(Please see Part 1 first. This Part 2 exists because of increasing issues trying to manage 20,000+ words in a single WordPress Page.)
Day 9 – Thursday, September 2nd – Around Melbourne and into Worldcon
6:30 – This is our last early wake-up for a few days, and it’s just as well: I’m slow in responding, and Karine’s cold seems to be cresting today judging by her sniffles. Still, there isn’t much choice if we want to catch our guided tours for the day. Both of us are slated to be on the morning City Tour, but Karine will go on to a Penguin/Koala nature tour during the afternoon while I’m going to have a first look at the first day of the Worldcon. Both of us are slow in completing our morning routine, but we’re still out of the door in decent time. It’s sunny but cold (10c) outside, which would hold up for most of the day.
7:25 – We split up as soon as we’re out of the hotel: There’s a Gray Line bus waiting next to the neighboring Langhan hotel, and Karine is still (maybe?, considering yesterday’s confusion) slated to be picked up by that bus even though I have told the tour office that *I* would show up at the tour office. It doesn’t really matter, since we both have printed vouchers and the tour offices are barely ten minutes away from the hotel. It’s a nice walk near the main downtown train station as busy Melbourne commuters make their way to work: I love witnessing a city that works. At the tour office themselves, I settle for a long wait, as I’m obviously far too early to anything but watch as three different tour companies try to conduct operations from the same area. A lot of buses going in and out. Karine arrives ten minutes after I do, and tells me that the bus driver had no special indications to pick her up. On the other hand, her voucher for the full-day tour seems OK by the tour office. We wait some more as three different “Great Ocean Road” tours from three different companies leave within five minutes of each other. (Although I do wonder about the “Half Day Puff” tour)
8:15 – Aaaand we’re off to tour the city. Our bus is maybe a fourth full, including a pair of Spanish tourist and their interpreter sitting at the back of the bus. The first leg of our trip is through the streets of downtown, and my walk through the city yesterday pays further dividends as I can more easily relate to what we’re seeing. There is a bunch of really lovely architecture here, both old and new. What’s not so lovely are the electric tram wires and numerous trees who, even without leaves, are making it impossible to take clean pictures (the low morning sun doesn’t help either, although it can enhance some buildings when seen in the right angle.) A trip north and east of the city shows us a few things that would have been a bit too far to find on foot but may be worth a walk later on: The Queen Victoria Market, the Parliament Buildings, the Melbourne Museum and (oh boy!) the Victoria State Library. Also covered: The Italian and Greek neighborhoods, the gate to Chinatown and St.Patrick’s Cathedral.
9:00 – Our first stop of the day is at Fitzroy Garden, which is simply too expansive to do it justice in the half-hour we’re allotted. We still manage to see a conservatory filled with white-purple-and-blue flowers, a mini Tudor village, Cook’s Cottage and a few other plants that have survived the Melbournian winter. One truism holds true: Gardens are no fun when it’s barely ten degrees outside.
9:30 – Back on the bus, we settle in for a lengthy but warm drive through the city. The first neighborhood on our trip is the amazing Melbourne Park area, which sports no less than five sports stadium all next to another. (There may be more we haven’t seen) Some of them are optimized for various sports; others are just all-purpose facilities. Even non-sports-fans such as myself can’t help but boggle at such a concentration of recreational facilities. Then it’s off to the botanical garden area, and then our own hotel neighborhood, another drive through downtown and out west through the docklands where we’re told the story of Melbourne’s defective Ferris Wheel: Their answer to London’s Eye attraction is currently being taken down after only a few months in operation after serious construction defects were discovered in Summer 2009. It will be rebuilt thanks to a good warranty contract with the original builder, but until it’s completely destroyed and replaced, what’s left is a sad stump where you can imagine the wheel being put in place. The Dockside area is otherwise a promising up-and-coming neighbohood: There are several apartment complexes being built, and every one of them is required to have some public art. As a result, a drive through the completed complexes can be cause for wonder at the often strange and haunting pieces of public art, such as the cow-in-a-tree. The real eyeball kick of the dockland district, however, comes when taking the elevated highway and discovering an impressive downtown vista. After leaving the highway, we made our way suburbward to St. Kilda’s beach, and saw the “Luna Park” amusement area. Then, finally, it was back to the heart of the city where we stopped at the Shrine of Remembrance, right next to the Botanic Garden service area.
10:45 – It’s still far too cold for comfort outside, so Karine and I temporarily retreat in the Botanic Garden restaurant for a muffin. On our way in, I spot Robert Silverberg (and Karen Haber) as they make their way out. This is intensely funny to me for reasons that I have trouble explaining to Karine, but here goes:
- Robert Silverberg is a living legend in the SF field, and it’s hilarious that my version of “OMG, that’s [name]!” has to do with SF authors. My mind working like it is, I often momentarily confuse passing strangers with SF authors. It’s far funnier when it happens that the stranger *is* the SF authors. I had a very strange “oh, that’s Sean Williams” moment in Wellington a few days ago (it *was* Sean Williams) and the next time we meet, do ask about my Calgary-2005 “Oh, that’s *just* Larry Niven” moment.
- Robert Silverberg is a Worldcon faithful: he hasn’t missed one in several decades and can often be seen around the convention unlike some authors who just go to their assigned events. Ever since Boston in 2004 (where I wasn’t sure I was at the right place until I went “Oh, that’s Robert Silverberg, it must be that way”), I joke that it’s not a Worldcon until you see Silverberg. I wasn’t expecting it at the Botanical Garden though!
- *Everyone* in SF fandom seemingly has their own “Random Silverberg encounter” story: One of the pleasures of Anticipation in Montréal last year was seeing friends get their own “OMG, Robert Silverberg” moment. Now I’ve got another one.
But back to the tourism part… By 11:00, we were out of the Botanical Garden Cetner and at the Shrine of Rememberance, which is a sobering war memorial with, as it turns out, a really good view of the downtown area. The display that left me speechless was a large display with over a thousand medals displayed one next to the other…
11:30 – Back on the streets for a last drive through the city, first through our hotel neighborhood, then next to the Worldcon convention center and into the downtown area for more shopping advice and drop-off at the Bus Tour Center.
12:00 – Karine and I have a lunch at Nando’s, a chain that specializes in spicy chicken burgers. Their “mild” would be rather a “hot” in most North American restaurants. This, in fact, is emblematic of a tendency I’ve noticed in Australasia: Whether it’s a result of a brasher society living closer to danger, a lack of a litigious culture or simply an effect of scale (you get a lot more insecure people in a population of 300 millions rather than 30), I keep seeing suggestions that the average (North)American is treated more childishly that the average Australasian one. Advertisements and official communications seems to be more willing to offend here than at home, and on a few occasions, I caught myself thinking “shouldn’t there be a protective barrier here?” I think that this lack of hand-holding is a neat thing… but I’m amused at my own unconscious reflexes and how they’ve been shaped by decades of official pampering.
12:30 – Karine and I split up for the day: She’s off to see Penguins and Koalas (declining to push her trip to another day because of her cold) while I’m off to our hotel room to drop off a few things, and then on to the Worldcon, trying out a third different path from my hotel to the convention center.
WARNING: Now that Aussiecon4 is about to begin at this point in the trip, you can assume that this narrative will be a lot less focused on traveling, and a lot more on the often-strange subculture of science-fiction conventions. Since I’ve got a few new readers, I will make an effort to explain Worldcons to you (in THE FACTS ARE THESE paragraphs, which are less about facts than opinions)… but I can’t guarantee that it will make sense given the late hour at which I’m writing this.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: The World Science-Fiction Convention (Worldcon) began in 1939 as a gathering of those people (mostly male, all white, all urban) who were reading Science-Fiction at the time. Other than a few years off during World War II, Worldcons have been held yearly since then. While there is a “World Science Fiction Society” to oversee the awarding and general conduct of each year’s Worldcon, every single Worldcon is a different volunteer-run event. Worldcons travel from city to city every year: Ever since I’ve attended my first one in Toronto in 2003, they’ve been held in Boston, Glasgow, Los Angeles, Yokohama, Denver, Montreal and now Melbourne, with Reno and (most likely) Chicago, San Antonio and London up next. Worldcons usually attract between 3000 and 5000 fans and professionals (authors, reviewers, publishers, artists) of the Science-Fiction and Fantasy genre (with a bit of Horror on the side), the fan:pro ratio being somewhere around 3:1, even though “fan” is not necessarily considered a larval status of “pro”. Despite the logistical nightmare that is organizing a million-dollar event every year, Worldcon has its own traditions, major events (such as the masquerade and Hugo Awards ceremony) and “charming” quirks. Nobody gets paid working for them; at most, staff may be reimbursed their membership fee. And *everyone* except the handful of guests of honor pays a membership fee to get in. I often feel as if calling this event “the Worldcon” is a misnomer, as if you look carefully at Worldcons, you can usually detect up to a dozen different sub-conventions all happening at once: One for SF readers, one for writers, one for costumer, one for musicians, one for movie and TV fans… and so on. At its best, Worldcon brings together several experts in their field for discussions that couldn’t happen anywhere else. At its worst, Worldcon is a busy chaotic mess featuring people with deficient social skills.
13:30 – At the Convention center, I find that the UN health conference has vacated the premises and been replaced by Aussiecon4/Worldcon. My first impression of the convention is not good, as I’m told that I haven’t registered for the event. Or, more accurately, that I’m still listed as a “supporting” rather than “attending” member. I could swear that I did that last year, but at this point it’s my woozy memory against their membership database, so I grit my teeth and do the only thing left to do: Pay the upgrade cost. (Never mind how I was allowed to get on programming without being listed as attending the convention.) It takes about 30 minutes for this to be resolved, through three different lineups and the repetition of information that drives me up the wall. It’s a good thing that I keep my temper mostly in check: checking my email records later on (the only one available to me on the road) shows no proof that I’ve upgraded my membership at any time since 2008. It’s conceivable that I may have deleted it, but more likely that I got the supporting membership early on, never upgraded the registration and was never reminded to do so. I also looks as if the safeguards that Anticipation-2009 used to make sure that program participants were registered were never implemented this year. Ah well; once registered, none of this matters… except as an unusual lapse from my part. My program participant sheet is given to me without any problem.
14:15 – The registration snafu means that I’ve missed the opening ceremonies, so I take a look at the physical layout of this year’s convention. We occupy most of the second floor of the convention center itself: not the massive convention halls, but the two dozen smaller event rooms at the end of the center. (It takes about five minutes to walk from the entrance to the registration desk). We’ll have to see how the layout plays out over the next few days, but I notice that all of the convention rooms are next to each other in a more or less linear and compact arrangement, and that almost all activities save for registration and information are located on the second floor. This should be great for keeping the energy levels of the convention up where they should be: a traditional problem over the last few Worldcons has been a lack of a focal point to generate a buzz of activity and serendipitous meetings. Denver dissolved itself over a mile-long convention hall, and Montréal often felt too fractured in sub-corridors to let people bump in each other. A quick look at the main fannish areas tells me that the dealer’s room is very small, and that I’ve seen art shows at local conventions bigger than this one. This isn’t a surprise nor a criticism, but simply what we should expect from an event taking place so far away from the bulk of English-language fans. Sitting down to read my program participant’s kit, I find that one requested change to my schedule hasn’t been made (I won’t be at the convention on Monday, so I can’t really be at an item that day… something that I flagged to programming two weeks ago), and that I have been requested to moderate one of the panels I’m on. Programme Ops is frazzled at this time of the convention, but both of the changes (moderation, yes! Monday panel, no!) are noted.
15:00 – “Spoiler Alert: How to review books without giving away the ending” sounds like an interesting panel on reviewing matters (catnip as far as I’m concerned), but I remain unsatisfied at the basic level of the discussion, which doesn’t just stay at “spoilers are bad, let’s avoid them” but devolves into schoolmarmish “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say it at all” that mocks what criticism should aspire to. I may be jaded enough to wish for a discussion that would at least consider that spoilers aren’t necessarily evil (let’s face it: if something’s good, no amount of plot spoilage will destroy the quality of the reading/viewing experience. I can tell you in excruciating detail how INCEPTION ends, and it wouldn’t diminish any single sequence in the film) and that they are often necessary in discussing something’s strength and weaknesses, but the panel refuses to tackle those issues and seems to retreat even further in irrelevant discussion of the “rules” of reviewing (there aren’t any rules of reviewing). Despite the heroic efforts of moderator at keeping the panel moving, I get up at the halfway mark and look for a better panel.
15:30 – …and end up at the “Humor in SF” panel, which satisfies me more in five minutes than half and hour of base-level reviewing discussion. The key, as usual, are the participants: Tee Morris is a moderator who knows what he’s doing, and one of the participants is the creator of Schlock Mercenary, which is to say a perfect person to talk about humorous SF. One of the golden rules in selecting panels to attend is to go by participants rather than topic, but Aussiecon4 has kneecapped any attempt to do this by listing panel descriptions IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER rather than chronological one. Augh. In any case, those twenty last minutes (alternately revealing and amusing) make me wish I could have been there for the duration of the entire panel. I am very impressed at the facilities so far; I’ll have something cleverer to say about this once I’m not composing these logs at midnight.
