Potlatch 18

The last weekend in February was a busy one this year. WonderCon, Cinequest and Potlatch served to scatter local fandom all over the map. I chose Potlatch over WonderCon for several reasons, but principally because Ursula K. Le Guin would be present.

Unlike most conventions, Potlatch chooses a Book of Honor rather than a Guest of Honor. Up until this year the book had never been by a living author, but for whatever reason they made two changes this year. Firstly they chose Always Coming Home by Le Guin, and they also decided to have two books instead of one, choosing the YA novel Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford to share the honor.

A cozy little convention, it fit nicely into the Domain hotel which I had last visited for Steam Powered. The excellent consuite helped make up for the lack of a suitable hotel restaurant, and the social space in the lobby created a nice alternative to spending all day in the consuite. A small dealer’s room was located on the ground floor, with several booksellers including Borderlands, Cargo Cult, Tachyon, and Book Universe, and a couple of jewelers.

Friday after work I took Caltrain from San Francisco to Santa Clara and then a short bus ride to the hotel, quite convenient really. As I waited for the bus, Chris Garcia called wondering if I would ask Jay Lake to write up a con report. I said sure, as one bafflingly does when Garcia asks for things. As soon as I hung up I remembered I don’t really know Jay as such and am far better at badgering drunk friends into doing things they already want to do, than at actually asking for favors. I called Leigh Ann Hildebrand and delegated the job to her instead.

I got to the convention around 8 p.m. and met up with Leigh Ann and Christian McGuire who had had slightly more optimistic expectations of my arrival time, and were more than ready to get some dinner. I checked in and left unpacking for later so we could grab something to eat. Christian selected Bombay Garden from the handy restaurant guide which took up the bulk of the program book. The restaurant was packed when we got there but we were seated within a few minutes and ran into a few other Potlatch folks enjoying the large buffet offerings. On the way back we stopped at Luckyís to pick up some ginger beer with which to make Little Things, since Leigh Ann had brought some Hangar One Pear Vodka.

If one is a Joy of Life Rewards Member, the Joy de Vivre Hotels provide one with a guest amenity upon check in. In this case that turned out to be a full bottle of white wine each. I had also brought a bottle of wine and the consuite was providing beer and wine as well, so things were looking pretty good on the booze front. Especially taking into account that after the recent excess of Gallifrey One, I was looking forward to a low-key weekend this time around.

I took the time to settle in and unpack before pouring myself some wine and wandering a little to see who was about. Programming was done by that point but the consuite, which is really the heart of this convention, was still full of folks chatting. We spent some time there, then headed back to Leigh Annís room for a couple more hours. The last hour or so of the evening was spent reading the last issue of Vegas Fandom Weekly and pondering the concept of core classic original ìproud and lonelyî fandom.

The Domain had thoughtfully provided a free coupon for their breakfast buffet so I had optimistically set my alarm for nine a.m. As I lay there trying to convince myself that I cared even a little about breakfast, Christian called to badger me into getting up, pointing out that I could go right back to sleep afterwards if I wanted to. It was touch and go for a minute but he pointed out that Leigh Ann would be wearing her glasses for the first time in public (that I know of) and I had to see that, given the big deal she had made over buying the damned things. So I dragged myself out of bed and did the minimum ablutions to get presentable.

The glasses were fetching, but the actual breakfast was the same rather disappointing buffet as last time. The restaurant is simply not set up for convention-style groups. I did manage to get some bacon, eggs and coffee, and free is free, so I shouldnít complain. As we sat there Jay Lake wandered in and sat nearby. I nudged Leigh Ann who turned to Christian and asked him to ask Jay for a report for Garcia. I suddenly felt like I was in elementary school again. Christian, bless his heart, is used to doing this sort of thing, and was more than happy to, so on our way out we all shuffled over to Jayís table and explained ourselves. Of course he said yes. Thank you Jay!

By now the coffee had done its job and I had no interest in going back to sleep. Instead I wandered over to the Dealer’s Room which was mainly booksellers with a couple of jewelers for variety. Rina and Jacob Weisman were at the Tachyon table, and next to them was Borderlands, manned by Jude Feldman and Jeremy Lassen, both looking very smartly dressed. I browsed for a bit and then chatted with Diana Sherman at the Tachyon table for a bit until it was time for the next panel, The Scalzi Rule.

I met up with Christian and Leigh Ann and we headed up to the main programming room. About half the con was there and the discussion was quite lively. The “Scalzi Rule” refers to an old post by John Scalzi regarding audience participation in convention panels, specifically the preferability of asking questions instead of making statements. The discussion concluded that the problem actually being addressed was grandstanders and thread highjackers, and that it could most easily be solved by good moderation. Mary Kay Kare twittered @scalzi to get his comments and he replied that he had mostly forgotten about the “Scalzi Rule” but thought the discussion sounded interesting.

After that let out I was tempted to nap, but Le Guin was going to be reading from the Book of Honor at 3:30 p.m. so I had to postpone sleep. I bought a tasty gluten-free brownie from the Tiptree bake sale and wandered back to the dealer’s room for a bit. I asked around but no one seemed certain whether Le Guin would be signing or not, so I made a mental note to pick up copies of certain books and headed to the reading.

