Journal Entry #13

Marcy 17, 2008

Just back from Stellarcon 32/Deep South Con in High Point, NC. I love trains, and should have checked out the possibility of going by Amtrak. But it seemed so likely that I'd get deposited 60 miles away and have to rent a car, that I just didn't bother to look. Turns out the Amtrak station was across the street from the hotel.

Cons are always a pleasure and this one was no exception. The highlight of the weekend came with the Saturday evening award ceremony. The Phoenix, given to a writer or editor with Southern connections, went posthumously to Jim Baen. John Ringo made the presentation, and Toni Weisskopf accepted for the Baen organization. Baen was enormously popular with those who knew him, and Ringo's voice gave way several times during the event. When he finished, he hurried outside the auditorium while a stunned crowd sat in silence, and then rose for a standing ovation. I had breakfast with Ringo next morning. He credits Baen with being one of the major forces in preserving the kind of science fiction we fell in love with back in the forties and fifties. Somehow, over the years, he said, the awards had always overlooked him. He's right, of course. And it was nice to see him receive his due.

Interesting panels included "Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?", "How to Annoy Your Publisher" and "The Cabaret at the End of the Universe."

My closing panel was Military SF, chaired by Toni Weisskopf. Other participants were John Ringo and Timothy Zahn (both masters of the art), and artist Doug Chafee. Some of the all-time great novels have been military-oriented. One thinks immediately, of course, of War and Peace. I've been a Herman Wouk reader all my life, and I'm not sure how you'd classify the Flashman novels, but I don't think I've ever enjoyed a series more than those. But it strikes me as being especially difficult to carry off in SF because, if there's a starship available, there are just more interesting things to do with it than shoot at somebody. Which shows you what I know. Anybody ever hear of Darth Vader?

On the way home, I drove through Branchville, SC. I was surprised to see that the downtown area was demolished. Buildings collapsed, roofs blown off, piles of bricks and concrete everywhere. A tornado had hit the town the day before. Incredible. I've never seen damage on that scale. When you're there, it's different from seeing it on TV.

I read Garrison Keillor's Pontoon and Frank Rich's The Greatest Story Ever Sold. Keillor's dry wit makes a superb antidote to the endless flow of political name-calling during this relentless election season. Pontoon follows the funeral arrangements for a woman who turns out to have been a great deal more than simply the nice elderly church-going lady she seemed. There's also a wedding gone wrong, some marriages gone wrong, an Elvis fly-by, and a squadron of Lutheran preachers from Sweden (or Denmark, I forget which), who go for an unexpected boatride. Everything comes together in the middle of the funeral for a catastrophic finale. Lovely book.

Rich, a New York Times reporter, does not hold the Bush administration in high regard, but seems to have as little respect for the media which, he argues, stood by for years and bought everything the White House handed out. In the epilogue, he provides the first rational explanation I've heard for the invasion of Iraq: The Afghan War had run out of glitz, Osama had gotten away, and the plan was to re-elect a strong Republican majority running on national security issues. So we needed a war with some sparkle. And it was summer of an election year. That's why, he says, we charged in without allowing the inspectors to complete their job, and before we had the equipment in place. If it's so, it's even more shameful than my earlier sense that we wanted to secure Iraqi oil and simply didn't do our homework.

Interesting cover story in this month's Astronomy Magazine. There are more theories on what the universe (maybe) looks like, and an illustration. I have to confess I can't follow the physics. But the illustration looks nothing like my notion of a more-or-less spherical universe, floating in a sea of universes. Whatever, things are getting pretty big out there.

Have started James Bamford's The Puzzle Palace, a history of the NSA.

I've changed course again on plans for my 2009 novel. I've been wanting for years to explore some of the possibilities left untouched in my 1996 novella, "Time Travelers Never Die." (It was a Nebula and Hugo finalist.) If all this seems as if I can't make up my mind, that's the way it goes sometimes. The reality was that earlier narrative ideas just didn't turn me on. There's no way to spend the better part of a year writing a decent novel unless there's some passion involved. So sometimes you just have to do tryouts.

— Jack

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