16:00 – A quick look into the dealer’s room mushrooms in a series of conversations as I get to talk to Rani Graff (an Israeli editor I first met on a panel in Denver, and then in hallways in Calgary and Montréal), then to Murray and Mary-Anne Moore (picking up where we left off in Wellington). I briefly greet Jannie Shea, break down and buy Greg Egan’s latest novel (it’s not difficult to get in Canada, but there’s something in buying an Australian author’s latest novel in Australia), and look around the room for further considerations. It doesn’t look, frankly, as if I’ll be hauling an extra box back home.
17:00 – My last panel of the day ends up being “Things to do in Melbourne when you’re Geek”, a quirky look at Melbourne from four perspectives unique to Worldcon. After some general throat-clearing about public transportation, we get a look at historical Melbourne, another at street art, a third at bookstores and a fourth at the place of Melbourne in pop culture. Strangely, the historical Melbourne presentation illuminates the morning’s City Tour from another perspective and different trivia: Gray Line never told us that the Elizabeth Market was built over a cemetery. (paraphrased from the presenter: “You can go there to buy produce, art, or get possessed by ancient vengeful spirits”) I’m not the ideal public for a celebration of graffiti, and surprisingly not interested in knowing which bookstores are most likely to leaden down my luggage. The presentation on Melbourne in pop culture is a pure delight, though, as GHOST RIDER and KNOWING (not to mention QUEEN OF THE DAMNED, which isn’t even discussed due to sheer disgust), or ON THE BEACH were all filmed in Melbourne. There’s also a discussion about “ACDC LANE”, the most frequently stolen street sign in the city. (“So if you’re in town… give it a shot, it’s a local tradition.”) …and that’s the end of the day’s Worldcon for me.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: Conventions pretty much shut down at 18:00 for a couple of reasons: First, because fans love to drink and party (though their definition of party will disappoint anyone who’s not a fan: it consists in drinking socially and talking even more socially) and the 18:00 shut-down time gives them the opportunity to go take a leisurely dinner, then hit the parties where they’ll stay up until 2:00 and complain that the first panel at 10:00 is “far too early”. Early risers such as myself have a bit of a problem with that kind of schedule, but all is magically better when you don’t actually want to attend parties.
18:00 – I make a quick trip to the hotel room for supper, trying out a fourth way from the convention center to the hotel, passing through the gigantic “Crown” casino complex. I have complex feelings about casinos, but even I must admit that it’s a delight to see people dressed up carefully after the fashion wilderness that can be a worldcon.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: Fans are not models of sartorial elegance. Part of it has to do with the relaxed nature of SF conventions. Must most of it is due to the fact that fans frankly don’t give a damn. If it’s comfortable, it’s enough. As a result, SF conventions are a haven for chinos, khakis, vests with multiple pockets, loud and dumb T-shirts with so-called clever slogans. Also, oh yes, fans -especially when they hit middle age- have a tendency to be heavier than usual. Blend all of that together, and… well, anyone reading this knows that I’m not a snappy dresser. Yet I’m still above average for the fannish crowd. Let that fact sink in and quietly horrify you. When even I can get out of a convention and appreciate what casino-going Beautiful People are wearing, some kind of terrible threshold has been crossed.
18:30 – If you thought that my day was over, well, you would usually be right. Not tonight, though, given that there is…
19:00 – A MOVIE! Contrarily to “Piranha 3D” and “Vampires Suck“, however, “Tomorrow: When the War Began” is an original big-budget Australian SF/action teen drama. Heavily promoted everywhere ever since we landed here, the movie is an adaptation of a series of teen novels depicting how a few ordinary teenagers deal with a foreign invasion of Australia. Kind of an Australian Red Dawn, and it works pretty well as such: The premise makes no sense, but it needs to be accepted as a given if the film is to be appreciated to its true worth… wait, you’re not really interested in reading a review of a film you’ll never see, right? OK, the short version is that it delivers what its teen audiences are looking for, even though older viewers will groan, grit their teeth and see the plot threads as soon as they’re hinted at. There are six other novels in the series. It may or may not ever make it to North American shores. And I still hate the assigned seating standard: It’s *amazing* to see people come in fifteen minutes after the movie has begun in a theater a quarter full and still disturb everyone in order to claim their assigned seats in the middle of a row.
21:00 – Back to the hotel, taking a few pictures of downtown reflected on the quiet Yarro River along the way. Then back to writing this travel log. Karine comes back, still sick but generally happy with her day. I still owe people a few emails (especially at work), but this (and pictures, and re-reading the above) will have to wait until tomorrow.
Day 10 – Friday, September 3rd – Worldcon, Day Two.
8:00 – Waking up is neither hard or easy: I’m sort-of-awake, but the late writing session hasn’t been kind in getting me my full sleep allotment. Still, I don’t feel too bad; at the very least I don’t feel as if I’ve got Karine’s cold (always a possibility). Meanwhile, Karine shows little change from the previous day –her cold is annoying but not debilitating –she has even reserved a “Criminal Melbourne” tour online at 01:00 while I was sleeping. Shower is slow (have I mentioned that the entire bathroom is open-plan, and that the shower area is really just two curtains hanging from an overhead rail, that you move in place when you take a shower?) Breakfast is slow as well, but generally OK. Laundry will be OK for another day, although we may have to do an extra load on Monday if we’re to avoid headaches in Sydney and our way back. The weather outside is cool (10c, inching toward 15c as the day progresses), occasionally sunny but certainly not rainy, which is a huge improvement over the depressing “rainy, 10c” forecast of as recently as two days ago. I catch up on some office work, but don’t have the time to revise the previous day’s entry or add the day’s pictures.
9:30 – Worldcon doesn’t start until 10:00 and my first panel of the day isn’t before 11:00, so that gives me a bit of time to go exploring, and my destination is the Melbourne Aquarium. I won’t repeat the details of my fascination with aquariums, but the Melbourne one comes highly recommended, and part of the reason is obvious from the first exhibit: penguins! Their pen is a fairly large refrigerated area divided in two parts: a snowy/rocky area, and a water tank where you can really see how agile then can be underwater. It’s all cute, but part of me can’t help but flash back to the heartbreaking sequence in Happy Feet where the protagonist finds himself in exactly that kind of artificial habitat. The other highlight of the aquarium is a large circular tank with sharks, manta rays, stingrays and schools of other fishes: Unlike other aquariums, this one is set up so that you can sit in a large area in the middle and watch the animals swim clockwise around you. Since I’m here really early in the morning, I get a few quiet moments just watching the alpha shark (surrounded by a school of smaller fishes, pretty much like a mafia don) go by a few times. In-between the two, the Melbourne aquarium does the smaller stuff well, and part of the fun for me is being there so early that I can take the time to read the labels in detail and learn a few things without the disruption of large school groups. I get to see seahorses, comic-like green frogs, transparent fish and plenty of bright tropical fish. I’m still not a fan of cuttlefish, eels or octopi, though. There’s a certain cheekiness to the various signs telling us to “waddle to the new main entrance” or “swim to the other counter”.
10:30 – Back at the convention, I lounge a bit in the fan exhibits, the tabletop Hugo display (cuddle a Hugo Award!) and the dealer’s room. I’ve got to show up at the green room fifteen minutes before my panel at 11:00, so I decide to whittle away the few remaining minutes by attending a reading by Howard Tayler (creator of webcomic Schlock Mercenary), who’s fast becoming one of my discoveries of the convention: literate, interesting, funny and almost always entertaining, Howard is reading an essay about the nature of innovation (my colleagues will be amused to note that Tayler was GroupWise product manager at Novell around versions 5.5-6.5 –his presentation referred to issues created by the “Retract Email” function.) It’s a great essay, and it tips me over to “order the #1-5 Schlock Mercenary boxed set” camp. The last fifteen minutes of the hours are spent in the green room discussing the upcoming “Last Airbender: Race and Hollywood” panel with my co-panelist Ika Nurain.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: In theory, the Programming unit of Worldcon invites 3-5 experts who come prepared with extensive documentation to sum up, in 50 minutes, the state of the art on a given topic of interest to members of the convention. Panelists are supposed to meet fifteen minutes before the panel to greet each other and agree on a loose plan for the duration of the panel. A pre-designated moderator acts a loose discussion leader, providing introductions, gentle structure, firm moderation and traffic-directing the inevitable contributions from the audience. Your average panel spends five minutes introducing participants, ten minutes defining the subject, another fifteen minutes in the thick of the discussion and then paying attention to the audience’s comments and questions for the rest of the allotted time. A short five-minute conclusion wraps up the discussion and allows everyone to leave much enlightened. In practice, all of the above can be false, especially the “prepared” and “plan” part.
11:00 – Showtime! I volunteered to moderate a panel on the controversy surrounding the casting in the recent fantasy film “The Last Airbender” (summary: an anime series explicitly based on Asian culture ended with a movie adaptation in which nearly every single character was Caucasian) and now is the time to deliver. I’m not without *some* experience in programming (Here’s the reminder: I’ve been on panels since the late nineties and have acted as a programming director for a number of conventions. My essay on “How to Moderate a Panel” has been sent to all Eastercon moderators earlier this year) and from the get-go I fall back on a number of tested techniques. One of my co-panelist never shows up (René Walling, stuck as predicted at a business meeting) and my other co-panelist is naturally shy. There’s only one thing to do, and it’s one of my favorite techniques as a moderator: Invite the audience to participate. Before long, the presentation has become a discussion and this are rolling along in a discussion of Hollywood’s systematic white-washing of stories, themes and roles best served by other cultures. Cultural appropriation! Hollywood lowest-denomination decision-making! Hope for the future! All that good stuff. I wish I could have let my co-panelist speak more often, but the panel seems to be rolling along decently. (I even get a huge laugh out of a perfectly-placed “There is no French-Canadian mafia” comment.) By the end, someone even comes up to congratulate me on my moderation job, and I end up chatting with a Hamilton-area fan. I’m unusually happy with the results of the panel. (Looking over the Aussiecon4 twitter feed during the evening, I can only find one mildly sarcastic reference to what one member of the audience said. Given the casual dismissiveness of twitterers, I count this as a success.)
12:00 – “Select panels for their participants rather than their topics”, and so that’s how I end up at the “Making a Living: Professional Writing for Speculative Fiction Authors” panel with John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow (with some gentle moderation from George Ivanoff) My bosses will be happy to learn that I’m not interested in making a living from writing, but any panel that becomes a back-and-forth free-flowing discussion between Scalzi and Doctorow is a treat: Both of them are pros with interesting and informed opinions, and their discussion of a professional writer’s life is full of hard-won advice. The discussion deviates over to digital rights, and since I haven’t heard Doctorow discuss the topic in about two years, it’s fascinating to see how his thinking evolves on the subject: His “permanent floating speech on copyright” has a few new ideas in it –mostly related to the control of the ebook distribution network. In any case: a solid panel.
13:00 – I’ve said before how criticism panels are like catnip for me, and “Is Criticism Dead?” hits my sweet spot as soon as Cheryl Morgan and John Clute start talking about the state of genre criticism. Clute (a personal model as a reviewer) is always fascinating even when I vehemently disagree with him, whereas Morgan is one of the few true reviewer’s advocates in the SF community. The conversation takes place at a fairly high level, and given my bad experience with the “Spoiler Alert” panel of the previous day, I may have audibly purred when Morgan and Clute vigorously defended spoilers in criticism pieces: “Spoilers are what the book is about!” to paraphrase Clute.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: One of Worldcon’s most charming feature is the “Voodoo Board” which allows convention members to leave messages to each other thanks to a system of name boards and pushpins (hence “Voodoo”, since it involves sticking pins into people’s names). Alas, the board take time and space to ship and prepare, and so Aussiecon’s Voodoo Board is a simple flip-chart in which people write the name of the other person and the message. It’s like TWITTER IN REAL LIFE. Or maybe not. In any case, since there is only one sheet of paper displayed at once and people are afraid to flip back, I can see how this may not end up working very well.
