And now we have the last day of Worldcon, plus a whole bunch of links to other people's all-con reports.
Monday morning, I ran down to the dealer's room to arrange for a replacement wooden dragon (having found it broken the night before), and then packed and got our bags checked. This took up enough time that I didn't make it to any programming until 1:00 pm, a half-hour discussion of Diana Gabaldon moderated by Sandra McDonald. I guess Programming figured that at least two people would show up for it, McDonald and me, who independently suggested the topic.
There were only four other people there—not a patch on Boskone's J.D. Robb discussions (I'd missed the Noreascon version while packing)—but we had a nice chat about the books, including an interesting variety of responses to "what's the one thing you'd like Gabaldon to write" (mine was to see Lord John happy), even if things did slide into the Dread Casting Debate (I have very little interest in such things, especially for the Outlander series).
After that I ducked into Madeleine Robins' reading from the third of the Sarah Tolerance novels, which may have a title but if so I don't recall. She read a section that grew out of her annoyance with movies and books that have the protagonist hit on the head and then run around as though nothing had happened. Ms. Robins is a very good reader, sliding into light accents for the dialogue between the London characters. The Q&A period after had a serious TMI moment from the audience, but of more general interest (perhaps), Robins said that she hadn't intended to make Sir Walter Mandif (not so tall, light hair, long nose, foxy face) look like Lord Peter Wimsey; she was simply trying for a contrast with a very conventionally handsome character in the first novel.
And then to the last thing of the con, the Dead panel:
How Do You Know When You're Dead? Description: The movie The Sixth Sense was not the first fiction to feature a character who is dead. Niven's Inferno, Connie Willis' Passages, and Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series all have protagonists who are dead or die and continue to be featured players. What other fiction features dead people? (And we don't mean vampires—but why not?) Are there any restrictions on the actions of dead people? What are some of the reactions of the characters who find themselves dead? Are there advantages to having a dead protagonist? Should we always fear the walking dead? What do they have to tell us? (Must we listen? Do they lie?) Do they return to harm or advise us? Do they come to warn or blame, comfort or prophesize? Do they offer us forgiveness or courage, or perhaps death itself? Discuss the use of the returning dead, and explain why they are such fascinating subjects. Scott Edelman (m), Neil Gaiman, Larry Niven, Terry Pratchett, Uncle River, Connie Willis
This panel was packed, but veejane was kind enough to save me a seat. It featured a considerable split between people who wanted to talk seriously about death, near-death experiences, and the afterlife, and people who wanted to make jokes. (At 2:00 pm on the last day of a Worldcon, you can probably imagine which side I was on.)
I believe the panel started with a question to the panel about why people write about the dead.
- Pratchett: because they're funny! They give you a whole new way of looking at life.
- Gaiman: he's been reading an American Gods script, and it's reminded him of how much he liked writing Laura. In his current WIP, he had a character die by surprise (ETA: it was a surprise to him, the author, I meant), and in the next chapter that character is walking through walls and so forth. Dead characters are outside the story and provide a different perspective.
- Pratchett: they also can provide extra horror as well (mentioning the animal ghosts in Wyrd Sisters).
- Willis: she writes about the really dead, not the undead. What if the worst isn't over when you die?
- Uncle River: discussed some personal experiences regarding dreams.
Edelman brought up zombie movies: why are they going funny all of a sudden? Both Gaiman and Pratchett referred to a very fannish TV series called Spaced (looking it up, apparently Shaun of the Dead was made by the same people). Pratchett said this is an example of getting humor from contradictory expectations. Gaiman said his next kids book is going to be The Graveyard Book, like The Jungle Book except the kid is raised by dead people. Willis brought up the film Truly Madly Deeply, which suggests that maybe what the dead really want is to rent a lot of videos.
Niven said that what the dead really want is to have their books made into movies. Willis said that the end of the panel would feature the ritual sacrifice of Larry Niven; and Gaiman added that years later, the discovery that Niven faked his own death would rock the SF community.
Gaiman then did a funny riff on mediums cold-reading the audience, ending with, "and you should make a film of something by Larry Niven."
Uncle River tried to inject a serious note, asking if maybe the dead are more interested in the other dead than in the living. How do they interact with each other? It didn't work, as the responses were Willis wondering if being dead meant you couldn't get out of conversation with people you don't like, and Edelman saying that hell is really the SFWA suite—without beer. (Pratchett told a silly story in here drinking a lot of beer and then, at 3:00 am, mistaking the hotel door for a bathroom door.)
Gaiman pointed out that the dead aren't limited to fantasy, but appear in science fiction as well—reviving corpses, downloading consciousness, etc. Niven added freezing, and the guy spending a year dead for tax purposes in Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Willis said that a side effect of immortality through nanotech is—no more dead people stories! Pratchett pointed out that "we won't die" is similar to "we are going to Mars": who is "we" here? Gaiman mentioned the daft website someone sent him about investing in a time travel research fund.
