Six writers found themselves trapped in a giant SUV for six hours on their way from Manhattan, New York to Burlington, Massachusetts for Readercon 17. Chaos, love, and happiness ensued. There were panels, there were panelists, there were books, and there was (of course) mafia. This motley cast of characters included Mercurio D. Rivera, Paul M. Berger, Lauren McLaughlin, Devin J. Poore, Fred Cataldo, and myself, Matthew Kressel. Arriving at the Marriott hotel at about 2pm, we sat in on our first panel a 3pm, “Short Fiction Markets You Should Know,” hosted by Jennifer Pelland. Jennifer listed some of the lesser known markets as we all warmed up to the wonderful atmosphere that is a con. Readercon did not disappoint.
After the panel we trotted over to the dealer’s room where I met JoSelle Vanderhooft in person for the first time. (Her poem, The Tale of the Desert in the Rain was in Sybil’s Garage No. 3). At the Star*Line table she gave me two excellent issues of SF poetry, and there I bought her novella, The Tale of the Miller’s Daughter, which she autographed for me. At that time I dropped several copies of Sybil’s Garage off with Gavin Grant, host of the Small Beer Press table. Gavin had a staff of young, eager-faced interns working the table, and for good reason. Their table was one of the busiest, and thanks to them we sold about twenty copies of Sybil’s Garage over the weekend. Plus, who can resist the free candy and “Got Zine?” pins they were offering? (Not to mention the fabulous Icelandic licorice which I will elaborate on later.)
At 5pm Fred and I visited the “Fantasy, Neuroscience, and the Semantic Apocalypse” panel hosted by R. Scott Bakker. From what I understood of Bakker’s thesis, scientism is the best authority we have on the world today because it is the most consensual. What I did not understand (and perhaps many of the audience members did not either) is why this was a bad thing. The quote of the evening (voiced by an audience member in front of us): “We’ve got about eight minutes left and I still don’t know what the Semantic Apocalypse is.” After the panel ended, I still wasn’t sure.
After that we mingled in the hotel restaurant, dealer room, and hallways with such people as John Adams, editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Stephen Segal, who is the new general manager and creative director of Wildside Press’ magazine division, among many others. Alcohol was soon consumed as we anticipated the “Meet the Pro(se)” party, where each Con participant handed out quotations from their works. My quote, from my just completed novel, was “I don’t care what universe you’re from, it’s not polite to ask a woman her age!” It seemed to please. Later, though, Lauren McLaughlin felt that no such proscription existed for her. I still do not feel it appropriate, however, to ask her age.
I had some very nice conversations with a few first-time Con attendees, and I watched Paul Berger and Mercurio Rivera chat up a pleasantly surprised Will McIntosh whose story, “The Soft Apocalypse” from Interzone they had both read and enjoyed. I spoke with William Shunn, who wrote an oft-read essay for Sybil’s Garage No. 2, and whose excellent novella Inclination I happily discovered is being expanded into a novel. I also got to hear an impromptu rap by Doug Cohen of Realms of Fantasy. (I highly recommend it if you are afforded the opportunity.) Although we repeatedly tried to get Gavin Grant and Kelly Link to form a mafia quorum, it never gelled, and we went to bed with our hackles down and our egos intact, sans-mafia. (The following night, however, we grew wise and did not wait for our former mafia Dons to start the mind-altering game.)
Saturday began with an interesting panel called “From Within Us It Devours,” about the nature of horror stories. Jeffrey Ford and China MiÃ©ville were among the panelists and there I first heard China speak. (His eloquence and erudition quickly became renown at the Con.) Though I wanted to stay, I had to leave ten minutes early to prepare for my Small Press panel at 11am.
Four of the editors of Sybil’s Garage, Devin J. Poore, Mercurio D. Rivera, Lauren McLaughlin, and Paul Berger joined me in front of a packed room as I discussed the merits of sending to small press markets in the panel entitled “Small Press for Writers and Would-Be Publishers.” I also detailed the necessary steps needed to start your own small press magazine. We received some excellent audience commentary by Stephen Segal and Mary Kowal, both editors/publishers themselves. The panel was very well received and highly-regarded, which gave me a fuzzy feeling afterward and gives me incentive to do it again.
