Friday, February 20, 2009

Look Who's Coming To Dinner

Jack McDevitt has been invited to attend I-Con 28.

This forces a complete reversal of my previous stance, which can be worded as "I'm not going to I-Con this year come hell or high water", since I view McDevitt as one of the recent greats of SF and have yards of his books I want signing.

I-Con has for years been a staple on or around the end of March/beginning of April for La Famile Stevie, as a three day event (actually, Friday night through Sunday afternoon, and Friday could often be a bit of a let-down) on the grounds of the Stoneybrook campus of SUNY.

Although it has morphed a lot over the years, and the old regulars who made it such a great event are now largely absent1, we have also changed in our expectations of it. We originally went mostly for the guest speakers. Then I started to get more interested in the author-driven events and Mrs Stevie and the Stevieling got more caught up in the SCA-ness of it all. Somewhere in there a whole Anime subculture sprang up and threatened to dominate the entire con.

And the prices kept rising every year. I was getting a bit tired of it to be honest, and when SUNY announced that they were renovating the campus and therefore were declining to host I-Con this year, and when I saw the absolutely dreadful "arrangements" the I-Con management committee had made I decided enough was enough.

The Hotel Ronkonkoma has (apparently) always been a staunch supporter of I-Con, being the "official" I-Con hotel, location of the con ball and banquet for some years now and the place where everyone goes to filk2 and so the committee decided they would have to be kept in the mix. The only fly in the space-ointment is that the Hotel Ronkonkoma is nowhere big enough to house the entire Con, and the committee felt there was nowhere else in the vicinity that could take the overflow, so other sites were sought out.

They've ended up with three different sites. One in Brentwood, right next door (sorta) to the Steviemanse. Yay! And one in Islandia, only a few miles from the Steviemanse by car. Yay-ish. And, of course, the Hotel Ronkonkoma some 15 miles east. Yeesh! The committee feels that no-one will be more than 15 minutes from the next site, but neatly elide over the issue of getting between sites to attend consecutive eventsusing the Long Island Expressway3, so knowing what sort of things will be happening in each site is of primary importance. This information has been non-existent up until about a week ago.

Add to this the fact of Mrs Stevie's extreme poor health of late and you might understand where my "Not on your nelly" attitude was coming from.

However, I was informed last night that since Sam Gamgee from Lord of the Rings (The epic saga of the One Ring by J.R.R. Jackson) will be attending as Media Guest of Honor, the womenfolks would put a brave face on things and required tickets buying at once. I grumbled a bit but went to the website to check it out and saw that McDevitt was a confirmed guest. I immediately returned to the living room and told the women in no uncertain terms that they could sit at home on their fat butts if they felt so inclined, but as Asimov was my witness I was going to I-Con and nothing they could say would persuade me otherwise.

I first encountered McDevitt at I-Con some years ago, and it was there I bought Polaris and got it signed. It is a relatively recent infatuation of mine to get books signed by the author. In previous years I didn't get excited by the prospect and never bothered, missing chances to get my C.J. Cherryh, Larry Niven, Ron Goulart, Barry Malzberg and Harlan Ellison collections properly endorsed. This sort of treachery by Mr Brain is why I never got on in life. I digress.

These days at I-Con I follow interesting authors4 around from panel to panel, even if the panel subject is not obviously of interest to me. Sometimes this pays dividends and sometimes it just gives me a chance to sit down. Bit of a crap shoot really. But McDevitt was very entertaining, enough so that I bought Polaris and Hello Out There, and, with one minor reservation, they were well worth the finding, leading me to a new (for me) source of highly entertaining reading. As a result I own about a dozen of his works now, and I jump at the chance to meet him again, get him to sign the buggers5 and tell him that his previous visit paid off, at least for me.