14:00 – Much to my surprise (and to others’ surprise as well, judging by the number of people misreading the schedule), Aussiecon4 shuts down from 14:00 to 15:00, reserving all of the spotlight to Shaun Tan’s Guest of Honor Speech… but also allowing fans to go get lunch. This is fairly unusual in Worldcons: While some conventions have lighter programming during meals, few conventions the size of Aussiecon practically shut down for the GoH speech –no matter how great and gracious the GoH can be, some people just won’t be interested, and it breaks the rhythm of the convention to suddenly axe most of the programming. In any case, I can recognize an opportunity when I see one, and so take off for downtown Melbourne. On my way to my objective, I can’t resist stopping briefly at the “Funky Curry II” for a bit of delicious butter chicken and vegetable curry –for the low, low price of 8$, drink included! Circling a block in order to find my destination, I see a few lawyers –they’re wearing the British-style fake barrister’s wig, which look really weird on a thirty-something brunette female lawyer. After overshooting my destination by a block, I finally find what I’m looking for: The Wunderkammer store of “Scientific Curiosities, Artefacts and Ephemera” that I had glimpsed earlier during my initial Melbourne walk. It is an amazing place: Imagine and old-style “Cabinet of Curiosities” with brass scientific equipments, stuffed animals, semi-precious rocks, steampunk jewelry, high-end scientific toys and assorted miscellanea: Science as decorative art. Most of the merchandise is clearly meant to appeal to nerds with deep pocketbooks: A human skeleton will set you back $7000, while a stuffed giant turtle will cost $2500 –although a stuffed rabbit is affordable at $400. There’s meteorites and slivers of moon-rocks for $100. Orreries, globes, old microscopes, mounted butterflies, vintage medical instruments… part museum, part cool-shop, this is the kind of place I will patronize if ever I win the lottery and go on a mad-steampunk-scientist decoration binge. In discussing the store with its owner (perfectly cast for the part), I learn that there’s such a store called “Evolution” in New York. Since I’m seriously considering a long weekend in New York in 2011, I’m already penciling-in a visit…
15:40 – Back at the convention, I briefly attend a panel about writers being pigeonholed into particular modes, genres and styles. Unjustifiably held in the massive Pleniary auditorium where even a substantial crowd can be lost in the sea of green seats, it’s nonetheless a pleasure to hear pro authors such as Kim Stanley Robinson discuss the life of established writers.
16:00 – There are award to attend because we pay them respect and can’t imagine being anywhere else (ie; the Hugos). Then there are the Prometheus Awards, given every year by the Libertarian Society to celebrate the best Libertarian fiction of the year. My opinions about Libertarianism are well-documented (“a political philosophy by aliens, for aliens”), and attending their awards ceremony is a mixture of open-mindedness as much as investigative research in the mindset of people with some seriously twisted ideas about living in society. My skepticism turns to gleeful schadenfreude when the total audience for the award, including the presenters and myself, numbers… twelve. Apparently, my contention that Libertarianism doesn’t travel well outside the US borders (if that) can now be documented. There’s some irony in that the novel that wins the prize this year (not a surprise, as it was announced weeks ago) is a book that I found ridiculous but fascinating… and predicted at the time that it would win the Prometheus. (Heck, *I’m* the one who updated the Wikipedia page about this year’s Prometheus Award) The acceptance speech for the “classic” award is long and dull, but Patrick Neilsen-Hayden does a spirited rendition of the “best novel” winner’s speech.
16:30 – The Prometheus Awards ceremony having petered out, I’m back in the corridors of the convention whittling away the minutes until my next panel. After a short look at the fan auction (and lack of comprehension at the dense mass of local fannish jokes), I end up at a hilarious webcomic panel featuring the creators of the Hugo-nominated “Girl Genius” and “Schlock Mercenary”. The Girl Genius team is in particularly high form (Kaja Foglio even gives a pitch-perfect illustration of how a well-placed obscenity can make a point) and I regret not having attended all of the panel. By 16:45, I’m back in the Green room fruitlessly trying to find any of my two co-panelists for the next panel.
17:00 – “ET has a chainsaw! When SF and Horror movies collide” gets rolling, and I’m in the participant seat along with Foz Meadows and (Hugo-award-winning artist) Bob Eggleton. This isn’t the most well-prepared panel ever assembled (my cheat-sheet of genre films gets used as reference by the three of us) and the lack of an explicit moderator really hurts, but we still manage to have a really geeky conversation between the three of us, and then progressively with the audience. We’re all over the map in terms of sticking to the specifics of the subject, but I think that we do OK. To my dismay, I find out that I can throw movie-reviewer jargon like the best of them. (The evening’s Twitter feed don’t have any opinion on the panel.) As I’m the last to leave the room, I notice that Eggleton has left behind the rough Alien doodle he’d scratched on his notepad during the panel. …and that’s how I end up with an original Eggleton sketch.
18:00 – I go out to the Crown casino complex to eat with the Moores, who are now the only people in the world with whom I’ve had dinner on three continents (and two far-away Canadian provinces) The place they select (“El Cafeteria”) is fast and cheap and good, but quite a bit noisy due to its location next to a hoppin’ 5-to-7 cocktail lounge with dance music. I get a satisfying steak, even moreso due to its price. We’re joined by, happy coincidence, the Hamilton-area fan I spoke to earlier during the day. This is followed by a trip to an ice cream store elsewhere in the Casino complex, where I have my first ice-cream cone in possibly a decade. (Pistachio and Coffee, if you must ask). I can’t help, again, to do some casino people-watching and notice the elegance, high-end clothing and perfectly coiffed hair of a substantial number of persons wandering around. I won’t repeat yesterday’s screed against fannish fashion trends, but I’m struck at how I never move in universes in which I see this kind of successful physical presentation (work doesn’t count), and how given the choice I would rather be able to combine some casino-style fashion chic with convention-style intellectual depth. Hmmm…
19:50 – Dinner being over, I head over the riverside to get to the grocery store for some breakfast shopping. Before I disappear on Melbourne’s Flinders Street, however, I voluntarily dawdle around until the top of the hour, when there’s a spectacular propane gas-fueled show of flames. My photos don’t turn out that well, but the show itself is impressive enough: Even from he other side of the river, I can feel the heat of the bigger flames. Afterward, I make a quick trip to the IGA grocery store facing Flinders Street and pick up a few bananas (among other things). Coming back to the hotel, I’m struck by how easy this is: navigating the riverbank, dropping by the local grocer, picking up milk, knowing exactly how the lights work and which path to take to get back “home”… this is a sense of neighborhood that’s been missing from my trip so far, and it’s well worth staying in place for a few days to experience. This is a warm and clear Friday evening, and the riverbank is heavy with groups of friends out for fun and couples holding hands. This is as perfect as it could be.
20:15 – Back at the hotel room, where Karine seems quite a bit better and had a fine time during her “Criminal Melbourne” tour earlier durig the day. After some quick reporting on each others’ day, I settle down to write what turns out to be another mini-novel. (I’m now up to 24,000+ words on this travel essay alone, which officially makes it a “novellette” by Hugo Awards standards. Even WordPress is having a bit of trouble coping with the length.) I check-in with the office (instant chatting is wonderful), but I still have trouble completing everything in time to get to bed as early as I would like. That happens after midnight…
Day 11 – Saturday, September 4 – Worldcon, Day 3
9:00 – The previous evening’s writing marathon has taken its toll, and I decide to sleep in to the unhealthy hour of 9:00. Shower, breakfast, preparation is slow: This isn’t a big day, and there’s no sense in overloading it from the get-go. Other that some tiredness, I’m feeling OK. Meanwhile, Karine’s cough is a lot drier today: the worst seems to be over. My heroic breakfast is made of banana, vegemite on English muffin, Krispy Kreme donuts (2) and some chocolate milk. There will be hell to pay once I’m back home to lose the weight I’m gaining on this trip. A look at web statistics for this site suggests that we’re now up to an average of 15 readers per day for this travel log. Karine plans on going to the Melbourne Museum during the day. I’m planning on attending the Worldcon sparingly.
10:30 – The weather outside is very mild (almost 20c) but slightly rainy. The 15-minute walk to the convention center is pleasant, and there are a few changes to the layout: More tables have been added in the common areas (hurrah!) and the Voodoo Message flip-chart now numbers two sheets. I have probably been guilty on not mentioning that Aussiecon4 has issued daily programming sheets that list panels by hour, and WITH the participants. I poke around various areas of the convention while waiting for the next batch of panels. I may be repeating myself, however, by pointing out that this is a very small worldcon: at roughly 1,700 people on-site (an estimate provided in the previous day’s report), this feels more like a big local convention than a worldcon.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: Worldcon is dying… or at least experiencing some issues in trying to figure out what it wants to be. It used to be the biggest, most essential convention in the field: the event you attended if you wanted to be at the epicenter of SF fandom no matter its sub-strain. Of course, the filed was quite a bit smaller pre-STAR WARS. (The first convention to crack more than 1000 was 1967′ NYCon). Worldcon hit its biggest attendance in the STAR WARS generation, never dipping under 3,000 attendance from 1976 to 1984 and often attaining up to 6000-8000 people in big markets such as Boston and Los Angeles. Lately, however, attendance has struggled, in part due to the increasingly nomadic nature of the event: Most of the fans are US-based, and will not travel outside US borders. But there’s a bigger problem underneath: with the growth of Internet discussion sites, with the specialization of conventions in tightly-focused events about japanese anime, media SF, feminist SF, literary SF, the “gathering of the tribes” that is Worldcon is trying to find its place in the middle of much bigger events such as the San Diego ComicCon (50,000+ attendance), Dragon Con (12,500+ attendance) or dozens of Japanese cultural events (which attract 800+ people even in places like Ottawa). In the increasingly fractured SF universe of today, Worldcon’s attempt to sell itself as “the WORLD SF convention” rings increasingly hollow –and there are enough twitterers on the web to be sarcastic about it. We’re getting far from “facts” in this paragraph, but it’s been my contention that Worldcon is too scattered to be truly effective: Burdened with historical traditions, it spreads itself thin trying to accommodate a number of constituencies –and ends up with a hybrid convention that merely provides an “OK” experience to too many people at once. What is the solution? I frankly don’t know. For a while, I would have argued that the way out was to rebuild Worldcon around its unique selling points: Its nomadic nature, the Hugo Awards, etc. But what *is* the essence of Worldcons? There are as many answers as there are participants. I would love for the convention to focus on becoming the premiere professional event for writers in the field, but that lands us back to Readercon or World Fantasy and dangerously ignores the fannish forces of Worldcon. How does this relate to Aussiecon4? That, too, is a bit of an open question. If the numbers of 1700 on-site attendees holds up, it will be an improvement over the part three Aussiecons (1975: 606; 1985: 1,599; 1999: 1,548) and possibly invalidate a chunk of this paragraph. On the other hand, this convention does feel empty: the shallow pool of program participant (heck, they even gave me four panels!) makes it difficult to put together the kind of Worldcon-class events that you can only get when putting together a number of experts in the field. But nearly every out-of-the-US Worldcon is a bit like that… the real test of Worldcon’s sustainability will come with Reno next year (a big event for west-coast fandom) but more crucially Chicago in 2012. In the meantime, the identity question remains: What should Worldcon be? And if it has to make choices, what should be cut?
11:00 – Yaaaay! Another panel of criticism, most specifically “Reading from the other shelf: when SF becomes literature”. It addresses the increasingly porous border between genre SF and so-called literary fiction, especially at a time where SF stories such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road go on to win the Pultizer prize, Margaret Atwood writes avowed SF (dear panelists; please stop saying that Atwood insist she doesn’t write SF: she has recanted in a 2005 Guardian article), and genre SF is becoming more ambitious. The panel features John Clute, Rani Graff, Jack Dann and Simon Spanton: all of them do OK, although Clute’s verbal pyrotechnics become intentional self-parody at one particularly amusing moment. I’m happy just writing/addressing a few postcards and listening to the discussion. (I’ve been guilty of being overly critical of literary fiction in the past, and discussions like this one are useful in steering me toward more productive considerations… although I’m a bit surprise to find out that I recognize most of the literary references provided by the participants.)
12:00 – My postcard writing/addressing frenzy continues unabated during “The Future is Overtaking us”, a solid panel about the interaction between SF and cutting-edge technology featuring John Scalzi, Mike Scott and Norman Cates. It’s a hour-long meditation confronting SF ideals, mature adulthood, new technology, pipe dreams (stop asking for your flying car!) and the difficulty of writing SF at a time where the future has never seemed so uncertain. It’s also very, very entertaining with Scalzi and Cates playing off each other. By the time the panel ends, I’ve got a stack of postcards ready to be addresses (a few of them with impeccable penmanship, a rarity for my typical scrawled postcards) and a pretty good feeling about the panel.
13:00 – A break to go get a soft drink (and, not coincidentally, get rids of a pocketful of change) turns into a delightful half-hour discussion with another Ottawa-area fan, the daughter of a colleague. (Note to her Mom: Marjo’s doing OK, and the most disreputable person she met today was… me!) Murray Moore drops by for a special guest appearance and mistakes her for my sister. It’s an occasion to trade impressions of the convention, Melbourne and tips on what to see around the city. By the time I get to the “ebook” panel I originally wanted to attend, it’s already deep in questions about what the publishing industry can learn from the game industry, with Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Cory Doctorow doing much of the talking.
