Oct 21 2018

Montreal other than Scintillation. Plus: inexplicable symbolic architectural embellishments

Rosemary

Aside from the actual Scintillation events, it was nice to be in Montreal.   I’d only been there once before, as a teenager, when the family trekked up to see Expo 67.  Alas, we did not stay for long, as the trip was cut short by one family member who decided not to have good time.  (Hint: that person was not me, nor my sister, nor my mother, and there were only four people in our family.)   We left after not seeing very much at all.

I do recall, however, that one did not need a passport to visit Canada in those days.  I driver’s license would suffice.

This time I spent a lot of pre-trip angst worrying that I’d forget my passport and get turned back at the border!  I put the word PASSPORT! in various locations in my to-do lists, notes and bulletin board.  Just in case.

I had not realized that Quebec was so flat between the border and Montreal.   It was quite flat, for many miles, and very agricultural.

I got all excited when we crossed the St. Lawrence Seaway.  I don’t know why, but ever since reading about it in my Geography book as a kid,  it just seemed to me a very cool thing.  And it was!  Except that the bridge we were using (the Champlain Bridge) was under repair and squeezed down to two lanes.  Meanwhile, what looked like a brand-new bridge was being constructed right next the the one we were on, and it looked like it was going to be absolutely gorgeous: a graceful, modern design.   With plenty of lanes.

Actually, much of Montreal seemed to be undergoing repair — at least the parts that we were driving in.  A lot of stop and go, and we did not complain, as most cities have some of that going on.  New York, for example.  Plenty of repairs.  But it was Sabine who noticed the key difference.

Nobody was honking their horns.  Nobody was running the red-lights, or creeping into the intersections.  No causing gridlock.  And when the traffic cops gave a directing wave, everybody did what they were asked to do.

Whoah, we said.  Canada.

The hotel was very nice (if hard to figure out how to enter), right adjacent to Montreal’s Chinatown.  Loved the koi pond in the lobby, with the stone paths criss-crossing it.

And I took a little time out to wander the area (both alone and with Sabine),  and got some  good exercise and interesting sightseeing.

There seems to be a lot of public art…

This pole was QUITE tall.

 

Credit where credit is due.

 

A mural in Chinatown.

 

And then there was this:

Right to left.

These ladies were up on the third floor of a building — apparently just a random building, with nothing special in it other than old offices and a ground-floor shop of some sort.  They are left over, I assume, from a time when the building was much more important, and when buildings in general were likely to feature Important Patriotic Messages!  Embodied as women.  Carrying meaningful symbols.

I often make a point of looking for  odd architectural embellishments on old buildings, especially statuary.   And when they represent the apotheoses of some presumed elevated principle of a bygone era, even better.

These gals delighted me.  And confused me…

We see here, from right to left:

A Native North American, because hey, Canada. Let’s include the people who were here first!

Next, there’s… well, she doesn’t look very Asian, but that’s Buddha in a lotus position on her shield so…  this was right adjacent to Chinatown, so one can see the connection they’re going for, right?

Then, well: white lady with a good ol’ British lion, hurrah!

But then, on the far left:

Why here?

That’s a stereotype of a pharaoh-style head-dress.  And hieroglyphic-style figures on the shield…

So…  why Egyptians?  Why on the front of a building?  In Montreal?

What’s the message?  I’m baffled!

Can anyone explain this?  Because I just can’t decode this one.

Also: I’d like to give a shout-out to author Su Sokol and her partner Glenn Rubenstein, who made it possible for Sabine and me to not miss the Dead Dog party on Sunday night, when we would have otherwise been driving home.  Su and Glenn let us stay in their guestroom, with zero forewarning, and provided interesting conversation as well!  And breakfast the next day.   It was really kind and generous of them.

On the way home, we stopped off at Lake Champlain, which was lovely, even in the rain.

For some reason, people build cairns along the shore.  I don’t know why.

 

 


Oct 20 2018

Scintillation, Part the Third.

Rosemary

There were two other panels that I participated in, both well worth the time.

One was on Writing a Series, with Ruthanna Emrys, Sherwood Smith, Debra Doyle (with her oft-times collaborator Jim MacDonald commenting from the audience), and Fran Wilde.  Many issues were covered, including: planned series vs. accidental series ;   secondary characters who end up getting their own story;  famous series and what makes them good, bad or indifferent;  series where the milieu is the integrating element, with multiple simultaneous series weaving in and out.

In that last category, the prime example is Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.  There are so many threads going on in that world: the witches; the wizards of Unseen University; Sam Vimes and the Night Watch; Tiffany Aching and the Wee Free Men; Moist von Lipvig, the reformed con artist who keeps getting dumped into important bureaucratic positions —  what am I leaving out? Because there’s more.  We took a little time reminding ourselves about how wonderful those books are.  They aren’t just charming and humorous; they include some true and deep observations about the human condition, and it’s so clear how much Pratchett just loved his characters.  And he didn’t just love them himself; he had a level of skill that allowed him to bring us right into the story, and love them too.  He was so wonderful. I’ll miss him forever.

