Tag Archives: radcon

A treatise on Tri-Cities: what I will and will not miss

As some of you know, we live in the Tri-Cities (Richland, Kennewick, Pasco) of Washington, and will be moving to Boise, Idaho later this year. We weren’t eager to relocate, but we’re embracing it–kind of a shock for my system, after thirty-nine years in Washington. This has gotten me to thinking about what I will miss and what I won’t.

In Washington (economically dominated by the Seattle region), the stereotype is that Tri-Cities are full of dullness, wind, meth, Republicans, Mormons, Mormon Republicans, nuke-lovers, and Mexicans. To Tri-Cities, of course, Seattle is full of Democrats, hippies, atheists, sneering snobs, junk science anti-nuke kooks, tree huggers, vegans, weed, and so on. Like most stereotypes, all of the above are overblown but with bases in fact. As always, I find myself caught in no-man’s-land between the extremes, finding both of questionable credibility, which is my typical ideological comfort zone on any topic. I’ve lived about the same amount of my life in both regions. When I left Seattle, I didn’t miss that much about it, whereas there’s a fair bit I’ll miss about the Dry Cities.

I will miss:

Great Mexican food. It’s not all good, but enough of it is great, and that meets my needs.

Great neighbors. Except for the idiot who puts up the 12′ lighted cross at Christmas (showing that, in his need to advertise his faith, he has fully missed the point of the holiday), I would take them all with me if I could. Most Tri-Citians really don’t get to know their neighbors, which I consider to be cheating themselves. Home security system? Every one of my neighbors would call 911 at the slightest indication something were wrong. None of them solve mutual concerns with lawyers, even those whose children are lawyers; they come over to talk about it, and we figure something out.

Cheap hydroelectric and nuclear power. We get off very easy.

The option to be in Seattle or Portland in a little over three hours.

A remarkable resiliency and interdependency in crises. The huge fire at Benton City, some years back, was a great example. The Red Cross’s main problem was not helping the few refugees, but trying to figure out how to direct everyone who called in wanting to help. When they could not get through, they drove down to the Red Cross, bringing anything from bundles of clothing to horse trailers. These are a remarkably kind people, and if you had to ride out a rough time, you could not ask for a better place.

High levels of volunteerism even when there isn’t a crisis. For a long time we had a bi-county volunteer center just to find things for them to do. If told they would have to pay for their own training, they paid it. As quiet as this place seems, there’s steel in there. Good example: some time back, the ‘mayor’ of Kennewick led a initiative to build a great play area in the park for kids, which looks a lot like a fort with lots of stuff to climb on and slide down. Contractors willingly donated materials; citizens showed up in dozens with their own tools. It was wonderful. Then some vandal burnt it down one night. The people just went out and built another one, right in the same spot. Not doing so wasn’t even open to question.

Three hundred days of sunshine a year, with just enough cold weather to make me happy. Roads rarely get icy.

Triple-digit temperatures in summer, which toughen you up if they don’t kill you by sunstroke. It truly is a dry heat. Speaking of which, I will miss such a dry climate. You can hang stuff up and it actually dries, which was not the case in Seattle.

Friendly politeness. Whatever faults some here might have, malice is rarely among them. Disabled? You can’t avoid having the door held for you if you try. Even clods who block the shopping aisle smile about it, not realizing that makes it twice as annoying. I have to give them credit for good hearts, anyway.

A live-and-let-live mentality. Whatever your difference is, in Tri-Cities, no one will care about it unless you more or less wad it up and wash their faces in it. If you do that, yeah, you’ll get their opinion. But if you just live your life gay/atheist/pagan/vegan/Raelian/Klingon, no one gives even half a damn what you do. I remember when the porno shop moved in where a rowdy bar closed down. It wasn’t festooned with gaudy signage; it was just there. For a while, a couple of protestors tried standing outside it on the sidewalk; they soon gave up. Whether locals liked it or not, it wasn’t washing everyone’s face in it, thus it should be left alone–if you don’t like that stuff, hey, don’t shop there. The gay bar in east Pasco remains completely unbothered, and has been since I’ve lived here, on the same principle.

Great dental care. I have no idea why, but this area is loaded with quality dentistry and nearly everyone seems happy with it.

Hearing Spanish now and then, and knowing that if I want to practice mine, I can simply go hang out in east Pasco–where I’ll be doubly safe, a) because it’s pretty safe to begin with, and b) because a friendly Anglo speaking Spanish is not an outsider. I don’t like when businesses pander with bilingual signs, but I have no problem with what people want to speak among themselves. If someone has enough English to get by at need, that’s all that concerns me.

Lots of wineries. There are 160 wineries within fifty miles of my office, and many of them earn international recognition. This is wine snob heaven.

