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Quark Watch (October - December 2001)
December 22, 2001
Now that I've seen both of them - and you know what I mean without my saying so - I suppose that, like everybody else, I should say a word or two of praise or blame. I don't regret the time spent at either movie, but neither was as good as it could have been, and their failings seem to me to stem from faults in the film industry's approach to story telling.
The critics were prepared to dislike Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, and they did. Meanwhile, its quick falling off at the box office indicates that few in its target audience thought it worth seeing more than once. I doubt that they were influenced greatly by the reviewers, many of whose complaints were silly. The New York Times lambasted the shortage of minority students at Hogwarts! Rather, the reason why fans didn't swarm back for second, third and fourth showings was, I think, that the wizardly world portrayed in the movie is pedestrian, without the quirkiness of the book. There is no mention of the monetary system (29 knuts to a silver sickle and 17 sickles to a gold galleon - but perhaps it's now illegal in the EU for fictional characters to use anything but euros), the descent to the Gringotts vault is a tame cable car excursion instead of a roller coaster ride, the Sorting Hat doesn't sing doggerel, and, worst of all, Albus Dumbledore's eccentricities have been smoothed over. ("Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!" -- "Is he - a bit mad?" -- "Mad? He's a genius! Best wizard in the world! But he is a bit mad, yes. Potatoes, Harry?")
Also missing is much of the English public school atmosphere. Classes, teachers, prefects, merits and demerits, house rivalries and pranks (no George and Fred Weasley!) are not left out completely but are very faint. We see children living in a peculiar hotel, not the miniature commonwealth of an other-world Rugby.
Stripped to plot and a few adornments, The Sorceror's Stone is a mystery-adventure movie with a lot of special effects and a little comic relief. Measured by the standards of its faute de mieux genre, it's pretty good but, in the end, no more than wizardry interpreted by muggles.
In contrast to The Sorceror's Stone, the critics' reception of The Fellowship of the Ring has been tumultuous applause, if one excepts the tiny leftish coterie that condemns Middle Earth as racist and patriarchal. Part of the favorable reception must be due to the excellence of the casting, acting, photography and sets. Another part probably is owing to the fact that most of the critics read The Lord of the Rings when they were young and liked it immensely. (If Harry Potter's advent on the screen had been delayed for four decades, a much worse movie than The Sorceror's Stone would have drawn much better notices.) And, finally, the film's weaknesses are ones that are so common these days as to be unremarkable - and barely remarked.
At some point in the last 20 or 30 years, there dwindled away the idea that movie action ought not only to be exciting but also to make sense. The Fellowship is full of hair's-breadth escapes that lack all credibility. In the book the heroes survive through cleverness, courage and a little luck; their movie counterparts rely too much on the grace of the script writer. In the dash to the Ford of Bruinen, the book has Frodo's elf-horse narrowly leap ahead of the Black Rider that is trying to cut it off. In the movie, Arwen (added to the scene to provide a female role) carries the hobbit on her horse and is outrun by all nine nazgul. They form a crescent around her but are inexplicably dilatory about closing in for the kill. Later, as the Fellowship flees across the narrow bridge out of the Mines of Moria, the structure in the film collapses behind them, necessitating athletic leaps that are beyond the characters' believable capabilities. The book dispenses with such artificial, implausible thrills.
On a more serious level, too, the film makes hash of the story. Central to the Fellowship's strategy is Sauron's inability to imagine that anyone would destroy the One Ring. Hence, he does not guard the approaches to Mordor securely, and the desperate gamble of taking the Ring toward, rather than away from, him has a chance of success. The movie obscures this point by muddling the Ring's nature. The late scene in which Frodo offers the Ring to Galadriel (more a flower child than an immortal Queen in this rendition) hints at its usefulness as a weapon, but the discussion at the earlier Council of Elrond leaves the impression that any wielder would simply become Sauron's slave. In the book the Ring can potentially be used to defeat the Dark Lord, though the sequel would be that the conqueror "would then set himself on Sauron's throne, and yet another Dark Lord would appear". To avert that danger, the Wise of Middle Earth seek the Ring's destruction, but their motivation is, of course, opaque to Sauron. It is likewise opaque to the moviegoer, who, if he doesn't remember the book, should be wondering why the limes of Mordor are open to a pair of hobbits.
