Monday, September 13, 2010

The Scar started

The ScarI've begun reading The Scar by China Miéville. Since I've begun working on this reading list, I've been checking out online reading clubs and sites that cover science fiction more often (especially Sword and Laser and io9), and China Miéville's name keeps coming up. So coming off of my Dragon*Con related novel hiatus, it seemed appropriate that I check out this author and see what has generated all this attention.

The Scar is about sea monsters and pirates, two subjects where you have to be quite a screw-up to go wrong. So although I'm so early in the novel that even the back cover description contains spoilers, I am hopeful about the content.

What has me even more excited, however, is the bit of research I've done on Miéville. First of all, he's only 9 months older than me. The guy is closer to my age than any other novelist I've ever read, and I'm excited about reading some sci fi from my own generation.

I want those earrings.
Secondly, he looks really cool.

That's not something that normally interests me in an author. But then, how often do authors look cool? OK, yes, I do understand that Neil Gaiman possesses a cool factor of his own, but in an elder, writer as rockstar way. But please, name some other author that looks cool (seriously, do it. I will post pictures, and we'll talk it over). Even the coolest ones won't pull off the look that Miéville has, a little punk, a little like a tough guy. But you know, a cool tough guy. The older guy at every punk show, who tells you to stick by him because there won't be any moshing where he is. And you do, because you're quite certain that he's right.

So, all of that is a whole bunch of cult of personality, which doesn't normally influence the way I read a novel. Time will tell how I feel about the story. I'll let you know all about it when I'm done.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dragon*Con Part 2: The good, the bad, and what I learned.

Things that were awesome this year:

The Dragon*Con 2010 shirt -
surprisingly cool!
The shirt. Isn't a shirt the most obvious souvenir to purchase at any event? And yet I've never bought a Dragon*Con shirt in the past.
That's because they are always lame.
Seriously. Mostly they feature Boris Vallejo-like fantasy art. It's a style that definitely has fans, but it only represents a small segment of the many things that Dragon*Con is about. Then there's the annual Dragon*Con tie-dye, which is always a print of a dragon on a lightning-pattern tie-dye. Yawn. The yearly lame t-shirts are made worse by the fact that every year, they have a wide variety of artistic talent present in the multitudes of comic book and pop artists that attend, with diverse styles that span well beyond western fantasy dragons and babes with large breast plates. Ted Naifeh, David Mack, Brandt Peters, Kathie Olivas, Doktor A - the talent is immense, and diverse, and of course it's always nice to have a t-shirt design contributed by an artist in attendance in order to win them some recognition. My dissatisfaction with the shirts runs even deeper because the organizers of Dragon*Con put together a short-lived convention called Atlanta Comics Expo, and one of the shirts in their 2-year run was an incredible design by Tara McPherson - which of course, was sold out in my size by the time I got there (I was actually told later that it was out in my size almost before the con began, because of the number of volunteers who grabbed up the shirt before the con was officially open).
McPherson print used for ACE shirt
just to get our hopes up
The Tara McPherson shirt at ACE made one thing clear - Dragon*Con could make a cool shirt. They just chose not to, which made the hideousness of their shirts all the more painful.
So imagine my surprise when this year, the Dragon*Con shirt was an awesome design by one of the pop-artists in attendance, Derek Yaniger! They also had an adorable kid's t-shirt illustrated by artist Bobby Chiu, which was also the badge image.
As a result, I bought my first ever Dragon*Con t-shirt. Please keep up the good work.

The parade. The parade is always a highlight that I never miss, and it was larger than ever. I think it's the most visible thing Dragon*Con does to show good-will to the city. On Sunday while I was walking outside between hotels, a local stopped me for a photo (my large steampunk blunderbuss made from a dillapidated trombone drew lots of photographic attention) and asked "when is the parade?" When I told her it was on Saturday, she was genuinely disappointed that she'd missed it. It just goes to show what the face of the con is, and how spectacular the parade really is.

