Chicago in 3 dots (or Barfleet, Coffee and Furries Oh My!)

Chicago, the windy city, home to the Billy Goat Tavern and Wrigley Field.  Two disparate locations – one well-lit, the other down in a hole –  linked by a single curse.  Lambchop and I were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention.    At least 3 of you are now smirking derisively, but that’s ok.  We had a wonderful time.  Everyone knows about Chicago Style Pizza, christened pretender pie at the con, but perhaps I might add some new insights after my time there…

Lambchop met her twin in a hobbit from down under. Actually they met as the hobbits journeyed from the Shire to Chitown, stopping in San Francisco.  I fear the havoc the two of them will cause in the coming years, especially if they realize what that ring can do.  Could be I’ll be voted off the island…  I never expected the replacement for the Mudshark in my lexicon to be Trebla, but seeing the girls now swoon for him, I must admit its inner truth.

John Picacio finally won a well deserved Hugo in addition to his Chesley award.  I am pretty sure he’s going to need a bigger trophy case soon.  It will be interesting to see how he fares on his home turf in San Antonio next year…I found the art show terribly disappointing, but I found a gem in an older Don Maitz painted sketch, which hangs proudly in the entry to my office…. now if I only liked The Book of the New Sun.  Perhaps I’ll reread them with older, wiser eyes…

It seems that Chicago is a Pepsi town.  By my count it was 3:1, Pepsi over Coke.  One of the few things the town got wrong… On the other hand Arlington Bill provided more beer than any one man had a right to have in his hotel room…There are signs everywhere declaring it illegal to put ketchup on a  hot dog in Chicago. I don’t know, I might have put more effort in to helping the sad panhandlers shaking their cups of coins.

We were stalked, or so it seemed, through out Chicago by Ron Donachie, aka Ser Rodrik Cassel in HBO’s Game of Thrones.  He and his wife are two wonderfully nice folks, going so far as to walk over and say hello in restaurant after he’d met several of us at a party…those of you that don’t get Star Trek, would surely have missed Barfleet and that would have been a shame.  They won the award for most creative use of  a Kiss song,  “Detroit Rock City,” but I seemed to be the only one to notice. But we did miss the Klingons shouting, “Revenge is a dish.. BEST SERVED COLD!!” … Cam was giving out schmoozing lessons nightly.  I should have paid more attention.

If you are reading this you probably already know Peadar Ó Guilín.  If you don’t, I would suggest you look for him and read his book, The Inferior.  Of course he’s a friend, but I really like what I’ve heard him read.  Needless to say his two books are near the top of my reading stack and I am eagerly awaiting The Shatter…I will be hiring X-Ray (the Enforcer)  and Mr. X to run my next party.  They run a tight ship and really went above and beyond this year…

The programming at the con  was a bit disappointing.  Last year there were so many panels, talks and readings that I couldn’t attend then all.  This year there were few that called to me and inevitably they conflicted…Clearly the organizers did a very good job overall, but how could they not give George R.R. Martin their largest room for his reading and interview?  Those chosen were too small… And Patrick Rothfuss was scheduled to read in a room with 20 chairs?  Even I know he’s a huge draw….but the food in the con suite was great and the midnight pizza after the Hugos, sheer genius.

I never realized how close John Belushi’s “Cheezborger! Cheezborger! Chip! Chip!  No Coke, Pepsi” was to reality at the Billy Goat Tavern.  Great atmosphere, well priced and solid, if unremarkable, grub. Its one of those things everyone should do at least once… Remarkable might be an understatement for Intelligensia coffee.  I am now a huge fan, but please reconsider your baristas.  Those cute boys in skinny jeans and skinny ties pushed the cool environment towards hipster doofusville.  It just seemed wrong…There are not enough superlatives to shower on Frontera Grill.  Rick Bayless is a genius…And Trebla is sex symbol.  What next, dogs and cats living together?

One panel was called “The Secret History of Science Fiction” where George R.R. Martin, Robert Silverberg, Mike Resnick, Joe Haldeman and Gardner Dozois, who arrived 30 minutes late,  told stories of cons past.  The room was overflowing with bodies and laughter.  Entering the room as the panel started, I was relegated to stand in the back.  500+ seats were not enough. While I enjoyed this to no end, laughing for the better part of that  hour, I still don’t understand why the guy behind me was wearing stilts…The gumbo at Heaven on 7 was really special, in a foodgasm sort of way.

I don’t really have a bucket list, but one day I need to help Chataya organize a real Furry hunt… Not only was there a complete absence of alcohol at the Hogwarts party, those bathhouse pin-ups of Malfoy combined with the Harry/Snape cuddle pictures crossed the creepy line.  Had Lambchop not been bonding with the Kiwi who did the elf ears in LOTR, we would have left much sooner.

Leigh Bardugo can write — that’s not news.  What is news is that with charm, wit and humor she single-handedly took over a panel that could have flopped, offsetting a few others who were didn’t realize they were sinking.  One day, she’ll be on Kimmel or Leno and she’ll blow up.  Huge.   In the meantime, read Shadow and Bone.  You’ll feel better…I don’t understand the position of the con having a few Young Adult (YA) panels, but refusing the consider the category for a Hugo.  Based on the stories I heard, the passion level on the “no way” side seems over the top for my sensibilities.

