Baycon 2006, San Jose, 26-29 May 2006

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The previous Sunday

Terrycon... Rumor Miller Terry Hickman was in town the week before Baycon for her son's wedding, and naturally the local Rumor Millers organised ways to keep her occupied during the time between the wedding and Baycon. Sunday afternoon/evening saw a gathering of fans at Rebekah's house, with much fun and Italian takeaway had by all.


I woke up with a sinus infection. I have been sick at every single con I've been to in the last two years, and a mild sinus infection with bad but tolerable congestion was actually an improvement on some recent experiences. Didn't even bother taking a decongestant before leaving. Also forgot to pack the decongestant tablets, which was a mistake.:-(

I managed to hook up with friends from the Rumor Mill almost immediately on arrival, and by accident. Having collected my badge and conbook from pre-reg, I wandered out of the way of the queue and stopped in the first convenient place to deal with them -- and only then noticed various people trying to attract my attention. :-) Lori, Linz and Terry were standing about six feet in front of me, and I hadn't noticed.

We chatted for a while, then Terry and I eventually wandered up to the Skyview Lounge, partly to find where it was before my reading on Saturday, and partly because the panel, "A quiet place to write", looked interesting. It was a discussion on techniques writers use to get peace and quiet to write. A common problem for writers is that they work at home, at a job that many people don't take seriously, and are considered fair game for interruption by others on the grounds that they're not really doing anything. A lot of this was focused on children and pets, neither of which is an issue for me personally, but there was a lot of good advice to be had--not least of which was making it clear that you are entitled to your own time. Children do understand the concept "this is _Daddy's_ playtime", and will respect it if you enforce it. There was also discussion about the need to be physically comfortable--get a decent desk (not necessarily an expensive one), and set things up so that you are sitting comfortably as you type. I got some directly useful advice out of this, as I may have to abandon my beloved split keyboard, which is so old it's not entirely compatible with the new laptop. Split keyboards have gone out of fashion, but I was reassured that the current models of ergonomic keyboard shouldn't trigger my RSI.

Terry and I sneaked out of that panel a little early and headed off to cruise the dealers' room. Unfortunately Tom at Other Change of Hobbit was out of stock of the books I specifically wanted to buy (most notably the first part of Charlie Stross's The Merchant Princes), so I escaped the dealer's room with my cash intact. I lost track of Terry in the dealers' room, and wandered out again, intending to take in the art show. As it turned out, the art show was shut and remaining so until Saturday morning as there was a safety issue with the lighting, so I ended up roaming the halls for a while. Dumped some of my Spindrift bookmarks and a stack of flyers for Orbital 2008 on the flyer table, and chatted to Kevin Standlee as he posted flyers for Sunday's Match Game (which he kindly translated to "Blankety Blank" for me). I asked for his opinion on whether flyers for the British National Convention were a waste of time, and he felt that interest would be low but not non-zero. Also bumped into several friends, and caught up with Terry again in time to grab a snack before going to the "Design an alien tree" panel.

We went to the restaurant for an early dinner, then decided we weren't that hungry after all and headed back out to the pizza cart. I felt a lot better after some pizza. What I didn't realise at the time was that my craving for pizza was an early warning sign that the sinus infection had triggered a migraine. The "Design an alien tree" panel was an interesting discussion about how to design alien creatures and environments so that they are alien, but not so alien that it's impossible for a reader to understand or empathise with them. Some great stuff from Larry Niven, who of course is a master at this sort of thing. There was some discussion of AIs which was directly relevant to the next book planned for The Syndicate (in particular the point that it looks as if our mental processing includes not just activity in the brain, but feedback from our bodies; and an AI may not have input from external stimuli at a rate that matches its internal clock cycles - which could lead to insanity). Unfortunately my sinus headache was rapidly getting worse, and I was too fuzzy to really enjoy the panel.

