WorldCon Report

WorldCon Badge

This is my badge from WorldCon 71 / LonestarCon 3 in San Antonio, TX, August 29 – September 2, 2013.

I know, I know. WorldCon was, like, a month and a half ago, and here I am just now posting about it. Frankly, it’s because I’ve been unsure what to say. I’m a little conflicted.

On the whole, the experience was awesome. It was much more enjoyable on several levels than my usual alternative, which was Dragon*Con, here in Atlanta, GA. I mean, any person you randomly meet at WorldCon is most likely a writer, whether published (self- or traditionally) or aspiring. And that’s just neat. :)

Now, don’t get me wrong: Dragon*Con is awesome and enjoyable for what it is.

<digression>And what is it? A media con. Meaning that the most important things at Dragon*Con are the TV and movie stars who come to be adored and sign autographs for money. Last I checked, there are thirty-one simultaneous tracks of programming running from 10 am to midnight or later on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the con, and a half-day each on Sunday and Thursday. That’s a crapload of content. If you cannot find something to entertain you in all that, well . . . you’re probably at the wrong convention.

It’s also 50,000 people shoulder-to-shoulder in sweltering heat and stifling humidity1, all trying to get from point A to point B in the thirty minutes between events. (50,000 is a conservative estimate.)

Dragon*Con is a geek con. Pretty much everyone there is a geek about something, be it writing, Star Trek, Japanese anime, conspiracy theories, ghosts, skepticism, <insert TV show or movie name here>, <insert actor or actress name here>, roleplaying, gaming, costuming, et-freaking-cetera. Stop any random person at Dragon*Con and chances are high that they will get you.

That said, I am interested primarily in writing, but also podcasting and skeptical topics. The Skeptic, Podcasting, and Writing Tracks are three of the thirty-one tracks.

The writing track is held at the Hyatt. In the basement. Of the basement. Down a long hall. And then in another basement. Underneath and between the two main towers. In a total of about ten rooms.2 A lot of the content is geared toward first-time writers. A lot of the rest of it is . . . how shall I phrase this? “Repetitive.” As in, it’s the same writers in the same panels in the same rooms as last year. And the year before. And the year before.

I’ve enjoyed Dragon*Con since 2007, when I went for the first time. But each year, it seemed like something was missing. I found myself . . . wanting something that they weren’t providing. (See “wrong convention” above.)</digression>

WorldCon, on the other hand, was eighteen simultaneous tracks over the same four days. All. About. Writing. Yes, much of it was geared toward beginning writers. And a good bit of it was hero-worship. Of writers. With less than 1/10th of the attendance of Dragon*Con.

In other words, it is a writers’ con. A readers’ con. A publishers’ con. An agents’ con. It’s where the creators and producers go to meet and mingle.

And that’s partly why I’m conflicted.

Seven members of my local writers’ group went on the trip. Three of my Viable Paradise classmates were also in attendance. I hung out with each of them a little. And while I was with them, I mingled and chatted. I talked with other writers. I met people like David Marusek and Lawrence Schoen and Vylar Kaftan. Reconnected briefly with VP instructors Elizabeth Bear, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steven Gould, and Steven Brust. I got a guest sticker for the SFWA suite through one of my VP friends and was able to hang around in the room with writers whose names most people reading this would recognize. I went to the Codex breakfast and met a couple of people there.

Common wisdom is that WorldCon is really two cons going on at the same time and place. There’s the con everyone sees — the one in the program; the one that’s scheduled — and the one that happens in between the panels and the readings. And it’s the second one that really matters.

And it’s that second one that I feel like I mostly missed out on.

Don’t get me wrong: I didn’t miss it for lack of desire or trying. I did go to several parties, including the Tor party, at which were a number of well-known writers, none of whom I actually spoke to because it was crowded and they were surrounded by many, many people.

But outside doing stuff with people I already knew? Outside that, I felt like an outsider. Now, once again, I must stress this: this is just me. This has nothing to do with the other people there, every single one of whom I talked to was unbelievably welcoming, warm, and friendly.

I think it’s Impostor Syndrome, which I’ve spoken about before. I’m using it here in a more literal sense. I felt like everyone else there deserved to be where they were, but I was a pretender. Especially in the SFWA suite, where, although I had a guest sticker, I felt like every single published author who came into the room took one look at me and thought, “Wannabe. What’s he doing in here?”

