Windy Con 37

I wrote this con report for Bob Jennings’s outstanding SF fanzine Fadeaway back in January. With this year’s Windy Con looming on the horizon, seems like a logical candidate for my first post here.

 

MEANWHILE

BACK AT

THE CON

 

 

            Man, you gotta be really careful what you say around Bob Jennings.  He was gonna email me some info, and I said I might not get back to him till Monday, cause I was gonna be at WindyCon.  Next thing I knew, I was doing a WindyCon con report for Fadeaway.  Which meant I’d have to do more than swill beer in the con suite all weekend, I supposed.  Go to some actual events perhaps.

WindyCon 37 was held at the Westin in the Chicagosuburb of Lombard out in DupageCounty.  So Friday, November 12, I hit the expressways around two in the afternoon and rolled into the hotel parking lot a little before three.  The skies were blue and the temperature was sixty-five degrees.  Those last italics are because that’s about twelve degrees above the average temperature here for the date, and a temperature thirty degrees lower would shock nobody.  This was the first WindyCon I’d been to in several years, and I took the weather as a good omen.

The Lombard Westin is fifteen stories high, situated by a mega-mall, which with its scores of satellite stores and restaurants, two other adjacent hotels, and series of sprawling parking lots could probably hold a town of four or five thousand, stores, filling stations, town square, inhabitants, and all.  Inside, the desk clerk was helpful, friendly, and, efficient.  Wow, that was almost scary.  I’ve never been a frequent con-attendee.  Last world con I made, for example, was StLouis Con back in 1969.  I’m no fan of hotels or crowds, so why I ever register for a con is a mystery.  Seems like a good idea at the time, usually.  Living here in lovelyChicagothe last thirty years, I’ve actually managed to attend five previous WindyCons—sort of.

Two of them, I only attended the three hour Writers Workshops on Sunday morning.  (Which are great.  Run by Nebula-award-winner Rich Chwedyk, they offer a chance to have your stories critiqued by pros, and the critiques are penetrating–just leave your ego at home.)  The three times I actually booked a room and came to the con, I left early twice.  The first time was back in the mists of prehistory, when both our kids were preschoolers; the hotel put us on the party floor, so none of us slept a wink all night, and in the morning we checked out.  Several years later, Dorothy and I got a room, intending to stay and check out the con, when I wasn’t at the writers workshop.  My workshop was on Saturday morning that year, and afterward I felt restless and wanted to go home, so we did. 

Asking me to write a con report is sort of like asking Scrooge to write up the Christmas program for the church newsletter.

It’s a demonstration of my wife Dorothy’s infinite patience and kindness that she agreed to go WindyCon again with me, three years back. We had a good time, and we’ve been meaning to make another WindyCon, but something always seems to come up.  That we could actually come this year was sort of a minor miracle.  The Gods of Fandom must’ve meant for me to do this con report for Fadeaway.

Dorothy was driving out later, straight from work, and I rode the elevator alone up to our room on the tenth floor—the last empty elevator ride I had that weekend.  The room turned out to be spacious, clean, and well-furnished—much nicer than the rooms at the hotel where the con used to be.  I unpacked and went down to the con suite, which was relatively empty at the time.  I had some pleasant small talk with various people I didn’t know and didn’t talk to again that weekend, just discussing the economy, work, e-books, etc.  After a few beers, I went back to the room, and Dorothy was there, resting  after a drive through the start of Friday rush hour.

She’d volunteered to work in the con suite around six, and drew the wonderful job of sitting outside the door and checking that people actually had a WindyCon membership before they entered the suite.  I went in to have a beer or two.  None of  the beers taps were working properly just then, except for the Guinness, and since Guinness is about as tasty to me a quinine, it was an ordeal, but I did manage to choke a couple down.  Hard, yes, but as a fan, I felt it my duty.

   If you’re not a regular at cons, there can be the occasional lonely moment, especially if you’re inept at small talk with strangers.  The suite had begun to fill up; everyone seemed to know each other and be catching up.  I didn’t manage to get any conversation going with anyone and just sat there sipping beer, listening to the talk at the tables around me.  If I went to cons regularly, I suppose that eventually I’d be part of the gang, too.       

