Sunday, April 18, 2010

Asking the Wrong Questions, the Blog in Exile

The plan for today was to land in Tel Aviv at an ungodly hour of the morning, get home, sleep for a bit, and then write a post about my journey in the evening.  Unfortunately, everyone's favorite volcano Eyjafjallajoekull had other plans, and I have joined the ranks of tens of thousands of other stranded travelers all over Europe.  Attempts at securing an alternate route have thus far proved futile--I have a booking for a flight leaving Madrid on Tuesday night, but at present I haven't been able to make train or bus reservations for the London-Madrid leg, and the likelihood that I'll manage to do so grows slimmer by the hour.  Happily, my situation is quite comfortable.  Not only do I have a place to stay, thanks to the kindness of Niall and Nic, but it is stacked to rafters with books, so that if it weren't for the uncertainty of my situation I would quite happily settle in for another reading week.  Plus, if you're going to be stranded in a foreign country, there's something rather grand about being stranded by a volcano rather than a strike or a storm.  I'm already planning how to drop it into conversation--"I had to crash in my friends' spare room... because a volcano erupted!", "I missed my meeting on Monday... because a volcano erupted!", and so on.  And it is, of course, very humbling to realize how completely for granted we take the ability to hop across continents, how vast those distances are in reality, and how helpless we are when some aspect of our technology-driven society is taken away.

Still, though the trip isn't quite over, I thought I'd write a bit about my adventures thus far.  Niall has written a long and detailed report on Eastercon 2010 which describes my reactions quite accurately as well (minus, of course, any previous experience with this convention).  I enjoyed meeting people--those I'd met before, those who have been my online friends and acquaintances for quite some time but whom I'd never seen in real life, and those who were completely unknown to me--very much, and had some lively and enjoyable conversations at the various and rather crowded pubs and seating areas in the Radisson Edwardian Hotel, where the convention was held, but the program itself didn't grab my interest (so much so that I haven't got much in the way of panel notes).  I was on two panels myself, one, arranged at the last minute, about issues of cultural appropriation as they relate specifically to the UK and its history of empire, in which I was the outsider's voice.  I thought the panel went quite well, not least because the audience seemed very clued in and ready to take the discussion past the basics that have proved such a hurdle in previous iterations of this conversation (indeed, the audience may have been more clued in than the panelists in some respects--as in the case of the black woman who spoke about her experiences encountering racism in genre books as a child).

My second panel, about reviewing, raised several interesting points but ended up a rather rambling affair, moving from the changing face of media distribution and consumption to the dreaded print vs. online reviewing discussion to the question of whether reviews should contain spoilers without finding much of a common thread.  Other interesting panels included a discussion of female superheroes, which veered amusingly between the panelists listing their favorite characters and expressing despair at the state of the field when it comes to giving them interesting stories, the Not the Clarke Award panel, whose panelists rather failed to stick to the established format of tossing one book after another from the shortlist--all were agreed that Chris Wooding's Retribution Falls should be the first to go, but after that point every panelist had their own favorites and least favorites, and the ultimate conclusion was that each of the remaining five nominees was flawed but still a worthwhile book--and a panel about Dollhouse, which despite the creepy behavior of one of its panelists (as noted by Niall and expanded upon in the comments to that post by the panelist himself) managed to be thoughtful and intelligent in its discussion of the many issues raised by and surrounding this strange and frustrating show.

After that I continued to Oxford for a few days with friends, which also included some book shopping to supplement the not-unimpressive haul I brought back from the Eastercon dealer's room, and then on to Wales for reading week, a tradition of several years' standing with Niall's group of friends.  There were 18 of us at Wynnstay Hall, and we had a wonderful time cooking, eating, playing board games, having a murder mystery night (at which we all had too much fun getting in character to actually bother with the mystery, especially once it turned out that one of the guests was The Doctor, played with pitch-perfect acerbity by Graham Sleight), and reading many, many, many books.  Notable reads of the week include The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss, a low-key but evocative story about a female horse-trainer near the end of the first World War, Clarke nominee Far North by Marcel Theroux, a post-apocalyptic story with a beautifully drawn main character which has unseated The City & The City as my pick for the award, and the title novella in Kelly Link's YA collection Pretty Monsters, which can best be described as Kelly Link's take on Twilight, and is just as clever and thought-provoking as that description suggests.

