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We got on the train Saturday afternoon, as the world was watching the start of the IAU meeting which would decide the fate of Pluto, Ceres, "Xena", and many other minor astronomical bodies. Quoted on the front of the menus in the dining car this trip was Brillat-Savarin's opinion on the topic: "The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of the human race than the discovery of a planet."
A nice relaxing trip down to Anaheim, except for the last bit. Having been warned by Amtrak ahead of time that we would be five to eight hours late reaching Los Angeles on due to track maintenance between Portland and Sacramento, we were pleasantly surprised to pull in a mere four-and-a-half hours late, but it was still late enough to have to be bused the rest of the way. We were able to settle into our hotel room at the Marriott around 3am Monday.
Monday we planned to spend lazing around and catching up on sleep, but we got bored with that in the afternoon and wandered over to the convention center to see if they needed more bodies for set-up. My first task was to help shift the stacks of boxes full of souvenir books around so that all the labels were visible and they could then be sorted into stacks of the vanilla type, the autographed ones, the special binding, etc. Tip for future conventions: label your boxes at both ends.
Heading back to the volunteer desk, I came across Filthy Pierre unpacking the various bits and pieces of the freebie racks and offered to lend a hand. Thus I was initiated into the mysteries of their ingenious design and rather complicated assembly. After that was a bunch of T-shirt folding and sorting, and then the volunteer desk said that they really didn't need any more help at the moment, but if we would care to come back the next day for Art Show setup...
The next day, Chris vanished into the convention center around lunchtime. When I came by a couple hours later, the registration desk's approach was, "We're just going to keep sending people into hall A until someone finally comes back to tell us they have enough people."
I hadn't helped with Art Show setup for over 20 years, and now I remember why. It's actual work! I was grateful for the opportunity to spend the last hour or so tying the bottoms of panels together, which meant working while sitting down, not absolutely having to stand up when moving from section to section, and, when there was a lull, beig able to just stretch out on the nice cold floor.
During the one major rest break, I peered into a box of odds and ends next to where I was sitting and saw a committee list for L.A.Con III. It was, eerily, almost correct for this year's con.
So, after an honest half-day-or-so's work, we agreed to spend the following morning doing something which seemed almost indolent in comparison: trudging all over Disneyland.
We rode Anaheim Resort Transit for the first time and found it to be a good and useful thing, what with a stop directly in front of the Marriott. The only complaint I have is that the routes turned out be totally different from what was shown on the Web site, leading to much consternation the first time we saw an ART bus stop at the Hilton, then swing around and not stop at the Marriott.
Chatter on the bus and along the esplanade suggested a high concentration of fen in the crowd that morning. It seemed like just about everyone who made it to the con stopped by Disneyland at some point.
The highlights of our first sortie were the newly updated Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. The one big change in the Mansion is in the attic scene, where the dimly visible figure of a bride has been replaced with an all-new, easy-to-see bride, surrounded by photographs of her long string of unlucky husbands. Most of it looks fine to me-- it's just that, with all the effort put into maintaining a late-19th-century feel, the bride herself looks far too modern.
In Pirates the changes are more unobtrusive. There's new dialogue for the scene at the harbor entrance, and Jack Sparrow has been inserted without fanfare into two of the scenes inside the city. It's now a projection of Davy Jones that warns you about the curse associated with the pirate treasure, and the two pirates struggling up the slope at the end have been replaced with a view into the city treasury, where Jack Sparrow kicks back and celebrates his roguish lifestyle. There has also been a general refurbishment and upgrade, which has really improved the movement on some of the animatronics. The Captain Jack animatronics are some of the best they've ever done-- the articulation is amazing.
I know we also went to the Matterhorn that day (I do mean to-- Chris, being the sensible one, has a strict no-roller-coaster policy) because I wanted a chance to ride it before it closed for a long refurbishment. And a bunch of other rides which I can't remember specifics of now, but eventually it was time to get back and get ready for the actual con...
Opening ceremonies: The story so far: At the end of Worldcon last year, just as it was about to begin its maiden voyage, the WSFS Armadillo was stolen by pirates and the would-be passengers were exhorted to attend this year's Space Cadet training school. In the meantime, an inquiry into the matter was held at CascadiaCon. The solemnly deliberated conclusion was: "Blame Seth!" This did not completely spare Captain Standlee, however, and he was seen to have been assigned to janitorial detail as the opening ceremonies here got underway.
There was a fun morphing graphic thingy to watch beforehand, and I can't remember a whole lot else. Guests were introduced. I think it was here that Connie Willis was presented with the Confidentially Connie poster. In lieu of Frankie Thomas, the opening episode of Tom Corbett: Space Cadet was shown. And then, with the strains of the Space Cadet fight song ringing our ears we headed off to our first panels, which for me was...
