And now for something completely different: Arisia!
I’ll confess my energy level wasn’t high going into Arisia this year. The convention keeps getting bigger and crazier every year, and after the events of the last couple of months, I wasn’t sure I was equal to it. But I’d promised the boys they could go with me this year, and they had arranged a Brony Party, so there was no turning back.
Somebody at Programming had it in for me this year. My reading was at 7:00 on Friday. It’s a lousy time. Either folks haven’t arrived yet, or they are still checking in and getting their act together, probably grabbing a quick meal. Who goes to a reading? Thank goodness my dear friend Edgar was there, as well as the other author sharing the time slot, C.S.E. Cooney, and the friend she brought. We read to each other. Several other folks trailed in later, so it wasn’t a complete wash. But grumble. And low, deep, ominous grumble at being scheduled for an 8:30 panel on Sunday morning. Really, Programming? Really?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. After the initial debacle of the reading, I had a panel on world-building with soft sciences. That was splendid, with a packed room and lively discussion. It’s a drum I’ve beaten before: Without a deep understanding of culture and psychology, how people interact with each other and their environment, the characters in a story end up flat and monochromatic. The dynamics of evolving language and beliefs brings imagined civilizations to vivid life, beyond physics and technology. Making excellent points along with me were Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Alex Feinman, Vanessa Layne, moderator Kimberly Long-Ewing, and an audience which was intelligent and engaged.
Heinlein was cited as an example of hard sci fi that suffers from the lack of engagement with the full understanding of all sciences. I raised Robert Sawyer as my favorite example of an author who skillfully blends all aspects of world-building to create vivid characters and rich cultures.
It’s remarkable how quickly a schedule can fill up. I only had one panel on Saturday, a retrospective on Ray Bradbury with Walter Hunt, Susan Hanniford Crowley, and Sonya Taaffe. We shared our favorite stories, observing how Bradbury wasn’t so much a science fiction writer as a keen observer of human nature, especially the dark shades that lurk in October nights, and the unexpected joy in summer green. He could evoke the fears and aspirations we all share, male and female, although we agreed his female characters were generally weak caricatures. Women were a mystery to him; they played stock roles as wives, mothers, grandmothers, but never as real people. Only his men had depth, but oh the depths they had, and how well he wrote about it! We all recall particular lines or phrases that stay in memory. One member of the audience conjured one of the best endings ever written: “Then, some idiot turned on the lights.” With the wonder of Google, we tracked down the story, “October Game”, and all enjoyed a reminiscent shudder.
Arisia has an incredibly rich selection of panels on a wide selection of topics from literary to scientific to lifestyle and fandom (but not on Bronies; still annoyed about that). I squeezed in one on Promoting Your Book moderated by Elaine Isaak, with fellow Broads Gail Z. Martin and Kelly Hashway, also Susan Soares and Michael A. Ventrella. Michael’s series, Arch Enemies and his latest, The Axes of Evil (ha!) are published by Double Dragon, the same small press that is putting out my book, Archimedes Nesselrode. I was particularly interested in what he had to say, being in roughly the same situation. To that end, I shall also be consulting Michael’s blog which includes interviews and advice for aspiring authors.
Some excellent tips were shared by this experienced panel. Elaine does a regular presentation on the “Ten mistakes I made so you don’t have to.” Gail, whose professional marketing and business skills have served her well in promoting her own books, was holding a release party at Arisia for Ice Forged, her latest in a string of successful novels. And Kelly Hashway is one of Spencer Hill Press’s new stars.
Saturday evening is party time, and I had two on my schedule. The first was happening in my room; my boys were hosting a Brony Party (and if you need a crash course on bronies, click here). The party almost didn’t happen. Despite explicitly asking the hotel for a room on the party block when we booked, we were put into what we later learned was the quiet block. We went to the Arisia Innkeepers (“Our job is to put out fires, preferably before they happen”) and appealed for help. Gold star to Jason, who looked into the matter, questioned us closely about the nature of the party (no alcohol, done by 9:00, and we’re bronies, for goodness sake! You couldn’t ask for a nicer crowd!), and then gave us his blessing to go forth.
The room filled up quickly with folks come to share the muffins and cider and discuss all matters pony. If tee shirts and costumes are any indication (and this is not a surprise) there is a great deal a cross-over with Dr. Who fans and Trekkers. The ratio of male to female was closer than one might expect (there is some controversy over the term for a female brony; many of us politely reject the name “Pegasister”). We had brony music playing on one laptop and random episodes rolling on another. At one point Filthy Pierre, as is his custom, came to check out the party and was caught by the show. He stood there, somewhat bemused, for several minutes watching Twilight Sparkle and Pinkie Pie.
Favorite video mash-ups and remixes were shared, and then it was lights out as the packed room settled in to watch that day’s new episode. To our delight, it included a return of the character Discord, who is played exquisitely by John De Lancie a la Q. One of bronidom’s most famous and enthusiastic advocates, De Lancie is the force behind the documentary, Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony which has just been released. It was going to be a fairly modest project, but the Kickstarter campaign that funded it went way over its target, and the tale grew in the telling.
