LASFS Statement About 2021 Westercon

Karl Lembke, Chairman of the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society Board of Directors, today told Facebook readers what the club will be doing to take up the slack now that the 2021 Seattle Westercon committee has disbanded. (LASFS holds the Westercon service mark.)

Lembke said:

The Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) is aware of the situation with respect to Westercon 73, and we regret that the Seattle Westercon Organising Committee (SWOC) who won the bid for Westercon 73 has experienced the troubles it has.

LASFS will host the functions mandated in the Westercon Constitution for Westercon 73 at Loscon 47, held over Thanksgiving Weekend, 2021. This includes the Business Meeting and Site Selection voting.

Individuals who decline to get their memberships of Westercon 73 refunded from SWOC are welcome to attend Loscon 47. Those keeping their supporting memberships will be able to vote as well, but have no other participation. If the supporting members wish to attend Loscon 47, they may pay the difference, for the current attending rate and the supporting rate for Westercon 73. All attending badged members at Loscon 47/Westrcon 73 will be able to participate in Westercon 75 site selection. LASFS undertakes no other obligations for Westercon 73. All contracts and agreements made by SWOC in the name of Westercon 73 remain the responsibility of SWOC. Please watch for further statements.

SFWA Taking Applications for 2021 Nebula Conference Scholarships

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc., (SFWA) are offering multiple scholarships for members of underserved communities to attend the 2021 Nebula Conference Online, June 4–6, 2021. The scholarships and the conference are open to SFWA members and nonmembers alike.

Here are the categories of scholarships available and the quantity restrictions on those scholarships. With the exception of the scholarship for Black Writers, which will remain available for all Black writers until June 6, 2021, scholarship applications must be completed on this form by May 1, 11:59pm Eastern Time. From the applicant pool, the scholarship recipients will be selected by lottery.

  • Scholarship for Black Writers: A part of SFWA’s Black Lives Matter Initiative, this scholarship is open to Black writers in the U.S. and abroad. To learn more about this initiative, visit this release on the SFWA.org website. 
  • Scholarship for AAPI Writers: A part of SFWA’s AAPI Initiative for 2021, this scholarship is available to Asian writers, Asian American writers, and writers from the Pacific Islands. To learn more about this initiative, visit this release on the SFWA.org website. (limited quantity: 25)
  • Scholarship for Writers Based Outside of the U.S.: In an effort to remove financial barriers that may exist for prospective attendees living abroad, we are offering a limited number of free tickets for writers living outside the U.S. (limited quantity: 25)
  • Workshop Scholarship: This scholarship is for writers who have been accepted to or attended a writing workshop from June 2020 through June 2021. (limited quantity: 25)

SFWA’s president, Mary Robinette Kowal, had the following to say about the available scholarships, “There are a lot of gatekeepers in the publishing landscape and with these scholarships, we’re hoping that SFWA can begin to open gates for writers.”

SFWA STORE. For the first time, SFWA is also opening a store for Nebula Conference-related gear and memorabilia. Proceeds from the store will go towards the Nebula Conference and SFWA’s other work.

The SFWA Store is branded as The Airship Nebula Gift Shop in keeping with the shared-world experience of the 2021 Nebula Conference Online. That shared world is one aspect of the “Airship Nebula” virtual socializing spaces that are intended to build community among attendees, offering the networking benefits of an in-person conference while hosting it fully online for a second year. Registered participants will receive $20 off their first purchase from the store.

NEBULA CONFERENCE REGISTRATION. For $125 registration, 2021 SFWA Nebula Conference participants will gain entry to professional development panels, mentorship opportunities, office hours with experts, an archive of the content, and access to ongoing educational events throughout the following year. 

Questions about the scholarships, the store, or the upcoming conference may be directed to the SFWA Events Team at events@sfwa.org.

[Based on a press release.]

2021 Seattle Westercon Disbands, LASFS Steps In To Fill the Gap

The Westercon 73 committee announced today they have abandoned plans to hold the convention which had been scheduled for July 1-4 in Sea-Tac, Washington. Kevin Standlee explained on the official Westercon website that the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, owner of the Westercon service mark, will help the Seattle committee wind up its responsibilities:

They are working with LASFS, owner of the Westercon service mark, to implement Section 1.9 of the Westercon Bylaws regarding a Westercon committee failure. Loscon 47, scheduled for November 26-28, 2021 at the Marriott Los Angeles Airport Hotel, will assume the mantle of Westercon 73, and has said that they will honor the memberships, both attending and supporting, of those members of Westercon 73 who do not request a refund from the Seattle committee. The 2021 Westercon Business Meeting will thus be held at Loscon 47, as will be the election to choose the site of the 2023 Westercon (Westercon 75).