Another piece of muddleheadedness diminishes the stature of Aragorn, one of the story's key figures. In the last episode of the movie, Frodo and Sam separate themselves from the rest of the Fellowship and proceed alone into Mordor. In the book their absence is tardily discovered. With no confidence that he and his remaining companions can find them, Aragorn reluctantly concludes that the best course of action is to try to rescue the other two hobbits, who have been kidnapped by readily trackable orcs. The movie gives Frodo only a brief head start. He and Sam are practically in sight when Aragorn makes his decision, which the viewer can easily interpret as cowardice or abandonment.
Narrative incoherence and an anti-heroic subtext are comfortably post-modern. In this case one suspects that they are unintentional - and hopes that they are not the reason for the critical raves.
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December 7, 2001
That latest climatological news is that Global Warming is real - on Mars. ABC news reports that Mars Global Surveyor photographs reveal a rapid vaporization of the planet's carbon dioxide ice caps, a phenomenon that, provided Mars has an adequate quantity of CO2, will lead to warmer temperatures: not balmy but in the range that humans can tolerate with the help of parkas rather than heat suits.
The reduction in the size of the ice caps must itself be the product of antecedent warming from some other cause. The Union of Concerned Scientists will doubtless blame U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Treaty, but the only plausible "culprit" is the Sun, which has so far shown even more of a "unilateralist" bent than President Bush.
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November 27, 2001
Loscon is among the most relaxed and pleasant of regional cons, with a familiar, well laid-out site (the Burbank Airport Hilton), a competent committee that seems to have avoided the trap of letting people grow stale in their positions, and a strong cadre of local fen and pros to draw on for programming. Attendance was down very slightly this year (warm body count of 1,187, compared to Loscon 27's 1,317), perhaps due to rather cold and rainy weather, but the convention looked more crowded than last year (perhaps because the same inclement weather kept attendees indoors).
Each year's Loscon has a theme. In some years, it pervades the entire con, but this year's - education - was a very light veneer. Casual attendees probably missed it altogether. About the only signs of its existence were the sponsorship of the Friday night ice cream social by the letter "F" (illustrated by an elaborate, mobile "fanboy" costume) and Fan GoH Lynn Gold's room party, which featured brochures for the "George Orwell School", a send-up of private school advertising. Otherwise, the convention was a generic Loscon - nothing wrong with that, of course.
Programming has adopted the Chicon innovation of 90 minute time slots - 75 minutes for so for the panel, 15 for the transition between panels. I can't comment on how well this arrangement succeeded, since I made it to far fewer panels than I had intended. (I particularly regret missing "The Involuntary Human Is Dragged Kicking and Screaming Toward Sentience by the Cosmic Badger".) One obvious problem was the convention looked over-programmed, with up to eight tracks simulaneously on Saturday. On the other hand, the panels that I did see would have been cramped if they had been confined to the traditional 60 minutes minus transition time.
The best line heard in a panel, from Milt Stevens: "Someone showed me a German fanzine. I scrutinized it intently, held it up to the light and said, 'Well, it certainly looks like a fanzine, but it can't really be a fanzine, because it doesn't have a letter of comment from Harry Warner. (pause) But it did."
The Dealers' Room and Art Show were relocated from prior years, in such a fashion that one could reach the latter only by walking through the former. Both rooms were packed fairly tightly with dealers and art work, though one would have liked to see more book dealers. The Art Show's quality was excellent, and I noticed a lot of good work with low minimum bids (not that the prices stayed low; my attempts to snatch bargains all failed). Six bids were required to send a piece to auction, which was perhaps too stringent. The voice auction had only 17 pieces, which is really too few. (I didn't actually see it, because it was held at noon on Sunday - much too early for me, for reasons that will become apparent).
The Fanzine Lounge has the advantage of being able to borrow from some of the country's best collections of rare zines. This year's selection was smaller than last year's, but I was able to spend an hour browsing through Francis T. Laney's Ah, Sweet Idiocy, which I had never before seen with my own eyes. It certainly deserves its twin reputations for entertainment value and sustained defamation of character.
