Denvention

Sunday before the convention I went to Oakland to pick up Michael Dashow’s box of art. (It turns out the Rockridge BART station is in a nice little area of cafes and boutiques.) I took the box home, getting a feel for its size and bulk for transportation and then turned right back around when my printer decided to run out of ink. The rest of the day was spent finalizing packing and printing and matting the last bits of my own art.

Having learned the hard lesson that most cab companies in the city are unreliable on a tight schedule, I called City Wide Dispatch to get me down to the Amtrak thruway motorcoach to Emeryville on Monday morning. They showed up promptly and I had time to grab a snacky breakfast and coffee at the Amtrak office.

The Emeryville station was the only real glitch as poor organization and communications meant that I ended up checking my bag ten minutes after the cut off for my train, meaning my checked suitcase would arrive a day late. Since I had packed a generous carry-on bag, this was annoying but not terrible.

Once on the train I fell asleep pretty soon, having been up all night. My memory foam pillow was very helpful in this regard. I woke when we pulled into Sacramento, with a surreal feeling as I opened my eyes to see the Sacramento River under blue skies with a large riverboat floating near shore and an Aztec-looking pyramid on the right. The scene was a vividly fantastical one to wake up to, like taking the train to Riverworld. Google tells me that the riverboat is called the Delta King, and the pyramid is the Ziggurat Building, so Mesopotamian rather than Aztec.

The trip continued with a now mostly full train after picking up passengers in Sacramento.

My seat mate seemed a nice enough fellow and mostly spent his days in the Lounge Car, so that was fine. I spent a fair amount of time there myself, admiring the view or charging my phone. The snack bar food was just okay, unfortunately.

On the first leg of the trip we had a couple of volunteers who gave us some local history and advised of upcoming photo ops, such as the canyon known as Cape Horn above the American River. Soon enough we passed through Truckee, which I’d only previously seen covered in snow during the winter, and shortly thereafter crossed through to Nevada.

As we passed through Sparks it was time to decide whether I was willing to spend the money on the somewhat overpriced dining lounge food for dinner with three strangers. On the Starlight the food had actually been pretty decent, so I figured what the hell. While I always feel a little apprehensive about sitting down with strangers for dinner, so far my experiences on the train have all been lovely and this was no exception. My companions were a Southern Pacific Railroad engineer and a Bay Area couple on their way to Utah, one of whom had also taken the Orient Express and the Trans-Siberian Railway among other memorable train rides.

Throughout the trip I kept an eye out for fannish looking types, but didn’t spot any for certain until the end of the trip when I discovered that a family just a few seats back in my own railcar was also going to Denvention. Still, the scenery was more than enough to keep me entertained, and by trip’s end I was frankly a bit disappointed that what I had visualized before the trip as hours of reading, writing and listening to audioplays only actually gave me enough time to finish the book I was halfway through and listen to one Big Finish audioplay, Cuddlesome with Colin Baker.

Still and all it was good to finally arrive in Denver. The taxi from Union Station was about five bucks and my roommate-for-the-night had left a key for me at reception. Since it was only nine thirty or so, I dumped my suitcase and went for a quick stroll to get the lay of the land.

The Crowne Plaza cleverly supplies a folded up map of the downtown Denver area attached to their keycard holders so I found the Convention Center first and recognized the appropriate entrance from the Big Blue Bear sculpture described in the Art Show mailings. The center is on 15th Street, so the next obvious step was to walk up to the 16th Street Mall, which is a ten-block commercial stretch reminiscent of the Santa Monica Promenade. The only traffic allowed are pedicabs and the free shuttle which runs every couple of minutes and goes all the way to Union Station.

The businesses are mostly chain restaurants and stores, but the area was full of pedestrians and I scouted out the Rite Aid, Walgreens and Ross for future reference. I was looking for a quick bite before bed as well, but it was late enough that places like Starbucks were closing and most of the actual restaurants were of the type that have TV screens mounted over every free surface, so I decided to grab a snack at the hotel restaurant instead. It was either closed or closing, but the lobby area bar had food, only one screen, and a very nice bartender so it became my sanctuary over the next few days. The food was also very good, which helped. Back in the room my roommates were already asleep, and within a few minutes so was I.

