April 28th, 2009

OddCon: Friday

Georgie and I packed up the car Friday morning, and, except for a
construction zone in Waukesha county, had a lovely drive and got to the
OddCon hotel about noon. Check-in for both the hotel and con went
smoothly. When we went up to our room, we were very pleased by the
"welcome" package the concom had put together: a couple of cute stuffed
cows, fruit basket, chocolate, cheese, and an assortment of beer. Very

The first panel we attended was 'SF vs. Fantasy," which had as panelists
Con co-chairs Paul Wiesner and Janet Lewis, TOR Editor Jim Frenkel, and
writer GoH Patrick Rothfuss. The panel dealt with whether or not the
difference between science fiction and fantasy can be defined or not
(especially taking into account various sub-genres like "science
fantasy", Lovecraftian horror, etc.). This was a rambling but enjoyable
discussion, with Patrick Rothfuss making a nice distinction between
"hard" and "soft" fantasy. There weren't any firm conclusions reached,
but most everyone agreed that they know what they see when they see

Georgie and I were both on the panel "Mad Scientists in Story and Fact."
We started by working on some defining terms for "mad science," which

Mad methodology: "I wonder what happens if I do THIS?" as opposed to
scientific "hypothesis-experiment-result--new hypothesis" method.

Lack of concern for consequences or what happens next: example:

Willingness to experiment on oneself: example: Dr. Jekyll

Obsession: example: Rotwang

Revenge motive/"They said I was MAD!" : too many to count--.

Indifference to public opinion, high tolerance for grotesquerie/ick
factor: example: Soviet scientists.

We also spent a little time distinguishing between such related
categories as:

Evil Genius: Lex Luthor, Victor von Doom: These guys' gadgets are often
well-researched and work, just not well enough to beat the good guys.

Evil Overlord: Ming the Merciless, Palpatine: "I am not a mad scientist,
I employ mad scientists."

Sadistic Monster: Josef Mengle: Even people who worked for him said his
"experiments" made no sense.

In the category of Real Life Mad Scientists, we kicked around such names
as Tesla and Einstein (mainly on attitude (Tesla) and appearance, both
common stigmata of mad scientists--), Teller, Oppenheimer and Von Braun
(concern for consequences), and Demikhov and Bruyukhonenko, Soviet
scientists who did dog head transplants or kept decapitated dog heads
alive with artificial circulation.
In the category of Mad Scientists in Fiction, of course Victor
Frankenstein was acknowledged as the grandfather of them all, with Dr.
Jekyll first in the category of self-experimentation. Rotwang from
"Metropolis" was the first great cinematic mad scientist, with his wild
hair, mad glare, mechanical hand, fantastic laboratory and obsession
with bringing back his dead wife in the form of a robot.
We allowed that there were "good" mad scientists, such as Dr. Zarkov
from "Flash Gordon"
We noted that the mad scientist was alive and well with new members of
the club Dr. Horrible, Dr. Cockroach (from the movie "Monsters vs.
Aliens") and most of the cast of the Foglio's wonderful comic "Girl
We had a lively and participating audience, and a good time was had.
We ducked out for dinner and had a good meal with friends at Maharaja, a
nearby Indian restaurant.
Then, back to the con for Opening Ceremonies, with the con committee
producing a rather shapeless but still funny skit.
This was followed by a musical performance by Emma Bull, who sang and
accompanied herself on guitar. Emma is an excellent singer, with a
repertoire including filk, music for "Shadow Unit" (on which more later)
and her new passion, cowboy songs.
We forced ourselves to duck out of the concert so we could get set up
for the "Art, Cheese, and Chocolate" reception at the art show. J.J.
Brutsman had rounded up and matted all Georgie's OddCon cow originals,
and we brought along a retrospective collection of other drawings, zine
covers, and cake pictures. Georgie also brought along a large cake
decorated with a full-color rendition of the "Cowager Empress," which
was displayed for the first half of the event, and eaten the second
That closed down a bit after 10:30PM. We HAD to stop in at the "Mad
Scientist's Party" ("Blue Stuff" in the punch bowl, "Dr. Horrible" on
TV, a lot of fun being had) before going to bed. Things you ONLY
encounter at a con: a group of women in the hall equipped with tiny
horse head finger puppets, standing in a circle singing the "Bad Horse"
song, accompanied by one of them's iPhone--.

OddCon: Saturday

Saturday morning we got up in time to ingest the complimentary breakfast
that came with the room. OK as long as you like scrambled eggs and
sausage links, which were the hot options both Saturday and Sunday. Good
enough for me, but Georgie doesn't like a heavy breakfast. There were
waffles on Saturday, but Sunday morning she had to make do with toast
and jelly. We were both kind of surprised they didn't have sweet rolls
or something, especially on Sunday.

Ten o'clock was Georgie's solo panel, "The Persistent Amateur," in which
she did a good job of expounding her philosophy of life, art, and
fandom, in which doing what you want to do and love to do is worth doing
even if no one pays you to do it, and some times especially so. After
all, if no one is paying you, they can't very well stop you, either--.

At 11:30, we attended the panel "War on Science: Report from the Front".
(Russell, Neder, Lewis, and Havighurst). Since I'm particularly
interested in the attempts to pervert and subvert science in the aid of
"policy" there wasn't much new to me, but it was heartening to see how
many fans remain passionately committed to real progress. Points to
Richard Russell, the panel organizer, for pointing out the failures on
both ends of the political spectrum in this area.