14:00 – Once again, Aussiecon has decided to shut down the convention during Guest of Honor Kim Stanley Robinson’s speech. I think Robinson’s a fantastic author and would gladly listen to anything he says, but given the choice between that (which, I’m sure, will be available elsewhere later) and going to take a walk in downtown Sydney during a surprisingly sunny and mild Saturday afternoon, there isn’t even any question: I walk out the door of the SF convention and go back in the real world.
14:15 – Standing in the “free wifi zone” at the Southern Cross train station, my iPod drinks up a few weeks’ worth of application updates. I’ve been wanting to do this maintenance update for a while, and the big blue wifi zone is *just there* offering to be used. I do forget to load one ebook, but we will pass through the station again in a few days. I take care of another piece of business after walking down Bourke Street to the General Post Office (which, hold on to your sanity, is actually open on a Saturday!) and finalizing/mailing my postcards.
15:00 – Back in downtown Melbourne, walking west on the main Bourke shopping/mall street. Ordinary Mebournians are out in force today, and it’s a good occasion to do some people-watching: I take way too many pictures of “people just doing their things” (ie; waiting to cross streets) as a memento of the atmosphere. The weather keeps hopping back and forth between overcast and sunny: A look up at the clouds in-between the skyscrapers shows that the wind is blowing at a frightening speed up there. Bourke Street leads to Government house, where (as foretold by the guide books, guide tours and probably any Melbournian we’d care to ask) there are indeed two separate wedding photo-shoots going on, one looking a bit more professional (one bride, no groom, two photographer, two assistants and the kind of circular reflector used by pros) than the other. There are two Chrysler 300s stretch limos driving around. I almost figure out the “hook turns” that are so particular to Melbourne driving. The Victoria State Library has a splendid dramatic statue of St. George slaying a dragon. My plan to go peek inside the library are dashed by a sign telling patrons that large bags are forbidden inside the library –I just don’t want the hassle of locking up my shoulder bag, plus it’s 15:30 and I should be heading back to the convention anyway. There is a Fashion Week press conference going on just north of St. Paul’s cathedral. I also find a surprisingly creepy sculpture of sheep falling into trapdoors near the Victoria Arts Center. (see http://www.bcl.com.au/melbourne/views/mk039.htm ) before briefly dropping by the hotel room for a quick snack before going back to the convention center.
16:30 – AAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH. There are three really stupid things you can do at a convention: Forget to register, lose your badge or forget a panel you’re supposed to be on. I’m now two out of three so far when I realize that my badge is nowhere on me: it probably fell out of my pocket as I was reaching for my wallet at the post office. The fix is simple but humiliating: Go back to registration (who is now really tired of my by now), pay the token replacement cost and eat a plate full of crow. This has been a humbling convention so far. (In related news, I also read a dismissive review of my moderation at one the previous day’s panel… and it doesn’t even get my name right) After saying hello to René Walling (who’s SMOFing with the chair of the Chicago-2012 bid), I meet my fellow co-panelists for the upcoming “Classics of 2035” panel and from the tenor of our conversation, it looks as if we’re not going to have any problem discussing our topic.
17:00 – Showtime again, with the surprisingly fun topic of “Classics of 2035”: What, if anything, will we remember from the 2000-2010 decade in 25 years? The audience is a bit lethargic, but they’re game and my co-panelists Claire Briarly and Mike Scott are fun to listen to. (I almost wish I was in the audience to enjoy the panel) One of our scheduled co-panelists never shows up, which harms the panel somewhat: This is the kind of discussion in which the more viewpoints are the merrier. I talk too much (again), trip up on the pronunciation of “megalomaniac” and it’s clearly the last panel of the day before dinner… but no one is seriously harmed by the proceedings. I can even recognize a few friendly faces in the audience.
18:00 – Outside the panel, discussing and debriefing with the Moores, we notice both the flame show up the river bank (impressive even at a distance: I’ll have to see it from closer tomorrow), and the fact that it’s pouring down. Fortunately, Melbourne’s weather keeps changing on a dime, and it only takes a few minutes’ worth of spirited discussion about the Hugo Awards that it’s not even raining any more. I walk back to the hotel, where I’m supposed to meet Karine for dinner.
WARNING: A LOT OF PEOPLE IN PRE-TRIP DISCUSSIONS HAVE ASKED FOR A WARNING TO BE PUT AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS PARTICULAR PARAGRAPH, MOSTLY BECAUSE CUTE AND CUDDLY ANIMALS WERE HARMED SOMEWHERE IN THE MAKING OF WHAT I’M ABOUT TO DESCRIBE. NO, SERIOUSLY, EVERYONE THINKS IT’S OK TO EAT CUTE COWS AND EVEN CUTER SHEEP BUT ONCE YOU EVEN RAISE THE POSSIBILITY OF TRYING LOCAL DELICACIES SUCH AS, OH, kangaroo, SUDDENLY IT’S AAARGH YOU CAN’T DO THAT THEY’RE TOO BOUNCY. 18:30 – So, anyway, we had kangaroo for dinner at an upscale riverside restaurant. Steak for me, gnocchi for Karine. It was expensive even by Australian standards, it tasted different and (given how I’m used to moose meat once or twice a year), I even liked it even though once will be enough given the debatable environmental impact of ‘roo culling in Australia. (Some ecological groups support the government-controlled culling for keeping the population under control, but it’s still wild game hunting and it arguably makes more environment-conscious ‘roo farming economically unsustainable) But, to go back to the disclaimer, SO THAT WAS HORRIBLE I ATE SKIPPY AND NOW I WILL BE FOREVER OUTCAST AS A SCUM OF THE EARTH, THE LOWEST OF THE LOW, A CARNIVORE PREYING ON SOFT INDOLENT CREATURES THAT AREN’T EVEN AS CUTE IN REAL LIFE AS ON TV OR IN CARTOONS.
19:15 – After Dinner, Karine and I cross the river to go do some quick grocery shopping at Coles (in my continued quest to sample as many local soft drinks as possible), followed by a quick tour of a few souvenir shops as Karine tries to figure out the perfect gifts for the people on her list. I’m immune to most souvenir shops, but it’s interesting to see the bewildering variety of items available. Some of them, I’ll grant, are even interesting.
20:00 – Back to the hotel room for the day, I write up the day’s adventures while Karine watches over the laundry. Through Twitter, I understand that the masquerade was a very short affair (30 minutes), marred by somewhat tasteless emceeing. Kim Stanley Robinson’s speech is also getting a lot of attention –and is available online! While writing, I listen to music through the Bose headphones, and sip on “SARS double sarsaparilla” (not bad; root-beerish) and some “Bundaberg Ginger Beer” (really heavy on the ginger).
Given that my karma is a bit shaky these days, here’s a gift to any one of you still reading this: Rummaging through my stuff, I have a few extra postcard stamps and so, if you want an Australia-themed postcard, contact me and send me your address. I can’t promise anything in terms of card quality, penmanship, delivery date or content of the note I’ll address to you. All requests should be received before our last night in Sydney, which is to say before 18:00 (Sydney time) on September 7th. Act now!
Day 12 – Saturday, September 4 – Melbourne and a last day of Worldcon
8:00 – Having gone to bed at the unusually (!) early hour of midnight, I’m relatively ready for my iPod alarm clock when it goes off. Taking a shower involves taking socks off the clothesline stretched across our bathroom. Karine’s cough is now intermittent, and her condition is much better than the previous days. Breakfast is a mixture of a banana, milk chocolate and “Vegemite Cheezybite” (basically a combination of Kraft products Cheese-whiz and Vegemite; not as bad as you’d think given how the cheese cuts vegemite’s harshness) spread over English muffin. Given that we’ve slept through most of an Ottawa Saturday, a number of good news from home are in our mailbox; congratulations to a newly-married couple friends of ours! My plan for the day is to take a morning constitutional walk through the botanical gardens before going to the convention for a long time… an even longer time considering that the Hugo Awards are being given tonight and that I’m not missing a moment of it.
9:15 – Having selected our hotel partly because it was located next to downtown and the botanical garden, it seemed a waste to let this opportunity go by. Our time in Melbourne nears its end (we’re leaving in 48 hours, and most of tomorrow will be dedicated to a guided tour well outside the city) and this is one of the last opportunities I have to walk away from downtown. For the next hour and a half, I bounce around the botanical garden without any plan, content to look around the strange and wonderful vegetation. Yesterday’s windstorm has left a few traces, as I have to step over a number of small broken branches and fallen palms. It’s not the best time to visit the garden: This is the third day of spring here, after all, and the garden is clearly waiting for better days. Nonetheless, there’s a majesty in seeing dormant tropical vegetation, in-between palm trees, huge aloe vera plants, a few cacti, bulbous trees and enormous rose bushes. There are a number of cool and quiet nooks everywhere in the park, my favourite (even in its dormant winter state) being the quiet “grotto” area that must be lovely during the summer when the waterfalls are activated and the plants bloom everywhere. Still, the coolest section of the botanical park is certainly the Royal Garden, an intricately landscaped area that offers a lot of fascinating sights in a small area. I may never get the time to go to the Australian wilderness, but the Royal Gardens will do nicely as a compressed approximation. At some point during my walk, I see a Gray Line bus and know exactly the path they’re going to take.
10:45 – I quickly step into my hotel room to pick up my backpack (along with my netbook to take notes during the day, since the Hugo Awards will keep me at Worldcon until late, and if I wait until the end of the day to write my travel log, I won’t get to sleep until 2:00), but head back to the Convention Center by taking a detour through downtown Melbourne. My first objective is to find a particular record store, and it doesn’t go well: I’m not sure of the location, and deep downtown Melbourne is a fractal maze of avenues, streets, lanes and sub-arcades: It’s not as simple as saying “corner of X and Y” when the real location may be “off X, off Y, into Z lane and downstairs.” Still, this gives me an enjoyable reason to walk down a few lanes I hadn’t seen before, all the way from Flinders Street station to South Cross Station. That’s where I manage to fulfill my other objective, which is to use the free wireless at the train station to transfer an ebook from my netbook to the iPod (via my own web site). After that, I stroll into a section of the docklands I hadn’t seen (a run-down building officially designated as a protected heritage site) before getting back to the Convention Center through the north-side bridge.
11:45 – Worldcon looks pretty much the same by the time I stroll into it. I run into Murray Moore (who has done his part in buying current and classic Australian SF books) to make dinner plans, and we are joined momentarily by DUFF delegate John Hertz (THE FACTS ARE THESE: SF fandom has a number of “fan funds”, financed through donations, auctions and other means, designed to send selected fans to faraway conventions. DUFF = Down-Under Fan Fund, between Australia and the US; TAFF = Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund, between UK and the US; even CUFF = Canadian Unity Fan Fund, between eastern and western Canada. Fan Fund delegates are usually required to produce lengthy trip reports as payback for the money received to travel.) A quick tour through the fan areas and dealers’ room produces no stunning revelations.
12:00 – I end up at the “3D movies” panel more out of having no better options. In any case, I’m impressed at how the three panelists are able to stretch the thin subject over 50 solid minutes. The consensus is very skeptical: How much of the current 3D craze is a deliberately-manufactured and marketed fad in order to get people to pay 3$ more for movies and sell newer TVs? A number of objections are presented and discussed, perhaps the more compelling being that it adds very little to the storytelling aspect of movie-making. I half-listen during a chunk of the panel, taking the opportunity to write up the day’s adventures so far.
13:00 – I haven’t seen much of Guest of Honor Kim Stanley Robinson during this convention, and that’s part of why I find myself at “The Case for the Red Planet”, listening to him, David Levine and Jim Benford make a pragmatic case for human mars exploration. Much of it, beyond ideology and inspiration, is based on science: studying Martian geology and possibly biology would tell us a lot about our own. (KSR compares Mars to Antarctica: very scientifically interesting, a new and inspiring frontier, but likely to be negligible in terms of human history) Much of the panel is dedicated to the daunting challenges in going to Mars and coming back. Before the panel begins, a fan sitting next to me spontaneously congratulates me on my moderation of yesterday’s panel. It’s all very interesting, but I have to leave two-thirds of the way through, since…
13:45 – …I have to meet my co-panelists in the green room. Alas, they don’t show up. I do have a nice discussion with another panelist on another panel whose co-panelists don’t show up either.
14:00 – I’m moderating my fourth (and last) panel of the convention. This one, on “French SF cinema”, has about twenty hours of “research” in it, which is to say watching two handfuls of recent French SF films. (Oooh, the sacrifice. Well, in some cases, it really was a sacrifice.) Our preparation is woeful, our coordination is dreadful, our commentary is scattered, but I do believe that we manage to hit upon a coherent thesis about the development, influences and high points of SF cinema from France. It’s a very different moderating experience from my previous panels, since we panelists are knowledgeable, and we can’t really expect the audience to engage in informed back-and-forth (although many of them are able to keep up and nod along at what they’ve seen.) The audience is small but attentive, and generally seems appreciative by the end.
