Notes from Balticon 42

I knew I was among friends when I paused in the dealer’s room at a table of expensive jewelry, and the vendor complimented me on the chain on my glasses.

“Thanks,” I said. “It’s . . . plastic on plastic . . .”

“But it’s shiny,” she replied, “so who cares?”

Notes from Balticon 42

The background, in ten words or less: Sci-fi convention. Douglas Adams theme this year, for obvious reasons.

The first panel I went to was advice about getting published; David Louis Edelman (plugging Infoquake) advised you to come up with a good hook. A phrase that will catch an editor’s attention.

He then described his own book as “Dune meets The Wall Street Journal.” See? Doesn’t matter what the actual plot is—that’s interesting.

Balticon has a tradition of holding an auction to benefit Reading Is Fundamental. Item 42 in this one: a Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, autographed by Douglas Adams. The opening bid was of course $42; it quickly shot up to $300. (Several other items sold for $42.)

“Next up, a purple /veɪs/—unless you spend more than $20, in which case it becomes a purple /vɑz/.”

There are two rooms with video constantly playing: one movies, one anime. In the anime room I ran into the fellow geek who interviewed me about Shine at Otakon last year. She’s working on a documentary; she and one of her colleagues immediately recognized me from the footage they’d been editing, though it took me a little longer to reciprocate.

Watched the rest of Fullmetal Alchemist: Conquerer of Shamballa (I saw most of it at Otakon last year, but had to leave before the end), and a large chunk of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (also saw that at Otakon, and let me tell you nothing beats the experience of being surrounded by hundreds of people who cheer when Haruhi appears on-screen), and a random bit of Elfen Lied (I know I’ve seen bits of it elsewhere, but I’m not sure where).

Practiced swearing under my breath at the screen. Tried out new words. (“Roy Mustang is badass.”) Nothing exploded. So far, so good.

Caption on a con-goer’s camouflage-patterned T-shirt: “Ha! Now you can’t see me!”

I didn’t see the actual masquerade, but I caught the prizes. A gorgeous Princess Sailor Moon won something, as did a bunch of original costumes.

Went to a panel entitled “Why Writing Can’t Be Taught And How To Teach It.” I think that title itself is worth some kind of prize.

Jim Kelly, a self-proclaimed “workshop junkie” and several-time editor, has this to say to people who don’t want to learn anything: “People have been thinking very hard about the craft of writing for 4,000 years. Now, people say they don’t want to learn things, becaue it’ll corrupt ‘your pure writerly spirit’ . . . okay, you can go back to ancient Sumeria andwork your way up from there.”

Mur Lafferty, of the podcast I Should Be Writing, describes her approach: “I don’t lie and say that I’m on top of the mountain, handing down advice from on high. I’m trying to climb the mountain, and I figure my readership is right behind me, and maybe I just tripped over a tree root, so I’m telling them: ‘Dude. Don’t trip over that tree root that I just tripped over. Seriously.'”

Kelly says that he watches/reads other things thinking “Ooh! I could steal that!”

And then: “A writer who has stopped learning has stopped writing. He is just recapitulating what he already knows.”

And: “That’s the drug of writing—that your own writing sometimes surprises the hell out of you.” YES. (Sometimes my own writing cracks me up. I figure that’s got to be a good sign.)

The next event in the same room was a video of Douglas Adams—I recognized it from YouTube (part one is here), but it was well worth sitting through again.

Ford: “You know about quantum uncertainty?”
Arthur: “Something to do with cats?”

And, Ford: “Cats see landscapes of quantum uncertainty.”
Arthur: “Is that why they look at us so oddly?”
Ford: “That’s exactly why they look at us so oddly.”

(This makes perfect sense if you watch it. I promise.)

The video was introduced by a public spokesperson for American Atheists, who had also known Adams personally. (His interview with Adams can be found in The Salmon of Doubt.) Adams really wanted his atheism to be public knowledge.

Irony: When asked (by an American interviewer) whether he ever got flak for his atheism, he didn’t quite understand the question. Then he moved to L.A. to work on the screenplay for the movie. Called back: “I understand why you were asking that question now.” Yes, folks, godless liberal Hollywood is harder on atheists than the United Kingdom.

Adams: “We share a sort of responsibility for all the versions of ourselves that we don’t know about.” . . . I sense there is Colbert meta to be mined from that quote.

From Lawrence Schoen, on a panel about linguistics for artificial languages: “One of the joys of world-building is putting in things for the readers who get fanatical.” (Like, in Middle-earth, the fact that “Lúthien Tinúviel” literally translates to “Florence Nightingale.”)

Having spent Saturday night in the anime room (in which I had stayed for Elfen Lied at one in the morning), I spent Sunday night in the movie room, hoping I wouldn’t miss The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T at six AM on Monday. (It was by Dr. Seuss, and therefore worth watching.)

These rooms get absolutely freezing at night. Fortunately, the con suite had hot tea available 24/7. I didn’t realize that on Sunday morning, and ended up buying tea from the hotel cafe; but on Monday I figured it out. Will have to remember that.

Ran into two litkids from Carver towards the end of the con. One graduating, the other a junior. (And she was a freshman when I knew her.) They shared depressing news, of the “All The Good Teachers Are Retiring” flavor. Sigh. (I’m trying to plan a party for one of them. We’re running out of time.)

The last event I went to was a presentation about strategies in searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, given by a guy nicknamed Dr. Seti. He was brilliant: on the ball, charming, funny, adaptable, interesting. Broke out a guitar and did some singing halfway through.

A colleague of his, he related, once went on a trip to Australia; the immigration form included the question “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” His response: “I didn’t realize it was still a requirement.”

The academic’s version of the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the wisdom to teach those that can be taught, the courage to flunk those who cannot, and an administration who knows the difference.”

Arthur C. Clarke once described the solar system as “the sun, Jupiter, and assorted debris.”

A sundial is an incredibly well-designed clock; it has the least possible moving parts imaginable.

The last event I wanted to go to had the promising-sounding title of “Competitive Insults” . . . but nobody else showed up. The perils of scheduling something on the last afternoon.

So I came home. Took a shower. Checked my email. Had a salad. All those little non-con things that get neglected.

(And by “non-con” I mean “non-convention”, not “non-consensual”. That would have made this a different post altogether.)

3 thoughts on “Notes from Balticon 42

  1. Sounds like you had a good time! Me, I had my OS die on me, requiring a rebuild. Biggest loss: all of my bookmarks from the last year or so. Could’ve been worse, but it still stings. I really dislike how Firefox handles bookmarks.

  2. Interesting concept, but I’m loathe to allow a third party website to know what I bookmark (even marked as private, they still have a record of what you add).

    Fortunately, the crisis was averted: I had backed up a copy of my C Drive’s “Documents and Files” folder just before the crash and it turns out Firefox stores bookmarks in the “Application Data” folder there. So all my bookmarks have been recovered intact. I’ve also taken steps to make sure they don’t disappear on me again.

    How goes getting caught up on Shine and other things?

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