third time. A mere one fanzine in ten survives to its tenth issue. The life expectancy of the average genzine is only 2.8 issues."

Which gave me a little feeling of accompllishment that I was dropping off issue #14. Even nicer was coming back to the lounge later to find that, for the first time, I wasn't going to be taking any unclaimed copies home. In fact, they were all gone by Sunday morning. Because rather than sticking the fanzine lounge off in the furthest corner of the secondary function space, Denvention had set theirs up right in the middle of the convention center space, where casual passersby might actually notice it. I hope this happens again at Anticipation, even if it means having to haul more copies in.

The first panel I got to was "What Happened to Novels Under 300 Pages?", where I expected to hear about artistic whims and editorial control and instead learned that it was all about the grubby reality of the $24.95 price point.

Opening Ceremonies was fairly perfunctory, but I'd rather that than have them go on too long.

For dinner we pioneered an approach that would work fairly well most other nights of the con: look through the Denver tourist guide, find possibilities, get tired of looking back and forth between listings and map to work out whether that address was actually anywhere nearby, walk over to the mall, get on the shuttle, and get off when we saw something likely.

Thursday started with the first official Strolling With the Stars, where around a hundred people showed up to take about a 1-mile walk around the neighborhood with two or three big-name authors or editors. I can't remember who, because I spent the whole walk chatting with other fen instead.

After the group photo, I headed over to the fan tables for a very busy stint at the Seattle in 2011 table. More experienced hands assured me that business was going no better than is normal at these times, but it seemed like we hardly had a break between selling piles of presupports and answering questions. Seattle had the knee-jerk advantage on climate, and bidding for Labor Day weekend seemed to be more make than break for people who saw it as a critical issue. Mentions that the bid committee were pretty much the same people who ran CascadiaCon usually brought the reply, "I loved that, except it was so far between my hotel and the convention." "Well, then," it was easy to say, "let me show you this map of Seattle, and the cluster of hotels immediately surrounding the site we want to use..."

Beyond site selection, campaign season was generally in the air. Oh, I only saw a couple Obama pins, but there was the usual range of "Cthulhu For President" gear, and the Great Old One was being drowned out by some fresh young upstart named Saxon. After seeing several "VOTE SAXON" T-shirts and no corresponding "VOTE NORMAN" ones, I had inquired that morning of one of the wearers, who helpfully explained that this was a reference to the latest season of Doctor Who, where (I presume everyone watching the revival has seen this by now) a genial fellow named Saxon is running a nice campaign but unfortunately turns out to be the Master.

The Master?! The guy who used to dream of ruling the universe? Can you envision him in the endless round of holding focus groups and poring over poll data? I'd swear to never watch this show again, except I'm already pretending it doesn't exist.

(Later, chatting a friend, I discovered the deeper and even more terrifying truth behind the shirts... but for now, I'm only permitted to point you to

There was also a table in the dealers' room selling a bunch of campaign shirt for Robert Heinlein, but of course no one ever takes the Libertarian candidate seriously.

Back to Worldcon campaigning, the Fannish Inquisition was that afternoon. Presentations were in order of year being bid for.

2010: Already pretty much a foregone conclusion, so the Australia segment was brief. Someone asked what smoking laws were like there. Perry Middlemiss's answer: "I think at this point, they publicly execute you if you're caught smoking in public."

2011: Reno had brought two people from the local convention bureau, leading to remarks later in the convention that Seattle must not really want Worldcon so badly. Reno also acknowledged that they didn't have much local fandom, but emphasized the "catchment area" out to San Francisco, which is reachable within a day's drive.

The smoking question was asked of both bids. Reno said the hotels felt compelled to allow a certain amount of smoking for business reasons. Bobbie DuFault, speaking for Seattle, said that as a smoker she could personally assure everyone that it is practically impossible to find a place to smoke there, and furthermore, she intended to be a nonsmoker by 2011.

2012: Dave McCarty began Chicago's presentation with, "Welcome to the first 24 hours of the next four years of my life." The arguments for are pretty much the same as their 2008 bid; this time they're going with a pulp motif.

2013: Texas is still not officially bidding yet, but will make a decision by the end of the year. They're trying to decide between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. There were rumors around the con of a Zagreb in 2013 bid, but they didn't show up here. Later I would learn that they'd made a pitch at the Business Meeting.