The blood drive. This is the less visible show of good-will, but Dragon*Con has an enormously successful blood drive. At one point I heard one of the organizers say that the 2009 Dragon*Con blood drive collected more blood than any other non-emergency related drive. I don't have the numbers on the 2010 drive, but it is really amazing the amount of support the drive gets. It's certainly meaningful to me because I've had to receive blood before.

Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. There's this thing Dragon*Con does called Dragon*Con TV. While you are waiting on panels, it shows on the screens in the room, broadcasting very popular panels, coverage of the parade, the masquerade, and etc. It also shows on the hotel information channels in the hotel room, which is nice when you are getting ready for an event and want to see a panel that you missed.
In between con footage, it shows amusing videos that were made for the con. They are amusing, but feature amateur actors (usually the same ones over and over) and can get a little old with repetition.
Until this year, when they introduced Bob and Carl, Sci Fi Janitors. Apparently you can never go wrong with hand-puppets. Bob and Carl were an instant hit, and people broke out in applause whenever one of their videos showed up on screen.
Yes please. More of this.
Click here to see what Bob and Carl have to say about Transformers.

Nice people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone has had too few hours of sleep. Everyone is either drunk or dealing with drunk people. It's really easy to get into a foul mood.
So the presence of people who are nice is always a fantastic thing. At times even surprising, when you're in a crowded elevator with a loud surley man in the back who seems like he's going to spend the entire elevator ride annoying everyone. When we stopped on a floor with a man in a wheel chair trying to get down, loud surly man ordered some people in the front "ok, you have got to get off. This guy can't take the stairs down. Get off now and let him on, and walk down." He was loud and surly, so no one argued. Folks got off, the man in the wheel chair got on. Nice.
Or the hotel employee in the Hyatt who kept manning one of the elevators. He would ride it up and down all night, directing traffic, preventing shoving when people were drunk and inclined to shove, demanding that everyone make way for handicapped persons, skipping straight to floors that people riding actually needed when the elevator was full (instead of stopping at every floor where someone had pushed the "up" button, which was every floor), and promising people who protested when he cut off the number of people allowed in the elevator "I'll be back for you."
Or the cool people we saved seats for in the food court. Turns out that one of them worked for In thanks for us saving their seats so they could all go get dinner (instead of the usual way of saving seats in the food court, where one of your group saves the seats while the rest get food, meaning that the person who saved the seats will be the last to finish eating), she gave us some free ThinkGeek flashlights. Win!

Things that sucked this year:
Registration. Worst. One. Ever. It went entirely too slowly. The people working it were really, really awful at it. When my two hour wait was over and I finally got some face time with one of the volunteers working registration, what is the first thing she did? Leave me to go talk to someone else working registration. They were talking about getting a badge for another volunteer - why? Why would they handle that here, with general registration? Why aren't all the volunteers fixed up before registration opens? Why are you wasting my time? Then they just sort of chatted with each other. I used this time to flip through the book where I have to sign to show that I got my badge, which is basically identical to the book she has to flip through to get the sticker for my badge. I can tell you from handling that part myself that the layout of the book is completely stupid, with the relevant information (last names, to be specific) printed in the tiniest text possible.
Even with the bad layout, all she had to do was take my pre-reg postcard from me, look at my ID, get me to sign the book, slap my sticker on a badge, and hand it to me. Now, this is way too many steps, and a really stupid way of handling such a massive registration in the modern age. But still, it should have taken 3 minutes at most. Instead, I probably spent 15 minutes just standing there waiting on her to return her attention to me and get it together. Incompetence played a very large role in this equation.
According to Dragon*Con, they were trying something new this year that clearly didn't work - which is funny because it looks just like last year's registration, only slower for reasons that were unclear. They claim that they will try barcode scanners next year, which come closer to the way things need to be - instead of going to a line that covers the first letter of your last name (as well as 3 other letters - no letter gets higher preference, no matter how many names are covered by that line), you will just give them your card, they will scan a barcode on it, and the appropriate label will print, so you can be helped anywhere. It should be faster.
I propose that they also start using paid staff only in registration instead of volunteers. If this is simply not possible, they should at least use experienced and reliable volunteers. Everyone is excited to be at the con, we understand, but that's no reason for you to run around chatting instead of getting all these people through the line.

