WorldCon 2017, aka The Best, Most Tedious Disaster Story Ever


When last I posted, I announced  the schedule for my WorldCon programming and promised stories.  What gentle, naive times those were.

I was already en route to Helsinki when I made that post.  I was, in fact, hanging out in Manhattan after an overnight flight from Seattle, waiting to meet somebody for brunch, and generally looking forward to passing a long layover before catching another overnight flight to Helsinki.  The day was, in fact, lovely.  Unrelatedly,  I did not catch that overnight flight.

After getting bounced back and forth between Finnair and American Airlines on the phone trying to fix flight problems, then the same at the airport, then Finnair vanishing and turning into Qatar airlines while I was in line to talk to their people, I finally got the chance to rebook my flight.  Which prompted the following conversation with my roommate:

Me: I’ve had a bad feeling about this trip for ages. I’m thinking this is an omen.

Uni: It’ll be fine.

Me: I’m serious. How sad would you be if I just came home? I’m thinking of cutting my losses now while I can.

Uni: You’ve spent the last two months learning Finnish.

Me: That was fun on its own.

Uni: You can’t come home. I’ve got dibs on your favorite mug for the next two weeks.

You can’t argue with that.  I pushed on to Helsinki.

Instead of getting a direct flight to Helsinki through Finnair, I wind up on a British Airways flight to Heathrow, then a Finnair flight to Helsinki, which put me in Helsinki just in time to have missed all of my WorldCon programming.  Without my luggage.  This last bit didn’t surprise me. When I tried to check in for the BA flight, their gate agent nearly had a meltdown, began railing against American, then hustled me to a back room where I got a special private check in desk and very gentle security procedure. As somebody with a mild allergy to security theater in general and TSA bullshit in particular, I was pretty pleased by this.

But I made it to Helsinki. The people I was sharing lodging with very kindly left my set of keys at the registration desk so that whenever I got my luggage or was inclined to see where I was sleeping for the duration of the con, I could pick them up and do that. I got registered, and met up with many Strange Horizons folks, most of whom I hadn’t met before, and we ate delightful Nepalese food and chatted.  Then I unabashedly followed them to the barcon bar and we showed up before anybody else did which, I believe, means we founded the party.  Mind, I was wearing the same clothes I got onto the plane in Seattle wearing, and had only washed in various airport bathrooms, but I was definitely one of the cool kids.  Trust me.

When that broke up and it was time to head home, several of the people I’d been hanging out with very kindly and English-ly refused to go on to their hotel before making sure I could find where I was staying, despite my insistence that this was unnecessary.  The joke was on them, though, because I managed to have a fail-tastic adventure anyway.  You see, I knew the address of where I was staying, and I had the keys for getting in.  What I didn’t have was the apartment number.  In a building with eight floors.

“No sweat,” says I, as I examine the doors.  “I spent the last two months learning Finnish, and I am in Finland.  This means I’m prepared for everything.  For example, I know the note on that door says ‘No housekeeping.’  I will deduce my way into the correct unit.”

My plan was, actually, quite brilliant.  There were 4-5 doors on each floor, and seven floors with doors.  I had a key, and all of these doors required a key to be opened.  So all I had to do was put my key in each door, turn it, and when it worked, Boom! Destination located.  The next day I’d file the paperwork to change my name to Anaea H. Lay, and tell everybody for the rest of time that the H is for Holmes, because I’m humble.

I was not staying on the first floor. Cool.  Six floors to go.

I was not staying in the first unit of the second floor.  Or the second.  The third, however…the third opened.

Onto the foyer of a studio. (Weren’t we in a 1-bedroom?)

A studio with a bed taking up most of the space beyond the foyer. (There’s definitely supposed to be a sofa.  I’m sleeping on it.)

A bed with a very confused looking white and black pit bull stretched out on it.

Not actual dog. Actual level of dog-alertness. though.

On second thought, repeated counts of attempted breaking and entering is probably not the best way to get a good night’s sleep in a foreign country.  But hey, Helsinki is generous with their public wifi, so I high-tailed it back to internet land and used slightly less deranged methods of figuring out where to go.

(The next morning I called T-mobile via my web browser to ask if they could maybe fix the thing where my phone wasn’t behaving like it should.  “We’re stumped.  I’ll boot this up to the next tier of support and call you back with the answer,” they said.  “You can’t call me back, my phone isn’t working as a phone.”  This confused them.  They wanted to know how I was calling them, in that case. VIA A WEB BROWSER BECAUSE THIS IS THE 21st CENTURY WHY IS THIS HARD JUST SEND ME AN EMAIL WHEN YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO.  But hey, when I finally made it back to the US, I had three very helpful voicemails from T-Mobile telling me how to fix my phone…)

Friday I actually got a full day at the convention.  More exciting, I wasn’t wearing the exact same clothes I left Seattle in; one of the people I was staying with kindly loaned me a pile of clothes to wear.  So I was wearing her running shirt.  Reader, I have never before in my life worn running clothes.  I sincerely hope to never wear them again.

I had make-up lunch with somebody I was supposed to have had lunch with on Thursday and we had a good chat.  At one point a complete stranger sitting next to us interrupted to say, “I’m sorry, but ‘don’t break the spreadsheet’ is a good motto for life.'” It was that kind of conversation.

I went to a panel to watch Amal Al-Mohtar be adorable and squee about Steven Universe, and got exactly what I expected from it.  I went to another panel about interactive fiction and continued the process of slowly realizing I have no idea what I’m doing there and have, possibly, made questionable life choices.  I stalked the web status page for my luggage in the hopes that it would arrive in time for me to change before the Hugo ceremony.

You see, I packed a dress.  And heels.  And basic grooming items for looking like a professional adult who wins things on the off chance that, you know, I won a thing.  During the second panel, I get the notice that my bag is in Helsinki.  There was hope!

Cue me, somewhat sheepishly, walking up to the support counter and asking if anybody there knows a way for me to get my hands on a phone that can make a local call.  My phone is refusing to be a phone, you see, and I would very much like to call the Helsinki airport.  Because I would very much like to wear anything other than jeans and a borrowed running shirt to the Hugos.  (I am convinced, at this point, that if Strange Horizons does win, I will never, ever win a Hugo again, and for all time I’ll be the person who accepted a Hugo in borrowed running clothes.  I cannot think of a story I’d want to be associated with less.)

A guy at the desk took pity on me, whipped out his phone, and called the airport on my behalf.  It’s all Finnish, all the way down, but he was able to give them a phone number I could receive texts from, because it gets automatically forwarded to my email address.  And fortunately, I catch it when he reads my chicken-scratch zero as an eight.  “You speak Finnish?” a lady nearby asks, clearly surprised.

“Not really, but I did spend the last two months studying it.  I am super prepared for everything!”

The Helsinki airport has no idea where my bag is.  It might be in Helsinki?  They aren’t sure.  They’ll call me with an update.

I was, at this point, feeling a bit of strain, so I went for my default coping mechanism, and started hunting down tea.  There was a lovely cafe in the convention center, full of lovely pastries, and I’m told the coffee was lovely, too.  I hate coffee, but they had a chai latte on their menu and I am down for that, so I order one.  And walk away.  And take a sip.

And then I’m back at the counter going, “I’m very sorry, but I ordered a chai latte.”

“Yes,” the girl at the counter says.

“This is coffee.”

“Yes,” she repeats.  “That’s what you ordered.”

“There’s coffee in your chai latte?”


You know I’m dedicated to keeping displays of grief private, because I did not at that moment collapse onto the floor sobbing.  “I’m sorry, I’m afraid we’re having a cultural difference.  Is there something on your menu I can order that doesn’t have coffee in it?”

This became the second in a long string of conspicuous kindnesses punctuating the trip, because not only did she direct me to a safe way to order coffee-free tea, she refunded me the €1.20 difference between the prices in the drinks.  I’d expected her to charge me for the additional drink since she had, in fact, given me exactly what I ordered.

I went to the Hugos reception in jeans and a borrowed running shirt.  And the ceremony itself.  Strange Horizons didn’t win.  (Never have I been so happy to be in second place.)  Then the losers party, which also marked the first time I did anything in Helsinki proper the entire trip.  The steampunk gin bar is not messing around about its steampunk, or its gin, in case you were wondering.


Saturday, I gave up on the concepts of luggage, worldly possessions, or hope.  It was very freeing.