Edelman asked how, as writers, they decided whether they want their undead to be SFnal or fantastic. Pratchett was of the opinion that all you're doing is changing the name. Niven, a bit later, said that if you're doing wish-fulfillment, he's rather do it in fantasy because it's easier to believe.
Willis thought that the traditional ghost story is a thing of power that is oddly ignored by the genre, except for things like the movie The Others. She thinks it's best as spine-tingingly creepy rather than icky. Gaiman suggested that the joy of a really good ghost story is that things don't really make sense, the universe is a little more mysterious at the end. Willis agreed, again citing Truly Madly Deeply.
Question from the audience: has your view of death changed as you got older?
- Pratchett: there's a strong feeling that the Discworld Death is kind of on our side.
- Gaiman: similarly with Death of the Endless.
- They both get fan mail about people who've had loved ones die, which is the kind of thing that makes them stare at the wall for ten minutes not knowing what to do.
- (An audience member thanked Gaiman for the scene in Sandman issue 8 when Death comes for an infant, and then left crying.)
Willis, in response to a question, said that she thought humans can't imagine the world without us specifically in it, so you get this impulse in literature to try and make sense of it. Edelman brought up Our Town (which it's been ages since I read, but veejane firmly disagreed with his interpretation).
Someone in the audience brought up voodoo zombies.
- Gaiman: If you're going to exploit someone, it's a good idea to exploit the dead: they aren't in unions.
- Pratchett: Yet.
- Audience member: No, there are in India.
- Panel: Well, you can't just leave it at that!
- Audience member: It's for people who've been declared legally dead by their families, to advocate for them.
- Pratchett: Maybe it's a good deal? Can't be made to pay taxes, can't be executed twice . . .
- Willis: Rehangings are historical . . .
Gaiman, perhaps going back to zombies, said that he wanted a proper coffin when he died, one he could get out of and shamble. Coffins, he reported, are comfy; he got to lay down in one for a Halloween special, and as the lid closed, he realized it had been used. He said most of him was thinking, "Cool!", but his hindbrain was saying, "We're in a coffin!".
Pratchett said that he'd been at a Bram Stoker Society dinner or award ceremony or something, and two things: they said grace; and the waitress asked if he wanted a vegetarian entree. "And people ask me where I get my ideas!"
Gaiman said that death, like anything else we don't know about, is a good place to get stories from. On one hand, no-one can contradict you; and on the other, we wonder about it.
Someone asked what portrayal of death had the most impact on the panel members.
- Willis: Charles Williams' (of the Inklings) All Hallows Eve.
- Niven: he's seen too many and they all seem plausible. (I think this is what my notes say.)
- Pratchett: Bergman's The Seventh Seal.
- Uncle River: real ones.
- Gaiman: a story he heard when he was 12, from the Kabbalah, that the Angel of Death was created so beautiful that you're not allowed to see her (or him, or it, I forget) until the moment of death, when you fall in love so hard that your soul is sucked out through your eyes.
- Edelman: the third act of Our Town.
/end panel report
And that was it for our Worldcon, basically.
- A live-blog report on the
It doesn't sound like there were too many. I've heard on Usenet complaints about the computer "lounge," but I understand the problem of the expense. Me, I have no real gripes: as far as I could tell, everything worked beautifully (except for the inexplicable scheduling of Bujold's reading in one of the Sheraton (i.e., non-big) rooms).
Slightly-Annotated List of Other People's Reports
These are not in any particular order. Really, you've all seen these by now; this is for my future reference.
Panel Reports (for things I didn't go to)
- Of course, there's the official con live blog. The Newsletters also give a flavor. Currently, the front page of the con has links to lots of posts as well.
- fluffcthulhu reported on brains he ate, with lots of pictures.
- xiphias wrote up the con chronologically, starting with this post. He adds an "Ask Dr. Mike" question that I forgot to write up (whether mad scientist or evil genius is a better career path), reports on drinking a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster, and describes a whole lot of panels I didn't go to.
- cheshyre did her report as one non-LJ document, organized by theme. I think we only overlapped on "Ask Dr. Mike" and the Dead panel.
- papersky made a series of thematic posts: too much fun, friends, panels, business, the globe at the Christian Science Center.
- Emerald City blogged during the con, starting with this post (scroll up); presumably a long writeup is forthcoming.
- veejane posted general notes, including the observation that "Connie Willis is the science fiction equivalent of Julia Child."
- malkingrey posted bits and pieces, including her panels.
- fearlessdiva posted a short report, including information about Hank Reinhardt, the swordsmaster who gave the cool talk on edged weapons.
- msagara (who I don't think I so much as laid eyes on) posted in basically chronological order: part one, part two, miscellaneous on Lois McMaster Bujold's cool necklace.
- Off LJ, John Scalzi posted a wrapup and a report of a bar conversation on book deal descriptions.
- Justine Larbalestier described the panels she was on.
- Jimcat Kasprzak posted some e-mails he sent during the con.
(By the way, anyone who responded to my Tolkien and religion post and doesn't have comment notification, sorry for the delay—I've been tired or busy or thinking—but I've finally answered you.)