April 9th, 2014

OddCon 2014

On Friday, April 4th, Georgie and I drove over to Madison for Odyssey Con 14. We found the new hotel, the Crowne Plaza on Madison's east side, easily, and checked in with no problems.

Our first panel was mine, "What Gaming Has Done For/To Me." Lee Schneider was moderator, and I joined Bill Bodden and guest of honor Peter Lee in sharing reminiscences of our years in the gaming hobby. This was a fun panel to be on, and I think the audience enjoyed it as well.

After that, I was on "Uplift Accidents," with F.J. Bergmann and Cristel Sparks, which discussed the problems of "uplifting" non-sentient species to sentience, and of potentially being "uplifted" by a more advanced race, and how that might affect humanity. This was a good, lively discussion with vigorous audience participation. (One of the problems that plagued this year's con was the extensive double-booking of panelists, due to a rather highly compressed programming process, which I gather resulted from the changes in the concom. I elected to go to "Uplift Accidents" rather than "Dragons, Wizards and Fey," which would have been only me--.)

Next, we hit the dealer's room and bought some things from Ingrid the Crafty and from Hank Luttrell. We went out and got a quick evening meal by purchasing sandwiches from "Milio's" which we brought back to our room and ate. Milio's is a carry-out only place nearby, and the sandwiches were fresh and good.

The Opening Ceremonies skit was more tightly scripted than some of recent years. Doctor Who's 1, 10, and 11 encounter Dr. House, mostly succeeding in irritating the irascible physician. There were a few good jokes, but the sketch petered out without a real punch line.

(This year is the 50th anniversary for Dr. Who, and 40th for Dungeons and Dragons, so those were major themes of the con. Georgie's "Dr. Moo" cow-acature design was very well received, and translated beautifully into the t-shirt of the year.)

After Opening Ceremonies, we drifted around a bit, checked out the Con Suite, chatted, and made it a fairly early night.

We started Saturday morning with the hotel's buffet breakfast, which was quite good. Fruit, cereal and bread were on offer. There was a do-it-yourself waffle maker, cinnamon french toast, warm sweet rolls, two kinds of eggs, bacon, and sausage, all of which were quite good and fortified us for the day.

Georgie had panels this day, and started off at 10:00 with "Fantastic Prague," which discussed the extensive presence of the city of Prague in fantastic literature, ranging from the legendary "Golem of Prague" to current novels such as "City of Dark Magic," and "Cabinet of Wonders." There was a good turnout for an early panel and a good discussion.
At 11:30AM, Georgie had "Wicked Women," a celebration of the unrepentant and unredeemed female villain in science-fiction, fantasy, and film noir. The audience chimed in with their favorite "bad girls."

After that, we hit the con suite for a light snack, and then went out to do a little necessary shopping in the area.

We were back at 2:30 for "Science Fiction Charades," which was a lot of fun as usual. Due to a responsive audience, I came in second overall in presenting. Georgie and I also won notoriety for some correct guesses, I for getting "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," from that it was a six-word title beginning with "The," and Georgie for getting "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2" from "-ball 2".

Our next event was the Costume Contest at 5:30, which I helped judge. It was an interesting idea to move the costume contest to the hotel's spacious atrium lobby, which had excellent lighting, but was not as friendly to presentation. There was a surprisingly good turnout for a small con, and some very nice costumes. It was the unanimous opinion of the judges that "Best in Show" went to the "Weeping Angels" (from the Dr. Who episode "Blink") which were, frankly, WorldCon level costumes, and fascinating to see close up.
We went out to dinner with Darlene Coltrain and Steven Vincent Johnson at the nearby Imperial Garden, and had a very good Chinese dinner with excellent service. We were back in good time for the Guest of Honor Speeches.
Guests Troy Denning and Peter Lee talked about the ups and downs of working for TSR and Wizards of the Coast from very early days (Denning) to the present day (Lee). Author guest Richard Lee Byers gave a very funny and ironic speech on the topic "Five Principles of Toxic Communication," a dead-on response to the Internet's general tendency toward scorched-earth awfulness. I will put up my notes on this useful speech as a separate post.
F.J. Bergmann read the winners of the Flash Fiction contest, which were quite impressive, especially the Youth winner. After the presentation, we went and read the Spontaneous Fiction entries, which were also very good particularly given the constraints of the contest. We ended up chatting outside the con suite for some time, and eventually retired for the night.
On Sunday at 10:00AM, I joined Richard Russell, and Richard West for discussion of "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug." With an interested audience, we discussed elves in general, female elves in particular, elf-dwarf romance, Benedict Cumberbach as the voice of Smaug, fighting a running battle with a dragon in an underground complex, and speculation on what the next film will include. Although it was generally agreed that the films have been enjoyable and spectacular, it was also agreed that, by this point in the narrative, we are no longer in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit," but in Peter Jackson & Co.s' "The Hobbit."

