Feb 17, 2003

Report from Boskone 40

So this was my 10th Boskone. When I went to my first in 1994 it was only their second year in Framingham, which is extremely convenient for me since I live the next town over. I already knew where all the fast food places were (not entirely self-evident when you walk out the front door of the Framingham Sheraton) and how long it took to get there, I could go home for a few hours late Saturday afternoon and come back for the evening festivities. I could stay out late Friday night for the trivia contest and still get home before midnight. I could take the family out to breakfast on Sunday morning at the hotel before things got going. And one year when we got a foot of snow the first day of the convention, I was only four miles from home and not particularly worried about getting there.

For me Boskone has always been a Framingham convention, so it was with mixed emotions that I faced the prospect of having to schlep all the way into Boston this year. Not that schlepping into Boston is unusual for me. I work there, so it’s an everyday occurrence. Which if anything makes it less appealing. I’ve also in the last 10 years been to Arisia three times, which is also downtown and in the dead of winter and was always kind of a pain, and the convention was never enough to my taste to make it that worthwhile. But I know the area of the Sheraton Boston, since it’s near Symphony Hall, know how to get there, where to park, etc., although I don’t think I’d been inside the hotel since Jeff and I went to some Northwestern alumni event there probably 15 years ago.

In general there seemed to be plenty of space for everything, Darrell Schweitzer was grumbling as he arrived late for a panel about how it was more of a maze than the “Escher” hotel where Lunacon is held, but I think that was overstating things a bit. It wasn’t a maze so much as spread out. At Worldcon time hopefully they will allow a few more minutes to get from place to place. There didn’t seem to be many problems, and general chatter seemed positive about being downtown instead of the hinterlands of Metrowest. The fact that it was 5 degrees all weekend and there was no need to go outside didn’t hurt.

I go to cons primarily for the programming. I didn’t set foot inside the art show, the anime room, and only spent 30 seconds in the con suite. The dealers room had the usual suspects, minus Glen Cook, and I was able to find a few of these high-priced low-printrun novellas that are being cranked out now, but the one British dealer (Andy somebody) seems to focus on hardcovers, and I would’ve bought a few BSFA nominees in paperback. As I mentioned yesterday, no Interzone or Spectrum was available, either. Since Charles Brown was a guest, Locus had a table, so I could pick up the February issue a few days early.

Friday

Making Fantasy Real, with George R R Martin and a few others

There were a lot of fantasy-related panels this year, and since I don’t read much fantasy I mostly avoided them. The one exception was this one, because Martin’s “Ice and Fire” series is probably the best fantasy I’ve read besides Tolkien. Much discussion about the relative need for realism in fantasy, Martin promoting the use of vague terminology such as “leagues” to avoid having readers pick apart the logistics of what goes on in his books.

British Fantasy and SF That Doesn’t Cross the Pond, w/ Charles Stross, Peter Weston and others

First time I’ve seen Charles Stross, who demonstrated a broad knowledge of SF in general and British SF in particular. The always-entertaining British fan Peter Weston moderated, mostly going through a list of just about every UK author out there now, plus a few classic ones, and talking about the general gloomy disposition of British SF and whether it was a recent phenomenon and what exactly was the root cause.

New Directions in the Small Press, w/ Cecilia Tan, Rob Sawyer and others

The conclusion to be drawn is that there is no new direction in the small press, there is merely more of it, with more small presses publishing bigger authors. POD and ebooks never really came up. As is the case with some panels, went to this more because Tan and Sawyer are interesting to listen to, not so much because of the topic itself.

Saturday

SF and the Web, with Jim Kelly, Laurie Mann and others

Two people who really know this topic, plus a couple of other guys, talking about where to go for SF info on the web (isfdb, sci-fiction, etc., not much new there), how to get your web page noticed (pictures are good), how to take advantage of search engines, etc. Actually very informative as I try to figure out what to do with this site.

Slides and Stories, with David Brin and Jim Burns

Jim Burns went through three trays of slides while Brin extemporized a story that tried to connect as many of the pictures as possible. Generally entertaining, although I don’t think he was trying very hard.

