Dragon Con Virtual is underway this weekend! As a scheduled program participant for the torpedoed-by-pandemic real-life con, I was asked to shoot a two-minute video greeting about why I love science fiction and Dragon Con. It’s probably up on their site somewhere, but blast if I know where, so I’m posting it here.
In the course of shooting the video, an imp appeared in the corner of my screen during one take. Where’d she come from?? It wasn’t my best take, but the imp was too charming not to keep. So here’s the Outtake—with Imp:
I’m typing this on an Amtrak train jittering its way northward from Atlanta (we’ve just passed Philadelphia). What happened to the nice, smooth track we were running over a while ago? Oh well, I should be home in not too many hours—although the vibrations might take a while to settle down. I decided to take Amtrak’s Crescent train home for decompression, a change of pace, and because I like trains. Also, I’m sick of airports. Like Dragon Con itself, this choice is a mixed bag. It’s an overnight train to New York, and I haven’t gotten much sleep, despite the generous legroom and seating space in coach. But the staff is friendly, the Café car sells a very nice IPA, and I’ve had interesting conversations with fellow passengers. Breakfast in the dining car is the kind of thing that makes train travel fun! (On the NYC-Boston train, the Café car barkeep tells me I should cherish that dining car on the Crescent, because Amtrak management is trying to get rid of them. Boo, management!)
Here’s the Crescent, the train that took me as far as New York. They’re changing from diesel locomotives to electric. I think this was in D.C.
But this is supposed to be about Dragon Con.
Dragon Con is basically a world’s fair for geeks. I think one’s first visit has to be regarded as a learning experience. (Assuming one returns for more.) I have, after the fact, learned about many things I could have, should have gone to. I have learned something of how one might make better use of the time, as an attending pro. (Starting with, start planning in October for the following Labor Day weekend. I have trouble planning next week!)
Some closing observations:
It’s a very friendly community!
It needs more places to sit. I tired of choosing between sitting on the floor or standing, while biding time between events.
It has more than enough bars. Every hotel has multiple mini-bars set up all over the place. If you have to ask where one can get a drink in this place, you aren’t looking very hard.
Lots of great programming! But prepare for lines. Long lines.
Don’t expect to just run into your friends. With 85,000 or more people here, you probably won’t. You’ll learn afterward that they were there.
There are many celebrities in attendance! If you hope to see one, see previous item about lines. I coulda’ seen David Tennant!
It’s great fun, interleaved with sensory overload.
If you take the train home, many of your fellow passengers will also be from Dragon Con.
If you have time to kill before your train/place, go to the Atlanta Botanical Garden! It’s wonderful!
Don’t make any life-changing decisions in the first couple of days after. Get some sleep instead.
Here are some highlights from the Botanical Garden:
And now… back home at the Star Rigger Ranch, and quiet….
Today’s the panel on Dragons of Science, Dragons of Fantasy. I arrive early and sit, worrying about something else. What am I going to do with my heavy suitcases tomorrow, after I’ve checked out of the apartment but hours before my train leaves Atlanta? The hotel won’t check them, and I’m sure not going to drag them around all day. (Eventually I learn that they’ll check them for me at the train station.) That worry is supplanted by even greater concern about the approaching Hurricane Dorian. I don’t think it will affect my escape by rail, but who knows? This is a hurricane, and they don’t give much quarter.
Someone stops and asks me if I am cosplaying that guy from Jurassic Park.
The Dragons panel is loads of fun, with good people, ably moderated by Jody Lyn Nye. A big audience, and also an audience with lots of good questions for us. Afterward, a fellow comes up and tells me it was the best panel he’s seen at the con; and if that sort of compliment doesn’t warm your heart, what will? Trouper/Cousin Kitty shares some pictures:
L-R, Jody Lynn Nye, Mark H. Wandry, Robert E. Hampson, Jeffrey A. Carver, Patricia Briggs, Steve Saffel…
Here’s me impersonating someone who knows what he’s talking about…
I unwind by walking through the art show. It feels very different from the art shows at the smaller SF/F cons. The work here is 99% fantasy, almost no science fiction, and half of that is dragons in one form or another. Some of it is excellent! But it starts to feel like much of one theme after a while. At the smaller cons, art shows tend to be gallery-style, sometimes with the artists present and sometimes not. Here, it’s much more of a dealer format, with each artist displaying and selling at a table. The artists probably make more money this way, and I enjoy several conversations with them. Still, I miss the more contemplative experience of art hanging for viewing pleasure, and less blatantly for sale.