The 501st -
definitely not bank
Rowdiness. Things were unusually wild this year. On Friday night one of the elevators in the Hyatt stopped working. I heard lots of rumors regarding why, but they all involved a con-goer damaging the elevator. The Hyatt elevators also had little monitors in them that ran advertisements - one of these was stolen from an elevator early in the con. Attendees broke into the Comic Artists' Alley one night and stole a lot of merchandise (this one really pisses me off, too - comic book artists are not the wealthiest people in the world, which makes stealing directly from them extra low). And in the worst example of rowdy behavior of all, someone in the Hyatt broke out his hotel room window, which fell to the ground outside and smashed a friend of mine in the face. He was lucky - he just suffered a little tenderness on the bridge of his nose. The guy next to him was not so lucky, and got cut up by it. Rumors abound on this incedent too, but apparently the guy who broke the window claims that he "accidentally fell against it" (um, yeah right). Sounds to me like he just needed a fast excuse to avoid spending the night in an Atlanta prison.
Rowdiness was so abundant at the con that I even heard a rumor that guys dressed like Stormtroopers robbed a bank on the first day of the con, placing a bag that they claimed was a bomb in the middle of the lobby, which was actually full of cogs. I googled all the obvious keywords, and it seems this one was just a rumor - obviously a Stormtrooper bank robbery would have made the news, just like that Darth Vader bank robbery about a month ago. Still, it speaks to the general rowdiness of the con this year that people were very willing to believe that something this crazy would happen.
In this situation, it seems to me like Dragon*Con simply needs more security. I won't criticize the effectiveness of the security they have, because I'm sure they do the best they can in a fairly thankless job. If they aren't on the paid staff, however, they should be. Considering the hotel damage, Dragon*Con should really consider having security calm down rowdiness in all public hotel areas, including the elevators, just to make sure they don't create so much bad will that the hotels refuse to host the con. Obviously security can't be in the rooms stopping crazy guys from breaking windows, but there are a lot of places where they can make things better.

Mean people. It's crowded. It's smelly. Everyone is drunk, or sleep-deprived, or malnourished, or all three. Would it kill you to be nice?
My biggest complaint here is jerks who crowd handicapped people out of the elevators. I genuinely hope the people who do this are in a wheelchair one day. It could happen to anyone, and some people deserve that kind of justice.
Second runner up - while riding the meanest elevator we were on during the entire convention, we stopped on a floor where people begged us to let one more person on so he could go up to his room and get medicine that he needed. The elevator was crowded out to full capacity - one more person and the doors wouldn't be able to shut. After the drunk bitch at the front of the elevator told them no, Superman (yes really, a guy dressed like Superman) got off and told them to send their friend up. The guy did not get on, however. Instead, he and his friends stood outside of the elevator, arguing with the dumb bitch who told them no. They felt like this was the right time to fully explain his entire medical situation in an attempt to make her feel guilty (by the way, have you ever tried to make a drunk bitch feel guilty? It never works). From the middle of the elevator, I shouted "just get on!" They did not. Superman was so offended by them that he got back on, and we took off without them.
Moral: shut the hell up and get on the elevator when Superman gives you his spot. You lose the moral high ground rapidly when you try to hold us all hostage with guilt and whining. Not to mention, your spot on the elevator.

Something else that makes the elevators
miserable? Um, us. And our giant
Elevators. Have you noticed how many times elevators come up in the list of things that sucked? They are a gigantic hassle. They also seem to be the site of most of the rowdiness and mean behavior. There was the Hyatt employee mentioned in the Nice People section above who rode one of the elevators and forced everyone to play nice. It's really too bad that there couldn't have been more guys doing what he was doing. The elevator problem is worse because it's basically unsolvable - there are only so many of them, and during busy times they can't handle all the needs of the guests fast enough.

Lessons learned:
The Masquerade. Not worth it. It was fun, and people really liked our Katamari Damacy costumes, but it takes up so much time.

