I spent five days in Chicago at the World Science Fiction Convention this past weekend. I'm not much of a con-goer, even though I've had an interest in science fiction, fantasy, and horror all my life. I get bored at cons. I don't drink, so the room parties don't appeal to me, really, and while I like talking shop with writers and artists, I find that I can do that with less awkwardness on the internet these days. From all this, you might assume that I had a bad time, but I didn't. I had the opportunity to meet some people in meatspace with whom I've had long internet correspondences, and meeting people in meatspace is a rare pleasure. You get more of a person's overall presence when you share air and space and elevators with them.
There was also the vendor's area, a cavernous hall at this convention located somewhere beneath the convention center (a significant portion of Chicago appears to be underground, by the way, and I half expected to run into the mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes at any time). Various booksellers tormented me with collectible books. I've never seen so many $300 and up books in one place in my life. I'm poor right now, but if I had money to spend, I would have spent it. Probably for the best.
I had a good time, too, at the ceremony where the Hugo Awards were presented. I was a Hugo voter this year, and I was pleased to see that my own tastes aren't totally out of step with the rest of the world. Of the four main literary awards, I picked three of the winners, with my second place pick in the novella category taking the fourth. I was especially happy with the diversity of the winners. Genre fiction has well and truly broken the rule of straight cis white dudes. At the risk of indulging in identity politics, the fact that there's a trans woman with a literary Hugo award right now makes me squee a little inside. The fact that this level of diversity was acknowledged in the opening remarks by the event's emcee, writer John Scalzi, was flabbergasting in itself. I'm much more predisposed to loving science fiction fans this week than I was last.
I did less well in the drama categories. The short form winner was "The Doctor's Wife" episode of Doctor Who. I like that episode, but I liked "The Girl Who Waited" better and voted that way. It was a foregone conclusion that "The Doctor's Wife" would win because it had the added benefit of Neil Gaiman's personality cult, but that's probably just me being grumpy (Neil was there to accept, and he was characteristically charming). The long form category was also foregone, going to HBO's Game of Thrones. I had a hard time with this category because the movie I would have selected, Martin Scorsese's Hugo (serendipitous title, don't you think?), doesn't really seem like science fiction to me, nor fantasy of any sort. It has the veneer of a fantasy, but it doesn't have the pedigree. So I voted for Source Code instead. I like Game of Thrones, but it doesn't need my help to become a cult favorite.
My favorite part of the weekend was stumbling across a selection of illustrations by Richard Powers in the art show. Powers was one of the main artists who yanked pulp illustration into a twentieth century idiom. His work emphasizes design and abstraction. There was also a large piece by the late Jeffery Catherine Jones, whose work I adore. (Remember what I said about the rule of cis white dudes? CJ Jones is another chink in the levee).
Also, there was a film festival associated with Worldcon. I spent some time in the film room watching mostly short films. My experience screening for film festivals had me expecting to cringe at fan-made films, but the films I saw were surprisingly good. The march of technology has lowered the barriers to making films and there are good filmmakers out there laboring outside the studio system. I didn't see as many as I would have liked, but here's what I did see:
The Summer of the Zombies (2011, directed by Eddie Beasley and Ashleigh Nichols), which is a variant of the Shaun of the Dead formula, including the same kind of punning title. Our heroine, Summer, is bitten by a zombie at the outset and predictably becomes a zombie herself. Summer is a hardcore vegan, and she takes that into her, um, unlife as a zombie. The other zombies all mock her and offer her entrails. Can she find true love? This might be an obnoxious premise in a long form film, but at eleven minutes, it works perfectly. It is a bit sunlit, though that's not unusual in zombie films, and it does indulge in some Rob Zobmie-ish redneck humor at the end, but nothing crippling.
