Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Conjuring Norman Sperling at Westercon

I attended Westercon 64 in San Jose, California, over the July 4th holiday weekend; the convention was held at the classy Fairmont Hotel in downtown SJ.1

I was assigned to five panels, and though all the panels went well (despite the lack of necessary equipment at one panel and two panelist no-shows at another), I was a bit disappointed in the attendance, and not just at the panels, but during the overall con as well. The dealers room seemed nearly empty during each of my visits; I saw very few people throughout the weekend that I knew, and there wasn't much of a "bar-con" going on either. Of course, a band played in the bar area Saturday and Sunday nights, which made it near impossible to hold any kind of conversation without shouting, even to the person sitting next to you.

And though I participated in all five of these panels, there is only one that I wish to mention -- my first panel on Saturday morning, July 2, which ran from 10:00AM until 11:30AM in the Regency Ballroom 2. Here's the official description, along with the names of the other panelists:

Fantasy Houses with SF Furniture in Them

If there's magic in it, the book is fantasy, right? But what if the magical power is on tap like water and you pay a monthly bill to the city magic utility, as in Walter John Williams' Metropolitan? What if magic is described, studied, and practiced in the language of physics and software, as in Charles Stross' The Atrocity Archives? Is this a new genre, a hybrid genre, or still just fantasy?

Panelists: Chaz Brenchley, Paul Carlson, Lisa Goldstein, Marty Halpern, and Deborah Ross (Moderator).

Since I had acquired and edited Charles Stross's The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue for Golden Gryphon Press, and had worked on the third novel in the series, The Fuller Memorandum, for Ace Books, this seemed like an ideal panel for me. [Note: If you care to indulge, I've written a lengthy blog post about my work on these three Stross novels.] But, as it turned out, it wasn't an easy panel. For such a panel, one feels the need to define "fantasy" and "science fiction" in order to determine the room (environment) and the type of furniture, so to speak. And, of course, a discussion of this nature can go round and round and round. But it was still an enjoyable panel discussion, at least for me. And I had an opportunity to meet three panelists for the first time -- Chaz, Paul, and Deborah -- and re-meet, as it were, Lisa Goldstein, whose wonderful new novel The Uncertain Places, I proofed and copyedited for Tachyon Publications.

But I have another reason for sharing this event with you.

I didn't think to take notes at the time, and now, due to my work schedule, more than a week has passed.... So the memory is a bit fuzzy. But we were discussing, obviously, SF in a fantasy setting and, at a point nearly an hour into the panel discussion, the subject of "scientists" came up. Paul Carlson mentioned that he has a story forthcoming in the Journal of Irreproducible Results -- a periodical to which a large number of scientists contribute, with an impressive Editorial Board (lots of PhDs). Paul went on to say that the magazine's editor, Norm Sperling, might even be in attendance at the convention. I, in turn, stated that Norm is a regular participant at most Bay Area conventions --

And at that exact moment, just as I had finished speaking, Norm walked into the ballroom, as if he were conjured up by our discussion. Since the stage upon which we panelists sat faced the rear doors, I was able to spot Norm just as he entered the room. At approximately 11:00AM, Karen Williams, who was sitting in the audience at the time, sent out the following tweet:

KarenMuses: At #Westercon, Fantasy w SF furniture. Mentioned editor of Journal Irreproducable Results, and he appeared. Couldn't do it twice.

As I said, I had just finished speaking, and when I saw Norm enter the room, I spoke up again, something to the effect of: "Speak of the devil. There he is, the journal editor." And Norm, unaware of what was going on, got a round of applause.

Maybe you had to be there. I just thought it was a humorous anecdote worth sharing. I was on a panel with Norm Sperling a few years back at BayCon, an enjoyable panel, especially for the audience, because Norm and I disagreed a lot on our editorial approach -- and he and I have been con friends, so to speak, ever since. In fact, on May 30, upon the conclusion of this year's BayCon, I received a Facebook message from author Kirk Warrington, in which he said, among other comments: "Too bad you weren't on a panel with Norman, I love the arguments you two always have." When I contacted Kirk for his permission to quote his FB message (it was a private message and thus required his permission), he responded: "Of course, that's fine. You two are a great odd couple." And then I got to thinking: How is it that Norm and I have not been on a panel together since that one time? And then I wondered if he's been completing the option on the BayCon guest participant sign-up form where you can provide the names of other participants who you do not wish to be on a panel with? I wonder if he's been filling in my name? Hmm....

So I wanted to give a plug here for the Journal of Irreproducible Results, and also for Paul Carlson's story, a flash-fic piece entitled "Science Blitz" -- co-written with David Bartell -- that will appear in the forthcoming issue of the JIR.

Paul tells me that the story was originally submitted to Analog for its Probability Zero section, but the story was rejected by editor Stan Schmidt (and other editors as well) as being too weird, crossing too many genre boundaries; so it's always good to hear when such a story finds a home.


1. Maybe a bit too classy for us lowly congoers: I was charged for 7 items from the mini fridge that I never used, one item being charged after I checked out so that I had to telephone customer service a couple days later, after discovering the charge on my credit card, and argue my case. At checkout I was told that the mini fridge is not provided for personal use, but they would have been happy to provide me a second mini fridge for my own use for a fee of $25.00 per day. Yeah, right.


  1. The time must have been between 10:45 and 10:55 Saturday morning. I cooked my children's breakfast (cooking takes longer than conjuring) and didn't get out of the house till a couple minutes before 10 AM. But traffic was clear (were you conjuring that?) and I parked about 10:40 and went straight to the most interesting-sounding panel, which was yours. Never have I received so wonderful a reception simply from walking into a room! Wow! I didn't know what joke was being played on me but when I waved a copy of JIR it got a ripple of applause so I accepted the happy coincidence. Or conjure.

    Of course I remember the panel on which our editorial styles particularly contrasted. Glad to hear the audience liked that. Yeah, we do make sort of an "odd couple" of editors. I don't know why we haven't shared a panel since then - I've never listed you or anybody else in the "keep them away from me" box. Maybe we can jointly propose an "odd couple" session for the next SiliCon or BayCon, where we can listen to "submissions" selected or volunteered by others, and give our differing takes on them.

    One of the issues we differed on was the stylebook. If I recall, you use the Chicago Manual of Style, which I detest. So I've just posted selections from my anti-Chicago stylebook on my blog, Everything in the Universe. That's my thrust. I invite your parry.

    Your friend,

  2. Hi, Norm,

    Thanks for sharing your side of the story. And it's good to know, too, that you haven't been intentionally avoiding me on con panels!

    In addition to our disagreement on Chicago, I was also more conservative on what submissions I would accept, e.g. I would expect an author to run a bloody spell check before submitting a story. I've just spent hours (and days) on a 105,000-word novel doing little else but correcting typos, dropped words, and erroneous words. Ah, the life of a freelancer.

    I'm not sure about SiliCon this fall (there was no SiliCon last year, and this year looks a bit tentative, too), but let's make a deal for BayCon next year: when completing the guest participant form we both enter the other's name in the option field for who we would like to be on a panel with.

    As to your blog "Everything in the Universe," I will duly check it out.

    Thanks again for your comment; and it was good to see you at Westercon, and in such a dramatic fashion, too!

    - marty