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CONVENTIONS: REPORTS Descriptions and pictures of past cons.

Balticon '96

Con Report by Patterner

PANELS

The first panel I went to on Friday was "Is It REALLY True That East Coast Cons Are No Fun?" The interesting thing about this panel was that they never actually compared the East Coast cons to the glitzier California cons. The hour was full of anecdotes about cons with naked people and/or alcohol overuse. Many of the speakers disclaimed "But that was years ago and nobody should drink like that anymore." As funny as many of the stories were, there was a feeling of "the good old days" about them, since so many excesses are avoided now. What would have been interesting in that vein was whether the younger con-goers are repeating what the older folks did, but there wasn't any time for that.

Saturday's first panel for me was "SF on the Internet: A Guided Tour." As the moderator introduced the panelists, she noted that there was no one there for AOL and looked at me. I started to volunteer to go up, but there was a voice from the back of the room: "I'm the AOL producer for SF" and there was Lisa. Lisa Samuels talked about SF on OMNI, while also answering questions about AOL and the Web. I interpreted for two of the panelists who were writers, but not geeks. They spent more time enumerating the places you could find SF on the 'net than actually talking about the SF. Someone asked if the panelists thought that SF on the net would replace SF clubs the way cons replaced fanzines. Of course, fanzines are still around. I think what we do in OMNI, like other SF areas on the 'net, is to supplement interaction for most people. I think the number of folks who rely on the 'net for all their SF is still pretty small.

After sleeping in really late on Sunday (since I was up so late Saturday and had the timeslip), I went to the panel "The Uses of Science and Engineering in Hard SF." This panel had five authors, some with scientific background, some not, discussing how science is used in today's SF. The moderator, Catherine Asaro, is a physicist and her new book PRIMARY INVERSION is supposed to be excellent hard SF. The panelists talked about how the story flows, with most saying theirs were really character-driven, but one saying he always thinks about the technology first. They went on to talk about the way science is moving so fast right now and whether that made writing hard SF harder. The conclusion was no -- that some horizons had come closer, but the amount of possible information was much greater. Someone asked about a story without characters, just technology, and the panelists wanted to know why anyone would read that. The panel ended with a discussion of space travel -- will we always use "magic" like FTL? The panel was divided.

The last panel I attended was "So, Where Can I Find More Filk?" As it happens, I knew all the answers already, since I read alt.music.filk. What was more interesting to me was the dynamics on the panel. Our "local" filk community has three very strong- willed outspoken people in it and they were all three on the panel.

Roberta, Crystal, and Bill spent most of their time trying to each run the panel (while the moderator interjected when they got too bad) and arguing and one-upping each other. The voices got louder and louder and several people left, which is when the moderator started reining things back in.

FILK

I went to a number of filk concerts through the con. The biggest, by Filk GoH Frank Hayes, is detailed under Special Events.

Friday night was SETILeague's Executive Director Paul Shuch's concert. Paul writes space songs and vampire parodies. He sang a very touching song to his wife, Muriel.

The second concert on Friday night was Darren Ziegar. Darren doesn't really play filk -- he plays his own compositions, mostly just about GenX angst (The Future Sucks, for example). I don't think people would mind that so much except that he seems to know only one chord structure and one song structure. He needs to expand his musical grammar. A number of people left during his concert, and came back after for the filk circle. I had to leave as the circle started since my leg cramped badly for about 15 minutes. As soon as I got it calmed down, I went up to the room, took meds, and went to bed.

The third concert I went to was on Saturday. Rennie Levine is well-known up and down the East coast for her bawdy filk. I really can't repeat much of it here, but be assured it tends to evoke laughter as well as blushes. Rennie will be the Toastmistress at this year's filkcon in Quantico, VA.

Following Rennie was Roberta Rogow, and she does media filk, which I find boring, so I left to tour the dealer's room again. The balance of books to things was good in the dealer's room this year - and there were several almost-art dealers, too. There was only one shoulder-dragon dealer -- maybe they're dying down.

I came back to the filk room for the Children's Concert. This is a concert put on by a large number of filkers with songs that won't offend parents. They're not bland, but they aren't bawdy. Many of the songs are sing-a-longs and the kids (as well as the grownups in the back) always have a great time.

SPECIAL EVENTS

The first of the special events was the Filk GoH Concert with Frank Hayes. Frank is a West-coast filker and this was his first time on the East coast in a while. Since he has tapes out, there are people who cover the country to filk, and we have alt.music.filk, we knew what to expect. "Frank Hayes Disease" is frequently invoked by filkers who forget their words. Frank even has a song about it. He sang a number of his signature tunes ("Never set the cat afire, it merely will annoy him....") and did, indeed, forget some of the words to some of the others. His patter carried him from song to song and, with 1/5 of the con (120 people) laughing and singing with him, it was a great concert.