Did Tolkien Harm Fantasy? with David Brin, Darrell Schweitzer and others

Any panel with Darrell Schweitzer is by default entertaining, and here he even got a bit passionate over Lester Del Rey, whom he thinks was the real detriment to fantasy by publishing and promoting The Sword of Shannara. The general consensus was you couldn’t blame Tolkien, that other forms of fantasy would have dominated instead.

SF of the 40s 50s and 60s, with William Tenn, Hal Clement and others

Anecdotes from Phil Klass (aka William Tenn) and Harry Stubbs (aka Hal Clement) about the old days.

SF of the 90s, with Charles Brown and David Hartwell

I only saw the last half of this panel, which seemed to consist of Messrs. Brown and Hartwell reading aloud through lists of books published in the last 10 years and occasionally saying “That was a very fine book”. I was hoping for more observation of trends and less of the laundry list.

The Renaissance of Hard SF, with Peter Weston, Cathryn Kramer, and David Hartwell

Now that The Hard SF Renaissance anthology has been published, editors Kramer and Hartwell talked about definitions of hard sf while Peter Weston badgered them about things like why Ursula Le Guin was in the book. Talked about some of the reasons why hard sf kind of fell out of favor for a while in the 70s and 80s.

How Biology Affects Thinking and Society, with David Brin, Shariann Lewitt, Eric Van and others

Better than I expected, with some interesting biology and sociology info from people in the field.

Sunday

TV Brainstorming, David Brin and Tom Easton

Brin and Easton talk about their ideas for tv shows, none of which have ever seen the light. Brin wants to do a survivor show where people have to start in a pre-bronze age environment and learn how to smelt ore. Interesting observation about how most of the cable channels out there now show the equivalent of what used to be the domain of PBS (nature shows, history, etc.)

Catholicism in SF, with Michael Flynn, Teresa Neilsen Hayden and others

Just saw some of this, good anecdotes from Flynn and Ms NH, who announced that she was coming out of the closet and revealing she was a converted catholic as her grandmother had just died.

The Politics of Literary Acceptance, with Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Darrell Schweitzer, Brett Cox and others

Schweitzer and Neilsen Hayden, both talking at near-lightspeed, spar over various writers through history that have either been shunned or included unfairly by either the masses or academia. Schweitzer offered examples of Dunsany, who is largely ignored by scholars because he’s an Irish writer writing in an English style, and Clark Ashton Smith, who has become famous not because of the quality of his work but because he was part of the Lovecraft crowd.

The Universe of the Far Future, with Rob Sawyer, Jeff Carver and others

Just saw some of this panel, generally discussing how to depict the far future and what exactly are the expected lifetimes of civilization, humanity as we know it, etc. Sawyer pointed out that some of the more wildly speculative ideas of the far future are well-suited to the short story, as they can just throw out the idea without taking an entire book to imagine the details that are so far from our current frame of reference.

SF Archetypes – First Contact, with Hal Clement, Allen Steele, Jeff Carver and (briefly) David Brin

Brin was off to take the family to the USS Constitution (bet that was chilly), so he only stopped by for a few minutes. Starting with the Leinster classic, they discussed different ways of first contact, the generally anthropocentric approach favored by movies and tv vs. books like The Mote in God’s Eye where the protagonists spend much of the novel just trying to understand what the aliens are up to.

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Feb 16, 2003

Oops, it’s suddenly past 11 and I don’t have time to enter a full description of the convention, so I’ll have to leave that for tomorrow (hopeful that I can still remember it by then). In summary it was a good show, interesting to have it Boston for the first time in my experience, as it makes it feel almost like an out-of-town convention. The fact that the Sheraton is attached to the Prudential shops was handy considering it was about five degrees outside all weekend, since I could head over to the food court for meals without having to go outside. Yesterday I parked in the Prudential garage, which was kind of pricey but meant I didn’t really have to go outside at all the entire time. Paying to park seems to make it more conducive to hanging around, and for some reason by the time the convention was over this afternoon I wasn’t too worn out (until after the kids were in bed this evening and I segued into an unscheduled three-hour nap). Picked up a few things, including MacLeod’s The Human Front and Dark Light and Reynolds’ Turquoise Days, but not much in the British editions I was hoping to find. If British SF is so popular these days, how come more dealers don’t have the new stuff? Even Darrell Schweitzer went without a table in the dealer’s room, so I couldn’t get recent issues of Interzone, and David Hartwell can’t get more issues of Spectrum. Since I won’t be going over there again any time soon, I may have to take the plunge with amazon.uk. Anyway, as I said, hopefully more info tomorrow.

