7Pi-Con

22 08 2012

It was not my best con experience ever, mostly because it ended badly, with me waking up sick Sunday morning and essentially losing the last day of the con. I made it to my Sunday am panel, but by the end of it, I was a hurting unit and retreated to my room to hide in bed for three hours. I missed the Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading, which I had organized, but fortunately the Broads were able to carry on in my absence. I was sad I could not participate and take photos. Hence, all photos are from the first two days before ConCurse took me down.

It all began, as Pi-Cons do for me, with a road trip. This time I nudged the line traced by Google Maps until it settled on a westward course following Rt. 9 to Keene, then picking up Rt. 10 south, to hook up finally with US 91 and the plunge through Massachusetts into Connecticut. I’d gone this way before, and remembered the stone bridges in Stoddard and the giant crab engulfing the restaurant in Swanzey. I stopped as I had before at a lovely wooded brook by the road somewhere near Winchester, and took my time driving though Northfield, which is just about the most perfect example of a pleasant New England town center you could ask for. I am a strong advocate of choosing back roads when traveling unless time pressures force resorting to the highway. There is so much to see, admire, and discover that you never encounter shooting down the six-lane jockeying with other drivers in your climate-controlled, self-contained, metal pod.

Checking into the Holiday Inn in Enfield was a pleasure. Unlike some hotels, this one has always treated us very well, most memorably last year when, thanks to Irene, 6Pi-Con became Hurricon. I was staying in the Broad Universe Dealer’s Room – instead of a central area for vendors and hawkers, Pi-Con (like Arisia) designates a block of rooms adjacent to the panel rooms where folks with stuff to peddle can set up. The arrangement has distinct advantages, except that it makes for very cramped quarters. We were four to the room, which had two double beds, plus all the merchandise. This included boxes of BU members’ books, plus books from Annie’s Book Stop (65 James Street in Worcester, open 7 days, new and pre-read books, and an adorable selection of plush talking Daleks and Tardises) as well as assorted jewelry, artwork, hand-painted cards and journals, and creative magnets. And all the racks and shelves to display them on.

I must say it is an amazing thing to watch. I assisted in assembling a set of shelves, but otherwise, just stayed the hell out of the way as the Broads worked in remarkably choreographed efficiency setting up shop. By the time they were done, the hotel room had been rearranged into a showroom and party parlor with attractive displays and a check-out desk that took cash, checks and credit cards, sales tallied with a brilliantly simple and effective accounting system that kept track of all the different business entities represented in the room. The result was steady traffic and brisk sales. There was always at least two or three people and usually more hanging around the room, making it the social magnet of Dealer’s Row.

Jen Pelland minds the check-out desk in the Broad Universe Dealer’s Room

As great as my admiration is for their savvy in setting this up, it was not an ideal arrangement for me. I quickly got overwhelmed by the stress of constant conversation, the sort of thing most folks thrive on (certainly the Broads in the room did, bless ‘em!). I had no fewer than three panels Friday night, and desperately needed a place to decompress afterwards. Morven Westfield came to my rescue. She is another of the Broads, a tech geek who is also the author of a series of vampire novels with a Wiccan twist, also known for her articles in the Witches’ Almanac. She had booked a room one floor up for herself alone and thus had an extra bed. I was deeply grateful and ended up crashing with her. (It also just happened to be only a couple doors down from the Bar Fleet suite – more on that later.)

I hit the ground running with one of the first panels, at 6:00, with the Guest of Honor, Dr. Robert Price. I find it delightful that this serious Bible scholar and theology geek is also heavily into H.P. Lovecraft. Although I suppose, now that I think about it, it’s not so strange after all. Our panel was “Howard Philips Mainstream”, and how this obscure, Weird Tales author who died in poverty got to be such a major literary force. (My take on it is posted in a recent Live Journal entry.) Moderating the panel was James L. Cambias, who brought up the popularity of role-playing games like “The Call of Cthulhu” in geek culture, which helped keep the Mythos alive. The panel touched on many aspects of Lovecraft’s life and work, and how he also wrote fantasy in the tradition of Lord Dunsany, works like “The White Ship” that are virtually forgotten in a word squeeing after plush Chtulhus and Miskatonic University tee shirts. When it was observed that Lovecraft might have preferred to be remembered for his fantasy, rather than his pulp horror, Dr. Price recalled a quote from Lovecraft about how his works were perceived by the public: “There are my Poe pieces and my Dunsany pieces, but alas, where are my Lovecraft pieces?”

The irony was not lost when a member of the audience related the experience of having once picked up a volume in a bookstore entitled, Lovecraft, only to discover it was a marriage manual. Sonia Greene would likely not have been amused.

