mabfan (Michael A. Burstein) (mabfan) wrote,
mabfan (Michael A. Burstein)

Readercon 18 Trip Report – With Pictures!

One of the nice things about Readercon over the past few years has been its location. Readercon has been held at the Burlington Marriott, a short drive from Brookline. Furthermore, Nomi grew up in Burlington, so we're quite familiar with the town. We have our usual routes when we drive to Burlington, but this time, we decided to let our new GPS, named Jill, guide us to the hotel. Jill took us on surface roads that I never would have chosen on my own -- specifically, I usually try to avoid driving through Harvard Square -- but she did get us to the convention, and that's all that matters.

And who should we see at the convention first but Meredith Schwartz, who had never been to a Readercon before.

Meredith Schwartz Meredith Schwartz
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

We haven't seen Mer in far too long, so it was a delight to discover her at the convention. Of course, soon we had to dash off, to check in, pick up our badges, etc., etc., and get ready for shabbat.

Generally, Nomi and I have great experiences when we stay at Marriotts. Due to shabbat and other personal issues, such as the need for us to bring kosher food, we need a hotel that can accommodate those needs. In particular, we need to have a small refrigerator in the room, and Marriotts usually go above and beyond the call when it comes to helping us store our food. Twice we've even had food delivered to a Marriott's concierge desk well before our arrival, and the concierge has always made sure that the food got placed in the refrigerator in our room. One time a Marriott ran out of refrigerators, and so for the weekend they gave us the refrigerator from the accounting department break room.

The Burlington Marriott has also been quite good at providing us with the necessary refrigerator, but this year it was a comedy of errors. In the morning, I called to confirm that refrigerator and was told that yes, the refrigerator was already in our room.

When we checked in, we discovered that there was no refrigerator in the room, but instead, a roll-away bed. We went to the front desk and explained the problem, and they told us they would remove the extra bed and bring us our refrigerator.

When we got back to the room, the bed was gone, but there was no refrigerator.

So we called up to the front desk, and they said they would send someone down with a refrigerator. Sure enough, within ten minutes, a man showed up empty cart. He had been told to come to our room to take away the refrigerator that we had said we didn't need.

We explained to him that no, we needed a refrigerator, and so he went off to get us one. After a few more minutes, he returned, and finally, we had a refrigerator.

I've gone on in detail about this not because I think anyone will find it fascinating, but simply because for the first time, I found myself disappointed by Marriott's customer service. Usually, Marriott hotels, and even the Burlington Marriott, have stepped up to the plate on this issue. For some reason, this time around the Burlington Marriott's service on this issue was about on par with an average hotel. (At least it wasn't a Westin.)

Shabbat dinner:
One of the main reasons we look forward to Readercon every year is because we get to have shabbat dinner with two college friends of mine, Stephen & Sara Frug.

Stephen Frug, Sara Frug Stephen Frug, Sara Frug
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

We almost never get to see Stephen and Sara, because they live in Ithaca, so dining with them at Readercon is a treat. We talked about a lot of interesting things, like graphic novels and the way people behave on the Internet. I'd go into more detail on both of these, but this report is already going to be quite long as it is. If you want a taste of Stephen's intellectualism, check out his blog Attempts. (And I bet Stephen's going to roll his eyes at the use of the word "intellectualism.")

A caveat before I begin. As always, there were plenty of people to see at Readercon, and most likely, I'm going to forget to mention some of them. My apologies.

Besides shabbat dinner, the other highlight of Friday night at Readercon is the Meet the Pros(e) party. This is like a standard Meet the Pros party, except that each pro is given a sheet of stickers with a selected quotation from their work. As fans circulate among the pros, they can pick up stickers and attempt to paste them down on a piece of paper in some semblance of a logical order.

In my current halachic status, I'm trying to avoid parties; on the other hand, certain events can be justified due to professional reasons. In the end, Nomi and I hung out just outside the crowded, noisy room, and chatted with people in the hallway.

Among the many people, we saw Ian Randal Strock and Kit Hawkins. Ian's been running the SF Scope news site, and he managed to post some news from Readercon while there.

But we also saw lots of people during the rest of the convention. For example:

Here's Mary Robinette Kowal and her amazing steampunk laptop:

Mary Robinette Kowal and Laptop Mary Robinette Kowal and Laptop
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

Nineteenth-Century Laptop Nineteenth-Century Laptop
Photo copyright © 2007 by Michael A. Burstein.

F. Brett Cox, who has excellent taste in television:

F. Brett Cox F. Brett Cox
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

Eric Van, without whom there wouldn't be a Readercon:

Eric Van Eric Van
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

Sarah Beth Durst, author of the brand-new YA novel Into the Wild:

Sarah Beth Durst Sarah Beth Durst
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

And here's me with Andrew Wheeler, who blogs over at Antick Musings:

Michael A. Burstein, Andrew Wheeler Michael A. Burstein, Andrew Wheeler
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

One person I meant to spend more time talking with was Barry Malzberg. He hadn't heard about my mom, and I know he wanted to get together and chat for a while. Guess we'll take it to email.