Silly, isn’t it? It literally could not be farther from the truth. Everyone I spoke to was, as I said, warm, friendly, and welcoming. Whatever feelings of inadequacy I had are entirely in my own head. But knowing this and believing it are . . . different things. :)

I have found that if other people approach me, I’m fine. If someone comes up to me and starts a conversation, I’m much more relaxed about it. It’s basically how I know almost everyone I know — because they initiated the contact, or we were thrown into a situation where contact was facilitated.

I want to get over this. I need to get over this. I would love to walk up to Jim Butcher or Kat Richardson or Ilona Andrews3 at a party and say, “Hi, I’m Gary Henderson, and I really love your books and I want to be you when I grow up,” (OK, maybe not that last part . . .) and have it continue beyond that without that awkward, “OK, now what do I say?” moment. Or to strike up a conversation with someone random and just get to know them.

In effect, I am an introvert desperately wishing he could be an extrovert and not knowing how to go about it. :) Is that even something you can change?

WorldCon was awesome. But it was also very frustrating. Not because of anyone else, but because of me. I felt like everyone else there made contacts and got to know people and had a better experience than I did. And I know it’s no one’s fault but mine, and that’s another layer of the frustration. (Frustration, it turns out, is like an onion. Who knew?)

So that’s pretty much why I haven’t talked about it, yet, in a nutshell (onions and now nuts; my frustration is tasty, at least). Because saying, “Yeah, it was great!” is both true and misleading. Saying, “I had a lot of fun!” is an honest answer and a white lie at the same time.

So I guess I have a personal goal for 2014, don’t I?

And all of that being said, I had the most fun of the con hanging out with the people I went with, playing Cards Against Humanity for several hours in the food court of the mall. Having dinner at the rotating Chart House Restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas. Having breakfast in an un-air-conditioned little hole-in-the-wall restaurant (The Oasis Café) a few blocks from the hotel. Or in the mall at the IHOP. Or at the horrendously overpriced hotel restaurant buffet. At the Hugos, clapping and cheering like mad when the winners were announced.

And that’s the unvarnished, unqualified truth.

And at Dragon*Con, I always have the most fun hanging out with people I know.

And when I got together with friends at the Romance Writers of America conference4 in Atlanta a couple of months ago, that was the whole point, as well.

Is there an extrovert pill? <goes looking> :)

  1. This is the point where a lot of people would make some snarky comment about the ha-ha unwashed stupid geeks who ha-ha are so socially inept, they don’t ha-ha know that they have to take showers! Well, to those people, I say, “Shove it.” Dragon*Con is no smellier than any other unbelievably hot, humid place in summer where 50,000+ people are packed like sardines. So get over it. I have never been offended even once by anyone’s body odor at Dragon*Con. I have, however, been deeply offended by the constant harping on it by people who don’t know any better. Yes, this hits a nerve, why do you ask?
  2. You may be getting the impression that I’m suggesting that the Writing Track is being hidden away in a sub-sub-sub basement in windowless rooms in purpose, like it’s some sort of afterthought. I would never imply such a thing. Never.
  3. Ilona Andrews is a husband-and-wife duo who write as one person, but I didn’t know how to convey that without a footnote, which, hey, look! :)
  4. Just to clarify, I did not attend the conference, but visited the venue for the purpose of reconnecting with some Viable Paradise friends. And there’s nothing wrong with attending the RWA conference; I’m just not a romance writer and would have felt very out of place, indeed.


Hello, Old Friend

The Orion constellation by mensatic at MorgueFile.com

Orion, The Hunter

Last night, I was driving home very late. I stayed late at work to finish up a project. Atlanta is pretty badly light-polluted, so the only “stars” you see in our sky are mostly aircraft lights as they approach or depart Hartsfield International Airport south of town. I work downtown, so to get home, I drive out of the heavily light-polluted area into the slightly darker suburbs northeast of the city.

There is one thing that tells me it’s autumn, whether the pecan trees agree or not: Orion. That’s him pictured at the top of this post. When he starts climbing higher into the sky, I know autumn is starting, and winter is soon to follow.

