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October, 2009 : Con Report:

Readercon 20

Question: Where can you find Boston Globe etiquette columnist Robin Abrahams, horror writer Peter Straub, and the guitarist for the rock band Point Valid, all attending a convention featuring fandom, horror, slipstream, space opera, filk, where everyone is a fan and no one—not even the guitar player—is dressed in a costume?

The answer is Readercon—a convention for fandom in its purest sense. Readercon 20 (held July 9-12, Burlington, Massachusetts) is considered by many as "the place to go" for readers and writers of SF. This year's guests of honor were Greer Gilman and Elizabeth Hand.

In addition, over 200 other writers were in attendance, including (just to name a few): Gene Wolfe, James Patrick Kelly, John Crowley, Alan Steele, Barry Malzberg, James Morrow, Robert Sawyer, and Paul Di Filippo, and Catherine Asaro.

Paul Di Filippo and Barry Malzberg

One of the first panels of the weekend was a discussion of the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, and our failure to return to the Moon. It started mildly enough, with moderator Paul Di Filippo holding up a newspaper article about the astronauts' return to Earth. Allen Steele then spoke of touring the Johnson Space Center, and how he believed people would very shortly be returning to the Moon. Barry Malzberg insisted that not only was the race to the Moon a government diversion from the Vietnam War, but also that everything that happened during the Apollo program would make it impossible for anyone to return to the Moon.

Both Steele and Di Filippo brought up the ambitions of China and India. But Malzberg, like Zeus shouting down from Mount Olympus, shut them down with one thunderous pronouncement: "No one currently alive today, will be alive, when we walk on the Moon again." The stunned silence that followed proves he still has the ability to rattle the cage and shake people up.

Robin Abrahams

Robin Abrahams

Contrast that thoughtful discussion with "Where Do You Get Your Ideas: Improv for Writers." True to its title, panel leader Ellen Klages had everyone put their chairs in a circle and invited them improvise a scene. As the willing acted out scenes from a murder, a child stomping on ants, a fetish for Klages' feet, and way too many mammograms from a woman whose "girls were lonely", the audience was in stitches. Way too much fun for a class but I still learned the basic principles of story. And just as importantly, I learned that you can make a story quickly, and out of almost any idea.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Readercon without many panels of special interest just to writers, including "How to Read in Public," "How to Make a Living as a Writer," and "The Radical Rewrite," all from some of the best in the field.

Another good panel was "Narrative Psychology and Science Fiction," in which panel leader Robin Abrahams talked about who reads what, and how their personality affects their choices. Not surprisingly, those who identified themselves as most open minded were more likely to read SF.

Victoria Blake

Victoria Blake

Not everyone one at Readercon was a writer or a fan; there were also editors and publishers in attendance, like Victoria Blake, founder and publisher of Underland Press. She discussed founding her company, the wovel, (that's web novel for the uninitiated), and Brian Evenson's new book "Last Days." Blake opined that the interactive wovel, and ability to read a page-like format on the web, was the future of publishing.

The Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition (a Readercon Saturday night staple) was worth the price of admission alone. The format is as follows: a passage is read from a genuine, horrifically bad, yet, published piece of SF, then six panelists read equally awful possible endings with the audience guessing which is the real ending and not a fake.

No con would be complete without the "Kaffeeklatsche," where would-be-writers and plain old fans sit down with an author or editor, and talk about writing, books, or whatever subversive topic suits the moment. There was a Kaffeeklatsche for almost every hour of programming.

Over the four days of the convention there were also more than 60 readings. So, if a panel didn't interest you, there was probably someone you could talk (or listen) to instead.

The Dealers Room was a delight. So, many, new, old, and quite a few rare books were for sale, a lot of first editions, some signed. I bought 3 books, none of which could be found at local chain bookstore.

But, enough about books. How was the food you ask?

Great. The pub is still small, but thankfully not as loud as in previous years. You could easily talk to someone and not lose your voice. For those with a car, the information booth had maps of local eateries.

However, the Con Suite was perhaps the best of all, for the price. Free. On Friday and Saturday, the suite was very well appointed with coffee, tea, sodas, pitas and hummus, peanut butter, fruit, veggies, and chocolate. On Sunday: bagels, cream cheese, and donuts.

If attending a con is a strain on the budget, or you simply have to rush between panels and don't have time for a restaurant, the Readercon con suite is the answer. And it's not just for eating, it's also a good place for conversation or sitting and reading a book.

Of course, what makes any con truly special is talking to old friends and making new ones. This is particularly easy at Readercon because the people are possibly friendlier than at any other con I have attended. The camaraderie among such a large and diverse crowd can only come when the people share at least one belief: That thinking can be fun, which not coincidentally is part of the con's motto.

My only disappointment with the weekend is that it'll be a whole year before I can again enjoy it.

Readercon 21: July 9-12, 2010, and I can't wait.

Copyright © 2009, Maricia Verma. All Rights Reserved.

About M.T. Verma

M.T. Verma began writing at fifteen, but gave it up to pursue "real work." M.T. got a degree in physics, a job as an engineering peon. After three years as an engineer, she gave it all up for this. Her work has appeared in the Boston Fiction Annual Review, and Nth Degree magazine.


Oct 8, 07:06 by IROSF
Comment below!
Oct 8, 11:06 by Daniel M. Kimmel
Didn't get to go this year (had a non-SF con the weekend before) but I've been before and it's precisely as you describe. Anyone who loves to read SF (and I do even though I'm a film critic) will have a great time at Readercon.
Oct 8, 13:10 by Jennifer Pelland
My "girls" are happy for the mention. I think this is the first time my boobs have gotten a write-up in a convention report :)
Oct 8, 16:12 by J Andrews
Very nice write-up. The improv was definitely the best part of the con for me!

I do have to disagree with you rating the food 'great'. For those who don't have a car, there are limited, limited, limited options. The consuite was okay, for a consuite. I did appreciate the pita and hummus in particular.

So I'd rate Readercon an 'adequate' on the food scale, grudgingly.

But of course any con is going to compare unfavorably to Wiscon on the matter of food. So it's quite possible I'm a little spoiled. On that same scale, Wiscon would be 'stupendously awesome'.

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