They worked with the Skylight to arrange some particular events, especially the private question and answer session with Somtow at the Skylight Saturday afternoon, which included a look backstage and upclose examination of the Dragon puppet. The Skylight had “Welcome OperaCon” signs in the lobby, and we got little gift bags of chocolate as special guests, as well as an explicit invitation to the Skylight’s after party (which is generally open to “First Nighters”, but it was nice to be specifically asked. We had the opportunity to meet other members of the cast and crew, toast the production in champagne, and those who felt inclined could partake of a generous cold collation. (We were both still full from dinner--).
OperaCon began Thursday with move-in to a set of comfortable rooms on the sixth floor of the Hilton Milwaukee Center. Somtow had relocated from his Skylight-provided housing to rooms across the hall. A great deal of food and drink, name badges, program books, and tickets were brought in. Somtow provided the special edition librettos for each member, which he autographed. Members drifted in through the afternoon and into the evening, and the party was officially on.
We got back to the hotel Friday afternoon, bringing along the Snow Dragon cake that the Smiths had commissioned from Georgie, in order to celebrate their immanent thirtieth wedding anniversary. The cake was pronounced good, and safely stowed away until its Saturday evening unveiling. About four o’clock, I changed into my full white tie for the opening, and about four-thirty set off for the group dinner at the Milwaukee Ale House.
The Ale House is a “brew pub” occupying the ground floor of one of the restored Third Ward commercial buildings about two blocks from the Skylight. It has an extensive menu of food and its own home-brewed beers as well as many other craft beers. It is nice for a post-Industrial space, although the exposed brick tends to make the ambiance loud and hard to hold a conversation in. The Milwaukee Ale House management and staff were very accommodating for our group. A lot of Milwaukee restaurants don’t even take reservations on Friday night, let alone for groups of forty. The servers were cheerful and responsive, and we got our food in plenty of time to make it to the opera. Georgie and I had the fried cod fish fry, which was very good. Georgie had potato pancakes with hers, which she thought were tasty, but made with a bit too much flour. Others at the table, however, pronounced them “just like Grandma used to make,” so recipes can vary.
For a review of the Opera itself, see my separate article. It was good!
We left the after-party at the Skylight a bit before eleven PM, and went home to bed. We understand the party continued at the Hilton well into the morning hours.
Saturday morning, we came back to the Hilton, bringing along a cardamom coffee cake from Beans and Barley, and a couple of pies to celebrate the special Pi Day. (3/14/15--). (If you had a a sweet tooth, OperaCon was a great con for you. Besides Milwaukee coffee cake and Racine kringle, Leah had ordered "kaddush" cakes from Chicago, which were delicious dense confections full of cinnamon and sugar.)
The talk for the membership was scheduled for one thirty PM, back at the Skylight auditorium. For unknown reasons, Maestro Subbaraman never made it (the one disappointment of the weekend). One of the Skylight staffers gamely took the stage along with Somtow, who held forth about music and literature with his customary erudition and humor. My humorously intended opening question, “How do you justify your existence?” surprised us by eliciting the anecdote that Somtow had actually been a guest of the famous Trap Door Spiders dining club (Isaac Asimov, George Scithers, Lester Del Rey and others) who customarily began grilling their guests with that question. Somtow talked candidly about his career in music, his rejection by the Thai cultural establishment, his reinvention as a writer, and his calling back to music, this time greeted with more success.
At the end of the talk, we were permitted to go onstage, examine the back stage and look closely at (but not touch!) the Snow Dragon puppet, which was fascinating.
At this time, Georgie and I ditched OperaCon temporarily since we had tickets for the 5PM Early Music Now concert. (To be reviewed later.) We got back to the hotel approximately eight o'clock, just as gears were being shifted for the Smith's anniversary observation.
I helped cut and serve the cake and pies, and a good time was had by all. Again, we folded up before midnight, but I understand the party again ran long.
Sunday morning I checked back in at the Hilton, finding that the Smiths and other helpers had clean-up well in hand in an atmosphere of jolly contentment, and would not be moving out until Monday, so I hung out for a while and then went home to take care of business there.
OperaCon was a very nice time and a lovely event. Thanks to the Smiths for all their work in making it happen!
So, we garbed up for adventuring, and were pleased to see other members of the local Steampunk community came out as well. The tour volunteers were pleased to see us, and we got a lot of compliments on our outfits.
The homes available for viewing this year included some real gems, in particular one on West Highland Avenue, which is not only beautifully restored, but is a showplace for the owner's spectacular collection of antique "talking machines", plus music boxes, early coin-operated "player" devices, and a medical Tesla coil machine.
We were also very interested to see a house on N. 34th St. This was a house built by Milwaukee brewer Fredrick Pabst for his daughter. For many years, it was a rooming house, until the present owner bought it and began the process of restoration in 1998. It's still a work in progress, but the progress that has been made is very impressive indeed.
On Sunday, the 16th, we joined a Steampunk outing to the East Troy Electric Railroad organized by Henry Osier. As a group, we rode in a former Milwaukee streetcar the five-mile trip to the Elegant Farmer at Mukwonago. The elegant farmer was doing a bang-up business at that time, and we decided that, rather than stand in long lines then, we would take the next train back to East Troy, have some ice cream at Lauber's Old Fashion Ice Cream next to the Railroad Museum, and then take our car back to Elegant Farmer, which was on the way home for us, and pick up a couple of things (like a basket of juicy strawberries)that it would not have been practical to haul back on the train.