"Mars on Earth-- Adventures of Space Pioneers in the Utah Desert": Having like twenty panels going on at the same time tends to make you much less tolerant when you find out you picked the wrong one. This one turned out to be one of those PowerPoint presentations where a person stands there and reads the slides, and moreover came with a long preface about the whole history of Mars exploration advocacy, and so I ducked right back out and over to...
"Reviewing Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature": A distinguished panel of reviewers said a lot of sensible stuff. So let's move on to something more interesting.
"Mix & Match Writing Challenge": Five writers were each given a list of adjectives describing a character, a setting, and a plot, each taken from a well-known story, the challenge being to construct their own stories around them. Well, four writers, anyway, the fifth already having been on the plane from Australia by the time his instructions were e-mailed. My favorite was Peter Beagle's story of Professor Rick winning a bet with his friend Ilsa by turning R. Daneel Olivaw into a proper little Nazi. David Levine and John Barnes came up with good entries, and K. A. Bedford, who had been on the airplane too soon, made a credible effort while the others were reading. The last panelist was Valerie Estelle Frankel, who was aggressively pushing her Harry Potter parody Henry Potty and the Pet Rock throughout the convention. She contributed an outline for a thoroughly pedestrian story, on the strength of which I decided I was not buying her book. Unfortunately, we will meet her again.
It was after this panel that I began seriously studying the copy I had picked up of the Cross-Worlds puzzle. This was a massive crossword (not the newspaper kind, more like a Kriss Kross) to be filled in with answers spanning the whole continuum of sf, with a prize of a nifty pin if you could present a completed copy to the Information Desk.
I saw an awful lot of clues I could answer, and an awful lot more that I couldn't. But it came with these rules: you could get one free answer per day for asking nicely, one free answer per hour volunteered, and ten free answers for having donated blood recently. Hmm. My hours, Chris's hours, setup hours counted double, I'd donated blood recently, and there was free public Internet access over by the snack bar... hey! I could work with this!
So any further gaps in my daytime schedule for the rest of the con were taken up by waiting in line at the public terminals, using up my fifteen minutes hunting down answers across the Web, and getting right back into line again. This was not quite the panacea it sounds like. A heck of a lot of the answers were not discernible in this way, and I did end up having to use all the free ones available to me. See Sunday for more.
This was the only night that I went to check out the parties. My usual Worldcon cold started showing up on Thursday, and I spent the next few evenings sitting in the room reading and then going to sleep early in the hope of remaining healthy enough to at least enjoy the daytime programming. I remember going to the Australia in 2010 party in particular, where we sampled some excellent Anzac biscuits and signed up as presupporters. This netted us little stuffed koalas which we could clip to our badges or clothing, only mine fell off sometime later as I was wandering the extensive halls of the fifth floor of the Hilton, and I never did find it again. I still have the little koala I picked up from an Australian bid table twenty years ago at HalleyCon; I guess they just don't make 'em like they used to.
"What's New in Fanzines?": Which began with the discovery that if you wanted to get to the fanzine lounge first thing in the morning, this or any morning, you first had to get past Steve Barnes's tai chi class, which had apparently determined that you could get better energy flow by blocking a section of hallway. The actual panel was a small but enthusiastic discussion which kept returning to all the wonderful old stuff you can read again now that it's being made available on the net. See fanac.org and E-Fanzines.
"Politics & SF": This started out with an extended discussion of Starship Troopers, extended particularly because it was between a number of people who hadn't read the book in a long time and differed on the details. At any rate, I hadn't know there was a thought experiment on politics in Starship Troopers at all; now I'm actually interested in reading it. Then the panel moved on to 1984, and that was when it slipped into a rant about the current US government. And that was when I slipped out, grumbling silently and working out how I would've dragged it back on topic if I'd been sitting behind that table.
"The Eaton Collection": And here was the fateful panel recounted in the introduction.
"Match Game": The sf version, complete with prizes and stuff, is much harder than the TV one. I think all three people who got bonus rounds had won the regular rounds by scores of 1-0. Of course it's not that hard in the audience, where the answers, especially for the bonus rounds, seem blindingly obvious... but I speak too soon. I got to play. Or rather, I was given an opportunity to show how I can choke. I got something like this: "Boy, the hospitality suite is really stretching their budget this year. I just went by the snack tables, and there was a bowl of ___."
The first thing that sprang to mind was: gagh! No, wait! Think cheap! Stretching budget! What does gagh have to do with that? No, something like... like... packing peanuts!
