Braunbeck and I spent the weekend at Penguicon, where I got to spend a bit of time with Timeshredder and briefly chatted with mordel. Overall, it was a lot of fun. It was a much bigger convention than I was expecting; the online FAQ had implied about 800 people, and I think when all was said and done they had 1500 people or more. In the green room, they had a couple of sports medicine volunteers who were giving free chair massages. Holy shit those were awesome, and erased all my crabbiness from the drive and registration. The green room and the consuite both were very well stocked with snacks and good-quality sandwich makings and a variety of drinks, and I give the convention high marks for that.

The other really nice touch was that Penguicon had a volunteer named Jake who regularly took a huge cart of drinks and food through the dealers' area so that the people who were chained to tables could get something to eat. Other cons have done lunch runs for dealers, but Penguicon did this more often and had better stuff than I'd seen before. Also on the food front: the Brazilian barbecue Saturday was delicious. I hadn't had the chance to get a ticket for it online, and it seemed like too much trouble at registration, but luckily they opened the 'cue to everyone interested after a while, and for $6 Gary came back to our table with a huge mounded plate of perfectly-cooked steak cubes. So yummy I didn't even feel that little twinge of guilt I usually get when consuming mammal.

I didn't get the chance to try the liquid nitrogen ice cream but I heard it was pretty darn tasty.

The one recurring downside to the convention was that, because of the open-source nature of many of the offerings, some fans evidently assumed that anything not tied down was free for the taking. And so some people took books from the dealer's room without paying, and someone took several of Catherynne M. Valente's books that had been left boxed on a table near Gary before Gary had time to say, "I don't think those are for you." We rescued the remaining book; Gary later found Cat and she said she'd wondered what had happened to the box and told him to keep it.


I was on a bunch of panels Saturday; here's my report for each.

  • A Surplus of Talent: This was my reading slot with Timeshredder and John Scalzi. I was chatting with Timeshredder when Scalzi came up and introduced himself. I honestly wouldn't have recognized him otherwise -- he's one of those men who looks utterly different once he grows a goatee and grows his hair out. Scalzi was very pleasant and read a fun story; I met his wife later and she seems like a lovely person. Jeff read an excerpt from a new novel he's working on and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest someday. I read "Your Corporate Network and the Forces of Darkness"; I was a bit nervous and read too quickly, but people laughed and evidently several of them bought Installing Linux on a Dead Badger right after the session was over.
  • Excellence in an Economy of Words--Why Write Short Fiction? This was a lively panel that also featured Elizabeth Bear, Jim Hines, and Sarah Monette. The consensus of course was that short fiction is good because you can experiment with different kinds of writing and storytelling and also because it helps build your writing chops. We also answered questions from the audience about plotting short vs. long and also about co-writing techniques.
  • National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) I shared this panel with Jim Hines, M. Keaton, and Daniel J. Hogan. Another good panel. I was the only person there who hadn't formally participated in NaNoWriMo, but like the others I feel it's a worthwhile endeavor. I shared Gary's situation of having had to write 40,000 words of one of his recently-published novels in 8 days. Yep, he had to write and edit half a novel in just over a week, and, as I told the audience, if you rise to the level of working pro novelist, this could easily happen to you, too. And if you haven't had to crank out that kind of word count before, you could easily waste precious time freaking out about the crushing deadline instead of getting the work done. We all agreed that NaNoWriMo is excellent for learning how to get writing done and work through blocks -- both extremely valuable skills -- but we cautioned that new writers shouldn't assume that the resulting novel will be publishable and also warned against the vanity presses that prey on the hopes of NaNoWriMo participants.
  • Johnny Can't Read and Nobody Thinks it's a Problem This panel was scheduled for 7pm Saturday, and I made the mistake of lying down in my room for a short nap that became a much longer nap due to a mis-set alarm. So I didn't make this one. When I awoke, bleary, I thought, "Heck, probably everyone was at dinner anyhow. No biggie." How wrong I was. This turned out to be the One True Panel. Timeshredder was on it, and he told me that it was standing-room only, and that they had to open the doors so that people in the hall could listen in. Some members of the audience started a loud fight over homeschooling. Evidently "lively" didn't begin to cover this panel. And the next day, I was approached by two utter strangers -- not panelists, mind you, nor con organizers, but people from the audience -- who scolded me for not making the panel. In over 10 years of congoing I'd never, ever been scolded for missing a panel before. How odd.
  • Basic Survival Skills for Authors This was at 10pm Saturday, and I did make it. Jim Hines and Elizabeth Bear were on this one as well. Everyone was a bit tired, and the panel meandered a bit, but I think ultimately the audience got some helpful advice. However, we ended up giving them a bit of a Catch-22: "For God's sake don't quit your day job when you sell your first novel, but on the other hand if you do well as a fiction writer you're probably going to be so tired/distracted at work that they're going to fire you eventually."

So someone made the "if only Jesus had remembered his safe word" joke around me today. Again.

Look. I walked away from an Episcopal seminary because I lost all belief. But I had it. So I am aware of both sides of feelings on the issue.

But whether you believe that Yeheshuah bar Abbas was the Son of God, God himself, a revolutionary, a kook or a scapegoat, it's really irrelevant.

It's reasonable to believe that somebody fitting that description, whatever he was, got scourged, nailed to a piece of wood, and hung to die of entire body cramp. Crucifixion is no joke, it's considered one of the most evil ways that humanity has ever devised in terms of closing someone's medical account.

It's also reasonable to believe that said person KNEW that his actions would lead to this particular doom. Almost as much as I would expect, if I was to speak publicly against the Chinese government in Tian An Men square, to "disappear". Or as sure as vaulting the fence at the White House would lead to a rather rapid death by lead induced ventilation.

In a day and age where too many people have a belief only as long as following through with those convictions is convenient, and one's general sense of what one is meant to do or not do is abandoned as soon as it gets REMOTELY difficult, the notion of someone VOLUNTARILY being skinned alive with a metal and leather flail and then nailed to a crosspiece in the burning Israeli sun is... well, remarkable.

It's personally irrelevant to me whether you believe he did it cause he was crazy, he was trying to overthrow an unjust system, or he was trying to reconcile God and Man. The man died a hideous death he had every reason to believe he would die and met it with a measure of courage and stoicism that is hard to imagine. Scourging, crucifixion, whipping and suchlike would not have been an abstract concept to him, as it is to us. Do keep in mind people supported Singapore caning believing it to be a judicial version of a spanking and not the very real, takes months to heal brutality that it is. He would have entered cities past moaning half-dead corpses nailed naked to trees, he would have heard the screams of sentences being carried out in the public square.

And regardless of why he did it or who he was doing it, I have to admire that he did. One is welcome to believe what he or she wishes, and have any objection whatsoever to the abuses of religion and/or a particular church. Whatever blows your hair back. I didn't object to the person's joke, it makes no difference to me. But....

As for me, wherever he may be, and whoever he was, I'll tip back a beer to him, humming the Doobie Brothers. Jesus is just all right with me..... that is a man who believed in SOMETHING, and followed it through to a very bitter end.

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