Some urban rurality. Just down the hill from me is the proudly proclaimed Tri-City Polo Club, with horse barns on one side of the street, a grange on the other and a small cattle pasture across from both. Only in Tri-Cities. I love it. Going into West Richland (with its famously speed-trappy police force), crossing the Yakima River, a sign orders: DISMOUNT AND LEAD HORSES.

A remarkably good airport in which it is impossible to get lost, and where parking is relatively cheap.

Radcon, at least when I’m not mobility impaired.

Ralph Blair of Tri-City Battery (west Kennewick) and the whole crew of the company–they authentically solve car problems. I don’t know why anyone takes their car to Cheapo Lube when they could have it glanced at by honest professionals for the same cost. Dr. Ronald Schwartz (ear/nose/throat, Richland)–solved a perplexing balance issue for my wife, and was always honest with a great staff. Monica and the staff at the UPS Store (2839 W Kennewick Ave), who have always gone the extra mile. The WSU Master Gardeners at the extension office, an excellent resource allowing us to tap into the best knowledge available concerning things that grow in the ground–this is precisely what the land grant concept was supposed to bring us, and it does.

Living in a city where about five miles of the northern boundary is a park along a river, some of it nearly undeveloped except for a few picnic benches and a nice walking/cycling path. Oh, and the river is about half a mile wide. If you like to sit by a river in complete peace, Kennewick can arrange that. So can Pasco, and so can Richland.

I will not miss:

So much mediocre Mexican food. How can so many people patronize so many crappy places when there are enough great ones handy?

Minimal other ethnic dining, and much of it mediocre. Chinese food here is a joke. The Greek restaurant specializes in ‘Greek style pasta.’ Seriously?

The Hanford mentality of “never complain” and “don’t make waves.” This complacency and silence assures the mediocrity of local municipalities and businesses. You see, the Hanford nuclear site’s main form of employment involves not cleaning up the nuclear waste from the Cold War. This assures that their children will still have jobs not cleaning it up, which will be good for when their grandchildren need jobs not cleaning it up. Much of the work is heavily overpaid and ridiculously bureaucratic. As for not cleaning it up, that’s all blamed on the Department of Energy and unions. Never mind that government money is the area’s economic base; they want government to butt out, and want me to believe that this would create some kind of Nirvana in which they would immediately work themselves out of jobs. Never mind that there has never been a union contract that was not also signed by management. Nope, all the fault of DOE and unions. I’ve long been fond of saying that while I believe we ultimately will need nuclear energy, I hope to the gods they expand its use anywhere but here, because these are the people who made a massive mess during the Cold War here and now are taking the longest possible time cleaning it up. Don’t ever give more responsibility to a business culture in whose best economic interest it is to cause problems and then be inefficient at fixing them. That’s like paying mechanics to break your vehicle, then mill around it doing nothing.

Dust storms. Sometimes this is like living near a giant hair dryer filled with beige talcum powder.

Most of the local vendors one is stuck with. I will feel joy the day I never again have to send money to Waste Management, Sprint, Frontier Communications (they might just be the worst of all), Cascade Natural Gas, DefectivTV, Pemco, the City of Kennewick, and the Kennewick Irrigation District. Some I will actually get to fire, and it will feel good.

Monumental business boneheadedness, such as Richland using some of their best real estate not for a convention center (next to a nice golf course and the river), but for a Winco (discount grocery) and some crappy strip malls. Such as Kennewick building a convention center, wondering why it didn’t thrive, and only then learning that you need hotels near convention centers in order for the concept to work. Such as the Kennewick School District thinking they needed to renovate a whole new building because they were ‘really cramped’.

Meanderthals. You see, Tri-Cities are in the middle of a huge high desert. Without human activity, everywhere but river coasts there would be nothing but sagebrush and sand. As a result, the local mentality does not register that anyone else really exists, let alone is also trying to get to a destination, be they on foot, pushing a grocery cart or behind the wheel. Driving here is very dangerous because one must assume that everyone else thinks there is no one else on the road. Grocery shopping is a pain in the ass, with constant aisle blockages. Walking through the mall is even obstructed, usually by packs of eight people who have decided to have a discussion completely blocking the throughway. Costco is a nightmare. And if you’re crabby about it, no one understands why. A New Yorker transplanted here would be dead of a stroke in one week, unless s/he smoked about six joints before leaving the house.

A terrible medical situation. I have come to believe that, while there are a minority of competent and caring local medical providers, most are here because it’s easier to practice in an area where expectations are so low. I think most of them simply couldn’t make it anywhere that crappy and apathetic didn’t cut it. It’s bad enough that, despite three fully equipped hospitals, a shocking number of Tri-Citians go to Spokane or Seattle for surgery if they value their health. Medical offices have a tendency to hire bored, lazy office personnel who really don’t care. The key to getting decent medical care here is word-of-mouth combined with willingness to shop around–and once you get a decent doctor in a given area, you don’t endanger that.