We rode back on the streetcar, and got into Lauber's just ahead of the mob from the following car. Initially, the shop only had one server on, so getting served took a bit of time. I ordered a classic Banana Split, which was very nice. Very traditional ice creams, good toppings, and a nice, ripe banana. Georgie had a double scoop of mint chocolate chip, which was very good also. Then we took our car back to Elegant Farmer, and bought some jam, pancake mixes, and the aforementioned strawberries. By the time we got there, the rest of the group was on the train back to the Museum, so we packed up and drove home. Although we cut our time a bit short, we had a very good time.
We were surprised to see that the Radisson had been somewhat remodeled, with new garish carpets throughout, a new lobby layout, and a lot of new furniture, which was nice. Interesting, but a mixed blessing, was the major modification which created a passage connecting the two main corridors in the function area, which made it possible to go directly from convention registration in the “Basie’s Restaurant” lobby directly to the Oakbrook rooms without going through the bathroom “wormholes”. Looking at the map, I’m not sure if this actually reduced function space or not (had there been an Odana D room?), but the hotel’s expansion of their exercise room into the former consuite space certainly did. (The consuite was moved to Odana A—actually a bit better for that function since the room has two exits which improved traffic flow.)
The convention overall was somewhat low-keyed, pleasant, but not terribly exciting. Attendance was low, a bit over 300, which may have contributed to a lower energy level. It appeared that there was a “perfect storm” of other competing events that weekend—a game con in Green Bay, an academic conference in Eau Claire, the Madison Film Festival, ect.
Georgie had been put on two panels, and I on four, so it was going to be a busy con for us. I got right into it at 2:30 Friday with “No Free Will? So What?” At my suggestion, the panel did not get into defining “free will,” which could have taken up the entire panel, but instead took a generally accepted loose concept, and went on from there to justify our individual takes on the subject, taking into account recent research with brain scans indicating the unconscious parts of the brain react as part of the decision-making process. Here are my thoughts: Even if it is true that our decisions and actions are governed entirely be past experience and memory, this fact would be of no use. Not even we ourselves have full knowledge of what memories we retain, consciously or unconsciously. Even if there were a full video and audio record of an individual’s life, no one would be able to determine what one remembered, what one forgot, what one recalled unconsciously, so there is no possible way to predict how any particular individual will react in any given situation. So, functionally, we have free will and it makes sense to act as though we do. As Mr. Spock said, “A difference that makes no difference is no difference.” Also, I do believe that our brains/minds have a randomizing function, possibly as part of dreaming. After all, I’ve had many experiences in dreams that I have not and could not have had in the waking world. I’ve acted on dreams—writing stories based on dreams—so they have the capability to consciously and unconsciously affect behavior. Even if all the elements of a dream come from your experiential database, they are shaken up and rearranged in new ways.
After a quick check of the dealer’s room, we caught part of the “Madison Horror” panel, which gave us some interesting information about recent works by local writers in the horror and urban fantasy genre.
For dinner, we went out to Nile, a nearby Mideastern restaurant, with Bill Bodden and Tracy Benton, and had a very good meal and pleasant chat.
We got back to the hotel in plenty of time to take in the Opening Ceremonies, which had a “Steer Trek” theme. Written by Jim Frenkel and Jim Nichols, this was one of the more cohesive skits of recent years, and used a clever name-tag switching device to portray temporal “flickering” between Original Series and Next Generation characters. (Kirk/Picard, Spock/Data. McCoy/Crusher--.)
After the Opening, we dropped in on the Art Show reception. We were a bit startled to observe that the art show panels were less than half full, although local artists like Darlene Coltrain, J.J. Brutsman, and Trinlay Khadro were well represented.
We sat in on the SF poetry slam, which had only three participants this year, but some particularly good pieces, including Richard Chwedyk’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Robot.”
Curious as to the “Dominance and Submission in Real Life” panel, we joined a small but interested audience and talked about how this variation is different when played out between real people from common fictional tropes and social misconceptions.
Saturday morning we got up in time to take part in the “Basic Victorian Street Defense” presentation by David Crawford. He gave an of-necessity very basic but broad ranging survey of “Antagonistics” from the period.
Next, we went to “Tolkien and Jackson in Middle-Earth,” which touched on differences, for good or ill, between Tolkien’s novels and Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”
Then we went to scrounge some lunch and thoroughly go over the dealer’s room. As expected, with OddCon’s game programming, there were a couple of sellers of dice and game-related stuff, and various arts and crafts, but no sellers of new books other than GoH books at the ConCom table.
At 2:30, I was on “Leadership in Combat” ably lead by Dr./Col. Rich Staats, who shared a lot of his fascinating experience as a commander in Iraq. While I was the one on the panel with no actual military experience, I thought I was still able to contribute some good points. Meanwhile, Georgie moderated the panel on “Whatever Happened to Ghosts?” which went well, covered a lot of territory, and sparked conversations later in the convention.
The 4PM panel was “Weapons of the Victorian Era,” with me, David Crawford, Lee Schneider, J. Shaul, and J. Watson. We did a pretty thorough historical survey of weapons common and uncommon. The PowerPoint I had put together came in handy for visual reference.
For dinner, we went to Maharaja with Jim Leinweber, and had a good meal and chat while other fans filled in the restaurant around us.
Alex Bledsoe gave a short and funny history of his early interests that lead him to writing, followed by Kevin Hearne’s humorous slide show covering the current state of cover art in Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy. Lynne Laakso finished with her story of her life as a fan and librarian.
After that, we went to Richard Russell’s always interesting talk on Fantasy Films of the year, and took part in the discussion until fatigue overtook us and we retired for the night.