So that was my answer. No matches, but two of the panelists said "gagh". Argh. I did however get a ribbon and a button that each read "Lovely Parting Gift".
"Trivia For Chocolate": I wanted to try this too, but it was moved forward a slot, running against "Match Game". Double argh.
"Feline Fandom Meetpoint": So I headed over to the furry track for a program item that was basically everyone who showed up sitting around a table talking about cats we had known. I came away with a possible explanation about why Norby, our younger cat, has had a habit, from the day he first discovered the bathtub we don't use, of flinging himself into that bathtub and scrabbling around. One of the other attendees suggested that the household Norby was fostered to to develop the rudiments of domestication might have used a bathtub as a corral to contain him and a toy or two when he was feeling especially rambunctious. Which led into a story about how the suggester's cat had noted his interest when a mouse got away from her one night and ran around the house, and hit upon using the bathtub as a place to put live mice with the apparent intent of letting him practice catching them...
"Introduction to Klingon": How could I not go to the language panel? Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen was a terrific presenter. If he's doing this panel in your neighborhood, go-- it's not just for linguistics weenies.
"It Crawled Out of the Slush Pile": In which it was proven once again that there is an inexhaustible supply of horrible yet hilarious writing in the universe. And a lot of it is in sex scenes, for some reason. One of the panelists, Alan Rodgers, was a little unclear on the microphone concept. He'd talk without it, but his voice didn't carry much beyond the first couple rows; he'd talk with it, but hardly ever speaking into it. Unfortunately, we will meet him again.
There was a stretch here with no panels I was interested in, so I wandered over to the volunteer desk, which sent me over to Ops, where I found myself sorting table tents and then taking the "5 minutes" and "Stop" signs around. Eric S. Raymond wouldn't stop until I was practically waving the sign in his face.
Art Show docent tour: Led by Ulrika O'Brien, it did help to expand my pitiful knowledge of who's who in sf art today.
Masquerade: My favorite entry was "Dancing With Celebrities From the Stars", which paired Zaphod Beeblebrox (the movie version) with Barbarella, Barf from Spaceballs with the Martian android from Mars Attacks, and Ming the Merciless with the Queen of Mars. And it didn't win a thing, not even an honorable mention! Best in Show went to "Trinity Blood", the entry that had everyone saying "Huh?" (At the "Masquerade Mistakes" panel, everyone in the room except one of the panelists confessed to not knowing a thing about it. It turned out to be drawn from an anime series that has only just started airing in the US.)
The best entry title was "Sterilized With Fear", which turned out to be a re-creation of the trailer for The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, only with, inescapably, better production values.
Another costume I feel obligated to mention was the person who came out dressed as a giant songbird in a tricorn hat and striped socks, with two pistols on his belt. Yes... it was Captain Jack Sparrow.
The halftime show was probably the best I've ever seen, even with the slow, dragging section in the middle. The beginning was terrific, and the ending was terrific, and they still finished before the judges had made up their minds. I am so getting the video, if they make one available.
The day began with the news during breakfast, from a woman at the next table, that Denver had won the vote for 2008. I expressed surprise, as it seemed like Chicago had been the one to beat. "Yes," she said, "I was going to be the treasurer." To which I could only make the probably unoriginal comment that at least now she had two years of her life back to do something with.
"Harry Potter Goes Forth": Which got off to a thoroughly unpromising start by being located in an area of the arena whose non-Cartesian layout made it nigh impossible to find the door. The moderator was Todd McCaffrey. Before this con, I'd only known of Todd McCaffrey as the guy who was helping his mother with the Pern franchise, and vaguely disapproved of him. After seeing him on three panels, I'm sorry I ever felt that way. He's a well-rounded honest-to-goodness fan and a terrific panelist, and he was the one bright spot on this panel.
Five people is too many for a panel like this, especially when it includes these four: Valerie Estelle Frankel, still plugging her book; Alan Rodgers, who still hadn't learned how to use a microphone; Cecilia Tan, who writes lots of fan fiction and loves her searchable electronic versions of the books (Half the audience: "Wait, when did they get published as e-books?" The other half: "Um, they didn't..."); and Eric M. Van, who kept dragging everyone back into an argument over what J. K. Rowling's editor knows and how long he has known it.
For those of you keeping count on the big issues: a majority of the panel agreed that Snape is evil, neither Harry nor any part of him is a Horcrux, and that Harry will survive the last book but at great personal cost.
"Trailer Park": Watching trailers for around twenty upcoming skiffy and fantasy movies led to an intense desire to see absolutely none of them.