But oh, those sods on the committee have arranged for the panels to be split over the Brentwood site and the Islandia one, which means I will likely end up missing something I want simply because it will cost a significant portion of time to move the handful of miles down the Long Island Expressway. They could NOT have made life more difficult if they'd set out to do so. And I still don't know how much racing around I'll have to do in the fabulous Steviemobile over the three days because they still haven't nailed down what panels will be where (they could at least make a stab at dividing them up by genre).

But Jack McDevitt will be worth the hassle.

  1. Octavia Butler has passed away of course, Barry Malzberg was very ill last year, Harlan Ellison just hates to travel and hates to travel to New York even more, and I don't know what happened to George Zebrowski
  2. Yes, "filk". Google it for Azathoth's sake
  3. A-List contender for the much-prized World's Longest Parking Lot designation
  4. Like Ben Bova, Charles Stross and Norman Spinrad to namedrop shamelessly
  5. I make the authors add "I-Con xx" rather than a year so that in fifty years when the Stevieling is slinging out my paperbacks, she can at least get a brief clue as to where and when it all went down

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Never Mind The Cancer, We're Talking Unauthorized Car Parking Here!

There is no disease so terrible the non-medical staff of Long Island Jewish Hospital cannot make the patients feel worse after a visit.

Mrs Stevie has finished her Chemotherapy and Radiation Treatments. She thought that she would immediately start to get better, but has been dismayed by the one to three month timescales quoted by the doctors. I don't blame her a bit, since the radiation has burned the inside of her throat so badly she cannot talk or swallow, and has damaged (probably permanently) her salivary glands so that her saliva is very thick. The pain and the occasional chocking fit this combination causes is close to a definition of hell on earth for her.

Chemotherapy has been explained to me as an attempt to poison the patient in the hope the tumor dies before he or she does, and judging by the side-effects, after-effects and sundry other effects I think that is a fairly accurate description. What I wasn't aware of was the cumulative effects that make the symptoms of chemo-poisoning get worse as each treatment is applied, nor of the chemo-inertia that makes the patient actually continue to get worse for a time after the treatments have ceased. Mrs Stevie has somehow managed to continue the regimen, mostly, although the fluoride tooth treatments that will save her teeth from being destroyed by it all make her so ill she stopped doing them without telling anyone. I guess they're her teeth so it's up to her, but it's worrying nevertheless.

Last Thursday we returned once more to Long Island Jewish Hospital so the surgeon could check her out. These visits to LIJ are a source of great trepidation since the non-medical staff that infest the place seem to think that their jobs involve pumping up the misery for all concerned.

I have told already of the perplexing doings of Chauncy, now on his best behavior since Mrs Stevie tearfully asked Doc Teaspoon (the ENT specialist) if he could take over her evaluations and was gently questioned as to why. Since Doc Teaspoon and the surgeon were ex-university buddies I have no doubt the word got back that there was trouble in paradise. It's all good fun until the cancer patient won't come back to the doctor because his staff are being idiots.

I have also told of the strange and awful Guardian of the Carpark, who seemed to think on our last visit that the intricate rules and procedures governing when he would unlock the barrier could be divined by some sort of mental osmosis. Thursday's visit was made ugly by this individual, reprising his role of Jobsworth Hitler in the pageant of our lives.

I was careful to arrive shortly after 9am this time, in accordance with the mantra "The Carpark Opens At Nine O' Clock"1 only to find it wasn't, yet.

I got out of my car, checked my watch carefully to ensure there were a good two minutes elapsed since the putative barrier removal time, and beeped my horn twice while calling towards the booth that last time had a human in it: "it's gone nine, please open the barrier". I got back into my car and spotted the J.W. Hitler striding the long way round towards us.

He arrived in theater and flapped his hand imperiously to indicate he wanted me to lower the driver's window. Upon doing so I was asked if I had an appointment. I answered that my wife did, and that we were now late for it so would he mind opening the car park please. He demanded to know the name of our doctor, which I was initially reluctant to supply2. He insisted. I heatedly asked why he was delaying my wife's treatment. He wouldn't budge. I told him the surgeon's name but he still wouldn't move, so I began shouting at the top of my not inconsiderable voice "Why are you trying to kill my wife?"

