Everyone who has a blog but has never been to a science fiction convention, raise your hand.
This weekend I attended my first science fiction convention: ApolloCon 2007 in Houston, TX. An impressive list of guests, the close proximity to home, and the opportunity to sneak out of family obligations made this the perfect opportunity to see what a science fiction convention was like.
I’ll be posting about my impressions as best as my memory allows. If I misquote or misrepresent, it is entirely my own fault.
Friday evening. Immediately upon walking into the hotel, I see con guest and author, Chris Roberson, walking my way. I recognized him from pictures in the blogosphere and in Locus magazine. I introduced myself – we had exchanged emails in the past – and we engaged in pleasantries while I shambled to the admissions table. (No line, but it took way too long to actually get my badge.) I mentioned that I intended to be at his 6PM session on Texas fiction.
My first order of business, though, was to arrive (late) to the David G. Hartwell Coffee Klatch. Mr. Hartwell is a Senior Editor for Tor books and publishes The New York Review of Science Fiction, a Hugo-Award nominee for 19 straight years! The atmosphere was exactly as advertised. There was coffee, cookies and a comfortable, cozy discussion already in progress. Topics ranged from publishing (markets, the demise of the SFBC, etc.) to distribution (how bookstore distribution changed, hardbacks vs. paperbacks) to the genre in general (decades-long trends, movements). I was entranced the entire time I was there. The depth of his experience and knowledge is fascinating and I couldn’t help but hang on his every word. I was in fanboy heaven.
Mr. Hartwell said that he would be focusing the remainder of his career on promoting science fiction by continuing to do what he does best: editing science fiction and shaping what it is. He said that fans could help do their part, too. But instead of merely reciting the Buy & Subscribe litany I expected (which would have been perfectly fine), he suggested that we fans get out there and review books! Getting the word out was just as important as buying them.
The discussion turned to criticism for a bit. He talked about how he started being more than a fan when he started reviewing books. He talked about his less than favorable review of Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo, a review Malzberg had not forgotten but took with good humor. He told stories about Robert Silverberg, Algis Budrys and others. Again, I was giddy with geek glee.
The Coffee Klatch runneth over and I was late to the Texas Fiction session. The panel included Alexis Glynn Latner (Hurricane Moon), fan guest of honor A.T. Campbell, III, and Chris Roberson (Here, There & Everywhere, Paragaea). They were running down the list of Texan authors. From memory. Again, fascinating stuff to hear their recollections of the stories they read and liked and their experiences. Unaware of con etiquette, I sheepishly asked for a group picture. They graciously agreed.
Next up was the official kickoff session. The host introduced the panel of guests: Artist Jeff Sturgeon, David G. Hartwell, Guest of Honor C.S Friedman, A.T. Campbell, III, and filk guests of honor, Graham and Becca Leathers. The requisite joke was made about Hartwell’s tie. Then there was some entertainment. Not only was there Filk music (a nice tune in its own right), but the crowd was treated to an impressive a cappella version of “Teen Angel” by…David G. Hartwell! It’s actually a moving song, made even more so by audience softly singing along, except for yours truly because I didn’t know the lyrics.
After that, I visited the dealers’ room. Oh my! It took every ounce of strength to control my biblioholism and not scoop up all the cool books I saw. New book, old books, first editions… And, yes, JP and Tim, there was even plush Cthulhu for sale. I came this close to buying one of those beauties. I had to leave before my wallet jumped out of my pocket of its own accord and started spewing bills all across the room in an orgiastic frenzy of fanboyishness. I headed over to the art room to check that out, too. There was some really cool work on display.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, it was time to head to the final session for that Friday night, How Do You Criticize Fantastic Fictions? with panelists David G. Hartwell (moderator), author Kate Sanger and Revolution SF‘s Steve Wilson. The discussion sometimes diverged from critiquing – interesting tangents, to be sure – but again I was held captive by Hartwell’s stories and opinions. He really came across as a straight-shooting Everyman with common sense and a good eye for what makes people tick. For example, with all the brouhaha we fans hear about this or that author distancing themselves from science fiction, Mr. Hartwell saw the reasoning behind such actions. Be it economic realities (Atwood, Vonnegut), agents’ advice (Lethem) or what have you, I got the impression that he holds no ill will towards anyone.
And his stories about the field are great. He talked about being Philip K. Dick’s editor, reading Gibson’s cyberpunk short fiction for 5 years before the “ground-breaking” Neuromancer, Isaac Asimov’s writing style, and lots more. I wish I had taken notes – it was all great stuff. The other panelists participated, too, but I think they were also in awe of Hartwell’s experiences.
Being a session on critiquing, I had to ask the “review vs. critique” question. Hartwell really hit the nail on the head. He said [paraphrasing] “Reviews are for people who haven’t read the book and critiques are for people who have.” That’s a great observation and really puts the whole argument in perspective, doesn’t it? The panel and the smallish crowd (there was a simultaneous chocolate party going on, after all) was so engaged in the discussion, that the session ran for 90 minutes instead of the allotted 60. It was all great stuff.
After that session, I briefly talked (the ears off of) Revolution SF contributors Steve Wilson and Matthew Bey, standup guys who schlepped 180 miles in the pouring rain to make the con and for that I thank them both. Tomorrow, they hold simultaneous session, both of which I want to attend. It’s Young Adult Fiction versus Zombies! Decision, decisions…
There’s plenty of other stuff to do at the con, too: games, LARPs, films, and of course, chocolate parties. Some came in costumes, most didn’t. I’m not aware of the attendance numbers. I’d call this a small con (said the guy whose never been to one before) but I think that’s a good thing in at least one way: it makes the experience a more personal one. I felt like I was able to participate in the sessions more than if the crowd was huge. At any rate, the experience was a very good one and I plan on going back for Day 2.