Next, we went to "Faces of Sherlock," a panel about the many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes. I found this generally interesting (although one panel member was annoyingly misinformed on some points) and learned about a number of interesting-sounding Sherlock variations I hadn't heard of.
At 1:00PM. I went to the "D&D Next" interview with Peter Lee. Lee spoke about the process of evolving the next edition of Dungeons and Dragons, which was interesting in part, but repeated quite a bit of his speech from the previous night, and, obviously, there was a lot he was not able to talk about.

At 2:30, Georgie was on our last panel of the con (and the last panel slot), joining Rena Noel on "What is an Iron Ration?" which started off by dissecting the lack of detail about food in most games and segueing into a talk about food in SF and fantasy in general with reference to favorite works and series.

We drove home having had a very good time, and looking forward to next year. The concom is working hard to rectify the lapses due to this year's transitions, and an new homepage is already up with guests, theme, and artwork for next year-check it out at: www.odysseycon.org<http://www.odysseycon.org>.

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The Lunchbox ("Dabba")

On Tuesday night, April 8th, we went to the Downer Theatre to see "The Lunchbox."

"The Lunchbox" is a sadly-sweet film about how two lives become entwined as the result of a mis-delivered lunch.
The story is set in Mumbai, where "dabbawallahs" or lunchbox men pick up meals from homes or restaurants and deliver them to workers at their desks for lunch.

Ila (Nimrat Kaur) is a lonely young wife. Her husband works long hours, and, when home, lives in a fog of distraction that makes him oblivious to his beautiful spouse. Ila, under the direction of her "Auntie" (who lives upstairs and communicates by shouting from window to window), attempts to regain his attention by taking extra pains with his lunchbox.
Her plan goes awry when the lunchbox delivery system misfires, and her lunch ends up on the desk of a stranger.

Saajan Fernandes (Irrfan Khan) is a government worker on the verge of retirement. He is also lonely, a widower who has no friends, and spends evenings smoking on his balcony, distantly watching the bright life of the family across the way. His workaday life is disrupted, first, when he finds the carry-out lunch he had ordered replaced by a delicious home-made meal, and second, when he is directed to train his eventual replacement.
The replacement, Shaikh (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) is an ambitious but needy young man, "an orphan," and way too eager to please for Saajan's comfort. Saajan gives him the cold shoulder until Shaikh stands up for himself.

Ila figures out that the lunch was misdirected, and next day's box includes a note. He sends an initially terse reply, which eventually flowers into a correspondence that becomes increasingly more intimate.

Saajan, whose reluctant mentoring of Shaikh has dragged him back into the land of the living, is touched by Ila's letters as her life continues a downward spiral of loss and alienation. Finally, she asks to meet.
The story plays out after that with some surprising turns toward an ambiguous ending. Watching it is fascinating, and the story is beautifully and sensitively portrayed. Nimrat Kaur has far fewer films to her credit than the veteran Irrfan Khan, but her performance is an excellent match for his subtle and nuanced portrayal.

Fascinating also is the world of workaday Mumbai, with its crowded streets, crowded trains, and even crowded graveyards. Saajan remarks, wryly, but not joking, that after standing up on trains and busses all his life, he will be buried standing up. Saajan's government office is nothing like the shiny call centers seen in "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel." He has a plain wooden desk in a rank of desks, not even a cubicle, and works on stacks of paper files with pen and pencil. The only electronic device he has is a common small calculator. As someone who does all his work on computer I would not have guessed it, but I can see that this is the difference between working for the government of a country where millions live in desperate poverty, and working for a well-funded tech company.
Most highly recommended.

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