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Feb 15, 2003

That feeling of a sore behind must mean I’ve been spending the weekend at a science fiction convention, where the main pasttime, at least for me, is sitting in relatively uncomfortable conference room chairs listening to panels. This year’s Boskone has David Brin as guest of honor, whom I’ve seen a couple of times before at Worldcons, and who is definitely a smart guy and an engaging speaker with a good sense of humor, although sometimes he can be a bit preachy. Half the time I’ve seen him in the past it’s been in conjunction with Greg Bear, who also very much likes the sound of his own voice, and when the two of them get together it’s quite the ego-fest, so this has been a good chance to hear Brin by himself, or on panels where hardly any of his fellow panelists can keep up. I’ve had Infinity’s Shore sitting on my shelf to read for years, and since I read Brightness Reef when it was a Hugo nominee several years ago, and it was such a tough slog, I could never bring myself to attempt the next book in the series. So recently I went back and acquired Sundiver and the Uplift War (I read Startide Rising in college), and am in the process of systematically reading through them to make my way up to Infinity’s Shore sometime in the next six months or so. His books are crammed full of ideas, probably the best-written alien biologies of anyone I’ve read, and so varied are the various alien races he uses that it’s hard to keep track of them all sometimes. His prose definitely has a way with words, and much like in his public speaking the sound of his own voice sometimes seems to be more the point than what he’s trying to say. As a result the books are probably on the long side, and somewhat unfocused, but unlike Vernor Vinge not such a mess that you lose sight of either the big picture or the attention to detail. So far it’s been a fun weekend. Hope to have more convention info tomorrow.

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Feb 14, 2003

Last night in a fit of industriousness I posted all my old Christmas letters on this website, so that they may be available to all for historical and research purposes. I even converted the three most recent ones to html (the others were carried over from the old website on ultranet). I don’t know about anybody else, but I still enjoy reading through them every so often just to see what was going on, who we saw, who was in and who was out from one year to the next. In the early days the Christmas letter was a way for people to check in with each other without having to actually be proactive about it. Over the years it started to influence events before they happened, as people would ponder how they would be represented before doing something. But lately I think people have stopped reading it, as hardly anyone seemed to notice when I didn’t send one this go-around. I should do a year in review anyway, just to fill in the gap between the last letter in 2001 and the start of this blog. The theory goes that from this point on if you want to know who’s hot and who’s not you’ll have to read it piecemeal here rather than waiting for the condensed version at Christmastime (assuming I can keep this going more than a week or two). Ironic for those who claimed not to have time to read a three page letter once every 12 months.

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Feb 13, 2003

I thought I’d cruise today and just repost Laura’s summary of last night’s classics reading group, but her summary was so vague she could have written it without actually having been there. The book was selections from Canterbury Tales, specifically the Knight’s Tale, the Miller’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale and the Scholar’s (Clerk’s) Tale, plus the General Prologue. Probably the most specific part of the discussion was on the Scholar’s Tale, not surprisingly, as it deals with a woman who is extremely subservient to her husband. Some debate ensued over whether these characters were meant to be realistic or if the tale was really more of a parable. Jim pointed out that while this tale has drawn comparisons to the story of Job, at least Job questioned some of the trials that were given to him, allowing the reader to have some empathy, where Griselda does everything demanded of her without question. Some discussion was also given to the Knight’s tale, its juxtaposition of an ancient Greek setting and characters with the trappings of medieval England (knights, jousting, etc.). Although much is made on some of the websites about the Miller’s Tale being the perfect short story, the group was mostly dismissive of it as raunchy nonsense. There was general agreement that the character of the Wife of Bath was more interesting based on her prologue than the tale she told. These particular tales were suggested for their varying depictions of and commentaries on love, so there were some comparisons to be drawn between various combinations. In general, everyone seemed satisfied with the book. I bought the Oxford Classics edition that has all the other tales in it also (translated, no middle english for me). After Boskone I want to go back and finish it.