Bujold’s Miles Vorkosigan  series was held up as a good example of a series that follows one character across his or her life, and the panelists and audience had much to say about how they loved that series…  But alas, inexplicably, it has just never managed to grab me. I can’t explain it.  There seems to be nothing wrong at all with the books.  I simply fail to engage fully.  I’ve tried lots of times!  I suppose I ought to try each and every book, just to be sure.  Maybe there’s an entry point that will open it all up for me.  Because once I’m in, there will be a lot more available!  And I do feel a bit left out… Fortunately, Bujold does not need me.  She has plenty of people who love what she does, and more power to her, I say.

As for the authors in the panels:  Fran Wilde spoke of always having a plan, but also always going off-plan.  She needs the plan to exist, but never sticks to it.  Ruthanna spoke of having a place she wants the story to go, but not always knowing how she’s going to get there (I believe it was her who said that… I might be misremembering).  I told of how I always know where I want the story to end up, and really do like to have a planned structure to the story, which lets me tell tales that are integrated and interlocking; but the moment- to-moment writing happens at the keyboard, and I’m open to surprises, too.

The third Panel was “Where are the Books Like Pandemic?” with Alison Sinclair, Eugene Fischer and Ruthanna Emrys.   Pandemic is a board game, one that is unusual in that the players are not set against each other.  Instead, everyone cooperates toward a common goal — preventing the pandemic of the title.  I haven’t played it myself (yet; Sabine bought it), but I’m looking forward to it.  And the topic of the panel was:  What are the books that work that way?  Books that have no villain, that don’t pit person against person, but involve people working together for a solution to a problem?

Jo was supposed to be the moderator, but was called away for a family emergency.  Her role was ably covered by Emmet O’Brien, who did a bang-up job and introduced us to the idea (he was quoting someone, but I missed who it was — was it Jo’s son Sasha?) that the three types of plot can be expressed as “Man vs. Man, Man vs. Plan, and Man vs. Canal,”

And as we talked the issue through, it did become clear that most non-adversarial novels tended to fall under “Man vs. Canal.” There was a thing, a physical thing that had to be done, and we got together and did it, hurrah!  Blow up the asteroid, explore the alien world, make that starship.  I brought up Heinlein’s Farmer in the Sky as in that category.  Let’s Terraform Ganymede!  But then we had to take time out to collectively grind our teeth at 1950’s Heinlein’s attitude towards women, and his assumption that a Real Man knows how to do All the Things,

I made sure to bring up what I consider a prime example of a cooperative novel that is not  in the (Hu)man vs. physical thing category:

Geary Gravel’s novel has no villain, and no big physical survival challenge for the characters to solve.  Instead, it’s a group of people gathered together to address an idea, an assumption held by a civilization.  It almost functions, in some ways, as the intellectual equivalent of a classic heist movie: individuals are selected according to the particular skill they each posses, and the organizer has to convince them to undertake this great cooperative task.

And… I’ve stayed up way too late again.  But that does cover the official parts of my visit to Montreal.

Next up: The unofficial parts.

 

 


Oct 19 2018

Scintillation, Part Two.

Rosemary

I really didn’t quite know what to expect from a panel all about my books.

Jo did contact me first, to make sure I was okay with the whole idea.   And after I was done being gobsmacked, I shifted over to chuffed, and naturally gave my approval for the whole concept!  What’s not to like, right?

Then, at some point, I went into a sort of “Wait, what?” mode.   Was that really going to happen? 

And I remained in something like a state intellectual limbo.   Because, how would that even work?  Could it even work?  How was I going to react, on stage, with a whole panel full of people discussing my work?  Could I predict my own reaction?  Should I even try?  Was I likely to pass out cold from the sheer unbelievablity of the situation?  If so, should I bring, like, a pillow to fall down on?  You know, just in case?

Well.

I eventually reached a stable point, propped up by the facts that the panel was thought up by Jo, who I know likes my books; and included Alison Sinclair, who I know likes my books; and Cenk Cokce, who I know likes my books; and while I’d never met Liza Furr, chances were pretty strong that she was on the panel because she liked my books.  And the audience was probably there because they liked my books.  These people were not likely to be there to tear me down…

On the other hand, that did not change the sense of unreality.   This was something from the Daydream Zone.

I decided to just roll with it.  Plus: it was one panel that I did not have to prepare for beforehand.  No research required.

And how did it turn out?

Here’s the thing.

There’s one thing that a writer — or any artist, for that matter — wants more than anything.  And that is to be understood.

To know that you have reached someone, and that they have seen what you’ve done, and known what it means.  It’s a sort of doubled success: you know, from the reader understanding, that you’ve managed to communicate well and clearly; and you see, by the reader understanding, that the people you hoped existed actually are out there.  It’s encouraging and uplifting from two directions at once.

Possibly I’m speaking for myself here — but really, what artist doesn’t want that?