After Dorothy—all five feet two inches of her—finished her bouncer gig, we went to the Dealers Room.  A lot of people had yet to arrive, so things there were pretty slow.  That’s an understatement: the room was freaking dead, the dealers all looking pretty forlorn.  A couple writers were there and I bought books from them, mainly cause I know how much I appreciate it when people buy CDs from Dorothy and me when our band plays out (about as frequently as the seasons change).  From Glen Cook, who’s published forty-one books according to the book’s front, I bought Passage At Arms, which according to Newsday “…has the impact of an eyewitness account.”  Jeff Vandermeer at SF Site calls the book “One of the best evocations of Life in close quarters onboard a spaceship…”   Haven’t read it yet, so I can’t say if I agree or not. Then from S. T. Clemmons I bought a slim red anthology entitled Twisted Tales.  As Clemmons—the S. stands for Sam—rang up my credit card payment I noticed that the stories comprised “An Erotic Collection.”  I asked him if any of his other titles were non-erotic.  He shook his head.  “But they’re R-rated, not X-rated.”  He gave me a wan grin.  “They’ve got plots.”  That was very reassuring, and may or may not be true, I don’t know; I haven’t read it yet, either.  Dorothy will probably want to read it first to make sure that it’s age-appropriate: that is, can my heart stand it?

Having been up since five that morning, Dorothy was ready for bed and headed back to the room. I went up to the ISiFIC book signing party on one of the four party floors.  ISiFIC, the fan group that sponsors the con, prints a book by the literary guest of honor each year.  I think that that’s a nice idea, so I decided to stop by an pick up a copy.  This year’s guest of honor was Steve Barnes, who I’d never heard of, and his book for the con was entitled Assassin and Other Stories.  He turned out to be a black belt in several martial arts, accomplished yogi, relaxed, articulate speaker, and a friendly guy.  I got my book autographed, chatted with him about the importance of breathing correctly and departed for theTexas in 2013 Party.  I’d got to talking to some of the people at their table earlier, that afternoon, and they invited me.  It turned out to be a pleasant, laid-back affair, featuring pop, cookies, and good conversation.   Stayed there till bed-time.

Next morning we had to pick from the scores of events, three to five going on at any given moment, in addition to the continuous activity in the two gaming rooms.  WindyCon focuses largely on print science-fiction; it’s old fashioned that way.  Oh, there were a couple of people shambling around in Star Trek outfits, but WindyCon is not geared for the Trekkies.  Of the scores of panels offered none were remotely connected to Star Trek, and except for one Dr. Who panel, none were media-related.  One of the panels, which I’d loved to have made, but didn’t, was “Are SF Movies Ruining SF literature?”  (Curmudgeons of the world unite!)

There was a room showing SF movies throughout the con and another showing anime.  There was lots of good filk music (and some not so good).  There were two panels on costuming and a masquerade. The con’s theme was Travels to the Lands of Fae and Back Again, although to my knowledge only one solitary panel related to this subject Mainly there were many, many panels discussing books: Eric Flint’s work, China Meivelle’s The City and the City, Gateways: A Tribute to Fred Pohl, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Wind-Up Girl, for instance.  Other panels discussed “SF’s Role in Pushing the Boundaries of Societal Taboos”, “Putting the Science Back in Science-Fiction”, and “The Origins of the Fae.”  There was an open group discussion of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  We can safely place WindyCon in the ranks of sercon conventions, in my considered opinion.

Quite a few authors were at the convention, too, serving as panelists, doing readings, signing autographs, hanging out:  Steven Barnes, Eric Flint, Jim Hines, Rich Chwedyk, Glen Cook, Mike Resnick, Tim Akers, Jody Lyn Nye, Phylis Eisenstein, and more I’m forgetting, no doubt.  

The first event Dorothy and I chose, however, was non-literary.  We went to a Tai Chi class led by literary guest honor, Steve Barnes, at nine o’clock that morning.  The hour-long class actually didn’t end up involving a whole lot of Tai Chi, per se.  Though we began with a few gentle stretches, the class was mainly a new-age pep-talk.  Which probably sounds flip, but I don’t mean it as a put-down.  I’ve been doing yoga since the early seventies and also reading stuff life The Upanishads, The Bhagavagita, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Autobiography of a Yogi, Be here Now, and The Politics of Experience.  So I’m down with the new age (though it’s hard to envision the Age of Aquarius dawning any time soon, given the evening news).  This time of year, I tend to wane a little unenthusiastic about everything anyway, so a pep-talk didn’t hurt me at all.  And this was a pretty good one.    

Steve Barnes's excellent tai chi class.

 One of the things Barnes talked about was Stress vs. Strain.  Stress, he said, is pressure and can help us grow.  Strain results from knotting ourselves up in reaction to stress and can make us unhappy and ill.  He talked also about the importance of how we breathe and related that to the Stress vs. Strain concept.  Breath, he reminded us, is both a voluntary and involuntary body function, and so can be helpful in developing mind/body coordination.   He talked about letting the abdomen relax and expand on the inhalation and contract gently on the exhalation.  He said to be especially mindful of the exhalation, and the inhalation will naturally follow.  He mentioned that when we’re tense or fearful, we breathe from chest, but when we’re calm and at peace, we breathe from the abdomen.  He said that if we can maintain abdominal breathing while we’re under pressure, it will help us keep calm, help us avoid straining when we’re under stress.  To help develop this ability, he suggested stopping at the times of day divisible by three—9, 12, 3, 6, and 9—and breathe consciously from our abdomens for sixty seconds.  Over time, this will help us to be aware of our breathing and breathe correctly during all situations.  He ended the class with a few minutes of basic Tai Chi moves, and everyone seemed to feel pretty good, glad they’d started the morning with the class. 