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Feb 12, 2003

The Locus Best of 2002 list is out, and as usual this gets me going on what to read next, trying to handicap what will be nominated for the Hugos. Last year I was able to read 16 of the 17 novellas and nominated 5, of which I think one or two actually made it on the ballot. With novels I struck out, but there I could only read a small fraction of what was eligible. This year a couple of shoo-ins would be Bones of the Earth and The Scar and probably Years of Rice and Salt. I may vote for Chasm City again since it’s still a contender even as a 2001 book. Kiln People has a good shot also. Except for Swanwick they’re all fairly chubby books so I doubt I’ll get through more than a couple by the end of March. In the novella category, I’ll guess “Stories for Men” and “Breathmoss” will be nominated, but beyond that there are no obvious candidates. There are too many novelette and short story possibilities to even guess (plus a couple will usually squeak onto the ballot by one or two votes, making predictions even more difficult). Several years ago I tried to keep up with Asimovs and F&SF as they came out, and nominated the ones I could actually remember, but the downside of that was the amount of time spent reading so much unmemorable stuff. Now I wait to read a recommendation from somewhere first (typically Locus), or go strictly by name recognition. Less objective, perhaps, but less time wasted.

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Feb 11, 2003

Beth was babysitting for two of Kedron’s kids when I got home this evening, and we all ate dinner more or less together, so I got a brief glimpse of what it would be like to have four kids, with Beth at one end of the table and me at the other. A brief glimpse was more than enough.

Got the music I ordered in the mail yesterday, Chopin’s Andante Spianato and Polonaise, and the Shostakovich 2nd Piano Concerto. The Chopin doesn’t seem to be included in the Paderewski edition of the complete works, but recently I was listening to a Rubenstein recording of it and wanted to check it out. The Shostakovich I’ve known about for quite a while, it doesn’t actually seem that hard, lots of noodling and lots of octaves. The first movement is better than the others (used in Fantasia 2000 as accompaniment for The Steadfast Tin Soldier). My collection of concerto sheet music is pretty skimpy, so I wanted to start beefing it up, although there are so many to choose from it’s hard to decide what to pick next. The piano tuner is coming on Tuesday, then I should be able to play along with the stereo again. I was trying to accompany Isaac Stern a couple of weekends ago on the 1st Beethoven violin sonata and Istomin and I were enough out of tune that it sounded like the honky-tonk version. Almost enough to make your eyes water, and not in a good way.

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Feb 10, 2003

Made most of the reservations last night for the trip to New York at the end of the month. since I already knew what I wanted to do and where we were going to stay, I was able to book three different things in three browsers and spent about $500 in 10 minutes. Isn’t the internet wonderful? After ditching the kids at Julie’s house, we’re off to NY (barring any last-minute snowstorms), ideally in time for dinner at Churrascaria Plataforma before taking in a recital at Carnegie Hall. Leif Ove Andsnes is doing some Chopin, Grieg, and other stuff. Then Wednesday, hit the half-price tickets booth in the morning and find a show to go see for the afternoon. Then out to dinner at Tavern on the Green, followed by the New York Philharmonic at Lincoln Center, with Peter Serkin doing the Brahms 1st concerto. Poor Beth! That’s more piano music than she’s heard the rest of her life put together. Then back to Boston on Thursday morning. Tthe Met wasn’t doing anything that interesting those two evenings. So no big dinners and lots of No-Doze for her!

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Feb 9, 2003

It’s Sunday night and it’s late, but I wanted to give this a try. I’ve had this web site for two years and haven’t done anything with it, so maybe this weblog thing is the way to go, since I’m obviously not getting stuff uploaded the old-fashioned way. Hope to have some family pictures, some ruminations about sf, some news from within the family and the NU crowd if anyone ever responds. But let’s not get cocky, let’s just see how it goes.

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