Thursday, November 01, 2007

WFC, Saratoga Springs, Day 1 

OK, so the hotel isn't so bad; I was irritated the other night with the check-in confusion and the wifi difficulties. Still, the hotel emphasizes chic over practicality and usability; the designers must never have read Donald Norman... I could belabor examples, but I'll spare you.

This year's World Fantasy Con is sold out -- for the first time I can remember, attending these cons almost every year for the past decade, there are no memberships available at the door. They filled up with 1140 some memberships and stopped selling new ones a month or so ago; I myself only got in by the skin of my teeth (though I'd reserved a room at the main hotel back in March, somehow I hadn't finalized my membership) and the kindness of the con committee, and even so was unable to buy a banquet ticket -- it too is sold out. It's understandable why this has happened -- the World SF Con was in Japan, so that many professionals and fans skipped that expense and came here instead; and the proximity to New York City allowed many publishers and editors to take the train to Saratoga Springs, who otherwise might not attend a WFC.

So-- the hotel/conference center is pleasant enough, the function rooms and art show and dealers' room all in close proximity. The conference center is at the end of the town's main street, Broadway, which is lined with shops and restaurants and business offices, along wide sidewalks, the whole ambiance an iconic small East Coast city downtown, brick buildings on a tree-lined street, with hardly any chain stores or restaurants -- the glaring exception being a Borders Bookstore about 3 blocks down.

The hotel/conference center has a 4-star restaurant, Chez Sophie, which looks very good but is pricey, not the place to drop in for a casual lunch or dinner. I had a $20 breakfast there yesterday. Unfortunately, there isn't anywhere else in the center to buy food or drink, not even a Starbucks stand, though the convention's Con Suite has reportedly set up food for con members. Stepping out onto Broadway, however, there are several restaurants and coffee shops within a short block or two; I found a Starbucks clone this morning for coffee, OJ, and blueberry muffin ($6), though the closest place for off-site coffee appears to be the gas station across the street...

The convention program got underway this afternoon at 3, with readings. I attended a panel at 4 about "collectable ephemera" with Greg Ketter, Irene Harrison, Bob Brown, and Rebekah Brown. They talked about the stuff that heirs are apt to overlook -- stuff in drawers; postcards, letters, posters. By definition, ephemera refers to the stuff most likely to be thrown away -- so their dictum was, whatever it is you're most likely to discard is exactly the stuff most likely to become valuable. They gave copious examples -- including one concerning TV Guides and eBay that made me take special note.

After that I hooked up with Beth Gwinn for dinner; she snagged Joe and Gay Haldeman, who were just checking in and who had no other dinner plans, and so the four of us walked across the street to Forno Bistro, a Tuscan Italian restaurant with excellent pasta and pizza and wine, where we talked about travling in Italy and teaching MIT students how to write.

At 8 p.m. was the official Opening Ceremony, with Master of Ceremonies Guy Gavriel Kay introducing the convention's Guests of Honor -- Carol Emshwiller, Kim Newman, Lisa Tuttle, Jean Giraud/Mobius, plus various special guests and con committee members -- while 50 or so audience members stood (no chairs) watching. An ice-cream social was staged out in the concourse, with long lines.

After that I checked in on "The Evolution of a Drawing", in which Shaun Tan, Bob Eggleton, and Donato Giancola stood in front creating original sketches while the audience watched; the artists commented on their techniques as audience members asked questions. Bob drew a dragon, Donato an elegant lady, Shaun an imaginary marsupial holding a one-eyed pup.

At 9 p.m. the next room over staged the announcement of the International Horror Guild Awards, hosted by Paula Guran and Master of Ceremonied by John Picacio, whose efficient style was somewhat undermined by a long acceptance letter from Glen Hirshberg (read by Barbara Roden) and a long, extemporaneous acceptance speech by Ramsey Campbell, which ranged from his visit to the Borders down the street where he asked if they had any books by Ramsey Campbell ("is he an author?" was the response) to his dramatic recitation of the opening of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart", a formative reading experience of his childhood.

And then there were parties, especially the Australia-hosted party in the Con Suite, with copious bottles of wine, but which was so crowded and over-heated it could not be long endured.

More tomorrow.
Who are the Guest of Honor? how are they choosen?
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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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