Wednesday, November 5, 2014


After getting off to our usual late start last Friday, the drive to Cedar Rapids went by quickly even with an unscheduled stop to buy a jacket for Erin as she'd left hers at home, and we arrived just before 5pm.   We quickly checked into our hotel and then went over to the con hotel across the street to pick up our badges and put Erin's art in the art show.  After that, we had time before opening ceremonies to go to the dealer's room and Erin of course found another spiffy jacket she liked from a collection of clothing that Gregg Parmentier had brought down which had belonged to Myrna, his wife who sadly passed away earlier this year and who is very much missed.

Opening ceremonies went well and the TICC skit was pretty silly as usual, and Brian Anderson did a fine job taking it all seriously up there on stage.  I heard later from his wife Ange that he'd only had a few weeks to prepare and there wasn't even a rehearsal until the day of the performance.  That's cutting it pretty fine, even for TICC.  (BTW, "TICC" stands for the Trans-Iowa Canal Company, first coined by former newspaper columnist and RAGBRAI rider Don Kaul.)  Then it was off to the con suite and a few parties, some Scotch sampling (including one 28-year old bottle Gregg brought that was truly the best Scotch whiskey I've ever had) and lots of great conversations before Erin and I turned in a little after 1am.  (Sadly, I missed the Poe and Lovecraft story telling panel, which it being Halloween night would have been fun.)

In the morning after having a quick breakfast at our hotel with two other fans who were staying there, we headed back over and I went to a panel that was a progress report from a University of Iowa's special collections team on the Hevelin Collection.  For us SF fans, it was wonderful to hear that they were going to go through Rusty's entire collection of SF fanzines, transcribe them, and put all the text online in a searchable format.  They can't simply scan them and put them online due to copyright issues (which are pretty complicated) but the plan is to give people access to search them and then let them request scans of just the pages they want, which does qualify as fair use under copyright law.  They will need people to help transcribe them, because given the nature of the fanzines and how they were printed, optical character recognition (OCR) doesn't work.  Needless to say, I got their contact info and will be in touch to offer what help I can, especially because I have Erin as a resource about the artwork.  Here's a link to more about what's happening with the fanzines:

Science fiction fanzines to be digitized as part of major UI initiative

During the panel, one amazing story was how when one of the researchers was going through a box of fanzines, he found the program book from the very first World Science Fiction Convention held in New York City back in 1939.  He opened it and found that it contained a complete set of photographs that had been carefully scotch taped in the book under each caption, and it's the only one that's ever been found that does have them all and in good condition.  Talk about having a Holy Grail of Fandom moment.  Wow.

After that, I had a couple of hours free before there was another panel I was really interested in.  I first popped in on a panel Erin was on about asking artists how they did stuff, but only briefly.  (Artist GoH Lar de Souza was having a fun time from what I could tell.)  Then I went to make a blinkie at the 2DKits blinkie workshop room up on the third floor.  I also had one I needed to resolder a battery connection on, and after looking over my choices I paid Kurt (who thankfully brought everything over all by himself) and set myself to work on the following kit:

5 RGB Blinkie Kit

It's one of the beginner kits, but not being the world's greatest soldering iron user it took me an hour and a half to assemble, and it took me fifteen minutes to figure out how to solder on the pinback.  (Later, I learned I wasn't the only one who had problems with that.)  So including fixing my other blinkie, I spent about two hours having fun making blinkie.  So with a new and old blinkie now to show off, I checked out the Body Painting panel where Erin and John Garner were having fun doing a fairly large painting on a model's back with acrylic paints that they'd brought.  It was very nice and it got a lot of notice later.

Then I headed off to another panel with Elizabeth Anne Hull talking and answering questions for an hour, which was even more fascinating than I thought it would be.  The past several years there have not only been great Guests of Honor, but a wonderful supporting cast of other SF&F professionals.  For the $30 I paid at the end of last year's ICON, it's vastly more than worth the cost of membership.  Then I went to a reading by Jim C. Hines that was packed with listeners and he read a updated tale based on Snow White that was engrossing and fun.

After that, I went to the Art Show to watch Erin and several other artists, including anyone who wanted to just drop in and have fun, do an "Art in About an Hour" panel that resulted in several collaborative pieces that were later auctioned off to raise funds to support the Hevelin collection.  Erin was having a good time, which was fortunate given she'd been kept busy for over six hours on Saturday being on panels at the convention.  There certainly was no lack of things to do at ICON this year.

