Sunday, August 28, 2011

Armadillocon 33 post-mortem

I am home from Armadillocon 33. At this particular point in time, it is (I kid you not) 111 degrees Fahrenheit outside. And the air conditioning is non-functional in my car. Driving to and from the con in the early morning and late evening hours was not unpleasant, but the trip home in the blistering mid-afternoon was staggering. Do not try this at home.

Friday saw me involved with the writers' workshop most of the day. There were the usual mix of stories ranging from "almost there" to "needs a lot of work" but all in all it was a stimulating experience as always. Once the workshop wrapped up, I regretfully departed the convention and headed down the road to San Marcos, where I met up with my family to attend the annual LBJ Picnic at Texas State University. Once that wrapped up, I collected Monkey Girl and returned to Armadillocon, arriving just as the opening ceremonies let out.

This was Monkey Girl's first convention as an active participant. She's been to conventions in the past, but only fresh out of diapers and not in any way really engaging with the whole convention experience. This time was different. She's a voracious reader and was eager to explore gaming, the dealers room, art show, panels... the whole nine yards. Before departing, The Wife and I had a serious talk with her, warning her about socially maladjusted congoers of the male persuasion who were likely to hit on her, as she presents as much more mature than the 12-year-old that she is. This caution was met with eye-rolling from her, but was driven home very effectively by the nice lady in the con suite, who, in the process of refilling the Frito bowl, casually asked where Monkey Girl worked. The context of the question made it clear she assumed Monkey Girl to be either an upper-classman in high school or perhaps a college feshman. Monkey Girl was a bit rattled by this (which was a good thing, as she started taking me a little more seriously after that). Saturday saw her dress in her steampunk outfit, with high-heeled black boots, a black bustier and other accoutrements that conspired to make her look a lot older. Quite a few writer friends (*cough* Scott Johnson *cough*) did the classic Looney Tunes eye-bulge routine upon learning that she wasn't at least 16 as they'd assumed. It was great amusement for me, and even Monkey Girl started enjoying their obvious discomfort, twisted child that she is.

My panels this year proved to be quite engaging and dynamic. "Imagining a World Without Fossil Fuels" featured Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi, Matt Cardin, David Chang, Katy Stauber and Matthew Bey (who had the greatest panel entrance ever when he biked in--then proceeded to lock up his bike to protect it from the audience). I co-hosted the Charity Auction with Mark Finn, which raised at least $400 for literacy projects, and I even managed to slip in a few good one-liners amid Finn's polished carnival barker shtick. Probably the highlight of the con for me was the panel "A Look Back at the Space Shuttle Program," during which I shared the spotlight with genuine, actual NASA science folks. The panel included Stauber, John Gibbons, Al Jackson, Bob Mahoney and Bill Frank. The lot of us shared a bunch of great stories about various facets of the space shuttle program, and I got to use the story June Scobee told during a years-ago tour of the old Wet-F tank, about how astronauts and trainers would hide a rubber shark somewhere in the mock-up, rigged to spring out once a panel was opened underwater. Once the shark disappeared, but was soon replaced by a rubber alligator. I expected to be drawn and quartered for my observation that the shuttle was a case of magnificent engineering of a lousy design, but the NASA guys generally agreed with me, and went on to outline and clarify the convoluted and irrational process which resulted in the shuttle attaining the form we're all familiar with. Afterwards, I got to hang out with Jackson and Frank and listen as they swapped war stories about the allocation of office space at JSC, Werner von Braun, Apollo 8, problematic shuttle missions and Space X. For a wanna-be astronaut like myself, it was heaven, and I actually got to cut short a phone call from The Wife by saying "Gotta go--I'm talking with rocket scientists!"

The only downer was my interaction with one particular guest, or rather lack thereof. This guest dismissed me pretty thoroughly at a previous Armadillocon some years ago, and although they seem to get along famously with the same folks I do, they tend to go out of their way to not acknowledge me. I'd almost convinced myself this was the paranoia of my fragile ego at work, but I found myself actively ignored all weekend, without so much as a token pleasantry directed my way. Ah well, I suppose I just rub some people the wrong way. Fortunately, the insanely talented Rocky Kelly isn't one of them, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time discussing the guilty pleasure of Spike TV's Deadliest Warrior. He encouraged me to get to work on my long-threatened Hannibal Barca story, so if that comes to fruition, you know who to blame. I also somehow managed to miss Emma Bull the entire weekend, so my copy of War for the Oaks remains unsigned, although I did have a nice conversation with Elizabeth Moon, who subsequently gave Monkey Girl about 50 pounds of dark green yarn to learn knitting with. I'm still not exactly sure how that happened, either.

I also owe Lawrence Person a good smack upside the head for planting the seeds of a truly bignuts story in my mind that refuses to let me be, and accepted a short story challenge that Joe Lansdale threw down during Saturday night's gorilla panel. For the record, Bill Crider, Scott Cupp, Mark Finn, Chris Brown, Rick Klaw and James Reasoner accepted the challenge as well, and are expected to have their respective stories finished in time for Armadillocon 34.

No recap of Armadillocon 33 would be complete without a recap of Monkey Girl's party-hopping experience on Saturday night. Actually, there wasn't much party-hopping on her part. Our first stop was the Space Squid party, where a projector was set up showing episodes of "Kure Kure Takora (Gimme Gimme Octopus)" on the back wall. It is, in a word, bizarre. This Japanese kids' show from the 70s features balloon-like costumes evocative of Sid and Marty Kroft creations on acid, or Yo Gabba Gabba gone horribly wrong. See for yourself:

Monkey Girl quickly became obsessed, laughing so hard she was effectively incapacitated. When I finally dragged her away to visit other parties, she kept pestering me to go back and watch the "Balloon Octopus" some more. All it took to send her into spasms of laughter was to flail my arms awkwardly--I started doing this as a party trick to amuse other con-goers, triggering my daughter's gut-busting Pavlovian response. Finally, I relented and took her back, admonishing her that she was not to leave the Space Squid party under any circumstances. For their part, the Space Squid folks found this utterly hilarious, that someone would banish their child to one of their bashes celebrating all things tacky about science fiction. What can I say? We live in a crazy, crazy world.

Can't wait until next year. We've got all of those Lansdale challenge gorilla stories to look forward to, don'tcha know.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice report. I had a great time at the con, and enjoyed meeting you there (I was the one in the Finding Your Writer's Voice panel with all the questions). I'm only sorry I missed the panel with the Lansdale Gorilla Writing Challenge!