The main panels hadn't quite wound down for the night, but that was the last one I wanted to go to before mid-evening, and when I'd woken up with sinus problems I'd decided to skip the evening programme and go home and get a decent night's sleep. So I wandered the halls once more until it was time to wait for my lift, admiring the hall costumes and chatting to people. The BDSM folk were already out in costume, rather early in the evening, but the hotel staff are well used to this after twenty odd years, and didn't turn a hair. Went outside a little early to wait for my lift, as there was a new and exciting parking system this year that makes it difficult for someone to park for five minutes while looking for the person they're collecting. He was late, which meant that I spent twenty minutes standing in bright sunlight. If I had realised at this point that the sinus headache was masking early migraine symptoms... By the time I got home I was feeling thoroughly nauseated and fairly fuzzy. I posted a plaintive warning in my LJ and on the Rumor Mill that I might not make it back to the con the next day, managed to get down enough pasta to deal with the nausea, then took co-codeine and pseudoephedrin before staggering off to bed to sleep for a bit. I woke up a couple of hours later feeling much better for the sleep and quiet, so I'm very glad I skipped the evening programme.


I was feeling a lot better, but Lucy offered to come and collect me so that I wouldn't have to drive in bright sunshine. It meant missing the Rumor Mill breakfast get-together, which I regretted, but I wasn't really up to it.

Lucy and I went to the "Bird flu happens" panel, which had the usual suspects on the panel, i.e. anyone with a medical degree regardless of whether they knew anything about epidemiology - as the panellists themselves noted. :-) Too fuzzy to take notes, but I do remember the warning about practising good hygiene and washing hands after handling poultry, and to remember that chickens can look healthy and still be carriers.

After that we headed up to the Skyview Lounge, way up on the ninth floor, and found the previous group still in possession. We headed back down and went to the fanzine lounge for a while, and picked up our ribbons in support of the Hollister hoax Worldcon bid. Back up to Skyview, where the other folk for the "Broad Universe Rapidfire Reading" were starting to trickle in. Eventually the previous group decamped, and we settled down and passed around the sweets. My home-made fudge proved quite popular. :-)

The original plan was to each spend five or ten minutes reading excerpts, but with only three authors showing on the day we went for reading a short story each. Christie Maurer was up first, with a warped fairy tale. I went next, with the Prologue from The Syndicate, which works as a standalone story. Kelly Green finished with a short story about an illicit alien presence on Earth. Quite a variety for the audience, which they seemed to appreciate. My reading went fairly well, although I did worry about overrunning -- I hadn't expected to read a short story and didn't realise how long the Prologue would take to read. But the audience laughed in all the right places and didn't look bored by the end.

The only problem was that we were sitting in the draught from the air-conditioning. I didn't notice at first, but started to get very uncomfortable about half way through. Unfortunately that wasn't really a point at which I could break and suggest that we rearrange the furniture. Christie mentioned in email afterwards that it had made her feel ill, and she'd had to leave as soon as the readings were over instead of hanging around to chat. I thoroughly enjoyed the other two stories, although I'd have enjoyed Kelly's more without the air-conditioning problem.

It was only the second reading I've done, so I was very nervous, and I'm grateful to various friends who showed up to be audience. We had a couple of dozen people in the audience once everyone arrived, which isn't bad for a reading in a room that takes a certain amount of effort to get to. It was well sign-posted by Saturday, but I'd been worried on Friday when Terry and I went looking for the room and found no signs at all.

At some point during the day Lucy and I hit the art show, which had opened that morning. A lot of stuff was either still available on Direct Sale or had been grabbed already, as there'd been much less time than usual for people to block Direct Sale by putting in a minimum bid. Some lovely art, including prints that I've bid on in previous years and failed to get at a price I was willing to pay (especially as last year I did some research and knew how much they would cost ordered direct from the artist). I grabbed a couple of Theresa Mather's small 5x7" prints at the Direct Sale price of $10, and bid the minimum on a couple of others (including the one I'd have paid the Direct Sale price for had there been one listed). Also bid on four of Ruth Thompson's prints -- an Artist's Proof of "Uriel", one of the angel series of which I bought an AP of "Raphael" last year; plus the Fables tryptich: Sinderalla, Mirror, Mirror and Puss In Boots. Lucy bagged a nice little copper sheet sculpture on Direct Sale.