We were up early Sunday morning, too, so I could get set up for my talk on “Mad Science in Real Life,” which was well received and the audience seemed to enjoy.
I was also on the following panel, “Potent Potables of the Victorian Age,” which was an enjoyable chat but somewhat lacking in direction.
Georgie finished up our con participation by moderating “And This is My Husband. . .”, the panel which attempted to answer the question, why aren’t there more married couples portrayed in science fiction.” The panel and audience surveyed SF, fantasy, detective fiction, and mainstream fiction without reaching any conclusions, but it was a very interesting exploration.
We took our leave of the convention and had an uneventful drive home, had dinner, and were in time to watch the latest installment of “Mr. Selfridge” on TV.
A quick cab ride got us to the hotel shortly after 10:30AM. A room was not ready for us, so we checked bags and went to Con registration. This was eerily familiar, with Registration and the Souvenir sales being in exactly the same spots as the last Chicon. At this off-peak hour, picking up our pre-reg packets went smoothly, and I was also able to pick up my Masquerade documents and identification as a judge.
There were some interesting readings scheduled, so we went over to the West tower for those. There was an immense line to get into the room for Patrick Rothfuss' reading (shortly moved into a larger room--), so we decided to divert to another. We listened to some or all of readings by Todd Gallowglass, Dierdre Murphy, and Nnedi Okorafor before breaking for lunch.
We got lunch at the "Bistro" restaurant in the hotel lobby, which was OK, although I've had a better pulled-pork-barbecue-with-slaw sandwich here in Milwaukee at HoneyPie Cafe. Then, we checked back at the hotel front desk, got our room keys, and went up to change.
Since most of the rest of the day would be concerned with the Masquerade, I changed into the outfit I would be wearing to judge, which was one of my "Steampunk" variations based on my black frock coat. When we took a brief look into the Dealer's Room, I was hailed by Phil Foglio, who awarded me a "Girl Genius" Steampunk hall costume ribbon, which pleased me very much. (I was croggled by the number of badge ribbons some people had, creating bandoliers that rivaled "Doctor Who" scarves in color and length. I at first thought that the concom had run amok in this regard, until I realized that every dealer, artist, author and group had produced their own as promotional material. Fun, I suppose, but it kind of defeats the purpose of using the ribbons as an access control measure.)
I had a 4:30PM panel on Masquerade presentations, which was fun if loosely structured. We tried to give some useful tips for beginners, and I think we did, and come up with some entertaining stories, and I think we did that as well.
The Masquerade green room opened at 6PM for an 8PM 'curtain' and I was ready to begin. My co-judge for workmanship, Carole Parker, was on time as well, and we got down to work as soon as we had subjects to look at. (Workmanship judging at the WorldCon is optional, but most of the contestants did opt to be judged on part, if not all, of their costumes.) I thought Carole and I worked together well. There were some stressors—it seemed like a good idea to have the video feed from the ballroom piped into the Green Room. However, it didn't work out so well when I turned out there was no way to turn the sound down or off, and a lot of the pre-show video was LOUD. Given that this meant that "den moms" and other staff had to shout to make themselves heard, it was sometimes really difficult to conduct a detailed interview with the contestants about their costumes. Granted this wasn't something the Masquerade staff had control over, but it might be a note for future masquerade runners to check on.
Some of the entries, notably "Suzaku the Phoenix," (Sarah Mitchell), "Mad Madame M's Marvelous Machine" (Margaret Gentile), and "The Lady of the Lake" (Aurora Celeste), showed obsessive attention to detail as well as representing enormous amounts of work. These were Best Novice, Best Journeyman, and Best in Show for Workmanship, respectively. We awarded "Leather Sole Airship Pirates" Best Master for Workmanship for their amazing operating backpack helicopter device.
After the Masquerade, we pretty much went to bed, as it was pretty late.
Sunday morning we were up fairly early, and partook of the breakfast buffet at the Bistro restaurant. I had the buffet, which included a pretty nice made-to-order omelet, and Georgie had the cinnamon waffle, which she pronounced good.
We started the Con Day by attending a reading by Carol Berg, author of "The Spirit Lens" and its sequels. She read from a forthcoming book that will follow her "Lighthouse Duet," novels I haven't read but will have to look up.
At 10:30, I was on the panel "Historical Accuracy in Fantasy." This was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion that took off in ways I hadn't anticipated, but enjoyed. The audience seemed engaged as well.
After that, we caught part of the Early Music concert by "Court and Country" which we found very fine and a joy to hear.
Then, we got seats in Crystal Ballroom B early, to watch Toastmaster John Scalzi interview astronaut Story Musgrave. What a man! As the event description says, "Story is an astronaut, surgeon, jet pilot, and landscape architect. As he flew on six Shuttle missions, bred a unique new type of palm tree, and earned graduate degrees in seven different subjects, he has ignored all conventional limits." Besides that, he seems like a genuinely modest individual, and has a good sense of humor, too. I don't recall if he plays any instruments, but, as Georgie noted, he's as much like a real-life "Buckaroo Banzai" as you are likely to meet.
We then went back through the Dealers' Room, and bought a few things, including our friend Sue Burke's translation, "Amadis of Gaul, Book 1".
We finished the program day by attending "Tolkien and Me: How and When I Was First Introduced to the Books, and the Effect it Had on My Life". While in some ways this panel had some interesting information, mainly on the history of Tolkien fandom in the US in the 1960's and 70's, most of the panelist's stories started something like, "I first read The Lord of the Rings in 19XX, and I was hooked immediately." So far, so good, but no one went into why, or what about the books appealed to them. We had to make our dinner connection so ducked out before or if anyone got around to that topic--.