Racism. Richland used to be a ‘sundown town’ by virtue of its status as a company town–you couldn’t live there unless you worked for Westinghouse, and they generally didn’t hire blacks. Kennewick was worse: it had actual signs at the bridge with Pasco (where most of the rather small African American community lived and still lives) requiring all blacks to be out by sunset. They came down sometime around 1965, but ask any older black Pasconian: they have by no means forgotten, and most of them loathe Kennewick. Considering that some Kennewick neighborhoods still have racially restrictive covenants on paper (though unenforceable), I can’t blame anyone who lived through that time. (The title companies are slowly magic-markering that part out of the covenants, but some persistent irritant found an unexpurgated one.) It’s one thing that there is significant racism here, especially with police very prone to profile Hispanic and black men as potential criminals, but the worst part is the denial of history. Kennewick does its very best to say as little as possible about the covenants and sundown town history, essentially waiting for all the witnesses to die off so they can pretend it never happened. (I bet they think that when a certain local gadfly moves away, he will stop bringing this up all the time. They had best think again. All it will mean now is that even if they wanted to retaliate, they’ll lack the means.) The other racism here has to do with Hispanics (mostly of Mexican heritage, many being US citizens who not only speak native English, but speak less Spanish than I do), and it’s in a sort of sneaky way. When Tri-Citians speak of a “bad area” or “dangerous part of town,” that’s code. It means “has Hispanics.” I once heard east Kennewick described with a straight face as ‘Beirut’–but what the person really meant was ‘has lots of non-white, non-Asian people.’ (And by the way, comparing east Kennewick to Beirut is like comparing the oil you spilled in your garage to the Exxon Valdez.)

Indifference to literacy and reading. The area simply doesn’t read much and doesn’t care much about it.

Indifference to the world at large. Yesterday on the Amazing Race, I watched a fairly Cletus couple try to figure out where the Kalahari Desert was. You could ask 90% of Tri-Citians which continent it was on, and most would guess wrong–and it would be a guess. They don’t know, and they largely don’t care. We have a whole lot of insular ignorance here, and we do little to ameliorate it.

Remarkably stupid speed limits designed purely to raise speed trap revenue. It has nothing to do with safety. Same for school zone lights that operate when there is not a child in sight–it’s just a way to nab people for ‘speeding.’

Lack of a major university campus. Pasco has a relatively blah community college, and at the extreme north of Richland is a branch campus of Washington State University (enrollment less than 1000). A full-dress, sizable university brings with it so much, and that is largely denied to the Tri-Cities. Oh, sure, on average the level of education appears high, but that’s mainly because of all the nuclear engineers working at Hanford and all the Aspies out at Battelle with physics Ph.Ds. In reality, local kids seeking a serious degree mostly leave town, and many of them will never be back unless they’re nuclear engineers or physicists.

Crappy local businesses that continue to succeed simply because they are more habits than enterprises. I could name half a dozen such without effort. Longtime Tri-Citians keep going there. It’s where they’ve always gone, and where they continue to go.

The combined reek from Wallula of the IBP feedlot and the Boise Cascade paper mill. When there’s an inversion, smells like something died. Richland is spared this, but southeast Kennewick sure isn’t.

Finding ways to be short of water despite living next to the confluence of two great rivers (Snake and Columbia). This is like living by the ocean and not being able to get salt for your food, or freezing to death near a big pile of deadfall with a functional lighter on your person.

Boat Race Weekend. Unlimited hydroplane racing (which is strictly limited) is sort of like Nascar on the water. I don’t begrudge it to anyone, but it doesn’t interest me, and turns the place into a madhouse one weekend a year.

Lousy contractors and mechanics. Like the doctors, once you find a good one, you don’t let go. Many consider that they are doing you a favor just by showing up or accepting the job. Many do very shoddy work. Unless you have the ability and will to raise tremendous hell–which will stun them, because everyone else just accepts the shoddy work (“so why can’t you?”)–you will become a do-it-yourselfer simply because you often can do a better job than the so-called professionals. Plus, at least you are likely to show up for your own work. They often won’t.

Having only one independent local bookstore that quietly makes sure that males know they are barely tolerated, without good grace. Your call, Book Worm. It takes a lot to make me avoid a bookstore, but you were up to the challenge.

The look of fear when I mentioned to a serving city employee how corrupt Kennewick’s government was. It told me a lot. I learned a lot about Kennewick’s government when their piping contractor behaved disgracefully on my property and they told me that I’d have to pay to fix everything myself, then their insurance company would decide if I got reimbursed. Kennewick’s citizens tolerate this. Remember when I was telling you that this area will swallow any mediocrity without a complaint, the Hanford mentality? Exhibit A. Guess what, Kennewick. I will move away, but my words will not.