If you ever get the chance to hear Ken Liu talk about translation, take it.  He’s as good at deadpan and wry when lecturing as he is in his prose.  I also stalked more panels on interactive fiction, and continued to nurse my suspicion that maybe before taking on major projects that look like fun, I should first have any idea what I’m doing.  There were several games of Werewolf, and a fantastically brutal thunderstorm during dinner, and I back-pedaled on giving up on my luggage enough to abscond with somebody’s phone and spend some time talking to the airport about whether maybe I would ever see my bag again.  (It was definitely, absolutely, certainly not in Helsinki, and never had been.  They weren’t sure where it was, though.)

This was also about the time Nazis were marching practically next door to where my baby sister lives, so, you know, there was some muttering about how maybe when I was thinking this trip was cursed and I should cut my losses and go home that was absolutely the right idea.

Sunday was more meeting people for meals.  I had learned to order hot chocolate, because it never comes with coffee.  I had shared my traumatic chai latte experience with absolutely everybody, including strangers on street corners. I’ve had confirmation from a buddy who lives in Helsinki that of course chai lattes have coffee in them.  If I ever return to Helsinki, they will greet me as the girl perpetually wearing the same shirt who would not shut up about accidentally ordering coffee and then ask whether maybe I wouldn’t like to visit Sweden.  But, I had hope, because the Strange Horizons tea party was Sunday, and I was going to get myself some tea at the tea party.  I spent the entire morning inviting people to the party and positively gloating about my inevitable tea.  (I’d packed tea in my luggage.  With a brewing thermos.  This was not supposed to be a problem.)

The tea party was great.  It was packed.  We embarrassed Niall, which I shouldn’t be so pleased by because he’s English and therefore an easy mark, but I am.  People told me they liked how I read their stories and that was really great since I sorta assume everybody just cringes in a corner and quietly hates how I say their name, and deliver their favorite line.

Of course, they ran out of tea before I got any.  What sort of curse would I have if I’d been able to get tea at a tea party?

But, but, but, something magical happened.  I got an email.  From Finnair.  MY LUGGAGE WAS IN HELSINKI.  This was particularly great since the next day I would cease to be in Helsinki, and I sorta wanted to have my luggage with me.

I hopped on a train to the airport, fetched my luggage, hugged it a lot, hopped on a train back to where I was staying, hugged my luggage some more, and changed my clothes.  Then made some tea.  With my tea.  Which I had packed to ensure I wouldn’t be the tea-obsessed American traumatized by a coffee culture.  Then I hugged my luggage more, just for good measure.

Also, I put every pin I’d intended to decorate my con badge with on the collar of my shirt and shamelessly wore them to a bar, dinner, then a bar, while hanging out with people in Helsinki.  My favorite moment was probably when I passed people I’d met two days before and was greeted with, “You’re wearing different clothes.  You got your luggage!”

This ends the part of the trip I’d characterize as “frustratingly inconvenient.”  Let’s move on to the “Estonia is magic” portion.

Estonia is magic, y’all.  First off, everybody in the entire world was taking a ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn on Monday, and I was the only one who didn’t miss the ferry.  Yes, whether you remember it or not, on August 14 of 2017 you tried to take a ferry to cross the Baltic Seat from Helsinki to Tallinn, and you failed.  On the one hand, I felt very keenly for the travel woes of everybody else, and the people who were trying to coordinate plans around them.  On the other hand, vindication is sweet and even though this had nothing to do with the frustrating inconvenience of the trip so far, I felt vindicated.

Also, Tallinn is charming.  Everybody says this.  They are speaking truth.  I have no pictures with which to prove this but believe me; if I weren’t clinging to my pants in a defiant refusal to be separated from my luggage ever again, they’d have been charmed off.

I was staying in the apartment behind the kitchen of a yoga studio that had the Icelandic and Spanish consulates as landmarks for finding the building.  (See, charming!) This was just far enough outside of Old Town for me to walk along and go, “Yeah, this is pretty nice, classic compact European city with a nice…holy medieval times, Batman!”

Not my photo, but a very accurate one

There’s nothing quite like being an American from a family with pretensions about having ties to old things, then running into actual old things as if they’re nothing special.  It should have stopped working on my be now, but I think living on the west coast, land of everything was new this morning, has made me soft.

Met up with people to hang out over drinks and snacks in a pub.  Not just any pub, but a pub in the basement of a medieval building with walls thicker than me in the morning.  (Actually, in Tallinn, that probably is just any pub.)  I had a fantastic salad, enjoyed samplings of the peppered lard on toast, and tried not to take it personally that while wifi in my apartment at home needs constant coddling, I was getting fantastic signal and connectivity while in the basement of a building that was old when my distant forebears arrived on the continent of my birth.  I was not bitter.

How can you be bitter after eating this?

One of my dinner companions, as we were preparing to pay and depart for dinner, moaned about how the magical pay-by-waving-your-phone-at-a-thing limit was too low to cover most bills so they were stuck using antiquated chip reader technology.  “You mean the chips that weren’t even ubiquitous in the US until a year or so ago and that most places still can’t handle?” I asked.  Yeah, that’s what she meant.

I had my luggage.  I was charmed.  The waiter had fetching shoulders and nice hair.  So I still wasn’t bitter.

Then we started planning the part of the next day that would involve riding the driverless bus.

Reader, I have complaints about the graceless collapse of empire, and how it directly applies to my quality of life.

The next day featured the accidental discovery of a bakery with amazing hot chocolate, eagerly following the coattails of a masterful social engineer by the name of Ellen Kushner, who enthusiastic-harmless-curiosity-seeker’d her way into two different hotel rooms that weren’t hers just to check out their views, marzipan gawking, market browsing, dumplings to die for, and tea.  A lot of tea.  Estonians, by the way, are as horrified by the Finnish approach to chai lattes as I am.

This is marzipan, from one of the two places claiming to be a marzipan museum. The other place was a lie.

There’s definitely a lot of Tallinn that is there entirely to cater to tourists, and I definitely didn’t spend enough time there to scratch very deeply beyond that, but I’m up for fixing that any time.  Have I overused the word “charming” yet?

Wednesday brought the ferry back to Helsinki and, consequently, the most actually gawking at Helsinki I did the whole trip.  Mostly I wandered around and looked at things.  The Botanical Gardens are quite nice for walking around.  So’s most of the central city, actually.

Never tell me why these three naked men are standing around an anvil.

By this point I’d chilled all the way out and started actually taking pictures of stuff.  There were many nice things to take pictures of.

IMG_20170816_190218I also may have made the ill-advised decision to walk from the central city, where I had dinner and did my wandering, through this place that looked like a nice park, on my way back to where I was staying.  I had to be out around 4am in order to catch a stupid-early flight, so rather than get wrapped up in something that might keep me out, I planned to meander bed-ward and catch a bus or trolley or cab or anything practical when I got tired.

I didn’t check to make sure there were buses, trolleys, or cars along the route first.

Screenshot at 2017-09-17 21:52:04
For the record: this wasn’t even the dumbest walk I’ve taken this summer

I did get back, and crash into bed, and get up very, very early.  I made it to the airport with no trouble and plenty of time to spare.  My flight was on time, I finished my souvenir shopping, got on my plane and…

…embarked on the spectacularly disastrous part of the trip.

This picture is just here to be misleadingly cheerful.

My first layover was in Paris.  Not the good kind of layover where I could leave the airport and actually see Paris, but hey, so long as I get a croissant between flights, it’ll be worth it, right?

Spoiler: I did not get a croissant in Paris. Not even at the airport.

What happened instead is that I beelined across the airport to get to my gate, assuming that I could fetch a croissant once I knew I was in the right place and all was well.  This was good, because they were extremely prompt about boarding; already well underway by the time I arrived, even though I arrived 45 minutes before takeoff.  (Cut-off: 30 minutes.)  I scan my boarding pass and…get told I’m not allowed to board.

I’m unsurprised.  I missed my flight on the way out, and even though they assured me this wouldn’t cause any trouble on my return, I didn’t believe them.  Here was my vindication.  Or so I thought at first.

Actually, it’s not that at all.  It’s worse.  The gate agent is refusing to board anybody from my flight out of Helsinki, even though there were several of us.  She didn’t like how the connection was done.  No, she won’t help me rebook, this is Finnair’s fault.  “But I booked the itinerary through American.  That’s you,” I say.  See, I’d just gone down this road a whole lot not ten days before when trying to fix my departing flight.  Finnair can’t do squat for me.  American is refusing to board me, American is the source of the booking, American is who I need help from.

American sends me back through customs to Finnair.  To the completely wrong place.  So I go back.  They send me somewhere else.  Also wrong, but this time it came with a bonus trip through security.  (I love airport security, remember?)  I finally find a Finnair employee and explained to her what’s happened.  Her eyes get big and she goes, “But I can’t help you.  American has to…wait, how did you get here?”