Although the Seattle and Tonopah Westercon 73 and 74 committees creatively agreed last May to postpone their cons by a year to accommodate the state of Washington’s COVID-19 restrictions on large group events, with the passage of time the Seattle committee has suffered from attrition, and they did not feel they had the resources to do a virtual event.

The Westercon 73 committee chair Gene Armstrong (whose full statement is at the link) had this to say about the decision:

…Even though we were not at full staff we were doing pretty good and then Covid hit in March 2020, and the world stopped.

After waiting and watching it came to the point that we would not be having the con and working with Westercon 74 and our hotel we were able to shift the cons to the following years. So, we shifted and the longer this has gone on we started losing staff and panelist and in the last several months we have lost our chairman and I had to take over. Within the last couple months, we have talked about going virtual, but when I look back, we don’t have the pro’s or the staff to do a virtual convention. So, after talking to other convention runners and gathering opinions on the best course of action, it was decided that we will be shutting down Westercon 73 in Seattle as of now.

Westercon 73 members have these options:

We are offering partial refunds to those who paid more than $35 for their memberships (but would be grateful if you would consider donating it instead). Please contact Westercon 73 for assistance.

Those attending members who do not request a refund will have their memberships honored by Loscon 47, to be held Thanksgiving Weekend (November 26-28) in Los Angeles.

As for those with supporting memberships —

Since you have a paid membership with voting rights for Westercon 75 we will be working with Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society to make sure you will be getting your right to vote, unless you just want a full refund.

[Thanks to Kevin Standlee for the story.]

ConFusion 2021 Eastercon Report

By Jo Van Ekeren:

This past weekend, ConFusion 2021 (Eastercon) was held as a virtual convention. Guests of Honour were author Dan Abnett, author and editor Nik Vincent-Abnett, and fan Dave Lally. The online environment was primarily in an application called Gather Town, with some aspects of the con also available through the ConFusion 2021 website.

I had volunteered to staff a Virtual Fan Table for the Memphis in 2023 Worldcon bid at ConFusion 2021. Prior to the con, the Dealers Room head Melissa Taylor gave me a demo of the Gather Town environment so I’d have an idea what to expect. Melissa was really responsive to my requests for customisation to the fan table setup, which I greatly appreciated. The Memphis Fan Table area had a link to the website at a little kiosk on either side, a pop-up of the Memphis Q&A PDF (in the vending machine), and a whiteboard where people could write questions or messages (“back in 1/2 hour”, etc.). [N.B.: I wasn’t planning on writing this report until someone (ahem!) twisted my arm, and I didn’t think to take screenshots of the various rooms, so some of the images below are mockups.]

Confusion 2021 Eastercon Member Badge, with the ConFusion logo, member name, and member number

Right before the con, I received an e-mail with a virtual con badge, which was cool, even though I didn’t do anything with it. Members had the option of printing their badge off and wearing it, putting it in their virtual background, and/or posting it on social media.

Before dropping you into the environment, Gather Town required you to select an avatar from a variety of avatar choices and attire choices (some of the “attire” choices were wheelchairs, which was great). You also had the ability to add a line of text to your Profile with pronouns and/or bio info. After selecting their avatar, each person appeared in their current location in Gather Town with a small version of their avatar labeled with their badge name and membership number.

I was able to be present for around 6 hours each day Fri-Sat-Sun-Mon (since I live Down Under, the UK was 12 hours off from me, which made a pretty skewed schedule for me, but the fact that we have a 4-day Easter holiday weekend down here really helped). I spoke with people who stopped by the table in the Dealers Room, but I also took the opportunity on several occasions to go out and explore the VR environment and chat with other members I encountered. I had nice conversations with Leife Shallcross who was “next door” with the Australia in 2025 bid, and with David Stokes from Guardbridge Books on my other side.

I don’t know what the con’s membership total was (my membership, bought right before the convention, was number 438), but there was a small “people online” counter down in the corner on the Gather Town screen, and the highest number I noticed was 169 – which may or may not be close to the actual max usage of that environment during the convention.

There was a user profile bar at the bottom of the screen, which you could click on to toggle your green/red Status, change your text line, access a map to the entire Gather Town layout, change your video and audio hardware settings, and add an emoji to your profile. Unfortunately, though I tried it periodically, I could never get the map to load; the “loading” indicator just sat there, grinding. However, the designer, Alex Storer, posted a copy of the “spaceship” map on Facebook, and it’s really a clever design.

I liked the Gather Town virtual-reality environment much better than that of some other virtual conventions I’ve attended in the past year. It was simpler, very much like walking around at a real con inside a video game. There were potted trees and plants and chairs and couches. There was a large “Hangar” room where the Registration and Information Desk was located, with a bunch of shuttle-sized space vehicles parked in it. There were Easter Eggs like a fountain in the Arboretum having an unmarked entrance at one specific point which led to an observation deck.