The Broad Universe panel was well-attended, and fellow Broads Trisha Wooldridge (BU Prez Chick and Empress of Dealer’s Row), Jennifer Allis Provost (more coffee please), Morven Westfield (my hero) and I shared a bit about what BU does for its members, while past Prez and Motherboard maven Phoebe Wray (of Jemma 7729 and  J2 fame) told the story of how the organization got started to raise the presence and impact of women writers of Speculative Fiction. We picked up quite a few new members at 7Pi-Con, which has been very good to BU.

Which leads me to the sad news that there isn’t going to be a Pi-Con next year. Due to an assortment of reasons, included pressures on the organizers from other commitments, they are taking a year off. That this year’s Pi-Con came off as the success it did is largely due to the Herculean efforts of Programming Head Kris “Nchanter” Snyder, who damn near drove herself crazy crafting the schedule. I know others on the staff like chair Tom Traina, Dan Noe, Mike Sprague, Jeff Warner, et a boatload al (it takes a village to raise a con) labored long and mightily as well, but Kris was the one I worked with the most and whose efforts were most evident to me. The chemistry of the panels was excellent (I was on eight of them, and others I spoke to said the same thing). Kris and her assistants managed to get a balance of personalities, genders, and expertise, avoid conflicts, and spread out the load in a way that made each panel a success for the panelists and the audience. Kris’s nickname is well-earned, because no mere mortal could have achieved such magic.

So, Pi-Con will be back in 2014, tanned, rested and ready. It wouldn’t have had anything to do with wanting to skip the number “13” for superstitious reasons, eh?

Back to the panels. I had the pleasure of “Dancing Around Time Travel” with fellow Broad Helen Collins (author of MutaGenesis and NeuroGenesis), SF comics artist and writer Mike Luoma, and Terry Franklin (who, by the way, made sure the Con Suite [May Contain Nuts] was kept supplied with pie and con fuel), as we debated whether the idea of reversing time’s arrow was pure fantasy given current Physics, and even it was, does it matter. And we got a good two thirds of the way through the panel before somebody mentioned Dr. Who.

Mike Luoma went elsewhere and Ari Alpert joined us to talk about “Science in Science Fiction”, which extended some of the points made in the SF panel about using good, solid science in science writing. Terry made the point that one of the original purposes of SF, especially that geared to younger readers, was to teach them about science. Concern was expressed that a general ignorance on the part of the public about science allows a high tolerance for utter nonsense (light sabers and elevators plunging through the center of the earth figured prominently). Of course, today’s nonsense is tomorrow’s breakthrough, and saying something is impossible is considered throwing down the gauntlet in some circles (who then proceed to demonstrate that, au contraire, it can be done).

Men in Black: L to R Ed Bishop, Mario De Giacomo, Martin Owens and Ari Alpert

I later had the pleasure of listening to Ari Alpert again with Mario Di Giacomo, British Open Source advocate Martin Owens, and Rutgers software engineer and researcher Ed Bishop, on the “Hackers: Heroes or Villains” panel. What largely emerged for an answer was, “It depends.” Theft is theft, and motive matters as to whether your hat is white or black. But there are gray areas, such illegal hacking around software that violates human rights, such as evading the censors in China, or finding ways to communicate with fellow revolutionaries during a crackdown in a repressive regime. There were some mutters in the audience regarding whether the United States should qualify for that latter category.

Elizabeth Bear, Trisha Wooldridge and Shira Lipkin taking control of the panel on Control of Women in SF

I moderated, served on, or merely attended and shot my mouth off (but in a good way, like George Claxton) panels on “Things Man is not Meant to Know”, “Building a Better God”, “Control of Women in SF”, “Who is Mother”, and “Less Human Than Human”. That last one was possibly the best, with a great audience in a packed room including George Claxton and Ed Bishop. I shared the table with Jen Pelland (don’t bring your kids to her readings), Jeff Warner (never seen without clipboard), and Shira Lipkin (Guest of Awesome, who still managed to shine in spite of it being her fifth panel of the day). Questions and comments from the audience came fast and sharp, as we teased apart the difference between a “person” and a true “human”, an android possibly qualifying for the former but not the latter, and what we mean by “losing one’s humanity” or “dehumanized” as well as at what point does surgery and biohacking cross the line.

Shamelessly going where the tactful dare not tread….

After that was Bar Fleet, and past readers of my convention summaries know my fondness for the crew of the U.B.S. Shameless, and her captain, Rhandom Bhagczech. After the travesty at Arisia where their mission got aborted, and the previous Pi-Con, marred by ion storms (well, a hurricane) and the disastrous accidental jettison of precious rocket fuel, the crew were due for a change of luck. And indeed, it was a most successful mission. Two new members were added to the crew: a long-time Bar Ship passenger [hint: he uses his powers for good and not evil] signed up, and their DJ par excellence, who conjured tunes last year for them as well (“No Dubstep, no Ga-Ga, no bullshit”) was elevated to the rank of Lt. Commander and made Communications Officer. At midnight there was the usual raffle for charity, and to my delight, I won the official U.B.S. Shameless Coffee Mug (and a handsome mug it is). For the record, the cups this time around were yellow, and the horta had a distinctly anise character to it.