In the end I got almost all of the things I'd bid on, including all the ones I particularly wanted, although I had to rebid on two, and ended up getting them for essentially the same or a little less as direct from the artist but without the shipping fees. Some nice stuff in the art show, especially the display by artist guest of honour Jim Burns. Quite a bit of stuff that fell under the heading of "I can see that it's very good, but I wouldn't want it myself", and several items that would have tempted me to bid if I wasn't already aiming at the previously mentioned pieces, and trying to be sensible about how much I spent. There was a lovely framed original watercolour by Patricia McCracken with a minimum bid of $60, which I know I will regret not bidding on when it was still unloved ten minutes before close of bidding.

A couple of the things I bought (specifically the 5x7" prints) were nominally purchased with the intent of using them as prizes at promo days on the romance mailing loops, but I'm not sure whether this will actually happen, as they are far too pretty for me to give up lightly. :-)

We met up with the Rumor Mill group for dinner at the Coffee Garden restaurant in the hotel, but there were too many of us for the table size that had been booked. There was a suggestion of booking a second table, but with it being a 45 minute wait, and so noisy that I was feeling ill (as were a couple of other people, it turned out), Terry, Lucy and I decided to decamp to an outside restaurant. I directed the car to Bo Town, a cheap and pleasant Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant in downtown San Jose. We had a very nice meal, with fast service, which is why I'd suggested it. Bo Town isn't exactly haut cuisine, but the food's nice enough, the menu is extensive, and the service is normally fast, friendly and good. We were back to the Doubletree in plenty of time for the eight o'clock panels.

Lucy and I opted for the "Alien Sex" panel, which is always good entertainment value and usually has some useful story ideas. It's a panel based around looking at the various reproductive techniques used by earth animals for inspiration on making your aliens alien rather than humans with funny-shaped noses. This year's theme was "big", and included cetacean sex. Very useful for me, as I'm working on a dolphin shapeshifter story at the moment, and had the chance to verify some Weird Shit that had turned up in my web trawlings. Lots of discussion about just how did dinosaurs Do It...

After that we did the hall cruising thing for a bit, checking out the party floor, and decided that we weren't that interested in partying and headed home. Lucy was staying with me overnight as she'd left it too late to get a hotel room and although she does live within driving distance it's a much shorter and easier drive to my place.


Took Lucy up to the Milk Pail, the local greengrocer/cheese emporium/import shop. We bought cheese-n-bread-n-fruit for lunch, and Lucy went ever so slightly overboard on cheese to take home with her. I do believe the shop has been added to her Things To Do This Side Of The Mountains list. :-) Back to the con in time to sit around and yack with people for a while and grab a pizza slice (useful as part of the anti-migraine regime). Stopped at the autograph table to talk to David Friedman for a bit before heading to "Medicine for writers" panel, which was as ever a grab bag of useful information, none of which I seem to have written down.

We stayed in the room for the next panel, ""Materials Magic" -- yet another regular panel at the con. Hal wandered in before the panel started, so there was a certain amount of rasfc-related gossip. The panel was once again useful and entertaining, culminating with the ever-popular "bouncy things don't after meeting liquid nitrogen" demo, and the liquid nitrogen cookery show with ice cream samples.

We did another tour of the art show and the dealer's room, then hung out in Hal and Dorothy's room for a while before making a move on dinner. Lucy wanted to go back to Bo Town, and Dorothy perked up at the mention of Chinese food, so it was an easy decision. Different combination of dishes, but still nice, fast and cheap. Back to the Doubletree, where the parking lot was as full as ever. Hal dropped us near the hotel entrance, then went in search of parking in the expectation he'd be walking from somewhere outside the main lot, but appeared a few minutes later, having found a spot right in front of the hotel...

