I went to MileHiCon this past weekend. It was awesome. Here are details.
One of the first things I did was run into Paolo Bacigalupi, multiple-award-winning author of The Windup Girl. At the last MileHiCon I had attended, two years ago, I had tagged along as Aarron Hughes from our Book Club took him to lunch. They were talking in the hallway when I showed up, and I came over to say hi. Paolo recognized me. Allow me to emphasize – from a lunch conversation two years ago, just one fan out of dozens that day and I’m sure thousands in the intervening time – he actually recognized me and placed me as one of the people he went to lunch with. I was blown away. I am awful with names, and only slightly better with faces. Example: during the con a girl with pink hair said hi to me, and chatted with me for a few minutes. It was clear we’d met in the past few months, she knew my name, and referred to recent local cons. However I had no idea who she was, she didn’t even look familiar. I am really freakin’ bad with that sort of thing. Every now and then I still space out the names of my fellow book-club attendees, and I see them every few weeks! Paolo is brilliant and charming and I was stunned. That’s him in the red. (I’m in the center. Yes, that’s who you think it is on the right. I’ll get to that!)
Of course with Paolo at the con, I stalked him through several of his panels. Because of Con Rule #1.
1. Panel topics are irrelevant. Panelists are paramount.
A panel about the most interesting topic in the world can be a complete bore if no one of interest is on it. It can be awkward and stuttering despite the best moderator and supportive audience. Likewise, a panel about pocket lint can be fascinating and/or hilarious with the right panelists. They will be a pleasure to watch regardless of what they speak on.
A mildly bad panelist will stay quiet and not say much at all. But a really bad panelist will drown the panel with a fire-hose of concentrated boring drivel. They will not stop talking about their books, their protagonists, their worlds, their languages; without ever giving anyone a reason to care. A good panelist is interesting because s/he will reveal insights about the world, or dramatic moments from their lives, and make you care. A great panelist will do the same with charm and style. If you find a great panelist, follow them around, all their panels will be awesome.
Paolo Bacigalupi is a great panelist. At one of his panels he warned us of the coming reign of our Mutant Boar Overlords. Turns out when the Fukushima nuclear reactor went critical following the 2011 tsunami, the local farmers set all their livestock free as they evacuated the area to avoid the radiation. They couldn’t take them along, and this was less cruel than leaving them locked down to starve to death. The domestic pigs mated with the wild boars and the resultant hybrid offspring are extremely smart, very aggressive, and are overrunning the area. It’s a big problem, and authorities are hunting down radioactive boars as we speak. His delivery was hilarious, we were all entertained, and illustrative of unforeseen consequences and the perils of technology. And it tied in with his novels without being pandering or boring – I was enriched for the telling. This is what panels should be.
(btw – always sit near the front. Sometimes there aren’t any microphones, sometimes the mics fail or aren’t that good.)
I left early on Friday (went to go see a friend’s band playing at a bar), so I didn’t get to enjoy the Friday after-hours festivities, which I hear were a ton of fun. Next time!
Saturday saw me attending the Strong Women in Film & Fiction panel, with Molly Tanzer speaking. Molly is intensely interesting – she has strong, well-informed opinions, she has an amazing voice (I’m a sucker for voices), and she’s Our People. Yes – around our age, sharing our humor and geekdom, with tons of meme-inspired jokes and strong meta-awareness. Having publicly committed to talking with more girls, I went up after the panel and said hi. Which leads to Con Rule #2:
2. Don’t be afraid to engage
Authors are just like you – they want to interact with fun, interesting people. But they have an entire audience before them, there’s no good way to pick out one to talk with. Go up and introduce yourself and have something based on the last 50 minutes you spent listening to them to say to them. Don’t be too worried about annoying/irritating them, most people will let you know rather quickly if they’d prefer you weren’t around. Let them make that decision, don’t make it for them!
Needless to say, the talking went well. :) We chatted for a bit, it was fun, and I promised to show up to her reading the next day. I had to bail on a panel about patent law that I really wanted to go to, and that included Aaron (friend from book club) as a panelist. I had told him I’d go, but c’mon – cute intelligent girl takes precedence any day. I’m sure he understands.
A bit later I was walking the halls when I saw someone who looked suspiciously like Ted Chiang. Yes, THAT Ted Chiang. The best SF story author currently writing. I had been warned by Paolo yesterday that he might show up, so I was on the lookout. And I had brought my copy of Stoires of Your Life and Others. I stopped, and asked him if he was Ted Chiang (YES HE WAS!) and asked him if he would sign the book. Then I proceeded to TALK WITH TED CHIANG FOR NEARLY AN HOUR!
OK, I’ll admit it… I fanboy-ed out a bit. I was nervous and kept saying how awesome he was and how much I loved his work, and generally acted like a doofus. But he took it well, and we talked a bit about his writing process, a couple of his stories, and why he declined a nomination for Liking What You See, and had some general chatter as well. He’s obviously brilliant, but also rather reserved. He speaks quietly and seems to hold back a bit. Perhaps my enthusiasm startled him. But it was amazing. :) Here’s another pic.
