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For me, Interaction started on Tuesday afternoon in the international terminal at Newark, when I came to the conclusion that I wasn't going to be able to relax enough to take a nap, and struck up a conversation with a familiar-looking woman sitting near by. It developed that she was Irene Radford, Portland-area writer and a fixture at Orycon, and she came with the news that Jane Yolen might not be appearing as her husband had just started chemotherapy. In fact it would turn out that about half the population of our flight was Interaction-bound, with the balance made up by a pipe and drum band from Denver, heading to an international competition, and one bewildered Glaswegian family returning from a tour of New England.
First impression of Scotland, looking down through the morning clouds: I guess farmland looks about the same wherever you go in the world.
On the ground, the first stage of British customs catered to every American stereotype of the British-- no guards here, but a row of nearly elderly men in ties and bright maroon coats, standing alongside wooden podiums and putting one inescapably in mind of maitre d's.
First impression of Scotland close up, riding the bus from the airport to central Glasgow: The highway signs are a lot easier to read at a distance, but the grafitti is just as illegible as at home.
I'd made our reservation at the Jury's Inn Glasgow because it looked like it was near Glasgow Central Station. What the maps had not made clear is that it was practically in the station. Central Station occupies an edifice that stretches for several blocks, while our hotel occupied a corner of this superblock, with the upshot being that we could look out our second-floor window and see trains coming into the main arrival area a few feet away. Thanks to the miracles of modern construction, we hardly heard them.
So we checked in, having made a reservation for the previous night, showered, had breakfast, and then finally had to admit our biological clocks were not convinced that it was not actually Tuesday night and spent most of the day sleeping.
Late afternoon, we were awake enough to take a stroll around the neighborhood, which was to be the sum total of our actually seeing the country. I find that I don't mind this. Living in one of the youngest cities in the world-- I mean, sitting on land that Western civilization wasn't even sure existed until a couple hundred years ago-- it's fascinating to me to see a place that's had time to accumulate a whole history of architectural styles.
Also fascinating to me was the bus system. I was completely unable to find any bus information on the Web, beyond the fact that the buses were operated privately, and in exploring Central Station I never found any posted bus schedules or maps, and yet the streets around the station were full of buses of all shapes, sizes, and colors, being used by a population that clearly knew where they were going.
In what was to become our evening routine, we went to a pub. It was called The Crystal Palace, and appeared to be part of a chain, so I suppose it wouldn't pass muster for being really authentic, but it was different enough for us. On the upper floor, away from the TVs and the smoking area, it was nice and quiet, and the only thing that really disappointed me was that the portions turned out to be American-sized. I'd been seriously hoping that going outside the country that invented the supersized meal would give me a shot at having room for dessert, but it was never to be. Although one night I did get to find out what Yorkshire pudding was.
Just for the heck of it, we decided to walk to the SECC once. It turned out there weren't sidewalks quite all of the way, and so we stuck to the trains after that.
Registration was of course packed. Cruising along the freebie table while Chris was still stuck in his line, I picked up a bag provided by some entity called Voyager 10. These bags were to prove extremely useful to myself and many other members, and I would call them a resounding marketing success except that I never found out just who or what Voyager 10 was.
We lined up for the opening of Hall 2, which had the fan tables and other exhibits. I went and added my name to the Conspiracy '87 list and admired the photo of the board of manager jokes. I remember being part of the crowd that had stepped out to see the fireworks and came back to find the hotel locked, but I'd never known about the joke board. On the other hand, the photo of the dealers' room brought back memories. I think that the white rectangle visible at the back of the picture may be the sign that I spent most of that con sitting beneath.
There was an exhibit of photos of unidentified fen with Post-It notes to fill in captions if the viewer recognized anyone. I unexpectedly came across one of Crow T. Robot from MST3K, which I labeled but remained puzzled about how it got in there.
Then it was off to the first panel I wanted to attend, "Human Psychology and Long Distance Spaceflight", but it had been moved to Monday.