There was an “invisible maze” accessed via an unmarked doorway (which I messed with for a bit, but I could not figure out how to get through it without being continually kicked back to the start). They did a Scavenger Hunt in the Dealers Hall which involved having to visit each dealer’s area and get a single pop-up word which you had to collect to form sentences and win a prize. There was a Gaming room which had a bunch of little stations where you could play video games, but I tried one and it appeared that the functionality was poor because it made an already resource-intensive application even more resource-intensive.

There was a virtual Art Show, which was viewable either through Gather Town, or through the browser from their website in an app called “Kunstmatrix”. I thought this was really well done. It’s available to the public for a couple more days, and you should go see it!

There was a nice variety on the Programme Schedule, with panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, virtual author “signing” sessions, and presentations by various Dealers. Programming ranged across the gamut of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, for both printed and visual media – with even some cuisine-related events!

SMOFcon 2021 (SMOFcon Europe in Lisboa) presented a panel on “Managing the Crisis”, with Elizabeth McCarty, Marguerite Smith, and Matt Calvert, moderated by Vincent Docherty. The speakers talked about how to manage con-related crises in an age of instantaneous, fast-moving social media, and discussed some real-life examples. This was a really useful panel, and I hope that it can be put up on YouTube, or otherwise made available to conrunners outside of this convention. (Elizabeth McCarty and Colin Harris have authored a great resource document entitled “Social Media Response Guide“, which is publicly available to conrunners and other interested parties.)

When you got close to someone in Gather Town, a little video window for them would pop open at the top of your screen, and you could see and talk to each other (your own video screen was on the lower right side). If that person’s video was turned off, you could click a “Ring” button on their little video window, and it would ring like a telephone on their side so they knew you wanted to talk. You could set the video screen of the person with whom you were speaking to full-screen mode and see a larger image of them during your conversation.

People walking by too closely, or walking up to you, would cause their little video window to pop up and they could jump in on your conversation, but there were also private spaces you could go into and talk, where random passersby wouldn’t trigger interruptions. You also had the ability to turn your green Status light to red to indicate that you were not around or were doing something privately; this also tightened your proximity bubble and prevented interruptions from random passersby.

ConFusion 2021 Gather Town Chat Bar, where the message log can be read, and messages can be sent

ConFusion 2021 Gather Town Member List of all members currently online, ability to search for a member, follow a member, or message a member

There was a left-side menu which included a pop-up list of all attendees, showing their green/red Status and their text (pronouns, bio, etc.). You could do a search by Badge Name to find a specific attendee, or browse the whole list. You could click on an attendee’s name and Message them, or Follow them (which would “physically” take you to wherever their avatar was located). The system also included a “Block” function which you could use if there was someone you didn’t want to be able to see you or talk to you; it made you invisible to the blocked person.

There was also a popup menu item for a Discord-type Chat message feed, which included all messages to Everyone, People Nearby (if they were in the same room as you), and your exchanges with individual members. But you had to scroll back through it to read messages; there was no Search or Filter function by keyword or member.

Now for an in-depth discussion of the drawbacks:

1) Gather Town required a desktop device; you could use it in a browser or in the desktop app, but there was no functionality for mobile devices.

2) Gather Town was a resource hog and I had to pretty much shut everything down on my computer to keep it from periodically losing connection and having to reconnect (and even that didn’t always prevent glitching). I actually have a pretty powerful desktop device; I suspect people with basic laptops and desktop devices would have had a really poor experience. I’m guessing that the Gather Town developers and testers all have hardcore gaming tech hardware setups; I don’t think Gather Town will ever make it as a successful virtual venue unless they can resolve these high CPU usage problems.

3) The environment was laid out like a real convention space, which meant you had to use your left/right and up/down arrow buttons to travel through long empty hallways to get somewhere. (When I refer to “travel” in this summary, I mean holding down the arrow keys and navigating around obstacles.) This seemed like the result of an inability to re-imagine a virtual con as anything other than being the same layout as a physical con. Getting from one place to another could often take at least minute or two of using your keyboard to navigate to get there (and that was assuming you had a good idea of the route to take to get where you wanted to go). I think it would have been an especially difficult adjustment for people who have never played video games.

4) The interface needed the ability to click a specific room on a list of rooms and immediately be taken there. There were teleportals in the larger areas which would take you to a central teleporter hall with all of the main area teleportals labeled, so there was a bit of a shortcut by that method. But a way to instantly get from one Programming Panel to the next was sorely needed. And a setup where new entrants were deposited into the central registration area hub, with many labeled doors each leading immediately to different sections and not requiring travel time and extensive keyboard manipulation, would have been much better (and would have still permitted the ability to have “fun” exploration rooms like the Arboretum and the Gaming Room).

