Philcon 2009

It was still quite dark when I dragged myself out of bed this morning. It was slightly less dark when I had finished gathering my things and hit the road for Philcon in Cherry Hill, NJ. The drive here was very smooth and Spider Robinson kept me company, reading Cory Doctorow’s short story, “Human Readable”, from my iPod most of the way up. The odd traffic configurations here in New Jersey nearly did me in at the tail end of the drive. After ten minutes of continuous re-calculation my GPS finally got me to the hotel. Ten minutes off navigation failure versus the two hours plus total drive time is not bad at all.

I was thankfully able to check in right away and dragged my bags, over half of them containing audio-visual gear of some sort, up to the room. In the lobby, I plunked down in one of the numerous over stuffed chairs and pulled out the pocket guide to the convention. While I was juggling the schedule, my notes, and the wireless on my iPod, none other than Cory Doctorow himself walked by.

He joined me after I hailed him. He logged onto the wireless too and we spent a few minutes catching up both online and between the two of us. I managed to message Dan, one of my friends from Philly and a blogger for Geekadelphia, to direct him to meet us in the lobby. Dan and I followed Cory from there to his first panel, a discussion of the group, Anonymous, and anonymity online.

That panel very much set the example that I felt the rest of the programming I attended throughout the day followed. The panelists included, among others, Eric Raymond, Eric’s wife, Cory, and a member of Anonymous who also regularly hangs out on the 4chan /b/ board. Not surprisingly, the opinions and anecdotes ran the full gamut, even at times growing a bit tense and awkward, but in a useful way, pulling the discussion into interesting curves and corners.

The next two panels were discussions more of a literary bent, respectively digging into post-humanity in SF and the question of whether SF writers are still writing about the future. At first, the latter panel, half of whom were also on the former panel, looked like it was going to rehash much of the ideas from the earlier discussion. I think the panelists did a god job quickly diverging and exploring this rich question of the role of prediction, speculation, temporality, or even lack thereof in the literature of science fiction.

There was a good mix of two generations of writers on both of those panels. I really enjoyed hearing the comparison of older works with newer authors and the differences in opinions, sometimes bucking the expected generational lines, on the respective topics. I have tons of notes, not so much for this post but of stories and novels I need to track down.

In between these two panels, I caught Cory Doctorow’s scheduled reading. Instead of reading from his just released novel, “MAKERS”, we were treated to an advanced peak at his next novel, “For the Win”. That should drop around May of next year and I cannot wait. I managed to get a recording of Cory’s reading, mostly. I had a glitch with my recorder, specifically with one of the storage cards I use with it. I missed a few minutes of the reading when I had to switch the cards out but that’s all the more reason for folks who get the audio of the reading in his feed later to buy the book. Get your copy to fill in the missing piece of the reading.

After the reading, we grabbed some caffeine and set up for the interview. I tried to prepare some good questions, angles on the novel I hadn’t heard covered in the other interviews Cory has shared on his feed during his book tour over the past week or so. I think I did well and regardless I enjoyed the conversation immensely. I look forward to getting it back into the studio to do the necessary audio wrangling preparatory to publishing it on my podcast.

Dan tagged along at my request to grab some photos since I was occupied with running the audio and the interview. He snapped an impressive quantity and variety of pictures. After the audio work for the interview, I’ll need some more time to sift through them for the gems worth sharing. He surprised me by also setting up his brand new HD camcorder and taking video of the interview. Dan thankfully has offered to do the heavy lifting of editing and rendering that video for sharing out on everyone’s feeds.

After a delightfully heavy dinner–er, I mean a healthy, nutritionally balanced meal–Dan and I caught a couple of more panels that looked interesting. He had to head back to Philly after that and I’ll confess to the long day and a bit of sleep deprivation catching up with me.

Throughout the day, I bumped into several of my con going and podcasting friends including Tom Doyle whose readings I’ve recorded faithfully at several conventions, Dr. John Cmar and Laura Burns doing their usual duty to science as guests in the evidence-based programming, Jared Axelrod and J.R. Blackwell who were both incredibly well turned out in their usual creative fashion, and Gail Z. Martin who always has a smile when I see her and recently was very generous in interviewing me for her podcast.

I only got to see most of my friends for a few moments here and there. Even though I did not participate on any panels or volunteer, the panels I wanted to attend conflicted with their various guest commitments and interests. That effect was no doubt compounded by my choice to only attend the con today and my early exhaustion. I am staying here overnight but plan to get an early start back to the DC area tomorrow.

There was a time when the chance to socialize with friends being so fleeting would have bothered me. I am increasingly realizing that this is just the way most conventions unfold. I could choose to get hung up on the things I don’t get to do or see but it makes much better sense to choose to remain open to enjoy those people and things I do see. After all, there is always another convention at which I’ll get another chance to catch up with friends.

As for my first Philcon, I think the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society runs an excellent con and the hotel, both the guest rooms and convention space, are top notch. Philcon in some ways reminds me of Balticon in that they share a stronger focus on literature over other media. It has a unique character, though, drawing out many more established authors, folks who have more and different stories of the industry and the genre to tell. There was also a good showing of the young turks and aspiring writers but not to the same degree as Balticon. Enough of them, though, as I pointed out in describing the panels, to add a more interesting dynamic to much of the programming.

It remains to be seen whether I’ll return next year, more for reasons of time and budget than anything else. If it wasn’t Cory’s last stop in his US book tour for “MAKERS” and within a reasonable driving, it would never have occurred to me to come up. I am glad I did, and not just for the chance to interview one of my friends and role models. Philcon has a lot to offer if you have the opportunity to consider coming in the future. I’d definitely recommend it and rank it favorably against the conventions, like Balticon and Farpoint, that I’ve been attending for years much closer to home.

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