Ridiculous provincialism leading to failure to merge three cities into a combined city with much larger political pull. They all complain that they would lose their ‘unique cultures’. Seriously? Let’s get real: Richland is whiter than Kennewick which is whiter than Pasco. That’s the difference, though you aren’t supposed to put it that way, nor to correlate it with the historic tendency of Richland to look down on Kennewick which looked down on Pasco. Beyond that, there is hardly any difference, but this does ensure three different bureaucracies, three different police forces, and a whole lot of wasted tax money. There is so much that Three Rivers, WA could do united, yet it doesn’t. And it won’t.

Current non-read: The Land of the Painful Shame

Okay, the real title is The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. I am going to link you straight to the reviews, just so that I’ll never stand accused of encouraging anyone to buy this.

Like many of you, I loved Clan of the Cave Bear. For its flaws, it presented prehistoric people as…people. Good, bad and somewhere in between. It painted credible cultures based upon significant archaeological research. It took some liberties with SoD (that’s a cool kids’ acronym I learned at a Radcon panel about Suspension of Disbelief), but none so grotesque as to detract from a fun story. Over the years, it turned into Cro-Magnoporn, getting progressively worse. Lots of tasting her ‘tangy salt’ (I always wondered if Jondalar actually brought a primitive herbal salt shaker to his oral sex sessions) and homing in on her ‘nodule.’ (Anyone ever heard a woman scream for some hot nodule attention?) Nodules and prehistoric condiments aside, it was never this bad.

One might also consider what it means for me to write this. I may be only the bathroom attendant in the writers’ club (‘here’s your towel, sir…ah, very generous, sir, thank you kindly’), but my badge at least gets me in the servants’ entrance. Consider, please: what if I were to one day meet Jean Auel, whose latest book I’m impaling with one of Ayla’s atlatls? I once came close to that painful experience, sitting in a panel where one of the panelists seemed familiar. Finally remembered that, on Amazon, I’d given her book meh out of five stars. Squirm, squirm, squirm. No one, therefore, can imagine me fundamentally eager to alienate Ms. Auel without good reason; that would be insane. If I thought I could do the book justice with kindness and tact, I would.

Can’t. This is just bad. It’s so bad, I don’t think it’s Jean Auel. I could not force myself past page 73.

It is mostly tell rather than show, one of the most amateurish bugaboos that editors have to beat out of writers. We get paragraphs of “Ayla felt….” No, no, no. Don’t tell me “Ayla felt…”! Don’t! Show me how she feels and what’s on her mind through her actions, her dialogue, others’ reactions to her. I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care if you establish that when Ayla is nervous, she has a bad habit of inserting a finger up each nostril. “She eased two fingers into her nostrils” beats “Ayla felt nervous” every time.

Then there’s the dullness problem. Now, I grant that if you love herbalism and scenes about making tea, this might not be so dull. If you like long rehashes of past events, maybe it’s not that dull. And I recognize that after waiting ten years between books, some backstory is needed because we’ve forgotten some of it (or perhaps never read those books, never slurped on their tangy salt). We don’t need this much. The dialogue is wordy and uninspiring, with everyone spelling out everything, leaving nothing for the reader to infer/discover. It often feels like expository or technical writing.

There, that’s the big problem. It doesn’t feel like fiction. It feels like expository writing. It sometimes feels like a software manual. I can take some guesses as to what might have happened:

Guess #1: Auel, being contractually shackled to the publisher for X number of books, was required to write another one before she could be manumitted. No one said it had to be a good book, and she realized full well that her name guaranteed a certain number of sales, thus automatic profit, and that’s why the publisher insisted on it. That’s what publishers do with big names: once it’s clear that the Name guarantees a profitable release, they get it locked in for a series of books. You owe us one more, bucko, or you can retire, but you can’t write anything else until we get it. So she phoned it in, getting it over with, and trying her best to make sure they wouldn’t want any more.

Guess #2: she somehow ran out of money and had to do something. I find that highly unlikely, as Auel has made enough money on the series to buy me and sell me into slavery, but folk have written books for stranger reasons.

Guess #3: she got real offended by all the readers who threw tomatoes at her Cro-Magnoporn, and decided to torture them. (Laurell K. Hamilton seems to be doing it. You no likey my porn? Okay, you get twice as much, that’ll learn ya.)

Guess #4: she forgot how to write good fiction. Kind of hard to imagine, because we don’t really start going backwards until our minds start to turn to muesli, and even then, usually that shows up in other ways. Very rarely does a capable writer suddenly revert to second-year college English student.

