Post-Mortem

So. Ad Astra in retrospect. Pretty damn fine. (And no one was even capriciously banned from attendance, as far as I know.)

I was loaded up with panels on Friday night, loaded up with panels on Sunday. Saturday was pretty much clear except for a reading in the morning and some kind of group autograph session in the afternoon that I blew off because seriously, when you’re one of thirty has-been GoH’s and Mercedes Lackey is in the room, nobody’s gonna be lining up for some guy with a box on his chest making weird slurpy noises. So instead I sat at the bar and whored peeks at my injured leg in exchange for sympathy beers, of which I got a lot; I paid for maybe two beers the whole damn weekend.

Glenn Grant, me, Kathryn Cramer, Christian Sauve. Photo by David Hartwell, I think.


Masterpiece Theatre. Photo by Jonathan Crowe.

My reading was surprisingly-well attended, given that it was held first thing Saturday morning right off that little hallway where the restaurant stores its grease barrels and the staff meet to recreationally bang pots and pans together like a bunch of amphetamine-spiked preschoolers throwing a group tantrum. I was reading excerpts from Legion, though, which has some fairly percussive bits, so maybe the ambience just contributed to the mood. Anyway, the audience seemed to give the overall experience a thumbs-up (and yes: I ended up having to read for the whole damn hour, although a guy I met in the bar the night before warmed up the crowd with a nifty little 300-word opening act).

The panels I sat on all went pretty well — the moderators kept things reasonably on track, which isn’t always easy to do. If you forced me to pick a  favorite, though, it would have to be “Hard Character SF”, if for no other reason than that Kathryn Cramer’s moderating technique involved handing out candies to panellists when they made a good point. It also delved into the whole you’re-no-more-autonomous-than-an-iPhone-app brand of neurophilosophy that I’m so fond of — and both Karl and Kathryn are sufficiently well-informed on the subject to challenge some of my more facile (if favorite) sound bites. I was, however, a bit disturbed to see this picture that Jonathan Crowe took afterward:

Karl Schroeder, Kathryn Cramer, Ent.

I mean, I know I’m closest to the camera, and that’s going to make me look a little larger than the rest of the panel. Still. Seems to me that perspective should be a bit more linear; if you draw a line from Karl’s head to Kathryn’s, then extend it further, the top of my own head should fall somewhere close to that. But next to Kathryn I’m fucking huge.  I could eat her head in two bites.  Is that really what 199cm looks like? Because if so, you guys are all a bunch of goddamned hobbits.

Then there was this Has-Been GoH thing nobody told me about; apparently they paired up former AA Guests-of-Honour throughout the weekend for hour-long slots. I did not find out about this until I saw my schedule on Friday, when I discovered that Julie Czerneda and I had been assigned to keep a room full of unruly fans in line for an hour. Neither of us had any idea what to do, so we kind of wung it.

Julie began by introducing us and our respective works, while I channelled her words into an interpretive dance for the artsies in the crowd:

Dance of the Squid. And if you can't guess who took the photo by now, I can't help you.

I don’t believe there are any actual pictures of the finale, which involved the triumphal slamming-down of a medical canister full of chunky leg-gore onto the table before us. It’s probably just as well.

We asked each other questions. I discovered that Julie — one of a very small clique of Canadian authors with formal backgrounds in biology, and who specialize in biologically-plausible SF — has betrayed her roots and lowered herself to writing fantasy. I, in turn, had to admit that I was collaborating with Caitlin Sweet on a children’s book called The Tale of Nellie the Nephron, an old-fashioned fable which should find a ready market in both Harper’s Canada and the Republican US. (Nellie is a kidney cell who rebels against a life spent filtering urine and strikes out on her own — only to discover that not everyone is a stem cell, and it’s hard making your way in a world of neurons, striated muscles, and intestinal epithelia. Eventually she gets flushed out of the body entirely, makes a marginal living on the street processing urine for food, then gets ingested by a slug who’s carrying a metacercarial parasite with a mammalian definitive host. The parasite helps her hitch a ride back home where she gladly resumes her piss-filtering duties, having learned the most important lesson any child of the state can learn: Know Your Place.)

