Monday, April 18, 2016

Hal-Con 2016, Numazu - After Action Report

Hal-Con, the convention I came to Japan to attend, ended yesterday.  As with other conventions I've attended, her are my impressions of the event.  
Convention Site & Hotel
The Plaza Verde Convention Center in Numazu is well laid out with plenty of rooms.  The convention itself was small, no more than 150 people attended I would say, and used the rooms on the third and fourth floors near the entrance closest to the Daiwa Roynet Hotel, the official hotel for the convention.  With everything so close together it was easy to figure out where everything was in a hurry.  There were no water fountains that I saw, and no water dispensers in the meeting rooms where the panels were held.  The staff brought bottled water specifically for the panel participants.  There was an announcement at the start that the attendees could bring whatever food or drink they wanted into the center and the meeting rooms.  With a Lawson convenience store right around the corner, where you could buy a two liter bottle of water for about a buck, one didn't need to worry about becoming dehydrated.  
I liked Daiwa Roynet Hotel quite a bit.  I picked the hotel because it was both inexpensive and convenient, being connected to the convention building itself.  The hotel is fairly new, bout two years old, and looks more stylish than I expected.  The staff is very friendly and helpful.  It was probably the best hotel experience I've had during a convention.  The rooms are small by American standards, but clean and comfortable.  There were plenty of plugs in the walls and on the writing desk, along with a refrigerator under the TV.  If they had added a microwave, it would have been perfect.  
Convention Style
With such a small convention, I got the feeling that everyone knew each other from seeing each other every year.  Every one was so close that I sometimes got the feeling of being the new boyfriend or husband attending a family reunion, where my significant other had disappeared leaving me to deal with the relatives myself.   
The staff was well organized and the pre-printed badges were well done.  All transactions were done in cash.  No credit cards.  Same with the dealers' room.  I did get a hefty discount on the attending membership rate.  As a foreign attendee I paid 3000 yen, or about twenty-seven dollars and sixty cents.  
They did something which I had only seen done at events where the point is to get to meet as many people as possible.  Along with your name badge, I was issued a "Team Card."  I was on "Team Deep Sea Fish."  It was part of a game where you gathered numbers used to fill in a "digital number" inside your team card.  The numbers were posted at panels, at dealers' booths, and other places around the venue.  Since you couldn't go to all the places where the numbers were posted by yourself, you needed to find other members of your team and compare the numbers gathered.  The team and the individual who completed the code fastest were given prizes at the end of the convention.
Unfortunately, I did not see any one with the same team card.  I hope they aren't muttering amongst themselves about my lack of effort.  
One thing different was the program listings.  They were organized by day, then room in numerical order., with all the events in a given room listed sequentially.  With such a small convention, it didn't take much looking to find out what was happening when, but it seemed that it did help pinpoint where the details of the panels could be found that much faster.  
Panels & Events
Saturday 4/16
Opening Ceremonies - This event was very short, very informal, with few bells and whistles.  They introduced the two Guests of Honor.  The first was Ann Leckie, who won the Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke aware for her novel, "Ancillary Justice" in 2014.  Hal-Con makes a point of having a foreign and domestic guest of honor each year.  For 2017, they announced the GoH would be Ken Liu.  The other Guest of Honor was Nozomu Tamaki, a manga artist and illustrator.  The works he's best known for are Dance with the Vampire Band and Soul Liquid Chambers.  As part of the opening, they asked each GoH about their work and inspiration for it.  
Japanese Writing for Translation - I wanted to get my feet wet quickly when it came to trying to attend panels in Japanese.  I pretty much drowned.  This panel was hosted by an editor in charge of translation at the publishing house he worked for. 
The presenter tried to translate his presentation into English, but eventually returned to Japanese only.  I became quite lost, catching only snippets here and there about process of translating an English story into Japanese.  One of the things he mentioned besides grammar differences was to find concepts in the story that a Japanese reader might not understand.  In the example story he was using, a short story by Ann Leckie called "Bury the Dead," he underscored a line that said the story took place during "the first Thanksgiving since Grandpa died."  The presenter gave a quick description of what Thanksgiving was, most of which I was able to understand.  While an accurate description of a typical Thanksgiving, it sounded rather odd to me.  
Also fascinating was the reaction of the Japanese members attending the panel.  First, everyone there (except me) had the anthology where the translated version of the Bury the Dead appeared, along with notepads and pens to take notes.  The presenter even gave gave everyone five minutes to read the final version version of the translated story before going over the English version and the process he'd gone through to get there.  I likened it to being in a class at some some translator school where I was taking a pop quiz I hadn't studied for.  Finally, I saw no one leave the panel early.  This held true for the other panels I attended.  Once people arrived at a panel they stayed there for the duration.  
