First of all, Arisia is a huge convention. Not as big as DragonCon, I’ll grant you, but still enormous. And it takes a lot of work and planning to pull it together. This 25th Arisia sold out its memberships. The crowds were huge, and the staff did an amazing job of keeping everybody happy and safe. A big round of applause to Con Chair Lisa Hertel and the many score of volunteers who made it work. Special mention to the Chefs Behind the Green Curtain for the great job of catering to all us participants, providing a steady supply of tasty and nourishing fare, and most important, con fuel (a.k.a. coffee).
I went into this year’s Arisia with an odd sense of anxiety, a vague feeling of not being quite ready for it. Perhaps it was because I was lugging a box of books this time as well as a promotional game plan of sorts. This year, I was a Real Author (which is silly, since I’ve got a fat portfolio of published shorts and articles, but there’s something about that first novel). I also had a great deal more to coordinate this year. I needed to pick up supplies for the Broad Universe party on my way to finding the home of the folks I was riding into Boston with, then touching base not only with Trisha Wooldridge, the Broad Universe Prez Chick, about the party and setting up the BU table in the Dealer’s Room, but also touching base with my Pi-Con connection about posters to put up for 8Pi (a.k.a. “OctoPi”) which is happening in June. Plus all the usual confusion of checking in, complicated when the hotel mixed up which room I was supposed to be in.
I’m happy to say that all went splendidly. The room situation was smoothed out, I did not forget anything, I met all my contacts and got posters up (for the BU party, the Rapid Fire Reading, and OctoPi) and best of all, book sales were brisk, thanks at least in part to Winged Snake.
First, a word on parties which, along with the bar, is where a great deal of the business of a convention actually takes place. The panels are inspiring and informative, and I enjoy being on either side of the table. The masquerade, music, gaming, artwork, and all the fun stuff are an indispensable part of the convention. But for me at least the biggest piece of the convention experience is the social one. I think I can safely say that this is true for a great many other people, which is why there are so many parties.
Every night of Arisia there are at least five major parties going on, some open and some private, and dozens of smaller and informal ones. The open parties are alcohol-free, but usually offer good food (or in the case of the Broad Universe and Spencer Hill Press parties, awesome food). There were at least two chocolate fountains, and the OctoPi party had, of course, pie. These provide an excellent chance to sit and talk nerdy to one other. Private or closed parties serve alcohol and are ostensibly by invitation only. But it is pretty easy to get an invitation if you know somebody, or even just know which room to go to. Usually these parties are an excuse to promote an organization, such as a publishing house or another convention. Maltcon is dedicated to the fine art of sipping excellent Scotch. Then there are the parties dedicated to the fine art of throwing an excellent party.
One of the masters of this art is Barfleet. Not only do they have great music, a marvelous crew and culture, and the horta (well…) but they also do a raffle for charity, in this case, Operation Hammond, “Nerds helping nerds in times of need.” They’re certified EMTs at work at the con, seeing to the health and safety of the attendees. And they were the recipients of the charitable share of UBS Shameless’s raffle proceeds. Or they would have been, if Barfleet hadn’t been shut down. Again.
The UBS Shameless chapter of Barfleet (the Pride of the NorthEast Sector) has suffered some terrible setbacks, from loss of personnel (including two pregnancies, probably as a result of a port-of-call at Risa) and from getting raided by The Suits. This happened last year due to a hotel screw-up. This year the blame can be passed around a bit more freely, I’m sorry to say. I had a chance to get there, buy my cup (purple this year), sample the horta (less terrible than usual, an initial gag of fruity with a sort of cinnamon mint afterburn) and buy a streamer of raffle tickets for the Barfleet sweatshirt I lusted after. But before I had a chance to request the Safety Dance from the DJ, a murmur of panic began to sweep through the crowd. Then I saw The Suit, grey-haired and scowling, and we were told to drink up and get out.
I caught up with the DJ (“No Gangham, no Gaga, no Dubstep, no Bullshit”) who told me that some idiot had gone up to the hotel information desk and asked what the cover charge was for the Barfleet Party. That brought The Suit and his minions snuffling around the door. They discovered a crewman with a fistful of dollars outside in the hall (where they were selling the cups) and that was the end of it. To their credit, the hotel did not confiscate the alcohol, which they could have, and only saw to it that it was removed from the premises.
Now, the hotel could have turned a blind eye to the minor violations, or chastened the crew and allowed them to go forth and not violate hotel protocols again. They chose to err on the side of covering their backsides and spoiling everyone’s fun. But on the other hand, the Shameless opened themselves up to attack by conducting business in the hallway. This they should not have done. The tragedy was compounded by the necessity of canceling the Nauticon promotion party, which was to be hosted by Barfleet, and which would no doubt have been a splendid affair. There was much cursing and mutinous muttering, and the sporting of sticky-notes on con badges saying, “I Support Barfleet!”
