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Denvention Wrap-Up: Exile in Geekville

"Famous authors, phone home."
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So now it’s done. The Klingons have all gone home; the fans, laden with souvenirs, are back in their bedrooms arranging their newly autographed copies of The Alien Years and dealer’s room bric-a-brac. The writers (an incredible profusion of them, some of the biggest names in the business, most often found just hanging out, eating hot dogs in the Colorado Convention Center lobby or chatting with friends -- which was the fan-boy equivalent of seeing Jesus or Tom Cruise sitting on a bench in Wash Park eating a donut) have fled the city for their private haunts; and Denver, though poorer by a few thousand bodies, can now begin gearing up for the big dance coming in just a couple of weeks.

I hit the Hugo Awards on Saturday night, hoping for a chance to sit down with Michael Chabon (nominated for his novel The Yiddish Policeman’s Union), buy him a beer and ask him a question that’s been bugging me for years: What was the book he spent seven years writing after The Mysteries of Pittsburgh made him a rising star -- a book he wrote but ultimately abandoned in all ways except for using it as a model for Grady Tripp’s unending novel in Wonder Boys, his next major work? That kind of thing has always fascinated me, the intimations of potential failure amid the bloom of success.

But Chabon was a no-show on Saturday (reportedly in Maine on a vacation with his family), and when his win was announced, his acceptance speech was read from notes by a proxy. Unsurprisingly, the speech was full of long, ropy sentences and backwards constructions, was wry and self-deprecating, vaguely autobiographical, and dealt primarily with his nerdly love of all things sci-fi. Basically, throw in a couple of confused Jews and maybe a comic book or baseball reference, and it could’ve formed the kernel of his next novel. Nice.

Chabon wasn’t the only no-show of the evening. As a matter of fact, there were more "accepting on his behalf…" speakers than there were actual award-winning writers mounting the stage to take their Hugo awards home with them. This, I’ll admit, was a little disappointing. And even though everyone had sent along speeches to be read in the event of their winning, I would’ve frankly preferred to hear Steven Moffat and Hettie Macdonald (who won for their writer/director efforts on a Doctor Who episode) make their own jokes rather than having them read to me off someone’s BlackBerry.

That said, the event itself went off without a hitch and was as informally fun as any event can be where one is forced to sit still for two hours and not speak while people who aren’t you are being given giant awards in the shape of rocket ships. As a local hook, Colorado-based science fiction writer, inventor, scientician and very funny guy Wil McCarthy served as host, emcee and toastmaster; writers Connie Willis and Ed Bryant stood as presenters of the big, final four categories (novel, novella, novelette and short story); and at the end of the night, Willis even took home a rocket of her own for her novella "All Seated on the Ground."

For a complete run-down of all the Hugo awards given out this year, check out www.thehugoawards.org.

Things wrapped up around nine-thirty, with a mad rush for the dozens of Hugo after-parties taking place at the Hyatt and the Sheraton. "Listen for the screaming," I was told when asking how to find where the Hugo losers would be gathering to drink themselves into a stupor. "Check us out," said another conventioneer. "We’ll be the ones with the dragon as a bouncer."


Sunday was the last day of the convention, and populated by some of the stranger lectures of the week: a memoriam for Arthur C. Clarke, a discussion of mini-black holes (a big deal, what with the startup of the CERN large hadron collider in Switzerland over the weekend and the contention by a bunch of knuckleheaded idiots on the news that it might create a planet-eating black hole before breakfast) and a gathering called "Women Who Read Heinlein," which, I have to imagine, was a rather sparsely attended event. Though I love the guy (he dropped like a genius bomb onto the scene in the ‘40s, writing about grubby spaceship captains and engineers with dirt under their nails when everyone else was still telling stories of white-jacketed and pipe-smoking scientists and bug-eyed aliens from the dark side of the moon), he didn’t create the world’s most memorable female characters. As a matter of fact, he really only had one: a redheaded particle physicist, brilliant in the lab and a slut in the sack, that he recycled over and over again throughout his career.

For this, of course, he won just about every award ever invented for writing (including four Hugos). He became rich, famous, militaristic and legendarily ornery -- living in Colorado Springs for a time, where he must’ve fit in perfectly -- and he’s now called one of the grandmasters of science fiction. Nice work if you can get it. Probably not something he could’ve gotten away with today.

Still, he was the man. And that (along with the fact that he was the guest of honor at Denver’s first World Science Fiction Convention back in 1941) was why his ghost was all over this event -- a reminder of just how big a man can get who spends his life dreaming of rockets, cruising for hot, redheaded physicists and writing about the nuts and bolts of stuff that the rest of can, even on our best days, only imagine. -- Jason Sheehan

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