Back From the ICFA

Addendum: I’ve been trying to observe good grammar in my entries of late (compare to my earlier posts!) but this one is still a victim of stream-of-consciousness writing as I hate editing my blogs. You’ve been warned. 🙂
Wow! What a week! My wife and I spent last Wednesday through to Sunday in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, at the International Conference for the Fantastic in the Arts.
Really the only good way to describe my adventure is chronologically, so I’ll do that and try to be succinct.

So way super early Wednesday morning after getting two hours of sleep, we drove three hours to Kansas City (the closest airport that has direct flights to Ft. Lauderdale,) and got on a Boeing 717–an extremely safe and modern and pretty new jet with a history of only one FAA incident and it was a minor electrical thing (I check this stuff out, because I’m one level short of being clinically phobic. Now, I love flying. Up in the air I’m fine. Flying rocks. But I’m deathly afraid of take-offs and landings because I know most, almost to the point of saying “nearly all” major incidents occur at those periods. I know it’s safer to fly than to drive. But most car accidents result in sprained neck, broken ankle, things like that. Most serious plane accidents result in flaming liquid aluminum death for all! So, landings and take-offs are sheer hell for me. Anyway….)

We get to the Ft. Lauderdale Airport Hilton, and it’s nice and all, but there are no restaurants (save one) within walking distance and the hotel food is WAY overpriced!! But the rooms are nice! Anyway, there’s a ICFA welcoming meetings, with a panel including a publisher with TOR and a couple of senior journal editors discussing the business of speculative fiction publishing and that was cool. Then We attended a panel, and then the welcoming reception with WAY overpriced cash bar. (Mmmm, Bailey’s Irish Cream….) Wife had to retire for the night, but I wanted to stick around and mingle. At one point I went out into the hall to read some flier and along comes a girl, woman, (I hate gender issues) 30-ish person of the female persuasion with a drink in one hand an a plastic cup of chocolate fondue from the reception in the other and she walks by, stops, and comes back and sits next to me and introduces herself. She says she likes my hat (I like wearing hats…this was my Summer straw hat with a nice band) and invites me to join her (once she’s donned a bathing suit) out at the outdoor hottub with some friends. So I made my way out there and met a few others who call themselves The Dead Parrots (Monty Python reference…gotta love that!) A loose collection of friends, both close and distant, who hang out with each other at the conference. A few Canadians, a couple of Germans, and a few Yanks. They had strawberries for which the chocolate was necessary, wine, and beer. After a couple of hours of gabbing I went back to my room and told my wife, “There’s a group of people you HAVE to meet!” And so for the rest of the conference we hung out with the Dead Parrots and thank the gods. They’re a great, fun group of people who included us right in and made for a much more enjoyable conference than it would have been if we had to try to infuse ourselves into various conversations and cliques and hang out solitary for four or five days. I am so thankful N. took a moment to stop and say hi to me.

So then Thursday was my birthday! And the day I presented my paper at the conference. We attended another couple of panels, and then I presented mine. Having never attended a conference before I didn’t know what to expect or exactly what tone to strike with my paper, so I assumed a rather lofty, scholarly level with it. Well, it seemed to me that about 30% of the papers were scholarly and 70% were pretty informal and even haphazard or improvised. So mine may have been a little boring and dense, but it got some good comments going. I got one comment from a Dutch professor that she was glad to see a “theory” paper as they’re pretty rare (the underlying basis for my paper rested upon a MarxistLacanian theory blend; most of the papers seem devoid of any overt theory, which isn’t necessarily bad, but may be a contributing factor to their apparent lack of cohesion or focus. Although those that were scholarly, and even some that weren’t, were generally Feminist or “Queer Theory” (not surprising considering the focus of the conference was on gender in the fantastic.)
I even got a couple of requests for copies of my paper! Now, I need to expand it to make it journal article length (no problem, since my original research yielded scads of material) and edit it to a level where it’s worth a journal article (more problematic) and submit it.

Then, paper having been presented, time to relax! Attended a couple of panels, and then invited the Dead Parrots to join us for dinner at the Rusty Inn for dinner. It’s a crab shack on a ocean-connected canal, and man! was it good! Of course for my b-day I had both lobster and crab, and we shared a platter of appetizers with the group that included breaded and fried alligator and frog legs. The alligator was quite tasty and I tried that without problem. The frog leg…man did I hem and haw over that! Creepy looking! But I finally gave in, and wow. Tasty JUST like chicken! With a gamy rabbit aftertaste, but not at all bad. And then a Key Lime Pie for my birthday.