Sunday evening, we skipped the Hugo Awards. All honor to the nominees and winners, but we hadn't really read or seen many of the nominees, so didn't feel that interested. Instead, we went out to dinner at a restaurant called ZED 451, which was a sufficiently interesting experience I've given it its own review, following. Back at the hotel, we hung out until the London in 2014 party opened and partook of their hospitality for a time before retiring. (London got the 2014 bid unopposed. Intriguing possibilities there--.)
Monday morning, breakfast at the hotel again. We checked out of the hotel, no problems, and caught some Chuck Jones cartoons before attending the Ray Bradbury memorial panel, which was kind nice, but kind of formless.
The trip home was not as pleasant as the trip down. Amtrak at Union Station has a 'departure lounge' that was crowded and a bit too warm. Once on the train and rolling, we were hardly to Chicago's north suburbs before we became aware of gravel being thrown up against the floor of our car, a sign that something was dragging. The train stopped, and inspection showed that it was the electrical cable connecting our car and those behind us to the front of the train. The conductors did their best to reconnect it, but the incident had also shorted out the train's power control system, so electricity couldn't be restored. This meant that we had to proceed to Milwaukee with no air conditioning. We survived, but the heat was definitely getting to me by the time we arrived. The train staff did their best, but, as we overheard one say, "Mechanical (meaning "maintenance") had failed" them. We got into Milwaukee, again, about half an hour late, and cabbed home to unpack and recover.
Glitches aside, we had a good time, saw a lot of people we hadn't seen in a long time (and often their new children/grandchildren), and enjoyed some nostalgia of the 'remember when' sort prowling the Hyatt's familiar passages.
Sue went into the hospital April 19th for treatment of an obstructed bowel. However, kidney failure followed, which was initially attributed to toxic reaction to the dye used in a CAT scan. After some hesitation, Sue agreed to dialysis and to physical therapy to help her regain strength.
When Sue began getting weaker instead of stronger, further investigation detected a mass in her bowel, which, upon surgery June 19th, proved to be a large and inoperable cancerous tumor involving numerous organs. It was this that brought about her death.
Sue was a remarkable person in many ways. Although she lost the use of her legs to childhood polio, she maintained and defended her independence ferociously. She was a distinctive figure at Midwest science fiction conventions for decades, determinedly if slowly making her way around using crutches and braces, which gave her better access than a wheelchair. This changed in later years as post-polio syndrome stole further muscular strength, requiring her to rely on an electric scooter.
This, however, did not slow her down much. Since she did not drive, she navigated the Milwaukee public transit system on the scooter and went wherever she needed to go—at least in good weather. In winter, it was better if things came to her. She was pretty much fearless, doing thinks such as taking her wheelchair and going to WorldCon in Amsterdam on her own.
Her courage also allowed her to buy a home of her own. That affordable properties were in what some considered dodgy neighborhoods did not bother her. Although a lone woman on an electric scooter might be considered an easy mark, she was never robbed or molested.
Her tax preparation business worked for her. With four months of intensive labor per year, she could earn enough to live on frugally, and even to purchase her duplex. Besides income, her work was also a source of anecdotes about people and the tax system. It turns out that the person who shows up to have taxes done on April 15th with boxes full of unsorted receipts really exists-. This work allowed her to keep her own hours providing for the extra sleep she needed, and to have eight months of the year to write, go to cons, or to read.
She was a voracious reader, averaging a book a day. She had the quirk that, once she had begun a book, she would finish it at a sitting. This made thick books a challenge for her, but she always managed to stay awake through a long novel, and crash afterwards.
She had been engaged on a project to read one novel by every author in the library mystery section, starting with "Z" and working towards "A". (A determined contrarian, her SF paperbacks were also shelved with Z at the upper left, and A at the bottom right--.) Of late she had been posting capsule reviews of the works she read on her Wordpress blog.
As a writer, she attended the Clarion workshop, and had a number of short stories published, notably in the “Writers of the Future” series. Her novel, Inca, an alternative history positing the Inca Empire making a successful resistance to the Spanish, was published by Tor Books in December, 2001. The first of a trilogy, the others were not picked up for publication. (The book got essentially zero promotion from publishers, so sales were low.)
Sue was always politically active. She originally came to Milwaukee as a VISTA volunteer working with the Milwaukee Tenants' Union. She was a past member of her neighborhood council, knew her aldermen and county supervisors, and even went out to canvass for her favored candidates, on her crutches, in bitter winter weather. We joked that the pending gubernatorial recall election helped give her the will to live long enough to cast her absentee ballot.
Sue loved ideas, and loved debate. She was a frequent panelist at WisCon, other regional conventions, and WorldCons. She was named a Guest of Honor at DuckCon due to her strong skeptical rationalist principles. Georgie and I really got to know Sue when we all attended another friend's "think tank", a monthly gathering dedicated to speculative thinking. When that ended, Sue began her own "salon," which she asked us to join, and which continued until this April.
Although Sue dealt with her disabilities with dignity, it also gave a dark side to her mordant wit: with what can only be described as a "gleeful cackle" she would remind us that being "able-bodied" is a temporary condition for most of us, and she was just ahead of the curve. Sue also looked forward with grim anticipation to the Next Great Epidemic that would reduce the human population to a manageable level, if not wipe us out. HIV, SARS, and bird flu were all great disappointments to her, but she still had hopes for an Ebola outbreak.