That’s a good question, since the boarding pass I hold is for a flight that has, at this point, long since left, and in a completely different terminal.  “I’m very charming when I want to be, and security thought I was harmless.  Please don’t make me go through that again.”  (Fun Fact: Charles de Gaulle airport has, as a normal presence, uniformed soldiers with machine guns.  Ask me how I know.)

The very nice Finnair employee proceeds to get on the phone to somebody and freak out in a long string of French from which all I understood was, “Ping-ponging passengers,” because the only French I know is useful for eating, and getting laid.  (I mean, if you’re only going to speak a little French…)  She then apologized profusely, but I was going to have to leave the secured portion of the airport to talk to somebody else.  No really, she’s very sorry, but she literally cannot help me at all, I am in utterly the wrong place.  The place she’s sending me isn’t the right place either, because I was in the right place when I was talking to American, but they’ll help me anyway.

Finnair’s umbrella company then, on behalf of me and two other people American had done this to, called American to fight with them and get us rebooked.  It took a long time.  I wasn’t shouty-angry like the first guy who was so furious that he was going to arrive in New York three hours later than he meant to that he missed the first flight they rebooked him on by yelling at them over how unacceptable the situation was, and didn’t have a wife and three kids stuck on the other side of security waiting for me to return with their passports, I volunteered to be the back of the line.  I could see the writing on the wall already and wasn’t inclined to fight my fate.

Finnair’s umbrella company, while calling American on my behalf to make them rebook my flight, bought me lunch in Paris.  I got a sandwich on a baguette and chocolate mousse.  I looked, but I couldn’t find a croissant.

Tangent: back in February, as a reward to myself for something I was smug about, I did something I almost never do and bought myself an item of clothing I didn’t desperately need.  Specifically, this item of clothing.  I packed it, thinking it would make a good shirt to wear for the very long flight home.  My sister begged me to change my mind.  I considered her perspective.  Then Charlottesville happened.

In addition to having uniformed soldiers carrying machine guns, Charles de Gaulle airport is full of people who will compliment you when your shirt says:

I love this shirt entirely beyond reason.

I did not expect an anglophone American wearing jeans and a t-shirt to get consistent sartorial compliments while in Paris, but there you go.  We live in interesting times.  Also, the attention made up for the lack of croissants.

Eventually I got booked onto an Air France flight.  Getting back through security and whatnot when my bag was MIA and my itinerary was a shambles was a unique and interesting challenge, but one I navigated just fast enough to keep from missing my flight.  Let me say this about Air France: fucktons nicer than American.  More room, better layout, better amenities, better food, and a movie collection that clearly came from a culture of film snobs.  They weren’t super big on saying things in English, but I’d entered the zone of travel purgatory, so I didn’t want to know what was going on anyway; it would have just depressed me.  It was a thoroughly pleasant flight experience, and I don’t think I’ve said that about a flight this century.

Of course, my bag didn’t actually make it onto the flight, and I missed my connection at JFK as a result.  But customs was too busy being confused about why I didn’t have my bag to care about my shirt, so hey, I got away with that.

“Why did you miss your connection?” the American agent asked me when I finally got to the desk.

So I told him the story, complete with, “but since American weren’t the ones who did the rebooking, the people who did couldn’t give me a boarding pass for this flight, and by the time I got here, I was five minutes late for the self-check in, and now I’ve waited in line for a human so long the flight is gone.”

There are no more flights tonight.  He books me on a flight 5am tomorrow, layover in Charlotte, that’ll get me back to Seattle.  Great, whatever, I don’t believe in home as a concept anymore and if I get stranded in Charlotte, I can rent a car and drive up to see family for the weekend.  This becomes my official plan when I see the actual itinerary.  “This is a 30 minute layover,” I say.

“It is?” he asks.  Then he looks into it.  “The gates are right next to each other.  You’ll walk off one plane and directly onto the next.”

“Have you seen the luck I’ve had?  There’s no way I’m going to succeed with a 30 minute layover.”

“There are more flights to Seattle from Charlotte than here anyway.  It’s a better place to be stranded.”

Actually, New York is a significantly better place to be stranded, but whatever, I already have my stranded-in-Charlotte plans worked out in my head.  I crash into a hotel to get a few hours of sleep before coming right back, and leave it at that.

(He gave me vouchers for food that were good at the hotel and the airport.  So I tried to order food at the hotel, even though I was much, much too tired to be hungry.  There was literally nothing on the menu inexpensive enough to be covered by the food voucher.  The lady who took my order took pity on me, rang me up for half a salad, then gave me the whole thing.  Saint.)

“I’m not even surprised,” I say when, at 3:30am the next morning, the self-check in thing can’t find my itinerary and won’t let me get my boarding pass for my flight.  Instead, I go wait in the long-ass line to speak to a human representative of American.

“Oh, your flight out of here was delayed and you were going to miss your connection,” the agent says when I get to her.  “They’ve already rebooked you.  You’ll be leaving from La Guardia and connecting through Dallas.”


She hesitates, then goes on.  “This is actually a better itinerary because…”


“It’s okay.  We’ll get you a cab.  You have plenty of time.”

“You can put me on a direct flight.  You can put me on a flight that connects anywhere on the east coast between here and Charlotte, or either of the Chicago airports.  I will not accept any other itinerary, and I am not leaving here to go anywhere other than back to the hotel I just checked out of, unless it’s by plane.”  The poor agent looked to be at a sincere loss.  “There’s a direct flight out of here at 5pm, and another at 9:30.  Either of those will do.”

“But they’re so late,” she says.  “You could have this other flight…”

“No, that other flight will get me stranded in Dallas.  I dislike Dallas.  I’d rather be here.  Worst case scenario, if I’m still here on Monday, I have a meeting that I can show up in person to instead of taking by phone.”

“I’ll get you set up.”

While she does that, I called the hotel and un-checked out.  It was very nice of them to let me do that.  (There were a lot of people who were very nice to me, in case I’m not highlighting that enough.) (I was still wearing the Nazi punching shirt.  I suspect this helped.)

As she wraps up, I start to suspect that maybe, in my deranged, sleep-deprived state, I’ve been a little too harsh.  “I’m sorry if I’m cross.  I’m just very tired, and very angry with your employer.  I know it’s not you, and I appreciate how helpful you’ve been,” I say.

“Mama, I saw your itinerary history.  If I were you, I’d be sobbing or screaming.  You’re fine.”  Take that, people who think getting icy under stress isn’t healthy.

I returned to the airport with plenty of time to spare, so I visited baggage claim.  No, of course my bag isn’t somewhere sensible like JFK.  It’s totally still in Paris.  I mean, they were going to send it to the right continent, but then I changed my itinerary to connect through Dallas…

“Stop there.  I didn’t make that change,” I said.  “They didn’t even tell me about that change until I was already here trying to complete the itinerary before that one.”

Doesn’t matter.  The last flight from Paris for the day has already left.  They aren’t going to schedule my bag for another itinerary until I’ve arrived at my final destination.

I don’t think she understood why I asked whether it mattered which part of Hell I was in, or could they deliver the bag regardless.

Of course, my 5pm flight was already delayed to 7:40.

Let’s skip several hours involving a gate change, a mechanical problem, and a weather delay, and get to the point, now after 9pm (you better believe I was wondering about the state of the 9:30pm flight) when I scan my boarding pass to finally! board! the final! flight! and instead of getting a beep and a “Thank you, Miss Lay,” the console flashes bright red with a “DO NOT BOARD.”

“I’m sorry about that.  You’ll need to talk to the gate agent.”

“That’s okay. I no longer believe in a universe outside JFK.  Though I dimly recall that I did once hold such a belief.”

There’s confusion.  Minor mayhem.  (We’re technically still having a weather delay, but trying to sneak out during a break in the lightning.)  The gate agent cannot figure out why the system won’t let me board.  “I’ve probably had my itinerary changed too much and tripped some sort of anti-terrorist algorithm,” I say, while wearing my nazi-punching shirt.

“What sort of changes?” the agent asks.  Then she looks up my itinerary history.

And looks at me.

And at my history.

“Are you cursed?” she asks.


“Go take your seat.  There’s not anybody in it.  I’ll figure this out once you’re in the air.”

She did not have to tell me twice.

Hilariously, there was a guy in my seat.  Did I mind?  He wanted to sit next to his wife and their toddler.

No guy, I do not mind fleeing from the prospect of six hours in an overheated tube with your toddler.