I live in a darker suburb, so as I pulled into my subdivision last night, I happened to look up, and I saw him, high in the sky, making his slow march up the celestial dome, followed by his faithful dog Sirius. And I couldn’t help it. I said, “Hello, old friend!” aloud to him as I turned. Seeing him in the sky means autumn is finally here. It cheered me up and gave me a smile even though it was after midnight and I was tired.

Orion is easily my favorite constellation, and not just because of his signature shape. Those three stars in his belt — Alnitak, Alnilam, and Mintaka — are one of the most recognizable patterns in the sky. And although they look like they’re close together, Alnitak is ~800 light years from Earth, Alnilam is ~1340 light years away, and Mintaka is ~915 light years away. Mintaka is actually a double star, although you can’t tell without a telescope.

His upper left shoulder is Betelgeuse, a red supergiant so gigantic, that if it were in our own solar system, it would engulf Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, the asteroids, and maybe graze Jupiter.

His lower right foot is Rigel, a trinary system consisting of a single blue-white supergiant star orbited by a much smaller blue-white binary system. The big primary is also a variable star, meaning that it pulsates over time.

Rigel and Betelgeuse are two of the ten brightest stars in our sky.

His upper right shoulder is Bellatrix, another blue-white giant star.

Of course, I can’t leave out the crowning glory of the Orion contellation: The Orion Nebula, one of the most stunning objects in the night sky, by telescope. To the naked eye, it’s a blurry spot below his belt, and makes up part of his sword. You can’t make out much; you keep wanting to just . . . force your eyes to focus. Google images of the Orion Nebula as seen by telescope. It’ll take your breath away.

But do you know what else autumn means? NaNoWriMo is just around the corner. And to it, too, I must say, “Hello, old friend!”

I haven’t given much thought to what I’m going to write, this year. I still have almost three weeks to make up my mind. That’s plenty of time.




There’s a Hole in the Bucket

Wikipedia logo. Used without permission.


I was listening to a podcast earlier today and it happened again.

Host: Do you have any online sources you’d recommend [for information about physics for writers of science fiction]?

Guest: Um . . . Not really. I can’t think of —

Host: Well, not Wikipedia, right? Whatever you do, don’t use Wikipedia! [laughs]

Guest: [laughs] Right.

Ha ha ha. He he. Ho ho.

There’s this meme out there in Internetland that is oddly persistent. That meme is that Wikipedia is the absolute, bottom of the barrel, worst place to go to research anything, because it’s always, always wrong. I’m sure you’ve heard it. You may even have perpetuated it.

“I got it from Wikipedia, so take this with a grain of salt, but . . .”

I’ve also heard celebrities being interviewed, and they’ll say things like, “You got that information from my page on Wikipedia didn’t you? It’s wrong. I have no idea where it came from.”

The thing about Wikipedia is this: it’s free. It’s editable by anyone.1

That’s both a good thing and, necessarily, a bad one. I can go on Wikipedia right now and change the facts on the page about the Hubble Space Telescope to indicate that it was built and launched by Serbia in 1573 by rogue centaurs intent on proving the moon is made of Camembert cheese. But that will be corrected almost immediately. And if I do something like that too often, I’ll attract the attention of the Powers That Be. <insert ominous chord here>

Apparently in contradiction to “popular belief,” Wikipedia has editors. A dedicated group of unpaid volunteers from around the world who police the site, watching for suspicious behavior, and taking action when needed. I know at least two of these people, and it’s no small undertaking.

But here’s where I’m headed with this entire rant: if you find something on Wikipedia that you can prove is wrong, fix it. That’s the entire point of the site. It’s meant to be a public domain encyclopedia maintained by the public. The idea being that all of us are smarter than any one of us.2

Now, should you go on there and just correct something without citing references? No. That’s a waste of time. Someone will notice your lack of citation and probably revert the page to its state before you edited it. Not out of malicious intent, but because without a citation, it’s your word against the word of everyone else who has ever edited that page.

I was listening to an NPR show called “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me” a few years back (November 4, 2006 to be exact) on which the “Not My Job” segment featured guest Jimmy Wales, who is the creator of Wikipedia. The producers of the show decided it would be funny to give him a quiz gleaned from some of the more trivial pages on Wikipedia. It’s a funny segment, and one I can highly recommend. That link up there will take you to that particular segment so you can listen to just it and not have to wade through the entire show if you don’t want to.