15:00 – Coming out of the panel, I notice that it’s shining brightly outside, and that puts me back in an urban exploration mood. Readers of this log so far have probably noticed that I keep returning to what I’ve failed to do, and that’s part of why I decide to head back and FIND THAT MUSIC STORE I’ve missed earlier. As I’m walking alongside the convention center in superb weather, eating a delicious chocolate-chip muffin and basking in the glow of a panel well-moderated, I realize that at that moment, I’m profoundly happy.
15:30 – “Basement Discs” is tough to find. Hidden in a basement in an alley arcade at the back of a far more upscale arcade, it’s obvious that I never would have found it from the street alone. Thank goodness for Google Maps! The store itself is a fantastic throwback to the kind of slightly-seedy record shops of decades past. (“You can’t roll a joint on an iPod” states one sign as if that was a selling point) The decor is an eye-popping, comfortable assembly of movie posters, music memorabilia, counterculture artifacts and (also) a few CDs. They don’t have what I’m looking for, which isn’t that surprising given that I’m looking for a years-old local rock band. Still, it’s a discovery and a great place to visit.
15:45 – I’m on my way back to the convention when I abruptly realize that I’m just past Minotaur, the local geek shop heaven. I turn on my heels, find the store and descend into a cavernous basement filled with all sorts of books, figurines, DVDs and other items of interest to geeks. Now, I’ll be the first one to decry the cooptation and market segmentation of geeks by the modern industrial-entertainment complex: Frankly, I can’t imagine what I would ever do with a Batman figurine. But the point of those stores is to bring together a lot of unique and fascinating material and after ignoring the plentiful crap, there is still a fantastic selection of SF books (probably the best selection of American SF that I’ve seen so far on this trip), an astonishing series of cult DVDs, a truly awesome collection or art books, a fabulous collection of movie criticism books and so many other wonderful things. The only comparable store I can think of is the main London branch of Forbidden Planet. Any store open-minded enough to have an explicitly-labeled Hentai section next to the SF books one is full of a variety of odd and unique things. [Mom, please don’t google Hentai.] I end up purchasing my second book of the trip: Another Greg Egan book, a recent (2009) short story collection that I don’t remember reading. (I suspect that it’s a mash-up of two other collections, with some extra material.) As I walk back to the convention center, it strikes me that Minotaur marks a fitting end to my Melbourne shopping expeditions. What else can compare?
16:30 – Back at the convention, my apologies to someone I drew out of the crowd for an opinion during the Last Airbender panel turns into a discussion of the original Avatar anime in which I am further convinced that I need to watch the series. My apologies turn out to be unnecessary, and I get a fantastically nerdy discussion about a very particular subject. Upstairs, my last lap around the fan area results in a goodbye to Jannie Shea, a chance encounter with Joe Siclari (I get a chance to congratulate him on a book project of his) and no further purchases from the dealer’s room.
17:00 – I attend my last panel of Aussiecon4: Authors and how they react to reviews, as moderated by John Scalzi –who’s in an eye-stabbing mood. I don’t know three of the four panelists, but the discussion is lively, entertaining, revealing (Detailed reviews matter to authors!) and gracefully moves from one subject to another. I’m sitting next to Marjo, who I invite to my planned dinner with the Moores. I also update the day’s events so far and feel pretty good about the way I’m freeing myself from an endless evening of updates in favour of a not-quite-endless evening of update. On my way out, I get to talk a bit with a fan I may have given short thrift during the previous day’s panel on 2035 Classics.
18:00 – Dinner with Marjo and the Moores soon turns into an entertaining logistical nightmare the moment we realize that we’re trying to eat at the casino on not just a Sunday evening, but Australasian Father’s Day Sunday evening. Everything is crowded wherever we go, and so we stand in line for a “quick” counter meal that ends up taking forever. Ah well; at least we’re not in a hurry. (On the other hand, my pizza slices don’t taste all that good, perhaps my first big food disappointment of the trip so far.) In a conversation with other fans, I fearlessly predict that, much to my dismay, Paolo Bacigalupi’s novel will win a Hugo, with outside chances for Robert Charles Wilson and China Mieville.
19:30 – Marjo and I are sitting in the last row of the rather spiffy Pleniary room, a vast theater-style auditorium with large comfy seats and clear sight-lines down to the stage. Much to her exasperation (hello Marjo!), I keep up a patter about awards, books and the Worldcon. From our vantage point, we see the auditorium fill up early (probably helped along by a previous version of the programme that had the ceremony begin at 19:00), but far from completely: There are still plenty of comfortable places for everyone by the time the lights go down.
THE FACTS ARE THESE: The Hugo Awards have been given out at the Worldcon since the mid-fifties, and are voted upon by the members of the convention. There are a few popular awards in the SF world, but the Hugos are almost certainly the best-known of them: publishing lore has it that they are the only SF award that carry some commercial weight in sales. As Worldcons have evolved in a changing genre environment, so have the Hugos: The last few years have seen awards go to YA novels, fantasy novels (and often YA fantasy novels) away from the traditional SF pedigree of the award. Basically, the Hugos go to “whatever the Worldcon fans like”, with a checkered history measured against the acknowledged classics of the genre. Every January, nominations are open to members of the current and past Worldcon –the shortlist is usually announced in March/April. Only voters of the current Worldcon can vote, and that vote is preferential using instant-runoff ballots. (ie; works are rated in order, with least-popular works being removed and their votes redistributed until the most popular choice gets 50%+ of the vote. It’s the sanest voting method, and one that we should adopt in Canadian elections instead of whatever silly proportional-representation reform schemes keep popping up.) The Hugos are a “big tent” event in Worldcon fandom, and the one event guaranteed to attract huge crowds.
20:00 – Five months ago, I sat in a hotel room in London listening to the Hugo nominees being announced live. Now I’m on the other side of the world, hearing the winners. There’s nowhere else I would rather be: some people obsess over the Oscars (hmm, so do I), but my own pet award is the Hugo. It has provided me with a Science-Fiction reading list in by beginning as a serious SF reader, it has given me hours of conversation, argument and second-guessing. I don’t know any Oscar winners, but a few Hugo winners know who I am. Garth Nix is an amusing emcee, and while some parts definitely run too long, it’s a pleasant ceremony. My instant analysis of the results is that the online contingent of voter is getting stronger, with up to half a dozen winners being significantly or completely linked with popular web presences. There are a few charming oddities in the mix, such as old-timers Jack Vance and Fred Pohl winning awards, or the fairytale ending of Peter Watts capping off an eventful year with a Hugo win. Unusually enough, the *three* short-fiction winners reflect my own preferences in those categories. Finally, the tie for Best Novel Hugo between Paolo Bacigalupi and China Mieville makes me smile in part because I now have two reasons to rage against them both. (It also half-proves how I was right in bemoaning Bacigalupi’s front-runner status in my own review of the book and in various conversations since then.) Alas, part of the sadness of growing older is the realization that little of this actually deserves any nerd rage at all. So, a well-deserved tip of the hat to all (and I do mean all) winners. Now let’s starting thinking about next year’s slate… and let’s see the breakdown of this year’s nomination and voting statistics.
22:00 – Back at the hotel: Karine has enjoyed her visits to the Aquarium and to the Tim Burton exhibition. She has also bought an inspiring number of souvenirs for friends and family back home. She is not coughing (much) anymore. I finish a few leftovers, drink up a “drinking coconut” (it’s much easier with a steel knife, even though I still have to roll up a straw from a piece of glossy paper), finish the day’s travel log, post pictures and go to bed… pretty much at midnight.
Day 13 – Monday, September 6 – Great Ocean Road Adventure!
6:30 – Given how I started slumbering only about six hours ago, it’s a minor miracle if I’m well awake by the time my iPod tells us to get up. But then again, we’re leaving Worldcon and Melbourne behind today, and heading for the coast! Given that, it’s not surprise if I’m up, showered, breakfasted and updated on the latest messages from home (ie: none). (It’s one of the amusing ironies of our trip that optimal sleeping hours here in Melbourne match up almost perfectly to regular office hours in Ottawa: 22:00 here is 8:00 there, and 06:00 is 16:00.) Karine’s cough is practically non-existent today. Breakfast for me is the now-standard (something-fruity, something-bready, something-milky) banana, English-muffin-with-Cheezybite Vegemite and Milk chocolate bottle. (Karine, meanwhile, goes for the last remaining donuts, biscuits and orange juice.) We’re out of the door fairly early and make our way, jostling elbows with Melbourne commuters, to the tour guide office. Weather is sunny and cool (10c+), trending toward mild.
8:00 – There is a bit of confusion about our reservation: There’s nothing on file for us, but they find it really hard to argue with our printed voucher. (Now there’s a tip for all of you travelers.) I suspect that this is another consequence of booking separate trips last week. In any case, they find a place for us on the bus… which isn’t much of a favour given how the bus is about three-quarter full, with very few options to move around. The vast majority of our fellow tourists are Asian, albeit with a wide variety in ages. Our trip for the day, we’re informed at the bus leaves, will cover about 550 kilometers (or; roughly the distance between Ottawa to Toronto) We end up exiting Melbourne through its industrial district, giving us yet another view of Melbourne. After that, the landscape flattens out as we enter farmland country on highway M1 (“The Highway that never ends” as it circles all of Australia. Am I the only one to imagine an awesome high-speed racing event from facts like those?) We see vast yellow fields of canola, but one of the most unusual sights along the way is Avalon Airport, a Quantas training/repair facility that is our cue to turn…
9:00 – …off the M1 and onto a far smaller highway leading to the coast. Shortly thereafter, we get to Geelong, a relatively large industrial city with substantial port facilities, a Ford factory, a BMW dealership and a sizable residential suburb that extends as far as the eye can see. (At some point in early Australian history, the town was a serious contender to Melbourne’s crown as the major city of the area.) The road then takes us to Torquay, a smaller city that seems to have been taken over by surfing shops and industries (Ripcord has their headquarters here; our Frommers guide calls the city “the surfing capital of Australia”). Our driver start noticing how much the area has changed after the recent rains: it’s seldom been as wet in the past 15 years, apparently. (Karine and I, looking at the local news showing the Christchurch earthquake and the Victoria floods, have joked that we need to stop traveling together since we seem to bring cataclysms to nearby areas. And let’s not talk about our 2001 New York trip.) As we near our first destination, the weather changes: the clouds over the sea make an advance on the mainland, and it starts raining just as we stop at Bells Beach.
9:40 – It’s raining just enough to be annoying as our bus unloads just atop the cliff overlooking Bells Beach. There’s is a mad race to the lookout to take pictures, then general aimlessness as the rain increases just a bit. It clears up moment later, just enough to allow us to mill around the bus and take in a small breakfast of sponge cake, billy-bush tea and vegemite-covered crackers. (I restrain myself from dramatically shouting Nooooo! at an Asian woman putting vegemite on her sponge cake. Vegemite’s cool, but not on sugary stuff. She realizes that seconds later.) But as I scrutinize the vegetation bordering our parking, the sun peeks out a little bit, and I get another chance to run to the lookout (pretty much the only one to do so) and snap a few hero pictures of the cliffs in sunlight.
10:15 – Back on the bus, the road finally lives up to its “Great Ocean Road” by following the sea and giving us a few great views of the coast. Meanwhile, I quickly update the day’s adventures so far on my netbook.
10:30 – A very quick stop at Urquhart Bluff is an opportunity to take another picture of the shore, but more specifically more me to inspect an Ecalypt tree as it’s in mid-blooming and infested by some strangely beautiful caterpillars. What can I say? I get my naturalistic kicks whenever I can.
10:35 – More road, more shore, more spectacular views. I’m trying to pace myself for the day. This being said, the road becomes more spectacular and dramatic as it cuts through cliffs on both sides, and starts turning and twisting in hairpin turns. I’m really happy someone else is doing the driving. The seatbelts, for once, don’t feel optional. Just before reaching the seaside town of Lorne, our driver spots a whale to the cooing delight of the entire bus.
11:05 – After a few minutes of twisting and turning in a crowded bus, we stop at a lookout near Cumberland River and the driver takes a moment to tell us about, should we need it, “personal-use disposal” bags. It is, alas, too late for one of the younger members of our tour who retches over his parents. Our stop is as much an opportunity to take in some pictures than it is to take in some fresh air –which is now heavy with rain. This rain becomes heavier, but not before we can spot a great rainbow over the sea. Alas, my joy at that sight is marred by my own increasing nausea. I can’t stress how unusual it is for me to feel sick in a moving vehicle: I read on the bus at least 60 minutes every workday, I’ve been known to read for several uninterrupted hours in car whenever someone else is driving, and have been transport-nausea-free for about two decades. This road, however, isn’t like most others: It twists and turns rapidly, and it’s not very well maintained: We shake, rattle and roll. (I’m also tired and cramped.) I manage to get through it by loosening my seatbelt, directing a fan toward my face, closing my eyes and thinking happy thoughts.