There seems to be very little overlap between the artists I find here and those who show at the SF/F cons (where a lot of the work tends to be actual book cover paintings).
After saying good-bye to Kitty, I head out to go “home” and try to do some writing. A nice lady stops me and asks if she can take my picture. Sure, I say; but why? “Because you’re cosplaying Dr. Hammond from Jurassic Park, of course!”
If you like rubbing shoulders with 85,000 of your closest friends, then Dragon Con is the place for you! That’s the estimate of the number of attendees, all engaged in Brownian motion in the multi-hotel complex. They are all remarkably polite and well behaved. At least half are in costume, many of them very good costumes. Stormtroopers, wizards, orcs, Princess Leias, mermaids, warriors male and female, Star Trek officers (mostly from Next Gen and Discovery, though I did see a remarkable Scotty, dressed in the uniform of the Star Trek movies).
This place is a madhouse! Total sensory overload. On day three, my first order of business is to get into the vendors’ area, because I want to talk to the head of a big bookselling operation called Bard’s Tower, apparently the only sizable bookseller here. One little problem: The line to get into the building goes downhill for a couple of blocks, and then wraps around the bottom block, and eventually reverses and comes back up. Mostly in the hot sun. If you’ve ever been to Cedar Point in Ohio, or I suppose any of the big theme parks, you know what I’m talking about. Eventually I make it in, and talk to a fellow whose handle is “Rabid Fanboy,” about perhaps joining his bookselling juggernaut the next time I come to one of these mega-conventions. If I come to another mega-convention. I amuse myself by snapping pictures of witty t-shirts, sharing them with the family on Whatsapp, and buying a couple to take home.
My cousin (and Starstream Trouper) Kitty is appearing on a panel on Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey, and I go to listen. It’s a good panel! It’s Kitty’s first time doing something like this at a big con, and she does a great job. Well done!
I move on to catch the shuttle bus to Dragon Con Night at the Georgia Aquarium, something I’ve been looking forward to. The very large tour bus is being driven by a little old lady. Well, why not? We lumber slowly through traffic (not just DC traffic, but big-football-game traffic). It’s only a handful of blocks away. We see the aquarium loom on the right. We see the aquarium go by on the right. Why are we not stopping? We see the aquarium disappear behind us. Why are we not stopping? No one knows. We drive, and drive, and turn right, turn right, turn right. We seem to be in orbit around our destination. Finally traffic grinds to a halt. We can all see on our phones that we’re only a few blocks away. Xena, Warrior Princess—striking in her microskirt, sword, and shield—rises snarling and strides to the front of the bus, gets off, and hoofs it. Most of the rest of us follow her bold lead. “I’m sorry, it’s the football traffic,” our beleaguered driver murmurs futilely as she loses her passengers. I thank her for her service.
The aquarium is great! (Except for the thousand-decibel DJ music booming for our special benefit.) There are many galleries, but my favorite is the big ocean tank with a cinemascope wall of glass behind which swim myriad fish, manta rays, turtles, and huge whale sharks. The music is less deafening here. I sit and enjoy. Here are a few snaps:
A place for love…
A place for wonder…
A big-ass grouper comes my way…
It feels like we have a connection. A long, special moment…
When cosplayers gather…
Finally it’s time to leave and I catch my umpteenth Lyft ride. The driver glances back and asks if I’m cosplaying Dr. Hammond from Jurassic Park. Er, no, I’m just me, I say. With my hat. Do I really look like that white-haired guy in the movie? “Oh, yes,” he says.
