Thursday, November 21, 2013


For the first time in three years both Erin and I were able to go to a convention together thanks to a neighbor who was willing to mind our menagerie (as he put it) of canines and felines.  They all survived the ordeal just fine, I'm happy to say.  We also took a newcomer, Lauren, to SF/F conventions with us, who happened to be a roomer living in said neighbor's place, as she was really curious about what a science fiction convention was.  We were happy to give her the opportunity to find out.

So after the usual delay in our departure, thanks to the usual putting off of things until The Last Minute, we were on the road by 11am and heading for Cedar Rapids.  The drive down was uneventful and Erin and Lauren spent most of it talking with me getting a word in edgewise on occasion, if I was lucky.  I did try a shortcut south of Rochester on a county road that ended up not being much of a shortcut thanks to lots of tight corners, but it was a pretty route at least.  We made it to the hotel by 4pm, and while Erin checked her art into the art show, Lauren and I hauled up our stuff to the room.

We had quite a bit of stuff because I decided that we'd throw a party this year, so I had a case of wine and some food too, as well as my guitar, but we managed it all in two trips thanks to snagging a hotel baggage cart.  After we'd finished with that, we headed down to registration where we both found we didn't have badges waiting for us, but after a bit of checking we found we were indeed in the database as being pre-registered, so no problem.

Then as I was wondering what to do next, I ran into Mike Miller (aka "Spacey") who was heading to a panel demonstrating something called a "Raspberry Pi" at 5pm and said it would be fun.  So I went and heard about a $35 computer called a Raspberry Pi that was cheap, open source, and fun.  It's basically a board with a CPU that uses a SIM card for memory, runs on a version of Linux, has a couple of USB ports, an ethernet connection and a couple of video outs, one of them a venerable RCA plug.  One of the aspirations the R-Pi's makers have is for it to be used in teaching about computers in places where budget's a very low, as in third world low.  But it's sophisticated enough to be useful anywhere.  I likened it to using a ukulele to teach music, as a uke is also simple, cheap and fairly easy for young'uns to grasp.  One of the audience members brought his own R-Pi with him and showed us how he connected it to a cast-off Motorola cellular phone accessory that had a display and a keyboard.  Neat.  It was a nice way to start the convention.

Then after connecting back with Erin when she was finished in the art show, Lauren and I joined her at the opening ceremonies to hear about the fabulous guests, who were pretty fabulous, including pros like Ellen Datlow, Nancy Kress, and Joe Haldeman, who was the "artist guest of honor" because ICON has run out of other things to honor him as after 38 years and besides, he does some nice watercolors, one of which was the art for this year's con T-shirt, which I naturally got to wear myself.  I would have stayed for the Trans-Iowa Canal Company skit but had to go back to the room to do party prep, but I heard it was pretty funny, if you got most of the in-jokes.

It turned out to be a good thing I did head back to the room, because as soon as I started getting stuff out I realized I'd left the cheese, ALL of it, at home.  So I had to make a dash to a nearby Target where I picked up $30 worth of dairy products and was able, with help from Erin and Lauren, to get the spread out by 9pm when I'd said the party would be open.  Well, I was up against a band, Wylde Nept, that's very popular at ICON, so it took a little time for my first guests to show, but there were good ones, Mark Moore and his spouse Mickey Zucker Reichert.  So we had fun talking about the good old days - the theme of the party was S.F.L.I.S., aka the Science Fiction League of Iowa Students, which started ICON and there were a lot of us old-timers attending this year.  Gradually more folks came by and a convivial time was had by all until 1pm, when Erin and Lauren said they could use some sleep.

The next morning I headed for a panel called "1013: The Year Nothing Happened", which was the theme of the con this year, but it was actually a panel about research, which I guess relates to coming up empty looking for the events of 1013.  The panelists were Glen Cook, Bill Johnson (aka Billjon) and Mickey Zucker Reichert, who discussed how they did research when writing fiction, and it turned out to be enlightening as they all had their own way of digging things up.  Glen for example doesn't do actual research, but he reads all the time and has a pretty good store of knowledge to draw on.

Then it was time for the panel on the Rusty Hevelin Collection at the University of Iowa, featuring not just one, or two, but *three* research librarians presenting the progress on the collection so far.  One of the highlights was learning that since the condition of most of Rusty's pulp collection was so good, there was an opportunity to treat it in bulk to a process that would buffer the paper and prevent the acid from damaging the paper any further.  The fact that the pages are still flexible is an indication that it could be worth it, to better preserve and make the original pulps available to the public.  Some of the detective pulps have already been used in a class on hard-boiled detective fiction at the U. of Iowa, as part of learning about the roots of the genre.  I'm sure Rusty would be very pleased.