It was Wednesday in Seattle when I boarded a flight in Helsinki under the naive delusion that I’d completed a trip which, while off to a bumpy start, ultimately smoothed out and turned quite pleasant.

It was Saturday when I finally got there.

What have we learned from this adventure?  A few things:

  1. Dark premonitions should be heeded.
  2. Estonia is magic.
  3. Advertising your predilection for Nazi punching causes people to be nice to you.

These are valuable lessons for everyone, and I hope my experience will allow you to benefit from sharing in my hard earned knowledge.


Over a month ago I went to WorldCon.  Then I came home, full of anecdotes and fresh from adventure and promptly didn’t blog a single word about it.  I had my reasons (read: OMG SO BUSY) but I’m going to fix it now.

Sunday before WorldCon

I have been working my ass off all month for this moment and I achieve it – all my clients are under contract.  Inspections are done.  Nobody is going to notice that I’m out of town when I leave because I’ll be able to do everything remotely.  Perfect!

Getting to Spokane

The haze up ahead? That was smoke. Smoke I was driving toward!

This is the day I’m going to drive to Spokane.  My official departure time is “Whenever I’m done with work.”  Work is a little nuts because the seller for one of those transactions wouldn’t negotiate at all when the inspection came back awful.  My buyer isn’t interested in buying a money pit, I’m not interested in pushing him to, I draft paperwork to cancel the deal and get that sent off to the sellers.  I’ll need to do more with it once they sign, but they might not get to that until tomorrow.  I’d assumed I’d be leaving for Spokane around 8pm.  Instead, I leave at 4:30.

5:06.  My phone rings.  “Hi.  This is the listing agent. We should talk.”  Reader, I spent days trying to talk to this listing agent.  He was clearly under the impression that I was full of shit.  Now he believes me?  Grr.  I tell him I’ll call him when I get to Spokane.

So what’s the first thing I do when I get to Spokane?  Crash with S. B. Divya, briefly pretend I’m a social human being, then call a listing agent.  “I need this deal to stay together,” the listing agent explains.  “I’m going to Africa for five weeks in September and want everything settled before then.”  Now he wants to negotiate.

Strong A.I.: The Party

Part of why I was happy to rush out of Seattle early was that I got there in time for the reception for attendees and instructors in the Writer’s Workshop.  I could go and eat cheese cubes while dispensing wisdom to writers learning their craft and eager to take my advice.  Instead I spent most of the time sitting in front of the AC vent, insisting that it’s silly to be scared of strong AI because it’s not happening and even if it is, I’m on its side and don’t really care if it destroys humanity.  Also, very stealthily texting my client about Lately Interested Listing Agent’s offer and how crappy it is and yes, I know you really love that house, but remember how you’re on a budget and literally do no have the money for these repairs on a house that’s seconds away from falling over? I can find you better. I promise.

There were cheese cubes, though.  They were tasty.

In the Morning of the Kaffeeklatsch

I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the line I must have said something mean about the very beloved mother of some member of Sasquan’s programming committee.  They gave me very good programming, nearly all of it earlier than I’m a human for.  To the mother of whoever it was: I’m very sorry.  I didn’t mean it.  It was wrong, and I’ve learned my lesson.

I showed up thirty seconds before my own kaffeeklatsch, sans coffee.  Sans anything other than my water bottle, actually, despite a serious need for something hot and sweet to power my personality.  This wasn’t my fault.  Registration was nearly as far from my kaffeeklatsch as it could be while still in the building.  Also, I’d had to email LILA with the conclusion of the texting done with the buyer during the parties the night before.

Oh, and the other clients I put under contract last Sunday? The ones I haven’t mentioned because they were going to be an easy, straight forward closing? There’s a problem with the pet policy.  We need a board waiver for their dogs to move in.

Kaffeeklatsch was good.  I talked about me a lot.  That’s always fun.  I made the people attending talk about themselves a little.  I totally forgot that Fury Road came out this year when asked, “What’s the last movie you saw in the theater and liked?” Things I like become timeless in my head and it’s hard to remember life without them.  Or that’s my excuse anyway.

The Crazed Lady in the Hallway

I am happy to report that the floor of the Spokane convention center is stable and the walls do not flex, even after being leaned on while you use a power outlet to charge your dying phone and draft paperwork after paperwork because the done deal is falling apart and the dead deal is a zombie being actively negotiated right. now.  I bet there were great panels on Thursday.  I’d gotten up too early to weep openly in the hallway.  Instead I did a lot of shocked staring at things.

Did you know that it’s insulting to even ask whether maybe we don’t have to break up a happy family of two doctors and a pair of canines in order to move into your building?  I didn’t either.  I did draft more cancellation paperwork.  And gave up on ever making any money ever again because I’m now canceling contracts faster than I’m getting them accepted. Spokane’s the best!

My Dulcet Tones

Friday morning.  Early reading.  I get up with lots of time to get over there, get lost, and still make it on time.  Then my phone rings.  It’s LILA.  He wants, very badly, to have a very long argument with me. No, of course he hasn’t given his seller the cancellation paperwork.  Don’t I know that as professionals, we have to hold this deal together?

I did not actually raise my voice.  I did get rude.  “You have to meet me half way,” may have been answered with, “I don’t have to do anything.  The only reason I’m even talking to you is because my client is in love and won’t listen to me when I tell him to run screaming from your shambling mess of a house.”

For the record: As a professional, it’s my job to serve the interests of my client, placing those above my own, and definitely above LILA’s desire for an uninterrupted African vacation.

I gave people fudge at my reading.  And then I read a story about a cannibal.  It was cheerful.

Wes Chu is not Ken Liu

I had plans to meet Ken Liu in person for the first time, and then yell at him a bunch about Iago.  I yell at Ken a lot.  I think he thinks I’m funny.  This is probably good for my future as a person against whom there are no restraining orders.  We meet, are planning where to go for chatting, and Wes Chu shows up.  Then tells a story about how, for the 9th convention in a row, he’s had somebody ask him whether he’s Ken Liu.

Wes Chu
Ken Liu


I blurted my honest immediate reaction.  “New career goal: Get mistaken for Ken Liu.” Because, come on!

-IMG_4658 cropped
I think it could work

“Oh man, did you catch that?” Wes Chu asked.  “She’s all, ‘Yeah, he’s no Ken Liu.'”

And that, gentle readers, is how you insult a soon-to-be-Campbell winner within two minutes of first meeting him.

Oh, That’s a Convention

Dr. Unicorn was supposed to catch the train out to Spokane Friday afternoon in time to arrive for a final sweep of the party circuit.  The train did not work out.  That’s okay: I was supposed to leave for the convention when I finished work on Wednesday, and I didn’t actually get around to showing up until late Friday afternoon.  But it was pretty great once I did.  I learned things about identifying textiles through a healthy application of fire!

Speaking of fire: I could not breathe.  Friday was awful.  I have learned that when I set the world on fire, I definitely want to do it down wind of my vantage point for watching it burn.

The buyers with a dog have canceled their transaction, everybody has signed the paperwork, and they’re already in love with a new place.  Can I get them into a second showing over the weekend while I’m gone?

Maybe I wasn’t quite all the way at the convention.

Dinner was had.  There was more talk of strong A.I.  Also, impromptu creation of a checklist for how to tell that your social club is turning into a cult.  Also, Seth Dickinson has more interesting dinner anecdotes than I do, should you ever need to choose between us for dinner companions.  Ask him about the cat.

Saturday Morning

The headline is a lie.  I slept through Saturday morning.  It was glorious.

Dr. Unicorn, that cheating bastard, brought me bubble tea from Seattle.

Then we went to lunch.


Short fiction definitely has a future.  Chosen ones are boring.  I said mean things about Arthur and sheltering teens.  I sat next to Sara Monette/ Katherine Addison and did not blather on at length about how cute Maia is and how much I want two of Csevet.


Loser’s cake is mighty. Also, tasty!

I lost.  This was precisely according to plan.  The ceremony was fun.  I turned my phone off, with prejudice, and left it off for the evening.  After, I kidnapped Ann Leckie and made her listen to me scold her for being insufficiently sympathetic to Anander Mianaai the whole way to GRRM’s loser’s party.  She called me Fleet Captain.  I won Sasquan.

I may have been covered in “Justice of Toren” temporary tattoos by the time I got home.

Because I’m a winner.


If you’re wondering what the special thing I have in store for the Strange Horizons bonus podcasts is, I can tell you that it’s a thing cooked up entirely as a result of me having been at World Con.