Wednesday morning the first order of business was to hang art. My own stuff was in my checked luggage but I was bringing along two panels’ worth of Michael Dashow’s art so I schlepped that through the Convention Center up to the Art Show only to be stopped by the Convention Center security at the door of Hall D for not having a badge yet. They kindly let me leave the box with them while I went down to reg to pick that up.

The line was not bad yet but something had gone screwy with their signage and there was quite a bit of confusion about which line was which. As there was no pre-reg area either I eventually managed to find the right line and got my badge. They managed to mangle the ñ into a “ but I didn’t feel like dealing with it right then and eventually grew to enjoy the befuddled reaction that it got from friends and strangers alike.

The convention was only offering lanyards, no clips, so I passed and attached the badge with a safety pin. I have a supply of badge clips from previous cons that I’ll have to remember to pack next time, since I saw a few other people who’d modified theirs as well. Also a little puzzling was the choice of vertical official ribbons instead of the currently more standard horizontal.

Finally done, I desperately needed breakfast. I knew I’d seem a restaurant across the street, but as it turned out to be another block up I ended up in the Hyatt restaurant instead. As it turned out this ended up being the place where I got most of my meals. They sat me down next to a table of con-goers which I later realized included George R.R. Martin. On a whim I ordered the waffle, which I very rarely get — they’re usually disappointing. But I have to say that the Hyatt makes a damned good waffle. Maybe it’s a Denver thing, since before taking the train out of town on Monday morning I had another excellent waffle at a place called The Delectable Egg. I’m scared of ordering one anywhere else now.

After breakfast, I helped Chris Garcia set up the Fanzine Lounge, which was located right in the middle of the Convention Center hallway area. This ended up working very well since it meant we had a Coffee Garden-esque location from which to see anyone heading to the Art Show, Dealer’s Room and so on. Done setting up I had nothing specific to do until my luggage arrived so I wandered around a bit and decided to check out the Consuite and by extension the walk to the Sheraton which was our party hotel.

The Sheraton layout was a little confusing, with two towers and a maze-like series of halls and escalators leading to the gaming area, Consuite, and a party room which hosted past Worldcon and some bid parties. The room for the Consuite was large, with plenty of seats and two doors which gave it a nice open feel. On Wednesday, however, the snack selection was kinda limited and anyway there were no plates or napkins available. I got a cup of tea and perused my program book and pocket schedule until it was finally time to check into my own room at the Crowne.

The rooms at the Crowne were nice enough, although unremarkable — I had an issue with my bathroom door not locking, but they sent a repairman up right away and got that fixed for me. My new roommate, a Belgian fan called Peter Der Weerdt, was off volunteering so I left a key for him at reception while I headed over to Union Station to finally get my real suitcase. It rained a little while I was out and about so I picked up an umbrella which came in handy later. By the time I got back and unpacked everything it was past ten o’clock, so I went to check the parties out.

The general party floor at the Sheraton was not ideal, not unlike the one at BayCon this year but with fewer parties. Narrow hallways and poor flow made things a little stuffy and the party floor required a keycard for access making it necessary to have gophers down at the elevator banks. The elevators themselves were also a little claustrophobic.

Additionally, most of the professional parties like the SMOFs, SFWA and so on were apparently at the other hotel. In fact, this Worldcon was the one where I saw the fewest pros. I don’t particularly need to stalk authors in order to complete my con experience, but normally you see them wandering about. In this case, not counting events like the Hugos and the post-closing ceremonies night when I drank at the Hyatt bar I saw barely a handful and only one of those, George R.R. Martin, was on the general party floor. I assume this was mostly an accident of geography, the hotel spread coupled with the size and layout of the Convention Center, so hopefully it’s not a trend. The convention did seem to do the best with what it had, and in any case I did have an enjoyable time drinking the Scandinavian akvavit and hanging out in the Seattle bid room for a bit before calling it a night.