Afterwards I spoke with Mary Kowal and we exchanged magazines. She edits for Shimmer, and is also a successful writer herself. (She and Paul Berger have a story in David Moles’ Twenty Epics.) She billed herself as the “Icelandic Puppeteer” and gave away strips of fantastically delicious Icelandic licorice. Icelandic licorice is slightly better than crack and tastes nothing at all like our American Red No. 5 ersatz candy. Think anisette poured over a blackberry fruit rollup.
At 1pm Fred and I sat in a panel discussing the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, the posthumous guest of honor at Readercon. I’m a huge Borges fan and was particularly interested in the “Borgesian” statements such as “Borges’ influence on Shakespeare.” And, as happened to a lot of writers at the con, I got an idea for a short story while listening to a panel. We breathed in creativity from the recirculated air.
I spent the rest of the day mingling with various folk about the Con. I met Hannah Bowen who has a story in the latest Fantasy and Helen Pilinovsky who, much to my interest, crafted her own silver jewelry. Several of us even got to relax poolside and recover from the intense atmosphere of the Con, and there Paul Berger skulked off to the side to practice for his evening reading from Twenty Epics.
We joined John Scalzi for dinner, and at the table I met Dave Edelman whose first novel Infoquake has just been released by Pyr Books. The plot? Dune meets the Wall Street Journal, or a startup dot com some four hundred years from now. I was sold on the pitch, and I had him sign a copy for me.
The highlight of the evening was the Twenty Epics reading. It wasn’t on the schedule, but Paul Berger diligently spent a busy twenty-four hours tracking down Eric Van (who, on Friday, had sliced his finger open and had to go to the hospital) in order to organize the reading. Six of the twenty authors attended, reading from their respective stories. Alan DeNiro heroically attempted and succeeded to read excerpts of all the absent authors’ works, going so far as to take on their characters’ voices. We marveled. Yoon Ha Lee, a Sybil’s Garage No. 3 contributor, read her piece “Hopscotch”, and I was absolutely astounded by her beautiful prose, even if I admit I didn’t understand her story completely. I will most definitely be buying this book and reading it cover to cover.
And what would a weekend at Readercon be without a game of mafia? I am a terrible liar, but by the executive skill of my other mafia members we managed to win the first game by killing off the unsuspecting innocents. Mercurio didn’t fall for my wavering deception and spotted me instantly, but he was killed soon after. A spectator after the show told me I had him so deceived he would have cast me in his movie. In another game and in another room Lauren McLaughlin exclaimed “You bitch!” when pinned as a mafia by the constable. In defense, it was Lauren’s first game ever played, but it was difficult for her to keep up the ruse after that. I moderated the last game of the evening, a long and grueling duel of deception that winnowed down to three people from an initial seventeen. The villagers, however, won this one in the end.
And, much to my chagrin I discovered that I had missed a fascinating conversation on who was eminently f*ckable and un-f*ckable at the con. Anyone care to elaborate?
Sunday I joined Ellen Kushner and other panelists for a discussion of the Interstitial Arts Foundation. Among other interesting art projects, such as books made of leaves and puppets performing Shakespeare, we learned that people can be interstitial too. I saw China MiÃ©ville again in a panel titled “Social Class and Speculative Fiction,” a fascinating discussion where China again floored us with his eloquence and where we learned from James McDonald that SF which ignores social class isn’t utopian but “fucking oblivious.”
All in all we sold about twenty copies of Sybil’s Garage over the weekend, had a brilliant time schmoozing and boozing, and went home with sated smiles. But a trip to Readercon wouldn’t be complete without a homeward stop at “The Traveler” restaurant on I-84, a quaint little place where each patron gets to take home three free books. Our bellies full, we smiled unapologetically.
Readercon is perhaps one of the best and most intelligent Cons I have been to, and I just want to thank Eric Van for putting the whole amazing thing together.
Also, if you would like to see more pictures from the con, please check out my Yahoo photo album here.