Lunacon trip report

Spent the weekend at Lunacon, the New York Science Fiction Society convention at the Rye Town Hilton in Rye Brook, NY, and along with a thousand or so other NY sf types, had a fun time.

Hugo-nominee Lawrence M. Schoen was the Author Guest of Honor, and I heard him on a couple of panels, most notably, "Writing a First Chapter that Sells." He offered pointed examples of what not to do, including "locomotive prose" -- "He walked to the door. He turned the key. He opened the door." He also warned against starting a novel with a character just waking up in bed. "Unless the next line is, 'and next to him was a dead hooker.'" Regarding info dumps, that bane of first novel pages, he quoted Nancy Kress: "You have to earn your exposition."

Another high-point panel was a Friday-night session on "Time Travel in Movies and Television Shows" that touched on the usual suspects (Lost, BTTF, et. al.) but offered some interesting new titles to check out, like the film "Primer," and the novel "Days of Cain." (I'm a serious time travel afficionado; ymmv)

The "Borrowing from the Past" panel was another standout. Michael Swanwick talked about an epiphanic moment in Red Square to illustrate the value of travel as research, Michele Lang talked about the history of Budapest's palimpsest street names, and Esther Friesner provided a cautionary tale about too much research. Describing a story where a character had to hit a unicorn, she described an irate interaction with a horse-expert fan who argued that this would have broken the animal's leg. Pointing out that it was a mythical creature didn't help, and Friesner came to a simple conclusion about being willing to bend the facts. "Sometimes, you just have to hit the unicorn in the shins." Lang agreed, noting that "Story is boss." Friesner read from the disclaimer in her newest historical YA novel, "Threads and Flames," about the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire, where she explicitly notes that although she researched Ellis Island immigration procedures, she did not stick to them completely. (Yes, I got her to sign a copy; can't wait to read it.)

There was also a strong panel on Sunday, "Write What You Don't Know," about constructing fictions featuring or from the point of view of the Other. While all the panelists agreed on the value of research, beta readers, and a certain humbleness before the task of intersubjectivity, they also pointed out the importance of trying, given the overrepresentation of typical white/male/western culture. Yes, there will be shortfalls, but, as Laura Ann Gilman pointed out, "If you don't piss somebody off, you're not trying hard enough."

There was a Heinlein Society Blood drive (in memory of NY-area fan Michael Arthur Klotz) on Saturday, which was comfortable and efficient (didn't hear the final numbers, but it was busy when I stopped by) and a book raffle on Sunday to benefit the Wollheim scholarships for Clarion/Clarion West/Odyssey, which, given the number of tickets in the jar, looked like it raised several hundred dollars. (And I won the lot I was after, hardcovers of Connie Willis's "Blackout" and "All Clear." w00t!)

Overall, I had a good time, and the panels I saw were strong. There was, to be honest, some grousing about organization (panels did not have assigned moderators which led to some fumphering, and I heard panelists complain about getting their schedules late.) Scheduling was a bit loose as well (two of my panels had only half-a-dozen in the audience, as did several I attended) but personally, I feel that goes with the territory. My biggest complaint was the Hilton's exorbitant $12.50/day for "high speed internet" which I measured at 35k down and 20k up. Not even in America does that constitute "high speed," folks.

Full disclosure: I was the recipient of a 1993 scholarship to Clarion from the NY Science Fiction society.