Lubov, a Russian immigrant, was the Art GoH and she provided the covers for the Balticon program as well as some b&w interiors. She has a strong fantasy bent, with a feeling for metamorphosis and the small surprises. Many of the female characters in her art look like her. She showed us slides of her work and then went on to show slides of Russian art that is not well-known outside of Russia. It was interesting to see how her own art had developed from what she knew as a child through her environment in the last 10 years in the US.

The Author GoH was Robert Jordan. His speech was immediately after Lubov's slide show, so I decided to stay even though I don't really like his books. He mumbled a bit as he spoke, and I was about to leave when he started talking about literacy. He pointed out that all of us were able to read the books that brought us to the con because we learned to read. He said that the images of the future that we like may never come to pass unless more people learn to read and to work and to do science. He spoke quite eloquently, although still mumbling, and I found myself moved at the end, like most of the audience, to put money in the RIF jar at the back. He received two large Civil War reference books and a hand-carved cane for presents.

The Masquerade was Saturday night, and the Fan GoH was the emcee (which is unusual, since GoHs don't normally do con "work"). Marty "Fang" Gear had received presents relayed from the Easter Bat all weekend, and he was given a last bat present (to join the books, movies, toys) during the Masquerade. There were 20 entries, more or less, and they ranged from a woman dressed in her own clothes making cat noises to a child wearing a formerly-stuffed tiger (now stuffed with her) to a tableau of UFO (Unidentifiable Female Objects - in homage to the TV show) to the Best in Show: The Adventures of Conan, Revisited.

The Adventures of Conan, Revisited starred several artist's models, including Jonlun. A young woman in a leather bikini was chained to an altar and "Conan" came to free her. He vanquished the first bad guy while Jonlun (a female barbarian swordsperson in her own leather bikini complete with bra tassels that she was able to control) struck the chains on the victim. Then a ninja came from behind the throne and fought with Jonlun and the victim killed him with the sword lost by the first bad guy. Then "Conan" reached for the victim, as did Jonlun. They each postured several times with the swords, and the victim chose to go off with Jonlun. Not what Howard et al had in mind. :)

My favorite was Spring. While narration told us that Spring was coming, a Winter person (with a snowflake headdress, and workmanship-award-winning piecework on the gown) was waiting for Spring. She looked at her watch, called "Spring! Oh, Spring!" and generally had us all laughing when Spring finally came in (dressed in a pink sparkly wig and a clown-like flowery gown). I also liked The Wicked Queen from Snow White. She stood in the spotlight while the narration, in Joe Friday style, told us her crimes, finally drawing the weapon, an apple, with a flourish from beneath her cloak.

The entertainment while the judges conferred was provided by a martial arts troupe.

PEOPLE

There were 600 people at Balticon, and I didn't meet all of them. I probably didn't *see* all of them. But there were some who stood out:

  • Norman Rule, running the Green Room, flacking his CostumeCon this year, being the steady hand answering all the costuming problems.
  • Hal Clement, who rode in the elevator with me when I went down to registration, and complained about the elevators (who knew how much worse it would get? -- I waited 22 minutes for an elevator on Saturday night).
  • Lisa Samuels, AOL's SF Producer, showing her enthusiasm for (mostly media) SF while representing AOL.
  • The large number of "Ophelia" costumes on Friday -- women wearing pale drippy drowned-looking gowns.
  • The continuing presence of Goths (young people dressed in black with stark makeup, male & female) and other leather-wearers. One rode in the elevator with me on Sunday and told me he had broken up with his girlfriend at the con -- she had "done it" with his best friend in their room. I commiserated, and he said it ".. was okay. I had fun anyway."
  • The large number of children learning tolerance by practice and example, many costumed, and all having fun.
  • The members using wheelchairs and scooters getting help and access from other members without being patronized.
  • The many many con staff who worked hard to make the con better for everyone.

ACCOMMODATIONS

The Omni hotel was very well-appointed. The decor in the public areas was very rich with fancy carpeting and wallpaper, paneled walls, and telephone booths with padded seats and counters.

I had a nice room at an end with a large window and a comfortable deep chair and ottoman. I also had an iron & ironing board in the closet, so they weren't *exactly* anticipating me.

The hotel had been sold a few days before the con, and that introduced some problems, one of the silliest being that the new owners wouldn't let Tor Books have the penthouse suite because they might "tear it up." (Or so the story went....)

For those who felt the need to leave the hotel during the weekend, the Inner Harbor was a few blocks away, and there were plenty of fast food restaurants in the area.

Altogether a very satisfying convention!