5) I went to a reading early on in one of the programming rooms. There were a dozen or so attendees, and it was set up so that video windows showed only for the person/people up front. You could also “attend” sessions outside of Gather Town by going to a section of their website and clicking on the video feed you wanted to see. But a lot of people reported having so many issues trying to attend panels in Gather Town that they just chose instead to access the video streams via the website. However, there were lots of problems with that, too, with things getting started very late, or the streaming not working during the actual panel, and the panels were only viewable later on as a recording, which prevented in-session Q&A interaction with the audience.

6) Programming sessions were recorded, and were available for later viewing via the convention’s website. The quality of these recordings was pretty good, but I had to set the video playback quality to the lowest level to avoid “hiccupping”. And strangely, though I tried several things, I was never able to route the audio from these recordings through headphones, either through an audio jack connection or through a USB headphone connection (although both of these worked just fine for me in Gather Town). There was no automated captioning on anything, and no transcripts for the panels. (Members still have access to these recordings until midnight [GMT+1] on 12 April.)

7) I think that the environment design for the convention was done with a goal of cleverness, cuteness, and “real-world emulation in a video game” – and there’s something to be said for that, parts of it were rather fun. But I’m very vision, hearing, and hand-dexterity abled, so it was easy for me. I thought the environment showed a real lack of awareness of the accessibility issues which accompany such an interface for those with impaired vision, hearing, or hand/finger dexterity. Labels on person icons were quite small, and navigation was by keyboard keys. (The accessibility problems with Gather Town are well known; ACM’s Ubicomp had to apologise after using it for their convention in September 2020.)

8) I saw someone somewhere say that Gather Town costs $1 per person for 2 hours (which would be $24,000/£12,300 for 500 people for 4 days). This meant that it was so expensive that everything was set up only right before the convention started, and there was no ability to do a “shakedown cruise” and revise things based on user feedback in the days leading up to the convention. Aside from the expensive cost and the poor performance quality, the inability to do that shakedown cruise without any additional cost would seem to me to be a real deal-breaker for using Gather Town.

Based on all of these considerations, my recommendation for a virtual convention would be for the environment to be something that is mainly text and menu-based with a little bit of artistic embellishment, but with the primary emphasis on functionality and accessibility, rather than on impressive visuals or virtual-reality effects.

I “attended” the Eastercon Bid session which was done over Zoom and moderated by Vincent Docherty. There was one bid for 2022 by Phil Dyson, to be called “Reclamation“, which they expect to be in-person but with some virtual aspects for members who can’t attend. It was selected in a vote by 98% of the members at the session. They then announced their Guests of Honour: Authors Zen Cho and Mary Robinette Kowal, Artist Philip Reeve, and Fan Nicholas Whyte.

There were two bids for the 2023 Eastercon. One, for “Persistence”, was by the current chair, who is understandably wanting to put on a real convention in 2 years because their convention last year had been cancelled at the last minute due to the burgeoning pandemic, and they’d been forced to do this one (its replacement) virtually. The first bid presentation lasted about 3 minutes and amounted to “I want to put on an in-person convention, and I promise to do a good job, but I don’t have any specifics yet”.

The second presentation was a spur-of-the-moment “bid” by Alison Scott, who wanted to speak at length regarding the other bid, but was told that she was required to be an official bid to do so. Scott’s presentation was civil but quite impassioned regarding the lack of consideration shown in the planning of the current convention, saying that it called into question whether the other bid was really a good choice without first being forced to address the problems with the current convention as part of their bid planning presentation, and without being willing to commit to at least planning for a partially virtual convention, because she thinks that will be necessary. She said the convention was incredibly expensive for what it actually delivered, due to lack of planning, poor choices (some of which were strongly opposed by committee members who resigned after being overruled), and no testing or feedback.

Scott made the case that the Eastercon convention should not be a fancy show, but rather a community-building and sharing enterprise with much better communication than had been done this year, and that members should either vote for her bid (with the promise that she really would put together a well-run convention should she be selected) – or more preferably, vote to defer the awarding of the 2023 convention to next year, so that the bid(s) presented could make use of the feedback and lessons learned from this convention to really do an excellent job of planning (and that bid might very well be the bid of the current chair, if they showed a marked improvement in their planning a year from now). There was a vote of the members attending the session, and the result was 16% for the current chair’s bid, 10% for Alison Scott’s “bid”, and 69% to defer to next year the selection of the 2023 bidcom.

Farah Mendlesohn and Pat McMurray announced they would be presenting a bid for the 2024 Eastercon at next year’s convention, with team members David Cooper, Fiona Scarlett, Jude Roberts, and John Coxon. Their slideshow and the audio of their presentation are available on Dropbox.