On Thursday I had set my alarm at some ungodly hour, which puzzled me when I woke up. I turned it off and went right back to sleep for a couple more hours until I woke in a panic realizing I had forgotten I still needed to hang my own art. I rushed over to get that done and was glad to see I wasn’t the absolute last artist doing so, at least. On my way over to the Hyatt to restore my equanimity through carbs I passed through the Fanzine Lounge and chatted with Garcia, Bob Hole and Leigh Ann Hildebrand, who had just arrived. She was staying at the Hyatt and had not eaten either, so we tried their somewhat pricey but pretty tasty buffet. I noticed after we sat down that George R.R. Martin and his posse were one table over.

Not surprising, I guess, since the Hyatt was apparently were most of the guests were staying. We parted ways after breakfast and I went to my first panel of the convention, about Slipstream fiction, which was quite interesting and full of good recommendations for future reading.

I decided to hit the Dealer’s Room next, to check for the Slipstream anthology Feeling Very Strange, but remembered as I perused the tables that I had promised myself I wouldn’t buy a bunch of books to lug back. I can get those here. Since I wasn’t really looking at the book dealers, the Dealer’s Room was not that exciting. The clothing selections was mostly t-shirts, which I sometimes wear but not in the loose styles normally found at cons. There were a number of good jewelers including silversmith Laura Edison and one of my favorites, Springtime Creations, who make wonderful raygun and rocketship baubles. Nothing really caught my eye, so I figured this would be as good a time as any to take a slow walk through the Art Show instead.

The rightmost wall of the show as well as an additional row of tables parallel to it contained the 3D art, which was of a wonderful variety. Crocheted bead necklaces by Bearwoman caught my eye, as I have recently dabbled at jewelry making myself. The first table to really draw my attention, though, was one that held some amazing ceramic rayguns by Raku Ray Guns. They’re display rather than practical items, with names like the Triptree Trilobite, the Lensman Delameter and the Ackerman Ack-Ack Ray.

Right beside that table were some intricate bronzeworks by Villafranca Sculpture, robots, and a weird complex mobile piece called Robot Consciousness. A row of wizard hats and wands finished off the row with a nice whimsical feel.

The center tables had Peri Chariflu’s lovely elven ceramics as well as some more mobile sculptures, the first some hanging wire pieces by Patrick Thompson and the second a more elaborate bronze and cypress wood piece called Quest Isle by Butch Honeck.

Over on the hanging art panels, the most prominent display was for the Artist Guest of Honor, Rick Sternbach, who already had a bunch of quick sales. Familiar “faces” from other cons included our own Frank Wu side by side with a panel of Brianna Flynt art, Theresa Mather who was also already ahead in sales and a well stocked print shop selection, recent BayCon GOH Todd Lockwood who had a Temeraire image I had not seen before, Jim Humble’s amazing — and cheap! — hand-sculpted pieces and photography from Ctein and James Stanley Daugherty.

Of course, part of the attraction of Worldcon is seeing things you don’t always get at your local cons, and there was quite a bit of that as well. John Piccacio had three panels that included color and black-and-white flat hanging art and an assemblage art triptych for Jeffrey Ford’s Well-Built City trilogy. Phil Foglio had a number of original pencil sketches up, where you could see the places where he’d erased and re-done bits and the amazing amount of detail in his work. Some collector’s panels had more Foglio, and the Freas estate also had a panel, with a print on which I was outbid.

Less familiar (to me) artists included Myles Pinkney whose intricate and colorful pieces seem to live in a very strange Technicolor space right between what I really like and what I don’t care for at all, but he had one piece in particular, titled Archway, that I fell in love with. It went for a low quick sale price right away. David Magon had a very impressive, huge landscape of a base on Vallis Marineris. Steven Danielle had a whole bunch of nice pieces, of which the pulp-adventure illustration Mysteries of the Hollow Earth was my favorite. On the more whimsical end of the spectrum were Angela Newman’s goth cuties, some amusingly gruesome Christmas carols by Laura Givens, and the shared panel of YokoM Eiji & Nakata Aki anime/manga style art.