I now had the feeling I was running out of Web-findable answers to the Cross-Worlds puzzle, so I submitted an item to the newsletter asking fellow solvers to contact me to trade answers. I also stopped by Information and showed them my blood donor card to get my first ten free answers, filling in most of the "Stumpers" category. The Saturday evening newsletter contained the encouraging news that no one had yet finished the darned thing, and printed ten free answers to help us out, only three of which I didn't already have, and one of those three turned out to be wrong.
"Masquerade Mistakes": Lots and lots of useful tips: Bring your own ninja if you need assistance getting into and out of your costume, especially if the only other person involved in your presentation is trapped in a similar costume. Keep in mind that while the stage is nice and open, you will have to maneuver your outfit through the hallways to get there. (I brought up the angels with beautiful but extremely awkward wings that appeared at Noreascon 4, and it turned out one of the panelists was the person behind that. The wings were originally designed to open and close, but due to miscommunication between him and the person building the frames, they had to lock them in one position, and chose open.) To kill yourself with an icepack, place it directly over a major artery. The panel recommended cool vests; expensive, but long-lasting and less toxic.
"Page 119": There was Todd McCaffrey again, yay, but I still left halfway through. There are just an awful lot of books where page 119 isn't at all interesting.
Most of the rest of the day I spent finishing the Cross-Worlds puzzle. My appeal had made it into the Sunday morning newsletter and brought in exactly one message through the Voodoo Board. I rendezvoused with the responder in the Spaceport Lounge, where we traded answers and both engaged in some last-minute Web searching. I carefully wrote down her name so that I could include it in this report, and then couldn't find it again when I got home.
And then, with time running out, it was time to go over to the Information Desk and collect my free answers for my volunteer hours, and then pounce on Chris as he left the Baen Books travelling slideshow and drag him over there to get his free answers, and inspire the keeper of the answer book to donate from her hours to cover the three or four answers I came up short. It turned out that they were giving out the prize pins for anyone who showed up with a substantial amount of the puzzle filled in. As far as I know, I'm the only one who actually had it finished.
Since they never published the list of answers, here it is:
A1. Yalow submarine (yes, it was wrong in the newsletter)
A15. First Fandom
A33. Nexus 6
A75. Mr. Bigglesworth
A103. Daisy Bell
A105. Krusty Krab
A113. Seymore (well... actually Seymour, but that doesn't fit)
A120. Flat cat
A121. Jersey Devil
A137. Nippon 2007
A224. Susanna Clarke
A234. Paw Pet Show
A236. One Piece
A240. Lara Croft
A251. 2006 (see note on D248)
D44. Yen Sid
D68. Beach ball
D85. Donkey Kong
D93. Solar guard
D109. New Zealand
D134. Number 6
D149. Osborne 1
D171. Silent Hill
D192. Ichaya (yes, this doesn't cross properly with A208)
D220. Girl Genius
D248. 86 (the clue should have said radon)
The pin reads "MEUM CEREBRUM NOCET", which I roughly translated as "My brain is dangerous", but which I was told was supposed to mean "My brain exploded."
Closing ceremonies: Connie Willis got the loudest cheers of the event when she concluded her remarks with something about Harlan keeping his fucking hands off of her. And the other half of the audience, which included both Chris and me, were looking at each other going, "Huh?" Later we would read about how, during the Hugos, Harlan Ellison had decided to be funny by grabbing Connie Willis's breast, and then apologized online, and then de-apologized and claimed it had never happened, videos to the contrary notwithstanding. Chris had been to the "Harlan Ellison Tells Us" panel, and reported that Harlan had strongly hinted there that this was his last convention ever and he was planning to drop dead shortly.
As Christian McGuire began to announce the gavel handover, on to the stage burst Hiroaki Inoue, next year's chairman, wearing a simple traditional robe, and one of those giant felt hats with the Mickey ears sticking out from the brim, and wielding a Buzz Lightyear blaster. (I mean, everyone went to Disneyland.) Firing at the assembled committee members, he grabbed hold of the gavel as everyone else stumbled offstage. Then he spoke (dubbed):
"Ha! Worldcon belongs to Nippon now! (pause) Do not worry. Your chairman is all right. (pause) Probably."
Then there was the more traditional invitation to come visit Japan next year, mostly in the form of a video hosted by the mayor of Yokohama, who spoke truly excellent English. After that, another rendition of the Space Cadet theme song, and we were off.
Off to Disneyland, that is, after dinner, for the only chance we were going to get to see Fantasmic!. This is a show that runs in the late evenings at Disneyland (weekends only, except for the summer) on the Rivers of America. It's been running for about 10 years and I'd never gotten around to seeing it.