You can only stand so many cold sandwiches. We always bring food, drinks, chips, and snacks to the con to save a little money. This year we brought about half the bread, cheese, and snacks back with us (apparently we got just the right amount of sandwich meat, though, because it was gone). It's a nice idea, but everyone seems to wear out on sandwiches much faster than they think they will. Hauling some of it back home is kind of a pain, so next year we will bring much less.

So that wraps up my 2-part review of Dragon*Con. Even with the bad things that happened, I bought my pre-registration on site this year and am already thinking about costumes for 2011. Even at it's worse, Dragon*Con is still Mardi Gras meets Halloween, and if you can't find a reason to love that, there is something seriously wrong with you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dragon*Con Part 1: Where I've been and what happened there.

Samantha from The Gypsy Nomads
Thursday: Arrived at the con very early so that we can take advantage of the early registration. We headed over to the Sheraton for registration immediately after getting checked in to our hotel room. When we got there, the line was not so terrible - we were inside the registration room and halfway down the zig-zagged line right away. Yay!
Two hours later, I was registered. Two and a half hours later, Amanda was registered, because the first letter of her last name is too popular. Registration took longer this year than it did last, even though we started off registration far ahead of where we started last year. The way registration is laid out is partly to blame, but the slowness seemed to be largely the fault of the volunteers working registration being chatty and slow, and somewhat incompetent.
We had an adjoined room at the hotel with 7 people total in our party - of those, the 4 who arrived at the con latest spent about 4 hours in registration. It was the worst year for registration so far.
We meet up with Jason, one of my friends from the steampunk message boards, which we've been looking forward to. I'm pleased to learn that he is just as friendly in person as I thought he would be.
That evening, there were a few shows scheduled, and I realized that the Gypsy Nomads were playing. Of the bands that I checked out prior to the con, this was the only one I was interested in seeing. I was not disappointed.

My sketch from Ted Naifeh
Friday: Got up early because I was determined this year to costume on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Got my shower and put on the best of my steampunk outfits, and headed out to see the True Blood panel. It was fantastic. I especially loved Nelsan Ellis who plays Lafayette on the show, who has turned a character that is apparently the lamest of gay stereotypes in the books into a fascinating character on the show. Turns out that he's from Bessemer, Alabama and graduated from Jess Lanier high school. My school's football team used to play them! I wonder what year he graduated? Kristin Bauer who plays Pam is actually a really sweet lady; Sam Trammell dresses exactly the same as Sam Merlotte which is a little weird. Apparently he is playing himself on the show, although constantly being nude seems to be less a part of his real life.
After the panel we register for the masquerade, and I have to wait for the comic artist's alley to open. Amanda and I spend some time walking around and checking out costumes. It finally opens, and I go right away to buy one of the limited edition laser etched yo-yos that Doktor A is selling. Doktor A loves Amanda's steampunk outfit, and she is thrilled! I also request my sketch from Ted Naifeh, because it's always good to ask early in the con. My request: steampunk, female. No further directions. Ted Naifeh loves my steampunk outfit, and I am thrilled!
Amanda and I then go get in line for the Quantum Leap panel, with Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell. It is packed out, which is kind of nice considering that the show was quite a long time ago. Scott Bakula has some seriously excited fans, who have a banner that says "Oh Boy!" and a number of other props that I don't fully understand, including a cut out of Bakula with Christmas tree lights in the eyes. At any rate, they are pretty entertaining on their own, which is good because the panel is sort of sleepy and low key. Bakula seems nice, Stockwell is not that talkative and is really showing his age, although he's quick with the jokes at Bakula's expense a few times, in a good-natured, buddy kind of way.
I go back to get my sketch from Ted Naifeh. It is amazing, easily the best sketch I've ever gotten at a convention. He says he wished he asked me more about what kind of character I'd like before he sketched it out; I tell him that I wanted him to come up with an interpretation all his own, and I'm glad I did. We chat a bit about steampunk and as usual, Ted and Kelly Crumrin (who is always there with him) are delightful to chat with.
Friday night we think about attending one of the events, but end up just hanging out, moving between the hotels and socializing.

