Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Boskone 49: A Few Sci-Fi Convention Observations

I attended the Saturday and Sunday sessions of Boskone 49 this past weekend.  For those of you who don't know, Boskone is a literary-focused (but less so over the years) science-fiction convention held here in Boston (or the greater Boston area, depending).  It's a pretty old convention, seeing as this is the 49th year - no idea if this is the oldest, but I'm guessing it's "pretty damn old".  Overall it was a very good experience.  I hadn't been to a Boskone in ages, and it was nice to attend again.  Below, a few random observations:
  • John Scalzi was the Guest of Honor.  I attended several of his panels, and was relieved to see that he didn't come of as a giant dick, since I've liked what books of his I've read.  He seems like a genuinely nice guy, albeit a pretty hardcore nerd, but if that's the least of his sins I think he can be forgiven as he is a darn good writer and really "gets" the post-post modern age of science fiction fandom we're all living in these days.  Case in point; his newest novel is titled "Red Shirts".  Would have attended the author signing but unfortunately he had to return home earlier than predicted.  Oh, and all of you who knew he had to leave right after the reading, but rushed him and asked for autographs anyway?  Shame.
  • I attended the panel on "geeks in the media".  The panel focused on The Big Bang Theory, a show I don't watch and have no intention of watching.  There was a lot of good discussion, but what constantly annoyed me was the self-generated dichotomy between "geeks" and "mundanes".  In my mind, anyone who uses those terms to describe the difference between themselves and others who don't share their same interests deserves whatever social abuse they might suffer.  Just as you don't have to be a "geek" to be an engineer, IT professional, or a scientist, you don't have to be a "geek" to read a comic book, watch Star Wars movies, or appreciate Tolkien.  The notion that there is some magical, arbitrary "tipping point", the balance of which automatically brands you as a "geek" and puts you into a separate social category, is evidence alone that one of the few true hallmarks of Geekdom is being a social nincompoop.
  • The "World of Robocop" panel discussing if advances in technology are stripping away our personal freedoms and security was a pretty interesting discussion.  Working in the field of academic communication studies, it is amazing to see how willingly people give the world their entire lives, but then complain that they fear the government is watching them.  Look folks, the government's just watching your Facebook, Foursquare, GetGlue, Pinterest, Twitter, Blogger, and Google Plus feeds.  Stay Calm and Carry On, Citizen.
  • The Art Gallery had a little memorial area for the writers and artists of note who died in 2011.  I was shocked to see Darrell K. Sweet had died - he's the guy who (most famously, I think) did all the Robert Jordan book covers (I think he was one of Tor's heaviest hitters).  That Jeff Jones had died was a little shocking as well, especially since minutes before I had picked up a couple of old 70's paperbacks with his artwork gracing the covers.  I think some people thought of Jones as the Poor Man's Frazetta, but Jones' artwork had a grittier, more primal nature that, for me, stood on its own legs without any help from other artists.
  • The panels on H. Beam Piper and Jack Vance were both very interesting.  I had heard of Piper maybe once before, but never read any of his books - I'll have to change that fact one of these days.  The Vance panel was also very good but sadly under-attended.  I've read Vance's four Dying Earth books, but nothing else; again, something that I need to change.  I was amused that the youngest of the three panelists (Author David Wellington, see the first comment below) noted how one of the reasons Vance will continue to be read is that Dungeons & Dragons uses "Vancian Magic" and heavily influenced Gygax's view of D&D.  Apparently the panelist hadn't played D&D in a long, long time... (EDIT: David apparently plays D&D, but he's a B/X player.  Kudos to you, David, for keeping the torch alive!  Too bad we couldn't talk gaming a little more at the panel).
  • I had a short but pleasant conversation with a group of female writers at the Broad Universe huckster's table.  I overheard them talking about Amazon and Smashwords' self publishing venues, and talked a little about the differences between Kindle Direct Publishing and Amazon Select, how to generate your own .mobi files, and so on.  Science Fiction and Fantasy are two venues where amateur writing has had an extraordinarily strong presence for a long while, and I think the Indie Pub revolution going on right now is going to have a very positive impact on the SF&F world.  There were a couple of panels on e-books and publishing, but unfortunately I didn't get to attend them; I imagine in years to come these will grow in number and popularity.
  • The lecture on "How to Teach Your Dog Quantum Physics" was great.  Chad Orzel was an amazing speaker, clearly able to articulate some very complex subjects in an approachable and entertaining manner.  A really good dialogue was achieved between Orzel and the audience, and Boskone made a big mistake putting this in the smallest hall available - it was packed to the gills five minutes before the lecture started, and people were literally crammed onto the floor to listen to the lecturer.  You could have used a space twice as big and still filled every seat.  An excellent way to end the convention.
So, that's it.  I was going to launch into a soapboxing on some negative comments, but I think for the sake of keeping this a positive experience, I'll let it go.  Attending this year's Boskone was a great opportunity to dig deep into some interesting Literary Sci-Fi territory, and I think next year - the Big Five-Oh - will be a must-do.


Anonymous said...

Hi--I was the "youngest panelist" on the Jack Vance panel and was quite surprised to find this blog post!

Just wanted to get the record straight. I actually play D&D every week. I was hoping to add that experience to the panel but it was clear the other two panelists found the idea distasteful, so I dropped it.

I play B/X, which is why I felt that D&D would help keep Vance in the public view--the OSR was certainly responsible for introducing me to Vance (I'd never heard the term "Vancian Magic" before 2009), and certainly gave a massive shot in the arm to the recent reprint of the Dying Earth books.

I'm glad to hear you enjoyed Boskone 49--I had a great time there myself.

David Wellington

Jack Badelaire said...

David - sorry to be so lazy I forgot your name/didn't look it up; going to edit the original post ASAP.

Also cool to see you're a B/X guy; yeah, "back in the day" (hah) Vance ruled the magical roost, and even in 3rd you still had "fire & forget" magic, although the Sorcerer changed that somewhat. I'm fairly certain with the event of 4E that Vance has gone by the wayside, but who knows what will happen in 5th?

I was actually going try and drum up a gaming discussion myself, but yeah - the other two panelists didn't seem that interested. Only having 10 minutes or so at the end for audience interaction was a little annoying, especially since there were maybe a dozen of us.

Anyhow, great panel, and thank you for dropping by!

Cy Mathews said...

Jack, with your fondness for the men's adventure genre, you might find Vance's "Demon Princes" series especially interesting. Not fantasy as the title suggests, it's an interstellar revenge epic featuring lots of violence, torture, and bizarre bad guys.The lone hero's tactics get pretty dirty at times.

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

One downside to living in Spain is missing all these wonderful cons. Luckily I'll be making it to Eastercon in London this year.
Glad you had a good experience with a Big Name Author. I've found most of them pretty cool and approachable. With a couple of notable exceptions, genre authors tend to be a nice bunch.

Jack Badelaire said...

@ Anonymous Broad: Your post disappeared! I hope you didn't delete it on purpose - all comments are welcome here.

@Cy: Yeah, the panelists all recommended Demon Princes - I'll definitely have to check it out. I'm a fan of Simon Green's Deathstalker series (at least the first couple of books) and other swashbuckling sci-fi adventure.

@Sean: Is there any kind of convention scene over there in the Med?

Civil War Horror (Sean McLachlan) said...

There are a few small cons here in Spain. I've never been to them. I do like Eastercon up in the UK. I should probably make more of an effort to go to the European cons!

Morven Westfield said...

I was one of the Broads at the Broad Universe table. Thanks for
chiming in - I appreciated the clarifications.