We visited Sue on June 17th when she was still alert and able to talk, and had a good conversation about family history, including the background of her unusual middle name, Allés, which evidently came from the French "Alais" via the Channel Islands. When we saw her early in the afternoon of the 23rd, it was obvious that she was sinking rapidly. She was able to acknowledge our presence, but not speak, and she had evident difficulty breathing even with her oxygen mask. We didn't stay long, and left about 2:00 PM to take care of some of my family business. Arriving home that night, we got the messages that Sue had become unresponsive about 4:30, and passed away by 5:30.
Sue was a truly unique person. Her memory is to be treasured, we shall not see her like again.
By Sue's request, there will be no religious observance. A memorial gathering is being planned for Sunday, July 8th at her home, details to be worked out.
Gene, born Thomas Eugene DeWeese was an SF fan from an early age, and writer of fiction, particularly science fiction but including Gothics, mysteries, romances, suspense, fantasy, and horror; as well as non-fiction books on technology and folk art. He published as Gene DeWeese and Jean DeWeese; his pseudonyms as a collaborator included Thomas Stratton and Victoria Thomas. His oveure included forty novels, plus short stories, essays, and hundreds of reviews of science fiction.
If I recall correctly, Gene was a panelist at early WisCons and X-Cons, as well as numerous other Midwest SF conventions until his shyness caused him generally to withdraw from public life.
He worked for General Motors' Delco Electronics Division as a technician in Kokomo, Indiana from 1954–1959, and as a technical writer (including for the Apollo space program) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin from 1959 to 1974 (when he became a fulltime freelance writer).
DeWeese's first professionally published fiction, the novels "The Invisibility Affair" and "The Mind-Twisters Affair" (both 1967, one of which included the infamous Wisconsin Margerine Smuggling episode), were part of the series of Man from U.N.C.L.E. books written with fellow science fiction fan "Buck" Coulson under the pseudonym Thomas Stratton, which the two had previously used for fiction published in fanzines. DeWeese since has written over forty books, including novels in the Star Trek, Ravenloft, Dinotopia, and Amazing Stories series. His best-known young adult novel is The Adventures of a Two-Minute Werewolf, which was made into a television movie of the same name. With Buck Coulson, Deweese was also the author of two fond satires on science fiction fandom, "Now You See It/Him/Them" (1975) and "Charles Fort Never Mentioned Wombats," (1977).
Gene is survived by his wife of fifty-seven years, Beverly "Bev" Deweese, herself a long time fan and regular convention panelist.
Thanks to "Orange Mike" Lowrey for the notice, and Wikipedia for the details. Steve Silver has also posted an obituary at SFSite.com today.
We ended up having SF and F on the dining room table, mystery/suspense on a dining room desk, non-fiction on the living room sofa, and miscellaneous fiction on chairs in the living room. There wasn't a huge turn-out, maybe eight to ten people all told, and way more books were brought than taken away (especially since Lee Schneider took the opportunity to clear out the Lytheria library's closet--), but fortunately Sue had a plan for that--orphaned books will be donated to the public library.
We had a very pleasant afternoon chatting with the people who came by about the books and life in general. Sue wasn't discouraged by the small turnout for the first attempt, and is likely to plan another for some future time.
The June issue of MilwAPA will be the official Greg Nowak Memorial issue. Collation will be held at the residence of Todd Voros Saturday afternoon, June 21, and will include the usual cookout and pool party that we have at Todd's in summer. Past members of the APA have been invited to contribute to the issue.
Despite the booze present, it was a fairly sober and low-keyed affair, but there was a lot of comfort given and received as memories were shared. I spoke to some of the people who had made it to the formal funeral and was pleased to hear that it was at least tastefully done, despite how little the family really knew about Greg in life. Georgie and I slipped out about 10PM, being both physically and emotionally wiped out, but the gathering continued well after that.
Mine was, "How Much Is Too Much?" I was on with moderator Sarah Monette, Catherynne Valente, and Elissa Malcohn, and we had a surprisingly good audience for that day and hour. Sarah brought in a pre-sliced raspberry Kringle (a Danish-Wisconsin pastry) as a "reward" for those who showed up.
The panel was mostly in agreement that mentioning evil-isms in your work is not an endorsment. Typically, they are there as a plot obstacle to be overcome, or to provide background expanation for the milieu the work is written in. There was a good discussion on the integrity of art in this context, the writing of real live yet not too-seductive villains, and other related topics with enthusiastic audience participation.
Georgie's panel was "Embarrassing Foremothers!" which looked at the down-sides of some proto-feminists. The panel was Georgie and Karen Moore due to the absence of a third panelist, but, as usual at WisCon, the audience filled in, and to Georgie's list of Les Preciuses, Carrie Nation, and Margaret Sanger, added women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, who was not only a suffragette, but a bona fide bomb-thrower as well. She reported that it was an interesting and fun discussion.
Our duties done, we spent the rest of the morning clearing out our room, registering for next year's WisCon (33!), saying good-bye, and standing in line to make hotel reservations for next time. On the way out of town I dropped off the beer barrel and collected my deposit, finishing the con business.
We had a good drive back home, and got mostly unpacked before going out to our traditional post-con dinner, burgers and custard at Kopp's. Then home and soon to bed, another successful WisCon in the can.
Next year's GoH's have been announced as Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman. Talk about a dynamic duo--.
After the panel, we went out for a quick lunch with David Bratman. After fighting the clouds of dust the winds were whipping up from the State Street construction zone, we were a bit dismayed to find that our goal, Mediterranean Cafe, was closed Sundays. We fell back on Potbelly's Deli, which provided us with quite good hot sandwiches.
