Today was a big day for panels, although doing six in a row is something I can’t seem to handle any more, plus you have to eat and I hadn’t really spent that much time in the dealers room. The first panel dealt with Heinlein, since next year will be his 100th birthday and the Heinlein foundation or society or whatever it is is about to publish a huge biography of him, and they’re holding a special conference next summer in Kansas City. The biographer was on the panel, along with Connie Willis (this year’s Worldcon Guest of Honor, who I seemed to keep missing up til now, although she was in plenty of things), and a couple of other people. Heinlein makes for an interesting study as the sf community would hold him up as their first great literary champion, although his influence in the field is probably strongest through the “juveniles” he wrote in the ‘40’s and ‘50’s. His main literary claim to fame would have to be centered around Stranger in a Strange Land and Moon is a Harsh Mistress in the ‘60’s, but most everything from Number of the Beast on was self-indulgent crap. He also espoused a number of crackpot social and political theories, and one of them, some “polyamory” group called “Living the Dream” was represented in the front row and handing out flyers, as though if you like Heinlein and think he was an important writer beyond the genre that means you’re a good candidate for joining a group sex club.
I skipped the next panel to spend some time crisscrossing the dealers room, picked up the latest copy of Interzone plus the one with the Dominic Green Hugo-nominated story from last year from Interzone themselves. Since the magazine has changed hands its gone all slick and looks more like SF Age, hopefully the added production costs won’t kill it after 200-plus issues. One dealer had a huge number of paperbacks for sale cheap, and while I found some I wanted I didn’t have my PDA with me, so I didn’t buy anything until I’d had a chance to go back to the room and get it, and by the time I got back they were even cheaper, so I got a dozen or so. Also got the Tachyon Press edition of Kelly’s “Burn”, another nominee of which I only had the online copy. Grabbed some overpriced lunch at the convention center cafeteria while some guy was doing a magic show, then it was on to the next panel.
The next panel was not a panel at all but a stand-up act by the one and only Harlan Ellison, whom I don’t believe I’ve seen in at least 5 years. He’s 72 now and quite portly, sporting a Bobby Knight red sweatshirt and gray sweatpants, which he also wore to the Hugo ceremony this evening. Ellison spent the first several minutes practically 10 feet away from me by virtue of ignoring the stage and standing on the camera stand in the middle of the room. Mostly he was ranting about how he likes to insult people equally, looking and sounding more like Don Rickles than I’ve ever seen before. But after some of that he made his way up to the stage and took a few questions from the audience, each one prompting an answer in the form of a story that took at least 20 minutes with several sidetracks along the way. The longest had to do with a publisher that he tortured for not reverting rights to one of his books because of a contract dispute, from sending bricks in the mail postage due to hiring a hitman to finally mailing him a dead muskrat. He also said (and reiterated at the Hugo’s) that this would probably be his last convention. While he didn’t elaborate at the talk, later he said that not only was he getting old himself, but so many of his friends within fandom had died in the last several years that it was getting too depressing. I can’t think of anyone who comes close to taking his place, there are some with the ego, but none who are equally caustic and entertaining to go with it.
After the talk was over Ellison announced he refused to go down to the signing area in the back of the main hall to sign books, and would sign them right outside the door of the conference room, which he proceeded to do for at least a couple of hours, creating a huge line of people that blocked traffic in that area for most of the afternoon.
The next panel was to discuss the works of Connie Willis, with Pat Cadigan (who I don’t think I’ve seen before), Gardner Dozois, Nancy Kress, Kim Stanley Robinson and Bob Silverberg, and with Ms. Willis herself showing up shortly after it began and ending up spending most of her time up in front of the panelists. Since she was there, it was more of a lovefest, but the speakers made things entertaining, there was no consensus on which were her best stories and books nor on the ones for which she would be remembered. Even if she weren’t there, you can’t imagine anyone saying anything bad about her. After that was a panel with Alistair Reynolds, Robert Sawyer, John Barnes (who I don’t remember seeing before, although he looks remarkably like Greg Rucka), Greg Benford and Allen Steele, talking about the hard sf renaissance, a topic that has been done to death in the last few years since Hartwell and Cramer’s anthology, but I was there for the panelists more than the topic anyway. From these writers, who would all be considered hard sf of one form or another, there was much skepticism as to whether hard sf had really gone away, and if indeed there had been a renaissance starting in the late ‘80’s as Hartwell postulates, could you still consider it to be continuing this many years later.
After that I went back to the dealer’s room to finish up shopping and came back to the Marriott to have some dinner at Pizza Hut right in the hotel (turns out they have their own Starbucks here too and I’ve been going to the one in the Hilton across the street). Spent a little time in the room before it was time for the Hugos. They’d opened up the auditorium well in advance so there was no need to stand in line to get in, and in fact where I sat on the far right, up close to the front, didn’t ever really fill up, although there seemed to be plenty of people there. Connie Willis was toastmaster, and they dispensed this year with trying to do any sort of skit or production number and just let Connie be Connie, which involved a running gag with Bob Silverberg through the entire evening where he was trying to take over as MC. It was nice to see Forrest Ackerman not only getting the Big Heart Award that he helped found but that they were going to rename the award after him. He came out on stage under his own power, using a cane to prop himself up, looking a bit gaunt, but still alert. He turns 90 in a few months. Betty Ballantine got a special Hugo award, she’s well into her ‘80’s and still looks great, and later on Mr. Ellison himself got a special Hugo, which he tried his best to be gracious about, in spite of being up there in sweat pants. I was glad to see the “Empty Child” episode of Doctor Who got Best Dramatic Presentation in the short category, too bad Steven Moffatt wasn’t there to pick it up in person. Also nice to see David Hartwell get a Hugo after all these years, I think he held the record for consecutive losses. There’s some talk afoot of splitting the Best Editor category into two so that the less-visible book editors can be voted on independently of the magazine editors, who otherwise always win, I don’t know if this will change that or not.
For the fiction categories, I only voted on the two shorter ones and neither of my picks won. David Levine, who’s looking scarier every time I seem him, won for short story, this is always the popularity contest category, and if anything he proved he has more friends than Mike Resnick, who usually just dials it in but I thought this year had written a better story. Surprisingly Margo Lanagan, who had far and away the best story of the bunch, didn’t win in spite of the buzz around her effort. For novelette, Peter Beagle won for a very well-written, well-crafted if slightly sentimental story, I liked the Bacigalupi story better but I can see how this one would’ve been more popular with more people. For novella the guest of honor/mistress of ceremonies herself won her umpteenth Hugo, not one of her best efforts in an otherwise strong category (I would’ve picked Magic for Beginners). And for best novel Robert Charles Wilson finally got some recognition for his career with “Spin”, a perfectly good book and probably his best, breaking the fantasy lock on the best novel category from the last few years. I probably would’ve voted for it although I would have expected Accelerando to win. They managed to wrap things up by just after 10pm, but people will still be complaining in tomorrows panels about how late they stayed up partying tonight I’m sure.