Our Rod Duncan took a trip from his hometown in Leicester, UK, over the pond to Seattle for the Philip K. Dick Awards, which are held at the city’s famous Norwescon. Here’s his take on the experience:
Daleks and Dothraki – home from home in Seattle
The guy sitting opposite is chain reading manga, the couple in the seats behind are debating the evolution of Pokemon and someone has just asked for help stowing a four foot long wooden sword in the overhead rack of the train carriage. I’m thinking – Wow! All these people must be going to Norwescon just like me.
It turns out they’re not. Nor is the helpful woman in a kimono and orange wig who later gives me directions to the convention hotel. It might be there’s something else going on. Or it might be that, hey, Seattle’s just that kind of place.
Crucially for me, Seattle is the place where the Philip K. Dick Award has been handed out every year since it began in 1982. And this year – you could knock me down with a Brontitallian feather – my novel, The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, has somehow made it to the shortlist.
Philip K. Dick gave us stories now recognised as seminal. But at the time – printed in paperback books and pulp magazines – they received little attention from those ‘serious’ commentators, who only deigned to review hardcover tomes. Thus the award, established in his memory, fittingly celebrates science fiction published in paperback original.
Having stepped into the convention hotel, feeling distinctly nervous, I’m greeted by the familiar face of a fellow traveller. I may be eight time zones from home, but the being in front of me has come all the way from Skaro. At one time, a Dalek would have had me hiding behind the sofa but here I want to hug it. (It’s it been signed by Alex Kingston. Don’t judge me.)
As I’m grinning at it trundling around the lobby, the Khaleesi and Drogo stroll past. I notice a couple of steampunk explorers checking into the hotel and an Enterprise crewmember is weaving through the crowd carrying what seems to be a boxed tabletop game.
Perhaps I’m not so far from home after all.
Any Norwescon member reading this will guess what follows for me over the weekend – I’m made welcome, I meet like-minded people, make lots of new friends, we wallow in geekiness and an outpouring of creativity.
But in the midst of all that, I have the PKD ceremony to negotiate. It’s my opinion that the books on the shortlist all stand alongside each other in quality. But they set out to achieve different things. Some are considerably more audacious than The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter – which makes them better suited for this particular award.
The result of my analysis is this – I’m expecting to not win. And that’s a good headspace for me to occupy. I’ve been up for prizes before and ended up disappointed. Frankly, disappointment stinks. With this award, I’m concentrating on being happy to have been nominated. It’s a celebration, after all.
But then people start messaging me on Twitter and Facebook, saying ‘Good luck!’ and ‘I hope you win!’ And a little voice in my head starts to whisper, ‘Better write an acceptance speech just in case. You never know…’
That’s when the lovely people at Norwescon come to my rescue. They schedule a social for the shortlisted writers. Three hours in the hotel’s presidential suite with more olives and hummus than you can shake a breadstick at. Looking at the crammed program, I can’t fathom the reason for this. Three hours! Surely there are panel discussions we could be attending.
At this point, I should introduce you to my fellow shortlisted authors. Cherie Priest and Jonathan Strahan haven’t been able to attend. (I really wanted to meet Cherie, so I’m disappointed about that.) But we do have Jennifer Marie Brissett, author of Elysium, whose natural charm instantly puts me at ease. And Emmi Itäranta, who I learn wrote her novel Memory of Water simultaneously in Finnish and English. And Meg Elison, whose novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, is one of the scariest things I’ve ever read and did genuinely give me nightmares. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she says when I tell her. ‘No,’ I say. ‘I meant that in a good way.’
Three hours in such a packed schedule? I’m thinking we’ll spend a bit of time together, eat our way through some of the buffet then rush back out to do more frenetic conventioning. But after we’ve found the comfy chairs and started to talk about the experience of writing and how we admire each other’s work and what it feels like to be shortlisted and how nervous we all are… Well, they’re so lovely, these people, that I don’t want to be anywhere else.
Thank you Norwescon, for the way you scheduled. That was the very best thing. When we do finally head off to get ready for the ceremony, it is as friends not rivals. How could any of us be disappointed, whatever the result?
No room here to fully explore all the other stuff that happens over the weekend. Like the call I get from my wife back in England who asks me about a session she’s seen listed in the online programme: ‘How to get laid at convention.’ Or the hotel receptionist who double-takes when he sees my passport: ‘You really are British? I thought you were putting on the accent for the science fiction thing!’
Only space here to let you know that this year’s winner of the PKD Award is The Book of the Unnamed Midwife with Elysium receiving the special citation. Congratulations to Meg and Jennifer – worthy winners, both. And thanks to Norwescon for a fabulous experience.