Today I’m moderating a panel on anthologies, but before that, I have lunch with longtime friend Robert J. Sawyer. We have a great talk, and he fills me in on some useful background about being a pro at Dragon Con. Also at the table among others is Larry Niven, though he’s too away for easy conversation. He looks over my new edition of The Reefs of Time. “Good title,” he remarks. Everyone immediately exclaims, “You just got a quote from Larry Niven! Use it on the book!” Larry smiles. So here it is, with a similar smile:
“Good title.” —Larry Niven
I do the panel on anthologies, and it’s pretty good, I think. Small but attentive audience. It makes me feel old, though. All the anthologies that really stand out in my mind as important markers in the field (Star Science Fiction, New Dimensions, Universe, Orbit, Dangerous Visions, etc.) are dimly remembered history to many folk. Oh well, I’ve learned something. Don’t stay mired in the past!
In the meantime, I’ve learned that there’s a Battlestar Galactica panel later in the day, and I get added to it. Unfortunately, there’s no moderator. I hesitantly take up the gavel, but I haven’t prepared to moderate, and I have to admit I wish it had gone better. Still, not bad, and I get this bottle cozy as a thank-you.
This evening is the event where I’m hoping to sell the books I lugged down here at some cost and considerable trouble: The Fantasy Gather. Lots of tables, authors, fans. I have some very nice conversations, and several people seem genuinely interested in picking up the ebook version. (I can’t blame them; I do the same thing in their place.) One gentleman buys a copy.
The payoff comes in networking: For starters, a long conversation with two lovely ladies who write paranormal fantasy, indie-publish it, and do very well. (Corinne O’Flynn and Lisa Manifold.) They know a ton about selling books. We have a great time talking, exchange contact info, and they put me in touch with the organizer of a pair of conventions in Colorado where the whole focus is on literacy and books, and they assure me people are hungry to buy books. Stay tuned on that one. I also chat with Chuck Gannon, and he gives me some more useful information about selling books at Dragon Con (if you prepare in advance).
Here are a few costumers I whipped out my camera for.
I arrive in Atlanta for Dragon Con after easy sailing in air transportation… and that should be my first clue that trouble lurks. I am greeted upon arrival by a text saying that my accommodations (an apartment rented on booking.com) have fallen through because of some problem with payment. Not to worry, though! The property owner has arranged for me to rent a different apartment (a much nicer one! in a better location!) for the same price, from a friend of hers. Er, okay. I guess. Except I have to cut through seventeen layers of red tape to get a refund on the one, and pay for the other on a different platform—all on my phone, while standing in the hot sun and waiting for a Lyft into the city. We eat problems for breakfast, though, and I do eventually get it straightened out (and it is a nice apartment!), but it takes most of the afternoon. By the time I get to the con, I am exhausted.
But then I get to meet long-time fan Chad and his wife from Illinois, and my second-cousin-somehow-removed, Kitty (whom I last saw at a family reunion about twenty years ago). Fun! They are lovely people and part of my street team, the unstoppable Starstream Troupers, and they are ready to get out there and spread my flyers and coasters. Yay! That gets me back on track.
I go to register. The line for registration seems very long—out of the hotel and down a hill and around a long block. (I learn better about lines on Day 3, but that’s getting ahead of my story.) The line moves fast, and if it weren’t for the guy ahead of me wearing a Speedo plus a few scraps—and this guy does not look good in a Speedo, not remotely, and it is an image I am trying to forget—it would seem even faster. (It’s possible I’m being overly generous when I describe it as a Speedo. It looks more like lady’s underwear.) There are many other costumes in evidence, though; better costumes.
The rest of that evening is spent in figuring out the lay of the land. This con is spread over something like five very large hotels, with complicated layouts. Eventually I go to catch a Lyft “home,” a fifteen-minute ride, without hiccups.
Did I say hiccups? The Lyft driver is new on the job. I’ve chosen a shared ride to save a few bucks, and he can’t figure out how to find the other passengers. He had enough trouble finding me. Round and round we drive, looking for his passengers. Finally he says, “You should get out and call Uber.” “Um, no. I only have Lyft, and I can’t cancel the ride in my app.” Repeat conversation. Finally he leaves the other passengers wondering, and takes me home. I hope his next day on the job is better.
No food or drink in the apartment, and the only place open is a gas-station convenience store. Fortunately they have beer, including a local IPA. A long time since beer tasted so good. Tomorrow’s another day. I hope.
Thursday I shove off for Atlanta and Dragon Con! This is my first time attending any of the huge media cons. Not entirely sure what I’ve let myself in for. I am given to understand that the SF literary tracks are well attended, but account for a mere sliver of the total programming.
