There was a day when I used to attend Science Fiction conventions quite regularly. In my 20s, I was a regular attendee of Evecon, DISCLAVE and occasionally Balticon. Life can throw some changes your way, and mine has been no exception. After getting a suit job and settling down a bit, I had less opportunities to attend them and gradually dropped SF conventions from life in favor of miniature gaming cons like HISTORICON, COLD WARS, and ORIGINS. I love reading and I love science fiction, but I am not a classic fan boy. Geeky, too be sure, but not a fanboy– I just like a good book or movie. Still, I miss the old days, so when the opportunity arose to visit BALTICON for the first time in years over the weekend, I took it.
Balticon takes place in the Fort Hunt Marriott hotel, which is where HMGS and the BGA have run cons, and I am familiar with the location. To call the locale “Baltimore” stretches the geographic definition a bit, being west of Towson, but the neighborhood is certainly a lot more affordable than downtown.
I’m not crazy about the Fort Hunt Marriott, as a rule. The hotel is expensive (for the location), laid out like a puzzle and quite cramped, dark and claustrophobic. The flip side of the location is parking is free, there are some hotels nearby that are reasonable (unlike in the Inner Harbor, for instance), and the local cuisine is… well.. robust and cheap.
I could only make it for Sunday, but I got up pretty early and participated in a lot of programming until I left at 10:30 PM.. so I got my 36 dollars worth and was well satisfied.
After a quick walkabout to get my bearings and visit the dealer’s room (such as it was– the HMGS Exhibitor’s hall could have swallowed three of these), I attended the first item on the agenda, which was “LIVE! Stranger Things: Singularity” in the Grand Ballroom. This was a live event hosted by a talented and engaging young chap named Earl Newton. Mr. Newton is a film director and video podcast producer of the show STRANGER THINGS, a web-based video show that is a mix of science fiction, horror, and science fantasy. I like indie films and mixed media content, so I sat in on this one. The format was interesting.. a little too bombastic when a feller named Matt Wallace took the stage and tried to to turn it into a Generation Z pep rally– you know the drill. “What? I can’t HERE youuuuuuu?” and “How about a big hand for all of you…”, that sort of thing. Still, I was fascinated with his interview with J.C. Hutchins about Hutchins forthcoming novel, PERSONAL EFFECTS: DARK ART. Mr. Hutchins is an early adoptor of the freebie podcast novel method of getting your name out there (A’ la Scott Siglar), and has written three (the Seventh Son trilogy).
His new book will be published by St. Martins Press and from what Mr. Hutchins described, it will be something to see– full of extra media bits– business cards, ticket stubs, websites, etc., all designed to keep you tied into the central narrative and take the story into a direction outside of what is printed on the page. I’m intrigued. Mr. Newton, with the help of Mr. Hutchins, produced a short film whose name I plumb forgot, about digital voyeurism.. this was very well done and well received. I also caught “The Shed” about a family dealing with a zombie outbreak. Fantastic work.
I wanted to catch Scott Siglar’s autograph session, but being the hoity toity type that he is, he was busy plotting ultimate world domination and was late, so I ended up giving blood at the Heinlein Society Blood Drive and totally missed his slot. Side Note: Can you think of a better, safer group of blood donors than science fiction fans? I did see Siglar a little later, but I missed my chance.
I spent a brief time in the Dealer’s room, being shamlessly huckstered too. I was particularly taken with the works and sales approach of Mr. C.J. Henderson, who was cheerful and engaging and absolutely without shame about pimping his work. I ended up buying TO BATTLE BEYOND from him directly, and look forward to reading it. Mr. Henderson seems to be inhabiting a nice pulpy niche in science fiction— somewhere between Randall Garrett and P.J. Farmer.
I stopped in a Costuming panel discussion, because the subject was “Steampunk: the Next Big Thing” (which I thought was a silly title– Steampunk never really went OUT of style, so how could it be the next big thing?).
I’m not even remotely a costuming type of person, so I just looked at a few props and left to sit in on a presentation called THE TOXICOLOGY OF MUSTARD GAS, by Doctor Henry Meier. The presentation was simply fascinating (and not a little bit gross in parts).
From there, I went to a panel discussion called HOW TO TEACH AN OLD BLOG NEW TRICKS, by Angela Render and Mur Lafferty. Miss Render, in particular, is very market savvy about web design and marketing, and Miss Lafferty was in the forefront of the social media marketing of novels.
The discussion was focused on “blog rejuvenation strategies” and I found it interesting and useful. I may even follow some of that advice for this blog– not that it’s a commercial entity or anything.
After a jaunt out to discover my favorite barbecue joint down the street isn’t open on Sundays (curses!), I came back for a short jaunt to the game room (playing the Traveler version of FULL THRUST), then to attend PODCASTING 102, with a panel consisting of Earl Newton (remember him from earlier?) Dan Tabor, Patrick Maclean, MAinPA, and Paulette Jaxton. Since, at some point, I intend to start a podcast of my own, I wanted to drop in on this panel discussion to pick up useful information. It was a very helpful little group, but sadly, far too short.
From podcasting, to film festivals.. I ended the evening watching the BALTICON SUNDAY NIGHT FILM FESTIVAL in the ballroom. This was a wonderful (if chilly) event. I recall some of the entrants, but didn’t write it all down.
(the Hunt for Gollum floored me. A forty minute short that fills in the small gap just before the events of THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING. Shot in a visual style with props, actors, fonts and cinematographic style very evocative of Jackson’s work, I’m thinking I’d better download this fast before the New Line lawyers pay the producers a visit with a cease and desist letter. It was genius.
the last one I can recall was THE ALLIANCE, a potboiling classic Science Fiction oater. What was unique about this one was the distinctive (extremely positive) Muslim viewpoint of the director and writer.
After nearly freezing out of the auditorium, I submitted my ballot and nosed my car out into the traffic for home-a-byes..
In retrospect, I’d have to say I liked Balticon very much, especially the many interesting panel discussions on Social Media and cross media promotions. I will likely not be giving up any miniature gaming convention for a SF convention any time soon, because for me, reading is a personal and private thing. I’m not the type of fellow to put on a costume or wear a lot of buttons or go (shudder) filking, so I’m really only at these things for the books. Still, some people I admire were there (Siglar, and Lafferty, and Van Verth, and Hutchins and etc) so I’m glad I was in the same place with them at the same time, even if I’m too shy to be a nudge, even with Siglar. So I’ll likely attend a Balticon again, if opportunity arises, but it won’t be a driving force in my life. I’m not 20 any more!