HALLOWEEN weekend is long gone, but for the hundreds of folks who attended the 2009 World Fantasy Convention at the San Jose Fairmont, it was a weekend they'll never forget. Fantasy novelists from around the globe attended and took part in discussions. Book dealers hawked their collections, and attendees endlessly fired off Twitter messages while multiple events transpired. Costume parties, rippin' panel sessions, leaking swimming pools and Internet meltdowns all contributed to the madness. Predictably, no one else downtown seemed to know the event was taking place. In the daytime, it was a ghost town as always.
Some highlights: On Halloween Saturday, I attended a panel session in the Crystal Room titled "When People Confuse the Author With Their Work"—as if that was a bad thing. Scott Edelman, Garth Nix, Ellen Kushner and Tim Powers all participated in a rollicking discussion, much of which revolved around fans who mistake the narrator in a novel for the author himself. Edelman recalled a response he once wanted to give to a fan: "Just because I write a story about a guy who cuts off his own leg and eats it, doesn't mean I want to do it with you."
Later that afternoon, another colorful session, "The End of the World," explored apocalyptic scenarios in fiction. Cyberpunk pioneer and sublime Gurdjieff scriptor John Shirley took part, as did F. Paul Wilson and Mark Teppo. As I sat there with my laptop waiting for the panel to commence, in walked another cyberpunk originator, Rudy Rucker, and his wife, Sylvia. They quipped that downtown San Jose streets are always empty on weekend days.
"There's a thousand people at this convention and a thousand people at the tattoo convention, and there's nobody on the streets anywhere," Sylvia said.
"You could fire a cannon down the street," Rucker added.
The panel featured philosophical banter about end-of-world scenarios, strategies for writing apocalyptic scenes and what narrative pitfalls to avoid. Somehow, all of this dovetailed nicely: two of my heroes in the jam-packed Fairmont Crystal Room, one talking about the apocalypse and the other musing how downtown is completely empty outside.
Then came a fascinating panel session titled "Bad Food, Bad Clothes, Bad Breath." This one surveyed the uglier aspects of pre-industrial societies, that is, if you're going to place a novel in medieval times or write an authentic scene taking place in 900 C.E., you need to take into account the less lovely realities of those times—lice, raw sewage, bed bugs, gum disease, plagues and leprosy.
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Jenny Blackford moderated the session, while Marie Brennan, M.K. Hobson, Kari Sperring and S.M. Stirling took part. Each one is a medieval scholar, historian or expert in a related field. Sperring said that in pre-agricultural Wales, it rained a lot and people defecated behind their neighbor's house. Lice was rampant, and people saved their urine to wash their clothes in. Stirling added that the reason farming life grew popular is that farmers lived in their own feces, so they eventually grew more immune to diseases. Also: In medieval times, a man could divorce his wife if she had bad breath. The session ended with everyone trading riffs on the Great Plague of Athens, the demise of Viking civilization in Greenland and smallpox among Native Americans.
Speaking of plagues, the Fairmont had its own problems over the weekend. Sunday morning, the pool developed a massive leak, with water pouring down into the second-story foyer and the Imperial Ballroom. And since so many people were constantly using the hotel's Internet service, the whole network went down, causing temporary panic. On Sunday, a Twitter message went out at 9:06am: "We broke the hotel. Internet down, ballroom flooded, space/time continuum breached. Fantasy writers are the new rock stars." A few hours later, the same person Tweeted: "Correction: Ballroom not 'flooded' (no damage); space/time continuum breach merely daylight savings; Fantasy writers still rock stars." At this convention, I was definitely among rock stars. I am not confused at all.
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