Carey and Amanda with the Airbender group
Saturday: Up early again. Amanda and Carey get ready for the parade, and I get to sleep in just slightly longer than them. Pretty soon after they leave to be in the parade, I leave to watch the parade. The weather was amazing - cool, a bit breezy, but perfect for standing around in the streets of Atlanta. The parade turns out to be huge. In addition to the amazing costumes, there are a few floats including a pirate ship, and a Netherworld float with a giant creature that moves. There are also a few bands. Nice. It's becoming a lot more like a major parade every year. Maybe next year the steampunks will work out a float shaped like a dirigible or an air-kraken or something.
After the parade I go back up to the room and put on my steampunk gear, and spend a little time seeing the rest of the Comic Artist's Alley. When Amanda is done getting her picture taken with her parade group, we meet up for lunch, then she goes back to the room to shower while I continue to run around the Arist's Alley. Then I get in line for the Adam Savage autograph session and Amanda eventually joins me. Things get a bit tense when the line moves just minutes after she leaves the line to meet friends who are supposed to be just outside of the line area (they are not). She gets back inside, though, and we both make it up to see Adam Savage. He is really friendly and takes a few pictures of some of the more technical costumes. Sweet!
Afterwards we do some shopping, and buy Dragon*Con shirts. The design is awesome this year. Then we go catch the Gypsy Nomads at their Concourse show (this is a 30 minute show in the open area of the Hyatt). They are awesome again. We go back to the room to eat and hang with friends for a while, and both realize we are much more tired than usual at Dragon*Con this year. Too many early mornings, I guess. We eventually decide to go out and get some tea at the coffee shop in the Hyatt, and end up going to the food court between the hotels to watch people walk by while we drink tea. Considering the rest of our group is drinking alcohol and hanging out in the very crowded Marriott, we come off as the old ladies of the group. Oh well. We eventually do get over to the Marriott, but only stay about an hour and then go back to the room. Soon after returning we learn that Carey has lost her badge in the Marriott. Amanda makes calls in the hotel to see where a lost badge would be picked up. I start texting Chris to check the price of replacement badges on his iPhone, and also campaign him and Madie to contribute a bit of money to help Carey out if she can't afford to replace the badge. She doesn't, and her badge is never turned in to the lost and found. Sad.

Sunday: I finally sleep in a little bit. Amanda and I do some more shopping, and then head over to the Steampunk Makers' Exhibition where people are displaying various cool steampunk items they have created. I see a number of the Alabama steampunks there, which is awesome. My online friend Jason is one of them, and he has a nice assortment of items on exhibition. We take lots of photos. We also learn that someone broke out a window in the Hilton, and the glass falling out bashed him in the face. He's a bit bruised but otherwise ok. A guy standing near him was not so lucky, and got pretty well cut up. We discuss how the con is oddly rowdy this year. After an hour at the Exhibition we head back to get ready for the Masquerade.
Steampunk Makers' Exhibition
The Masquerade is somewhat well organized. We start off with too many people in a small space, but they do get us sorted out into groups eventually and get us into a larger room where we can sit and rest. Den mothers take us on runs to and from the restroom, and bring us water. We finally get our moment on stage in our Katamari Damacy costumes. I am the first one out, and people cheer. I'm so happy! Madie is the last out, pushing the Katamari ball, and people really go wild when they see we have The Prop. We take turns pushing it around the stage. My mask turns sideways and I can't do much about it until I'm done with the ball. Later on when we're watching the Masquerade on Dragon*Con TV in the room, Chris says "I wondered what was up with that. I thought maybe you were just trying to maintain eye-contact with the audience". It does sort of have that effect - I'm glad it played well. Also glad we didn't fall off the stage. It's over quick, and then we can go backstage and relax. I find myself glad that I loaded up my bag with Rice Crispy Treats before the Masquerade. The Masquerade seriously needs to start providing a deli tray or something - it was a really long time to spend sitting around in costume, waiting. The den mothers are awesome and continue to bring water, and come around with a few Oreos as well. We wait. We watch the bands that will be playing later set up on a stage behind the Masquerade stage. We watch the Masquerade on a screen. We watch Rogue from the Cruxshadows chew and watch the same screen. It's a bit dull.
We don't win anything at the Masquerade, which I sort of expected. Amanda, Carey, and I decide to stick around for the photo session after the Masquerade. They put us out first because our giant inflatable ball is in the way. As soon as we get on the little stage for pictures, someone yells "you guys are my very favorite!" and I really don't care that we didn't win. Someone else yells out "why weren't you in the parade this year?" It's fantastic. I don't want to do the Masquerade again, but I'm glad that the costumes made people happy.
We go back to the room and have sandwiches, and everyone but me and Amanda go to the Cruxshadows show. We load up all the stuff we can do without for one day and get a bellhop to take us down to the car. It seems so strange that it's already Sunday night. We are up so late loading that we get back from the car right after everyone else has come in from the Cruxshadows. They had a good time - Madie, Lauren and Amanda danced on stage. Carey and Chris stuck together and put a stop to any attempts at moshing.

