World Fantasy Convention 2008, Day One

Why am I able to post this before 7 p.m. EST, you ask? Why aren’t I out networking, schmoozing and hanging with my fellow writers of fantasy on this Halloween night of debauchery? Funny story about that…it all started when the plane landed in Calgary, see, and there was this…

Ah, never mind. I’d like to come up with something clever, but the truth is that I’m really tired and needed some rest. Between grading, writing, tenure year preparations, sleep training our daughter and getting ready for my reading at the convention tomorrow, I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard, and I had to dial it back for a bit. Fortunately there happens to be a big break between the final panel and tonight’s “autograph session” (where wheelie suitcases are, we are told, strictly forbidden…I guess some people have whole suitcases full of books to sign, and that’s a no-no here. For the record, if you have a suitcase full of my books, I’ll be happy to sign them!), so I might check out the session once I’ve had a chance to relax. But until then I thought I’d put the downtime to good use by posting my impressions of my first day at World Fantasy Con 2008.

The plane landed in Calgary at about 11 a.m. local time, and as I was making my way to my hotel two things really struck me about the area: one, I hadn’t realized (or I once had, but forgot) how really “Western” this area is, geographically and culturally. There are as many cowboy hats as farms surrounding the city, and although Calgary itself seems to be a typical Canadian city (with the notable exception of an Art Center, which is three floors of nothing but art stores…very cool), add in the surrounding environs and you’ve got someplace much different than Toronto, Montreal, Ottowa or even Quebec. It’s got a kind of wide open spaces feel, a lot like Montana or the eastern side of the state of Washington. Two, there are a lot of people who say hello here. I don’t mean general friendliness–I mean there are official Wal-Mart style greeters everywhere, in the airport, in the hotel, in the subway, in the airport. These people really want to make you feel welcome (and perhaps never leave, though I don’t know how desperate Calgary’s tourism industry is). They’re also very obedient–people actually wait to cross the street until they get the WALK sign, which is so far different from New York City that I’m not really sure how to react. Politely, I suppose, in accordance with the prevailing mood around here. 🙂

The convention itself is all taking place in the Hyatt Regency in the heart of Calgary–impressive given the rep of World Fantasy. But as it turns out, the organizers limit the attendance to less than a thousand, so the feel of the convention is much more intimate than its reputation might suggest. Consequently it feels (so far) more like Readercon than Gen Con…which has both up and downsides, as I’ve talked about before. But I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve had another day to get a sense of the vibe here. Whatever their attendance theories, they certainly don’t skimp on the goodies: upon registering I was given a tiddly-wink (no, I don’t know why. These are fantasy people…we have a tendency to do inexplicable things like this.) which entitled me to a “twelve pound bag o’ books.” Yep, that’s right–to a horde of authors, publishers and editors descending upon a convention, the crack deal–er, the organizers provide twelve pounds worth of juicy fantasy books. For free.

That’s evil, folks. Do you have any idea how long my reading queue was already?

Anyway, after registering and getting a bite to eat I dropped off the “bag o’ books” in my room and headed to the festivities. I began with a reading by the redoubtable George R. R. Martin, mastermind behind the Song of Ice and Fire series, who presented an excerpt from his new novella appearing in the Warriors anthology sometime late next year. It was enjoyable–Martin can really write, even if I’m not always sanguine with how easily he sends his characters to the slaughter (he’s even on a panel discussing this subject, which I find amusing. I wonder if Joss “THIS is what I think of your dreams of getting to follow a main character for a while” Whedon got the memo). But the big takeaway from the reading is how different Martin looks in person–for whatever reason I expected him to be impressive and vaguely mysterious, instead of unassuming with white hair and a beard, and hearing this person talk about the author I thought I knew was a strange experience.

My second and last panel of the day was a discussion of the most important and best fantasy novels to come out in the past twenty years, as discussed by a whole group of executive editors and publishers (including Tom Doherty, the founder and publisher of TOR Books.) The discussion was an interesting one, although they named so many authors I could barely keep up, and after a while it started to sound like pretty much every fantasy novel of the past twenty years could be put in the “best” category, which is probably a slight exaggeration. But it was actually an encouraging panel overall, because it helped everyone remember that the industry is actually not collapsing all around us; there’s a lot of good stuff out there if we’re willing to go find it. It’s also a reminder that these publishers–Baen, Ace, TOR, Del Rey, and lots of others–really do know their stuff, or at least hire editors that do, and that’s an encouraging sign.

Then it was off to dinner, my room, this blog and soon to bed. I’ll post my impressions of Day Two, including how my own reading went (and please stop by if you’re anywhere near Calgary!), tomorrow or Sunday morning.