Guess #5: it got farmed out to ‘lancers. I am sure that’s what happened with Herbert and Anderson’s latest Dune monsterpiece and it wouldn’t surprise me if several other big names/franchises were also doing it. A lot of stuff gets hired out to freelancers. We work cheap, and a lot of us make real livings as tech writers, which makes our writing sound like vacuum cleaner manuals. It is not inconceivable that they just paid someone, or someones, several grand (no royalties, bucko) to write this. I suspect this because the writing is too amateurish to reconcile with what we know Auel is capable of. Well, maybe it ain’t her at all. I can just see it: “Look, you owe us another book. You don’t want to write it. Fine, so don’t write most of it. Write the parts you like, sketch a storyline, and we’ll hire some literary mercenaries for flat fees. We’ll sign them to NDAs that will allow us and you to confiscate their duodenums if they talk. Win/win/win. Oh, sure, the readers will be hosed, but they have no taste anyway.”

You don’t think the publishing industry would do that? If so, you do not know them. Some publishers would not, and those I respect. Some would, faster than you can say ‘slurp her nodule.’ Never underestimate what someone will do for a guaranteed income stream.

I can’t say with certainty what happened here. All that is mere speculation. What I can say is that 73 pages left me wanting less. Life is too short to finish this book, but it’s not too short to warn others away. The kindest, tactfulest, mercifulest thing I can say is that I don’t think Jean Auel really wrote this.

Gods, I hope not.

Radcon 2013: Sunday and after-action

Radcon is a science fiction convention held in Tri-Cities, WA.

Wouldn’t you know that the only day I get decent sleep is the day when I need the energy the least. There was one panel that was important to me, and I was on time, but it was about half bust. Some panelists just boggle my mind with their not-getting-it. If the panel is about how to write, the minute you say ‘Have you seen Suchandsuch movie?’ you have lost me, because the point is that you have tools available in film that you do not have in print. What is worse: then talk for five minutes about how the movie did it. That’s simply not helpful to the writer or editor, unless the panel is about screenplays and making movies.

I did pick up something for Deb and some books for Jenn, so that was productive. Sunday at Radcon is usually pretty lax, with a lot of goodbyes and such. Some years I don’t even show up for Sunday.

Overall I think that the all-volunteer organizing bunch at Radcon does a pretty good job. Some of the vendors are fairly lousy at business, and it shows, but the only ones that hurts are themselves. The panel subjects have gotten fairly stale, there was a lot of ‘they have that every year.’ But I’m firm that I’d never go back with a mobility impairment, nor encourage anyone else with one to go. Security simply makes zero effort (that I could see) to keep kids from running people over. I realize that they have a hard job, and I think what they want to say but dare not is this: “Look. The day belongs to the adults, the night belongs to the kids, so just go home at night, if you would please.” Which is convenient for them, but isn’t what I came for.

There are several panel ideas I could suggest to freshen up the lineup, but I don’t think they’d be very receptive, since I’m not part of the old line Tri-Cities Radcon in-crowd and am not a big name, so I just elect not to make a nuisance of myself with ideas and suggestions. It is probably my last one anyway, for other reasons. There are a lot of people involved that I’ll miss, as the people really are the highlight, but a lot of the actual con content is fairly much the same from year to year, and I assume that’s how the majority prefers it, so, fair enough. Overall it was a good if physically painful experience, where all my guests seem to have had a good time and enjoyed the con and each other. That really is the main overriding thing.

Radcon 2013: Saturday

Radcon is the annual science fiction convention of Tri-Cities, WA.

Naturally, we stayed up until four last night being raucous. Naturally, I knocked back half a quart of tequila and woke up with a headache after less than five hours’ sleep. Had some special commitments before and at Radcon that made it somewhat necessary to get moving before one was thoroughly ready, but all was handled in good order without screwing up.

Tell you this: Radcon’s vendors should love up on me. I think my friends have dropped $1000 on the dealer room–and happy to do it. Nyssa and Jeff’s leather goods and clothes are some of the best going, as are Jane and Elizabeth’s at Seams Like Magick. Rebekah went in her medieval stuff complete to the gray cape with the elegant chicken guts on the sleeves, hand-sewn. Marcel’s self-designed and created musketeer costume could buckle the swashes of the Radcon women any day if Jenn weren’t along and equally imposing in her Victorian black silk dress. As before, I was the spud without a costume, except for the white beret.

