Convention Report – May & June

It’s solstice time! Well, just past, anyway. And time for a check-in on the three conventions I’ve attended so far this year.
The SFWA Nebula Awards Conference kicked off my season over May 18th – 21st. Pittsburgh hosted the event this year, and the location was by and large terrific. The event space itself was just the right size – not too crowded, but not so spread out that you couldn’t easily get to things or feel like you were missing out because things were happening elsewhere. The con suite was a bit tight, and there was an issue Saturday night with the post-award party – we were loud, and there were non-SFWA people on the floor, so the party had to relocate downstairs. But otherwise, the facility worked really well for the size of the event.
I got a lot out of the programming too, and so did Michelle, who came along with me. Mary Robinette Kowal and her programming team have worked very hard to make this a convention both for pros and “early career” writers, folks like myself or just a bit further down the path, i.e. those with a few sales under their belts. But the established folks were warm and welcoming to those of us working to break in, sharing their knowledge and experience through the formal sessions as well as in pick-up conversation throughout the weekend. My VP 20 pals Karen Osborne, Jo Miles, and Jennifer “Macey” Mace had similar experiences. All of us met a number of people at all levels of the field, and I think we all walked away with some new friends and contacts.
One of the highlights was meeting astronaut Dr. Kjell (pronounced “chell”) Lindgren, the toastmaster and a life-long fan of science fiction. Dr. Lindgren also very graciously took about 45 minutes on Saturday to chat with Karen and myself about medical issues in zero-gravity and vacuum, things very relevant to our works. Five-year-old John was bouncing up and down, but 52-year-old John managed to comport himself more-or-less like an adult during our conversation.
The following weekend brought Balticon 51, my local con. Now, despite being a lifelong fan of science fiction & fantasy, last year was the first time I’d attended Balticon for more than a single day. Balticon 50 in 2016 experienced a number of issues, organizationally and logistically, but those were mostly ironed out this year.
I split my time at Balticon between volunteering with the science track, attending panels, socializing, and being on panels myself. I wound up sitting on five panels: one on worldbuilding, two on cyber & hacking (one science track, one on hacking & cyber ops in genre), one on infodumps which I moderated, and one on “writing after the workshop”. I’m not sure I was at my best on the first panel, but found my groove after that, and one of the panelists on the infodump panel complimented my moderation.
Assisting the science track team turned out to be a great experience. Balticon has a very strong and varied science track, which isn’t surprising given the sheer number of research-related institutions in the region. My volunteer gig was running the camera while recording the sessions, which meant I got exposed to a lot of cool science – everything from the science of touch to dinobirds.
Balticon also featured a lot of hanging out with friends, both people I already knew and others I met at the convention.
My most recent con trip was the one I’d been most looking forward to: 4th Street Fantasy in Minneapolis. Where the Nebulas is a professional conference, and Balticon is very much an old-school SF/F con, 4th Street is something of it’s own beast. Programming is a single track of panels, ten in all over the weekend, and the topics are at a pretty high level, intellectually-speaking. But what I was most looking forward to was the opportunity to connect up with my Viable Paradise 20 tribe; fully fifteen out of the twenty-four of us attended.
Man, 4th Street was a blast. The Cheese Weasel Reunion was everything I’d hoped for, and I got to spend some time with a couple folks I didn’t get as much time with on the Island as I’d have liked. We got to have a little send off for our classmate Karen Osborne, who’s headed to the Clarion writing workshop later this week. And, of course, about half the VP instructors were there as well.
I was a little nervous going into Saturday as Scott Lynch, who runs the programming for 4th Street, had approached me a week before about being on a panel titled “Dreaming Under Darkening Skies: Writing and Living During the Cold War,”, and I’d accepted. Knowing I’d not only lived through the last half of the Cold War, but that I’d served in the US Army during the Reagan years, Scott thought I’d have an interesting perspective to offer. Fortunately, my co-panelists Elizabeth Bear, Beth Meacham, and Marissa Lingen were awesome and it was easy to fall into dialogue with them, despite it being the first panel of the morning. I quickly got over my jitters and folks seemed to really get something out it.
(Let me just say that I’d pay money to listen to Stella Evans, John Chu, Arkady Martine and Max Gladstone talk about whatever they wanted to for hours. Their Sunday panel on “idea commerce” was by itself worth the trip to Minneapolis.)
I got to meet still more awesome people at 4th Street, fans and writers alike, and am
already making plans to go back.
“But John,” some of you are likely saying, “Wasn’t there some sort of controversy at 4th Street?” Yes, there was, and I don’t mean to diminish the impact it had on good friends of mine. But that warrants its own post.
One convention left for the summer for me: ReaderCon in July. Meanwhile, back to that story about paragliding telepathic gene-tweaked smart dogs.
And one final note: I’m participating in the Clarion Workshop Write-a-Thon in honor of my friend Karen Osborne, who is attending this year. My goal is to write 25,000 words between June 25th and August 5th. You can sponsor me (either a one-time donation, or a per-word pledge) here.