2014 or 2015: Vince Docherty announced a European proto-bid, precise year and city to be determined. The candidates are Glasgow (same facilities as Interaction and Intersection), Liverpool, London's Docklands, Amsterdam, and The Hague. A bid for the southeast US is also rumored in the same time frame, probably by the same people bidding for the 2010 NASFiC.

I dropped by the Peggy Rae's House in 2010 party, which was doubling as the Nippon 2007 thank-you party. Peggy Rae herself explained to the small multitude gathered there how to go about a joke bid properly: you have to have contingency plans in case you actually win. The first thing to fall back on was that they hadn't actually filed bid papers; it's not enough to just win the vote. Then, if it were to turn out that someone had filed papers in the name of the bid, the plan was to allow the Australia committee to run it, on condition that the convention center in Melbourne be temporarily renamed "Peggy Rae's House".

Chatting with other veterans of Japan, I finally got an answer to the thing that puzzled me last year about the proper way to say thank you. As most of you will probably not recall, a polite thank-you is arigat. gozaimas', but the staff at restaurants would often say arigat. gozaimash'ta as we were leaving, which is like taking gozaimas' as a present-tense verb form and switching it to past tense. Well, the answer is: that's exactly the meaning. It's like "thank you for what you were recently doing" as opposed to a direct and immediate thank-you. Of the implied verb *gozau (or possibly just *zau, since go- is sometimes an honorific prefix added to existing words), I have yet to learn anything more.

A new puzzle was presented by the door prize I won. It was a box containing three pairs of astoundingly ornate chopsticks. I mean, you would never dream of letting these touch food or anyone's mouth. I'm still trying to come up with a nice way to display them. Ideas?

The next panel I went to was "Fandom and SF Outside the English-Speaking World", where I collected this information:

Portugal: Portuguese author Sarah Hoyt repored that all the little bookstores she remembers fondly from her youth have been replaced by shoe shops, and she feels she deserves a medal for not giving into the urge to commit terrorist attacks on them. Imported sf is held back somewhat by excise taxes. Asked about differences in writing in two different languages, she said that Portuguese is better for sense words, but English makes it easier to explain what is going on in her characters' heads.

Russia: Fandom is not very organized there. (Retort left as an exercise for the reader.) Conventions are often held at facilities out of town, where the expectation is you'll stay right there for the duration of the con. Finland: Conventions are thriving and usually free thanks to government grants.

Sweden: Fantasy is big, sf is barely heard from.

Israel: Foreign sf and fantasy is so popular that when the first book in a series is translated, a lot of readers will immediately buy the rest in English. Just as well, because modern Hebrew is changing so fast that translations look archaic after 20 years. An exception is the 1976 translation of Dune-- Israeli publisher Rani Graff called it the best translation of any book ever into Hebrew-- whose only small problem is that the Semitic words from the original all have to have footnotes like, "No, seriously, the original text actually says Kwisatz Haderach."

France: Most published sf is translations of foreign works.

Spain: A big foreign market here, too, and a lot of disparagement of sf originally written in Spanish. (I so want to see an actual article trashing Gabriel García Márquez while holding up some generic sword-and-sorcery translated from English as real literature.)

Friday, I got up a little too late to make it to Strolling With the Stars, leaving me lots of time to sit and get nervous about my first panel: "Without the Universal Translator: What might learning real alien languages be like?". This was moderated by Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen, director of the Klingon Language Institute, and filled out with four other panelists with no linguistic credentials a but a deep interest in the subject. It was fun, though I do feel sorry for the guy who got jumped on for bringing up the old Eskimo-words-for-snow fallacy. (Guy: "Well, you know the Eskimos have 23..." Entire panel: "Nooo!" Dr. Schoen, checking the time on his PDA: "For whoever had 10:44 in the pool...")

Then it was over to the Seattle in 2011 table for another couple hours, where once again, people were shoving money across the table so continuously that I stayed longer than I intended. And that is how I wound up meeting Paul Cornell again.

Last year, when I spent most of Nippon 2007 at Information, Mr. Cornell was one of the people who reported that his hotel hadn't gotten his con-rate reservation from the travel agency. This was quickly referred to the people who could help him, but due to that he later recognized me as "the information-desk lady" when I attended one of his panels. This time around, I happened to be the person he approached about buying a couple of presupports, and wound up explaining the whole story of how site selection works, because he'd never done this before. Did I say anything about how I really feel about the new Doctor Who? No, I made small talk about the Saxon T-shirts. He said he found them "rather creepy", but clearly he recognized that they were all in good fun.

I feel like mild scum. Also like I'm stealing exciting life experiences away from some huge fan of the show.