The zombie shambling house of money pit “At least your boyfriend knows you’ll never leave him because good grief what does it take to talk you out of a thing,” of doom?  Still. Not. Dead. Also, will never close.  The couple with the easy transaction that blew up over dogs? They’re closing on an even better place next week.

I’m definitely thinking thoughtful thoughts about Helsinki in 2017.

Find me at WorldCon!

In a couple weeks I’ll be wending my way out to Spokane for Sasquan.  I’m the only one from Strange Horizons who’s going to be there, so I get to have all the Hugo nominee glory to myself. (Muahahahahaha!)  For those of you who want to stalk either me or Strange Horizons, here’s a handy schedule to help you do that thing. Please don’t be creepier than I am.

Kaffee Klatche – Anaea Lay

Thursday 10:00 – 10:45, 202B-KK4 (CC)

This is a small discussion where you get to hang out with me and around 7 other people who want to hang out with me and ask me all sorts of things.  This early, on the first day of the con, I’ll probably be in hilarious “Feels persecuted by the entire universe” mode.  You should come, or I’ll be bitter about getting up early for it.

Violence in Speculative Fiction

Thursday 16:00 – 16:45, 401C (CC)

War, torture, combat, cruelty – are physically violent conflicts necessary for good fiction What purpose does it serve? Is it getting worse? How much is too much? Do authors set personal limits?

Carol Berg, Rory Miller, Anaea Lay, Jack Campbell

Reading – Anaea Lay

Friday 10:30 – 11:00, 301 (CC)

I’m going to do it the way I usually do my readings, i.e. let the audience choose their fate and have baked goods on hand as an apology in case they choose a bad fate. You should come for the baked goods.

The Future of Short Fiction: Online Magazines Today

Saturday 14:00 – 14:45, Bays 111B (CC)

10 years ago reading original fiction online was limited to the occasional author’s web site. Now, online magazines are a major force — maybe THE major force — in publishing short fiction. The panel looks at what and why?

Scott H. Andrews, Anaea Lay, Mike Resnick, John Joseph Adams, Neil Clarke

Demigods, Chosen Ones & Rightful Heirs: Can Progress, Merit & Citizens Ever Matter in Fantasy?

Saturday 15:00 – 15:45, 300C (CC)

Science fiction often centers around meritocracies (or at least “knowledgetocracies”) but fantasy? Not so much. Or, as Dennis famously said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “…Strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.” Has fantasy ever overcome this classic trope? Can it?

Darlene Marshall (M), Anaea Lay, Mary Soon Lee, Setsu Uzume, Katherine Addison

Autographing – Anaea Lay, Ann Leckie, Bud Sparhawk

Sunday 10:00 – 10:45, Exhibit Hall B (CC)

I’M GOING TO SPEND 45 MINUTES STANDING NEXT TO ANN LECKIE!!!! Nobody come talk to me, I will be preoccupied with being creepy.

Writers Workshop section 20

Sunday 13:00 – 16:00, 201A (CC)

You can’t get into this.  I’m just listing it here so you can see the next line.

Lori White (M), Anaea Lay, Ann Leckie, Gillian Redfearn

For the record, I totally understand if Ann shows up to the con with a pre-filled restraining order.

FogCon 2015 Schedule

This weekend I shall be at FogCon and, as is my tradition, I shall be on many panels.  Not quite all the panels, but all the best panels, certainly.  I know this, because I got teamed up with all the best panelists.  Take a look at the schedule and you’ll see what I mean.

And Then My Underwear Went OverboardFri, 9:30–10:45 pm Salon C 

Tales of traveling drama! What are some of the crazy adventures you’ve had while traveling around the world? Our panelists will tell their best stories, and talk about how to handle travel adventures that may not be what they intended.

M: Sunil Patel. Marty Halpern, Anaea Lay, Effie Seiberg

How to Intervene The Right Way: The Culture, the Federation, and the Future – Sat, 3:00–4:15 pm Salon C

If there’s intelligent life out there, and if we humans ever end up more advanced than others, we will probably need to figure out our morals and ethics for intervention in alien cultures. Our history provides us many examples of how not to do it, and our fiction presents us with many other examples, both good, and bad, and also brings up the question, “can this be done ethically at all?

M: Steven Schwartz. Darrin Barnett, Jed Hartman, Anaea Lay, Nancy Jane Moore

Embracing “The Other” – Sat, 4:30–5:45 pm Salon A/B 

Fantasy and Science Fiction have a long history of asking us to empathize with the Other — the alien, the fae, the one who Isn’t Like Us. Sometimes that “not like us”ness is done really well, and other times it’s easy to see the human culture under the rubber “alien” suit. How can we present cultures we are not part of with depth and respect? How can we avoid writing yet another *Fill In The Blank Human Culture Not the Author’s* With Purple Scales story?

M: Debbie Notkin. Nabil Hijazi, Anaea Lay, Bradford Lyau, Juliette Wade

Winning Writers of the Future Was


“I’m going to make such an ass of myself,” I explained to Dr. Unicorn*, my best friend who moved away last summer.  “It’s a contest for beginners, and I don’t think of myself as a beginner, and when I won I’d sold enough stories to be disqualified twice over, they just hadn’t come out and the contest doesn’t count them until they do.  I’m having backward Imposter Syndrome, where I feel like I’m too qualified to be worthy, and I can’t talk about this with other writers because, come on, who the hell gets uncomfortable about winning things because they’re too successful?”

And that was basically it.  I felt like my level of ass-ness was directly proportional to how awesome winning was, because it was a win that should have gone to somebody who was a beginner, who did need the validation winning the contest would give them.

“Is this the sort of thing where friends and family would come to support you for?  Because I’d go, if you wanted me there.”


That was the moment where all of the awesome of winning finally sank in.  It was like putting sugar in black tea or a dash of salt in cake batter.  On my own, I look at me winning and I see all the writers who haven’t been as lucky as me and had the same opportunities I’ve already had, who would get so much more out of winning, and who work really hard for it, quarter after quarter, and I feel like I cheated them.  Dr. Unicorn let me short-circuit that, made it something cool, let it be this awesome thing that was going to be fantastic.  I needed that. Bewildering

I started preparations for WotF in November.  I had to – I run my own business and if I didn’t I’d never survive a week away and absorbed by something else. My flight out to the workshop left on April 7. My first official communication about the workshop, including such information as the exact dates, came on February 15.  If dependent on ASI, I’d have had less than two months to prepare for the trip.

I didn’t get a schedule or agenda of any sort for the workshop until the day I got there.  What they gave me was a lie, more likely to lead me into error than actually represent what was happening.  They were irritated when Dr. Unicorn hadn’t already made travel plans for an event we had no information about.  During the workshop week, they’d get irritated when somebody believed the printed schedule and wound up wrong, or missed a thing because they’d been pulled away for a photo shoot, interview, etc.  It wasn’t malice.  They really are that disorganized and badly managed.


This contest has had such a huge, massive impact on so many people that there’s a sort of “induction into tribe” effect surrounding it.  Past winners reached out to create spaces for the new winners to connect, ask questions, get the logistical details that ASI wasn’t together enough to provide.  The generosity displayed by those people, and then during the week itself by the judges and other professionals who don’t have to be there or do anything, but do anyway because they care and think it’s important to teach the industry and the business to the new people who are getting in and might not have any other way of learning…it’s astonishing.

I don’t mean they’re being pure altruists.  It’s in their interests to find fresh talent and build relationships with them.  But they’re far, far more generous than they have to be merely to accomplish that, and the fact that they care is enough to make the contest and the experience something special.  Things become valuable simply because people value them.


ASI’s first question when they called me was whether I’d be bringing a spouse.  I did a little dance, then gloated a bit when I said, “No, but my best friend is coming down from Seattle for the gala.”  Best friend.  I don’t mean boyfriend.  I don’t mean partner.  I mean best friend.  I mean the person who gave me the space I need to feel like I deserved this.

“Oh,” they say after a long, awkward pause.  “Well, good for you.”

The next day I got an email letting me know that the men would have their measurements taken for tuxes during the workshop week, and somebody would be in touch with the girls about acceptable colors for their dresses.  My grandmother, who loves clothes and buying me pretty things, was taking me shopping when I went to visit her.  I tried to find out from the contest what their guidelines were.  I got my dress six weeks before leaving for the workshop.

The guidelines finally came three weeks later, when their hair and makeup coordinator asked me for a picture of me in the dress.  The gorgeous dress my grandmother traipsed around Richmond with me to find.