Somehow we filled the hour. It actually worked a lot better than it had any right to.

But beyond the panels, the people. There were the usual suspects, of course, the locals without whom no Ad Astra would be complete — but this thirtieth anniversary brought in rare birds from further afield. Derryl Murphy showed up from the western boons for his first ChiZine release, Napier’s Bones (he described to me the premise of that book years and years ago, and a brilliant premise it is, and all I can say is it’s about fucking time). Elisabeth Vonarburg, Quebeckian literary goddess, and someone who turned from sceptic to friend over a dinner buffet when we first met in Montreal back in ’03: I was pleased to have breakfast with her on Saturday, and even more pleased to distract her into missing most of a panel she was supposed to be on during that time. Kathryn Cramer, who shared her own traumatic experiences with the Officer Friendlies of the police state in which she lives. Sandra Kasturi, who’s a regular at these things but who gets special mention anyway because she brought me big fat sausages of marzipan. Ellen Datlow, who confided her experiences with leg-based cellulitis (NF’s little brother). Terry Findlay, with whom I discussed the nuts and bolts of dragging my antique and broken website into the 21st Century. One ex, whom I encountered but briefly; another I managed to entirely avoid. (Those last two did not buy me beers.)

So overall, a terrific weekend even if the metabolic demands of leg regrowth did cause me to crash on occasion. It was a delight to see you all (well, almost all). I can’t wait until 2012. (Assuming there is a 2012.)

Next up: Much Ado About Chemical Morality, Source Code, and the most unexpected Blindsight cover art ever. Not necessarily in that order.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday April 13 2011at 09:04 am , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

42 Responses to “Post-Mortem”

  1. First!

  2. There’s a bit of perspective distortion in that Hard Character SF photo, yeah.

  3. Where are the photos of the marzipan sausages? (And don’t try to pass off a shot of your leg as marzipan.)

  4. Damn, it’s official. Ad Astra was THE place to be. And here I was, doing nothing so cool as that over the weekend, only writing a biography of Lady Gaga and sea kayaking with otters and bald eagles.
    Speaking as one on the hobbit end of the height spectrum, I must confirm that you are indeed tall and big enough to eat someone’s head in two bites.

  5. I love the Dance photos.

    … in re 199 cm, it’s all what you’re used to looking at, but we can confirm you’re a giant. I don’t mean that in a mean way, just that statistically, you’re way out on the curve. You prolly knew this, but when your face is at chest-level with someone, the person looks huge. You experience them differently.

    Here’s a weird thought. We all think we are living in the same physical space, but perceptually we aren’t.

    Proof me: I live with a giant myself – there are spaces in the house I can put things where he simply does not ever see because of the angle. In the fridge, if I have something especially good I don’t want to share – little top shelf. It’s in plain sight, if you are under 6 foot. Invisible to him, just as the very top of the bookshelves are to me. He could have anything up there and I’d never think to look. Different perceptual universes.

    For the rest of us, the crown of our head and the view down the back of our necks doesn’t exist – for you, it fills up how much of your angle of vision? So when you look down, a shorter person is proportionally more top-of-head and fore-shortened face. Were I to look up at you, you would be proportionally more chest and chin and I can see up your nostrils. Who thinks about people seeing up their nostrils?

    Different perceptual universes.

    Or am I barking mad? I feel slightly insane today.

  6. Great review. It has made me even angrier that I couldn’t attend. I should have just sucked it up and make the 10 hour drive.

    Two points regarding the 199cm photo:

    1) I never would have consciously seen the enormously skewed perceptive until you pointed it out. Now, it’s been making me laugh for the past 10 minutes.

    2) That’s a nifty watch on your wrist. What brand/model is it?

    Finally, it is my opinion that every one of your author photos should be replaced with the one of you with both middle fingers in the air. To accompany it, the bio should read: “Peter Watts won a Hugo, bitches!”

    I know, it’s almost Swiftian in its rapier-like subtlety*, but you can’t always appeal to the lowest common denominator.