Made it to a couple of panels, which were pretty good, and caught up with Sharon for a good long catching of up. John did the filk/jam stuff again, toting his violin around all day, and Rebekah reprised her normal role as force of nature. I got to unwind a bit at Bottles & Shots (room party) with the friendly and kind Joe and Adrienne, and met some very nice folks there. This is composed during some upstairs raucosity back at my place (they don’t need my help to be raucous; it comes naturally). Deb has been a saint of taxiing, cooking, prepping, cleaning up and otherwise making everyone feel not just welcome but comfortable and cared for. I totally married the right woman–not because she does such things, but because she wants to. It’s great to see everyone getting along and forming their own relationships independent of the hosts, which is how it should go.

Didn’t get run over by any kids tonight, perhaps because someone said something, and perhaps because this time I was going to brace and take advantage of being built like a bridge abutment. Radcon staff seems to do pretty well in most ways, always remembering its all-volunteer nature. I still have to say, though, that it just is a difficult con for a mobility impairment.

There is no way I am getting soused tonight. None of my guests are–they bring the merriment as easily cold sober as drunk, and none are big drinkers anyway.

Radcon 2013: Friday

Not a very eventful Friday; only went to one panel and no parties. I think everyone had a good time, though. Panel on steampunk was quite good, with no monopolizers and pretty good panelists. It feels very weird to experience Radcon at 50-55º F; I am used to it being ball-lifting cold. Registration looked at first like it might be a return to the goat rodeo days, but they adjusted well. Some rooms have actually been moved from the past; art room is where the dealer room always was. The panel variety is fine, though there are a lot of repeats from every year. I guess there are subjects they simply always must cover.

I had not realized how much mobility impairment affects the Radcon experience. Frankly, I would not advise anyone with a mobility impairment to attend, period, ever. Too many very young people simply plowing heedlessly into anyone using a cane or whatever, and security is disinterested in the situation. And I’m one of the lucky ones, substantial enough not to be easily bowled over. If you are mobility impaired and you would feel comfortable walking through a busy skate park, definitely attend Radcon, and just accept being slammed into by stupid kids.

The greatest fun, of course, is seeing all those people one just does not often see.

Now I want tequila and my recliner.

Radcon 2013: pre-function

Naturally, having this also be V-Day was not the normal way. I have an amazing wife who is willing to put herself on call for two whole days just to make sure people get to and from Radcon (see previous posts) with an ice cold sober driver at the wheel. As I write this, though a filter of straight tequila, I have to say that it was only just that she got to tie one on tonight. And she did, Alaskan that she is.

It was actually a very musical evening around our place, once we got all our rabbits in the net. Jenn and Marcel made it in from Canada without much border trouble over Marcel’s swashbuckling sword (evidently the US border guards took it inside and played with it). John, whose plane was on time, is a master of the stringed instrument and Mattias is a capable mixer, guitarist and singer. After Deb’s delicious lasagna (later punctuated by Jenn’s amazing huckleberry pie and cheesecake…good lord), we marshaled in the living room for animated discussion, song and instrumentals. I’m not much of a singer at all, nor much of anything musically, but a rendition of a Kingston Trio Spanish-themed tune had folks listening quietly and applauding (not something my voice usually obtains). Through it all I marveled again that the people who had traveled the least to arrive here were Canadian. Much song, no dance, few dogs (Leo found our sound frightening and hid from the obvious apocalypse) and great people. This is why we do this.

Eagerly awaiting Rebekah (late Friday night), and a meetup with Sharon (a room-lighter, like all the women of this group). Mattias is the only Radcon noob, so I’ll handle the orientation part. We expect to check in with Joe and Adrienne’s bash Friday night, and with any luck I won’t have to crawl to Deb’s car on a bad knee.

Maybe this is how you do Radcon right if you’re the home team: start two days early. It will be rather miraculous if I’m able to post coherently tomorrow night.

Radcon 2013: pre-prefunction

It’s going to be an interesting time this year. For whatever reason, people like staying with us, and we will have many, nearly all from abroad: Mattias from Sweden, Jenn and Marcel from Canada, and my bro John from Andros Island, Bahamas. The token U.S. resident is Rebekah, from Idaho.

For those of you who do not have the faintest idea what I mean by Radcon, it is the annual science fiction convention in Pasco, WA. It is small compared to some bigger-city cons, but very large for the size of our area. SF cons consist mainly of vendors (selling you stuff related to SF), entertainment (the fire dancers are always a big hit, but there are other dancers, live music, and suchlike), gaming (which I never do but a lot of people do all weekend), and panels. I’ve been a panelist at SpoCon (Spokane), but Radcon made plenty clear to me some years back that I was too small potatoes as an author for them to want any panel help from me, so I stopped asking or offering. (SpoCon keeps asking me back, and I’m considering it, because they’re so pleasant and persistent about it.) However, there are various industry guests in attendance, including guests of honor in various categories, and it is good to see familiar faces and sometimes meet famous ones. Anyway, Radcon starts at noon on Friday and closes up at 4 PM on Sunday, and in between, is host to some of the most creative and amusing costuming one can imagone.