Which brings me to the Space Cadets. Now, back in 2010, I attended an Arisia party with a Star Trek theme at which I “drank too much Romulan Ale, and came home with a suitcase full of tribbles.” (From the post of that event). I still have two of the tribbles. And two years ago, I had the pleasure of being a somewhat long-in-the-tooth Dabo girl at a party hosted by Ferengi, whose invitations consisted of strips of gold-pressed latinum, which could be used for betting at the Dabo table in order to win some delightfully cheesy prizes (they got most of the latinum back — they were Ferengi, after all). (See my entry for Arisia 2012) This year I got the invite via a badge ribbon being handed out with the code phrase, “Be sure to bring your ID.” And so I found myself at the Andorian Mixer. And realized that all these parties had been thrown by the same outfit, the Space Cadets.
They didn’t have the awesome DJ, although the mix of music supplied by the computer playlist was not bad at all. And they didn’t have a raffle for charity, or the horta (just as well). But these guys do it right. The door dragons did the carding and banding, that’s all. No money changed hands. And inside, they were giving the cups away, although one could make a charitable contribution (they had cool glow-in-the-dark cups, however I chose one with the Space Cadet logo on it). Then they have the tip jar at the bar. So there is ample opportunity to show one’s support and encouragement without giving The Suit any chance to spoil the fun.
Oh, and one could vote with dollar bills for next year’s theme. Dr. Who won (no big surprise). I expect I will be there. I am feeling very favorably disposed towards the Space Cadets.
One last observation about parties: one need not get blotto in order to enjoy the atmosphere, music, and social scene, with its opportunity to meet and connect. Even if you are at the bar or a closed party, you don’t need to drink booze. Just boldly go and request a tasty alternative, something fruity, sourish, or tonic-based. Even just seltzer or dihydrogen monoxide, which honestly is quite harmless and even good for you. And if you do enjoy alcohol, know your limits. I do, because I’m ashamed to say I’ve all too often crossed them. Now, whether I am at Barfleet or Space Cadets, I know when it’s time to start refilling my cup with water, which they are very happy to supply.
Having gone on a bit about parties (at which I had some of the best conversations at the con — there and the Green Room) I should add a couple of highlights from the rest of the experience. Forgive me, I didn’t take as many photos (many thanks to Morven for her contribution) and notes as I usually do. Maybe that’s a good thing.
The Most Brilliantly Funny Reading award goes, hands down, to Stephen R. Wilk, with his Grinch version of Beowulf, which had everyone in the room laughing fit to wet themselves. And I had the pleasure of being on two panels with the delightful and multi-talented John Chu, including “Looking Forward to Last Thursday”, a panel on Time Travel stories held at the gawdawful hour of 10 am on Monday morning. I must commend my fellow panelists Ellen Larson, John McDaid and Heather Albano for managing to sound intelligent in spite of sleep-deprivation and all-around convention burn-out. John Chu moderated, and kept us relatively coherent and on topic. Bravo!
Kudos also to James Shapiro (J. S. Hailer) who moderated the “Constructing Languages” panel which packed the Independence Room probably beyond the legal limit, with folks sitting on tables and lining the walls. I felt hideously underqualified for the panel compared to Shapiro/Hailer’s laundry list of academic creds and ability to speak nine languages. With Rose Mambert, John Chu (again!), Greer Gilman, and an enthusiastic and well-informed audience, it was a great panel.
Most Fun Panel award goes to (brace yourselves) “My Little Pony: Arisia is Magic”. We had a big crowd for this one, too, with lots of lively and engaged discussion about the show, its broad appeal, the Brony phenomenon (with James “Coder Brony” Turner supplying statistics on the world-wide Brony population and its demographics), Equestria Girls, Derpy and Dr. Whooves, and many other aspects of the fandom. Thanks to Cassandra Lease and Nicole Robinson (and daughter) and especially to Yitzy Abramowitz for moderating and supplying the ponies (I forgot mine). Honorable mention for Most Fun Panel goes to the “Dr. Who Turns Fifty”. After much denigration of Stephen Moffat and current writing for the show, the panel put out a challenge to the audience to come up with their own pitches for plots. God, I hope someone was taking notes! The fans came up with some brilliant ideas.
With four days of adventures, there is of course lots more. But this will have to do. Shout-outs to Roxanne Bland and Trisha and Scott Wooldridge for supplying me with crash space, and to Margery Harrison and her nominally complex husband for getting me there and home. Also to the indefatigable Terri Bruce, Marie Romero and Kate Kaynak of Spencer Hill Press, Roberta Rogow the Filking Queen, Elaine Isaak (who crafted my lovely Winged Snake), the Darksome Morven Westfield, and all the other glamorous and formidable Broads of Broad Universe. See you at The Next Con.