Warning: Readercon May Be Habit-Forming

Altered Fluid getting wet
Alteredfluid: Just Add Water

Readercon was my first con I ever went to as a writer, and it’s still my favorite. I say that every year, and every year it gets more cemented in my mind. We were missing a few of our usual crew this year. Both Paul Berger and Rajan Khanna are on the West coast at opposing Clarions. (Is there a gladiator-like Clarion face-off?). And Eugene Myers was attending a friend’s birthday celebration. The entire event had a shimmer of surreality about it for me. I will try to summarize my experience here.

Six of us carpooled in a van from Midtown Manhattan. They were: Mercurio D. Rivera (driver), Devin Poore (navigator), K. Tempest Bradford (blogger*), Alaya Dawn Johnson (baker), Carol Burrell (of SPQR Blues), and myself (candy test subject**). After my many admonitions warning Alaya not to be fashionably late as usual, it was in fact me who arrived twenty minutes late to the sound of a very live J-Lo singing to a screaming crowd at Rockefeller Plaza. Soon after we were on the road and made it up to Burlington, Massachusetts in record time. Partly, this was due to Devin’s navigation skills, and partly due to the excellent music from CDs Alaya and I had made which made the time fly.

Writers Groups and Writers Panel

We checked in with just over an hour before my first panel. Alaya and I were the co-moderators of a panel on “Writers Groups and Writers: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell.” There were, I believe, thirteen panelists on this one, and it was hard to keep the subject on topic, but we managed to keep the conversation civil. There were opposing points of view, some of them strong, and I was glad for it. But with a group that large, it was hard to keep the discussion focused. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this one.

Blade Runner and Culture Panel

The next panel I had been looking forward to for some time: “If Only You Could See What I’ve Seen With Your Eyes: The Influence of Blade Runner.” My co-panelists were Geoff Ryman, David Louis Edelman, Glenn Grant, and Diane Weinstein. I was worried that with so many Blade Runner aficionados that the panel might devolve into a series of “Wasn’t it cool when character X did Y?” I’ve seen this happen before. So I was careful to direct the conversation back on course when we veered in that direction***. I asked several questions which I thought pertinent: why did the film have so much influence on culture? What films, books, or other narratives have had a similar effect on culture since the film’s release? Many films were mentioned, but the only one in my mind which might be as influential is The Matrix. What does the dearth of influential films and books (to the scale of the film) say about our present ability to perceive the future? I tried to relate this to the Mundane SF movement, of which Geoff Ryman has spearheaded, and wondered if the movement was aware of this gap? Philip K. Dick was in many ways a prophet. So who is today’s PKD? Also, many people in the room audibly gasped when I pointed out a particular point about the turtle metaphor and Batty saving Deckard at the end of the film****.

David Louis Edelman & Cat Rambo

After, we went to dinner at the Naked Fish, and were joined by Cat Rambo, Kris Dikeman, and Amy Eastment, all of whom are the most enjoyable company. We returned to the bar, then the Meet the Pros(e) party, where I spoke to several friends I hadn’t seen in a while only very briefly. The problem with cons (or the pleasure with them) is that you are pulled in many different directions at once. I always am left feeling that I should have spoken to person A a bit longer than I have. Did I seem rude? Should I have stayed longer? If I sped away from you prematurely, I apologize.

I also apologize to Alaya for missing her panel. We all missed her panel, and we are ashamed. My only excuse was that after dinner, I completely blanked on it (as did all the others it seemed).

Nick Mamatas, with David Schwartz
Mercurio Rivera, and Genevieve Valentine
in the background

We were waiting for a game of Mafia to form in the back room, but most of the interested parties had gone to bed early, and we ended up spending the evening in the bar with Nick Mamatas, Veronica Schanoes, Genevieve Valentine, and a bunch of others. Probably the three fingers of Makers Mark***** put me over the edge (that and the two hours of sleep I had the night before) and I lapsed into a kind of trance where I was very aware of what was going on, but couldn’t speak. Because I was rolling cigarettes all weekend, one person thought I was very stoned. But in fact, there was no THC in my blood this weekend******.

The next morning had me hopping into and out of two panels. The first was a fantasy and philology panel, which sounded interesting, but my energy level was such that I had a hard time paying attention. I then popped into the Rewrite panel, stayed for a bit longer, and bailed again because of attention span problems.

At 1pm I hosted a kaffeklatsch about Sybil’s Garage. In attendance were JoSelle VanderHooft, Veronica Schanoes, Genevieve Valentine, Mercurio Rivera, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Devin Poore, and Barbara Krasnoff. We sat in a round table and discussed ways of marketing the magazine, decreasing the workload (and thus increasing the potential frequency of issues), and other interesting topics. I have to say (gush warning) that it was really heart-warming to see everyone here and interested in the success of the humble little zine that started as a stapled-together lark. It takes an enormous amount of work to produce the magazine, and I was happy to see how it positively affected others.

The Water was Strangely Salty

We had an excellent lunch afterwards at the Dandelion Grill, then returned for an Altered Fluid Pool Party (Everyone was there, including Kris Dikeman, Liz Gorinsky, and Amy Eastment). It was refreshing and completely removed any remaining exhaustion lingering in my mind. Dinner after was at the Macaroni Grill, where Mercurio Rivera revealed to us on the way that it was his birthday. He had forgotten.