This multi-guest situation means a lot of pre-planning and arranging, more than usual because this will probably be our last Radcon; we anticipate living in another state by the time next February rolls around, and Deb starts over there in a week and a half, so we are shuffling around all that needs to occur there while also planning for a houseload of folks. Matti is the only Radrookie in the gang. We are very excited about it all.

Matters are complicated a bit by a serious knee issue I’m experiencing, which will be made better thanks to the wondrous Sharon, who arranged for a disabled permit. I qualify on several fronts but, as with my achilles surgery, don’t plan to use it except when I definitely need it as much as the next person. Frankly, this Radcon is going to involve a whole lot of physical discomfort, but I will just bear up as best I can. No costuming for me this year; navigating around will be challenging enough as it is.

Matti should be here any time now, Jenn and Marcel sometime tomorrow (lock up your milk, Tri-Cities grocers; they come for you), John at airport in afternoon tomorrow, and Rebekah on the night shift Friday. It will be remarkable if anyone’s sober enough to answer the door Friday night when she arrives,  but someone will at least crawl to it and aim her at the refreshments.

One thing is sure: this is quite a crew. John is the homesteading type at heart, a former submariner who has no comment, and a natural genius on any stringed instrument.  Jenn is the plant whisperer, knowledgeable about all fauna. Point to a plant, she can tell you everything about it. Marcel is a Yukoner, as nice as he is big, a good soul and strong like a bull. Matti is tall and funny (sometimes in a facepalming way), speaks excellent British English and loves to play with accents. Rebekah, well, in the first place she’s strong as hell, and in the second, she’s ultimately self-reliant. I usually describe it that when most people want a bow, they go to Sportsman’s Warehouse. When Rebekah wants a bow, she starts looking for a yew tree.

Should be a fun weekend, and hopefully I will sober up enough to blog some of it.

Radcon 2012, epilogue: Down with the sickness

When Ignition (the fire dancers) performed Saturday night at Radcon, they did one of their early routines  to Down With the Sickness by the rock band Disturbed.  In no way did I imagine it prophetic.

Turned out there was a truly nasty stomach/intestinal bug ripping through Radcon.  It’s pretty normal to get sick at any SF con; it’s as close as there is to an airplane ride or a third grade classroom in terms of random proximity to lots of careless people who might be ill.  This one is worse.  It produces power-chucks, vicious runs, and a lot of pain/fatigue.  Dozens of cases.  I had no idea it was even happening.

Life’s mercies:  neither I nor my friends caught it.  John had a nasty hanger-on cold/sore throat that caused him to sleep through most of Monday, but no stomach stuff except that he had the appetite of a hummingbird (if that).  My strong suspicion is that Deb and I had this in Anchorage; sounds quite familiar.  In any case, bullet dodged, and fortunately so.  I feel badly for the many who fell ill.

Edit:  so I post this, and Jenn PMs me to advise me:  ‘not so fast, my friend.’  Goddamnit!  Evidently they’re both under the weather.  No fun!

Radcon 2012, Saturday

A decidedly slow awakening but for good reason:  Marcel had desired to make omelets for all for breakfast, and while they are delicious, they take time.  No matter for me, as oddly enough there was only a single panel that interested me.  Our friend Amanda had wanted to bring taco truck lunch for all of us at the con; I knew the idea was likely not going to succeed (due to the difficulty of getting six people to all not be in panels at the same time before 5 PM), but she seemed to want to do it badly, so I just let her give it a shot.  Well, they made good midnight snacks later.

The Rasputin outfit is more comfortable than the Boer costume, but requires more prep because I have to wear a wig and mousse my beard back to the brown it once was (a messy process). Jane, seamstress of my Rasputin outfit, was elated to see me in it for the first time.  I’ll probably be on her business’s Facebook site, doing the freaky eyes for the camera.

Most of my day was spent socializing, except for one abortive panel at which an author (I’ll give the name privately if someone gives me a good reason to want to know) proved to be a full-dress horse’s ass.  The subject involved gender and writing.  Three of the panelists (two women, one man) were on time and at their assigned posts, and the discussion began down some productive lines of exploration.  Perhaps fifteen minutes in, the fourth (male) panelist arrived with apologies.  He then conceded to construct Fort Conceit on the table in front of him:  a small fanned-out wall of perhaps a dozen of his titles in paperback.  It is customary for panelists to display a book or two, especially if it’s new, but to display your complete works is absurd.  It looks like you are saying:

“I have more stuff in print than these other clowns.”

“I fear that you haven’t heard of me at all, so I’d better prove I belong.”

“I have an ego the size of Idaho and it spills over into British Columbia.”