I was so angry it didn't occur to me to simply get out of the car with my wife and take her inside, leaving the carpark entrance blocked by the Steviemobile.

After the third or fourth iteration of my extremely high-volume question, J.W. Hitler finally realized that he had gotten all he was going to and that I was deliberately making a scene over which he could not make himself heard so he unlocked the barrier and walked off.

What is it with this sorry excuse for a hospital? They are supposed to be the premier cancer treatment center on Long Island, but I can tell them right now that Mrs Stevie will beg anyone who asks to go elsewhere (Sloan Kettering in Manhattan is a longer commute but the agro of LIJ more than makes up for that). I mean, what is the percentage in pissing off people who aree sick, some of them terminally so?

Never mind that J.W. Hitler clearly has issues with me3, why in Azathoth's name does the clinic have a car park assigned to it that isn't open for business when they are?

The surgeon took a look at Mrs Stevie and said that he was pretty sure the cancer was all gone now. They'll be doing a PET scan in about two months or so to check for sure. He also wants to see her again in a month.

I decided to apply a cunning strategy and scheduled it for 9:30 am, long after J.W. Hitler will have scuttled back under whatever damp rock he spends the rest of his day under. Of course, I am older and wiser than I was before that fateful November day when we first set foot in that miserable place so I am under no illusions that this appointment will be annoying little shirt-free. The Mordor-like Long Island Jewish Hospital has vast subhuman resources to bring to bear when it comes to slowing down the process of applying healthcare.

What I thought was, up until recently, a slight upside in the business - that Mrs Stevie was unable to speak and therefore unable to comment adversely upon your humble scribe - has in fact been turned into a new nightmare for me since she regained enough strength to retrieve a pen and a pad of paper.

I had naturally placed all such items well out of her reach in order to ensure a quiet convalescence, but in the last few days she regained enough strength to start walking about the place with a determined look on her face that spelled trouble for all in her path.

Now my once-peaceful after work session with Mr Telly is accompanied by the annoying sounds of mad scribblings, and key parts of the plots of the detective dramas I find so compelling are disrupted by the sudden appearance in my field of vision of sheets of paper, thrust into my face and shaken back and forth until I snatch them from her hand and read them. They generally contain philosophical works pondering the existence of fresh milk in the fridge and lengthy instructions regarding the care and feeding of the common or garden Stevieling, but occasionally wander into the familiar territory of genealogical speculations with respect to me, grievance lists and so forth, along with lengthy streams of crazed babble after she's had her pain meds.

Some idiot sent her one of those bells you see in 1930s movies about hotels, the sort you slap the button on the top to get a loud "Ding!" with. Now the house rings to the incessant and capricious dinging as the woman, stir-crazy from six weeks of hellish chemo and radiation-induce confinement, takes it out on everyone. I no sooner settle down at the computer than it's "dingdingdingscribblescribbledingscribbledingdingding" and I have to drop everything so that an urgent frozen sausage shortage outrage can be rectified or the Stevieling can be lectured-by-proxy on the need to properly coordinate the colors when she dresses. Telephone calls are especially tedious, what with one ear on the handset and the other filled with indignant dinging and rustling and attempting to read what is written while listening to whoever is on the line. If it is the Mrs Steviemom, who is partially deaf and has problems with her hearing aids, the whole thing descends into farce worthy of Fawlty Towers or Brian Rix.

The English language has no phrase that adequately expresses the degree to which I look forward to the return of Mrs Stevie's speech and the ending of the Time of Bells and Notes.

  1. Da da () da da-da da da () da da - where () is an unvoiced "da"
  2. My exact words were "what do you care, we have an appointment and the carpark opens at nine o' clock"
  3. That I would be pleased to resolve one-one-one with the aid of Mr Crowbar in a frank exchange of views. I'm old and slow but my residual anger would carry a lot of weight and I think I could take the twbleept in single combat