GoH Reading: Ann Leckie - This panel took place immediately after the translation panel in the same room.  Ann Leicke read her story, The Endangered Camp, which was then read along, in Japanese, by a Japanese speaker.  Once done reading, Ms. Leicke took questions about the story, such as where the idea came from.  Per Ms. Leicke, an editor at F&SF Magazine, when asked what stories he'd like to see more of, replied that he wanted to see stories with dinosaurs in them, as well as more stories about Mars.  Also more post-apocalypse stories as well.  Ms. Leicke described how she nearly ran off the road a few days later when the idea for a post-apocalyptic story about going to Mars with dinosaurs came to mind, which became The Endangered Camp.  
This was my first encounter with Ann Leicke's work.  I've been meaning to read Ancillary Justice since it won the Hugo Award.  Listening to her story and how she came about creating it makes me more sure that I should do so.  
Interview with Ann Leicke by Peter Grassmann of Locus Magazine - Pretty much what it says.  As with the story she read, Mr Grassmann's questions were translated, and Ms. Leicke's answers were translated after that.  Ms. Leicke' related that her parents assumed from the time she was very young that she would be a writer, they didn't think science fiction was something she should read.  When she wouldn't give up science fiction, they began providing her with copies of "approved" books which reached a certain standard of quality.  She didn't start actually trying to write until she was nearly forty, when she decided that she didn't care what other people thought about what she wanted to do in life any more.  
Retro-Game: Baseball Video Games from the 80's - I don't have the proper title of this presentation.  I was invited to attend by an someone I'd met at the WorldCon in Spokane, a member of a group that plays and cherishes the old, simple video games that were played back in the 80's.  It was all in Japanese.  I got next to none of the explanations about how the games were developed.  The games were presented on a giant display screen, with two of the panelists playing against each other for a couple innings.  The games looked fun.  I found myself wanting to play.  
Build The World - A panel where the audience works together to design a world from scratch and the civilizations that evolve or grow there.  I held my breath before going to this panel, having been taught that my level of Japanese was not quite good enough to attend a convention.  I expected to sit there in a haze, picking out a thing or two here or there. 
It ended up being much better than I expected.  It was my favorite panel of the convention.  First it was relatively small.  There were a total of seven people in the room, including the moderator.  I caught the fact that the core group of five people ran this panel ever year, getting together to build one world after another.  The moderator even jotted notes on a white board from where they left off last year.  When they saw me sitting there, they asked me if Japanese only would be OK.  I replied that it probably wouldn't be, but I was trying to challenge myself and to proceed.  
This panel became something of a Rosetta stone for me.  I've been in panels like this at WorldCon and other conventions.  I do this sort of thing myself when I write certain stories and for just plain fun.  The activity I recognized.  Plus, I had enough Japanese to at least know what I needed to ask to clarify the rest.  I was able to recognize concepts and words from the context.   And the other participants were very good about stopping and making sure I understood what they were discussing as best they could.  Once they had listed all the possibilities for a given point of choice, such as what type of star the system was centered around, everyone would vote.  The winning choice would be written down and we would move on to the next topic.  
And I contributed.  This was my biggest accomplishment.  The system we created was a Red Giant primary, such as what the Sun will become in a few billion years.  The world was a dwarf planet, like Pluto or Ceres.  The creatures living on it came from some other place, such as another system or an inner planet swallowed up when the primary bulged into its current size.  They populated the world with "seeds" that grew into the life forms that lived there at the time of the yet unwritten story. 
I did my part, asking questions and making suggestions.  The dwarf planet, I pointed out, wouldn't have the gravity to retain its water, in the form of ice, when the sun's heat turned it to vapor.  We talked about life forms that retain water, such as an eel that swims off the shores near Numazu, which stores fresh water via a slime that covers its form.  We also talked about making the dwarf planet tidally locked, with one side in darkness where the ice could reform.  When the time was up, everyone applauded and congratulated each other.  
As I gathered my stuff to head off to the closing ceremonies, I had a thought that nerds and geeks are pretty much the same the world over.  An extended family bound by fondness for science and speculation, instead of blood.  
Sayonara, minna-san.  Genki de, ne?  


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