Looking at these pics now, it occurs to me that we’re mirroring each other in both of them. Which is like – wtf? I don’t think I was mirroring him, because I was paying attention to the camera and couldn’t see those at my side. I don’t think he was mirroring me for the same reason, and cuz he is the high-status one in this situation. Did we just both naturally assume those postures by coincidence? Crazy.
I also went to see Ian Tregillis talk. His forthcoming book is a noir murder mystery where the murder victim is the Archangel Gabriel. Hell yeah! He read an excerpt and passed around a copy of the cover art. It’s really cool and afterward I asked if he had any extra, and if I could buy one if so. He said he did have one spare, and since I was the first to ask I could simply have it outright! And then he even agreed to autograph it for me!! At this time, it may be the only one in existence!
Also, go see him talk if you get a chance, he’s just as smart as you’d expect anyone who’d plotted out the Milkweed Trilogy to be.
Here’s a picture.
Speaking of things I got signed, this is the Ted Chiang autograph I mentioned earlier:
During one of his panels Paolo made a reference to Stuff White People Like. I pulled my copy off the shelf when I got home and had him autograph it the next day. There may be lots of signed copies of his books around, but I’m probably the only person who’s got his signature on the cover of SWPL!
And finally, here’s Cat Valente’s signature on the audio book version of Deathless. She said it’s the first time she’s signed an audiobook. Another unique item!
I could have engaged her in conversation at this point. And I SHOULD have. But I didn’t. :( I’ll get into that when I get to Sunday.
Come Saturday evening I went to a house party where I managed to continue to make new contacts, spending a lovely couple hours chatting and flirting with the delightful Danielle Burkhart and Miranda Suri. I have at this pointed had more interaction with new people in a 24-hour period than I’ve had in…. well, since I first joined the book club I guess. And back then I’d had the support of two shots of vodka and the structure of discussing a common book to help! I do believe I’m getting much better at this “being social” thing! I would have stayed later into the night, but I wanted to get back to the con by 9pm for the panel about Writing Sex with both Paolo and Cat Valente. (Cat is a good panelist as well. And since WorldCon 2012 , I’ve kinda been crushing on her).
The panel was fantastic. At one point a flaming dickbag stood up and was all “Sex is corrupting our children, m’kay? You should write words about sex and put them on a paper that children can get their hands on!” (exaggerated for effect, but that was the gist). CAT JUMPED ON HIS ASS and smacked him right now. It was awesome. Often if there’s a dick in an audience that makes an idiotic comment the panelists will just kinda nod, say something placating, and move along. It keeps the peace, but it always makes me sad to see. Cat did not take any of that shit. She stood up and told him what a fucking idiot he was, why he was wrong, and that he wanted to shut up about it now. It was glorious. My crush level increased.
This is Cat, btw, from her reading earlier in the day. She has an amazing voice. If you’ve never read anything of hers you should, very soon. Her writing is unlike anything else out there right now. She does not write prose – she writes story-length and novel-length poetry, with plot and character growth. The story she’s reading in this pic is a Western (surrealist, of course) and she had the drawl that made it stunning. Her voice sounded like the desert – dusty and merciless, and stretching to the horizon, if you could squint hard enough to make it out under the beating sun. I wish I had recorded it. It’s not fair that only a few dozen people witnessed such a thing.
But back to the Saturday sex panel. Afterwards there was a bit of a continuing discussion in the hall with the panelists, and I managed to insert myself into that once again. (I swear, there’s no better way to start a conversation with someone than to listen to them talking on a subject for 50 minutes and then continuing in that vein. Why don’t dates start like this?) So once again I was talking with Paolo, and this time I got to interact directly with Cat as well! And we were discussing sex and porn, and porn’s effects on children (specifically Paolo’s soon-to-be-teenage son).
This was an amazing day.
By Sunday, I was hurting. I went back for a third day, because I had told several people I would. But honestly, it was too much. This has led to the creation of Con Rule #3.
3. Know Your Limits
Day three was when I got the audio book signed by Cat. I could have kept talking, and it even seemed like she might welcome the distraction. I had a perfect subject as well – it was her first signed audio book… had she ever thought (or been asked) to narrate her own books? She’s got a beautiful voice. Etc etc from there. But I was low on social energy. I’d met many people, and half of them had been people I idolize, and Cat was 1. New, 2. Idolized, and 3. Crush-object. I thanked her and turned away. One step at a time.
A bit later I ran into Paolo. I chatted again for a bit, but I started to go off the rails. I rambled about my girlfriend for a bit. Why did I do that? He is not interested, it has nothing to do with anything. He politely excused himself and ran after Cat (which I would have done in his position as well). It was then that I realized I was just about out of spoons.
I just looked up that term to link it, and it seems that it’s bad form to use the “out of spoons” analogy if you are not actually dealing with a crippling chronic illness in your life. So I’ll be more aware and not appropriate that term in the future, but I’m leaving this in the post so that the word can spread and others can be enlightened as I have been.
I was asked to dinner with one of the lovely ladies from the previous day as I was leaving, but I knew I could take no more and needed to recharge. So I went home. Next time I see her she won’t be a stranger, so it won’t be nearly as much energy to chat and socialize. :) That’s the great thing about meeting new people.
In summary – I had a great time, if perhaps a bit overtaxing at the end. Next year will be even better. And this post is way too long as it is, so I’m stopping here!