First thing I did actually attend was the opening ceremony of the fan room, which included the traditional exhortations to check out the fanzines, chat, spend money at the bar, etc. A particular point was amade of mentioning that the bar had an excellent supply of Real Ale, which past conventions had been known to drink their hotels dry of. Not to worry, said the Plokta Cabal, this bar had a brewery to tap right around the corner. More would be said on this topic at the closing ceremony.
The official opening ceremonies were presented as the start of the pre-launch festivities for the WSFS Armadillo, "the new flagship of the White Star Federated Spacelines". Amongst the dignitaries attending was a member of Glasgow's city council, who claimed to be a long-time sf fan and spoke fondly of James Doohan, who had just died the week before. After the usual introductions-- Jane Yolen had in fact arrived, though she was to miss Sunday and Monday-- we were invited to follow a bagpiper over to an adjacent space, where there had been set out an assortment of wines, plus some orange juice for those of us who fail to appreciate alcohol.
After the ceremonies it was time to head back to our hotel, debate where to have dinner, and decide to go back to The Crystal Palace. Which meant figuring out how to use the rail system. The route to the train station was obvious, purchasing the fares was easy, and we went to the right platform, but we might never have managed to board if it were not for some local who emerged from the crowd as we stood there, staring dumbly at the closed train doors, to press the button to open them.
In what would become our morning routine, we went into Central Station, bought our tickets for the day, and rode the train to the SECC. Many others' morning routine too-- by Saturday evening, a handwritten sign had been taped up in the ticket booth explaining the fares to the SECC stop, and the schedule of trains there.
First up was "The Care and Feeding of a GoH", joined unexpectedly by Terry Pratchett to describe his transformation from the first excited rush of "Oh my gosh, I've been invited to TeenieWeenieCon!" to a person who winces when he gets invitations with the now-familiar "We are sure you can find sponsors to cover your travel expenses...". It was generally agreed that the usual bargain goes like this: The con pays for all travel expenses, the hotel room, the food, and helps the GoH's spouse or partner find something to do if they have come along but are not a big sf fan. The GoH appears in one big or two small program items per day and makes an effort to go out and mingle with the fans. Pratchett adds: The GoH liaison should offer to buy the guest a drink upon arrival at the hotel.
Next I went to "What's New in Astronomy and Cosmology", where I got my first look at one of my co-panelists for the next day, Guy Consolmagno SJ. Yes, that is "Society of Jesus" after his name there. He is the one perennial Worldcon attendee from Vatican City, and, at this panel, also revealed that he is the head of the International Astronomical Union's committee that will get to decide if "Planet Xena" will get to be called a planet. This may have been discussed somewhat at the IAU's annual convention, but it was the same weekend as Interaction, and he'd decided he'd rather hang out with fandom.
One wrinkle in the plan to officially name the new body Xena, he mentioned, is that the discoverers can have a planet, or they can name it Xena, but not both, because under IAU rules, only the IAU can name planets.
After this it was over to the Dealers' Room to make another attempt at acquiring The Leaky Establishment. Thursday I'd stopped by a table that had all things Langfordian except for that book prominently displayed, where the dealer said he was expecting the one more box from the distributor and to check back the next day. So I did, but he still didn't have it, but suggested I try Replay Books, over thataway. I did buy a copy of The Affirmation, which I also haven't been able to find in the US, from him.
Replay Books was manned by Rog Peyton, as made famous in dispatches from Ansible, who had two copies of The Leaky Establishment left, which I quickly reduced to one.
Took a turn around the art show. Saw some neat stuff but can't remember the artists' names at this point. The peril of everyone using the Voyager 10 bags became clear when I discovered, after walking back to the panel areas and reaching into my bag for my water bottle, that I'd gotten the wrong bag back from the Art Show staff as I left. Managed to get my own back, but I imagine that was happening all weekend.
Found a quiet corner to sit and read the beginning of The Affirmation, and then it was time for the SF Music Quiz. A team of Britons faced off against a team of Americans, with chances for the audience to pick up points if a question stumped both teams. I recognized most of the music, so my sense of fannish security is safe.