“I just found out,” he said, “because my brother called me to wish me a happy birthday.” As it turns out, it was also Kelly Link’s birthday (and someone else’s in the restaurant). So Happy Birthday Mr. Mercurio. Anyway, to celebrate, I bought a round of whiskey for all. They would not sell us shots, so they poured three full fingers of the brown stuff, which got us sloshed very quickly. We scribbled with provided crayons at the table, poking fun at each other with art, when we look up to see this mini-masterpiece by Carol Burrell, and it was then that I recalled her comic SPQR Blues and realized we were not worthy. Devin took a few pictures of it, so maybe he can post a link in the comments.

JoSelle Vanderhooft & Amy Lau

We shared a few drinks in the bar with Tempest, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Amy Lau, and others, and JoSelle promised to make me a custom necklace which I am so looking forward to. I don’t usually wear jewelry of any kind, but something about a custom made piece just for me is enough to change that habit.

It, of course, wouldn’t be Readercon without Mafia. People were standing around saying, “We can’t get in the room! It’s locked.” So it occurred to me (and, surprisingly in a room of vast intelligence, none other) that we could ask for a key. I approached the front desk and we were rewarded with entrance to the Connecticut room, the same place where I played my first game of Mafia. My heroics, however, were not rewarded. I was killed off very quickly after I drew a black card and was thus Mafia, by one Paolo Bacigalupi, who caught me off guard and saw blood. I didn’t last more than two rounds. Not to worry, I thought, there will be another game. This was around 10:30pm. I went back and forth to the bar a few times, saying hello to Chris Cevasco, John Adams, Doug Cohen, Saladin Ahmed, Justin Howe, and others (and listened to them rave about the new Batman film), and each time I returned to the room, the circle of Mafia players had only shrunk by one or two people. By 1:30am, I began to despair I would never play again this year. The Mafia ended up winning that game, so my early exit was ultimately a non-issue, which made me feel better, but when Jim Freund called for a new game at 2:something AM, everyone quickly fled the room. It was late, the AC had been turned off, and we were hot and tired. Somehow, Alaya and Tempest found a party on the seventh floor, and there I briefly chatted with Ted Chiang. But I was a little drunk, and a little unhappy at not getting to play a full game of Mafia, so my attempts at socialization were weak at best at this point. I sauntered off to bed, despairing.

But a new day arose, and I felt better, and the despair fled with the sun. I felt silly; it was just a game, and there would be next year (not to mention a few potential games in NY).

The Online Aesthetics Panel

I came late to a panel about online magazine aesthetics. I had a particular interest in this one since I had recently redesigned the Fantasy Magazine website. A lot of the information was great. Ellen Datlow, Sean Wallace, Leah Bobet, and Nick Mamatas were spot on in their comments. But the other panelist made a point I had severe disagreements with, namely that having advertising alongside online fiction is problematic; the simple solution (and one we did for Fantasy) is to not put it alongside the fiction. Leave your advertising on other pages. I also attended the summary of short fiction panel. I was very happy when Paper Cities was mentioned.

We ended the con with a usual stop at the Traveler’s Restaurant, where three free books are provided to all patrons. We saw Jim Freund and Barbara Krasnoff, and later Ellen Datlow, John Joseph Adams, Doug Cohen, and Chris Cevasco all enjoying “Books and Food.” I came home with a 1954 printing of Andre Norton’s Star Guard, an illustrated book of houseplants, and a school-library-type book about the Dead Sea Scrolls. All in all, I’m happy with my finds.

The (Un)usual Suspects:
Left to Right: Mercurio D. Rivera,
Alaya Dawn Johnson, K. Tempest Bradford,
Nick Mamatas, Hannah Wolf Bowen,
Matthew Kressel, Veronica Schanoes,
Genevieve Valentine & Carol Burrell
Photo by Devin Poore

As always with cons, they end much too quickly. We never have time to say all the things we want to say, to do all the things we want to do, to see all the people we hope to see. But I always come away from them feeling that the writing community is as strong and viable as ever. I feel like my friends and I are very lucky to have something like this we can attend. And I hope to make many more Readercons in the future. They are, after all, habit-forming.

(A full set of pictures can be found here.)

* Tempest did in fact comment on a blog while we were getting gas by picking up a WiFi signal from a nearby Panera Bread.

** For some unknown reason I decided to buy some brand of generic starbursts that tasted like plastic and toxins yet were strangely addicting. I kept offering them to my co-passengers; only Carol was brave enough to try them.

*** I would be perfectly happy to discuss the finer points of the film with anyone, at any time, but in a more general company, the stares I sometimes get have convinced me that I should reserve this part of my geek for select company only.

**** At the opening of the film, Holden asks Leon if he would save the tortoise which is lying on its back. This is the supposed difference between a replicant and a human. A replicant will NOT save the tortoise. Yet, at the end of the film, Roy Batty saves Deckard, thus showing that he is as human, if not more so, than Deckard himself.

***** By this point I had had several beers. Makers was not on my list. But when I asked Veronica what she wanted to drink, she said, “Wild Turkey, neat.” They didn’t have Wild Turkey, so Makers Mark was the next best thing. When a girl orders her whiskey straight, by law the man who buys it for her must drink one too.

****** I cannot say the same for other members of the con, however.