Sunday, November 28, 2010

Loscon 2010

This afternoon, we wrapped up our three-day attendance at Loscon, the annual science fiction convention of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the oldest science fiction club in the world. Although we've attended many Loscons in the past, the 37th one was marked by Amy's local debut as a dealer in the dealer's room. She ran a table for her embroidery company, Heart of the Star. She set up one of her computerized embroidery sewing machines at the table, along with a laptop and monitor so folks could see the designs take shape on the screen. She also sold patches and pieces of lace. Most important, she gave out business cards inviting people to give her commissions. And a lot of people showed interest in the prospect.

Naturally, I helped set up and break down the table, and worked the table along with her. Working a convention as a dealer solo pretty much guarantees you won't be able to see any of the convention's daytime events, so a partner is invaluable. You must still pick and choose the events you will attend, since only one of you can attend at a time. That meant about one panel per day for each of us.

The success of a convention depends largely on the caliber of the guests. This con had excellent luck in that department. The themes for this year's Loscon were steampunk, urban fantasy, and SF Noir. Writer Guest of Honor Emma Bull covered the urban fantasy ("War for the Oaks") and SF Noir ("Bone Dance") categories, while art guest of honor Phil Foglio ("Girl Genius") handled the honors for steampunk. Ms. Bull's services as a GOH came with a bonus, since her husband, writer Will Shetterly, came too and appeared on several panels. Further, the programmers did not repeat the mistakes of past Loscons, which did not know what to do with their art guests. Aided by Foglio's talent as a writer and entertainer along with his artistic skill, the programmers put him on multiple panels.

The convention themes were also well-chosen. Due in part to LASFS's venerable status, the convention attendees tend to skew older. (A telling comment from one participant to another during a first-day panel: "Will I be as bitter as you when I get old?") But since steampunk is au currant with younger fans, the theme brought in some fresh blood as folks who never attend Loscons descended on a dealer's room stuffed with top hats, goggles, pocket watches and gears.

The conventions I enjoy most are those at which I can talk to people. At this con, I had the chance to hobnob with folks that span the multiple decades I've spent attending California conventions. That's particularly nice when spending a lot of the convention behind a dealer's table.

We've reserved a table for next year, so we'll be doing it again in 2011.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hallow Hallow

I'm positive that a certain percentage of the massive moviegoing crowd descending upon theaters to watch HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS has neither seen any of the previous movies nor read any of the novels, and will wander out of the theater wondering, "What the hell was that?"

Because the filmmakers aren't wasting any time trying to orient folks watching this for the first time. It's too late for that, so you either grab on and enjoy the ride or get flung off.

The DEATHLY HALLOWS is one of the best of the film series. Not only has director David Yates (who directed the previous two movies as well) found his storytelling tone for this movie, but the film benefits greatly from three developments. One is cutting the final Potter novel into two parts, allowing time for this movie to actually tell a cinematic story rather than be consumed by the labrythine plot. Another is that the characters and cast have become young adults -- which makes some of the plot developments and scenes a lot less creepy (in the non-entertaining sense) than they would otherwise be. And finally, the story breaks away from that damned school, allowing Harry, Ron and Hermione to traipse and apparate over the length and breadth of England, from the heart of London to the cliffs of Dover, as they become a guerilla band of resistance fighters, sort of Harry Potter and His Hogwarts Commandos.

Another great touch is a scene in which Hermione tells a folk story integral to the plot, which the filmmakers depict in animation which recalls shadow puppets and El Greco art.

And the production values are stunning. Little expense has been spared, with a cast of thousands including lots of characters from previous movies.

Unfortunately, the slow, depressing segment of the novel -- in which the characters wander around, accomplishing nothing but getting on each other's nerves -- is here in its entirety, just as slow and just as depressing. True, there's some quality character development in the segment (one scene with Harry and Hermione, added for the movie, is just delightful). But it's a bit of a slog. Fortunately, the action scenes more than make up for the slow sections. (The segments with Voldemort's giant snake pal, Nagini, are truly cringeworthy.)