Fame and fortune?  Sure, it would be great.   But without that understanding, it would be pretty empty.

At that panel, I had a whole room of people who understood, and who also told me that I understood them.   They showed that they are the people for whom I wrote those books.

And when they brought up particular moments in the stories that they especially liked — it was always for the  very reasons that I’d put those moments in there.

One woman in the audience told of how glad she was about Lorren and Eamer in The Language of Power, because it’s rare that you see in fiction any depiction of people who are elderly but still so very much in love; and that’s exactly why I’d put them there.  Because people do sometimes stay in  love forever, getting old doesn’t mean it’s over.   And then her saying that she loved the closing lines of that scene — and them someone else actually quoted them to her.

And (I think it was) Alison bringing up the fact that it’s  good to see books where the central  relationship is a friendship and not a romance; and I was so glad to hear that, because that’s exactly what I wanted to get across: that friendship is a deep and wonderful relationship, and it just isn’t recognized enough in literature.

And of course, there was talk about the original turnaround in the first book — And I’m always interested in hearing from readers about at what point they “got it.”  Because that point is not the same for everyone, and the difference is  not at all linked with how intelligent you are.  It has to more to do with your expectations, your preferences, and even your hopes.

And another thing I noticed: how very kind and careful everyone was in skirting around possible spoilers for readers who haven’t gone through the whole four books.  That was so generous of people toward future readers.   In fact, the only slightly negative reaction I got was when I accidentally dropped  a spoiler for The Outskirter’s Secret.   Some gentle warning rumbles from the crowd… it was actually very gratifying that they would care so much!

I was… well, I was  overwhelmed, delighted, encouraged, heartened.

So, my thanks to Jo, to the panel, and to the audience… and all of you reading this.  Because I’m pretty sure you’re here for the same reasons that people showed up for that panel.

I’m glad you’re out there.

Tomorrow: more about the rest of the convention.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Oct 18 2018

Scintillation in Montreal, Part One.

Rosemary

Way back on Monday of last week, I got back from Scintillation, the brand-new small convention in Montreal that Jo Walton started up via Kickstarter.

For years Jo had been throwing a  big yearly event called the Farthing party (after one of her novels), and this year she wanted to convert it into a more formal convention.  Using Kickstarter to fund it, she managed to get enough interest to keep it going for the next couple of years.

So: success!

The event itself was delightful.  After going to so many humongous conventions across the years, it was nice to attend one that wasn’t overwhelming, but was still interesting at every turn.  It was a great bunch of guests (not least of whom was the amazing Jo herself), plenty of opportunity to both hold forth on a panel and chat informally, a pleasant hotel, and a brand-new city to visit.

I  did not catch any of Ada Palmer’s panels, but I did get to hear her and her Sassafras companions perform on Saturday night.  They did some Renaissance tunes and selections from Ada’s Norse mythology song cycle, “Sundown”.   Jo added to the entertainment by reading a selection of her poems.  The woman seems to just generate sonnets spontaneously — I don’t know how she does it.  Makes me a bit jealous, actually.

I had some lovely conversations with friends old and new, like Ruthanna Emrys and her wife Sarah. I caught Ruthanna’s reading, where she read first from  Winter Tide, Book 1 of the Innsmouth Legacy; and then a bit from her upcoming novel, The Fifth Power (link has slight spoilers!), which was really quite a treat.  I’ve already fallen in love with the characters — protagonist and spouse had to pause to change the baby’s diapers while investigating an alien fortress.  My kinda people.

 

Winter Tide (The Innsmouth Legacy) by [Emrys, Ruthanna]

Jo read from an upcoming work, as well, one scheduled for release next year:

Without giving too much away, it’s about Savanarola, who was apparently not the S.O.B. you thought he was.  The part Jo read made me smile, and at a couple of points laugh out loud.   Really looking forward to this one.

Sabine and I also had a nice dinner and conversation with Alison Sinclair, who I met a couple of years ago at and before Worldcon in Kansas City.

You really should check out Alison’s Darkborn Trilogy; she’s used such an interesting setup for her world and society.   I’ve only read the first one, and really enjoyed it — but Sabine’s read them all and can’t say enough good things about them!

Another discovery of Sabine’s:

Arabella of Mars (The Adventures of Arabella Ashby Book 1) by [Levine, David D.]

I bumped into David at the giveaway table — literally, as I physically bumped into him, and also knocked all his books off the table as I was setting up mine, causing him to view me askance as I dithered through an apology.  But Sabine glommed onto his first book, and fell in love instantly.   She got all the sequels, and is now full of enthusiasm about how delightful they are.  High adventure!  Plucky heroine!  You  should take her advice and check them out. I plan on doing exactly that myself.

As for me: I had three panels and a reading.   I read the bits that I previously read at Readercon, so if you went to that, you didn’t miss anything new…

But the panels were an interesting selection —  and I’ll say more about them tomorrow (running out of time today)…  Let’s just say that the words “chuffed” and “gobsmacked” both apply.

 

Chuffed.