After that, I'd heard about an unusual panel featuring some old, really old, silent films that had been discovered in the basement of a home in Iowa.  I was not prepared to find out that they were the very first movies ever shown in Iowa, and practically anywhere.  There was also a precursor of film, a Magic Lantern, that was set up to show slides that had moving parts which would display a "moving" picture on the wall, that were shown starting in the late 1860s in the U.S.  The original lantern was powered by kerosene, but we settled for a safer electrical one that had a circa 1910 electric fan to cool it off.  Very nifty.  The films were all shorts, except for an "epic" several minute film of a bank robbery, featuring the antics of the last guy running the robbers down who kept falling over things for comic relief.  Oh, and there was footage of the highest paid actor in film back in 1901, who was a terrier that had the trick of grabbing onto the belt above the hind end of other actors.  It was still funny too!  The person who collected the films and was restoring them was there of course and kept up a nice running dialog, which given the films were silent was no problem.  He'd even brought some of the old programs, and financial books of the fellow who went around showing the films, which is great from a historical perspective.  A great, great show.

After all that, I took a break and then Erin and I went out for an early dinner with two friends, Dave and Marne, at a nearby Japanese restaurant that had wonderful and unique sushi.  I did a bento box myself as I was hungry, but Erin's eel roll tasted as good as it looked, which was pretty good.  Then we headed back to the hotel in time for me to make the reading by Joe Haldeman, which is an absolute must for me whenever I get the chance.  Joe read first from a novel that's coming out early next year, called Work Done For Hire.  The passage he read was practically horror, very well done and disturbing, which ostensibly is fiction in the novel but still creepy as hell.  Then he read from the novel he's currently writing, titled Phobos Is Fear, which takes place in part on the Martian moon Phobos, which was nicely hard SF and a welcome relief.

After that, I was in the mood to party, so I headed for the karaoke party run by John and Denise and proceeded, after being a bit hesitant, to pick out some songs and belt them out, which were enjoyed and I was told I have a nice singing voice, which is good for my confidence when it comes to singing on my own sans karaoke machine.  Erin also dropped by to listen to me sing and one of these days I need to get her to join me, maybe after we've both had a bit of Irish whiskey to loosen us up.  I also stopped by a Gamicon party (that the gaming convention held in Iowa City in February) a Demicon party and a party that I forget the theme of but they had absinthe to share, which was kind of like chartruse, which I like but not enough to pay for.  After both Erin and Lauren had gone off to bed after 2pm, I decided to get my guitar and go sit in the consuite to play and sing a tune or two, and was soon joined by Ange Anderson and Robert Uy, and Robert did some wonderful harmonies to what I was singing and Ange was glad to get a chance to hear me sing too.  So after about 45 minutes of that the consuite was closed down and I went off to bed after a very good day.

Sunday I was up too damn early, but thankfully the consuite was open and had coffee and bagels and cream cheese out for us early risers.  Soon afterwards Erin was up too and looking for coffee herself, and told me about a steampunk props panel she wanted to go to.  I thought about it and then came in a bit after it had started and was treated to some wonderful props and learned how they were made from a couple of very good costumers.  One of the bits of advice they gave Erin after she'd asked a question was "never throw anything away", to which I said: NOOOOOO! and Erin laughed.  (As if Erin needs that advice in the first place.)

At noon there was the old farts panel, aka ICON: A Historical Perspective, where stories old and older were recalled with much verve and wit.  Sigh, we were all so much younger then.  Mark Moore, Greg Frost and Billjon provided the tales, while Spacey and Denny Lynch did the fact checking.  At least, that's what I recall through a glass darkly, and Fan Guest of Honor Steve Tait had a few things to add too, even if he wasn't quite there at the moment of creation.  Or is that procreation?  Never mind...

Then finally it was time to go, and we packed up and cleaned up the room, mostly, leaving only a few empty wine bottles behind and a nice tip for the housekeeper.  Lauren said she'd had a good time and told us we had some 'interesting' friends, but that she was treated nicely even if she got more then her share of attention from geeky guys over the weekend.  Erin and Lauren think they'll go to another con, Capricon, in Chicago next February, so it must have been fun, mostly.

In short: one of the best ICONs ever, except for all the other ones.  Next year the guests of honor will be Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch, and I know it will again be a very good time so I was happy to pre-register for next year.  You should too.

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