We saw the film at a 9:30 a.m. Imax presentation. The presentation was sold out. To me, that indicates the film is going to make a huge chunk of change this weekend -- as will the final film this summer. But the folks watching this won't care. They'll just enjoy a well-made fantasy adventure.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Bay Area Vacation Photos

As promised, here are photos from our trip -- including the ones I took during our boat trip out to the Farallon Islands.

Tron Shop

This afternoon, we had lunch at Royal/T Cafe, the maid cafe/art space in downtown Culver City. The cafe was abuzz because Disney had opened a sleek TRON LEGACY pop-up store ( there.

After eating a couple of "Reco Burgers" (buffalo burgers with fried onion rings, and circuitry drawn onto the plate) we toured the shop. The store and the merchandise look very sleek, all black surfaces and blue neon lights. We didn't buy anything, however. I kept in mind that stuff that looks shiny and slick on the shelves may not look as nice a few months or years after it lands in your closet. Besides, I saw the original TRON in theaters back in the eighties, and was unimpressed. It's possible that this sequel, despite all the buzz, won't reach its full charge when it comes out. And if any merchandise looks especially tempting, it may be available on eBay for pennies on the dollar.

Nevertheless, I was happy to see the business and publicity the store generated for Royal/T. It's a great place, and I don't want to see it fade away.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back from the Bay

We are back from our shark vacation to the Bay Area. Alas, we saw no sharks -- apart from the ones at the Fisherman's Wharf aquarium. During our Saturday trip to the Farallon Islands, we saw whales, seals, jellyfish, and amazing scenery; but the sharks were laying low. And our second trip (on Monday) was canceled due to high winds at the dive site.

Still, we had plenty to do during our trip. We were blessed with lots of sunshine (which, in true Bay Area style, occasionally turned to fog or pouring rain in the afternoon). We relived some of the experiences of my law school years in San Francisco by taking outings to the Wharf, Japantown, and the Haight. We met Walnut Creek cousin Steven Barer and his family. We had a dinner at Chez Panisse, the home base for California Cuisine. We encountered multiple persons with altered mentation.

I'll put up some photos soon.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Goodbye to Jan

My cousin Jan Curran was laid to rest this past week. I was always impressed with her sophistication and wit. To my knowledge, she was the first author in our family to have a book published. I remember my excitement when I attended a book signing she had in Walla Walla in the mid-70's for her self-help book about coping with divorce, "The Statue of Liberty Is Cracking Up." Incredibly, each of her four children grew up to become published authors. In fact, the last time I saw Jan was at another book signing, this one held for her son Tod's latest book. And at that signing, Jan was grieving over the passing of her own mother earlier that day.

I've been watching the Japanese animated series "Tegami Bachi," in which one of the underlying conceits is that a person's humanity, or "heart," is a quantifiable and finite energy, and that letters or other writings are like batteries that store within them the "heart" of the person who writes them -- an energy into which the reader taps. Jan undoubtedly poured a lot of her heart into her writings. And her writings remain -- on her blog, in her Facebook posts, in the two books she wrote, and in her children's writings. The ability to preserve the energy of humanity through writing is one that should never be taken lightly. It allows portions wonderful people like Jan to remain after they themselves have left us.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, November 05, 2010

Vacation, Had to Get to Bay

I'm finishing up Day 2 of our Bay Area vacation. Yesterday was spent kicking back and walking around the waterfront near our Berkeley marina hotel. Today we picked up a wetsuit for Amy in San Francisco, which she'll use tomorrow when we go out on the first day of our two-day shark-watching adventure.

We indulged in touristy stuff in San Francisco: We BARTed into town and took a cable car to and from Fisherman's Wharf. Since I lived in SF during the late '80's, and my last couple of visits have been for business purposes, I found doing the tourist thing in the city amusing.

Tomorrow: The sharks.