Sunday, June 21, 2015

Apollocon in the rear view mirror

Apollocon has come and gone, and boy are my arms tired! Seriously, I'm wiped. This is due to a number of factors. Firstly, I somehow managed to pull the adductor muscles in my right leg last week and that made walking--or even moving--an exercise in pain-making. By the time Apollocon started, I'd recovered somewhat, but walking stiff-legged so as not to antagonize those muscles wears a fellow out. Secondly, I'd arrived at the con following a three-hour drive to College Station to pick Monkey Girl up from swim camp, which then led to a 90-minute drive into Houston. And today we left the con early to make the hour drive up to Spring (ironically, where Apollocon used to be held) to pick up cousin Sean to spend the week with us, at which point we had a nearly four-hour drive to get back to New Braunfels. So yeah, I'm wiped. And that's not counting the seven hours of programming I completed on Saturday.

It was good to get back to Apollocon, as it was just as friendly as I remember. The location off Gessner is actually more convenient for me under normal circumstances. The hotel itself was somewhat more swank than your regular con hotel, and there was ample space for the con to spread out, even with other conferences going on simultaneously. The hotel restaurant had good food, and (much to my surprise) actually had prompt service. The location's great, too--next to Memorial City Mall and surrounded by all manner of interesting restaurants as well as a nearby HEB. The downside--and I'm sure this will be discussed for quite some time--is that the hotel clearly doesn't understand the concept of convention/conference attendees mingling and meeting after hours. Only the first four floors were accessible by everyone. The floors above that, the residential floors, were only accessible via your room key, which you swiped in the elevator. So far, so good. They have to ensure security, right? Well, yeah, but your room key only granted access to your floor, none of the others. Which proved problematic, seeing as how the hospitality suite was on the 5th floor, and all the room parties were on the 6th. One could only reach those with an escort. The con com did a valiant effort to facilitate this, with volunteers standing by on the 4th floor to "beam you up" to one of the forbidden floors. But really, hotel elevators aren't all that fast to begin with, and the third or fourth time I stood around waiting for a lift to the hospitality suite just to see who was hanging out there... I started thinking "Why bother?" And forget about dropping by anyone's room to chat or make dinner plans. The room parties Saturday night were sparsely attended from what I saw, and I can't help but think the convoluted access restrictions played a large role in this. I simply don't understand why the hotel, as a matter of policy, doesn't have room keys allow access to the residential floors. I've seen that at work in other hotels and everyone appears happy in the end. No fault goes to Apollocon on this one--they did their best under the circumstances.

My only other issue with the new venue is just that--it's a new venue. I never got a real feel for how many people were there, and several old friends I saw in passing--Bill Crider and John DeNardo, for example--I never saw again. It takes a while to learn a convention's ebb and flow in a new venue, and I still hadn't gotten it down by the time I departed.

Still, Apollocon generated a lot of goodwill by treating everyone to a cupcake bar Friday night. Needless to say, the fen swept in like locusts on a Biblical mission. Nothing remained afterward, save some shredded napkins.

My first panel of the evening, "Texas Fen, Texas Proud," was a fun discussion of the history of genre and fandom in Texas. Randall Shepherd and Glenda Boozer (above) were my fellow panelists, and we cast our net far and wide, discussing some of the bizarre "real history" of the state, which no doubt contributes to the predominant mythology. And speaking of mythology, I read a chapter from my infamous Chicken Ranch book that evening. Guest of Honor Jim C. Hines, who confessed to complete ignorance of "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas," graced me with his presence and left considerably less ignorant on the topic. He may need therapy to recover, though.

Saturday opened with the writers workshop, organized by Tex Thompson. Sadly, two of our four group participants couldn't make it to the convention, but the two that did had solid work. Ididn't make anyone cry, despite my best efforts. I've struggled through some really bad workshops in the past, but this time wasn't one of those. I love it when I can make a real difference in someone's writing. That took up three hours. After an hour to squeeze in lunch with Monkey Girl, it was back to work on the Westerns in SpecFic" panel, alongside Scott Cupp and C.J. Mills (above) and Tex Thompson. With those panelists we couldn't go wrong, and we discussed all the usual suspects and a whole lot of unusual and obscure ones as well.

Next up came "The Struggle," a panel purportedly about dealing with self-doubt, angst and other things that destroy a writer from within. Pretty grim and heady subject matter, that. My co-panelists for this one were the talented and witty Rhonda Eudaly and Martha Wells (above) and...

The ubiquitous Jim C. Hines! It was at this point we learned that this was actually the Jim Hines panel--he pitched it to the con under a slightly different title: "I Suck!" It wasn't an angsty, gloomy topic at all, but rather one in which we shared the stupidest, most idiotic mistakes we'd ever committed. It became a competition, to see who'd sabotaged their career the worst.

Suddenly, the downer topic became fun! I took the early lead with my story of how, at age 17, having just completed my first novel (a 100,000-word epic Dungeons & Dragons fantasy) I subbed it to Analog. I'll let that sink in a bit. I was gearing up to take my victory lap when Hines unleashed his haymaker, or, "GOblin Quest vs. Jim Baen." He won. Easily. In fact, his story was the Peter Jackson Return of the King of "I Suck" stories, because every time it appeared his story had completed with his life and career in smoking ruins, he had yet another, extended ending to trot out, which left his life and career even more smoking-y and ruins-y. I won't dare repeat it here. You've just got to hear it from the man himself. It is worth it.

My final panel was "OMG! Mars Has No Interent" with Larry Friesen, Maeve Alpin and Mr. Creepy Pasta (above). The description was something like "What will social media-addicted colonists do when they get to Mars and can't get into real-time Facebook flame wars?" As I was moderator, and thought this a profoundly narrow and dumb description, I immediately discarded it and turned it into an examination of how technological limits and demands of future colonists with impact their social evolution. Colonization efforts of Mars, the moon and eventually Venus are likely to develop in significantly different directions considering the unique environs of each of those worlds. Friesen, a former NASA contractor and current physics prof at UH-Clear Lake, kept everyone grounded with his reminders that the real issue facing the internet/social connectivity of colonies with Earth is bandwith rather than the simple time lag in communications. And quantum entanglement is not likely to be a viable solution, either. A very fun an freewheeling panel that went in some interesting directions.

And yes, Apollocon's favorite astronaut, Stan Love, was there Saturday. We actually shared an autograph session (he signed way more autographs than I) and spent the entire time discussing the accuracies (and inaccuracies) of the movie Interstellar with pretty much everyone who approached him. He apparently gets this a lot, and his discussion points were quite polished. I observed that fans weren't nearly so demanding of the science in Gravity, to which Love replied (and I'm paraphrasing), "Everything that happened inside was perfect. Everything that happened outside was garbage." Which really, when you get down to it, is pretty much my argument distilled down to its essence. Thanks to Paul Abell, astronaut wrangler extraordinaire, for the group shot above.

Fencon always knows how to party in style. One of these years I'll make it up there, but this one just falls at a bad time of year for me.

The Montreal Worldcon bid threw a pretty good shindig as well. They had a bunch of Canadian liquors on hand, which I'm not really a fan of (the liquor, not Canada) but then pulled out a triple from Unibroue, which is just about my favorite brewery not located in Shiner. And yes, it was a very good golden triple. They've got my vote.

And that was it. Once I got home, I had the added bonus of repairing a hole in the dog run fence, through which the beagles escaped and wrought havoc in the yard during my absence. Looking forward to returning to Apollocon next year, and maybe arriving in a bit better condition.

Now Playing: Syd Barrett Crazy Diamond
Chicken Ranch Central

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