Then it was over to the Armadillo for "The Secret History of Ansible", which you can can read at the Ansible archive [when it gets uploaded, which I thought it would be by now --ed.]-- but it's not quite the same as actually hearing Langford say it, particularly the chilling tone he gives to the fateful words, "Hello, Langford-- you look young..."
It was time to collect Chris and head off for a rest and dinner, and it was rapidly becoming clear that the sniffles plaguing Chris since the previous day were not merely the result of spending 12 hours in dry airplane cabin air, but were worsening and were, most likely, due to my having had an actual cold the previous week. We went to the Woolworths near the hotel to discover that despite its resemblance to a Safeway, the similarity did not extend to including a pharmacy. We located a pharmacy by the name of Boots in the St. Enoch Shopping Centre, which did have cold medications, but learned that "over the counter" in the UK still requires intervention from the store staff. You cannot simply pick up a medication off a shelf and pay for it, but must allow the sales clerk to question you about your symptoms, allergies, etc. Having finally obtained it, it kept him up and walking for the rest of the con, but he would later choose to go to CascadiaCon to make up for being half-undead during this one.
So Chris was feeling up to heading back over to the Armadillo after dinner for Lucas Back in Anger, a presentation of all six Star Wars movies as performed by the Reductio Ad Absurdem Players. It was a mixed bag-- some truly hilarious moments in the first half (I will never, as long as I live, erase from my mind the image that went with, "Luke-- I am your mother!") but a frustrating second half. It sounded like fun at first to do the later movies as a series of Abba songs with revised lyrics, but the audience was invited to sing along and then the lyrics were displayed too slowly.
We finished off the evening with a trip to the party hotel, where the schedule said there was a Harry Potter party on the third floor, but it turned out there wasn't. No signage, no indication of present or likely future habitation, nothing. So we went back downstairs and visited the combined L.A. in 2006/Nippon 2007 party instead, where, under the influence of obscure Japanese candies, I handed over my credit card and converted us to full attending memberships for both.
First thing I did was go to the Green Room and register my apologies that I probably wasn't going to be able to meet up with my fellow panelists before the panel I was scheduled for, owing to having promised someone a report on the Harry Potter debate in the time slot before it. I took the opportunity to trade in my drink token for something I forget the brand name of but which could be broadly categorized as lemonade.
I settled down in the concourse and finished reading The Affirmation. As I got up, I realized my program participant ribbon was missing. I'd unstuck it from my badge and stuck it to my "Space Cadet" ribbon that I'd gotten at the L. A. in 2006 party, which in turn was stuck to my badge, which had turned out to be a bad idea as most of the adhesive was left on the badge rather than the ribbon. It had already fallen off once that morning. I was sure I'd been wearing the program participant ribbon when I sat down to read, but it had vanished completely-- wasn't stuck to some other part of me, wasn't where I'd been sitting, or on the floor, or anywhere else to be seen, and being bright orange it should have been easy to spot.
Sheesh, I hate it when the books I'm reading leak into reality like that. At least I still had the schedule sticker on the back of my badge to prove I was supposed to be on a panel.
The Harry Potter panel was titled "Harry Potter Has Set Children's Fantasy Back 50 Years". The moderator confirmed that it was supposed to have been phrased in the form of a question, but it was too late and the audience was skewed toward the Potter-haters.
As I frantically typed notes to turn into a blow-by-blow account for Wizard News, Sharyn November asked if there were any journalists in the audience who were planning to file reports. Thinking she meant the paid media, I kept my hand down, and was duly ashamed of myself when Evelyn Leeper raised hers.
And then, gulp, it was time for my first-ever chance at being a panelist: "Science Denial". The room was packed. I fretted about what kind of composure I was displaying until I glanced over at the moderator and saw that his hands were trembling like the proverbial leaf.