Oddly enough, I spent less time going to program at a Readercon than I do at other conventions. I would guess that it's because just talking with the many people in the hallways is like lots of mini-panels of their own. But I did do some programming.

First of all, I had my own two items. On Saturday afternoon, I had a reading, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that my brother Jonathan had decided to attend. I had a small group of people, maybe ten, who got to hear me read "The Soldier Within." A few were friends (hello, lonfiction!) and a few were strangers, which is always a good mix. Afterward, I gave away signed copies of "The Soldier Within" and "Moving Day."

The other program item I was on was the panel "I Have a Truly Marvelous Proof of This Proposition Which This Story is Too Commercial To Contain." I led the panel, which included Jeff Hecht, Donald Kingsbury, Louise Marley, and Peter Watts.

Louise Marley, Jeff Hecht, Donald Kingsbury, Peter Watts, Michael A. Burstein Louise Marley, Jeff Hecht, Donald Kingsbury, Peter Watts, Michael A. Burstein
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

The precis read as follows: "Actual calculations are generally excluded from sf—they're not what the reader is looking for. But hard sf often requires that the writer do the math and / or the physics and chemistry, and many stories are backed up by thick sheaves of notes that the reader never sees. Our panelists discuss examples from their personal experience. Should the 'technical appendices' be published more often? Isn't the Web the natural place for them?"

Although I probably shouldn't say so myself, the panel went very well. It helped that we had a good bunch of writers, all used to doing research and then eager to share that research with their readers in ways other than expository lumps (although we did discuss the proper uses of the infodump). Peter had some amusing stores to tell of people who ask questions in academia just to show off how smart they are. Louise noted the value of her historical research, and Donald talked about how his research for one novel is leading to research papers and a nonfiction book. And Jeff explained how he worked equations into one of his stories.

Afterwards, a few people thanked me for having run the panel so well, which is always gratifying.

And we got Louise to sing. Yay!

As for other program, I did make it to two other panels, and two "workshops" on writing. Wen Spencer ran a very popular item on "New Writing Tricks," and Kay Kenyon ran one on "Storyboarding."

Kay Kenyon Kay Kenyon
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

Kay Kenyon Lectures on Storyboarding Kay Kenyon Lectures on Storyboarding
Photo copyright © 2007 by Michael A. Burstein.

I wish I had taken notes on Kay's presentation, as she had some excellent ideas of how to block out a scene and how to outline a novel in scenes. But I have a friend who took notes, and I'll just poke her until I get them. :-)

More on program below.

The 21st Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition:

Kirk Poland is to Readercon what a masquerade is to other conventions, the big Saturday night event. The basic premise of the contest is that four writers have written false endings for an execrable piece of real published science fiction or fantasy, and the audience has to vote on what we think is the real ending. It would be difficult to capture the raucous flavor of the competition here, so I'm not even going to try. I will point out one problem with the competition this year, which was the lighting of the room, which seemed to have mildew on it. (It was obscured, as though the wick of the cosmic torch had been turned down; but nevertheless, it was light.)

Usually, the audience has trouble guessing the real endings, but this time around, we did well. We were winning up until the final round. I would say that's because we've come to recognize the style of Lionel Fanthorpe, except that quite a lot of hands went up when Eric Van asked how many people had never been to a Kirk Poland Competition before. Maybe you do better at this competition the less you've been exposed to it? I don't know.

The winner once again was Yves Meynard, who graciously allowed me to pose with him for a photograph the next day.

Yves Meynard, Michael A. Burstein Yves Meynard, Michael A. Burstein
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

One of the highlights for me this Readercon was the chance to become more acquainted with science fiction poetry. A good friend of ours, Mary Alexandra Agner, had one of her poems nominated for the Rhysling Award. So, for the first time, we attended the Rhysling presentation, "The Rhysling Award Poetry Slan." We heard a lot of strong poetry recited, and then the awards were presented.

I became so intrigued by the poetry that on Sunday, I spent about half an hour talking with Mike Allen, former president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association.

Michael A. Burstein, Mike Allen Michael A. Burstein, Mike Allen
Photo copyright © 2007 by Nomi S. Burstein.

I haven't written much poetry in my life, but I've been the advisor to a school literary magazine, and I tend to know what I like in poetry. So, after much discussion with Mike, I decided that I wanted to be a poet and I joined the SFPA. Now I can go around telling people that I'm officially a poet. I've already started work on my first new poem, "The Science Fiction Writer," and I'm looking forward to winning many Rhysling Awards in the years to come.

And Sunday afternoon, we all drifted away, another Readercon come and gone.

Copyright © Michael A. Burstein
Tags: conventions, personal, science-fiction
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