I already didn’t like him when he committed a sin of panelism:  he failed to shut up and listen to the discussion for a while.  Another:  he used his outside voice.  Thus, when he began to debate with his fellow panelists, he sounded like a double fool.  As he shattered the urbane, thoughtful ambience with what may have been thoughtful views if taken at face value, he had no way to know he was retreading ground already covered in the discussion.  I put up with it for about five minutes and left, and I am quite loath to leave a panel between the first five and last five minutes.  My bro John was forty seconds behind me, having reached similar conclusions.

All in all a fairly normal Radcon Saturday otherwise, except that the wind put a damper on the fire dancing troupe.  They performed anyway, of course, and did their very level best, but gusts were too high for some of their best stunts.  One weakness this year:  their music was lame.  Not loud enough, not fierce enough.  Their crowd fluffers had a hard time keeping the audience excited, which is normally not a problem with the fire dancers.

Later on, Jenn and Marcel pretended to be interested in the dance/rave, and I pretended that there was a a chance they’d want to stay for it, mainly because it was their first con experience and I wanted them to at least explore everything to their hearts’ content.  Mission accomplished.  My feet felt like I’d had an ‘enhanced interrogation’ by then, so anything that let me take a seat and relax was a winner for me.  We weren’t even motivated to bother seeking out room parties Saturday; by trying to create a secure area where all parties must be, with Security providing the ID checks, they have in essence destroyed room partying.  Either that or I just don’t get invited to the real ones.

As with the usual Radcon Saturday, by then I just didn’t give a damn, I was so tired and footsore.

Radcon 5C

This past weekend I spent at RadCon, the Tri-Cities’ (WA) science fiction convention.

Registration was more abominable than last year, if that’s even possible. (You cannot imagine. Should it take three hours of waiting in line? I think the line began around Bonner’s Ferry.) Dealers either not given enough room or charged too much–there were as many hotel room dealers as there were in the dealer room. If you didn’t wend your way down Wing 2, you missed the Bizarro Fiction folks (google Shatnerquake and just laugh your head off) and a bunch more stuff, such as the Cocaine energy drink people. I was tempted to buy one just to support a beverage that has a disclaimer that says “if you really imagine this contains actual cocaine, you are a moron.” I never tire of packaging that ridicules idiots–we have so many in my country, many of whom escape their just desserts.

Sharon was her usual lovely, charming self, brought a con newbie with her (friend Lovell, from HS) and did for him what she once did for me (general askari/native guide function). I think this was probably the con at which I transitioned from intermediate to veteran, becoming essentially self-sufficient and no longer an albatross around Sharon’s neck, all thanks be unto her for many companionships and kindnesses. Much socialization with C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher, each a marvel in her own way. Received emphatic and safe advice from C.J. on matters literary.  If I don’t follow said advice, coming from such a source, I’m too stupid to succeed (this blog is a direct step in that direction, since I’d hate to be too stupid to succeed).

You know, you really experience these cons differently with repetition. It develops a certain intimacy and warmth that grows over the years. I begin to think that if you’re going to do a given con, you need to become a regular–do it annually or don’t do it. You see people you talked to briefly last year, and this year they invite you to join them for dinner, and pretty soon you are invited to a cider pressing in Idaho in summer/fall. You shoot the breeze with some Rasta-type kids out front, or sort of commiserate with the security dude who is out for a smoke. Flirt with the obviously gay-as-the-1890s waiters; better service (as Sharon can attest, I have almost zero shame, not that shame is in heavy supply at SF cons).

One message comes through to me about the literary industry:  the New York dead tree model is hosed. It is less relevant each year. Simple math:  even a prominent author might keep one dollar in ten of the paperback revenues. Through e-publishing, she will keep 100%. Put another way: not only does one e-book sale equal ten paperback sales, one makes the e-book sale with complete creative control and no Manhattan corporate crap. I posed the question to more than one author: “at what point will we fully transition from the dream being ‘picked up by New York’ to, New York calls us and we say, ‘sorry, but you really have nothing to offer me but lousy margins, so no, thanks, I do not want to sign with Random House'”? In the estimation of many, we are nearly there. When one of your sales equals ten of theirs…that is big. That’s an exponent.

In short, Radcon was a great time for many reasons, despite its Tri-Cityness (perennial inefficiency being as much a part of the local culture as basic courtesy and goodwill). I pre-registered again, so that tells you something. Biggest drag: learning that the local newsies caught me on camera. It tells you how relaxed I was: I wasn’t even on the alert for one of my most hated situations, as I learned in a text from my wife advising me I was on TV whether I wanted it or not. When someone with a startle reflex and loathing for the news media as profound as mine managed to get filmed by the media on the sly, that someone really had his guard down.