The only question I have is if your dress is not too tight. Something like one size or even two sizes too small? It is true that the dress is probably made to be fitted but sometimes is looks better to have it not too stretchy. That is a bit of a concern I have. Is there a way to trade it for a bigger size?

And when I replied saying that my dress fit fine, but I’d be willing to wear a tux if they were concerned?

 I’ll look at it when you have arrived. If needed I will find a solution in locating another dress. I have done it many times. I am made responsible to have you all look great. I just am looking for a back-up in case, so I am not having to handle any last minute which I am sure you understand. What is your size?

One of the stories I didn’t get to hear about the contest until after I won was about the winner they made cry over her dress.  The awesome, fantastic celebration of the launching of a new writer’s career, and they made her cry.  Over a dress. Oh, and it’s not that anybody would ever say anything to Dr. Unicorn about them not being a straight man, but they shouldn’t dress too femme because the people at ASI don’t really like that.

I very nearly didn’t go.

Inspiring Have you ever watched somebody as they realize they have a shot at their dream?  I mean watched the actual realization happen, over the course of several days, where they get tired and overwhelmed and it just clicks that they’ve got what it takes?  I get high on that.  It’s part of why I like working with first time buyers as a Realtor – seeing somebody realize they get to have a thing they deeply want but didn’t actually expect to get is amazing.  The workshop week was full of that.  And watching other people watch it happen and seeing how it affected them was fantastic, too.


It’s possible I dove over furniture to hug Dr. Unicorn upon their arrival Thursday night.  I’m not sure.  I know I was mid-sentence with Mark-from-Kobo, stopped to say, “Excuse me a moment,” and then I was hugging Uni.  There was furniture between where I’d been and where Uni was, and I don’t remember going around any furniture. Whatever I did, it was with grace and dignity, and I am not ashamed.

Infuriating The winners are not real people to ASI. It’s not malicious.  From ASI’s perspective, there are no real people, just pawns in their great publicity machine designed to sell books with L. Ron Hubbard’s name on them.  The workshop is a side effect, and one which clearly gets in the way of their staged publicity shots. All of their shots are staged.  They will drag you out into the afternoon L.A. sunlight, even when you’re protesting that you’re over-heated, extremely photo-sensitive, and already have a massive headache from too much daylight, then expect you to harass strangers on the street so they can film you “interviewing a stranger” for your 24-hour story. Then they’ll ask you to do it again, except could you give me that smoothie you’re clinging to as a defense mechanism?

They’ll stalk you while you’re trying to write that story to the point where the only way to avoid them is to leave the building.  Then turn off your phone, because they’ll call you to have you stage “writing” for them.  They’ll take your drinks, your bags, your jackets, whatever they think doesn’t fit with their image, and it might take days for you to get them back, if you ever do. By the end of the week I’d been triggered into disaster mode so hard that I had a pharmacy, snack bar and toothpaste in my bag, which I was clutching for dear life.  It’s been several weeks and I’m still twitchy whenever somebody’s behind me with a camera.

At the gala, they fed the vegetarians London broil.  They fed everybody London broil.  They never asked about whether there were vegetarians.  The ones who got to eat instead of being dragged off for more photo ops or for documentary interviews were lucky.  The writers never got to see the displays of the artist portfolios put out at the after party. That really bugged me since I was very invested in the artists by then.  ASI dragged me away from the signing so I could give an interview that was not remotely subtle in its attempt to bait quotes praising L. Ron Hubbard.  I’d rather enjoyed talking to strangers while signing their books.

But honestly, the most infuriating part?  Before the interview, they handed over forms with blank fields and generic release  language and asked for your signature.

“What should I put into the blanks?” I asked.

“Don’t worry about it.  We’ll fill that out at the office,” they answered.

That’s more or less the opposite of the model for good business practice they ought to present.  Especially to beginners and new people who might not know better and are there to be mentored.


This is definitely more of a commentary on my daily life than the typical workshop experience, but I worked less that week than I had any week all year.  Right up until my body figured out I was on the west coast and it should adjust my sleep cycle accordingly, I was the best rested I’ve been all year, too.  Having a week to think, breathe, and do nothing but books and writing and related things?  Fabulous.

Then again, preparing for the workshop was a significant source of extra stress in the first part of the year.


“How’s your week been so far?” Uni asked during post-hug unpacking.  I’d just seen my art for the first time a few hours before and I was absolutely buzzing about it.  Half an hour later I was nearly finished talking about all the people I’d met and liked.  And giving their back stories and details.

“There’s Randy who’s hilarious and sweet, and Kat who’s into board games, and Amanda who had me as her roommate until you got here and manages to be adorable about missing her kid, and Tim who’s the published finalist and I think he doesn’t think he belongs here but he’s great and needs to figure that out, and Megan who’s accepted my challenge to a cage match to defend the honor of our respective artists…”

“So, you’ve basically adopted everybody?” Uni asked.  “I should have guessed you were going to adopt everybody.”  I may have used a rude gesture when I replied.


I compulsively read reviews of my stuff.  Bad reviews don’t hurt my feelings – I sorta like them – but I’m desperate to find out whether the people who read it got what I was trying to do, they understood what was happening, whether the story worked.  My 24-hour story was one of the three that got critiqued by the group.  Tim Powers called out absolutely everything I’d put into it, and pointed at exactly the things I’d done in order to put them there.  That was my personal win for the week.

Ass-making of self

After the gala, when everybody was punch-drunk and hanging out in the lobby, I was talking to Randy, Megan, and Leena, three of the four first place winners.  Randy had just won the grand prize.  Megan got teary.  Then Leena.  Shortly, Randy joined in. I pointed and giggled.  Then offered hugs.  Then giggled at them some more. Though I wonder whether one can actually make an ass of one’s self if one is always an ass.


While I was thinking very seriously about not going to the workshop, I decided that, you know what, I can’t possibly be the only person getting patronized and insulted by ASI, and while I can certainly walk away without feeling like I’ve done myself any significant harm or losing something I need, I am, as noted at the beginning, very lucky.  Not everyone is, and maybe I have a responsibility to see things through and not be quiet, because I have very little to lose.  That made it better, gave me a way to go without being a willing victim marching into a bad situation.

I was sharing the emails I got from the hair and makeup person as they were coming, and getting feedback on my replies since I was, by then, so emotionally bankrupt I didn’t trust my instincts.  What was Uni’s suggested reply when, in order to rescue me from my error in dress size selection, ASI asked me for my dress size?

“My size is fire and death!”

I made a T-shirt.  I offered to make one for anybody else who needed to turn the nonsense into a joke, rather than a threat.  There were some takers. FireandDeathEditedThere were private emails from past winners offering consolation and support and suggestions for where I could run for rescue if things got bad while I was there.  Because, apparently, winners needing rescue is a thing.

There were also less private emails from past winners telling me I ought to feel more grateful, and that unnecessary drama is just that.

And the general sense that this contest wasn’t so much a validating, awesome prize I’ve won, as a force of nature to be navigated and endured.


I went expecting to come back with a clear answer about whether or not I’d have preferred to just spend the week in Seattle. I don’t have it. The good parts were awesome.  The bad parts were devastating.  There was a range in the middle that was more or less obliterated by the extremes.  I certainly could have done without the stress and nastiness in the weeks leading up to the workshop, when I had to orchestrate leaving my life for a week to walk into a situation where I more or less expected to be treated like garbage, and had my expectations met several times.

But once I got there, there was entirely too much good to elide or gloss over.  I’m going to be ambivalent about this experience, qualified in my recommendations around the contest, for a long, long time.  That’s absurd.  There’s no reason for any of the downsides, no justification.  There are too many people who care too much; too many things that are too good.  I went to the workshop expecting to end it in a rage and advise everybody to run screaming.  I walked out wanting to be able to recommend the contest without caveat.

I can’t.  But I want to.

*This is a pseudonym, obviously.  The pertinent individual requested that I use one. They didn’t get a choice about what it was.

FogCon Schedule

FogCon is coming up, and with it, me appearing on all the panels ever.  Well, not quite all the panels, but near enough.  Here’s my schedule.

Charismatic Criminals — Why We Love Them

Whether it’s Harrison’s Stainless Steel Rat, Gibson’s Molly Millions, Bester’s Foyle, or Peter O’Donnel’s Modesty Blaise, some criminals are unquestionably charismatic. Who are the most charismatic criminal protagonists not enough people have read? What’s the magic that turns a selfish thug into a charismatic rebel? Are the rules for criminal heroes different for women or minorities? And were there any real-life Robin Hoods, or does that only ever happen in stories?