I don't really remember anything I said, other than the last question was to pick a favorite idiocy and I chose the people who still have faith in the famous Bigfoot tracks even after the guy responsible has admitted to it and demonstrated he did it. Then, chatting with someone after the panel, I realized I should have picked the evangelical environmentalist movement, an interesting idea but noted for being run by the same bunch of people who behind "creation science".
I do remember Guy Consolmagno talking about how he's able to go around to churches and speak about science and religion co-existing. He exhorts all church-going scientists to talk to their fellow worshippers.
Well, I at least managed to not say anything stupid (at least so far as I remember), and I got a photo of Dave Weingart from rec.arts.sf.fandom out of it, he being the gofer who showed up to replenish the water pitchers after the panel.
So it was back to spectatordom and "The Pleasures of Destruction: Creating a Future World and Blowing it Up", which was held in a tiny room in the Moat House. With people cramming themselves in behind the last row of chairs and sitting all down the center aisle, maybe 50 could be accomodated, leaving about as many more stuck outside. I was one of the lucky ones who got in, only to find the panel meandering and left after about 15 minutes.
The karma from that was repaid at the next item I tried to get to, "The Green Children of Woolpit", which sounded fascinating and was held in an even tinier room, with me being stuck in the crowd outside.
"Trilogy Middle Book Problem" was in a nice spacious room in the Armadillo. The consensus of the panel there seemed to be that publishers will always want trilogies, which will always have middle books, which will always be problematic.
I had an hour or so free to get dinner, and I am ashamed to report that I wimped out on a potential cultural experience and ended up going to the Subway at Central Station.
The Masquerade, to the great impression of all, started on time. If memory serves, there were only about a dozen adult entrants, but all very good. Best in Show was a person who had dressed as the Mayan creation myth (no, not a character in a myth, they dressed as the myth). The bravest presenter, for my money, has to be the man who dressed as the Knave of Hearts-- in tights and a very prominent heart- shaped codpiece. The inevitable Discworld entry was the Monty Python "First Day of the New Novel" sketch with the names changed to Terry Pratchett and Interesting Times.
The emcees, Sue Mason and a man named Teddy whose last name I never caught, were cheerful and full of funny cat stories right up until the intermission brought them a surprise.
The halftime entertainment was Ready, Steady, Sew! aka Iron Costumer, where, you guessed it, two teams of costumers competed to make the best costume in 45 minutes utilizing a secret ingredient. The secret ingredient was revealed to be: the emcees. "I was not informed about this!" Sue Mason protested in a amiable and emcee-like fashion as she was dragged back on stage in her underdress.
She was part of the winning entry, though, with Team Europe constructing a dress in the style of Marilyn Monroe (or so they said; it looked like something medieval to me, but anyway it looked cool) around her. Team America dressed Teddy up as the traditional flaming gay pope as seen at Mardi Gras celebrations. I don't think the concept really translated well.
There was a PowerPoint slide show with ads and trivia running before all the major events. Kansas City in 2009 had purchased slides with these slogans: "Hot and cold running redheads" and "`Kansas City-- where I learned about beautiful steaks and tasty women' - Bob Shaw". I will not dispute that these probably resonated very successfully with a large part of their audience, but sometime just before the Masquerade I reached the point where I was absolutely sick of them, and resolved to express my annoyance by signing up as a presupporter for the competing bid in Montreal.
So I did that Sunday morning, then wandered through the Dealers' Room and read some more of The Leaky Establishment. I went to "Children's Books We Miss" with the ulterior motive of describing a couple of sf books that I'd enjoyed as a child, but couldn't remember the title or author of. I got a chance to do that, and someone shouted out a possible author's name, but I didn't quite catch it, so I'm mystified as ever. Someday I'll remember when I'm online to ask on rec.arts.sf.written. Memory like a sieve, I have.
The description of the Perry Rhodan panel claimed that it's the longest-running sf series of all time. What? Longer than Doctor Who? I had to investigate.