Further information on ConFusion 2021

In spite of the issues, I really enjoyed getting the chance to interact with European fans at ConFusion 2021, and even though I won’t be able to attend in person, I’m hoping that Reclamation 2022 will have a virtual component in which I can participate.

Eastercon 2022 Announced

Eastercon, the UK’s longest running science fiction convention, will be called Reclamation in 2022. The committee’s intention is to return Eastercon to an in-person event if possible. However, the announcement does not say where it would be held. The convention dates are Friday, April 15 to Monday, April 18, 2022.

The Guests of Honor are Mary Robinette Kowal, Zen Cho, Philip Reeve and Nicholas Whyte.

Memberships are available now, from the reclamation2022 website. The committee says they are “considering all options for the convention, whether it has to be online only, in person or a hybrid event. They are watching other conventions closely to find the best possible solutions for hybrid and virtual events.”

The committee consists of Chair: Phil Dyson; Treasurer: Phil Nanson, Programme: Ali Baker and Virginia Preston; Secretary: Clare Boothby; Registration: James Shields; and Communications (Web & PRs): Emma Kalson.

Update: The Eastercon 2022 committee added in response to my question:

The venue is currently not confirmed due to complications caused by the global pandemic, but the plans for the event are very much underway. Currently event organisers have not been able to visit the site; it will be one that Eastercon has been held at in the past (though not too recently) and will be in the South of England.

2021 Jack Williamson Lectureship

The 44th Annual Jack Williamson Lectureship, hosted by Eastern New Mexico University, will be held online April 22-24, with guests of honor James Patrick Kelly and Rebecca Roanhorse, and emcee Connie Willis. There will be readings and panels, interspersed with film clips from past lectureships, and quizzes, SF bingo and other surprises.  A full agenda will be shared soon.

  • James Patrick Kelly has won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. His most recent publications are the novella King Of The Dogs, Queen Of The Cats (2020) and the collection, The Promise of Space (2018). He writes a column on the internet for Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and recently retired from faculty of the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine where he taught for 15 years.
  • Rebecca Roanhorse is a Nebula and Hugo Award-winner and the recipient of the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer. Her novel Trail of Lightning won the Locus Award for Best First Novel and is a Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy finalist. A sequel, Black Sun, came out in 2020. Her short fiction can be found in Apex Magazine, New Suns, The Mythic Dream, and various anthologies. She lives in Northern New Mexico.

The lectureship, named for the prolific sff author and academic, was established by the university when Dr. Jack Williamson retired from his position as professor of English at Eastern New Mexico University in 1977. Ever since then writers, editors, artists and other speakers have gathered at ENMU every spring to share ideas, insights and their work with students, readers, viewers, creators, collectors and fans.

Last year’s lectureship was postponed due to the pandemic and the guests reinvited to the 2021 event.

World Fantasy Convention 2021 Announces Special Guest Brandon O’Brien

Brandon O’Brien

Brandon O’Brien will be a Special Guest at the World Fantasy Convention 2021 in Montréal the committee announced today. He joins a guest list featuring Nisi Shawl, John Picacio, André-François Ruaud, Owl Goingback, Yves Meynard, and Christine Taylor-Butler.

Brandon O’Brien is a performance poet, science fiction and fantasy writer, media critic, teaching artist, and game designer living and working in Trinidad and Tobago. His short stories, essays, and poetry have been published in Uncanny MagazineStrange Horizons, and sx salon, as well as anthologies such as Sunvault; Ride The Star Wind; and New Worlds, Old Ways.

His work is focused on using speculative lenses to reframe marginalized and Atlantic realities, imagine radical futures, and prescribe togetherness, awareness, and rebellion as forces for positive change leading into uncertain times.

The World Fantasy Convention is held in a different city each year: 2021 will be the first time it has come to Montréal since 2001. The theme will be Fantasy, Imagination, and the Dreams of Youth, celebrating young adult fantasy fiction in all of its forms: epic, dark, paranormal, and other varieties. The convention will be held on November 4-7, 2021 at the Hotel Bonaventure. Diane Lacey is the Chair.

Attending memberships can be purchased online here. Membership numbers are capped at 950; including guests and staff, there will be over a thousand fantasy and horror authors, editors, artists, and a few devoted fans.

The possibility exists that the convention may become digital, but at this time and given the expected timeline of the vaccine rollout in North America, the committee says they expect to be able to hold an in-person convention.

 [Based on a press release.]

Report on Day 1 of LTUE 2021

By David Doering: We opened today our first edition of a virtual Life, The Universe and Everything (LTUE) Symposium for Science Fiction & Fantasy Creators. We expected lower registrations being online, but we pleasantly surprised to have 697 memberships–almost 200 of which showed up in the last four-five days. I guess when people don’t have to book flights and hotel rooms they wait before they register.

