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Readercon, Take Two...

Another Readercon has come and gone, and I'd be remiss if I didn't give everyone who didn't have the chance to go a brief rundown of the festivities. And since people seemed to enjoy my attempt at describing last year's conference in a clever way, I thought I'd stick to the model--so, with apologies again to Clint Eastwood:

THE GOOD:

Readercon has always had the best professional guest / attendee (the "fan" term is sort of discouraged at RC) ratio of any annual conference, and this year was no exception--attendees got to rub elbows with the likes of Barry Malzberg, James Patrick Kelly, Elizabeth Hand, Robert Sawyer...and that was just for starters. The best part about Readercon is how available all of these authors are, and not just via the "you can run into them at the bar!!!" model upon which a lot of conventions rely (note to said conferences: some people don't drink, and it doesn't make them any less of a fan than the members of the non-teetotaler crowd). Besides the panels, which normally don't get overwhelmed with attendance (though obviously it depends a bit on the popularity of the particular panel), the conference sets up smaller gatherings--signings, workshops, and even small groups of six or seven people, plus the author, called kaffeeklatsches (which, in the case of Mary Robinette Kowal's, became a whiskeyklatsch. Or maybe a Scotchklatsch. Either way, it's David Anthony Durham's fault, and only he can explain why.).

Beyond the access to authors, editors, and other leading lights of the speculative fiction field, Readercon's panels themselves are notable...partly because of how different they are from the typical set ("Vampire Elves, and Other Things which Shouldn't Be"). Consider "I Spy, I Fear, I Wonder: Espionage Fiction and the Fantastic," a discussion of how spy thrillers relate to fantasy fiction. Or the "Bookaholics Anonymous Annual Meeting." Or an oldie but goodie, one of my favorite panel titles of all time: "After Neurons Met Saurons" (and seriously, who cares what it's about with a title like that?). Put it all together and you have a really thoughtful, smart conference program, put together by the inimitable Eric M. Van and a crack committee of volunteers.

And perhaps most importantly, the focus of Readercon is always and exclusively literary; even the dealer room has almost none of the typical con paraphenalia, relying instead on books and a couple of pieces of artwork (you'll be happy to know I restrained myself, buying only one item--an autographed copy of the original script for the Star Trek episode "City on the Edge of Forever." Hey, I teach that episode...what do you want from me?). So if you're looking for people roaming the halls dressed as Stormtroopers or playing pickup games of Yu-Gi-Oh in the lobby, you'll have to look elsewhere. Now I'm not objecting to conventions or conferences like that (I'll be at Gen Con in a few weeks, and just like last year, I won't ONLY be doing author panels!), but it is nice to get a different feel from the norm.

THE BAD:

I'm happy to say that there's less of this than there was last year (not that there was a lot of it then, to be fair). But I think the arrangement and presentation of panels still needs some work. First, there are still too many panelists on many of the panels--six panelists for an hour session, when the introduction of each one takes a few minutes, leaves precious little time to discuss the topic at hand. And this plays into the second issue...when you do have that many people on a panel, you better make sure you keep a close watch on the clock and a firm grip of the discussion, and in many cases this just didn't happen. In one case the panelists wrapped up with three and a half minutes remaining (and seemed kind of surprised about it)...which didn't exactly leave time for a fulfilling discussion, and really hurt what could have been a great panel. And though I understand the limitations of time, there are just far too many panels up against each other (and readings, and signings, and kaffeklastches, and...) for a smallish conference. Some of the events were particularly deserted because of this phenomenon, which was a shame.

Finally, although this too has improved, Readercon still feels a little cliquey to me. I understand that a smaller con running for as long as RC has is automatically going to have more of a family atmosphere, but I still wonder how welcome brand new people really feel here, despite some efforts to fix the problem. I haven't had much of an issue with this--I was able to hang out with some author friends and others in the field, besides non-author friends of mine from the area who stopped by to say hello--but I've talked to a couple of people who felt disconnected from the goings-on, and I doubt that was an isolated feeling.

THE UGLY:

Yep. Still the "Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition." Man, is that prose bad. :)

So on the whole, a good conference got better, and that's always a good thing to see. I'm looking forward to next year. Until then, I'm working on my snazzy panel titles. I was thinking "Row, Row, Row Your Boat, Gently Down The Slipstream" for starters...what do you think?

Yeah. I should probably stick to Clint Eastwood riffs.

Greg