Fri, 8:00–9:15 pm

Panelists: M: Anaea LayChaz BrenchleyAlan MarlingHeather McDougal (First time I’m a moderator!)

The Speculative Fiction Singularity

Once upon a time, one could walk into a group of fans and presume that many of them had read the same things — their Asimov, their Tolkien, their Heinlein. (Or at least so the myth of fandom tells.) Nowadays, there’s no guarantee that if you’ve read Bujold, you’ve read Banks, or that if you’ve read Banks you’ve read Butcher, and that’s without even mentioning Bester, Boucher, Ballard, or Brin — and that’s just one letter. The field has grown so big that it’s not possible to keep a handle on it all; we have hit a cultural equivalent of the Singularity. Are there any overarching authors, or has the so-called canon of speculative fiction fragmented beyond repair? (And if so, is this a bad thing at all?)

Sat, 10:30–11:45 am

Panelists: M: Steven SchwartzCynthia GonsalvesAnaea LayJohanna MeadRachel Silber

(After an incident wherein I was somewhat, er, rude, to the audience last year I vowed no more morning panels ever again ever ever.  Apparently that meant “Until they ask me nicely next year.” This could be exciting for all the wrong reasons)

Anarchists! Innnn! Spaaaaace!

Outside of the law can mean outside of the city. The classic justice systems offered exile as an avoidance of fatal sentencing, considering exile equally terminal. But what happens when all of Earth is girded with awareness and broadcasting, how far do you go to find exile? How do you opt out from the water you’re swimming in?

Sat, 1:30–2:45 pm

Panelists: M: Ian K. HagemannAnaea LayM.ChristianKaren Williams

(Who wants to bet this turns into me ranting about the moral necessity of terraforming Mars?)

Where Do I Hold My Virtual Sit-In?

How does civil disobedience change in the future? Are denial-of-service attacks the new sit-ins, and what does “shaming” mean in a social media era? What new strategies are working now? What new tactics do we see in the future?

Sat, 3:00–4:15 pm

Panelists: M: Naamen Gobert TilahunAnaea LayNancy Jane MooreGuy W. Thomas

(Who wants to bet I’ll still be ranting about the moral necessity of terraforming Mars?)


Sun, 1:30–2:45 pm

Readers: Anaea LayNancy Jane MooreMargaret Ronald

(I will be bringing baked something something.  That’s all the prep I plan to do)

Argentina: Iguazu

We’d gone west.  We’d gone south.  It was time.  We went north.  To the rainforest.  To the land where, one wrong step across the border and you’re at risk of yellow fever. Within a literal stone’s of Brazil and Paraguay.  Ladies and gentlemen, we’d arrived in the sub-tropics.

I’d put us in a hotel that was almost directly across the street from the bus station.  We arrived in the late afternoon after luxuriating in the classiest of the classy Argentine buses.  Never have I been so comfortable and pampered while traveling.  We got off the bus, collected our bags, and looked across the street.

“John, it’s really hot here,” I said.

“Yes.  Yes it is.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“I don’t think I can make it to the hotel.  It’s too far.”

“It’s right across the street.  A narrow street.”

“Can we get on the bus and go back to Buenos Aires?  I don’t care about the waterfall anymore.”

You don’t have to take my word for it about how miserably, disgustingly hot it was.  Take, instead, the fact that John actually considered my proposal before rejecting it.

We wound up taking a walk through Puerto Iguazu because John needed a voltage converter and I didn’t have the heart to send him looking for one with nothing but a map and charades skills.  Then again, I don’t have a heart at all, so I’m not entirely sure why I didn’t just cower next to the air conditioner in our hotel room.  I was probably too hot to think through that part clearly.

I bring this up not because the way my brain turns to jelly when the weather becomes uncivilized is fascinating, but to assure you that I know what I’m talking about when I say that Puerto Iguazu is utterly skipable.  If you go to Iguazu, which is probably a good idea in July, there’s no reason to stay in town. Go for one night. Stay at the Sheraton in the park.  I didn’t go inside the Sheraton, but unless it’s infested with mold and roaches, or is otherwise unexpectedly gross, getting to be in the park is way more interesting than anything town is going to offer.  And I do not lightly recommend opting for the wilderness over population density.

Now, if you’re wondering why on earth I, pale, sun-phobic, summer-loathing creature that I am, decided to go that near the equator that close to the start of summer, it’s this: Iguazu has really big waterfalls.

Really big.

Like, legendarily large.

Its, uhm, rather impressive.

“John?” I said when we got to the end of the boardwalk path that takes you from the park’s train station up to the top of the waterfall.


“Is it wrong that I look at that and keep thinking about how fun it would be to take a kayak over the edge?”

“Don’t talk about it.  It’ll fall down!”

“Oh god, I miss the glacier.  It was nice and cold there.”

My original vision of the trip had us going to Iguazu early on, when it would be earlier in the spring and hopefully cooler.  But then I read about the moonlight tours they offer, and I checked the calendar, and, well, end of the trip it was.

I am most proud of the photos I got during the moonlight tour.  There wasn’t just the challenge of getting a good photo of something moving fast under low light conditions – there was the added bonus challenge of doing it through the splitting headache I wound up with because everybody else kept using their $#!@ing flash.  Dear Everybody: Your built-in flash is not going to illuminate THAT WATERFALL.  It will give the people in the group with extremely good night vision a rather horrific headache.  I’d have killed you all, but I couldn’t really see anymore by that point.

It was worth the trip up to Iguazu, even with the inhumane weather and the obnoxious everybody else.  We did the boat tour that gave us an intimate look at the falls.  By intimate I mean it went under the falls.  Several times.  In two different places.  It was kinda the most awesome thing ever.

When we got back to our hotel after the moonlight tour it was rather late and we were both exhausted.  Check out was at 10am, but our bus wasn’t until much later in the day.  So I decided to try getting us late check out.  “Tengo una pregunta,” I said to the desk clerk on our way in.  Then I explained what we were hoping for, and got told that we had to be out of our room on time, but if we wanted to rent another room and change over to that one, we could get late check out from there.  We were too tired for changing rooms to sound appealing, so we rejected this offer.  Then the clerk asked me a question. “Er, come again?” I asked, except in Spanish honed by three weeks among native speakers.

The clerk asked the same question.  It made exactly the same amount of sense.

“Lo siento, tengo mucho sueño.  ¿Ingles, por favor?”

“What time is your flight?” the clerk asked.  John handled the rest of the communication from there.

“You were doing really well, then all of a sudden fell apart,” John said when we got into the elevator.

Vuela and abuela are hard when you’re exhausted,” I moaned in reply.


“I kept hearing him ask me, ‘What time is your grandmother?’ Which didn’t make sense because they’re both all the way in Virginia.”

“…” said John.  “That’s not why it didn’t make sense.”

“Shut up. I’m taking a cold shower and going to bed.”

And this, my pretties, concludes my ramblings about the Argentina trip.  It was a really good trip. I recommend Argentina as a place to go, especially if you’re up for travelling around once you get there.

Album with more of Iguazu here.

Argentina: All the Buenos Aires

This is going to be a catch-all post for time in Buenos Aires.  I could break it up in the various legs with the bits where we left in their chronological spots, but that requires many more blog posts, it’s already the year after we went, and it’s not like pictures from my phone are mega gorgeous anyway.  So.

That’s a picture of the planetarium.  I recommend walking around the planetarium because the grounds are quite lovely.  Don’t plan to actually go in and get anything out of it unless you speak Spanish, though.  It’s mostly just an Omnimax, and the movies are re-dubbed into Spanish.  Fortunately, I thought to ask about that before we bought tickets, so John wasn’t stuck in a giant cosmic movie he couldn’t understand.  That did, however, cramp our plans for the day a bit, so we wandered over toward the botanical gardens.

I wasn’t expecting much from these after the planetarium was a bust and the Japanese gardens had an entry fee.  This was wrong of me.  The grounds are deceptively large, as in, I expected it to be tiny but it just kept going on.  It’s also full of cats who are hanging out, lounging around, and generally reassure you that yes, somebody is keeping the gob-tobs of pretty birdies in the trees from becoming decadent.

The botanical gardens are also right next to the zoo, which we didn’t bother to go to because John wasn’t thrilled about looking at animals we can look at when home in Madison.  Point.  However, since there are food cart vendors hanging out outside the zoo, we did partake of some food cart lunch.  This was when I tried out the superplancha, a loaded hotdog.  Living in Chicago rehabilitated the hot dog for me a while ago, and the Icelandic hotdogs were quite nice while being idiosyncratic enough to keep me from feeling lame for going to a foreign country and ordering a hotdog.