Friday at 2:30, I’ll be moderating a panel on Anthologies and Why We Love Them.
Friday evening at 8:00, I’ll be joining throngs for the Fantasy Gather. I’ll have a table, where I’ll try to lighten my very heavy suitcase full of copies of Reefs.
Saturday evening I’ll join a different throng, for Dragon Con night at the Georgia Aquarium!
Sunday at 1 p.m., I’ll be participating on a panel called “Dragons of Science, Dragons of Fantasy.”
I’ll also be meeting up with two stalwart members of my street team, the Starstream Troupers! And with at least a few writer friends, I hope.
If you’re there, please say hi. You won’t find me listed in the program among participants, because I’m such a late entry. But I’ll be the guy wearing T-shirts like sandwich boards: one with Reefs on one side, and Crucible on the other. Or one with dragons all around. Dragon riggers!
This year’s World SF Convention is being held in San Jose, CA in a couple of weeks, and I’m sorry to say I will not be there. It’s an economic decision, not a political one. However, I was also part of the large number of people who got left off of programming this year. It’s a simple calculus: Can I afford to spend a couple of grand attending a convention that could otherwise be fun and interesting, but will net me no opportunity to build and connect with my audience? Not this year.
Side note: Having been to worldcons where I was turned away from programming, I can say that it’s a lousy feeling. In contrast, last year in Helsinki I got to do some great programming, and I came away feeling that I had contributed to the success of the con, and was appreciated, as well.
You may have read about the programming brouhaha this year, where many new writers and minority groups of various sorts felt overlooked by the program committee. I’m not close enough to the action to have any meaningful insight, except to say that, first, they are not the only ones to have felt overlooked. Second, I think any good programming effort has to find a way to make a place for both the young and the old, the bestselling and the newbie, the well-known and the little-known, all with the same degree of welcome. Many conventions do that successfully; I hope this year’s worldcon, with its hurried regrouping, manages as well. I’m sure it’s no easy task.
I’m not staying away in protest so much as disappointment. It just didn’t work out for me this year. Next year it’s in Dublin, and the year after in New Zealand! Here’s hoping!
I worried I was getting old when I turned 50 and started getting mail from AARP. And then, when I wasn’t looking, I suddenly became eligible for senior discounts. (No, that can’t be right. My parents were seniors, not me!) And now…
Readercon, once one of my favorite conventions, has decided that—well, let’s let them tell it in their own words: “You won’t be receiving an invitation to participate in programming for Readercon 29. We’re deeply grateful to you for your years of participation at Readercon… but…” But so long, and thanks for all the fish!
They go on to say that they’re making room for fresh, young writers—which, if I thought that were the real reason, would at least be understandable. The truth, of course, is that Readercon has always been welcoming to new writers. I was one myself once, and Readercon always gave me a place at the table, as they did others. In fact, one of the things I liked about it was the yeasty mix of writers of all kinds, all ages, genders, creeds, etc. It made for great conversations. I guess the newer team of organizers are aiming for a new shape for their demographics. Either that, or they think they’re comping too many memberships to program participants.
I’m not the only one to receive this letter, of course. A number of older, white male writers (including my friend Craig Shaw Gardner) have received the same email. I don’t know if any female writers have received it or not. I’d be interested in knowing. (Update: I’ve received a secondhand report that a woman-writer friend of mine, also in my age group, got a similar boot to the backside.)
Perhaps the icing on the cake was the offer to register ahead of time (for $5 off!) by using the coupon code PASTPRO. Ouch. Does that say what they really think? Or did they just not think what that said?
Boskone is taking place this weekend, down on Boston’s waterfront. I’ll be there all day Saturday, so if you’re attending, I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. Here’s what I’m doing:
11:00 a.m. – Autograph session, with several other writers
12:00 Noon – Kaffeeklatch, where I’ll just sit and jawbone with y’all who show up
2:00 p.m. – Panel “About Airships”
5:00 p.m. – Panel “Electronic Evolution: Is Skynet Here Yet?”
Aside from that, I’ll wandering the halls with everyone else, or perhaps engaging in secretive, high-level, possibly subversive, publishing talk. Come listen in! Oh wait—it’s secret. Or was, until I blew my cover.