The longest part of the show comes where you arrive 45 minutes or more beforehand and find a place to squeeze yourself into the waiting crowd, with no room to sit down and not enough light to read. Okay, it's worth the wait. Once. There isn't much of a plot, just a loose justification for lots of fire and light effects and costumed characters, but it's the sort of over-the-top production that illustrates the old adage that quantity has a quality all its own. You really should see it. But I'll stick with the Electrical Parade from now on.
Afterward, there's the problem of getting out of the park when you're surrounded by a huge crowd, the trains aren't running, and Main Street is blocked by an entirely different huge crowd which is busy watching the fireworks. We decided that this would be an excellent time to go take another look at Pirates of the Caribbean. After that, we decided that it would be an excellent time to go take yet another look at Pirates of the Caribbean, this time without sharing a boat with a moron taking flash photos. (I wonder what he thought when he got home and discovered that Davy Jones had magically vanished from his otherwise perfect photo of the curtain of mist that Davy Jones had been projected onto.) The bemused Cast Members, seeing us come around again through a totally empty queue, said that if we wanted to ride again that badly, they would have just let us stay in the boat...
Monday we made a side trip down to Legoland, which had grown considerably in the four-and-a-half years since we were there last. One major addition is a miniature golf course, featuring a nice variety of holes and extensive plastic wildlife. That's the thing you really go to Legoland for-- seeing all the stuff they've built with LEGO to decorate the park. Which is a good thing, because the pitiful capacity of the rides will make you long for the cattle-chute efficiency of Disneyland.
Miniland USA is still the heart of the park. This is a group of city scenes built at LEGO scale. Here's a disturbing coincidence: three of the five cities represented are DC, New York, and New Orleans. (The other two are SF and LA. I hope everyone has their earthquake insurance paid up.)
Tuesday and Wednesday were back at Disneyland, with our base of operations having moved to our favorite almost-seedy Disneyland-area motel, the Anaheim Plaza Hotel and Suites. At an Internet-only rate of $60/night, you can't ask for much more than clean, comfortable and quiet, but this particular place is all that, plus a fridge in every room, plus a five-minute walk (for able-bodied adults, at least) to the Disneyland entrance, plus an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at a reasonable (for Anaheim) price, which I much prefer to battling the crowds at IHOP or Denny's. Various impressions from those two days:
First thing in the morning is the best time to ride something like Indiana Jones Adventure or Splash Mountain, but walking all the way through the queuing area nonstop will give you a real appreciation for how big it is.
Riding the Mark Twain through the Rivers of America shortly after reading two Riverworld books back-to-back can give you an odd feeling.
Chris brought some full-body rain gear to try out on Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run, and did in fact manage to stay totally dry on both of them.
We tried out the new Monsters Inc. ride. As a Disney ride, nothing to write home about. But anything would be better than the ride it replaced.
I think I may finally be getting the hang of the blasters on the Buzz Lightyear ride.
So much of Tom Sawyer Island has been closed or neutered at this point, I don't think I'd mind if they turn it into a pirate-themed playground like the rumor says.
The Enchanted Tiki Room is almost 50 years old, and still one of the best things Disneyland has to offer.
Thursday's excursion was to Solvang, a town up toward Santa Barbara which proudly preserves its Danish heritage in the form of a whole bunch of authentic-looking gift shops. I bought an æbelskever pan to remind myself that I really need to get the family æbelskever recipe from my uncle one of these times. The highlight of the trip for me was working out the Latin rebus on their tower, which is a replica of the tower with the same rebus in Copenhagen. Now I can't remember exactly what it said.
Friday, we first stopped at the Chino Air Museum, at the Chino airport. This is not in my field of expertise, but I gather it's a really good one from hearing Chris exclaim things like "Oh my god, they've got one of those!" about every five minutes. I can at least appreciate the irony of it having possession of the world's only remaining all-original Zero.
The afternoon and evening event was going up to the California Speedway to see some NASCAR qualifying and a regional race. How to sum up the experience of being at such a facility, watching the world's alleged best drivers going through their paces? Well, the essential components of the experience were that it was in the middle of the desert in the middle of the summer, there were no drinking fountains, and water was $3 a bottle. Being Friday, the entire track was general-admission seating, meaning everyone congregated in the "VIP Club" area, the one place where there was shade and something kind of like real seats. The regional race was a lot of fun, but my recommendation is to go there sometime like February.
Bright and early the next morning, we piled onto Amtrak, and spent the next two days travelling back. The delays were not so bad northbound, and for a while we were looking at pulling into Portland at around 9pm, but were stopped just outside the city for two hours due to a small fire on the tracks.
I still say it beats flying these days.
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