Don’t order Argentine hotdogs.  They feature everything bad about American hotdogs, with a distressingly pasty quality to boot.  Absolutely anything else from a cart vendor is going to be better – absolutely everything else we ordered from a cart was really good.

After a week away in Bariloche, Peuma Hue, and El Calafate, we made it back to Buenos Aires just in time for the weekend fairs and markets.  This prompted an excursion out to Palermo, where they’ve got two rather large markets that happen on the weekend.  I enjoyed them greatly; there were lots and lots of things I’d have happily bought if I felt like schlepping half the crafts from the country home with me.  I picked up a pair of earrings and stopped there.

You may recall from the first Argentina post that I hadn’t been terribly thrilled with the restaurant selections I found recommended in the guidebook or online.  Talking to other people while we were away confirmed my suspicions that we were getting the, “Safe for nervous gringos” reviews as opposed to the “actually has really good food” reviews.  So I implement a new policy.  It came in two parts.  The first was that we were going to stop having dinner the very second restaurants opened (around 8pm).  The second was that our restaurant selections were going to be made by walking down the street and picking ones full of locals. John was skeptical about the efficacy of this policy.  I decided to test it by re-tackling Argentine sushi.

I think John is still of the opinion that my policies were insanity, and thinks we just started getting incredibly lucky all of a sudden.  Because, wow.  The food was really, really good.

Argentine cream cheese tends milder and airier than whats common in the States.  And they put it in all of their sushi rolls, rather indiscriminately.  This was a problem for John until he realized the texture of the local cream cheese (“Philadelphia” on the menus) might be different enough that it wouldn’t trigger his intense hatred of cream cheese in sushi.  And with one exception across two dinners, Argentine cream cheese worked great for him.  I think the trend to use Peruvian and Carribbean flavor profiles in designing the rolls – making them much fruitier and sweeter than standard US rolls – helped a lot, too.

This was probably the best presentation of shrimp I’ve ever had.  It was a Peruvian sweet and sour passion fruit glaze with cashew crumbled on it, and it was mind-blowingly good.  We wound up ordering it when, because they were out of green onion, the first three appetizers we tried to order weren’t available.  The waitress recommended it and she was right to do so.

If ever you are in Buenos Aires for dinner, EAT HERE.

Other excursions involved a chunk of a day spent in La Boca.  Even with strolling over there from San Telmo it wasn’t a full day, but the market had the best quality crafts we found anywhere.  It’s extremely tourist-y, though.  Aggressively, tackily touristy.  Worth going, but I wound up really put off by the kitsch.  Part of it was having to think in order to read the really offensive tourist T-shirts.  I compulsively read text when it’s in front of me all the time, but when I have to think about it, and then it’s something I didn’t actually want to read, it’s extra annoying.  Go for the street stalls and because the neighborhood is cute.  Stay out of the shops.

The Recoleta Cemetery, known for being both very old, and very big, was totally worth the walk.  Be prepared for shadeless sun exposure, though.  And it’s near enough to a clutch of neat museums and whatnot that you can make a pleasant day out of hanging out in the area.

Uhm.  Yeah. We wandered into a building that looked very MUSEUM because we were headed to the Fine Arts museum and it was kinda near the right place and I was hot and hadn’t looked at the map recently.  It was an art museum.  Contemporary art.  This whole wall was kinda special.  But hey, I learned a lot about wrestling and local culture surrounding it.  I suspect, since he couldn’t read the placards, John just got disturbed.

The Fine Arts Museum, by the way, is fantastic.  It’s free, the collection is impressive, and with the exception of one room which feels like a hodge-podge grab-all, very well curated.  We had to wait in line to get in since they were controlling the number of occupants at any given time, but the line moved pretty quickly.  I didn’t take any photos – too busy gawking.

This is the courtyard of the women’s prison museum in San Telmo.  It was right near all the nice antique shops and whatnot, and totally worth the cost of entry (Free).  Neat building, cool artifacts (the shiv collection was particularly impressive), and there’s a very pretty church right next door that’s also worth checking out.

The other really fantastic food we had in Buenos Aires comes with no photos – the lighting in the restaurant was bad and I was too busy having spasms of tasty.  There’s a Middle Eastern restaurant in San Telmo we’d passed a couple times, and since John and I both like Middle Eastern food and Madison lacks a really good source of it, we decided to check it out.

 I ordered the shawarma.  It was the. best. shawarma. EVER.  The flatbread was a little too prone to fall apart, but the meat was perfectly cooked, fantastically seasoned, and the tzatziki sauce was phenomenal.  I couldn’t finish it all, and was heart-broken about it.  John tells me that when the waiter came to clear our plates, I glared him down.  I think that’s an exaggeration.  I did clutch my plate a little hyper-possessively and make it very clear that I wanted my leftovers to go, please.  The other food was really good, too, but I’m going to have dreams about that shawarma for years.

It was so good, we went back for our last meal before catching our plane home.

Getting around we mostly took the subway.  This worked out great for our last leg because the subway workers were forming a new union (apparently the existing union had many more bus workers and they’d negotiated a contract that screwed the subway people) and striking.  This led to a bit of confusion, but mostly free subway rides since there was nobody there to sell tickets.  Neat!

We did a bit more riding the bus, though.  Our first leg we’d borrowed a transit card from one of the B&B staff.  Riding without the card turned into a bit more of an adventure than was really warranted.  A “I just dropped two coins on the floor and the bus is dark and I can’t find them and now we don’t have enough for fare, also what’s going on?” sort of adventure.  The bus driver excoriated me at length for being incompetent and wasting his time and being a highly ignorant, self-absorbed tourist who just traipsed onto the bus without bother to figure out how it was supposed to work.  I think he assumed I couldn’t speak Spanish, because I cannot fathom yelling at me the way he did if he thought I’d actually understand.

In the end, John did not really like Buenos Aires at all.  I didn’t expect him to.  I liked it pretty well, but I’m not in a rush to go back and (thankfully) don’t feel any particular tugs toward moving there.  I had a really great time, and it’s absolutely worth visiting, but if you don’t speak Spanish, do your research very, very carefully.  Buenos Aires is a challenge, and adding a language barrier can only make it harder.  It’s worth the challenge, especially if you like big cities, but it is not for a novice traveler going it alone.

Albums for you.

Argentina: The Glacier

We were in Calafate and we had a mission: See a glacier.  Our hotel sucked, John didn’t have a coat, and research on the internet indicated that I couldn’t blame Chile for my troubles understanding the locals. This was going to be a big day.

Let me just get one thing out there right here at the beginning: That glacier is gorgeous.  We did a tour that took us near it by boat, then dropped us off at the park full of boardwalk-style walking paths overlooking the water leading up to it.  This was awesome.  There were English-speaking guides on the boat, but the tour guide for the rest of it mostly only spoke Spanish.  She was a sweetheart, though, and kept coming to check on us and make sure I’d gotten all the important information, like “Be back at the bus by 3:30.”

Argentina really seems to take care of their national parks.  This one was surprisingly handicap accessible for an area that is functionally built onto a cliff face.  They had an elevator to get you from the top overlook level down to the main loop.  Ever since Disney World blew my mind by having a water park that was completely handicap accessible, I pay attention to these things.  Mad props to people cool enough to build an outdoor elevator.  For any reason, really.

That said, John and I were super clever and took the path full of stairs. We went down.  And down.  And more down.  It’s not our fault.  We kept saying we’d turn back at the next landing, but then there was this phenomenal angle we just had to catch, and it’s only one more landing after all…

I found the caves and overhangs at the edge of the glacier really neat.  One of them had this fantastic coloring, and I was spinning ideas in my brain as we walked, thinking about how one might build a floating shelter under and overhang like that, what would prompt somebody to do such a thing, how awesome it would be.  I started to tell John about some of these ideas was we were going around a bend with some trees.  And then we hear a big crack.  There’d been several of those – ice was breaking off the glacier and splashing down below all the time – but this one was bigger, and went on longer.

We didn’t make it around the bend for me to catch the whole thing on camera, but I still got a pretty impressive ice falling sequence.  See that tilting pillar at the middle of the frame?

See the splash where that tilty pillar used to be?  Yeah, this was my super cool overhang, where I was mentally building floating shelters, shearing off the face of the glacier and falling into the water.  No more overhang.  “Don’t talk about it, it will break off and sink!” became one of the tag lines for the vacation.

You know what, though?  It would still be really cool to build a shelter under one of those overhangs.  Not a good idea, but really cool.

More glacier photos here.