Yes, it's true. Perry Rhodan is a weekly series of novels which has been published in an unbroken string since the 1960s. You've never heard of it, or at least I never had, because it's German (although, oddly, the title character is American) and currently has no English translator. If it ever gets one, it sounded interesting enough that I'd want to try it. Alternatively, I might convince myself this is a reasonable excuse to learn German.
Next up was "Subverted Elves, Hard-Assed Fairies, and Dragons Taking Tea", where discussion centered on differences between Victorian and modern portrayals of fairies and elves. By the end of the panel, everyone had pretty much agreed that the Victorian concept of fairies was the exception to a much darker tradition, and fantasy since then has simply been regressing to the mean. Terry Pratchett took the opportunity to throw in another mention of the recent Time article which had dismissed fantasy before Harry Potter as "knights and ladies morris-dancing to 'Greensleeves'", a phrase which I fear is going to have as much staying power as "talking squid in outer space".
The last event of the day was my hands-down favorite of the entire convention. Runaround is a British quiz show which, judging by the adaptation I attended, is deceptively simple: Three locations are marked A, B, and C. The moderator reads a question and a choice of three answers, and the contestants each go to the location for the answer they think is right. The moderator reads the question and the choices again, adding, "...and... runaround!" and the contestants scramble to adjust their answers. One wrong answer and you're out for the round.
The social dimension of being able to see what other people are thinking makes it a lot harder than it sounds. You may be fairly certain the answer is C, but there are a dozen people clustered at A, and that guy at B has won two rounds already...
I thought it was a huge amount of fun, and I hope to see it at future cons.
"Globalization and Other Mysteries of Publishing" didn't do much to unravel the mysteries of publishing, only to assure the audience that it's a dashed difficult business and only a fool would try to get into it. Being an annoyed American Harry Potter fan, I asked if the availability of foreign editions through Amazon and suchlike was creating pressure to not tinker too much with the language of a book. The response was that it wasn't, but that practice is on its way out anyway, because they don't have time to do that kind of thing anymore.
The best sign from the gripe session was that it was sparsely attended. Most every comment started with, "This was a really good convention and I had a good time, but..." I whinged about interesting-sounding panels being squeezed into tiny rooms, and the chairs nodded gravely and said that they'd anticipated that would probably happen at some point, but they had tried their best to configure the schedule according to the expected attendance.
The Fan Room closing ceremony was conducted by the Plokta Cabal, accompanied by their shiny new Hugos, and David Levine, a nominee [typoed as a winner in the printed version --ed.] last year, which I believe gave it the distinction of the event with the highest Hugo quotient at the convention. David narrated an interpretive dance (thankfully not performed by him) summarizing the convention. Alison Scott delivered the somber news that, despite the presence of a brewery around the corner which had had three weeks' normal supply on hand at the start of the convention, fandom had nevertheless managed to drain another hotel dry of Real Ale.
Then it was time for the Armadillo to launch. The passengers gathered for the closing ceremonies. The visiting dignitaries were thanked, and Capt. Kevin Standlee stepped forward to deliver the boarding announcement. All of a sudden, the screen flashed RED ALERT! Pirates! Dastardly, evil pirates had hijacked the Armadillo and there would be no intergalactic cruise! The only solution-- join the space cadet academy, meeting in Anaheim in 2006, to go out and hunt those pirates down!
Tuesday was to be 32 hours long for us, and seemed even longer. Checking in at Glasgow International, we learned that while British security relies less on gadgets than American security, the list of questions is much more extensive. I would never have guessed there could be so many variations on "Did you pack this luggage yourself?" Midway through the questionnaire, when nail clippers were mentioned, I belatedly realized that, Leaky Establishment-like, I'd inadvertently transported my nail clippers in my carry-on luggage coming east.
The TSA got me back, though. When we got home and I opened up my checked bag, I found, first, a TSA leaflet cheerfully informing me that it had been searched, and second, that my Swiss Army knife was missing.
At least they left the copy of The Leaky Establishment. I wonder what they thought of it.