The Art Show was more tempting than the Dealer’s Room, but (un)fortunately most of the pieces I really wanted were far outside of my budget anyway so after a few hours of soaking it in I went back to my room to change into something slightly dressier for the Artists’ Reception. The Convention Center provided the Fanzine Lounge with a bar from 7 p.m. so that was my first stop, since the reception wasn’t until nine. By the time nine rolled around quite a few folks had wandered into the lounge including San Francisco’s own Charlie Anders, of Writers with Drinks fame, whom I had not realized was a fan. We all headed up to the reception which turned out to have a very nice spread of hors d’oeuvres and was very well-attended. We ran into Frank and Brianna, Jacob and Rina Weisman from Tachyon, and a bunch of other folks I hadn’t run into yet.

Fed and visually stimulated, I changed one more time, into my “boy” steampunk outfit and headed over to the Sheraton where John Hertz kindly gave me a hall costume award. I pinned it to my purse and wandered the parties. I spent some time hanging with Leigh Ann and with Christian Maguire but eventually I left them in the Seattle room around 2 a.m. and wandered down past a few remaining gamers to see if the Consuite was an all-night affair. It wasn’t.

With my energy waning I went back to the Crowne only to find Hertz in the lobby lounge bar area so I stopped to chat for a bit and borrow his pocket program for a few minutes before heading off to bed.

On Friday I had hoped to get up early enough to do one of the Walking With the Stars “panels,” but they started at 9 a.m. so that obviously never happened. I did manage to get up at around nine, though, which gave me time to get breakfast before catching a screening of the Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form nominee Star Trek New Voyages: “World Enough and Time” which I had only managed to see clips of previously. At 11:30 there was a panel on suggestions for 2009 Hugo nominations which I arrived a little late for, but it had quite a few interesting suggestions, especially in the Best Related category. At the end it was opened up to suggestions from the audience and someone mentioned local artist Kiriko Moth, which I heartily agree with.

Then it was off to the Fanzine Lounge, where I ended up doing some art for Chris that started out as a way to pass the time and quickly demanded all my attention for the next hour or so until someone suggested food, thank god. Leigh Ann, Christian McGuire and myself headed over to Bubba Gump Shrimp, which was across from the Hyatt and had been tempting us for days now. We got an appetizer that fed all three of us and served nicely to tide me over to the evening. When we went to leave the restaurant, however, it was coming down buckets all of the sudden. Being a frail San Franciscan, this brutal display of weather pretty much traumatized me for the rest of the week. Leigh Ann kindly let me shelter in her room for a bit after we got soaked crossing the street, and as soon as it looked safe I scurried back to my lair.

By this time it was nine o’clock and too late to get changed and head for the Masquerade, so I relaxed and took my time changing into my skirted steampunk outfit and was late for “The Match Game” instead. Luckily I wasn’t so late that I didn’t get to enjoy quite a bit of the show, which seemed quite well attended despite some location snafus.

It wrapped up at around midnight and we hit the Consuite area, which was bustling. Former Worldcons were hosting a party in the adjacent function space and Nippon had a gorgeous wedding kimono up for sale. They also had a range of tasty snack foods which I do have to say were all superior to the horrifying Anticipation ketchup flavored chips. Ketchup. Flavored. Chips. Dear gods.

On that note we headed up to the 22nd Floor, which was hoppin’. The main parties were Reno, Seattle, Xerps and The Brotherhood Without Banners. Seattle had lovely decor but closed down too early, so at some point I found myself in the Brotherhood party where Martin was holding court and knighting people and — more importantly — the bar was pretty decent. I got a “Wild Card” which was some sort of vodka drink I believe, and ended up chatting with a Minnesota fan called Joel Phillips until the wee hours. We actually ended up in the Xerps party after I fled the Brotherhood after gently snarking about Wild Cards in front of the head of Martin’s fan club, oops. Since Xerps was apparently the last party to close, this worked out fine and I eventually called it a night when the charming host began dismantling the room around us. On the way back to the Crowne I got an appropriately blurry photo of the slowly brightening sky.