The party was still going strong when I left (with folks in the rooms on either side of us assuring us that we were no problem and to have fun as late as we liked). These folks were great guests, bringing food of their own and even offering to help clean up afterwards. But the UBS Shameless was in port. I had a date with Barfleet.
The UBS Shameless chapter of Barfleet (the Pride of the NorthEast Sector) has suffered some terrible setbacks over the last few years, with disasters ranging from getting shut down because of a hotel screw-up at the previous Arisia, to the loss of their engineer (rumor has it he went on vacation to Risa and never came back). This party made up for it. The raffle was an amazing success, with heated bidding for the Game of Thrones game, the wine, the Twinkies (real honest Hostess Twinkies, provided by Noodles, $25 online) and the usual assortment of naughty toys. They feared a poor turnout because of the threat of flu (Noodles didn’t come because of it) but their fears were for naught. The place was packed (Noodles would be pissed he missed it) and there was nary a case of flu reported at the convention.
This positive health report is likely due at least in part to the efforts of 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 Shameless’s raffle proceeds. They did very well.
Victims of their own success, as midnight approached there was no way to get all the folks who had bought tickets back into the room. But Capt. Bhagczech isn’t captain for nothing. Ever resourceful, he organized a relay to communicate the winning numbers out into the hallway where overflow ticket-holders waited. The prizes were claimed down to the last leather cuffs and spiked collar.
The music was awesome as usual. A member of the crew kept the beat going until the real DJ arrived (No Gaga, no dubstep, no bullshit, AND no Gangham). I brought a few balloons with me from the Brony party, which were happily bounced around the room until they popped. The crewman operating the sound equipment grabbed a couple and stuffed them in the front of his bathrobe for interesting effect. The horta did not let me down, gaggingly awful, with hints of mint, caraway, and residue of golf course. I expect on their next port of call, the horta will be about the same, since there was very little to add to it. The party drank the bar dry.
After the drawing there was a brief speech from the folks from Nauticon dressed in island gear, who were throwing a party upstairs and invited everyone up to get lei-ed (*snort*, get it?). The Provincetown Mass. convention is gearing up for September, and rumor has it that Barfleet will be there. Normally, the Shameless would be docking with Pi-Con, but that sweet little con is taking a hiatus. More on that later.
I was ready to head back to the room and catch some sleep. I had that dratted 8:30 am panel, which had kept me from doing much more than sampling the horta. But the Captain told me to stick around. And you can’t disobey captain’s orders. Turns out they wanted to honor me and Shira Lipkin for our efforts to spread the word about Barfleet and the Shameless parties. So my little old blog won me a priceless commemorative coin, one of only two remaining (Shira got the other) celebrating 25 years of Barfleet. I was deeply touched.
The aforementioned 8:30 panel, appropriate for a Sunday morning, was on Faith and Science. I shared the table with Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert, Reese Jordan, and Catherine Kane. It was a splendid assortment, including a Christian, a Pagan, an atheist and an agnostic. We all had at least a smattering of science, with Reese being the geekiest. Things got somewhat heated at times, with a debate on the scientific validity of claims about the efficacy of prayer. As moderator, I kept the peace. Both panel and audience got a bit prickly, but an atmosphere of respectful tolerance prevailed. Suzanne explained beautifully how she reconciles a scientific mind with a belief in magic; briefly, ritual helps to create subtle changes in attitude.
The Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading later that morning was well-attended and included its own raffle. Among the prizes were some lovely, hand decorated bookmarks. Inanna Arthen and I recorded the readings for the BroadPod, our monthly podcast of members’ work. Next one should be up February 10th. So if you missed the Broads in person, you can still catch them online.
That afternoon I caught up with Pi-Con organizers. Chaircreature Jeff Warner, hair still damp from his Panel in the Pool (topic: “FISH…IN…SPACE!”), headed up this meeting of stalwarts in an attempt to head off burn-out and breathe new vitality (not to mention new blood) into the con. They are actively looking for help (experience organizing cons is preferred, but they will train) and toying with the idea of making Pi-Con an indie-oriented convention, highlighting indie authors, publishers, gamers, filmmakers, and other new and independent voices. If you are interested, get in touch.
There was more, much more (like, check out the gallery below) but this is enough. Let me conclude with high praise for the volunteer staff in the Green Room and in the Con Suite, who kept hoards of hungry geeks well-fed (even if they did run out of Earl Gray tea after the first day). These people did a fantastic job. The art show was among the best I’ve seen at a con, with an excellent reception Friday evening. However, the layout of the Dealer’s area left a great deal to be desired, with some booths (including Broad Universe) nearly invisible down at the end of cul-de-sacs. The Masquerade was held on Sunday instead of the traditional Saturday, which worked well, and had some superb entries, including a moon jelly which was breath-takingly beautiful. Costumes overall were outstanding this year, as you can see from the samples I’ve included here. Not surprising was the emphasis on Dr. Who, given the current 50th anniversary celebration. As good as more recent Doctors have been (*cough*David Tennant*cough*) there were an awful lot of Tom Baker era hats and scarves.
Thanks to Trisha Wooldridge, Kimberly Long-Ewing, Elaine Isaak, Roxanne Bland, and all the other Broads who helped make this con a great one for me. I didn’t get to see enough of you. Never do.
And special mention to Vikki, Scott, and Bunny Heaven.