Back at the hotel, we made rendesvous plans with co-conspirators Tracy Benton and Bill Bodden, and sallyed forth for the great Fancy Dress Party Grocery Shopping Expedition, which occupied the early part of the afternoon.
We got back in plenty of time for my panel, "On the Lifespan of Genres," moderated by Benjamin Rosenbaum. Joining me on the panel were Eleanor Arnason, Helen Keeble, and Steve Silver, filling in for absent Darja Malcolm-Clarke. The panelists were generally dismissive of John Barnes' premise, set forth in his "Helix" column, that genres have an inherent lifespan of about seventy years, after which they are "undead," but for different reasons. Eleanor provided some formal definitions of "genre" which sparked discussion as to whether the term was being used incorrectly, and if so, how. Steve Silver put his encyclopedic knowlege of SF publishing history and dates to good use, showing that Barnes' definition of SF as a genre having a starting point of 1927 (the "Amazing" era) was arguable at best. I showed how the resticted lifespan arguement was invalid when applied to any other genre, such as the Western story, let alone major art forms such as opera and the symphony. We had a good audience and a lot of participation, and I was very pleased with the panel.
After that, Bill and I went out to fetch the half-barrel of Capital Amber beer I had on reserve, and the party setup began in earnest.
This year's theme was "Fantastic Academe," and we had encouraged people to attend as graduates or faculty of schools they had, or would like to have had, attended. Georgie decorated the walls with school crests: Hogwarts, Miskatonic, Transylvania Polygnostic (from the "Girl Genius" comic), Pratchett's "Unseen University," and "Saganami Island," the space academy of the Honor Harrington universe.
The food theme was "Classic Wisconsin Graduation Party," honoring Maureen Kincaid Speller's matriculation from the University of Kent. Total surprise was obtained when Maureen first saw her smiling visage adorning the cake, and she was thrilled with the glitzy gown Tracy had made for her. If there was cake, there had to be ice cream, and there was. There was also the aforementioned bheer, cranberry-orange punch (popular recipe available on Tracy's journal "replyhazy"), cheese and sausage (natch), "taco dip" and chips, and cocktail franks in barbecue sauce.
Of course we costumed, and Tracy and Bill were quite spectacular in coordinating emebellished lab coats as members of the Transylvania Polygnostic faculty. Georgie was very 19th century elegant as "Headmistress of the Ladies' Academy of Grace Adieu." I had had Tracy make me a set of current doctoral regalia in my persona as "Sagramor the Sagacious," a long-lived sorceror who started his academic career at Oxford in 1208 and has collected schools and degrees up to Wisconsin 1979 (my own real class). We had some other good costumes show up, and were pleased to the extent other people dressed up for the evening even if not costuming.
The party went very well and we were pleased by it. Food and punch held out well. I had thought we had over bought the beer a bit, but got a last rush of thirsty fans after midnight; turns out there had been some very popular Dr. Who and "Galactica" panels that ran very late, and by the time the attendees got up to the sixth floor, other rooms were either out of beer or closed up for the night. When word went out that we had plenty of beer left, we were instantly popular! Things finally ran down shortly before two AM when we gave "last call" to the ten or so people left and closed up, at which time we may have been the last party open, even the con suite having closed due to the con contagion having taken a toll on their volunteers.
Next, Georgie was on the panel, "Is Reading a Choice that Closes Other Doors?" which was a deliberately contrarian topic for a literary-heavy convention. There was a very lively yet courteous discussion, lead by the panel, Betsy James, Georgie Schnobrich, Connie Toebe, Sue Blom and Beth Plutchak. A number of valid points were raised, including that reading takes up time that could be spent learning other skills, or interacting socially. Reading tends to drive out the oral tradition, and reliance on printed matter as a source of authority may supplant existing history, culture, and even language. I.e., if it is in a book, it must be important. Something that only old women know is therefore not important--. The panel was very well received, and I heard a considerable amount of interested discussion continuing as the audience left at the end.
It was then that our happy time was interrupted, as friends found us with the bad news that a close friend from Milwaukee had died that morning. We managed to pull ourselves together with a walk through the Art Show, and consoled ourselves with excellent sweets from the Tiptree Bake Sale. We agreed that Animal would want the "show" to go on, so we put the best face on it we could and soldiered on. Admittedly, WisCon is so absorbing, it is easy to forget your troubles while you are there.
The next panel we went to was "Curious Boundaries of YA Fantasy," a very interesting and informative panel, featuring Mary Anne Mohanraj, Tamora Pierce, Alma Alexander, Sarah Beth Durst, and Sharyn November. The panelists fearlessly discussed the considerations of writing and publishing "Young Adult" fiction (and its subcategories) and how much sex, death, and violence they felt fit in. Excellent discussion with an involved and interested audience.
During the next time slot, we walked around the dealer's room and talked with the many friends we found there. Due to budget constraints we couldn't afford much, but made many notes for the future.
The panel on "What Can't We Forgive?" was pretty much pure fun, as panelists Steve Schwartz, Susan Palwick, Judith Moffet, Ian Hagemann, and Vylar Kaftan lead the audience in hauling out and stomping on various author's literary offenses, which ranged surprisingly far beyond the usual suspects of Card and Heinlein. This, however, was the second time I encountered casual references to "Tolkien's racism" taken as a given, which disturbs me, but I will have to do more research before putting up a challenge. It seems to me that a "black orc" is no more referential to Africans than a black dragon is, and that a brief reference to offstage "swarthy Southrons" does not necessarily a racist make. However, it's been a long while since last I reread "Lord of the Rings," and I may be remembering it through "rose-colored" glasses--.