11:40 – I get better just as we make a welcome stop at the Cape Patton lookout, but now Karine is looking even queasier than I’ve felt. Given stereotypes, it’s kind of amusing to see our busload of mostly-Asian tourists ravenously engage in the most outrageous posing and photo-snapping whenever we get a chance. Our first significant episode during the following stretch of the road is in passing through an area in which Koalas are known to live: We are encouraged to look and spot them. Some lucky ones are able to do so; unfortunately, I don’t. Meanwhile, Karine is now sitting with her forehead pressed against the seat in front of us. I don’t feel so fantastic myself, but things are improving.
12:00 – Apollo Bay! The chance to spend 70 minutes on solid ground! Karine is really not feeling well, and chooses to stay at a picnic table while I take a stroll to the beach. The weather keeps shifting on us: Sunny one moment, raining the next. As usual whenever I’m faced with an ocean (next stop, Antarctica!) I spend far too much time at the upper edge of the waves lapping up on the beach, the sand glistening mirror-smooth whenever the water recedes. I taste the water; salty. I briefly walk on the beach, spotting the various flotsam that collects on a beach: Kelp, seashell fragments, plastic pollution, even a tiny dead crab. I get back to Karine just as it’s starting to rain, and we head out to the washroom. I’m done fairly quickly (have I written about the trough-like communal urinals in Australia?) but Karine takes a while and by the time she gets out of the washrooms, she’s feeling much better for a reason I better not describe. By this time, I’m keen on lunch… even if she’s not quite enthusiastic about the idea yet. There’s just 30 minutes left on our stop, so we stop by Georges Food Court, a fast cafeteria-style eatery. (And probably the first food court I can remember where the mostly-Asian clients are served by a mostly-Caucasian staff.) Feeling overly optimistic, I get a good greasy fish-and-chips that tastes really good given its price and speed of preparation; Karine opts for a burger that she doesn’t even end up finishing. She runs to the next-door grocery store to buy strawberries while I explore the city a bit further. Temperature is cool (10c) with the ocean wind, something that we get to experience for the rest of the day.
13:10 – Back on the road, on our way to the Twelve Apostles. Aside from some farmland in deep valleys early on, the scenery isn’t very impressive: We’re twisting and turning in a forest. A promotional Great Ocean Road video plays on the bus’ video system; Karine dozes; I update this travel log with our nauseating adventures so far. The road gets twistier and turnier; the Asian woman sitting in the row immediately behind us makes it until the driver coolly announces that “we’ve got only five or ten minutes left of these turns” before upchucking. (Considering that it’s all happening less than a meter away from my head, she’s got to be the quietest upchucker I’ve ever known). We continue to experience the effects of the rains and storms: At some point during the trip, we hit a big wet branch, and the surround-sound effect it makes as it drags over the entire roof of the bus is delightful. The end of the drive is more picturesque, with rolling farmland on one side, and the ocean in the other. Karine feels better after her nap.
14:30 – We stop at the Campbell park for a look at the twelve apostles (now down to eight): rock formations battered by the incessant surf from the Southern Ocean. It is very pretty, but you really have to be there to appreciate the wide-screen majesty of it all (and there are hundreds of people there to appreciate it!) Karine finishes her strawberries. We see another rainbow over the the landscape.
15:15 – It’s our shortest hop of the trip as we drive two minutes east to the Gibson Steps, which allow us to go down a small stone staircase to a wild beach on the South Ocean. The surf is fierce (we’ve been warned not to even go near the water in case a rogue wave comes up to sweep us away), the sun is warm, the flotsam has left surprises on the beach and there’s even a small waterfall revived by the recent rains. Coming back up the stairs is not as trivial as going down.
15:45 – It’s shrubs as far as the eye can see on our next leg of the trip, although the road is mercifully straight for a while. Not for long, though, as we stop after 90 seconds at yet another viewpoint: Loch and Gorge. You would think that after three stops along the same area in such a short time, much of the scenery would lose its appeal… and you would be wrong. Of course, this time we get to see a few stalactites, caverns, waterfalls and big rocks from other angles. It starts pouring just as we’re all back in the bus, in time for the long-promised story of the two Loch Wreck survivors.
16:30 – One the road again, also briefly until we reach the small town of Port Campbell. It’s the last stop of the tour before the long drive back to Melbourne, and it’s sunny once more. Karine briefly stops by to buy a snack and a few postcards at the local gift shop, and we spend much of the remaining time on the small local beach playing beachcombers. We find seashells, funky kelp, sea sponges and one broken fishing rod tangled in seaweed. (Plus what looked like a particularly interesting seashell, but proved to be an almost-entirely buried apple.) We take nothing but pictures, although that resolution is sorely tested when Karine finds a fist-sized red seashell with an iridescent inner shell. This being the last stop of the last tour, I’m acutely struck by the notion that within three days, I will once again be manipulating alphanumerical symbols in an Ottawa cubicle for a living.
17:15 – The long drive back to Melbourne. I write up the rest of the day’s adventures so far. It pretty much rains all the way, although the first few minutes see us go through lush NewZealandesque farmland before the sun definitely sets. I finish Metro 2033 (how long has it been since I’ve finished a book? Way too long!) and start Stieg Larssen’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. As a treat, they show the first episode of “All the Rivers Run”, a 1983 made-for-TV four-part miniseries about the early days of Australia: it starts with a scene set at a place we’ve visited today. The film is low-budget but earnest and Sigrid Thornton’s performance still look really good in 2010. I doze off a good 30-45 minutes and by the time I wake up again, we’re at the border between the countryside and Melbourne’s outer suburbs.
19:45 – Our bus first stops at Southern Cross Station, where Karine and I get out and walk to the Casino just in time to have a privileged down-pillar’s view of the nightly propane gas flame shows. It has stopped raining, but it’s still cool… at least until we are momentarily warmed by the massive fireballs. After that, we simply step inside the Casino food court to get a good and cheap slice of pizza from one of the vendors. Our last stop of the day is in the atrium of the Casino hotel, where there’s a light and water show that we watch for a few moments.
20:45 – Back at the hotel for our final night at the Travelodge. I first run down to do one small batch of laundry, just enough to get us back to Ottawa without further clothes-washing adventures. (This involves going to reception to exchange coins for $1 pieces, since that’s all the machines will accept. At least this takes care of our spare change.) After that, it’s the usual writing routine (much shorter given that I’ve kept the log throughout the day), photo-sorting, email-checking… plus the unusual leftover-eating. It get to sleep shortly before midnight, but at least we can sleep in a bit tomorrow.
Day 14 (interlude)
20:00 – Sorry, readers: I’m stuck in a Sydney hotel whose entire Internet connection is a bank of bad coin-operated public machines in the lobby. (How bad? IE6 bad.) No wireless, no expensive wired Internet either. The full report (now exclusively available on my netbook) will have to wait upon our return to Ottawa to be posted, but the short version is “Had a good night’s sleep, took an early flight back to Melbourne, had a guided tour of the Sydney Opera House, went shopping, had a great time seeing Melbourne almost a week later and are now dreading tomorrow’s nineteen hours of flying.” One last report tomorrow, and then sleep!
Day 14 – Tuesday, September 7th – From Melbourne to Sydney (again)
7:45 – We’re supposed to be sleeping in, but I end up getting out of bed, fully wakened, fifteen minutes before our scheduled wake-up time. We’re on our way back; first to Sydney, for a day-long layover on our way back home. It could have been possible to get up ridiculously early in order to catcha place to Sydney that would get us there early enough to take our flight back to Canada, but it would have added an extra stressor to an already exhausting trip –we’ve done this before on this trip, and it’s enough. Plus, spending most of a day in Sydney allows us to revisit the city one last time to catch up on a bit of what we’ve missed. In any case, we spend the next two hours slooowly checking email, breakfasting, washing and tidying up.
9:45 – One last walk through Mebourne. It’s cool (10c) but dry after the night’s rain. Amusingly enough, a pure fluke of time and place brings us within sight of Murray and Mary-Ellen Moore, who shout and wave at us from across the street and finally get to verify Karine’s existence for themselves. Otherwise, we make our way to the Southern Cross Station where the 10:05 airport shuttle leaves moments after we board it. The way to the airport is uneventful.
10:30 – At the airport, our automated check-in presents us with a delightful option: We’re so early that we can board the 11:00 plane rather than the 12:00. We accept, not knowing yet that the flight is late by 15 minutes and that we end up booked on mid-plane middle seats. Security is minimal, and we still have some time to look around the domestic departure terminal until our plane is ready to board. I end up getting one last Melbourne postcard.
11:15 – Aboard the plane, Karine and I end up sitting two rows apart. She’s initially between a dad and his kid; she gladly ends up taking the window seat. No such luck for me, as I’m in-between one aspiring businessman and a coughing young man. The flight is strictly commuting routine: no in-flight entertainment system, and a horrid almond-lemon cake-ish thing for breakfast. That good reputation that Quantas has in certain circles? It’s probably not coming from their Melbourne-Sydney route. I’ve had better experiences on Air Canada between Ottawa to Toronto.
12:55 – We’re in Sydney, about 45 minutes earlier than originally expected. By now, we know how the Airport Train line works, and we know our way around mid-town Sydney. We’re booked into a slightly different hotel, a Travelodge about four blocks east of the Radisson we stayed in a week ago, but still in the general neighborhood. I had originally selected different hotels to hedge our bes against one bad hotel experience, and because it was cheaper to stay at a (lower-tier) Travelodge for a single night. There’s no problem at check-in, and our room looks eeringly like the one we’ve left: two single beds, uninspired decoration, half-open-shower concept, albeit with an extra couch and writing table that Karine will commandeer for postcard writing later during the day.
13:30 – For lunch, Karine wants to try Hungry Jack’s, the local version of Burger King (it’s lot exactly the same owner, logo, color scheme and design aesthetics, except that the name is different.) I protest (“We can get Burger King at home… and we don’t!”), but as many of you already know, my sister can make me do whatever she likes, and that’s how we end up with cheeseburger combos at Hungry Jack’s. It’s not an experience that will reconcile me with any hungry burger king named Jack: Karine’s Coca Cola cup is leaking, my cheeseburger is not very good and my soft ice-cream tastes entirely of chemicals.
14:10 – After a brief stop at a souvenir shop we’d spotted last week, Karine and I head north to the circular Quay and the Opera House for aguided tour. In the meantime, we get to walk again through the city during one of its weekday afternoons, and it’s not a bad experience to be untied to any guided tour. Circular Quay is pretty much as we’d left it, although I can’t help but notice that the New Zeland Rugby Cup pavillion is finally open. It’s small changes like this (or new ads, such as the one announcing this weekend’s upcoming Vogue-sponsored “Fashion’s Night Out”) that make me glad to be back in town after a week: It gives a sentiment of depth to our experience, of small measurable differences that make Sydney more than an unchangeable facade for the tourists.
14:55 – In another instance of splendid timing, we end up at the Sydney Opera House lobby to buy guided tour tickets five minutes before the next hourly one. It’s pricy ($35), but well worth the expense: The Opera House, after all, is a modern marvel of architecture, a building that still, fifty years after its initial design, manages to strike everyone’s imagination. The tour itself manages, through a mixture of real-stage visits, short films and patter from an amiable guide, to give us a feeling for the unlikeliness of the building’s conception, the difficulties of its construction and its lasting impact over Australian culture. Much of the tour is dramatically constructed around the life history of the project’s lead architect Jorn Udzon, down to an epilogue providing a happy ending for him. ignoring this, however, the Opera is still a very interesting building in and out, and one of the streats of the tour is having a glimpse at the life of a working arts center: We sit down in the theater for the much-advertised “Wrong Skin” dance event, and leter on get to be in one of the main amphitheaters as the stage-hands frantically prepare the evening’s presentation of Gilbert/Sullivan’s “The Pirate of Penzance”. Karine and I were initially skeptical about the tour, but it all adds up to a really interesting hour inside the Sydney Opera House.
16:10 – Having seen the Opera House and checked off one last destination on our list of places to see, the only thing left for me and Karine to do is to go shopping. It doesn’t start off that way, but one thing leads to another… Karine takes us to a specific souvenir shop for an unusual object she’d spotted earlier. Then a sight-seeing trip to Strand’s Arcade ends up taking us downstairs to JB Hi-Fi, where we find the single best selection of audio CDs we’ve seen in our trip so far. (In fact, it’s a selection that rivals one of the good HMVs back in the day where they actually sold CDs.) Not only does Karine manage to find one 28 Days CD for me and one Nintendo DS game for her, but digging through the techno section, I end up with a Hadouken album I was having trouble finding in Canada, an early edition of Pendulum’s first (they’re Australian!) and… two Fatboy Slim albums: his new Peron opera soundtrack, and a deluxe extended edition of his classic “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby”. Clearly, the Fatboy is watching over me during this trip. Then it’s off to the “Sydney Souvenir Warehouse” for bulk souvenirs (don’t ask; I certainly didn’t), the Coles grocery store for breakfast supplies and Subway for takeout supper. I can’t describe the joy of returning to a neighbohood knowing perfectly well where we can find what we need; it’s a step beyond being a tourist, into (even superficially) having a relationship with the city.