The epicenter of my personal Loscon was, naturally, the "Prime Time Party" on Saturday night (background below under November 18th). The event was well attended, ended about an hour after its announced closing time (dawn) and was filled with conversations whose gist cannot be repeated here. (The revelations concerning Rick Foss and the Queen of Tonga could easily cause a diplomatic incident.) Special thanks go to Leslie Fish for filking all night in the back room, despite the fact that it was on a No Smoking floor. We will, on the other hand, tactfully omit all mention of David Clark, Spring Schoenhuth and the megaphones. Scott and Jane Dennis dropped in briefly, leaving behind a napkin with the strange device, "Ipheion uniflorum Alstroemeria".
Parties in general were more numerous and crowded than in Loscon's recent past. Some noteworthy examples were the Conjecture party, featuring brain-swapping experiments, Forrest J. Ackerman's 85th birthday celebration (carried on in the absence of the birthday boy, whom alien friends had abducted), the taco-laden Arizona in 2004 Westercon bid party, the noisy advertising party for the revived audio-magazine Frequency, and the Worldcon bid parties for U.K. in '05 (Vince Docherty in full kilt) and L.A. in '06.
As always, I kept an ear open for news of Worldcon politicking, but I didn't garner a lot. The Kansas City in '06 bid neglected the opportunity to tread on its rival's home turf. The L.A. folks insist that they are taking the Midwesterners seriously and will step up the already vigorous pace of their campaign. What they don't appear to be doing is altering their focus in order to call attention to the merits of their site and committee. The Space Cadets are an amusing gimmick but no substitute for persuasive facts. On a different front, both Charlotte and Seattle have announced 2005 NASFiC bids. Charlotte Worldcon bid organizer Irv Koch says that he won't head up the NASFiC bid and expects it to be chaired by Kathleen Meyer of Chicago. I had heard a rumor to that effect at Windycon but found it hard to credit. A Charlotte-Seattle contest will in any event be difficult to handicap. Seattle will likely have an edge in facilities, ambiance and local committee. On the other hand, the voting (scheduled for TorCon 3) will be much closer to Charlotte.
Photos have been posted of the convention in general and the Prime Time Party.
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November 19, 2001
It doesn't look like much more than a toy, but this tiny rocket airplane, the XCOR Aerospace EZ-Rocket, had a successful test flight last week (Rand Simberg, "A New Beginning"). The concept of going into space in a fully reusable rocket has been around for decades but has never gotten very far, because it hasn't met the immediate needs of anybody's space program. In the long run, though, its promise of extremely low cost per pound to orbit is highly attractive, and tests like this one show that the engineering obstacles aren't insurmountable. The cost of space ventures is dropping to the point of comparability with other huge but not fantastic capital investments, and a country with a GDP of $10 trillion a year has a lot of money to invest. What we are still waiting for is the "killer app" that will persuade one or more giant companies that a big investment in space will make an even bigger profit. If I could foresee where that profit will come from, I'd start making plans to buy a few islands for my retirement, but somebody brighter than me will figure it out eventually. Let's hope that government bureaucracy, environmental zealots or a worldwide collapse of civilized society don't get in his way.
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November 18, 2001
Last year John Hertz, Becky Thomson and I, frustrated and annoyed by the earlier and earlier closings of parties at conventions, decided not merely to curse the darkness (You stupid darkness!) but to counter the trend with our own party, one that would begin as the others were giving up. Thus was born the Prime Time Party (so named because it opens at 1:00 a.m. and runs until five or seven, depending) at Loscon 27. The event was popular enough to encourage us to repeat it at Loscon 28. We don't know the room number yet, but the time will be Sunday morning (i. e., very late Saturday night) at Loscon 28. We will offer bheer, wine, soft drinks, snacks and conversation. Any and all fen who happen to find themselves in the vicinity are invited. Here are photos from last year's party.