Sharon, a lady I’d met last night at theTexasin 2013 Party was there, and I introduced her and Dorothy.  We got to talking, and I mentioned that we played music.  Great, she said; she and her husband were hosting a singing party, the weekend after Thanksgiving.  Why didn’t we come, bring our guitars?  Sounded good to us.  Serendipity  

Outside the ballroom after class, we ran into Rich Chwedyk and chatted about  things like his Saurs series in F&SF, the sad state of newspaper publishing, and the strong state of the writing program atChicago’sColumbiaUniversity, where Rich teaches.  There are, he told us, currently four hundred students atColumbia either majoring in creative writing or working on an MFA in it.  Which I find incredible: I thought that today’s college students all wanted degrees in business, marketing, or anything that meant big bucks.

I got sidetracked to the exercise room, and the next thing on the program I made was the panel on Historical Research at eleven that morning.  This sounded promising, because I have a vague idea about a Civil War novel I’d like to write, but it was a little disappointing.  Most of the authors on the panel evinced little preparation for it or ability to extemporize gracefully, and they had few actual helpful hints for researching.  It was all kinda dry.

THE EXCITEMENT AT THE HISTORICAL RESEARCH PANEL.

Dorothy and I’d split up after the Tai Chi thing, but I ran into her at the Historical Research Panel, and we were both ready for lunch.  My editor here has forbidden any mention of where or what I ate, saying that if my food consumption was the most interesting thing about the con, I should’ve stayed home.  I think, however, I might be permitted to speak of where I did not eat.  When we decided to get something to eat, we looked outside.  The weather had turned chilly and blustery—I mean, that cold wind was whipping across the parking lot hard enough to deck you—so we thought we’d check out the menu outside Harry Caray’s in the hotel: the first meal we looked at, a steak dinner, was $89.00.  

So, braving the elements, we trudged across a parking lot the size of a small subdivision, to the mall, which was equally humongous, and made our way to the cavernous food court on the second floor, where throngs of tight-lipped shoppers waited in line for fast food and then scanned the expanse of tables for a vacant one to latch onto before somebody else did.  I doubt that I could get by with mentioning what we ate, but I’ll tell you this much: it cost less than $89.00 a meal. 

Back at the hotel, the ever-stalwart Dorothy went to a panel on costuming, but I needed a nap after our trek across the wind-swept wastes of the parking lot.  I woke up in time to make to the concert by Tricky Pixie, a filk trio the con had flown in from the West Coast, and was glad I did.  It was quite a show.  Betty Tinney, a tall dark cutie sporting elfin ears, played cello for the group.  She used it to lay down solid and at the same time melodic bass lines, and she swayed to the music, her face glowing with the joy of it.  When it came time to solo, she moved into the higher registers of her instrument and showed off some excellent chops.    

Alexander James Adams, tall, dressed in black, sporting horns on his forehead and grizzled sandy hair that fell down his back, played guitar, fiddle, mandolin, and percussion.  All of them, very well.  He also sang—both lead and harmony—in a strong   tenor. A showman, he strode around the stage, included a lot physical flourishes in his performance, and used facial expressions to good dramatic and comedic effect.  He also threw a lot of banter back forth with the group’s third member, S. J. Tucker.

I gonna admit here that my attention tended to focus on S. J. Tucker and not just because she was pretty and dressed revealingly.  She played a strong rhythm guitar, more often than not finger-picking, and had a gorgeous voice.  Plus, I liked the sly smile on her face, her sinuous moves, and her charisma, a combination of sex appeal, intelligence, humor, and comfort with the spotlight.

The trio had an excellent group chemistry that made them more than the sum of their parts.  All three are songwriters, and most of their material was original. Witty, polished stuff, it ranged in style from Celtic, to Latin, to folk, to acoustic rock, their own distinct sound running through all the styles.  I left the show, a fan.  If you have a chance to see them, jump at it.  You can check them out at trickypixie.com.

The show ended around six, and I met up with Dorothy and went out for some supper.  Afterwards Dorothy was up for more events, but I wanted to just stay in the room and start on Steve Barnes book, Assassin and Other Stories. That I’d go to a convention and sit around reading, which I could do at home, might seem strange.  Maybe it is, but at least I’m not alone in doing that.  Walking around the Westin’s commodious lobby and along its many corridors, one would spy many people sitting around reading books or—less frequently—staring at computer screens.  I don’t know why, but I actually think that there’s something cool about that.  Or maybe I do know; we were all there because we’re book lovers, and we didn’t feel compelled to spend every moment attending events or schmoozing.  If we wanted to read, by God, we could.  (If this be rationalization, make the best of it.)