At one PM, I had the great privilege of moderating the "Urban Fantasy"
panel, with Emma Bull, Sarah Monette, Will Shetterly, and Lori Devoti. A
lot of discussion focused on Emma's novel, "War for the Oaks," because
that is generally regarded as a seminal work in the genre, but we
covered a lot of other territory, including the cityscape of Monette's
"Melusine" series, "Bordertown," which both Bull and Shetterly
contributed to, Devoti's urban/noir/paranormal works, and others such as
China Mieville's "Perdido Street Station" and Neil Gaiman's
"Neverwhere." Perhaps the most significant conclusion was that certain
types of stories and certain types of characters require the complexity
and diversity of an urban environment to exist, whether it is in
Lanhkmar or in Minneapolis. A large audience listened to the authors in
fascination for most of the panel before contributing their own

At two thirty we took a break and checked out the dealer's room, which
was small, but not too small given the size of the con, and I suspect
the dealers didn't do all that much business. We picked up a couple of
used books from one dealer, bought some new from DreamHaven, admired
jewelry and cards and hung out a bit with Judy Seidl and Tim Kozinski at
the Ganesha's Treasures table.

4PM was time for me to help out Lee Schneider with his talk on "An
Alternative Roswell Conspiracy Theory." Lee's proposal that wreckage
recovered in the Roswell area might have been parts of a Soviet spy
plane flying from Mexico to survey nearby targets such as White Sands
and Alamogordo is interesting, fits most of the commonly accepted facts,
and has actually grown better with time given some recent revelations.
For myself, I still think it was in fact a weather balloon, but Lee's
idea is if nothing else an entertaining gedankenexperiment and goes to
show how easily a conspiracy theory can be built around very few facts.

Jim Frenkel took the Guests of Honor out to dinner at Takara Japanese
restaurant, which was very good. I am here to tell you that Emma Bull,
Will Shetterly, Patrick Rothfuss, and Jim Frenkel (and of course
Georgie) are all great company and wonderfully entertaining people to
go to dinner with. If you get the chance, don't pass it up. One of the
many interesting things I learned was that, yes, there WILL be a sequel
to "Territory," called "Claim." (Not giving anything away, since Emma
announced as much on Sunday at her reading.)

Back at the Con, we caught the announcement and readings of the winners
of OddCon's "Flash Fiction" contest, which were most impressive. (The
winners can be read at: http://www.oddcon.com/stories.html )

Then followed Guest of Honor speeches, Jim Frenkel Master of Ceremonies
as customary. Georgie lead off with her witty reminiscence of a life in
fandom. Emma Bull followed, saying she did not do speeches, but took
questions from the audience and gave very interesting answers. Patrick
Rothfuss batted third, with also "not a speech," but a hilarious story
of the perils of writing in northern isolation where the only remarkable
occurrence for days might be the sighting of an unusual duck--.

After a bit of circulating, we dropped in on the performance by Salaam
Shalom, an entertaining fusion/folk group that combines some pop
classics with Turkish, Israeli, and other mid-eastern music. The band
was fronted by an excellent mid-eastern dancer, whose name, regrettably,
I did not catch. Later on, the group taught some folk dances,
encouraging the audience to join in.

We took a short rest before coming back down for the Midnight Horror
Panel with the "What Is It About Zombies?" theme. We talked about
origins of zombie fiction and film, and the current interest in the
zombie phenomenon, with live action "Zombie Lurches", movies, video
games, and novels such as "World War Z" and "Pride and Prejudice and
Zombies." I was impressed by the depth of knowledge and interest the
other panelists brought to the table. It was a very good discussion, and
the small audience (after midnight, after all) all went away with new

After that, we staged our own two-creature zombie lurch and went up to

OddCon: Sunday

After having fiddled with the Sleep Number Bed controls we got up Sunday
having slept somewhat better than the night before. Garrison Keiler
regardless, neither of us like these beds very much, and the fact that
they are in all the rooms is the Radisson's biggest drawback. (For those
not initiated, the Sleep Number Bed consists of a pneumatically enhanced
mattress that can, in theory, be set from extra firm to very soft and
any gradation in between. In practice, the units always have sluggish
and inexact control that results in two choices: table-top hard or

I had one panel on Sunday, "From John Carter to Harry Potter: The Appeal
of the Series," along with Richard Chedwyk, Patrick Rothfuss, and Jason
Waltz. While waiting for the panel to start, we had one of those
wonderfully fannish moments that frequently occur on Sunday at a con
when people are getting a bit loopy. Richard, Patrick and I had
congratulated ourselves on retaining possession of our con-issue tent
name cards. I suggested that people who do a lot of cons, like pros,
might like to have permanent customized name cards, like some people
have name badges. Then Patrick suggested one might have his equipped
with spring-loaded deely-bopper stars to be triggered and spring out
when the speaker thought he had made a particularly good point. We then
speculated about potential "escalations" including placards with
programmable LED crawls which might do anything from promoting one's
website to expressing snarky comments. Next was the idea that one might
have a mobile card that would move and squat in front of other people's,
or even attack and flip them over, ala "Robot Wars"--.

The audience was saved from much more of this lunacy by the actual panel
starting, and we gave a good exposition of the history of series in
genre fiction; accidental series vs. planned series vs. great big books
(like Patrick's "The Name of the Wind,") that have to be split up into
volumes; and which series we particularly liked or disliked. The
audience participated with great enthusiasm throwing their own
candidates into the ring.

Emma Bull read at 11:30, giving us her highly regarded poem on the death
of John Ringo (the outlaw, not the writer), the beginning of the first
chapter of "Claim," the sequel to "Territory," and a piece from a
forthcoming installment of "Shadow Unit" ( http://www.shadowunit.org/ )
the innovative story website for which she is "Executive Producer."
"Shadow Unit" reports the cases of the "Anomalous Crimes Unit",
described as "Criminal Minds" meets "The X-Files". (I came across
reference to Shadow Unit while doing research before the con and it
looks fascinating.)

Given the continuing bad weather on Sunday, we left a bit early and
drove home, taking with us a load of good memories.