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November 11, 2001
Did you ever suspect that Isaac Asimov was the inspiration for al-Qaeda? If not, this e-mail message from Russia will enlighten you. Were one to take such fancies seriously, it would be sufficient to observe that the mullahs of the Wahhabi sect, to which bin Laden belongs, deny that space flight is possible and have frequently denounced the Moon landings as hoaxes. But being serious is so mundane. The picture of Osama bin Laden as a frustrated fan is as delicious as anything in Spinrad's Iron Dream. I call upon all faneds to unearth for us the secrets of Sa'udi fandom. Is Osama's own zine called Al-Qaeda and Empire, or is it perchance Second Qaeda? When will Riyadh announce its Worldcon bid? Or is the current publicity campaign aimed at attracting fen to Kabul? Inquiring Minds Want To Know.
* * * *
Complaining about how Windycon is going downhill has become a tradition among Chicago fans, so I'll get my complaints out of the way right off the bat:
Registration is so smooth mechanically - the fastest and most efficient of any regional convention that I've ever encountered - that the weaknesses on the human side of the process stand out. While spending my half minute in line, I heard a registration staffer urging a neofan not to put his real name on his badge. (Badges with both first and last names were a rarity.) Later in the day, a well-known fan tried to buy a membership for his wife (also well-known), who wasn't going to arrive until the wee hours of the morning. Registration refused to sell it to him. As a result, she purchased only a one-day, depriving the con of both revenue and good will. Wasn't there anybody on duty who had the authority and common sense not to enforce procedures rigidly in such circumstances?
Programming had good topics but used the same panelists over and over again. Chicago has a large professional and fan talent pool, much of which went untapped this year. Also noteworthy were scheduling oddities. The Fan GoH appeared on two panels Friday afternoon and nothing else for the rest of the convention. One panelist (the daughter of one of the programming heads) was scheduled for two panels at the same time.
The Art Show is sadly short of material, a problem that has persisted for several years. David Egge, the Artist GoH, mitigated it this year by exhibiting 75(!) paintings, and the open-grid panels disguise the blank spaces to a considerable extent. But making the blank spaces inconspicuous is scarcely as satisfying as filling them with art. It is inexplicable that a convention with a deservedly renowned art auction staff and a high concentration of affluent buyers doesn't attract more would-be sellers. Only slightly less inexplicable, in view of the show's high degree of computerization, is the painfully slow-moving line for picking up art purchases.
Finally - and this is, I believe, the root of the complaints - Windycon has been so long in the same location (18 years at the Woodfield Hyatt) and has had so little committee turnover that it has fallen into a routine. There's nothing wrong with that if the routine is a good one and especially if the concomm maintains its alertness. Unhappily, some Windycon routines aren't working. The con suite, though imaginatively and expertly run, is too small and is nearly inaccessible to anyone who has trouble with stairs. (I'm told that a new location is likely next year.) The Art Show, as already noted, isn't doing whatever is needed to draw more artists. There also are signs of lack of alertness. This year's pocket program didn't tell the locations of the film room or the art auction, left out one small programming track, left in a nonexistent Internet Lounge (a past Windycon feature) and didn't include a map. The last omission is an example of what happens when a concomm gets into a rut. The committee members can navigate the Woodfield Hyatt in their sleep. They seem to have forgotten that not everybody comes to Windycon every year. Some members are, in fact, here for the very first time and could use help in finding Regency A/B or the Rolling Meadows Room.
Having disposed of bad points, let me mention good ones. Windycon's captive astronomer, Dr. Christian Ready of the Hubble Telescope team, was back with Hubble slides, an event so popular that it was run twice in the con's largest room. Dr. Ready also did a presentation on the next manned servicing mission (one of the items omitted from the pocket program). Supplementing slides, he experimented this year with computer animations. Particularly impressive were a display of the rotation of the rings of Uranus, demonstrating their weirdly lopsided composition, and a three-dimensional Orion Nebula fly-through.
The Windycon "old reliables" stayed that way. The dealers' room was as varied and busy as ever. The film program had a good mix of recent and classic movies. Children's programming was, judging from the schedule, top-notch. The con suite had fresh fruit and vegetables, a fine selection of teas and good bheer on tap (appreciated on principle, even if I'm currently supporting President W by refraining from alcohol). The hotel restaurant had good, cheap buffets for all meals. If one got bored, the world's second biggest shopping mall was on the other side of the road.
