This past weekend I found myself in Missoula, Montana, for MisCon, the local science fiction/fantasy convention. It was a long way to drive from southern California, but the author guest of honor was George R R Martin, and that is not something one passes up easily. So I drove.
It's pretty much a given that many people who attend conventions of this sort are caught up in varying degrees of geekiness. You can go from the conventionally dressed (meaning not dressed as if they were going to a convention), articulate fan; to the committed, costumed fan; to the reclusive, total immersion fan who has difficulty communicating in standard social settings. All of these were present and more: there were men in kilts, which I think is a fine thing, even when they're not Scots. There was a man with a long grey fox tail hanging from the back of his belt. There was a man in a t-shirt and a floor-length skirt -- or else it was a balding, bearded woman. There were two ninjas with teddy bear ears, a young woman dressed as Tinkerbell (I think), a guy with an 18" Mohawk (which began to fold over by the end of the day), a woman with Day-Glo green hair, and a kid in a red and black dragon outfit. There were several people dressed in steampunk fashion, a style I personally subscribe to, except I was a bit put off by a guy in a corset.
The convention went for four days, but I was there only the first two. The highlights were as follows:
The "Meet George R R Martin" session: Martin talked a bit about himself and his projects and then answered questions from the audience for about an hour. Naturally, the topic of how many volumes will be in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, and how long it will take to get them all published, came up. He said his current goal was to conclude the story with book seven. He pointed out, however, that his original idea had been to do it all in three books. Obviously that didn't work out. He said even though his goal was seven books, he couldn't promise to stick to that because his main responsibility is to the story, however long it may take to tell it.
Regarding the lengthy gap between books four and five (a six-year wait), he said you may have the goal of driving to Cleveland but after so long you may get only as far as Altoona. And then you have to stop and rest for the night. And regarding the hate mail he received from fans (or, as he surmised they might now be, anti-fans) who were unhappy or incensed about the delay, he said he didn't really understand their attitude. He thought it might be attributable to the fact that, whereas people of his generation were used to waiting for things, people nowadays are used to instant gratification and even feel entitled to it. Even so, I don't understand how some people can be so vile towards him, like he owes them something and ought to suffer torments for not delivering. Yes, they have supported him by buying his books, but that doesn't mean they are entitled to have him produce at their whim. I think they think they are, though. Anyway, it was an interesting session.
The "Cross-Genre Mystery" session: this was supposed to be a discussion of how you can incorporate a mystery into a science fiction or fantasy story. The first ten minutes were spent defining what a mystery is, the second ten minutes in deciding whether every story already has a mystery of some sort in it. The next fifteen minutes were spent bashing the Twilight series.
I can see how vampires may not be someone's cup of tea, and I can see how teen romance may not be someone's cup of tea (or romance in general, for that matter), but most of the complaints I've heard about Twilight -- here and elsewhere -- are along the lines of "I hate that book because it has sparkly vampires. I can't get past the sparkly vampires. Real vampires aren't sparkly." Okay, first of all, real vampires aren't real. I've read only the first two Twilight books, and it's been a while since I have, but as I recall the sparkliness is a fairly minor point, as an explanation of why they have to live in cloudy climes. It's not that big a deal. So I think people should just get over it. I could say that "real" vampires don't have retractable sharp teeth. How is that even physically possible? But I haven't heard anyone complain about that feature in dozens of other contemporary depictions of vampires. If you want to complain about the flawed and contradictory character of Bella, fine. If you want to discuss Meyer's development as a writer and the stylistic weaknesses of the early books, fine. But mocking sparkly vampires makes you sound petty and maybe even a little jealous. That's what I wanted to say to the panel, but I said nothing.
The rest of the time they spent discussing many examples of cross-genre fiction that are already out there, like somebody (whose name I don't remember) who writes science fiction westerns about cowboys in space. And somebody else wrote a book about a troll and a fairy who are detectives and solve murders. Then one of the panelists, speaking as if he were investigating a crime scene, picked up a prop sword that happened to be on the table in front of him and said, "Hmm . . . what caliber is this sword?" And I wanted to say, "Excalibur!", but again, I didn't.
The book signing session George R R Martin did on Saturday morning: I had thirteen books to get signed, but there was a very strict policy that one could have no more than three books signed at a time. The session was only two hours long, and the line at first stretched out to the crack of doom, so I was a little worried about getting through the line enough times to get all my books signed before time ran out. But I kept going around and going around to the end of the line after every three books, and the third and fourth times the line was considerably shorter. I made it through the fourth time, but by then the two hours were up, so I couldn't go through a fifth time with the last book. It was a duplicate of one I had already got signed, though, so I didn't feel too bad.
Yes, Missoula is a long way to go, but the scenery during the drive was beautiful (except for the snowstorm in Idaho that pretty much obliterated any scenery to speak of), and it was great to see George R R Martin and have him sign some books, and it's always kind of a kick to see all those ninjas and fairies and steampunks milling about in a common cause, so I would say it was worth it.