Capricon XXI

Capricon XXI was held over the weekend of February 8-11 at the Sheraton Arlington Heights in Arlington Heights, IL, one of the northern suburbs of Chicago. It is a fair-sized local convention with a wide variety of activities, including movie and anime rooms, art show, dealers' room, con suite and panel discussions on every subject imaginable. This year it also featured a newsletter, Goat Droppings, and a low-power radio station, Radio Capricon (compare Radio Free Confusion at this year's ConFusion, a convention held in Detroit in January). The theme of this year's Capricon was the Tellurian Exposition, a sort of interplanetary World's Fair to celebrate progress.

Just getting there proved to be a bit of an adventure this year. We didn't have dealer's tables this year, but we were putting some consignment items on a friend's tables. In addition we were transporting some of that friend's merchandise because our van has plenty of room. Since we were planning to volunteer in order to earn crash space, it made sense to go ahead and arrive on Thursday.

We left Indianapolis shortly after noon on Thursday, and the drive up I-65 went smoothly enough. But when we got to Merrilville, we ran into rain. Not a good sign. Things got worse as we got on the Borman Expressway (I-80/90, named for astronaut Frank Borman, a Hoosier) and it was going nowhere fast. We soon heard on the CB that there had been a massive pile-up of five semis, one of them a hazmat carrier, in the eastbound lanes. The westbound lanes were tied up with a massive gapers' block -- nothing like rubberneckers to snarl everything to indulge their morbid curiosity. So we got back off at the next exit and bypassed the worst blockage by using surface streets.

Even then we weren't home free, since the delay put us right into the beginning of rush hour. Thus we arrived later than we'd intended. Our first priority was to get the merchandise into the dealers' room, so it would be there and ready to set up as soon as our friends arrived. I also got my art onto the art show.

Then we got our badges and went down to ops to sign up for volunteering. We had figured we would do a few token hours to show we were serious and do the rest later. However, we discovered that they had a bunch of strict new rules this year. We had to work a full four hours that night before we could sleep there, no matter how late it already was. Since it was already 7PM, we had to stay up until 11PM.

In addition, there were a whole bunch of tedious rules about using the gopher crash space. Some were common sense and mostly annoying in being explicitly articulated (as though we didn't know enough to do those things without a formal rule), but others created tiresome hoops to be jumped through. In particular were the rules about keys. We had to get an official person from ops to let us in each and every time. Even if one of us stepped out for just a moment, the other couldn't let us back in. We had to schlepp all the way back to ops to get an official person to let us back in.

It looked like either someone had badly abused the gopher crash space privelege last year, or the department had been taken over by someone who really enjoyed making rules for other people to obey.

I spent the first part of my time at the door of the art show. When it closed, I was shifted to the movie room until the requisite hours were done. I got to see the second half of A Clockwork Orange and the first half of Gattaca.

After that we could turn in for the night. Of course it took time to jump all the requisite hoops to get our stuff into the gopher crash space, so it was nearly midnight (1AM for us, phased to Indiana time) before we actually got in bed.

The next morning we were unpleasantly awakened by the shrill screech of dying bearings in some part of the ventilation system. So we went ahead and got ready for the day. We had breakfast in the con suite when it opened. Then we headed down to ops to get our four hours done to earn our night's stay, so we didn't have to worry about it later when we'd want to be doing something.

Our first assignment was to cover the doors to the dealers' room during dealer set-up. That was pretty laid-back, although the strong draft from the ventilation system made things chilly.

At noon another volunteer showed up to cover one door, so I went back to ops to see what else was available. At first they didn't have anything, so I got to sit around ops and kill time (as long as volunteers were there and available to work, it counted toward our hours). I ran a few quick errands, but for the most part I just showed off my Palm VIIx to the person in charge of ops.

Then the movie room person called up to announce that his relief hadn't shown up. Since I had worked the movie room the night before, I headed down to take his place so he could get some sleep. When I arrived, Metropolis was showing. This is one of the very first science fiction movies, from the silent era, and a very early robot story. It was interesting to see the cinematographic techniques they used to convey various kinds of information in the absence of a soundtrack.

After Metropolis finished, I got to put in the next movie on the schedule, Things to Come. This adaptation of the HG Wells classic was made in 1936 and in many ways reflects the approaching specter of World War II (for instance, the scene of the massed flight of bombers is eerily prophetic of the thousand-bomber raids on Nazi Germany). However, other elements such as the poison gas attacks are clearly based upon World War I. In addition we see early instances of images that later movies would make into cliches, such as the reverted agrarian community living among the ruins of technological society, with horses being shod among the broken buildings, etc.

While I was on duty I was visited by a number of people I knew. We talked about various things, including the Internet and the Harry Potter books.

When Things to Come was over, it was time for Quatermass 2, a classic science fiction adventure show. This particular episode of the adventures of the intrepid Professor Quatermass is said to have been the inspiration for much of the first of Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who story, Spearhead from Space. However, imagery from this movie has worked its way into many later movies. Even the opening scene of Men in Black, with the panel truck making its way along the lonely country road, is a strong parallel to the opening scene of this movie.

After that we went to ops to wait for the pizza we had called in for supper. While we were there we had a bit of ado about whether the items being given as rewards for working a certain number of hours should be treated under the rules for prizes or the rules for gifts. A couple of people in ops were moralizing that it was "bad form" to resell them, even months or years later, although they did allow that one could use them to discharge an obligation to give a gift (thereby saving oneself the trouble and expense of buying a gift from the store). We held the position that the absence of the usual social ties of gift-giving made them prizes, no different from the prizes in the bottoms of cereal boxes or the "free gifts" that companies send for buying their merchandise (both of which people have regularly sold from dealer tables without anyone calling them etiquette felons).