Back to the art show fifteen minutes before close of bidding, to put in overbids where necessary. As it turned out two of the ones I wanted hadn't been bid on by anyone else, and two more were at a level I was willing to bid over, so I slapped in new bids and wandered off, lest I be tempted to further expenditure. Lucy and I went to veg out at the belly dance session for a while before heading home for the night. Some great dancing, and watching it for ten or fifteen minutes was a pleasant way to wind down.


I was driving myself this morning, so left it reasonably late rather than trying to get there for the first panel. Bought my membership for next year's con, then checked the art show results and found that I'd won everything I'd still been bidding for the night before. Ran into Robert and Terry and made plans to meet up for lunch. The next panel I wanted to go to was "Resale of genre artwork", a topic that had suddenly become of interest to me given the new additions to the stack of still-not-framed-and-hung artwork under the bed. I buy genre artwork that I want to look at, not for investment purposes, and given that I can't actually afford anything that's likely to appreciate in value that's the only sensible way to go. But I've got to the stage where I need to move some out to make room for new stuff, and thought it would be useful to see if there was any prospect of reselling the sort of decent prints I like to buy. The answer is not really, but it's worth trying ebay or Craig's List, or a con art show which provides space for resale pieces (most don't, seeing it as competition with new work). For originals by Big Name Artists, there's a resale market, and a good person to contact is Jane Frank of the Worlds of Wonder gallery in Washington. After that I went to pick up my loot from the art show, which involved much standing around in line. It's always worth having at least two of cash, cheque and credit card available to pay, because the credit card machine is usually oversubscribed and they'll pull people out from further down the line if they can pay with cash or cheque.

Just had time to put the art in the car before getting to the "Alien Paleontology" panel to meet up with Terry and Robert. Lots of good stuff on how and whether we would recognise alien artefacts, with reference back to real examples of how we have failed to recognise human artefacts due to a bad case of seeing only what we expected to find. Of course, that the artefact is there to be found doesn't mean that it will be -- even if you would recognise it when you saw it, not something that can be taken as a given, there is the needle in a haystack problem. There was some discussion of how long evidence of intelligent species can last, and in what environment. The answer is "definitely millions, and possibly billions, if you put the right thing in the right place". However, if you focus on the wrong sort of artefact, it'll be only a few hundred or a few thousand years -- for example, even in a hermetically sealed tomb, iron will corrode within a few thousand years, while gold artefacts last forever. Textiles may last even less time in the wrong sort of environment. On the other hand, the weird gamma spectrum from a radioactive waste dump may be detectable for a very long time indeed. And it's the rubbish tips that are likely to preserve much of the artefacts of our own culture, just as they have for past cultures. By our disposable nappies shall they know us...

And there was in passing a mention of the fact that any dinosaur fossil environment will give you either bones or footprints, never both - they're mutually exclusive. So don't put both in a dig in one of your stories unless you want to annoy readers who know that sort of thing.

Off to lunch after the panel with Terry and Robert. We opted for the Coffee Garden restaurant in the hotel, which was the first time I'd actually eaten there all weekend -- prior to that I'd been grabbing pizza slices or eating out. The food's been expensive but adequate in previous years, but sadly the Real English Fish And Chips were no such thing, and pretty poor quality. The chips were the particularly thin and weedy variety of fries rather than real chips, and the fresh catch of the day was all too obviously mass-produced frozen and watery battered pieces of fish, cooked to a significantly lower standard than is actually possible with said out-of-a-catering-packet fish. No vinegar supplied either, in spite of the menu's promises, and none of it was exactly what one might call hot. It was also significantly more expensive than the better and hotter meals at Bo Town. I do hope none of the Americans thought that's what real fish and chips are like. I was disappointed, as I hadn't expected it to be wonderful, but the food was definitely of poorer quality than previous years. It would certainly encourage me to eat elsewhere if possible next year.

After that we went to the closing ceremony, and then it was All Over for another year. I had a great time, even if I can't remember a lot of it clearly owing to pharmaceutical assistance. And the big highlight for me this year, the Broad Universe group reading, went splendidly. It was great to catch up with so many friends from both rec.arts.sf.composition and the Rumor Mill, and I'm looking forward to next year's con.

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