Between reading week and constant travel, books have dominated my cultural consumption for the last couple of weeks while an enormous backlog of television episode accumulates back home (I did, however, watch Sherlock Holmes on the flight to London, and though I admit that the conditions might not have been ideal found myself far more engaged by the look of the film and by its soundtrack than by the characters or plot).  An exception, however, had to be made for Doctor Who.  For the first time in my time as a fan of the new series, I found myself watching it among other fans--in Niall's hotel room at Eastercon, on the big screen at Wynnstay Hall, with friends here in Oxford last night.  This has certainly affected my experience of the show--I doubt there will be as many delighted shrieks of laughter at the Daleks' "WOULD YOU LIKE A CUP OF TEA?" in Israel--to the extent that it's a little hard to disentangle my reaction to the show from its rather ecstatic reception here.  On the whole, I like what I'm seeing, without feeling that the new Doctor, new companion, or new showrunner have quite found their footing yet.  What pleases me most is that the three episodes I've seen have all been much plottier than most of Russell T. Davies's stuff, and have stopped to consider how traveling through time affects the characters' lives rather than simply using it as a means of bringing the characters into the story (the manner of The Doctor and Amy's first meeting; Amy, finding herself thousands of years in the future, wondering what she did about a wedding that is still a day away in her personal timeline), but I'm not quite convinced that Eleven is his own Doctor yet, and am even less convinced that Moffat knows what to do with Amy now that he's, apparently, rejected Davies's approach of making the companion the most important person in the Doctor's life.

And that, for the time, is my report.  I suspect it'll be well into the week, at least, before I'm back home, and I may end up doing some proper blogging before then if the spirit so moves me.  But in the meanwhile, this is your correspondent in Oxford, signing off.


Jakob Schmidt said...

I envy you so much (not for the volcano delay, although that's kind of cool, too ...), but for the trip to the Eastercon. I didn't manage this year, but I have fond memories of 2006 in Glasgow. Most of them are of me standing in front of M. John Harrison, Geoff Ryman, Justina Robson and Richard Morgan and babbling uncontrollably - and there was lots of drinking with Hal Duncan.
There also was a Doctor Who thing - at one con night, a new episode was on, and they projected it on a big screen in the largest available room. Everyone was there, cheering and clapping. It was wonderfully bizarre, especially because I hat never seen an episode of Doctor Who until then!

Alexander said...

Sounds interesting. Hmm, I can't really make out many titles on the second picture, but for the first am pleased to see you've encountered Blood Music, Stone and Infinite Jest---I'd be very intrigued to see your take on each.

And Far North just moved up in priority for my own to read stack.

Raz Greenberg said...

Your volcano story reminds me of a joke people used to tell about Steven Spielberg's film "The Terminal" (before the film came out): "Look at this poor guy. Stuck in an airport with only Catherine Zeta-Jones to keep him company!"
It's great to hear you're having so much fun, and like Jakob, I eagerly await to read your impressions of the new books (though with regards to Blood Music, I recall reading the book about ten years ago and thinking it didn't age very well. If anything, it wasn't nearly as powerful as the short story that inspired it).

Jakob Schmidt said...

That was Alexander looking forward to the impressions of the new books - but I do so too, especially with regards to Blood Music and Stone. Blood Music is one of my all time favourite works of creepy-yet-optimistic sf, but as far as I remember, it's pretty flawed as a novel (which may have something to do with the fact that it is an expanded novella).
However, I didn't like Stone, although it is, as pretty much everything by Roberts, a great sf novel. I just disagreed strongly with the whole set-up of the thought experiment ... I can't really say anymore what it was that bugged me.

Raz Greenberg said...

Ooops. Sorry! :-)

CrazyCris said...

I hope you've made it home.. but if I remember correctly flights out of England only started up yesterday... :o(

My family was also affected by the volcano, but in a more agreeable way: we got two extra days on our weekend visit to family in Mallorca! :o)
As you say, it's easier to deal with when you're with friends/family and have something to keep you entertained. But I feel really bad for those stuck in airports or running up hotel bills they can't pay or paying thousands of euros for taxi rides across the continent. We really have taken airline travel for granted, haven't we?

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