Orycon 30: The Season of Sharing

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When you go in to find a seat for the opening ceremonies and discover kazoos on every alternate chair, it has worrying implications. Especially when everyone is also given a copy of the little-known lyrics to the original Star Trek theme.

Yes, the Not Ready For Sidereal Time Players were doing a Trek homage this year, with the crew of the USS Enterprise collecting a group of ambassadors, played by the GoHs. All went smoothly until they called for Harry Turtledove, and two older men walked on.

"Which one of you is the real Harry Turtledove?" asked David Levine as Mr. Spock.

"I am," both insisted.

"From our continuum?"

The famous author sheepishly raised his hand. Then he explained to the audience, which by now was thinking that it was a neat idea to have an alternate-universe Harry Turtledove but they could at least have gotten someone who looked more like him, that the other man was his cousin, Harry O. Turtledove, who lives in Portland and had never been to a science fiction convention before.

The guests then escaped, requiring the Enterprise to retrieve them from the Filk Planet, the Art Show Planet, etc., concluding with the Programming Planet, where its robotic masters, on the verge of creating the perfect program, fell apart over the logical impossibility of having two Harry Turtledoves. (I can't help wondering if the Orycon programming software had the same problem. Could yours have handled it?) With all the guests collected, and a few more jokes checked off (yes, they did mention a partridge in a pear tree), the Enterprise sailed off to the sound of a gloriously off-key roomful of voices and kazoos.

That was the high point for me, I think, but there was plenty of other good stuff. My first panel was at noon Friday. It was "How to Be a Panelist", and started with Andy Nisbet's revelation that there were two panels in the noon slot because there had been exactly eight people willing to be on panels then. First tip: Be available when other people aren't. Exhortations on this point were made to volunteer for Orycon 31, where first-timers will probably have a better than usual chance at making it onto the program due to people not being able to make it because of other Thanksgiving plans.

I think it was Friday afternoon that I made a visit to the Petrey Fund table to buy some of their $2 eggs. Really good luck this year: I wound up with three books, a beaded choker made by Vonda N. McIntyre, and one of the grand prizes, the Wheelbarrow of Snacks. This was a miniature wheelbarrow, thankfully, containing an assortment of unusual items like white cheddar popcorn, Pim's cookies (a British brand) and four local microbrews. The last posed a bit of a problem for my non-drinking household, but the rest has been gratefully enjoyed over the ensuing months.

Saturday morning started with "Second Life: is that real?" with Phyllis Radford (aka P. R. Frost) at a table in Salon E. This is a large room used for theoretically small subjects, but the tables are so close to each other that if any one of them is well-attended, everyone winds up shouting at each other. (Orycon 31, incidentally, has decided to abandon this arrangement at the new hotel.) I started by voicing the opinion that virtual worlds have been emotionally real for some time, drawing on well-known events at LambdaMOO. There was general agreement around the table that the two-way link between the Second Life economy and US dollars makes it financially real, and thus legally real. Ms. Radford and a couple of other Second Life participants told some great stories about the unique issues of virtual reality: the great height inflation of the early days, for instance, caused by people being rendered out of proportion to the scenery, and the time that griefers figured out how to create orbiting antigravity rays that would yank people off the ground and leave them floating in space for hours. This sort of thing has been going on for a long time in text VR, but having it in a graphically rendered world gives it that extra layer of weirdness.

The next couple hours I spent wandering around, reading, and generally trying to work myself into an unpanicked frame of mind for my first ever attempt at moderating: "Asia's moon: the new space race?" General verdict: need improvement. I arrived with a list of questions and a general structure in my mind, but wound up giving up on that as the other panelists, Dan Dubrick and Hugh Gregory, kept going off in their own direction. And anyway, they were very knowledgeable about the subject and the audience looked interested, so I tried to back off and just indicate questions from the audience, and interject an occasional bit of clarification. We also lost five or ten minutes at the beginning when Small Tech showed up with a projector and a need to announce to everyone in detail why the projector was late.

After the panel, I found out why it had gone that way: the other panelists had actually volunteered a prepared presentation, and had been very puzzled as to why they'd been given a moderator. Ack. I apologized profusely, but they took the whole thing in stride and emphasized that they weren't bothered by it. Still, I strongly encourage anyone who in the future finds they have me as an uninvited participant to object early and often.

Mr. Gregory stopped by the Seattle table on Sunday to mention to me that this was hardly the worst thing that had ever happened to his panel: one time, he said, he'd shown up to an evening slot where he'd been planning to mostly show videos, only to find that there was no video equipment to be had. Then an image flashed through his mind of Hal Holbrook's one-man show about Mark Twain. So he sat down and simply described the images he'd meant to show for an hour. And Locus, he said, called it the best panel of the entire convention.

But there was no time to dwell on it right then, because I had to go back to Salon E for "Graphic Novels: Great literature or glorified comic books?", at which the verdict was "both". I brought some recommendations for show-and-tell-- Girl Genius and some of the manga I've been reading-- and urged everyone to get Worldcon memberships and vote in the Best Graphic Story category.

Another hour off, during which I was finally grasping the truth of the adage that one hour on a program item is as exhausting as three hours spent otherwise, and then my last panel was "Wiki: facts or future dogma?", which was conducted in a relatively reasoned fashion without huge rants for or against Wikipedia.

Sunday was scheduled for recovery by way of spending the day at the Seattle in 2011 table, with a brief break to visit the chocolate tasting. Word was passed along that relations between the Seattle and Reno bids were still cordial; some bystanders had been looking for a huge catfight, but both bid chairs had issued firm orders to their staffs that we were absolutely all going to get along.

It was a quiet time, people were friendly, and things wound down nicely. Unfortunately, the last big event of the con happened Sunday night, when a fair number of congoers became violently ill with something that looked suspiciously like a norovirus. I had managed to not pick it up, but Chris wasn't so lucky, and I caught it from him just when he was recovering. Postmortem on the Orycon mailing list found plenty of people who had eaten at Hospitality and the hotel restaurants and not been sick, so, as with the Wiscon outbreak, the con itself is not responsible. However, with two con-linked outbreaks in the same year, it may be time to add something to the standard fannish health lecture, after the 5-2-1 rule: And wash your hands before every meal.

Speaking of food, if you can stand that segue, Orycon 31 will be held Thanksgiving weekend at the Lloyd Center Doubletree. I can do no better than to quote its take on the change:

OryCon 31 membership rate until 3/31/09: $35
Hotel: $99/night
Parking: Free
Getting your holiday shopping done tax-free in the huge mall across from the convention hotel: Priceless

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