Perhaps as a result, Saturday was a bit of a whirlwind. After a late start I grabbed lunch with Leigh Ann and Christian over at the Hyatt, for once not ending up beside Martin but over in the quieter back section. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing when a few minutes after ordering I picked up my water glass and it slipped right out of my hand, landing on the table and shattering into a million little bits. Water and glass went absolutely everywhere and I spent the next few minutes picking glass off of myself and enjoying the sensation of being soaked through to the skin for the third time since arriving in Denver. Fortunately no harm was done, but I did have to excuse myself to go back to the hotel and change into dry clothes.

After finally getting some food in me (a very tasty crab sandwich) I went to the Cheryl Morgan-moderated 20 Best Books of the Past 20 Years which was very interesting. About half of the books chosen by each panelist were ones I hadn’t read and a fair number were ones I hadn’t heard of. Of the ones I had read, most were favorites of mine, so I got a very promising future reading list from that.

I went back to the Dealer’s Room to look for new earrings and got a set of rocketship ones from Springtime Creations. I had actually planned to wear them with my silver spacegirl outfit, and looked around for something to go with the red silk dress I was planning on wearing to the Hugos but in the end they turned out to be the perfect thing anyway.

The Hugo ceremony was probably the best I’ve been to so far; Wil McCarthy did a great job as the master of ceremonies and Silverberg was very funny in his presenting duties. Mary Robinette Kowal, who got the Campbell, looked amazing in a vintage yellow gown that suited her perfectly. When Jay Lake came out and crowned her with the Campbell tiara, you couldn’t ask for a lovelier sight. Our own Chris Garcia did not win, alas, but he had fun presenting an award while wearing the Doctor Who scarf that Leigh Ann had kindly made for the TAFF auction. He later successfully accosted all sorts of folks with it and has accumulated quite a selection of photographs of the likes of Connie Willis, Michael Resnick and John Scalzi all wearing the scarf. Speaking of Scalzi, he won for Best Fan Writer and gave a great speech.

Two other good speeches came from folks who weren’t present. Moffat got his third Hugo, beating Cornell again, and brought the funny. Chabon got best novel for The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I had hoped for but not expected, and George R.R. Martin read an excellent speech from him. With only one or two exceptions my first- or second-ranked choices took home the rocket in most categories, so that was nice too.

On the way to the parties Leigh Ann and Christian along with Kathy and Patrick Beckstead and myself decided to grab a bite at the Hyatt bar, so we were treated to a cool moment a few minutes later, when Mary Robinette Kowal and John Scalzi walked through to the elevators cradling their trophies and the whole bar and lobby burst into applause.

Over on the party floor I spent some time hanging in the Reno bid room, after having talked about the bid with several folks who assured me that it was quite reasonable to host a Worldcon there. They had quite a bit of information available to peruse and were extremely helpful and open to questions of all types so I ended up sitting around amidst a lot of facilities and transportation discussions and getting quite a bit of information. After having started the weekend extremely skeptical about the very idea of a convention in Reno, much less a Worldcon, I ended up handing over $20 the next day to pre-support.

Sunday I picked up art. I didn’t sell anything but I was glad to see about half of Michael Dashow’s pieces went — although not the gorgeous watercolor originals. I took everything down to the Fanzine Lounge, which was still mostly intact. After helping break that down, mostly by standing around chatting with Leigh Anne, we decided we should get some food. We went to the Hyatt, of course, and George R.R. Martin was sitting at the next table, of course. I didn’t break anything this time.

In order to avoid keeping my roommate up late I got my packing done in the afternoon and then headed to the Dead Dog party, which was full of folks. I ended up chatting with other Californians, of course, Chris Bauer and Ed Hooper mainly. Leigh Anne had some plans for the early evening which fell through, so we headed over to the bar at the top of the Hyatt which we had been meaning to get to since Thursday. They had a range of appetizers from eh to yummy but the margaritas were very good and service was excellent.

When we headed back down we walked over to take a quick peek at the lobby bar and found all the remaining writers and other pros still chatting away. We grabbed some more margaritas and spent the next couple of hours chatting with Jacob and Rina Weisman and promising to go to more SF in SF events which I have been terrible about recently. It was the perfect way to end the con.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #72, August 27, 2008