We had reduced our full event membership down to $42 (appropriate, don’t you think?) so that may have encouraged some to wait till the end.

More interesting, we had 250+ attendees in the function rooms at 3 pm when we started programming. That represents about 1/3 of all attendees, which I have never seen at an in-person con. (Often I wonder where the 8000+ fans at Worldcon are when I peruse the function rooms.)

Alaya Dawn Johnson

Our GoH Alaya Dawn Johnson gave a marvelous keynote address. Since she is working in a small village in central Mexico without reliable internet, she traveled an hour away to a hotel with a good connection and came through loud and clear. What a feeling to be conducting a science fiction convention using science fictional tools!

Given our “serious” style of programming, we even had 30 people in a panel on using periods and commas correctly.

BTW: Our event platform is Discord with links to programming on YouTube. We have a team of 30 volunteers staffing the broadcast center at the Marriott Hotel. We have 3 people per event–a receptionist to track down and welcome people to their panel or presentation, a producer to run the actual stream, and a chat monitor to relay questions and maintain decorum with attendees. Worked well.

I am also signed up to attend Boskone, so I’ll have a better idea after tomorrow how we compare.  I know that several hours we are running 7 or 8 program items simultaneously. I am curious to see the numbers for those hours.

One other surprise. We had a late entry for a master class. (Those are longer session workshops, usually two hours or more in length, with an extra fee.) The instructor got me details just last Saturday on her “structuring story” session and yet garnered 22 signups despite very limited promotion. I wonder how many more we would have gotten if we had details out earlier?

You can see the grid schedule here: https://ltue.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/LTUE2021-GridSchedule.pdf

Things I miss from our in-person version? The buzz in the hallways, coffee shop, lobby, and the bar with writers and creators congregating for impromptu session. Hallways lined with fan tables, artists, and gaming. A packed dealers room with treasures beckoning my dollars to leave my pockets. 

We do have an LTUE art show in VR. You can access it from www.ltue.net/art-show . (CAUTION: It must download the display module which is 700MB.) The module allows you to browse a 3D room with high resolution art. The module also prevents downloading any of the art, which doing a simple webpage with images could not prevent.

Another big benefit of having online chat rooms is being able to catch up on a conversation. Also, to preserve great quotes and observations. Finally, many people just think better when typing than talking. 

Boskone 2021 Pre-Con Report

By Daniel Dern: Boskone 58 is coming soon — Friday, February 12 through Sunday, February 14, 2021. The Boskone 58 event site is located here on Grenadine. As I write this, there are about 190 program items/events and around 150 speakers listed.

The Guests of Honor (GoH’s) are:

  • GUEST OF HONOR: Joe Abercrombie
  • SPECIAL GUEST: Sheree Renée Thomas
  • OFFICIAL ARTIST: Julie Dillon
  • MUSICAL GUEST: Marc Gunn
  • HAL CLEMENT SCIENCE SPEAKERS: Mike Brotherton & Christian Ready
  • NESFA PRESS GUEST: Ursula Vernon

Listed participants include a mix of familiar and new names/faces — including, I’m sure, many who might otherwise have been able to schedule/travel (in happier times) in person, including (to name just a few) Jeanne Cavelos, John Chu, Neil Clarke, Guy Consolmagno, C. S. E. Cooney, Bruce Coville, Ellen Datlow, Aliette de Bodard, Vincent Di Fate, S.B. Divya, Vince Docherty, Cory Doctorow, Sarah Beth Durst, Scott Edelman, Bob Eggleton, Greer Gilman, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Max Gladstone, Andrea Hairston, Carlos Hernandez, James Patrick Kelly, Marcin “Alqua” Klak, Mur Lafferty, Tabitha Lord, Kwame Mbalia, Larry Niven, Garth Nix, Suzanne Palmer, Tamora Pierce, Julia Rios, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, Carrie Vaughn, Fran Wilde, Connie Willis, and Jane Yolen.

Because of some of the interesting ways NESFA is doing this year’s Boskone, I feel it’s worth providing this pre-con report, including reasons to register  before the last minute if you haven’t already — and why it might be worth it even if you don’t have much online time available during those days.

(Note, any “according to Boskone” or unattributed-in-text quotes are from the Boskone web site.)

AFFORDABLE! Like Arisia 2021 (see my File770 Arisia post-con report), this year’s Boskone is, unsurprisingly, virtual-only — and full-weekend membership is, similarly, a modest $25.00.

Information like the program participants list and the program is publicly viewable — useful for deciding whether you want to “go.”