So, I started the short novel, Assassin, which led off the book and seemed to be historical fiction.  At first I was enjoying it.  There were some excellent chase scenes and fight scenes and a strong inciting incident to set the hero off on his quest.  But my interest began to flag.  For one thing, the book had an episodic quality, all incidents not tied as strongly in a cause/effect chain as I’d have liked.  There were, for example, twenty pages of the short novel that you could pretty much skip without damaging your comprehension of the plot line, and to me reading that felt suspiciously like reading a padded word count.  Also, I generally have difficulty enjoying an assassin protagonist, because I think assassination is despicable.  The assassins in the novel justify what they do by saying it’s better to kill one king than a thousand peasants.  Haytham, the novel’s protagonist, however, kills not royalty, but commoners, unarmed and unsuspecting, people who seem not evil so much as inconvenient.

 I also had a problem with Haytham’s motivation.  His overriding goal seems to be, not justice or his people’s salvation, but simple revenge.  He burns with the desire to capture the man who murdered his parents and torture him death.  I’m sorry.  I can understand that, but it still seems ignoble.  Finally, the novel’s wider historical context and even setting seemed too sketchily rendered.  After eighty pages or so, I set the book down.  Barnes has written over twenty novels, some of which have garnered Hugo and Nebula nominations.  I suspect that Assassin is less well-done than those works.

 I decided to check out the art show downstairs.  There was a lot of what you might expect: elves, fairies, galactic storm troopers, wizards, sultry wenches, bems, barbarian warriors, all that, most of it pretty well done.  But what really caught my eye was an assemblage at the end of the room.  Cameras in the art room, like information on our food consumption in this article, were strictly forbidden.  Otherwise, I’d treat you to a photo of the work.  It looked like the artist had begun with an old black metal cash register, then replaced its tabs with an ancient typewriter’s keyboard.  An antique telephone sat to the left of all this, and behind that, a device that appeared to be an old-time coffee-maker with a steam valve of some kind on top and a tube running into the former cash register.  A small porcelain coffee cup sat below a spout on the coffee-maker.  Several gears turned slowly on the side of the main device’s black metal body.  More gears turned on its top, as did a chromed turnstile with a cherubic creature holding a flag.  A brown wooden clock shaped like the top a tombstone sat on top of the device, hands showing the correct time.  To the device’s right, stood still more old-timey gadgets.  On the face of the contraption, above the typewriter keyboard, an artfully hand-lettered sign said: STEAM-POWERED COMPUTER.  In this case, a picture would definitely be worth more than a thousand words, but what can I do?  The art show confiscated my camera at the door.

I went back up to the room, found Dorothy there, compared notes with her for a while, and persuaded her to do a con report for my zine, Dumfounding Stories.  Then I picked Assassin back up and waded through another thirty pages, before I shut the book.  Life is too short to make yourself continue a book that you’re not enjoying, even if you wanna write about it in your con report.  Maybe in the last hundred pages, Barnes addressed some of the issues I mentioned earlier, but if so, I came to late for me.  I’d lost interest.

Next morning we went again to Steve Barnes 9:00 Tai Chi class, much of which  was again a motivational talk, and again a good one.  Barnes also showed us series of Yoga poses called the Five Himalayans, suggesting we begin with three repetitions daily of each movement and increase gradually to up ten repetitions a day.  These exercises, along with the one-minute breathing exercises he’d suggested yesterday, would provide someone with a fairly decent daily home yoga program, it seemed to me.  He again ended the class with a few minutes of basic Tai Chi moves, and everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves and felt refreshed.

Sharonfrom theTexasin 2013 party was there, and her husband John brought by a map to their house and the singing party.  We told them we’d be there, said goodbye, and left feeling good about making a couple of new friends.  We went to the room, packed up and headed for home.  Once we got back, we had some lunch (the contents of which I’m not at liberty to divulge) and  talked about the con.  We both agreed that it’d been a good time.  The con was well run:  Everything started on time, and Dorothy, who made it to a lot more events than I did, assured me they were all fun.  Except for early Friday night, the beer flowed smoothly and freely—always a crucial factor at a con, I feel—and there was lots of good music.  People at the con seemed laid back and pleasant, and it was a good change of pace and scene for everyone.  We were glad we came.

We got out our guitars and played a few songs together.  Then I opened Charlene Harris’s Dead and Gone, Dorothy opened up a Robert Parker novel, and we sat around reading.  Almost like we were still at the con.    

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About kentmcdanielwrites

Writer and musician.

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