After supper I went to my first panel discussion, "Choose Your Yesterdays: Good Recent Alternate History Fiction" with Steven Silver, Patricia Sayre McCoy and Phyllis Eisenstein. We had a far-ranging and sometimes heated discussion. We started with the taxonomy of alternate history, but that quickly turned into a debate on whether "light" alternate history cs a valid artform or if only the most rigorous extrapolations can be worthwhile. I made the point that the length of the work can make a difference in the perceived rigor of a work. In a short story, and especially a short-short like my own "Kamikaze" (Pulp Eternity #1, September 1998), there is room for only the most minimal development. If the author chooses the right few details and portrays them with sufficient vividness, the reader will fill in the rest. By contrast, in a novel one has much more room to develop the world, along with an expectation that one will delve deeper in that world's inner workings. However, along with that opportunity comes an increased danger that one of those details will ring false to the knowledgable person and the entire house of cards will come crashing down.

We then talked about specific stories, books and series that are particularly worthy of note. I mentioned S.M. Stirling's Draka books and the intense controversy they have stirred (USEnet threads with hundreds of posts a day, including lengthy ones that cite scholarly texts in economics to prove that the Draka economy as portrayed would collapse under its own weight). Others suggested items I'd never heard of, including scholarly counterfactuals.

After the panel, I went down to the green room with some of the other panelists and talked about spoiler problems. It seems that Steve Stirling has developed a bad habit of posting spoilers to Harry Turtledove's novels on USEnet before advance reading copies even come out (he apparently is one of Harry's beta readers and sees them in draft). I noted that the very same bit that will ruin one person's future ability to enjoy a book will actually increase another's eagerness to read it. For instance, I am fairly imperivous to written spoilers, and can read tons of them with the only result being an increased curiosity about how this will fit into the overall storyline. However, a spoken spoiler is very likely to irrevocably kill a book for me. I have often pleaded to no avail with people who are determined to tell me all about a book they've just read, and have even been reduced to screaming "shut up!" at them because I couldn't get across the idea that I want to read the book first.

After that we went up to the con suite and got some munchies. Then we made the rounds of the parties, which were on the top two floors. Many of the usual parties were there, including the General Technics suite and the Martin-I party. MSFFA was having their Hawaiian-themed party to advertise for their 2002 convention return (apparently the lawsuit with the hotel that stiffed them in 1999 has been resolved). Duckon was having their party, and we picked up our progress reports there. There was also a party for next year's Capricon, which will have the theme of Fun and Games. They had a number of dlfferent games available to play.

After the parties, we turned in for the night. When we first arrived at the gopher crash space, a couple of staff members who'd been locked out of their own room were catching a few winks there. But they soon got called back to duty, so we were able to move to the good bed (much better for bad backs) and get a reasonable night's sleep.

The next morning we awoke to discover that we'd overslept. Apparently we'd muffed the time zone conversion when we'd set our travel alarm clock. So we were late to start our final volunteer hours and had to make up for it.

I was sent to watch the dealers' room door. Most of the time I just talked with people I knew and watched to make sure everyone had a con badge. I also did some writing on my Palm VIIx.

After working for a while, I was stretching and flexing my hands when a gentleman came along and asked if I was having trouble. He gave me a business card, then proceded to work on my hands and wrists. By the time he was done, my hands felt tingly and refreshed. This gentleman is George Gordon, a registered massage therapist in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

In the afternoon I was off duty and happily finished with my hours. So I got my first real chance to make a complete round of the dealers' room and the art show. It was nice to finally get to see the convention. I also spent some time sitting at one of the Artists' Colony tables in the art show, sketching and trying to raise interest in my work.

After the art show closed, we went up to the con suite and sat around until my panel that evening. This was "Have-nots in the Future: Can the Gap Between Rich and Poor Nations Be Narrowed?" with Jim Plaxco and Emmitt Pittman. This ended up becoming the Panel That Would Not Die, since there was no other panel scheduled after it, so the people involved in the most heated discussion felt no impulse to wind it up when I called ten minute warning. I ended up missing the rest of the art auction, as well as most of the parties. If I am ever stuck in a panel like that again, I will officially close the panel on the behalf of those who need to go elsewhere and invite those who wish to continue the discussion to do so at their leisure.

Because of the overrunning panel, we only had enough time left to visit one party. So we went to the Contraption party, to find out about dealer information. Then we turned in for the night.

The next morning came way too early, and worse yet was preceded by a dream in which I had already gotten up and was hunting through my duffle bag for a pair of socks. It was not pleasant to be shaken awake and discover that all my effort was only a dream and therefore meaningless. We got all our personal belongings out of gopher crash space and headed up to the con suite to get some breakfast.

After that I headed down to the art show and retrieved my unsold art. I was also able to plck up my check for the art that did sell. Then we went up to the dealers' room to check things out before going up to the con suite to rest and take it easy for a while before my last panel.

This was "I Kept My Receipt, I Want To Return My Future: Literary Futures I'd Rather Live In" with Deirdre Murphy. Mark Roth and Chris Krolczyk were also on the program but never showed up. We talked about the expectations we had developed from various books and media, and how the actuality compared. That segueed into a talk about making the world better. Since it looked to have the potential to get long and heated, I announced the close of the official panel at the appointed hour and invited those who wished to continue talking at their leisure.

After that I slipped up to the con suite to grab some munchies. Then I went down to the dealers' room to help carry stuff out for our friends. When the van was loaded, we said our last good-byes and hit the road for the long trip back to mundania.

Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel

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Last updated October 21, 2012.