Membership gives you access to “the entire event site and program, including panel recordings, the Con Suite (where parties will be held in Zoom breakout rooms), the internal messaging system for chatting, and our special embedded chat windows for program items, art show, dealers, and fan tables.”

Boskone also lets you not buy a membership but still make a $5 (or multiples of) supporting contribution. You don’t get any convention access, but, according to Boskone, “Your gift helps defray expenses such as converting to an online format, providing American Sign Language services, assistance with our New Voices Fund, memberships for those in need, and more.”

KAFFEEKLATCH SIGNUPS! Kaffeeklatsch signups went live at noon EST Wednesday February 5, and while there’s more “seats” than I’ve typically seen at live cons — twenty-two, versus ten-to-twelve — they’re beginning to fill up. (I’ve already registered, and signed up for the ones I want to be at/in.) [Click for larger image.]

RECORDED PROGRAMMING. Unlike Arisia2021, Boskone will be recording all sessions that are done in the Zoom format. According to Boskone this will include “all panels, solo presentations, and other items that are held as a webinar. The only exception to this rule is if a program participant has asked not to be recorded.)…and there will be approximately 90 items recorded, with videos becoming available by the end of each day.” Note, according to a Boskone committeeperson, kaffeeklatches will NOT be recorded.

Boskone intends to make videos available by the end of each day — and, importantly, “We are keeping the Boskone 58 event site up through the end of February 2021.”

Given that I’ve currently flagged nearly three dozen program items as potentially interesting — and only two of those aren’t conflicting with one or two other sessions (and none of those slots have more than one KaffeeKlatch that I’ve signed up for) — I could easily be belatedly Boskone-ing up for a fortnight post-Boskone! I do expect to winnow my selections down — but it’s nice to not have to choose which one to go to — or regret choices because it sounds like the room next door is having more fun, or because I learn I missed a great discussion elsewhere.

If there aren’t KaffeeKlatches you want to be at, you can wait until the last minute — and if you’re OK with watching the recorded sessions, that’s not necessarily late in the game. (The web site currently says that Memberships are “Available Until 14 Feb, 2021.”)  [ NOTE, the registration page — and this article — had originally said “Until 15 February, 2021” but that has been updated, hence also my article.]

SUNDRY NOTES. Unlike Arisia 2021, which used a mix of web, Zoom and Discord, Boskone 58 is being  billed as a “single sign on event.” (Arisia 2021, by contrast, used Discord for some of the chat.)

Boskone is using the Grenadine event platform — which they’ve been using for several years (as have several other cons I’ve gone to, including the Dublin 2019 WorldCon). (With one exception: game players will have to sign up for the Board Game Arena.)

Magic show! I’m looking forward to being in the audience for a change, for the “Starship Magic Show” a “50-minute SF themed magic show. Vulcan’s Greatest Magician, S’kai, is presented by Dr. Willie Yee.”

 Convinced yet?

I’m of course sad that Mark and Priscilla Olson don’t seem to be doing their “Trivia For Chocolate” evening game show (where I surprisingly often end up in the top half-dozen), but I can see how this would be tricky to run over Zoom — and even harder to throw the point-keeping chocolate Thin Mints at the correct-or-snarky answerers.)

Ditto, I’ll miss schmoozing with friends F2F. On the other hand, no worries about weather, transit failures, hotel snafus, restaurant lines, or coffee not near ready in the Con Suite before the mornings’ first panels.

(Plus, harder to get autographs.)

I’m looking for to being at Boskone 58 — some as it happens, the rest before the end of the month.

Arisia 2021: A Brief Dern’s- and Web’s-Eye View

By Daniel Dern: Taking place Friday, January 15 through Monday, January 18, Arisia 2021  was, unsurprisingly, virtual-only with, according to the con runners, about 1,500 registrations.

For comparison, according to my File 770 report on Arisia 2020:

“The first Arisia had just over 800 attendees; Arisia 2017 had over 4,500 registered attendees! According to the con’s Monday morning January 20 Clear Ethernet newsletter, Arisia 2020 is reporting 3,052 registered attendees.”

Arisia 2021’s Guests of Honor were Suzanne Palmer (Author GoH), Hannibal King (Artist GoH), and Kat Tanaka Okopnik (Fan GoH).

Currently — fingers and pseudopods crossed! — Arisia 2022, January 14-17, 2022, is planned to be IRL, back at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel, with Guests of Honor Andrea Hairston (Author GoH), Reiko Murakami (Artist GoH), and Elsa Sjunneson (Fan GoH). Memberships are for sale here.

Over the past year, I — like, I presume, everybody else reading this — have “attended”/participated in my share of family, friend, social, and work-related virtual events, including, for me, over the previous week or so, press events for the Consumer Electronics Show that’s normally live (and crowded) in Las Vegas.

