It was a bit like a hyperspace luge. The Arisia SF/Fantasy convention in Boston sold a record 4000 badges. Four days of non-stop events, some of which weren’t even on the program. Just sitting in the lobby taking in the costumes is a show in itself. To paraphrase BarFleet, if you aren’t staff, you’re entertainment.
This is the thirty-three-ring circus they call a convention. Choose your own adventure. I took advantage of the opportunity to touch base with folks I never see at any other time. Of course it is a bit like passing someone on escalators going in opposite directions; you barely have time to shout “Hey! Great to see you!” before you each get whisked away. One or both of you are likely on your way to a panel, event, or meeting, running late. You promise to catch up later, and you never do. Like, for example, I realized as we were breaking down the table at the end of the con that I never had a chance to check out Stephen Wilk’s follow-up to his Grinch Beowulf. I still have the note he left at the Broad Universe table, but I can’t find the contact info. Stephen, if you read this, I am so sorry and sincerely hope you are planning on attending Boskone. At Boskone, a person can actually get some work done. Arisia is insanity.
I was mostly on science track panels this year, which suited me fine. I suspect that any person of the female persuasion who can talk intelligently on matters scientific is a precious commodity to con programming. They want gender balance whenever possible, and this can be tough. I have an omnivorous interest in most branches of science, which is necessary to effective world-building in SF. It sure doesn’t hurt when writing Fantasy, either, but that’s a different panel. In fact, it was a panel I attended called “The Ecology of Fantasy Worlds.” The description was sweet: “Magic is not a get-out-of-logic-free card.” I wish I could have recorded it for my husband to play to his students who think that writing Fantasy is easy because you can make everything up.
The Cosmos panel was a mix of science and society, contrasting Sagan’s version with DeGrasse Tyson’s reboot. It was moderated by Gordon Linzner, editor emeritus of Space and Time Magazine, whom I recall from my first Arisia five years ago. He, James D. Macdonald and I sat around in an empty solo reading room telling each other duck jokes while waiting for an audience that never showed up (we were on the 10th floor in the hotel with the wonky elevators). Science and society have gone through some pretty radical changes during the time between the first and second Cosmos dynasties, and we talked about the difference both in the style of the hosts and the issues they addressed in their approach to the show.
“For Science”, moderated by the Science Babe, was lively, if somewhat unfocused. We weren’t entirely clear on parameters of the topic, and let the discussion stray where it wanted to go, which seemed to suit everyone just fine. It was supposed to be about the risks taken and sacrifices made in the name of science (I came ready to talk about Wolf Vishniac) and Science Babe opened with sharing her own adventures testing pet meds on herself. But then we strayed into informed consent, risk aversion in society, and the complexity of issues such as antibiotic overuse and genetically modified organisms.
My third panel, “Where the Hell is Everyone”, in which we tossed around the so-called Fermi Paradox, was remarkably well-attended for a Monday morning. The panel dispensed with the topic in the first fifteen minutes, and so opened it up to the audience to keep the discussion going. Personally, I think the Fermi Paradox is bogus, and the Drake equation it is based on is full of values which have been pulled straight out of somebody’s assumptions, the biggest and most obvious being that intelligent life is going to manifest itself the same way on other worlds that it did among Homo Sapiens, that is, in the development of technology. But that’s a rant for a different blog.
Only three panels, and yet it seemed like I was forever running to get somewhere. Part of what ate up my time was BarFleet. I got recruited to be part of the crew this year. On the one hand, that gave me a splendid opportunity to see how putting together a con party works from the inside. On the other hand, I worked more and drank less than I might have liked. On the third hand, drinking less was probably good for me. I’ve always admired this outfit, but never appreciated how much goes into putting on a BarFleet event. I was briefed on all the safety precautions they take to make sure their guests are safe. Unattended drinks are dumped (never mind, just go get another one — it isn’t like you paid for it) to avoid the possibility of some nefarious nogoodnik dosing it. We are to keep an eye out for excessive inebriation, and if needed, will make sure the person gets to a safe place to sleep it off. We check in with anyone getting paid particular attention by another guest to make sure that attention is welcome. If not, we intervene. Politely, of course.
So it makes me more than a little frustrated that certain individuals in high places consider BarFleet to be trouble, and have targeted them to be shut down given any excuse. It has happened in years past, under circumstances that are suspect at best. This year, the crew were in charge not only of their own party, but of the Nauticon party as well. And they were short-handed due to illness and other factors. And the Captain wasn’t in perfect health, himself. Fortunately, they had a bunch of new recruits, myself included, but we were untrained cadets. So, two parties to put on with a bunch of bumbling newbs in a hotel that is out to get them.
Not only did they pull it off without getting shut down, but they broke even on expenses. Yes, that’s another thing. The UBS Shameless does not earn a pile of money doing this. The raffle is for charity (This year the proceeds went, once again, to Operation Hammond, “Nerds helping nerds in times of need,” certified EMTs that work the con seeing to the health and safety of the attendees, since last year’s shut down bolloxed the raffle.) and the donations and revenue from cup sales covers costs maybe. So it was with immense satisfaction at the end of the night to declare both parties a success which paid for itself.
After doing the Safety Dance sober at BarFleet, I had the pleasure of doing it in a more traditional frame of mind at Space Cadets (a.k.a. Tsiolkovsky’s Stepchildren). These guys prep all year and create a party atmosphere that you would not believe. This year’s theme was Dr. Who and they converted the hotel room into a TARDIS. The drinks were wickedly delicious, also Who themed. And although they don’t have a DJ on board, the music was respectable. Last year’s theme was DS9 and they recreated Quark’s Bar with the centerpiece of a Dabo table. This year’s TARDIS centerpiece was an impressive structure with interactive dials and switches. Absolutely delightful. And the theme brought out the inevitable Doctor variations. I wished I could have stayed longer, but I had to get back to the Broad Universe party.
The Broad Universe party was in my room, and went on as long as the food lasted. No alcohol, but this was where to go to eat. Salmon sandwiches, melon wrapped in prosciutto, that sort of thing. And great conversation. It was the one opportunity I had to actually talk to people. As much as I love to dance, having no music at a party can be a distinct advantage. The Pi-Con Pie party was like that. An excellent selection of pies, and interesting people. Pi-Con will be happening July 31 – August 2, and they have a new hotel, the Sheraton Hotel at Bradley Airport, Windsor Locks, CT. I haven’t seen the location yet, but it couldn’t be easier to get to. Inexpensive, too, at only $99 a night. I hear the hotel itself is a grand place to have a convention, lots of room, and Pi-Con is planning expanded programming to fill it. This is going to include a Writer’s Workshop on Friday. Check out their website for more details. If you are looking for a new convention to try out, this is it. Friendliest little con in the northeast. Like Arisia, only not as likely to cause brain damage.
As always I must tip my hat to the staff of the con suite and the Green Room, with special thanks to Tom Traina to whom I shall be eternally grateful for procuring coffee for me at a critical moment. Also, a special shout-out to the guy wrangling the the crowds of cranky, exhausted vendors all trying to get through the loading dock at the same time after the Dealers Room closed. This hero kept things moving smoothly with grace under pressure, in the face of rudeness and high stress, all without blowing his own cool (at least while I was there). Kudos.