When I arrived the room was nearly full but I found a seat near the back. There was a screen upon which they were projecting a Second Life simulcast of the reading. Le Guin read a story and some poems from the Book of Honor, Always Coming Home, which I had tried reading before the con but had had a hard time getting into. Read aloud it’s far more compelling, matching the oral culture in the story, and I’m tempted now to search out the original version which came with a cassette of the songs and music. When the reading was done Le Guin took questions from the audience in the room and in Second Life. The questions varied from interesting to rather unimaginative, but she answered them all thoughtfully and kindly even when the answer was “I hadn’t really though of that.”

Afterwards people started lining up to get books signed so I popped downstairs and bought a copy of The Lathe of Heaven for myself, another of A Wizard of Earthsea for a friend, and her new book, Lavinia, on Jude’s recommendation. When I got back, Rina Weisman was in line ahead of me, so we got to chat while waiting. The line moved reasonably fast and soon enough Le Guin was signing my books while I tried to remember my words and not embarrass myself. I got through unscathed and bounced around for the next hour or so too elated to think about sleeping.

I knew I needed the rest so eventually I headed up to the room for a nap. Of course that meant that when Christian and Leigh Ann were ready for dinner at 6:30 I was barely coherent. I excused myself and got another hour of rest plus a short but very pleasant bath in the big hotel tub, then ate the Basil Chicken that Leigh Ann was kind enough to bring back for me from the restaurant. Feeling much more human I headed down to meet them close to 9:30 p.m. during the Clarion Auction.

Tom Whitmore and Jay Lake were auctioneering with help from Ellen Klages as I scurried up to where Leigh Ann had saved me a seat in the second row. As I sat down she leaned over and said something apologetic-sounding about the seats. I only heard part of it but misunderstood and muttered my own apology for being late. A few minutes later a copy of a Le Guin book came up for auction and Jay mentioned that the author would sign it, while gesturing to my immediate right. I looked over with trepidation and realized that I was sitting beside Le Guin herself. I looked over at Leigh Ann in a panic and she grinned at me – that was what she had been trying to tell me when I sat down.

I spent the next half hour or so simply trying to sit up straight and not embarrass myself, and I was doing just fine until Jay picked up a t-shirt in a plastic bag from the items to be auctioned and made an “excuse me while I whip this out” joke. Whereupon all the wags in the audience rose to the occasion, including myself. It was only after the “Gosh, it’s longer than I expected!” witticism was out of my mouth that my forebrain pointed out that making dick jokes probably fell into the “embarrassing myself in front of a living legend of SF literature” category.

Luckily I wasn’t able to spend too much time dwelling upon my faux pas because mere minutes later an audio copy of Catwings came up. Tom mentioned that it was read by the author and Le Guin piped up with “and meowed!” As I paused to consider this, Le Guin meowed.

I looked over at Leigh Ann at the same time that she looked over at me. Beside me, Le Guin continued meowing, with increasing volume and disturbing realism. And as the bidding continued, someone from the back of the room meowed back and there was a brief yoweled cat-talk conversation. I sat very still and considered whether I should just pack up and leave fandom right then and there, as surely nothing would ever top this experience.

The rest of the auction flew past. Leigh Ann scored some Harlan goodness and I bid on and won a handmade-by-Le Guin jewelry bag and a fun t-shirt. By the time we paid and collected our loot it was pretty late. I ran into Maureen Starkey as I headed to the consuite and we had a good chat before she had to go home for the night. I then made it over to the consuite which was quite busy and full of good snackables. With several knitters in the room the TAFF Scarf came up in conversation and we bemoaned not having thought to bring it. Christian whipped out his phone and called Garcia, who lives just a few minutes away.

Mere minutes later in he walked, wearing his jammies, the Scarf in hand. We got pictures of various folks wearing it and then he called it a night so I took it back to the safety of Leigh Ann’s room. As we walked past the lobby area we could see Jay Lake, Diana Sherman and a gaggle of other folks downstairs so we popped down for a while and got some more pictures.

We left them to it and headed back to the consuite for a while until we got thirsty and decided to mix some Little Things. We went to the room and got those, heckling Garcia and company who were still in the lobby. We offered to bring some drinks and one person took us up on the offer, so we ended up spending the next hour or so drinking pear vodka and ginger beer and chatting about religion, South Park, and Doctor Who. Eventually people started drifting their various ways so I popped by reception to get a late checkout, and after another short but interesting visit to the consuite I called it a night around one thirty.

When I got to the room I found a spider sitting on the bed and spent about half an hour or so scooping it up with the room service menu, being embarrassingly girly and freaked out at each progressively more alarming failure and finally getting it out onto the balcony. After another half hour or so checking around to make sure it was gone, I finally got to sleep around two thirty.

Sunday morning I got up at a reasonable time, but not quite early enough to bother with the buffet. Instead I swung by the consuite for coffee and some nibbles. I drifted between there and the dealerís room for the next couple of hours, chatting with folks and making some last-minute purchases. I spent some time people watching from the second floor balcony area, watching Ed Stokke stalking folks with his smoke gun and people just generally coming and going.

Eventually it was time to check out of my room so I left my bags at reception. On the way to do that I ran into Kevin Roche and Andy Trembley, who had spent the weekend at SF Coronation. Andy brought out his camera to get some final pictures of a bunch of folks all wearing The Scarf at once, and as he did so, Leo Schwab arrived to meet us for lunch. The sadness of leaving the con was somewhat softened by a very tasty lunch at Hobee’s and a zoom-zoom-y ride back to the city courtesy of Leo and his Mini Cooper.

~España Sheriff

SF/SF Issue #82, March 11, 2009