Worm (2010, directed by Richard Powell) was a good deal less funny, chronicling as it does the thoughts of a teacher on the verge of a shooting rampage. This is a plunge into the mind of a psychopath and it's bracing. It's protagonist is one Geoffrey Oswald Dodd, an English teacher who is filled with revulsion by just about everyone around him. He perceives everything his students and co-workers say to him as a kind of microagression. Eventually, he doesn't want to take it anymore. Not a pleasant film, but expertly made. It gets under your skin.
Abiogenesis (2011, directed by Richard Mans) is a short animated film chronicling a new arrival on a desolate planet. The visitor is a probe ship apparently programmed to create life where none exists. This film is five minutes long and it presents a much more compelling vision of the idea of panspermia than Ridley Scott's Prometheus did in two hours. Go figure.
The Ark (2007, directed by Grzegorz Jonkajtys), another animated film, this time following a survivor of an apocalyptic plague, holed up with other survivors on a vast ship that searches for a land untouched by the virus. This has an agreeable grottiness to it, but the game it plays with reality at the end seems a bit unearned to me. Still, it's visually arresting.
The 3rd Letter (2010, directed by Grzegorz Jonkajtys), which follows the travails of a divorced drone in a future society who goes to horrific lengths to renew the battery that keeps his heart beating. Like "The Ark", this has a grotty view of the future, though this is a live action film. It's a bit grislier, as well, which appeals to my black little heart.
Legacy (20?? directed by Grzegorz Jonkajtys), a very short elegy for the self-destructive human race as seen through the eyes of an alien explorer. Nice animation in this one, but a bit too pointed for my tastes.
Roman's Ark (2011, directed by Seth Larney) is a bit more experimental than the other movies I saw at Worldcon. It's a last man on earth sort of film, in which its hero whiles away the apocalypse in a bunker. Ends abruptly just as it finds its conflict in such a way that makes me wonder if the festival programmer didn't receive an incomplete disc from the filmmakers.
The Unlikely Mind of Howard Nimh (2012, directed by Lewis Manalo) is a Flowers for Algernon-type story of a mentally arrested man whose brain is suddenly elevated to genius levels by an experiment. Frustrated in love, our hero downloads his consciousness into a computer. This is arranged like a documentary, with public domain images substituting for actual documentation. It works surprisingly well for all that, but one wishes the filmmakers had chosen a different idiom for this. The actors themselves aren't allowed characters or character arcs.
The Magic Man (2011, directed by D. C. Kasundra), follows the fortunes of a magician whose illusions take on a life of their own, much to his chagrin. This is filmed like a silent movie, and it's a facile forgery, and your patience with it even at ten minutes long will depend on whether or not you buy into this conceit. I liked it, myself, but I did find my attention wandering near the end.
Freeborn (2010, directed by Carlo Treviso) reworks Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, depicting a conflict between Earth and its disobedient Mars colony. Of all the films I saw at this festival, this is the one that I liked the least. It's undone, in the end, by rotten performances, though the cliched nature of its story is also a major contributing factor to my displeasure at this film.
Sudden Death! (2010, directed by Adam Hall) is a weird assemblage of genre tropes, alternating between plague conspiracy thriller and Broadway Musical. The "Sudden Death" virus is a killer, but its only warning sign is the fact that it makes people burst into song. This might have been a disaster, but the filmmakers have obviously put a lot of care into the music and it mostly works. That the cast is mostly appealing helps a lot, but I like the un-self-consciousness of the whole enterprise, too. Plus, I'm a sucker for musicals.
Rhino (2012, directed by Patrick Rea), is a crime film with nary a breath of other worlds about it. It's a classic noir construction, in which an amiable drug dealer goes to work for a crooked ex-NFL player and suddenly finds himself in over his head. It hits its marks like a pro. Formulaic? Sure, but that's genre for you...
As a final note, my silence last week stems from the fact that I don't carry the internet around with me. I refuse to pay a blackmailer's fee to use the internet in hotel rooms at high-end hotels. I'm not on an expense account and the Hyatt corporation can go screw themselves.