Now, after last year’s debacle (never mind) I was determined to pace myself at Bar Fleet, and did a fine job of it. I drank lots of water and ginger ale in between, and by last call, I was in good shape. I even took a nice walk in the night air to clear my head before bed. So I was righteously outraged when I awoke with all the symptoms of a hangover: headache, dizziness, and nausea. I dutifully got up and took a shower and downed some aspirin, but the symptoms didn’t ease. By the time my first panel came around, I had become quite familiar with the location of all bathrooms in the vicinity. I made it through “Who is Mother” but only just barely, and crawled back to the Dealer’s Room to die on the bed. This was no hangover.

I want to thank all the folks who looked after me in my time of wretchedness, including but not limited to Jeff Warner, who pressed free samples of Imodium on me, without which my 3+ hour drive home would have been much more problematic; Vikki Ciaffone, who tracked down Saltine crackers from the ConSuite; Ari Alpert, who fetched delicious Greek yogurt for me, the first food I was able to get down when I rose from the dead; Tricia Wooldridge and Jennifer Allis Provost, who clucked and fussed and made me tea. And thanks to Cat, Shira, Judah, Suzanne, Beck, and all the others who sympathized, wished me well, and offered their advice about ginger ale and rehydration. If I’ve missed anyone, it’s probably because I was too busy calculating the ratio of the distance to the nearest toilet with the amount of energy required to reach it, and your well-wishes didn’t lodge in my misery-addled brain.

Final tidbits, supplied by the con newsletter, Slice of Pi : an alligator attack disrupted the traditional Panel in the Pool on Saturday. Reports are that there were no survivors. Sunday’s “Pi Crumbs” added that the alligator in the pool, A. “Crikey” Prigot, denied the allegation that he’s full of hot air.

[If you or someone you know would like to help keep this excellent con going, they could really use some more volunteers. It’s a friendly group of outstanding geeks and nerds who are nevertheless very tolerant of merely normal people. Feel welcome, join the community, take pride in helping to create an awesome event. Make Contact!]

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7 responses

22 08 2012
Jennifer Pelland

Don’t worry — I won’t do a reading if there are kids present. I actually had to kick a father and child out of the room at Boskone. Thankfully, they were only there to play a game on the table until I started.

24 08 2012
CPT Rhandom Bhagczech

Hi Justine! Always glad you have a good time when you join us and I always look forward to reading the blog! So sorry to hear that the morning after Horta landmine caught you. My only request is that when you reference people at our parties you don’t use their real names for much the same reason we don’t allow pictures. Some of us have jobs that frown on such things. Hope you enjoy the mug! Preview… at Arisia I think I’ll throw in a UBS Shameless beer stein. There are rumors we may even have a spare Barfleet 25th Anniversary coin that would be a perfect raffle prize for the UBS Shameless’s 5th anniversary….

25 08 2012
justinegraykin

How stupid of me! My humblest apologies. I have removed the names and will be more discreet in the future. Many folks enjoy having me mention them in my write-ups and appreciate the acknowledgment, but your point is excellent. What happens in the holodeck must stay in the holodeck. Looking forward to seeing you at Arisia!

25 08 2012
CPT Rhandom Bhagczech

No problem. I was going to bed and realized that if you knew their names you had probably gotten permission. However, I have no one by that name on my ship, I have an Ivan A. Brewski as my CCO, though 😉

31 08 2012
PubbyPab

This is great! Very well written, as always. The journalist in you is alive and well.

Sorry to hear you became ill, especially after you planned your Bar Fleet adventures so well. The gods of illness are sometimes so capricious …

You are well right about traveling the back roads; New England’s scenery is one of its greatest treasures. The lovely photograph of the wooded brook makes me wish I was there right now.

I can really relate to the overwhelming stress of constant conversation. Peace and quiet is often underrated.

One of the things that comes through strongest in your piece is your love of the people at these events. You take care to mention them individually and point out an attribute or two. I think that’s the strongest part of your post; I was actually quite touched. (Although I guess some folks didn’t want their names brought up!)

“Squeeing” is wonderful. I’ll have to use that.

Keep up the good work!

31 08 2012
justinegraykin

Hey, thanks! I appreciate the feedback. I do love Pi-Con, and wish I could do more conventions. There’s a kind of culture and community connected with them that has its own wonderful energy. Maybe I can find somebody willing to pay me to do this gig. That would be ideal. If only, eh?

29 09 2012
PubbyPab

If I ever get rich, I’ll pay ya to write.

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