At the end of Erin's panel, a dinner party of ten that included Erin and myself went to a Mongolian restaurant that was a short drive away and we had a big tasty meal and I had a nice time talking with Mike Miller and his wife Laura Runkle and others.  We finished and got back just in time for a panel featuring Joe Haldeman at 7pm, and wouldn't you know it - he was late coming back from dinner.  But he made it after only a few minutes more and while his wife Gay was getting his latest novel in progress from their room we had a lively Q&A about how retired life was treating him now that he's no longer teaching writing at M.I.T. in the fall after thirty years of doing it.  Then Gay came in and Joe read from a novel Joe's calling "Phobos Is Fear" that's according to Joe is part mystery and part SF, being set naturally enough on Phobos, the larger of the two moons of Mars.  At the beginning, Joe mentioned how the feel of the book was colored in part by the Strugatsky's novel Roadside Picnic (and mentioned an anecdote where he met Arkady Strugatsky, who had also studied astronomy like Joe and when asked about working as an astronomer told Joe "Why should I work when I can write science fiction!", which Joe told with great relish for some reason or other...   ;^)  I enjoyed what Joe read of it and hope to read the finished novel in a year or so.

After that, I spend ten minutes or so in a panel asking whether so-called 'hard' science fiction was still alive (even asking the question is an answer of sorts) before heading out to socialize and have fun.  I went in briefly to hear a concert by Wyld Nept, which was well attended and LOUD, and decided I wanted something quieter, and after going to a couple of room parties I ended up in John Garner's karaoke room for the next three hours (with breaks) having fun singing.  I even managed to pick one song I thought I knew based on the title and the group, but I'd never heard it before!  So I just faked it and everyone else had a good time faking it along with me.  (Robert Uy had the hit of the night singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" though, and he said he'd never done it before either.)  I even got to sing a lot thanks to so many people being at the Wyld Nept concert, and when that ended and the crowd arrived to karaoke, I ducked out and ended up spending an hour or so talking with Ange Anderson and other fans on the second floor.  When the clock struck 2am and we did the time warp by turning the clock back an hour to standard time, I walked back over to our hotel and crashed with Erin and we slept pretty soundly.

After getting up in the morning and packing up my things before doing check out, I went back over at 9am to the blinkie room to make another blinkie that I'd picked up the day before that had six big, bright pink LEDs.  Thanks to having just done one the day before, this one took only about an hour to finish.  I then headed to a 10am panel on alternate economics, which ended up being less than fascinating so I left and checked out of the hotel with Erin.  She then went to the blinkie room herself and picked out the X-mas Tree one to build, and I went to the consuite where I met Eleanor Ray and had a nice time talking with her (also, every time I was between things I often stopped to talk with other fans) before going to the "Pining for the Fnords: The New Nostalgia" which was about SF finding new things to tell stories about that were comforting, rather than challenging for the reader.  It was an interesting enough premise and since it had the two writer Guests of Honor on it (Elizabeth Bear and Scott Lynch), it was also very entertaining.

Then the last panel I made was at noon and was sort of a followup, with Scott Lynch and Jim Hines discussing getting beyond SF 101, which ended up being rather meta discussing how writers and artists in general get beyond the initial plateau of creativity that seems to hit those who create works of art.  I liked Jim Hines' comments about deciding to make a commitment to his writing after getting his feet wet, and that it really was a serious commitment of time and effort that when he initially made it wasn't easy, given that there was no guarantee of greater success.  They also had a lot of fun bantering with each other and the audience had some good questions too that even got good answers.  So worth going to, even though I'm just having fun playing guitar and singing myself.  (Speaking of, I did bring my guitar but filking never did ensue.  Oh well.)

I went back up to the blinkie room then to find Erin still at work on her tree (it had nineteen LEDs, so there was a lot of soldering to be done), so I headed down to the art show to pack Erin's things up and take them out to the minivan.  I came back up and found Erin was having difficulties, but after getting help from Mike Miller, then Doug Hamer, and then finally Kurt with his handy solder-sucking gun, she was able to get her blinkie to work, with the exception of one light that probably has excess solder under it shorting it out.  Erin does have a soldering iron of her own though, so she took an extra couple of LEDs and can fix that later.  It will look very nice as an ornament on our tree at home this Christmas, I'm sure.

The two of us then had lunch with Dave Ingraham and Marnie over at the food court at a nearby mall (I had two tasty Maid Rites myself) before we headed back one more time to the con hotel to pick up a nice bottle of Iowa-distilled whiskey that Laura kindly picked up for us and say our last good-byes before heading back home.  As always, the dogs and cats welcomed us back home and the pet sitter said they all did just fine while we were gone.  All in all, it was another wonderful ICON this year, and of course I pre-registered for ICON 40 next year.