The art auction, featuring Bob Passovoy and his crew, is always a Windycon highlight, though my pocketbook wishes that I'd stayed away. Auctioneer E. Michael Blake decided, about an hour into the proceedings, that the bidders weren't spending freely enough, so he led us in chants: "There is no recession!" "The dotcom crash never happened!" "If I don't buy art, the terrorists win!" Thus inspired I dropped $225 on the foot-and-a-half tall dragon shown at the left, after which I realized that it was time to visit the parties.
The convention's problems with ghosts and underaged drinkers weren't too much in evidence this year. On the other hand, maybe I didn't visit the right (wrong) parties and thus missed seeing those phenomena in action. Most enjoyable of the parties that I did visit was Ray and Barb VanTilburg's "Fandom Appreciation Party", which offered not only abundant food and drink but also free merchandise (principally Chicon t-shirts, baseball caps and mugs - I picked up a propeller cap with which to rival John Hertz at Loscon). Barb's secret agenda for the event was a surprise birthday party for Ray, who had just turned fifty (very hard to believe). Ray was in fact surprised, even though fans who knew the secret had been congratulating him all day. As Barb remarked, "I married a man who makes obliviousness an art form."
Not quite a party but nonetheless worthy of mention was the "Baen Books Barfly Reception", a third floor mini-suite that "Mad Mike" Williamson kept open during most hours of the con, dispensing hard and soft drinks, very hot chili and Baen catalogues. Mike, who is best known as a sword seller, has become fascinated with leopards and regaled the room with many tales of their ferocity and cunning.
The Los Angeles in '06 bid also had a party, as well as a bid table. Curiously, their opponents from Kansas City had neither. The only sign of the KC bid was a program book ad. It was a well-written ad, but, if I may indulge in verbum sapienti, the biggest handicap suffered by the last set of Kansas City bidders was the widespread impression that they were more willing to spend money than time. Kansas City fandom is not much known outside of Missouri; it needs some traveling jiants if it is to have any chance against the Californians.
Also on the bidding front, there is a concrete effort under weigh to put together a Chicago bid for 2008 or 2010. I was given a variety of details but don't think that the organizers want to go public yet. I did firmly pledge my own support, so long as I don't have to do any work or spend any money! (After Chicon 2000, I am tired and re-tired.)
As usually happens when attending a con where one knows a large percentage of the members, I have no good basis for assigning any particular number of stars to this year's Windycon. I'm told that attendance was up - encouraging news whether it reflects an actual increase in numbers or progress against ghosting. Also encouraging is the fact that next year's chairman will be Steven Silver, a relative newcomer to the Windycon establishment. Thus we may see much needed rethinking of those areas where the con unfortunately lives down, rather than up, to expectations.
For those who prefer pictures to words, I've posted some Windycon photos.
Letter of comment from Steven Silver (chairman of next year's Windycon) (11/12/01).
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November 7, 2001
Isaac Asimov once wrote an essay describing the ideal features of a reading device and concluded that the high-tech instrument that best satisfied all criteria was - the book. He was right. Books are portable, easy to consult, usable anywhere except dark caves, readily available and cheap. Electrons will run a distant second to paper until a scientifc genius works out a way to lie back in bed on Saturday morning reading your computer screen.
Nonetheless, electronic books have their niche. Lightweight as most books are, there's a limit to how many will fit into carry-on baggage, and some, such as reference books and large anthologies, are virtually immobile. There are also places, e. g., check-in lines at airports, where reading a book is awkward and others, e. g., speeches by high-ranking executives of one's employer, where it is tactless. Thus I have found myself gradually accumulating a supply of e-books, some for perusal on whatever computer is handy, others for carrying around in my Palm IIIx.
The place where I have obtained much of this virtual reading matter is a Web site called Fictionwise, first recommended to me by James Patrick Kelly. Mr. Kelly posted his year 2000 Hugo nominee "10^16 to 1" there and sent the Chicon committee an e-mail urging us to patronize this newborn vendor. At that time, the site featured a modest selection of short stories by a small number of authors of varying prominence (Mike Resnick was the biggest name to sign on early). Stories could be downloaded, in either Palm or Adobe Acrobat format, for well under a dollar each. It looked like a nifty idea, but plenty of nifty ideas come to nothing.