    * Full credit goes to Red Dwarf for this wonderful phrase. I try to use it once a day. My co-workers hate me.

  7. I would most definitely line up up for the guy with a box on his chest making weird slurpy noises. Especially in your case but probably otherwise as well due to the novelty!

    Still miffed these panels won’t be available online!

  8. It’s good to see that Peter’s leg can still support that sasquatchian frame, and is not otherwise impairing his movement without too much pain. Of course, the beer probably helped.

    Although that does seem rather at odds with what I’ve always been told about creatures that grow to atomic mutant size not actually being able to support their own weight. Just goes to show that “hard science” is not all it’s cracked up to be.

    Looking forward to the pics of Peter rampaging through the city, climbing skyscrapers, and swatting at helicopters, as people run screaming. I assume their omission here was merely an oversight.

  9. Err, I presume you were joking about the The Tale of Nellie the Nephron, but, you know… I’D TOTALLY READ THE SHIT OUT OF IT.

  10. I think he’s getting better. Otherwise he wouldn’t have exercised The Double-Birded Dance of Destruction…

  11. Pity to miss it, but glad of the blog posts.

    Loving what Hljóðlegur said about different perceptual universes.

    And having met you in person, you did strike me as rather tall. Gleefully so in fact. I wonder how many people at Ad Astra hugged you hello and then had to ask you to please put them down? *snerk*

    I can see it now. Peter in a gorilla suit, climbing the CN Tower and swatting at helicopters. Hmm, now there would be an entertaining image to rival Montreal’s Moosezilla.

  12. Loving V’s image of fearless leader on the CNN tower. RRRRAWRRR!!!

    both Karl and Kathryn are sufficiently well-informed on the subject to challenge some of my more facile (if favorite) sound bites

    To have been a fly on the wall for that. Are we going to get details on which sound bites?

  13. Dude! I forgot to tell you my NF joke. Dammit, man, it goes over better when there’s beers involved!

  14. Another tall-ass writer. Maybe we could organize a Thunderdome match between Watts, Gibson, Kessel, and Varley.

  15. @Peter Watts: Congrats on you making the rounds again, sufficiently so as to do the Squid Dance.

    re: 199cm: Um. Before you start to lord it over all of us lesser mortals, a thought I once received from a fetching young lady all full of irony packed into all of five feet height.

    “Does it bother you that you have to look up at guys all of the time? You know, them being so tall and you being so…” I trailed off.

    She grinned. “Nope, I totally offset the height intimidation factor by reminding myself that I have an excellent view of every last one of their nose-hairs, and they have totally no idea.”

    Looking forward to any links to transcripts from the Hard Character thang.

  16. Now I think of it – I wonder why there’s no special word for “nose-hair” in English. It strikes me as a language that should’ve got it – it seems… appropriate.

    I think I need a coffee…

  17. @PW
    About your height, is it true that tall people are less likely to be victims of crime ?

  18. That depends. Is assault a “crime” when committed by people wearing badges?

  19. Yes.

  20. Morally speaking – If you’re afraid of a giant who could eat your head in two bites, that is no justification for macing or beating him.

    Giants should be given the benefit of the doubt, because, morally speaking, everyone should get the benefit of the doubt. Imho.

  21. Well, I guess it’s pretty obvious that tall people are less likely to be attacked, since their height and their size suggests that they are physically strong and could pose a threat to a potential attacker. Like, I don’t know – pick him up, break him in half and eat him.

    Unless the attacker’s got few pals and a pepper spray at hand.

  22. Pity size doesn’t intimidate flesh eating bacteria… 😛

  23. I should’ve been more precise: the border guards’ assault is well documented. (btw, is there any US border where the guards/inspectors are polite, well mannered or at least not thuggish. I hear that flying into the US is as pleasant as flying to the USSR used to be).

    Apart from that?

  24. @Nestor
    There probably is some slight correlation between immunity and body height. Anecdotally, I’m taller than 95% of my peers and I haven’t had a case of flu(or anything worse) in the past eight years or so. I just feel slightly ill and cold for several hours.