Back at the conference that night was a “graduate student caucus,” which was basically a movie showing. We watched the Japanese thriller Ôdishon (Audition) which I’d heard about on a podcast before as being exceptionally violent and disturbing. I have to say, I don’t think I’m jaded (I can’t watch cable TV operation or ER shows and even those police chase shows make me anxious,) but it was way more tame than I thought it’d be. It was an interesting drama, and had some good moments, but it felt like two different styles of movies squished together. And included an impossible dream-sequence that involved the main character knowing things he couldn’t possibly know which kind of annoyed me too much to ignore. It’s OK when a movie plays fast and loose with reality, but when it’s very much a reality-centered movie (even if it’s a psycho thriller) and they have an instance of incredulous break from reality–it just messes up the whole thing.
But, the company was good.

Then Friday, more panels and a free luncheon where there was a free book at every seat. We skipped out before the featured speakers in order to take a cab to the James Randi Education Foundation (JREF) which happened to be only 10 minutes away! I went to sign up for a membership and buy a couple of items–of course I was hoping I might meet Mr. Randi himself, but I didn’t hold out much hope. Even so, while we were there talking to the office assistant about signing up, James Randi came out and in a playful manner blusterly demanded who was darkening his office. He was way cool. He was smaller and more frail than I expected, but the man IS pushing 80 and recovering from heart problems! But he was incredibly kind, generous, quick witted. He invited us back into his library where we discussed the workings of this fascinating conversation piece of what appears to be a globe moving on its own accord, and performed a couple of card tricks for us (which was nice since he really hasn’t performed magic for years.) I really appreciate the man for taking time out of his day to greet and entertain a couple of strangers stopping by the office. Class act!

So we get back to the conference, and who should be performing a show at the very same hotel we’re at? The so-called “psychic” John Edward! How’s that for synchronicity, or irony, or something.

OK, so more panels, more hanging out at the pool and hottub, talking. They had a bookstore with discounted books, and a lot of signed books, and lots of unproofed gallies of books from TOR. But one kick-butt thing is the IAFA (the conference host) was giving away back copies of the Journal for the Fantastic in the Arts, and I got a nearly full set of back issues–which rocks! It’s like having a personal resource library, especially since that’s one of the few peer-reviewed speculative journals my university actually doesn’t carry that journal! (Next year I need to remember to leave more room in my suitcases!)

Saturday night was the banquet reception followed by the banquet. The banquet had a nice dinner, more free books, awards presentations, and an acknowledgment of the permanent guest of honor, Brian Aldiss. Interesting: The fellow who talked about him and his contribution to both the conference and speculative fiction, played a snippet of him in a recent BBC interview, and in it he said a curious thing. He believed that while science fiction comments on the human condition, science fiction’s heyday is long gone and has past its peak. I’m not sure why he said that, or what he means by that, or if he’s even correct. But it does make me think: has it? Can it? If science fiction, from H.G. Wells to cyberpunk, reflect cultural concerns and issues, how can it pass any peak? But, is it possible, with the huge glut of authors and the ability for pretty much anyone of any quality to find a publisher nowadays, “good” sci-fi (whatever that means,) gets harder and harder to find and all we have really is a miasma of self-absorbed drek? Perhaps.

Anyway, so, I won a door prize at the banquet: a free two night stay at the Orlando Mariott Hotel that the conference will be moving to as of next year (after 20 years at the same location. Evidently the new owners of the old/current hotel started shafting the conference big time.) The bad news, it has to be used within the next 11 months–before the next conference! But, I guess that means the good news is now we have an excuse for us to take our daughter to Disneyland later this year. *grin* The new location for the conference next year sounds great! A lot of places around the hotel one can walk to for meals, Guinness on tap, better amenities….

Then Sunday, our plane didn’t leave until late evening, so we took a bus to the beach. Wow! The ocean is incredible! Supposedly I lived in San Francisco for a year as a child, but I don’t remember it. I lived in Alaska for a year, and I remember camping, but no ocean. But I do remember the ocean in Washington when we lived there a year, and it is dreary! Gray, cloudy, chill. The beach in Florida was nice! Blue skies, jade-colored water turning deep blue in the distance, sail boats and cruise ships in the distance, sand you can walk barefoot on. We we got sunburns there and ate a Sunday brunch buffet at a restaurant on the beach, and stood out on the pier for a bit. ice. Great way to end the trip! We said goodbye to our new friends and made our exhausted way back home.

What an experience!