It was a three to one vote that I should go to Wellington to talk about TOR.net and Lord of the Rings at the SF/Fantasy convention Cond’Or 2000. I was the dissenting vote. After all, it was not the other three who were going to have to stand up and talk about LOTR in front of a crowd likely to contain LOTR film crews.
There had been a number of responses from the film-makers to our posting of Gollum the week before; none of those responses could be called ‘delighted’ or anything on that end of the emotional spectrum. As I got on the plane to Wellington (insisting on an airticket was my last-ditch attempt to avoid making the trip at all) I bought the Wellington Evening Post in time to find that Gollum was headline news and I was quoted all over the article. So I felt like I was flying into a freshly-stirred hornet’s nest, just when I’d hoped Gollum’s image might have gone underground, propagated by samizdat for the die-hard fans only.
Another reason to avoid Cons in general is their opposition to fresh air. They’re always held in darkened hotel lobbies and rooms with no natural lighting. Arriving in Wellington during a really good storm made that seem like a very sane lifestyle choice after all. It’s astounding how quickly and thoroughly one becomes soaked in a southerly gale, even just running from car to door. I did a lot of that, brief dashes between car and probable locations for the FedEx parcel containing the slides I needed for my talk. And I got wet, which I resented. Though afterwards with my Wellington friends we recalled REAL storms in the 80s, when you could regularly sit on the wind gusts and they’d hold you up, and cars were washed out to sea.
The next day, still searching for the slides, I drove around the airport freight terminals some more. It gave me a chance to look around Lyall Bay, where they’ve been filming lately. In tents and warehouses, apparently. There was nothing left that I could see, and in any case it would have been impossible to take photos of anything through the solid walls of seaspray and horizontal rain.
I got the slides a few hours before my scheduled appearance (i.e. 2 days later than promised). Did I lose sleep over that? Anyone at the speech might have thought I seemed underprepared; in fact I was in such a fog of sleep-deprived stupidity that I nearly blacked out after it was over.
Other than that, it was an interesting experience. There were about 80 people in the audience; some of them weren’t up on the Net’s reportage of LOTR because they didn’t have computers; others of course knew more than me because they were involved in MAKING the movie. Well, you’d expect to see them at a Con anyway. Somebody later described the whole excercise as a rather interesting cat-and-mouse game between them and me at times. The folk from WETA sort of stiffened when some of our exclusive images came up on the screen.
It was a challenge pitching a talk at such a diverse audience of experts and novices. Since I was standing in the middle of everyone (operating the sort of crappy slide-projector that I thought I’d seen the last of when I left primary school) it was easy enough for people to ask me to explain stuff that wasn’t clear. So that was pretty friendly. Just as well. Through tiredness, common names kept escaping me, rather like those awful moments when you blank out during introductions at an important dinner party. “This is Eomer,” I’d say. And forget the name of the well-known actor playing him. Eeek. Somebody always shouted out though and saved the day.
In Q&A afterwards we could have gone in a number of directions, (like for instance discussing the changes PJ has made to the story) but the questions I got most were the ones that are most pressing for us at the moment: What are the ethics of Net journalism, how do we decide what to report, what motivates us, where do we get our information, and so on. This stuff is being considered by anyone with half a brain at the moment, because it is crucial to our understanding of how information is and will be spread around now and in the future. The way business, the commercial media, fans and the Internet interact is volatile and not well-predicted. The way a group of amateurs governs itself in something like TOR.net is experimental, as is the way it relates to the more well-understood heirarchies of business and power. Which in turn are balanced against the desires of fans worldwide. It’s fascinating and not particularly easy, and there really wasn’t time to do it justice as a topic.
After I’d finished speaking it was time for the Guest of Honour speech by Tad Williams, one of my favourite authors. (See my Note on Tad) He managed to avoid talking about his books for an entire hour by telling stories about his cats that had people almost crying with laughter. He is a superb storyteller and a natural comedian, and for me his speech was the high point of Cond’Or. I could go home happy after that.