However, Arisia 2021 was my first virtual Con. And I was under the weather enough that other than fulfilling my own panel commitments — part of a Readings panel, plus, over in FastTrack, reading some of my Dern Grim Bedtime Tales, Few Of Which End Well, & Other Stories, plus an instructive attempt to do my magic show en Zoom — I didn’t do anywhere as much as I might otherwise. (Plus, alas, no hall costume pix.) 

That said, here’s some info, screen grabs (with permission from Arisia, where appropriate), and some other notes’n’thoughts. (Please feel encouraged to put links to your own reports/posts for Arisia 2021, or other thoughts, in this post’s COMMENTS.)

ARISIA ONLINE! Arisia 2021 was organized to take place “entirely online, primarily across Discord, Zoom, and a new Arisia Virtual Convention website, designed specifically for this convention with an eye to recreating what we all love most about an in-person convention experience.”

Activities included meetups (using Zoom and Discord), including use of Zoom break-out rooms.

Arisia 2021 also of course used the usual gamut of email and social media for communicating/schmoozing, including Arisia’s Clear Ether blog, Twitter (https://twitter.com/Arisia), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/arisiainc/), and Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/arisiainc/). (My apologies if there are any I’ve missed.) (Balticon 54, back in May 2020, apparently used Second Life extensively. According to Balticon: “Balticon 54 will be hosting a social space inside Second Life for convention attendees. The convention space, Balticon Station, will be a virtual con suite where you can meet and hang out with other fans. We also plan to sponsor Second Life convention activities, events, and to provide links to sci-fi and fantasy themed locations throughout Second Life.”)

Arisia 2021 had over 100 panels, meetups, song-circles, and sing, hosted live on Zoom. According to Arisia, “This year’s panels are running 55 minutes, instead of 75 minutes, with 35 minutes between sessions. This gives program participants time to make sure all of the technical pieces are working for the next session, hopefully minimizing technical disruptions.”

THE HELP DESK WAS STRONG: Program participants were expected to connect to Zoom half an hour before the actual session, to confirm those pesky details like “are my video and audio working,” “are all the participants here,” and (where appropriate) also making sure we were Discorded in.

Support cued us up at start the session, hung around in the background just in case, and helped make sure panelists and audience knew where the virtual break-out rooms where. Having been on my share of multi-person, many-newbies Zooms by know, I could tell we were in good, experienced hands.

THE MASQUERADE: You can still watch Arisia 2021’s half-hour Virtual Masquerade video, and while you don’t get the part-of-an-audience dynamic, you get a much closer, fuller look at the costumes, some in motion, along with some close-ups of the work and some comments from the creators.

DEALERS ROOM AND ART SHOW: According to pre-con info from Arisia, “The Art Show https://online.arisia.org/artshow and the Dealer’s Room https://online.arisia.org/dealers will be available to the public for the first time in Arisia history! …This year, Art Show and Dealer sales will happen through the specific Artists’ and Dealers’ websites. Links will be provided on their pages.”

Dealer and Art Show participants were organized alphabetically with info-tiles — straightforward enough, but lacking the walk-through/visual-browse of a live room, of course. I wonder whether there are manageable (as in, easy to implement and cross-platform/device-usable) ways to do this, like, say, using Second Life.

Arisia 2021 also offererd Gaming, filking, workshops (including swordplay — see the picture), dancing, and meet-ups — if anyone reading this participated in any of those, I welcome your thoughts below in the comments.

EXPERIENCES AND LESSONS LEARNED FROM MY OWN SESSIONS. I was in one of the multi-person reading sessions, along with  Anne Nydam (nydamprints.com), who read from her The Extraordinary Book of Doors (which I enjoyed, and highly recommend — it also includes books, libraries and cats), and RR Angell reading from a rather somber cyber/military-SF story. (I read a few of my flash-length Dern Grim Bedtime Tales.)

The audience was, by default, muted. Particularly since I was looking at my text, I couldn’t keep an eye on the audience view, I found the lack of audio feedback disconcerting.

Doing magic tricks — especially for FastTrack kids — proved harder than I thought, between things (unwantedly) disappearing into my virtual background, trying to keep my cards, rabbits, hats, etc. in my camera view, and properly lit. On the other hand, we — about eight or nine kids — had fun also asking and answering questions, telling jokes, showing me (and the rest of the audience) tricks, keeping us all happily occupied for the near-hour, which, I’m pretty sure, more than met the hopes of many of the parents/adults.

The good news: no problems with weather, hotel reservations, or public transit. No need to board our dog. Everybody had an equally good “seat” for events.

The sad news: none of the opportunistic or planned schmoozing with friends.

Were there bid or other parties? I forgot to check.

See you — with the emphasis on “see!” — you next year, tentacles twirled.