Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Locus Awards Weekend, 2007 

Again this year the presentation of the Locus Awards -- the winners of the annual Locus Poll -- was held in Seattle in conjunction with the Science Fiction Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Again this year the Locus Awards presentation took place at the official event hotel, the Courtyard Marriott on Lake Union (which isn't really a lake), about a mile from the SF Museum, and this year it was preceded by two panel discussions with various attending SF luminaries.

The first panel, "Thinking about Humanity", with Connie Willis, Gardner Dozois, and Nancy Kress, moderated by Eileen Gunn, addressed the question of what humanity might look like after the "singularity" -- or to what extent that question even made sense. Would post-singularity people even be recognizably 'human'? Dozois made the point that even if some people 'transcended', many others wouldn't; society would always be a stratified parfait, with homeless men lying in the streets somewhere. Willis had her doubts about the putative transformation of human nature, discussing social vs permanent components -- the way teenaged girls are judgmental these days not about sex lives, but about food -- they're always judgmental about something. Kress didn't think there would be any fundamental change, at least not for millions of years, and even if there was, it wouldn't be much use to writers, who have the problem of writing characters their readers can comprehend (if not always sympathize with). The discussion wandered slightly, to the way contemporary SF can be impenetrable to newcomers, constantly raising the bar, and what works better for young readers vs older readers. From the audience Greg Bear cited Apocalypto as the best presentation of a truly alien society to a general audience that he'd ever seen.

The second panel was the flipside of the first -- "Thinking About the World", with ubergeeks and singularity thinkers Vernor Vinge, Greg Bear, and Neal Stephenson, moderated by Charles N. Brown. Vinge recounted his cautious definition of 'singularity', and what he suspects to be a common belief among SF readers that in some sense people in the future will be better -- that maybe the future won't necessarily always entail Chinese farmers planting rice in muddy fields. Bear described how the theme wasn't new; Childhood's End was Arthur C. Clarke's singularity, broken off at the point where the author could say no more about the transformation of humanity. Stephenson spoke of reading German philosopher Edmund Husserl (if I heard him correctly) about the problems of consciousness; computers aren't the answer, Stephenson opined; they're merely faster. The discussion veered into the virtual realm; Brown noted how much people want to be watched these days, in an inversion to 1984; Vinge sensed a sea change about what young people are willing to give away; and Stephenson cited the guy on a government watch-list who's put his entire life on the web, as a defense. Most people don't have anything to lose, he said; for most, it's a net gain to put their personal stories out there for everyone to see.

Then came the Locus Awards banquet -- luncheon buffet, actually -- on Saturday at 1p.m. Again Connie Willis was Master of Ceremonies, providing a history of the Locus Awards, with props held up by assistant Amelia Beamer, with a long explanation of why the awards have become associated with Hawaiian shirts, followed by the traditional Hawaiian shirt contest, including the ritual humiliation of those in the audience who, despite instructions, neglected to wear proper garb. That portion included a pop quiz on current events, where the plainly clad attendees could redeem themselves by answering questions about Paris Hilton and movies and TV shows featuring Hawaiian shirts, for the chance to choose from a selection of Hawaiian consolation prize shirts from Denver-area Salvation Army shops and the like.

Then came the Hawaiian shirt contest itself, metered by audience applause through several elimination rounds. For this I was abruptly recruited for photography duty, and was too busy lining up shots to pay much attention to who actually won. But a good time was had by all.

Then came the Locus Awards themselves, a bit anticlimactic after all that, especially since -- a perpetual problem -- not very many of the actual winners were in attendance. Results are posted here. Of the fifteen categories, only three were accepted by their winners -- John Picacio (artist), Gardner Dozois (for anthology), and Vernor Vinge (for SF novel). Not that there weren't other luminaries in the audience, most notably Gene Wolfe, a Hall of Fame inductee later that day, who stood up to accept Neil Gaiman's two awards, for short story and collection. David G. Hartwell, Jim Frenkel, Eileen Gunn, L. Timmel Duchamp, Charles N. Brown, Amelia Beamer, and Carol Stevermer got up to read acceptance speeches from the other winners. An emergent theme of the awards was the idea of accepting via an 'interpretive dance', suggested by one or two of the (non-present) winners. Jim Frenkel made a valiant gesture in that direction, but it was Amelia Beamer who showed more enthusiasm for the idea, not just once but two or three times. Surely such dances, along with Hawaiian shirts, will become a Locus Awards tradition.

Among acceptors of publisher's scrolls -- the Locus Awards are unique in explicitly honoring publishers of winning works -- was Rome Quezada, newly appointed editor of the Science Fiction Book Club, making his first appearance at an SF event, assuring the audience that original titles, like Dozois' One Million A.D., which published Charles Stross' winning novella, would continue.

Later that day was the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the SF Museum, staged very similarly to last year's event, with a dessert buffet (albeit a smaller one than last year), and a program that included guest star presenters of each award together with film collage tributes to each inductee's lifework. Neal Stephenson was the droll Master of Ceremonies, noting the absence of Museum curator Therese Littleton due to illness. John Picacio expertly introduced the film tribute to artist inductee Ed Emshwiller, with Eileen Gunn accepting on the family's behalf. Next Generation actor Will Wheaton (see footnote*) introduced inductee Gene Roddenberry, presenting the ensign bars Roddenberry had given him on the set many years before to acceptor Eugene Roddenberry, Jr., on stage. Warren Etheredge introduced inductee Ridley Scott -- who, though still alive, was unable to attend -- noting the feat of achieving Hall of Fame status on the basis of just two films. And David G. Hartwell introduced Gene Wolfe -- inadvertantly repeating some the remarks captured by the film intro, a distillation of two hours' filming. Wolfe, the one inductee in attendance, exclaimed how so many other people seemed to know this Gene Wolfe better than he himself did, he had little to say, other than he was shaken to the core.

And the ceremony was finished early!

I'll have more later about other events of the weekend and my own recent travels.

*Footnote: Taking a shuttle van from the hotel to the SF Museum for the ceremonies that evening, my partner and I were joined by a polite 30ish young man who apologized when one of us moved to the rear, third seat so he could climb in after us into the second row. As we alighted at the museum, I noticed a couple of fans stopping him to ask for autographs--but it still didn't register. It wasn't until we were settling at our tables before the ceremony, and someone said there's Will Wheaton, whom until then I hadn't even realized was on the program, and my partner said that's him, him in the van, that I realized -- oh, why so it is. I hadn't recognized him. It's been 12 years since I last saw him, on TV, and we're both that much older...
Urgh. I don't know which comment to interpret - Rome Quezada says the original SFBC short fiction books will continue, but he's also never been to a con before?

Talk about mixed emotions...

- John
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Mark R. Kelly

The opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of Mark R. Kelly, and do not reflect the editorial position of Locus Magazine.
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