18:00 – Back to the hotel room after a fairly quiet day, we eat our supper, address postcards (Karine’s postcards are works of art and she’s doing them fast enough to qualify as an industrial process), write up the day’s events, watch TV (There’s a government after 17 days of post-electoral suspense! Scientology is de-listed as a religion in Australia!), repack and relax while trying not to think about tomorrow’s nineteen hours of flight. There is no in-room Internet, which explains why this full report is uploaded after our return: While this would normally be a good reason to switch hotels, we can tough it out for 12 more hours. I finally break down and use the bad coin-operated public kiosks in the lobby (How bad? IE6 on standard screen resolution stretched over a wide-screen monitor bad) to put a placeholder summary in place. The rest of the evening is very leisurely. Drinking a coconut when you’ve got a steel knife and a straw is very civilized. Why aren’t we able to see Top Gear on regular North American channels?
Day 15 – Wednesday, September 8 – The long way back home
06:30 Sydney time, (-1)13:30 Vancouver time, (-1)16:30 Ottawa Time – Ugh. The problem isn’t that I’m not asleep when the alam rings: The problem is that I’m not asleep and haven’t been for some time, having slept little (and badly) as is often the case before a long flight. Now that the tourism is all done, it’s all tedious mechanics going back home, and my mind has already started thinking about next week, next weekend, next months. On the good side, I will most likely doze off on the plane; on the minus side, I’m already feeling tired and the flight hasn’t even started. Our morning routine feels slower but is completed in our alotted hour as we don’t have any Internet access to distract us, and the view outside our window is as uninspiring as it can get. I’m not recommending this Travelodge. Grabbing my backpack, I find that the shoulder strap anchor point is more than half-unsewn, most likely a consequence of lugging so much stuff around: I’m not looking forward to nursing the bag through three airports fearing that the shoulder strp may go at any moment.
07:30 Sydney time, (-1)14:30 Vancouver time, (-1)17:30 Ottawa Time – Our trip to the Sydney airport is familiar by now: March to Museum station, purchase our tickets, , take the train to the International Terminal, and up to depature. My sister has to nudge me to notice René Walling as he gets out of the train at the same time as we do; we say hello and agree to meet again in the departure lounge.
08:45 Sydney time, (-1)15:45 Vancouver time, (-1)18:45 Ottawa Time – I’ve mentioned that I don’t like Sydney Airport all that much, and our latest passage through it does nothing to correct the impression: It’s a big, big airport, and some of the choices made in consequence don’t feel very welcoming. There are no automated check-in kiosks for Air Canada. Security is fast but busy, but we have to exit through a gift shop. (And, on our way to our faraway departure gate, pass through yet another gift shop.) There aren’t nearly enough seats in the departure lounge, especially seeing how many flights are leaving from our little nook of the airport. Karine uses this time to go buy hats and a koala. (A stuffed one; I don’t think live ones are available for sale, and it’s an open question how we could feed it on the plane, although it would be asleep and quiet most of the time.) As boarding is announced, Air Canada specifies that we’ve got a full flight today: Karine and I tremble at the thought of having to share our row with another person for fifteen -no- fourteen hours.
09:45 Sydney Time, (-1)16:45 Vancouver Time, (-1)19:45 Ottawa time – After some early boarding for families, first class and special needs passengers, our back-of-the-plane cattle-class gets to board. The big suspense, as Karine and I find our places on row 37 (aisle and windows seats) is whether someone will be seated between us. If not, we can each use the middle space for our own purposes (and switch seats if necessary); if so, we’ll spend a long unhappy flight jammed in our own seats. We hold our breath through the entire boarding process, preemptively damning any late boarders… and exchange a high-five once the “all aboard” announcement is made and a few passengers are shuffled around. René Walling ends up sitting in a window seat exactly four rows ahead of me. We depart shortly thereafter, and as the plane leaves over the ocean, I see downtown Sydney in the distance. If you know where to look, the Opera House is hard to miss, even at this distance.
11:15 Sydney Time, (-1)18:15 Vancouver Time, (-1)21:15 Ottawa Time – An hour into the flight, we get our first snack: The reliably delicios “Maized and Confused Corn chips” (which are good enough to eat while not on a plane). Meanwhile, I’m spending my time between Larsson’s third novel, the “Exit Through the Gift Shop” documentary about Banksy and a few extra pages of Follet’s Pillars of the Earth. I’ve got a headache lurking at the back of my head, but I’m in still chipper spirits. Karine has taken the hats and the stuffed Koala from her bag and placed them on the set between us.
12:00 Sydney Time, (-1)19:00 Vancouver Time, (-1)22:00 Ottawa Time – Lunch is served: Chicken in radioactive-yellow sauce, cold pasta salad and brownie. Not bad, although the experience is made quite a bit more entertaining by moderate turbulence as soon as we get our food. A flight attendant stops to comment on the stuffed koala in the seat between us, Follet’s THe Pillars of the Earth and Karine’s DS game. After lunch, I finish Exit Throug the Gift Shop (which turns from a documentary by a videographer about Banksy, to a Banksy documentary about a videographer turned artist.) and, perhaps inevitably given how we’ve all be “encouraged” to close our windows and the lights in the flight are down, start to doze off. (The headphones help a lot)
15:00 Sydney Time, (-1)22:00 Vancouver Time, 01:00 Ottawa Time – I reboot out of my slumberto find out that a third of the trip is done. We’re not far from the equator. This flight is a game of waiting, really, and if flying at low humidity, low pressure and high background noise wasn’t as lethargic, it would be interesting as an exercice in being handed more time than you’d know what to do with. Just exploring the movie options should be enough to keep anyone interested for days if you’d be lying down on a couch at home. But plane rides aren’t comfortable, and I can feel myself running at a fraction of my usual capabilities. Anyhing beyond casual writing is right out, and even reading can feel a bit annoying. My low-grade headache is still being felt, but I return to the Larsson novel. Do we have a screaming baby? Yes we do! Karine realizes that she doesn’t have her DS charger cables and, having watched Hot Tub Time machine, returns to Sex and the City 2 with the Bose headphones. (The headphones are great, but they can be uncomfortable to wear after a few hours.)
16:00 Sydney Time, (-1)23:00 Vancouver Time, 02:00 Ottawa Time – We are, as much as I can figure out from the onboard mapping system, experiencing turbulence almost exactly over the equator. Some of the crucial information: Altitude 10,668m, Groud speed: 901 kmh, External Temperature -42.0c, Distance flown: 5255km, Distance remaining: 7693. Estimated arrival time: 7:36 (Vancouver Time). Only eight-ish hours to go…
17:15 Sydney Time, 00:15 Vancouver Time, 03:15 Ottawa Time – We hit the mid-way point of this flight. I switch my iPod to Vancouver Time. My attempt to get to the washroom is styimied by flight attendants pointing at a lit “Stay seated” sign that I hadn’t noticed in part due to the recent smoothness of the flight. About five minutes later, the plane starts shaking through “moderate turbulence”, as our pilots call it. It’s about as turbulent as I can recall on a flight: We can hear things clanking in the service area at the back. It goes on, intermittently, for at least half an hour. I hav eto stop reading the Larssen novel because it’s getting tricky to hold my iPod, and because I really don’t want to take any chance in terms of nausea. (I’m unusually tired, and the plan is unusually shaking in directions the human ear isn’t prepared to accept as natural) Preemptively, I direct a jet of air to my face, adopt a relaxed hand-on-tray posture and think happy thoughts about home. It succeeds, and I resume reading the Larsseon novel by 1:30. (Meanwhile, a few people around us aren’t so successful.) I sneak a peek outside and it’s utter darkness. Meanwhile, Karine is watching Kick-Ass; she falls asleep midway through it. She’s going to get more use out of my Bose headphones than I will.
19:00 Sydney Time, 02:00 Vancouver Time, 05:00 Ottawa Time – A couple of things happen at the stroke of two o’clock: I finish Larsson’s novel, Karine finishes Kick Ass, they serve a light breakfast (a horrid little tuna sandwich and their mediocre citrus/cranberry cookies) and it’s temporary dawn in the cabin, with soothing pink lighting and some piped-in fragrance covering the smell of gastric acid. I get a chance to get up and go to the washroom at about 2:15. Judging from the on-board maps, we pass over Hawaii at about 2:30, just as I’m updating the flight’s adventures so far. I begin Kerouac’s On the Road and quickly find out that it would be quite a bit better as an audiobook.
21:30 Sydney Time, 04:30 Vancouver Time, 7:30 Ottawa Time – These are the dog hours of the trip: The lights are down for the second time, we’re over the half-way mark, but there’s still hours to go. Karine finishes The A-Team and gives me back the headphones: I use them to listen to the first CD of Fatboy Slim’s Imelda Opera, coincidentally available in the in-flight entertainment system. Otherwise, I’m done with On the Road (skimmed much of it, but the travelogue aspect makes me thing about this travel journal. Nice sense of place and time too; no wonder it became a beat classic) and start on Stephen King’s massive Under the Dome, quite a bit handier on an iPod.
23:00 Sydney Time, 06:00 Vancouver Time, 09:00 Ottawa Time – Wake-up time! The cabin lights go up as the pilot tells us we’ve got less than two hours to go, and that breakfast is about to be served –a good thing too, since I’m having a bit of a hunger. I’m barely 16% into Under the Dome –I don’t expect to finish it today. My continuing headache is never too far away, but it’s under control so far. I go for the pancakes breakfast (meh), while Karine opts for the eggs. Then it’s custom-forms-filling time, then a descent and an uneventful landing. On our way down, our plane flies next to the airport, then turns band to land, in the process giving us a spectacular view of early-morning Vancouver, with fog, low-level clouds and a bit of sunshine on the Rockies mountains far away. Wow, it’s great to be home… relatively speaking.
(+1)01:00 Sydney Time, 08:00 Vancouver Time, 11:00 Ottawa Time – On the ground at Vancouver International. Dodging tourists who obviously aren’t regular travelers (although, having just completed our seventh flight in barely more than two keeps, Karine and I may be considered outliers in the matter), we make our way through the complicated warren of returning-residents-connecting through the departure corridors, customs (automated!) and a direct elevator to domestic connections and one of the most leisurely security check I’ve seen to date. Along the way, I accidentally cause a few extra custom questions to René Walling as I nod at him and he has to explain why someone nodded hello if he’s traveling alone. By 8:30, we’re sitting once again in another departure lounge, this time almost at the end of the rattier domestic terminal. (And just-as-ratty Internet connection.) René joins us soon afterward (he is also heading to Ottawa, on his way to Montréal as part of a sadistic Air Canada experiment), and in-between catching up on emails and talking Worldcon, the layover time flies. In six hours, we’ll be within a bus ticket of home!
(+1)03:00 Sydney Time, 10:00 Vancouver Time, 13:00 Ottawa Time – Back in the air. By this time, Karine and I consider even a four-hour flight to be a mere trifle of a hop. We don’t even open our bags: Karine tries to nap, whereas I finish The Pillars of the Earth (Great, great book; thanks for the recommendations) and make some more headway in Under the Dome. We have a number of screaming babies, but they are outclassed by a squealing baby sitting right behind me and emitting high-pitches squeals at the slightest emotion. I consider this to be an excellent opportunity to show how jaded I am in not letting this bother me. Our arrival in Ottawa takes us right above downtown, with great photo opportunities. I can see my office from here.
(+1)07:30 Sydney Time, 14:30 Vancouver Time, 17:30 Ottawa Time – We are, at last, in Ottawa. My half-sewn back-pack shoulder strap has survived the trip. Karine’s stopwatch tells us that we’ve spent slightly more than 48 hours in the air in the past 17 days. Fortunately, our family is there to pick us up as soon as we exit the airport. The way home in the car is more cramped than in the plane.
(+1)08:30 Sydney Time, 15:30 Vancouver Time, 18:30 Ottawa Time – I am back home. My return to normalcy is hastened by a bit of grocery shopping, gas fill-up and laundry. Ironically, there’s a London postcard in the mail from a friend. This has been an experience, and now I can look forward to a few days of frantic catch-up.
Conclusion – September 11
Two days later, as I’m finally getting back to a normal schedule that doesn’t involve crashing at 21:00 and waking up at 4:00, what can I conclude from 14 days down under? Here are a few areas of contemplation:
The countries, the cities
It’s practically impossible to correctly judge a country when all you’ve seen of it are four urban areas and a few tours outside the city. We haven’t seen New Zealand’s South Island, for instance, nor all of Australia (never mind just the Outback) except for a few area around Sydney or Melbourne. Nonetheless, let’s give in to the temptation.