The proprietors of Fictionwise seem, however, to have found that elusive net object, a workable business plan. At least, their on-line bookstore has grown spectacularly over the past year and a half. I haven't counted the works on offer, but it runs into the thousands, from close to 400 authors (by my rough count). Science fiction and fantasy comprise the bulk of the selections, but there are also sections now for mysteries, romance, humor and nonfiction. Available formats are Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Reader, Palm Doc, RocketBook, Franklin eBookMan and hiebook. Once a work has been purchased, it sits on a virtual bookshelf, from which it can be downloaded any number of times in any number of formats. My own shelf at this point includes 169 items, which is testimony either to the excellence of the service or my limited sales resistance.
Fictionwise's selling point is convenience, not price. Short stories cost more as they get longer, ranging from under half a dollar to close to two. Novels are about as expensive as paperbacks. Monthly issues of Analog and Asimov's have just been added and cost as much as they would on the newstand. Therefore, this is not the place for bargain hunters, though it does give away an occasional story for free, including two of this year's preliminary Nebula nominees, Written in Venom by Lois Tilton and "Mom and Dad at the Home Front" by Sherwood Smith, and Greg Egan's Hugo-winning novella "Oceanic".
It would be nice, of course, if the books were practically free, but that would probably lead to their seller's rapid disappearance. All in all, this is a great place to shop, especially if you can never make up your mind what reading matter to take on a long trip.
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October 14, 2001
While on a visit to Bob Tucker last August, I noticed a castle-themed hotel in the middle of Tucker's home town Bloomington. Since Tucker now has difficulty traveling to cons, I idly suggested to Dick and Leah Smith that the structure might be a venue for a con that would travel to Tucker. The idea then vanished from my mind, but Dick and Leah followed up. The hotel, Jumer's Chateau, specializes in weddings but had enough spare rooms in October to be able to offer a ridiculously attractive rate ($79/night) to a small convention. Thus it came about that a combined edition of Ditto (fanzines) and FanHistoricon (fan history) convened in Bloomington over the real Columbus Day weekend.
Attendance was about 70, with the legendary Jack Speer, fandom's first historian and Fan GoH at the 2004 Worldcon, as Guest of Honor and such luminaries as hometown boy Tucker, 4E Ackerman, Art Widner, Roger Sims, Jon Stopa et al. present and talking.  Jack's opening speech Friday night recited numerous things and activities than "Fanzines are better than...." He conceded that there were a couple of tastefully unmentioned endeavors that might be better than fanzines but wittily disposed of such rivals as television, conversation, e-mail and Web sites. Following him was Art Widner with slides of photos from his daring automotive journeys to the first Chicon (1940) and Denvention (1941).
Saturday's program highlight was a panel (Speer, Tucker, Ackerman, moderated by Richard Lynch, kibbitzed by Widner) devoted to famous gafiates of the past. Richard picked out the subjects from Harry Warner's histories, among those covered being Al Ashley, Red Boggs, Dean Grennell, the talented, notorious Laney-Burbee duo and the inevitable, eternally unbelievable Claude Degler. Joe Siclari had exhumed for the occasion Degler's "refutation" of Speer's investigative report exposing the phoniness of the self-constructed Degler persona.
The next session, a series of fanzine critiques, was more miscellaneous. The standout presentation was Widner's reading of an anonymous (I think) short story lampooning Laney and Burbee and finishing up with an atrocious Al Ashley pun. (Laney and Burbee were time travelers and Ashley twin armless bellringers; I leave the rest to the reader's imagination.)
My own program participation was limited to a fraction of a two-hour panel designed to race through the fannish decades from the 1930's through the 1990's, seeking to extract the key elements that made each era different. Being at the very end of the queue (one of three 90's panelists), I expected my time to squeezed to almost nil and wasn't disappointed. My trite observation was that e-mail and increased affluence had the biggest impact on last decade's fanac.