I did extricate myself in time for the Trailer Park, and then wished I hadn't, because half of what they showed wasn't even sf. The trailer for Watchmen looked interesting enough for me to decide to read the graphic novel, though.

My second panel of the day was "My Favorite Planet: Real and Imagined", which had an enthusiastic panel but an audience of five. It was interesting, and I got at least one person determined to track down a copy of The Crucible of Time, but we eventually floundered and called it over about 10 minutes early.

This gave me a little extra time to make a quick trip to the local Subway for a sandwich and drink, and get back for the masquerade.

The master of ceremonies was Wil McCarthy, who arrived wearing a hard hat and denim overalls, which he quickly shucked to reveal a tuxedo, as a butler brought him an aqueous martini. The martini was to become very important; anytime he needed to stall, he would take an extra-slow sip from it. For some reason this routine became more and more hilarious through the course of the evening.

Highlights included a pair of professional-looking velociraptors; High School Musical 2 on Hawai`ian myth; two entries which independently decided to use "Here Comes the Sun" for their presentations; and the Chairman of the Borg, singing a parody of "New York, New York". The biggest production of the night was a Schoolhouse Rock-inspired piece about the demotion of Pluto, starring the body in question, the eight confirmed planets, Interplanet Janet and friends, three goons from the International Astronomical Union, and a special appearance by Ben Yalow as The SMOF. Pluto also inspired the best children's division entry: Alien Ellie, visiting from her home dwarf planet with a protest sign. ("Ellie is also here to share her culture: support Pluto, or she'll eat your face!")

Saturday I did make it to Strolling With the Stars again, and made my way over to one of that morning's stars, Frank Wu, to congratulate him for his bravery in the masquerade, where he had appeared in a Barbarella entry wearing a pair of angel wings and not much else. I also wanted to say I liked the Starbucks parody artwork he'd created for the Seattle in 2011 bid, but the crowd changed directions and I got shuffled away from him.

The first panel I went to was on the believability of dark matter, with astronomer Michael Brotherton arguing for, physicist Edward M. Lerner arguing against, and Wil McCarthy mainly trying to stay out of the way. Words like "fudge factor" and "weather prediction" were used repeatedly. Both sides at least agreed that dark energy looks dubious.

Then I went to "Pubbing Your Ish", in the hope of maybe picking up a few tips, since getting Picofarad out still always manages to turn into a last-minute scramble somehow, but the panel managed to be about nearly everything in fanzines except getting issues published, which I guess says something.

The last panel I was on was "The Harry Potter Phenomenon", which was enthusiastic and upbeat and absolutely packed and the only difficulty was in finding something original to say when there were six panelists: retired children's librarians Roberta Rogow and Bonnie Kunzel, writing teacher Valerie Frankel, me, another children's librarian added at the last minute, and writer Ian Brazee-Cannon, who said the only reason he could think of to have him on the panel was to keep it from being all women. (Having only two microphones to share between six panelists, on the other hand, turns out to be a good way to keep order.) All our gushing was recorded for the SF Oral History Association.

Another couple hours at the Seattle table, where things had quieted down bit, and then I caught the end of "Choosing Religion as a Setting for a Novel", which got me interested in The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls. I'd asked on the Denvention LiveJournal for recommendations for a Bujold book to read before the con, and Chalion and The Warrior's Apprentice had tied for the most votes. Believing the former to be very generic medieval fantasy, I went looking for The Warrior's Apprentice, but was never able to find a standalone copy of it, even at the con in the dealers' room. Hearing a brief description of the Chalion pantheon changed my mind.

I was really looking forward to "Trivia for Chocolate" next, but the room was empty. Other disappointed people arrived and hovered for a few minutes. Eventually word came through that it had been moved to earlier in the day.

Sunday, skipped Strolling With the Stars to get packed and head over to Hertz to pick up a rental car. Later it was over to "Asimov, the Man Who Wrote Everything", to see if I could name an Asimov book I'd read that no one else there had. My first try was Asimov's Guide to the Bible, but no, half the room had read that. I had slightly better luck with Asimov's Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, which led to someone else's recollection of Asimov and Anne McCaffrey singing opera at each other.

I did, however, turn out to be the only person to have first encountered him as a nonfiction writer, having read several of the How Did We Find Out About... books before moving on to "Lucky" Starr.