Saturday dinner was our annual excursion to L'Etoile with our friend Maureen Kincaid Speller, and an excellent meal was had accompanied by excellent conversation. L'Etoile's new management since the retirement of Odessa Piper seems to have driven even further into the doctrine of local, sustainable cuisine, to the extent that, looking at the previous weeks' menu which had still been posted outside that morning, it was going to be debatable if we could find an entree we could eat as is, since almost everything seemed to contain asparagus (which neither of us like), cheese (which Georgie is allergic to), or morels (which I am allergic to). Fortunately, the updated menu contained a chicken entree, which both Maureen and I had and found delicious, and Georgie's choice of halibut was succulent as well. For desserts, Maureen went back to the Artisanal Cheese Selection, and Georgie and I had the Sticky Toffee Pudding.
On the way out we stopped to say hi to Debbie Notkin's party, who were there as usual. Delia Sherman confided to us that she and Ellen had also eaten there the night before. I was impressed, and Delia agreed with me that that was "hard core."
After dinner, we looked into the Tiptree Auction briefly, just in time to see Ellen Klages get abducted by "The Spider Women of Queso Grande." I thought Ellen was capable of putting up a better fight, but it must have been something about the Cheesehead hat the wicked women forced on her head that sapped her strength and allowed them to drag her away--.
At 10:30PM, Georgie had "Making 'War' on 'War' Part 2" which was intended to be a continuation of the very successful and interesting panel last year, on trying to replace war language as America's dominant metaphor. Audience attendance was disappointing, which may well have been due to the mislabeling of the time slot in the pocket program grid and the doorside rosters. (See reference to programming database meltdown above; the Pocket Program was labeled as "built from duct tape and coded on a hamster-powered Difference Engine.") Georgie Schnobrich as moderator worked hard to keep the energy level up, and Shweta Narayan provided a very useful matrix showing linguistic breakdown of connotation in war language (showing, for example, why it is propagandically preferable to have a "war on" something instead of a "war with" something). Sylvia Kelso provided some contrarian analysis, but possibly the best idea of the panel came from Ian Hagemann, with an economic "scarcity" examination of war goals which I think should be rigorously applied to all appeals to go to 'war' of any sort. A very good, thoughtful panel, and a pity more people did not get to it.
A quick pass through the parties and then to bed, as we had a big day scheduled for Sunday.
We walked around the Gathering and schmoozed with friends at the OddCon Cow Tipping booth and others. With Georgie's encouragement, I joined the "Show us Your Tats" exhibition, and displayed my "Illuminati" tattoo*. I was pleased by the laughs I got for my explanation of it**.
The first panel we went to was "Not Enough Octopusses," ("Octopodes", as one of the panelists pedantically insisted--). This was one of the curious cases in which the person who proposed the panel didn't get put on it, although she was available (which may have been due to the apparent pre-con meltdown of the programming database--). The panelists, Mia Molvray, Doselle Young, Tom La Farge, and Ruthanna Emrys, put together an entertaining panel on "alien aliens," which was well worth while, but some of us would have liked to hear a bit more on the possibilities of octopodes as resident aliens, specifically. As a friend said, "the more we learn about them, the weirder and cooler they are." I did get a very useful question out of this panel which recurred in different form throughout the weekend. "Does you plot really REQUIRE an alien (elf, king, type of villain, etc.)?"
We went out to dinner at Kabul with friends Tim Kozinski and Judy Seidl, then headed back for Opening Ceremonies. Had a pleasant time chatting with Liz Henry (LJ badgerbag) and others before things started. Co-ordinators Carrie Ferguson and Betsy Lundsden opened with the obligatory acknowlegments of guests and staff, and the WisCon tradition of showing how many in the audience are panelists (many!) and how many are new (also many). There was a lengthy lists of announcements and adjurations, done, as others have noted, in a welcoming manner. Both Betsy and Carrie stayed on stage when it was taken over by the Carl Brandon Society for a "WisCon Filksing" which was quite funny. Kudos especially for ringleader Nisi Shawl and her back-up singers for "Filk Music Ain't Got No Soul."
We then went to the panel on "Elves and Dwarves: Racism in Fantasy." Vito Excalibur, Janine Young, Carol Hightshoe, Alma Alexander and Elise Matthesen lead a rambling and vigorous discussion touching on the origin of racial tropes in modern fantasy ("It's all Tolkien's fault," said one.); whether or not fantasy races "stand in" for varieties of humans necessarily, or not; and whether or not it is honest to define an entire race/species based on one or two characteristics. Although it was a generally good and entertaining panel, I was a bit put off by a couple remarks. After excoriating Tolkien for having predominantly tall blonde elves, one of the authors on the panel smugly (and apparently seriously) remarked that in HER books she had a 'sub-race' of elves that had dark hair--. Excuse me? A sub-race? Am I a different 'sub-race' of humans from blondes if I am dark-haired? I found this a rather egregious example of exactly the kind of Dungeons and Dragons based pseudo speciation that the panel was mostly against--.
Afterward, we took a very short tour through the sixth floor, chatted a bit, and went to bed fairly early. I was pleased by the snacks served at the Speculative Literature Foundation/Serendib Press/Carl Brandon Society/et al party, which included Indian sweets and tropical fruits, which were some of the most unusual of the convention. Our con was off to a very good start.
*Apologies to friends who might just be discovering here for the first time that I have a tattoo. I've always considered it a private matter and wouldn't have shown it off here if I hadn't been encouraged.