My first broad conclusion is obvious: Australia and New Zealand are very similar to each other in how they are, even today, clearly based on a British model. They both feel a lot closer to England than to America (all the way down to the way electrical outlets have individual on/off switches in hotels, or the way one eventually learns to look left while crossing a street), although both are evidently quite a bit younger and brasher than Europe. (In ads and public notices, both countries have a tendency to be a bit more irreverent, a bit more in-your-face and a lot less paranoid about getting complaints over cheeky language than North America.) What’s most interesting, however, is the clear Asian influence over this British base: The demographics of both countries, at least from what we’ve seen, are quite a bit different from anything else in North America, the relative absence of black faces being the first clue that this isn’t otherwise Richmond, BC or Los Angeles, CA.
If forced to choose, I have a slight preference for New Zealand over Australia. Climate-wise, it seems far more temperate and similar to Canada, while in terms of national spirit I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the Kiwi-Pride sentiment is unerringly like Canada’s attitude toward the US: Desperately trying to remind us of the differences even though both countries are so much alike. For some bizarre reason, I can’t help but play tourist while imagining what it would be like to relocate there forever, and I think I’d be OK with much of New Zealand as long as I’d get a high-speed Internet connection. (Australia, well, I’d have to pick where, exactly, in Australia.)
As for the cities…
- Auckland is the local metropolis (it reminded me a lot of Vancouver), and it hasn’t finished growing up yet: Its compact urban downtown is a mish-mash of various eras and attitudes, and it will be much better once it’s done polishing.
- Wellington is a bit more formal, a bit more sympathetic as well. Much like Ottawa (and there go my sympathies), there’s an interesting weight to the instruments of the national government, and Cuba Street is there to remind us that it’s not all dour seriousness.
- Sydney is the Toronto of Australasia, and I like the tone of serious-business gravitas in the financial sector, even as the city lives so close to its beaches and waterways. Tons of things to see, tons of things to do! I’m not sure anything is missing here for North American visitors.
- Finally, Melbourne reminds me of Montréal (minus the French-language component) in how it seems aggressively willing to promote its own counter-culture, arts scene and more free-wheeling attitude –especially compared to Sydney.
We liked every city along the way. A shame we couldn’t stay longer.
Planning, and how well it works
I took not-so-secret delight, before leaving, in wowing family, friends and even casual acquaintances with the weight of my planning. It usually took the form of slapping down a heavy plastic pouch headlined with a minute-by-minute schedule, followed by a few dozen printouts of maps, vouchers, reservation confirmations and other essential information. Less-organized friends were etiehr impressed, scared, exhausted or prone to make comments about obsessive manias.
And yet, it generally worked. Never minding the whole “didn’t register to the convention as an attending member” fiasco: That was an easily-survivable (if costly) incident. Otherwise, we found ourselves aboard all of the trains, buses and airplanes were were supposed to take, and in one case even used a printed voucher to prove that we were correct and that their computer system was wrooong.
Planning also gives us certitude and a good idea of what’s coming up: we just had to worry about the next deadline on our schedule, not trying to solve fifteen things at once. Long before the trip, planning allowed us to break down the problem of “visiting Australia and New Zealand” in more manageable pieces that could be fitted in our alotted time. Fun fact: Before making a decision to attend Au Contraire!, our original plan called for visiting Sydney, then New Zealand, then Melbourne. It turned out better in the end.
As a concession to less-organized readers, though, I must say that we had many of our best experiences in the unplanned downtime after arriving in a city. While it was a correct decision to even plan for this downtime (for instance, in not trying to do more than one thing per day whenever possible), the specifics of how we would occupy those half-days were only clear on the half-days themselves. I may end up planning one more unplanned day per destination in the future.
How to write travel logs
In email, a faithful reader of this travel log asked how I was able to write such detailed logs over such a long time. Here are a few bullets of distilled tips:
- Take notes: My secret trick is to use my digital camera as a time/place logging device. Taking 6,000+ pictures in a single two-week trip may seem excessive, but it’s not as ridiculous when you consider that the camera can act as a recorder of when you were where, and what you saw. This would have been unimaginable with a non-digital camera, but since hard disk space and memory cards are cheap, why not snap away? Whenever I see something interesting that I may want to write about, I take a picture. It doesn’t have to be a quality picture, but at least it’s something that can spark my memory while writing at the end of the day. My sister prefers jotting down notes on the back of chewing gum wrappers and in notebooks, and that works for her as well.
- Keep Documentation: An associated tip is to keep a lot of documentation: If you’re provided with brochures, keep them and use them to either spark your memory for remarkable moments, or to check the correct names of what you end up writing about. If you’re the kind of person who travels with travel guides, also keep them close in order to fact-check your memory.
- Update frequently: This isn’t always possible, but if you can, try to update the travel log as often as possible. In my case, I keep the log with my netbook, which isn’t always light or small enough to walk with, but can be carried, opened and updated easily enough on tour buses, planes or while attending panels. Take advantage of any free time (tour bus driving, slower panels) to update the day’s log so far. Don’t let the lack of Internet access stop you: Compose off-line, and copy-paste online when possible. The added bonus is that if you update throughout the day, it’s not as daunting to keep up than writing everything at the end of the day.
- Update every day: Even if you’re dead tired at the end of the day, complete the day’s log before going to sleep. Otherwise, the events of the day disappear in long-term memory. Worse, skipping a day may shake your logging habit, and trying to catch up the next day will slow you down even more. My rule is that however badly I need to go to sleep, I don’t get to do so until the day’s log is completed. It’s good practice, it concludes the day and it’s easier to sock away 2,000 words per day than to write a huge chunk at the end of the trip.
- Practice: I’ve been keeping these travel logs since 2005, and they get easier to write with time and experience. (Unless you get jaded, which is why I seldom even try to write them on 3-4 day trips.) You will learn what works in updating (“Should I write in the present or past tense? If I’m writing at the end of the day, should I make references to latter events, or should I write as I felt at the moment?”) and which technique are more efficient in writing the summaries.
- Have readers: My travel logs are ultimately most valuable as personal diaries (re-reading them years later is wonderful), but they immediately act as letters back home to friends and family who may be worried/envious/wondering about your trip away from home. In our case, this log helped us inform other people (an average of 14 of them per day, if we’re to trust our web statistics) about our adventures on the other side of the world. It’s a tremendous motivation to make the log as interesting and entertaining as possible. (Although it does provide an unhealthy incentive to avoid mentioned the awful or overly-personal stuff.)
Conventions and why attend them
Over the past few years, I haven’t been shy in using SF conventions as a reason to travel. SF conventions, much as I sometimes feel as if I’m outgrowing parts of them, provide a familiar environment and a stable anchor for tourism. You can get hotel deals, you can meet familiar faces, you can either take refuge in the convention or the city if either prove to be dull.
Au Contraire! seemed like a solid regional convention, nicely taking over the hotel and providing a good excuse to converse about geeky subjects. For non-Zelanders outsiders, it had many of he same issues as other local conventions: a small programming talent pool, pre-existing social networks as well as unfamiliar references/traditions. I only attended an hour of programming and hung out in the common area for maybe two more, but this isn’t as much a reflection of the interest of the convention as much as it was a consequence of Wellington’s appeal to a compulsive tourist.
Aussiecon4 felt very small, as far as Worldcon goes. This isn’t much of a surprise: few american SF fans/pros have the means and the will to travel overseas, especially given the dozen-hours plane rides to get there and back. That’s perfectly OK, but it does change the nature of the event: If, like me, you attend Worldcons to be overwhelmed by unique discussions between knowledgeable people, the reduced pool of programming participants can be a bit of a let-down. It’s tough to know who, in the Australasian universe, is a capable program participant, and there’s a consequent tendency to go back to the events featuring the same familiar names. The appeal of Melbourne right next door made it difficult to justify attending the same panels featuring the same entry-level discussions. Still, from a simple participant’s perspective, it seemed like a decent Worldcon that pleased plenty of fans. I had a good time presenting at a few panels, and heard a number of interesting things at others. But I say all of the above while acknowledging that I spent the least time at Aussiecon4 than at any previous Worldcon.
On the other, other hand (and in a perspective not necessarily linked to either of the conventions listed above), Aussiecon4 ended up being my third SF convention in as many weekends in as many countries (I haven’t mentioned Ottawa’s Can-Con the weekend before leaving) and it confirmed my intention to be a lot more selective about SF conventions in the future. Oh, I still have my favourite (Readercon), my friendly local greeting grounds (Boréal, Ad Astra, Con*Cept) and my fondness for any of the World (SF/Fantasy/Horror) Conventions… but it’s not enough for them to bring SF fans in a room: I care about the quality of the discussions, the professionalism of its organization and the take-home value of what I learn there. Much as I always aspire at something better, I also think that SF cons in general should do so as well.
If you thought that attending only a fraction of Au Contraire/Aussicon4’s programming isn’t a good sign regarding my enjoyment of the conventions, consider that I may have enjoyed even less of them had I stayed longer and not explored the cities hosting them.
Coming back home after the trip was a mixture of the familiar and the strange, as I came back to known surroundings and yet saw them momentarily differently. Thanks to a few modest projects initiated by my brother and father during my absence, a few things had happened in the meantime. A good rainstorm had hastened existing damage to my driveway. Meanwhile, the influence of the impending fall started to make itself felt: My vegetable garden, left at the height of picking season, now looked definitely less lush and the noticeable chill in the air (still warmer than the Australasian early spring) was enough to make me look again at the gas fireplace. I had left while experiencing severe Internet connectivity problems, and those weren’t any better when I came back despite the shiny new Bell Network Interface Device installed outside my house.
As a result, I ended up calling contractors for asphalt and HVAC maintenance, purchasing supplies to install a new telephone jack, spending quite a bit of time in the lawn and pretty much closing down my garden for the year. Much of this had to be done at one time or another, but it was a bit of a domesticity shock to have to do all of it at once, soon soon after coming back. (On the other hand, dragging my netbook outside on a small footstool and configuring my new DSL modem from the Bell-provided external phone jack under my carport had a pleasant hackerish quality that I had been missing on the road.)
On a physical level, the trip did me some good: Weighing myself immediately after coming back, I saw that I had only gained two pounds during the trip, the frequent eating regiment being somewhat offset by the high-energy nature of urban tourism on foot. Less than 48 hours later, with a little bit of help from working outside, sleeping lightly and eating a more regulated diet, I was back under my pre-trip weight and well on my way to resuming my steady weight loss before gallivanting on the other side of the planet. A remark my one colleague made me realize the shocking truth that I has acquired a nice tan without meaning to: No matter the amount of overcast and rainy days we had experienced along the way, Karine and I still got plenty of sun at a sub-tropical latitude: no wonder Australians are so preoccupied with skin cancer risks.
As anyone could expect, the first two nights back home were a nightmare in terms of sleep schedules: I crashed at about 21:00, and was solidly awake by 3:00. Since I had committed to going to work the day after coming back, I ended up getting to the office at 6:30 on both Thursday and Friday, leaving even earlier than usual once my day was over. I got back to normal schedule over the weekend, sleeping ten hours from 23:00 Friday to 9:00 Saturday. Everyone says that jet-lag is harder to cure going east than west, but I suspect that adrenaline and travel mania alone explains why if I had a lot more trouble sleeping my first few days back in Ottawa rather than my first few days in New Zealand.
It was still a bit strange to be at planning meetings barely 48 hours after beachcombing on the shores of the Southern Ocean, feeling as if I could fall asleep at the slightest opportunity. Office work was made even more special by a curious mixture of utter detachment and a short fuse: The shared hallucination of office work is that any of it is really important. Once you’ve spent two weeks away from it all, it’s remarkable how trivial white-collar work becomes. Simple matters are endlessly rehashed through half a dozen emails, ridiculous priorities are placed over meaningless issues and going through even two days’ worth of emails in five minutes compresses the insanity in a venomous dose. That’s where the extreme tiredness became handy, as any intention to put down the worst excesses became simply not worth the effort. Still, I managed to manipulate the correct alphanumerical symbols in a consensually respectable fashion, and by Friday afternoon was once again feeling like a good corporate drone.
The travel log you’ve just read pretty much speaks for itself: We had a good time despite colds, nausea, jet-lag, occasional stupidity and a punishing schedule. Australia and New Zealand are great destinations even if, like us, you only see a small portion of it. I was able to combine tourism with SF conventions in a way that seemed to highlight both, and both of us were able to go see different things when we felt like it.
Now that New Zealand is in the running for the 2020 Worldcon, that gives us a deadline for going back, even though I suspect that we will want to go take a look at other areas (New Zealand’s Southern Island, Australia’s Outback) once we do. A visit every ten years seems like a reasonable schedule, and I wonder how ten more year’s worth of Internet integration, globalization, immigration and cross-cultural influences will change everything.
So, as we close down the lights on this trip and this travel log, my impressed and grateful thanks to everyone who has made it through this novel-length (40,000+ words!) journal, and stay tuned for our next adventures!