The funniest part to me, though, is when Wales himself says (at 8:25 in), “Wikipedia is really, really, really strong in the area of Japanese cartoon characters. And if you push that ‘Random’ button, I think about 33% of what you find in Wikipedia is Japanese cartoon characters.” The host, Peter Sagal, later quips (at 9:05 in), “You’re right, I kept pressing the ‘Random Entry’ button to find material for this, and, like, every other one was a Japanese video game.” [Note: the button is actually a link labeled ‘Random article.’]

All joking aside, here’s where I hope to set the record straight on something. While Wikipedia may indeed be unreliable on certain subjects, on academic subjects — for which there is much published reference material — it is no more or less inaccurate than Encyclopedia Britannica.

There have been a number of studies that have upheld this conclusion. Circular reference alert: This article on Wikipedia is about the accuracy of articles on Wikipedia. There are a number of caveats in the article and in the studies themselves, but the gist of it is this: Wikipedia is surprisingly (for most people) accurate on scientific or academic topics. You can probably safely use it as a starting reference.

I’ll finish with something I learned at Viable Paradise in 2012. Dr. Debra Doyle lectured about research and how to go about it. The thing that stuck with me is this: always try to find the original source for information. How does this relate to Wikipedia? At the bottom of well-written Wikipedia articles are links to sources that are cited. Use those as your starting point. Glean from the article what you want, and then focus in on the parts you need further clarification on. Go to the sources cited by Wikipedia. Then go to the sources cited by those sources. And so on. Eventually, you’ll end up at the bottom of the rabbit hole wondering where the last fourteen hours of your life went, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have a (weary) smile on your face for having found the information you needed.

And if you take nothing else away from this rather long-winded rant, make it this: If you find something incorrect on Wikipedia, fix it! That’s the entire purpose of the site.

  1. It is possible to get banned from Wikipedia for various offenses such as vandalism. For example, in May of 2009, IP addresses owned or operated by the Church of Scientology and its associates were banned from Wikipedia for relentlessly pushing its own agenda, including editing Scientology-related pages to remove anything they deemed inappropriate or that would reflect negatively on the church. Individual users may also be banned for similar offenses. Topics may also be locked down and set uneditable because of frequent vandalism.
  2. Even for very, very smart people like Steven Hawking or Albert Einstein. Do you think Hawking knows anything about bat physiology? Do you think Einstein knew anything about the behavioral patterns of Japanese snow monkeys (macaques)?


It’s Autumn. Probably.

Red and green berries and leaves

Red berries

We didn’t have what I’d call a “summer” here in Atlanta. “Summer,” here, means sweltering, muggy days of 95° to 105° F coupled with 90% humidity or higher. Walking outside is akin to taking a sauna in a kiln.

Birds pant. It’s not attractive.

This summer, the mercury barely peeked over 90°. Usually it was in the 80s. Temperatures in the evening were in the 70s or even in the 60s. It’s been oddly pleasant even while elsewhere in the country, summer with its heat and humidity reigned.

And now, autumn is either coming or it’s already here. I’m not 100% sure which it is, yet. I don’t have any pecan trees, so it’s hard to know for sure.

My maternal grandmother, LaVerne Branch — Nanny — always said that the pecan trees knew. They knew when it was really autumn, and it wasn’t autumn until they reddened and started losing leaves. And in the spring, it wasn’t really spring until they began to green.

So in the absence of any pecan trees (and I pronounce it ‘pe KAHN’ to rhyme with ‘begone’ and not ‘PEE can,’ in spite of every southern stereotype in the history of ever), I guess I’ll just have to be content to say, “It’s autumn. Probably.”

And in honor of the change of the seasons (probably), I give you this haiku, inspired by the image at the top of this post.

crystalline frost limns;
deadly poison concentrates.
crimson berries, ripe.

That being said, I have no idea if those berries pictured are poisonous. We were told to write a haiku inspired by the image. The first thing I thought was “pretty berries, but they’re probably poisonous.”

It hurt me to not capitalize, but read the ‘rules’ of the contest if you want to know why I didn’t. I’m not still <twitch> twitching, am I? <twitch> Good. I didn’t <twitch> think so.

Heh. It occurs to me that I could make this a science fiction haiku by making it venom instead of poison.

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