We sleep as late as we possibly can on Monday, check out, load up the car, and do some last minute shopping. We pre-register for next year, and overhear a con employee telling someone that registration should be better next year as they are looking to revamp it. Fingers crossed. We eat lunch, check out the art show a little just before it closes, and then hit the road back home. Hard to believe it's already over.

Favorite costume I didn't get a photo of at the Con: Possessed Terry and Arlene from True Blood. Two people who just sort of look like Terry and Arlene put on black-out contacts and hit the floor. Simple, brilliant, effective. Gone too fast for me to photograph.

Nerdiest comment of the Con: The guy who told me that Braveheart was too historically inaccurate for him to tolerate. Not because William Wallace was not actually from the highlands. Not because that funny part where the Irish join the Scottish against the British was completely made-up. No, he can't tolerate it because back in that time period, no one would have had a mouth full of healthy white teeth. The few teeth any of these men would have had left in their head would be filthy and disgusting. All of us geeks have the details we like to quibble over, some little deviance from the source material that gnaws at us and prevents us from just relaxing and enjoying the show. This is the first time I've met someone who can't understand why the movie-going audience might be a bit distracted by ugly mouths during a heroic epic.
We did, however, both agree that Christian Bale would totally rot his teeth out if the role called for it. He's way more dedicated to his art than Mel Gibson.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Amber Spyglass finished; Scott Pilgrim and the road to DragonCon

I've been putting off this review because I'm getting ready for DragonCon, which basically means that I'm spending the entire month of August being anti-social while working on costumes. If it makes you, the people I might normally be socializing with, feel better, I am also neglecting house cleaning and am not getting involved in any books on the list right now.

So. The Amber Spyglass was the longest book in the His Dark Materials trilogy. It also felt the slowest to me. Perhaps this is because I was beginning to feel the push towards DragonCon, and my mind was elsewhere, but it seemed as if it wasn't doing anything all that extraordinary by comparison. There were a number of characters, and even creatures, added that seemed shoe-horned in just to provide a plot device. The exception to this was the new race that is seen, the mulefa, which exist in a separate world from any of the worlds that have been traveled so far. The mulefa provide some perspective because they are the only race that know of Dust without the aid of science. They are also extremely strange looking, which at first seemed kind of pointless to me, but does serve to make the point that intelligent creatures are all "people" - that creatures found in another world, no matter how strange they appear, have a quality that open-minded humans would recognize and be able to feel empathy for. This, of course, is the quality of creatures that attract Dust.

Overall, the trilogy is very good, even if the final book slows down a bit. I love the final moral of the story - seeking knowledge is good, suppressing knowledge is the greatest evil.
Until after DragonCon, I am reading the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels. Comic books are always good fillers when I have other things going on, because I can read them in those little moments when I would otherwise be holding still with nothing to do. I saw the movie and loved it, and am enjoying the graphic novels very much. In this case I'm also following a friend's rule: whenever you have a choice, see the movie before reading the book. This way, you will be more likely to enjoy them both. It worked for her and The Watchmen.