Worldcon roundup, Day the Third: In which Worldcon fails to provide adequate disability services, Valente defines magical realism for the neophyte, and the Narwolves throw a hotel pizza party guest-starring Kessel and Kij.

James and I were up so late the night before, between con parties and train rides home, we decided to skip the morning panels and hit the afternoon ones hard.  We arrived at the hotel just in time to join Becky for a quick lunch.  Saturn reunion party at the Giordano’s!  [Side note: I left my credit card and didn’t realize until later in the day…they held it for me, wonderful people, and I retrieved it no problem.  Con exhaustion takes its toll…]  Becky and James came with me to Nnedi’s reading, which was just as gorgeous as anticipated.  She read from a novel she’s currently working, titled Lagoon.  Speaking of non-Euro-centric settings, Nnedi is where it’s at.  Also her whip-smart daughter was in attendance, and she even handled a few audience questions for her mum.  I must now track down a copy of Zahrah the Windseeker.

Then we went for part of Annie’s panel on effective writing habits.  She was smart and well prepared, and I wish we could’ve stayed for questions, but I desperately wanted to catch Geoff Ryman’s reading.  In a sea of excellent readings, Ryman may have been my favorite.  For one thing, he’d done historical research.  The backstory of his piece involved Shakespeare and early telescopic lenses.  For another, he rendered the precise moment of scientific discovery so profoundly that I actually teared up.  I was glad James was there with me.  It was stunning, the characters’ dawning realization that Copernicus was right, that the movement of the heavenly spheres doesn’t work in the way they’ve always believed…Ryman made you feel it, the whole world shifting underfoot.  Well played, Geoff Ryman.  Well played.

We showed up early to Valente’s quantum mechanics and magical realism panel, since so many of the rooms had been overbooked.  This may have been my favorite panel, in that it felt like a UIC colloquium.  Valente panels like an academic, which for me was refreshing after many days of author/fan panels, with criticism taking a backseat.  Best sum-up in a single Tweet: “On a panel on quantum physics & magical realism: Cat Valente, 2 people who didn’t know what magical realism was, & no quantum physicists.”  Yeah, pretty much.  Based on Valente’s recc’s, I need to seek out more Eastern European magical realists, and I’ve flagged Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312 as my next book purchase (once I get through Orange Eats Creeps and DFW’s Pale King).  The panel ultimately devolved into audience members playing pop goes the genre with Valente.  “Is Vonnegut magical realism?  What about Firefly?  What about Harry Potter?” etc. etc.  It was madness.  I wish UIC could fund additional out-of-state speakers beyond the second-year lecture series.  I would love to see Michaels and Valente go head to head.   She argued that according to Borges’ essays, among other critical writings, one of the key devices for magical realism is a journalistic style, and that historically speaking magical realist writing tends to arise under fascist regimes wherein state rhetoric has become almost completely untrustworthy.  I need to go back and reread Emilio Sauri’s dissertation on magical realism, because I remember liking his definition, but have absolutely no recollection of it now.  Swiss cheese brain, grrr.

The worst part of the panel: Our Clarion-mate Dennis was supposed to be on it.  The panelists were put up on a dais, and there was no way to get Dennis’s wheelchair up onto said dais, so he elected to remove himself from the panel.  Almost all the Narwolves (but Annie, who had a panel running concurrently…possibly one or two others?) had shown up to see Dennis.  We were pretty damn furious at the con for that bit of mismanagement.  I know a bunch of people plan to write letters.  But yeah.  Poor planning, Worldcon. A panelist shouldn’t have to step down due to inadequate accommodations.

Note to self for future cons:  I need to cut myself off at 5:30pm.  I kept wanting to see 6pm panels, but that meant getting out at 7:30 absolutely starving, and with long lines at every restaurant.  Well, we did it again on Saturday, heading to see Gene Wolfe take part in a “how to get unstuck” writing panel.  By the end, Becky, James and I were delirious of hunger.  We wound up ordering a pile of pizzas, and James and I brought a bunch of beer back to Dennis and Becky’s Annie’s (kindly volunteered; sorry if we thrashed it!) hotel room.  Bolander still had Kij Johnson’s number from Clarion, and texted to invite her to the pizza party.  Which is how we ended up having a Narwolf pizza party with a soon-to-be 2011 Hugo winner.  I still can’t believe how much of their time Kij and Kessel gave to our motley crew.  It was unbelievably generous, and (alongside seeing all my Clarionauts) it pretty much made the con, for me.

Perhaps my favorite bit of the impromptu party, besides seeing Kij again, involved spontaneously calling a bunch of the absent Narwolves, just to let them know they were missed.  Fifteen or so people yelling into a cell phone isn’t exactly audible, but at least they felt loved, I hope.

James had to work in the morning, so we jetted early, leaving the other Narwolves to their exploits, the best of which involved Mark, Becky and Gil hanging out with GRRM at the Tor party.  Next time, I’m staying in the con hotel.

One additional point that deserves a mention: Only a few of the Narwolves attended the morning meeting re: the creation of a YA Hugo, and I was not among them.  There are many reasons why I think a YA Hugo is a good idea, but rather than belatedly sticking my nose into an ongoing discussion, I’ll just express my sincere sadness that the Narwolf cohort didn’t group up and form a bloc vote in favor of it. I was exhausted, I slept in, and I regret it.  The vote failed 51/67.  We could have made that margin appreciably tighter if all of us had shown up.  I feel I let my community down — especially Peta, as founding editor of Scape.  I believe your work is award-worthy, YA folks, and I’m sorry I didn’t cast my vote to defend that.

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