I got to the hotel around the time the programming started, about 1pm. I attended three panels, a reading, and a free-form debate, as well as the opening reception, and they were all interesting in their own ways. In order:
1. ConTenTion, or arguing as a form of entertainment. The moderator presented the audience with four starter topics and then invited us to have at it. There was no panel, just a mod to keep control of the proceedings (and to participate in all the debates himself). Typically, two at a time would take the lead for each question, one on each side of the argument, and then when other people wanted to make points, they would tag themselves in -- or just raise their hand and should their point from the audience. In some cases, the same person would argue from both sides on the same question, depending on the direction the debate was taking. It was immensely entertaining, mostly because no one was taking it too seriously. People disagreed, people made their points strongly, and people were passionate about their opinions, but it never got ugly or personal.
Most of the questions at issue had to do with the quality and/or influence of a particular book or movie; we started with Perdido Street Station by China Mieville, a book which I personally have conflicting opinions about, and I enjoyed seeing many of those opinions aired out. We also discussed Star Wars (best thing to happen to science fiction film, or worst?), the Amber series, Conan the Barbarian, Ender's Game (that one turned into an excellent debate about morality in fiction), and The Lord of the Rings (books).
2. A panel on writing urban fantasy in ancient cities (or just non-modern cities). A good panel, sometimes a little frustrating in what I saw as a definition of urban fantasy that I found a little too narrow, but overall I thought it was a good refresher on how cities have changed over time, and how they haven't. They asked for examples from the audience, and I kept feeling like I was not remembering something that ought to have been obvious. Still, enjoyable.
3. A panel on segregation in modern cities and the implications for speculative fiction, with enf's maps showing racial diversity in American cities as a jumping off point. Some interesting topics, including some thoughts on creating diverse casts of characters while avoiding tokenism, how to deal with different species living together in far future cities, how the facts of segregation meshes with the experience of city dwellers being forced to interact with people of different races, ethnicities, social and economic classes.
4. Reception! Finger foods, cash bar, chatting. I got to talking to a woman next to me in line for the food, and we were talking about the books we like; I told her about my Vorkosigan project, and she got very excited. "I'm so jealous of you, discovering those books for the first time!" When I told her where I was in the story (a few chapters into Mirror Dance), I could practically see her sitting on her hands to avoid spoilers. ;) So that was fun.
5. A reading by con chair Vylar Kaftan (whom I actually know; we worked together many years ago) and Mary Anne Mohanraj (with whom I share many social connections). Although I know both of these authors personally, I'm not as familiar with their work as I ought to be, so I really enjoyed getting to hear them read, and talk about their stories and their process. The reading ended a little early, so I drifted up to the con suite, where I nibbled a little, and chatted a bit with people, and looking into volunteering to help out in the suite tomorrow but actually the only slot I could have done conflicted with a panel that I really wanted to attend. So not this time, but it was still nice to connect with a couple of new people. Interacting with strangers always the hardest part of a convention for me, but usually when I put myself in situations where I'm forced to do it, it works out pretty well.
6. A panel on public transportation. I suspect this was originally meant to be about writing public transit into speculative literature, but one of the panelests had to drop out and so it ended up just being a general discussion on the topic. But it turned into a fantastic discussion about the problems with public transit in the US, particularly in the Bay Area: the historical and structural reasons that it's so bad in most cities, issues of class and race and economics and disability, car culture versus walking culture versus biking culture. As a city dweller who would like to depend less on a car, and as a student of urban planning and urban history, I find the topic with all its complex facets really fascinating, and I was glad to be part of the discussion. And the mod even thanked me for my contributions from the audience afterwards!
And now, to rest up for tomorrow. Programming actually starts at 9AM, but I fear I'm not going to be able to drag myself in that early. However, there's a panel at 10:30 that I definitely want to see, about Being Wrong on the Internet, so if I want to make sure to arrive in time I should get some sleep.
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