The Saturday night auction, in support of the convention and of DUFF, turned out be the most expensive part of the weekend. My best acquisition was the script of a 1776 parody based on a SFWA meeting. Harlan Ellison takes the John Adams role ("obnoxious and disliked"), with Isaac Asimov as Ben Franklin. Unfortunately, the author's name does not appear. Tucker, who found it in his files and contributed it to the auction, has no idea who wrote it. If I'm energetic enough, the text will eventually appear on Stromata. Another unusual purchase was an example of a brilliant but not-quite-timely marketing gimmick. Last year Polaroid tested sets of cheap sunglasses with holograms on the lens (visible to those who look at the wearer). Pat Molloy had gotten hold of two pairs for DUFF, one displaying an American eagle, the other the Stars and Stripes. If Polaroid had only put them into mass production a month ago, it might have avoided last week's bankruptcy filing.
Sunday started with a bountiful, well-prepared and inexpensive ($15 a head) brunch. The afternoon program included interviews with Speer, Tucker and Ackerman, but, relying on Dick and Leah's promise that they will be transcribed, I skipped them in order to work frantically on a contribution to the convention's one-shot zine (my review of Science Fiction Culture by Camille Bacon-Smith).
Though attendance was quite robust for a con of this specialized variety, the events of 9/11 were not without impact. About 20 paid attendees found their travel plans too disrupted to make the trip to Bloomington (not Earth's easiest destination in the best of times) practicable. Those of us who were present ended up signing picture postcards of the city to give the absentees an inkling of what they had missed.
Letter of Comment: Leah Zeldes Smith (10/17/01)
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October 8, 2001
No one but kung fu fans thinks that 2000 was a great year for movies, which leaves me shaking my head at the failure of The Dish, an Australian film about one of the lesser known aspects of the Apollo XI Moon landing, to make the final Hugo ballot this year, much less win the Award. Worse yet, it didn't even receive enough nominations to be listed in the official recap, meaning that at most ten voters thought it worthy of appearing among the finalists. Part of the reason might be, of course, that voters like me never saw or heard of the film until after Millennium Philcon was over. Then I ran across it at Netflix, the on-line DVD rental outfit (wonderful for those of us who regard Blockbuster as about the least pleasant place on Earth to shop). It's the story (much fictionalized no doubt, but purportedly with a core of fact) about how a handful of Australians coped with blackouts, computer failures, gale force winds and omnipresent bureaucracy to bring the rest of us Neil Armstrong's and Buzz Aldrin's first words from the Moon. The images and sounds of that historic moment were captured by a radio telescope (locally known as "The Dish") sited in the middle of a sheep paddock in Parkes, New South Wales. NASA also relied on Parkes to track and communicate with Apollo XI while it was over the Southern Hemisphere and invisible to U.S.-based equipment. In the movie (and it certainly seems realistic enough) that means that NASA relies on three local scientists - very much small town Aussies despite their doctorates - on whom it has inflicted a much resented overseer. This ill-matched team has to pull together (and sometimes against its NASA partners) to keep The Dish functioning under increasingly adverse conditions. Meanwhile the unsophisticated village of Parkes basks in its few days of glory, visited by luminaries ranging from the U.S. Ambassador to the Prime Minister himself. The movie nicely blends the comic side of Parkes - the mayor who sees The Dish's fame as a stepping stone into Parliament, the rebellious teenage girl who regards the whole event as a CIA plot, the townspeople who think that they know how to impress city folk - with the scientific drama. No, it didn't make me forget GalaxyQuest, but I'll take it any day over Chinese demi-goddesses held up by wires as they cavort through the air.
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October 3, 2001
The Best Novel Hugo for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was, in the little world of Fandom, rather a public relations disaster for J. K. Rowling. To all appearances, she had not designated an acceptor, had sent no thank-you message and had left it to the committee to improvise if she won. Many fans assumed that she had never been in touch with the Hugo administrators at all, and I heard more than one grumble that he would definitely never nominate or vote for her again. I don't know what the real story is, but I do know how Miss Rowling reacted a year earlier to the nomination of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Chicon's Hugo administrator, Michael Nelson, had no difficulty obtaining her e-mail address from her agent and exchanged a number of cordial messages with her (much impressing his teenage daughter). She admitted to knowing nothing about Worldcons and had no idea of whom to ask to accept on her behalf if she won, but she sounded genuinely pleased at the nomination and asked Michael to arrange for an acceptor who would convey her gratitude. Hence, she certainly did not give Chicon and the Hugos the back of her hand and perhaps should receive the benefit of the doubt this year.
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