And yes, a few too many con-goers did look like they escaped from their mother’s basement.  Other than the 3 or 4 that interrupted panels or were simply clueless in regards to social cues, who cares?  It was a 5 day celebration of shared joy and fandom — much love and thanks to everyone I drank, laughed, talked and debated with… Next year in San Antonio can’t come soon enough.


A shadow over lunch (appologies to HP Lovecraft)

The four of us sat at ease, each with a different sandwich, eating amongst the din of the crowded restaurant.  Except for Dave; he had a salad.  The topic had started at issues related to one unit’s inability to deliver quality services and had slid into the feminization of Russian surnames.  Our coworker with a Russian last name confirmed to me that her and her mother shared a last name ending in “ova” while her brother and father’s last name ended in “ov.”  It was an interesting conversation and I was amazed that I had never noticed that before.

The concept of gender in Russian names came to light when my friend Leigh Bardugo described her process for developing names in her debut novel, Shadow and Bone, and the other atrocities she allegedly performed on Russian culture.  I was perplexed why she would admit this, as the audience was mostly 14 year old girls and a few of their mothers.  There was no real reason to call attention to facts less than 2% (yes, I’ve done careful scientific research to reach this number) of her readers would notice.  I was only minimally out of place in seating area, with Lambchop sitting to my left.  I was the only male member of the species and I’m pretty sure I was the only one over 50.  Nevertheless, as much as I like to tease Leigh that she is the 2nd of my name amongst the roll of Awful, Awful Knights, I wouldn’t dream of missing her book tour.

Here I was in an independent book store in Petaluma with 20 teenager girls, listening to five authors talk about their just published debut novels.  I’m there because one of the authors is my friend.   It makes me think about why the others are there.  Clearly, the obvious answer is marketing.  And the marketing becomes more sophisticated and viral every day.  On a whim, I had looked at the reviews of Shadow and Bone on Amazon.  One of the first was a scathing incitement of how Leigh’s use of Russian culture and language as seeds in her world building was an affront to all people of Russian heritage.  Whoa?  Really? 

The reviewer’s point was that since some of the names, culture and items in this fantasy world were inspired by Russian culture, and unabashedly so, they should have been grammatically correct and exact in all details.  The reviewer went on a very long rant and gave the book 1 out of 5 stars; only because 0 stars wasn’t an option.   I believe this redefines myopia.  Not only that, this was in the first week of publication.  Don’t we have better things to do with our lives than be trolls on the internet?  Remember, this book is categorized as “Young Adult.”  Do we really think the same 14-year-old girls that believe in sparkly vampires care if the heroine’s last name is given the proper gender in a world that doesn’t exist?  I can see writing a critical paragraph on this topic in a balanced review, but not 1 million trolls on a death march.

I am beginning to think there is too much weight given to online criticism.  Yelp, Amazon, Good Reads, Angie’s List etc. all give outlets to the common man (woman, child or wombat) to take someone, their book, business or product and trash it with no accountability.  Why?  Even if 90% of the reviews are good or even fair, people focus on the shiny objects, the fireworks, and the circus parade.  On the Internet that focus is the trolls and the nuclear weapons they bandy about with little forethought.  Far be it from me to tell the world that negative criticism should end.  I won’t.  But people need to put a bit more thought into why they feel the need to trash someone or their work.  If they think they are helping form opinions, they are wrong.  They are the monkeys dancing for an audience of sheep.   I think the sheep need to move along – there may be dogs about (non-obscure Pink Floyd reference.)  They aren’t tastemakers.  They are the freaks at the sideshow.  I prefer to think for myself and edit out the extremes.  Sadly, I do enjoy a good sideshow from time to time.

For the record, I read the book with the eyes of a 50 year-old world weary consultant.  I think it was 3 round trips on the train and a few 20 minute sessions at home.  It was well plotted, interesting and definitely well done for its target audience.  The book was an enjoyable diversion and cared about the main character. That’s what a book in this genre should be, in my opinion.  I will be reading the sequels; I believe it is meant to be a trilogy. Had I read this as a young adult I would have loved it.  It made me think of Jon Carter of Mars with a feminine twist.  Of course I had criticisms — none of them terribly important to a book written for the YA market.  I don’t need to impress you with how smart I am.  Clearly, you think I’ve something interesting to say.  At least some of the time.

At lunch I was eating a Cobb sandwich.  Think of it as a BLT with avocado.  While I had not noticed the gender of last names, I did notice a bite of tomato landing on my shirt.  I took my napkin in hand to attack the offending red bit and remove it from my already colorful shirt.  As I pulled the napkin away, I realized I had left a green smear of avocado on my shirt.  I hadn’t noticed the napkin protecting my lap had done its job too well.  It wasn’t in any shape to remediate shirt born messes.  It made me ponder the concept of trying to help solve a problem, but making a bigger mess.  And I was thinking of work again.