  25. I was in the actual room while the Interpretative Dance went on. Someone asked what all the tubes were about, and Peter asked for a show of hands of those who had no idea about the cyborgization. Seeing more than a few (including a woman sitting next to me), Peter then began rolling up his pant leg. Having apparently come to the panel in order to complain that Julie Czerneda doesn’t write enough fantasy, I whispered inher ear, “You’re going to love this!” We laughed and laughed as she turned white and almost up-chucked right there! Ah, memories!

  26. @dfodude: I miss all the good stuff!

    Did the lady think his leg had really been replaced Borg-style with metal parts and that was why she was freaking out? Or was it just OMFGhisLEGhazzaCHUNKMISSING? Because in the photo up top, it looks like his skin has peeled away and he’s a
    (http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1699906560/tt0088247)
    Terminator underneath.

    Hey, remind anyone of anything?
    http://www.rifters.com/crawl/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/autobot.png

  27. Peter said something like, “People say I don’t write fully fleshed characters.” I turned to him and said, “You’re not one yourself.” And then proceeded to discuss in character in his work disagreeing with his critics.

  28. For scale, my actual size is 5 ft. 5 (165 cm), 100 lbs (about 45 kg).

  29. You know what the rooms in those pics need? More peeling paint. I’m totally not buying the illusion of reality.

    The Yeti wearing denim looks particularly fake.

  30. @Kathryn Cramer – ah, this exacerbates the illusion of Peter the Giant. Thanks for the datum! The knowledge makes the photo look different.

    I said, “You’re not one yourself.” And then proceeded to discuss in character in his work disagreeing with his critics.

    Is the word in supposed to be there?

  31. The “in” is silent.

  32. @ Hljóðlegur: It was strange, but most folks who didn’t know about the creepy crawlies assumed the tubes and control panel was some sort of extended hall costume. And when Da Big Guy rolled up his pant leg and showed the world the might of Streptococcus pyogenes (I assume), the sight of the Big Hole induced gagging. Most amusing.

  33. The “in” is silent.

    HAHAHAA! My apologies, of course, of course, a necesary part of the sentence, but silent. Had I been an editor, I woulda known. 😉

    @dfodude – thanks for the info; I hadn’t stopped to picture the usual con atmosphere where costumes are everywhere!

  34. Peter, that dance is the dance of someone who’s beaten the odds twice and could beat Chuck Norris in a game of Russian roulette as a result. Mind if I macro that image with some Ice-T lyrics?

    My lame-assed attempts at humor aside, it’s good to see you back on your feet. I finished _Legion_ a few days ago, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I might play the game as a result of the book.

  35. I figured the ‘in’ was a typo, but it was also a nice think-o (mental typo) to be able to imagine him demonstrating the depth of his characters by going in character to discuss the characters.

  36. It would be characteristic of Peter to be in character while discussing his characters lack of character, which they don’t really lack at all.

  37. Me, too. When I read it the first time, I thought someone had gone into character as Siri, Achilles, etc, to talk about the idea.

  38. And then he said (or something like it), “I’d like to know why we aren’t discussing the more obvious ideas behind ‘hard’ character sf (nudge-nudge, wink-wink).

  39. @Hljóðlegur : I do believe you’re on to something.

    Not to steal anyone’s story ideas, but clearly it must be that beings from the far future can’t send a Terminator back in time, so they send genetically modified and subject-tuned strep-p. back in time to set a hardcore hard character SF writer on the path to transforming himself into a terminator. (Hey, they know how he’s wired, whatever other course could he possibly take?) And furthermore, they not only make the Canadian taxpayer foot the bill, but the subject has to do most of the surgery himself. Not sure how to work this in, but secret cat rulers of the universe are probably involved. 😉

  40. I can say with utmost sincerity that following you around from panel to panel like a hapless gimp was the highlight of my day. Dance of the Cyborg Squid and everything. :)

    PS: I’m about 181 cm at last count, so keep that in mind when I say that you’re a REALLY freakin’ big guy Peter.

  41. Thomas Hardman, for the win. :)

  42. […] P.P.S Relatare semnata de Costi aici, si Peter Watts aici. […]