A great but possibly apocryphal story from that panel: Asimov was among a group of sf writers invited to watch the Apollo 11 launch from a boat. As the moment approached, someone asked, "Where's Isaac?" All fell silent, and the tapping a a typewriter filled the air. Hauled bodily up to the deck, he watched the rocket go up with only mild interest. A few minutes later, from deep in ship, could be heard: tapppity-tap-tap-ding, tap-tappity-tap...

On to the Sunday gripe session, which kicked off with a woman who had never been to Worldcon before complaining that she had expected something called a "masquerade" to be a ball-type setting where people could interact and see costumes up close. A fair complaint for people who aren't familiar with fannish terminology, I think , and something for all you insiders to keep in mind.

We learned a lot about the financial background of Denvention. It had had the highest number of room cancellations of any Worldcon in 30 years, sending the committee into a mode where they looked for anything they could do without. That was why there was no restaurant guide. A very late jump in memberships had spared a few things. The hotels were not unhappy about having spare rooms, since they were able to fill those with early arrivals for the Democratic National Convention at top dollar.

Why was there no Wi-Fi? The convention center did allow it, for anyone willing to pay $9/day. Free Wi-Fi would have required at least 3 access points to cover the entire Denvention space, at $12,000-$15,000 each. L.A.Con IV apparently spent $38,000 to make various kinds of Internet access available at its convention center.

Why weren't more snack stands open nearby? Because the con would have to pay the convention center, plus guarantee a minimum amount of sales.

Why so much programming at the Sheraton, when the Hilton was right next door? Denvention was outbid for the additional space it could have used at the Hilton.

Someone was worried about the lack of a nurse onsite. Actually, said the chairman, the contract with the convention center specified that among the security people, there would be two EMTs on duty at all times. This is pretty standard within the US. Another person thought the con was having its money wasted by the excessive security presence around the masquerade, but most of those had apparently been off-duty and enjoying the con as they had been encouraged to.

Many nice things were said about the design of the pocket program book, though accompanied by suggestions about how to make it just a bit better next time. My own ongoing pet peeve is with maps getting buried somewhere into the middle of the book-- put 'em right at the front or right at the back, so people can find them easily. However, they did a great job to keep it pocket-sized but readable, and the spiral binding worked so well, I don't know why everyone doesn't do the same. Many other nice things were said about having managed to put on the convention at all, what with the economy and being stepped on by the DNC and everything.

I went over to "Producing a Zine on Mimeo" to collect Chris, and find that they had not actually quite gotten to the part where they produced a zine on their mimeograph. So I stayed to watch it being loaded up, inked, cranked a bit, watered, inked again, cranked, fed some scrap paper, frowned at, scrutinized, polished, inked, and finally deemed ready to have the real cover sheets sent through. Naturally, it was after producing a pile of covers that someone noticed a typo on the part of the cover artist had renamed their publication Fanzinine Five. Ah, the good old days!

So finally to the closing ceremonies, where Wil McCarthy checked to see if he could still get people to laugh by drinking water slowly (he could). Lois McMaster Bujold was fighting not only laryngitis but tears. Kathy Mar was a bit choked up too, and Rick Sternbach's voice was definitely quivering as he said that he'd been away from fandom too long. Anticipation's committee was all ready to get things perked up again, except they had their big introduction at the back corner of the stage and didn't wait for someone to get a working microphone to them. Still, I expect they have great people and we're all in for a very interesting multilingual convention next year.

Post-con, we went to the sleepy little college exurb of Ft. Collins for a couple days to visit family, then back to Denver for a whirlwind day of touristing. First stop: Dinosaur Ridge, which promises a chance to see actual fossils in their native habitat, and did not disappoint. Not only bones, but tracks, wave marks, burrows, and concretions. (Those of you who aren't paleontology nuts, just trust me, this is really neat stuff.)

Dinosaur Ridge also has an innovative pricing scheme: admission is free, totally free, but if you want a lift up the hill on their bus (no personal cars are allowed on that road), that'll be $3 per person. Their exhibit room at the main visitor center comes with a suggested donation of $1 each, and is worth it just for the air conditioning after hiking back down the hill on a hot summer day. This is also where I picked up my copy of The Dechronization of Sam Magruder.

We also went to the local air museum, which is located on a former airbase and which, judging from Chris's reaction, has a decent collection, and finished up with a lecture on extraterrestrial volcanoes at the science museum. If we'd had an extra day, I would've like to visit the museum itself, but it was time to board Amtrak the next morning and flee before the hordes of Democratic Party operatives who were already starting to descend on the city. Of course you know the rest of that story.

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