** The tattoo says, "Illuminati." I've always considered myself an Illuminatus. However, the Illuminati are a secret society, yes? So, an Illuminatus should not have a tattoo declaring that he is one. Therefore, what better way to deny you are an Illuminatus than by having a tattoo that says you are one? Plus, the design is really cool.
The first question posed was: "How have fundamentalist religions had to adapt since it was grudgingly accepted that Earth is not the center of the universe, and may be older than 3000 years?"
My answer is, I don't see that they have accepted anything. There may be adaptation, but it has been in trying to co-opt and confuse scientific ideas to try to continue to fight the battle. Conservative religious forces have expended great amounts of energy in redressing what used to be called "creation science" as "intelligent design theory," and trying to influence textbook and teacher tactics by the false flag "teach the controversy" argument. They continue to pressure textbook publishers, state and local school boards, and state legislatures to adopt requirements that creation theory be taught and evolution theory minimized. Critics of evolution have adopted modern methods to get their message across: Besides Wikipedia, the top result on a Google search for "intelligent design" is a pro-ID website that purports to promote "objectivity" in teaching "origins science." That the forces of religious reaction are intent on continuing the fight is nowhere more apparent than at the $27 million "Creation Museum", http://www.creationmuseum.org/ which purports to explain how the fossil and geological records are not inconsistent with the Bible being literally true. If you are not familiar with it, I strongly recommend SF writer John Scalzi's wonderfully snarky photo tour found at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/scalzi/
As for Earth's place in the "center of the universe" as a side note, I think that is less of an issue. For one thing, I don't believe that's in the Bible anywhere, so the Biblical inerrancy proponents don't have a line in the sand to defend like they do on origin of species.
Second, I think that most of the evolution deniers don't have a sufficient grasp of cosmology to attempt to refute findings such as "There is no centre of the universe! According to the standard theories of cosmology, the universe started with a "Big Bang" about 14 billion years ago and has been expanding ever since. Yet there is no centre to the expansion. It is the same everywhere. The Big Bang should not be visualized as an ordinary explosion. The universe is not expanding out from a centre into space. The whole universe itself is expanding and it is doing so equally at all places, as far as we can tell."
which is a pretty mind-boggling concept even for science geeks.
However, I think those same people correctly assume that most of the people they are preaching to don't understand it either, so the subject can safely be ignored.
That doesn't mean some people won't try to mischaracterize the evidence: the site at
attempts to argue that precisely because everything we can see is moving away from us, we must be at the center. ("The odds for the Earth having such a unique position in the cosmos by accident are less than one in a trillion. The problem for big bang theorists is that they suppose the cosmos was not created but happened by accident—by chance, natural processes. Such naturalistic processes could not have put us at a unique center, so atheistic cosmologists have sought other explanations, without notable success so far.")
So, the battle is still on and being fought, as most long wars are, with new weapons developed in the course of the conflict.
BTW: I intentionally use the construction "evolution deniers," as in "Holocaust deniers," since I consider both movements to be on an intellectual and ethical par and with a common goal of obscuring the truth.
The rather more fun question is: "What are the qualifications for being God?"
The classical attributes of God are
• omnipotence, and
That is, the true God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-pervasive (i.e., everywhere at once).
I can break this down further, in that being all-knowing is sufficient and in fact includes the other two. After all, if you are all-knowing, then you know how to accomplish anything you desire and how to gain access to the means to do it, so, if you are all-knowing, you are effectively all-powerful. (I admit this is subject to debate and hope the panelists will have some fun kicking this around.)
If you are all-knowing, then you know everything that happens everywhere, all the time ("not a sparrow falls," etc.) then you are effectively everywhere at one by means of "virtual presence." However, the most interesting corollary of omniscience is that it also supports another classical attribute of God: uniqueness. That is, there can be one and only one True God. If you are truly omniscient, you know everything that can be known, including the entire contents of every other mind in the Universe. If there were more than one omniscient being in the Universe, each one would completely and totally comprehend and contain the other's mind, meaning that both minds would have to contain an absolutely congruent set of data. Since we understand personality to be an artifact of the mind's contents, the two beings would effectively be one being, sharing one mind. With perfect knowledge, all action would be guided by the same data and parameters, resulting in the same action. So any incidence of more than one omniscient mind effectively still means only one omniscient mind.
This does result in some interesting speculations, including an argument for the Trinity, in that it could explain how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit could all simultaneously be God, but in separate manifestations.
Alternatively, the concept holds out hope for those spiritual paths who hold that the eventual goal of the soul is to reunite with God, since an eventual sufficient degree of enlightenment will bring about that result inevitably.
Oh, well. I hope giving a bunch of money to the mechanics counts as "economic stimulus," in which case we have done our part--.
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Interesting, although I would say I have issues with the exhaustiveness of some of Ferret's categorizations. For example, I consider that most everything I post here is "Original Content," albeit reports and reviews, I just don't do things solely for the purpose of having something to post about, which is kind of the slant of the questions--.
You are The Hermit
The Hermit points to all things hidden, such as knowledge and inspiration,hidden enemies. The illumination is from within, and retirement from participation in current events.
The Hermit is a card of introspection, analysis and, well, virginity. You do not desire to socialize; the card indicates, instead, a desire for peace and solitude. You prefer to take the time to think, organize, ruminate, take stock. There may be feelings of frustration and discontent but these feelings eventually lead to enlightenment, illumination, clarity.
The Hermit represents a wise, inspirational person, friend, teacher, therapist. This a person who can shine a light on things that were previously mysterious and confusing.
What Tarot Card are You?
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