SFContario has come and gone, leaving me with very mixed set of feelings.
On the whole, the con seemed well managed, though somewhat on the lavish side. I wondered how they would pay for it all, on a budget of three hundred or four hundred members, tops. For example, all the concom had their own special staff t-shirt – there seemed to be more than one design, in fact. The con gave out recyclable fiber bags with their logo on one side. I think that must have been paid for mainly by advertising on the other side. The program book looked considerably better than Torcon 3’s. As well, the consuite was generous in providing cheeses, soft drinks, bagels and spreads, hot food and veggies.
If I were to make a complaint, it’s that there was too much program. Usually there were two major and two minor events at all times during the bulk of the day, running to late at night. If you were the sort who absolutely must hear some talking heads at the front of the room discuss SF and the environment, or fandom vs. the internet for the 8th time, there wasn’t much time left for hanging out and talking with your friends. Strangely, most people in fact seemed to me to have their noses buried in the program schedule an awful lot of the time. It must the growing stuffiness of fandom – even the older hands seemed to be sitting to hear the same old sercon that was more or less familiar from thirty years ago. Oh well… they do call themselves science fiction fans.
All I saw of the program, myself – and of some of the Con Guests, even Michael Swanwick – were the Opening Ceremonies and one panel. I wanted to stay through to the end of a panel on SF and science that Bob Wilson and Robert Sawyer were on, but I couldn’t follow the discussion. Sawyer rang loud and clear like a bell. Bob, naturally soft-spoken, came through about 50% of the time. But I know as well as the next person how bad my hearing is and was resigned to leaving early. Mikes might have been a big help, even in that modest sized program rooms.
Taken in its entirety, the convention hotel was well-located in regard to transportation and restaurants. The con suite and other rooms I saw were or reasonable size, though somewhat eccentric. Because of the layout, you could not really reach the bathroom or other sitting room without going through the middle of the main room and interrupting whoever was talking there. Program facilities were more than adequate, though spread out surprisingly far for a small hotel. The one exception to adequacy was the tiny, wretched, ill-lit hole under the lobby stairs that had been set aside for the art show.
The work of only four or five artists was on display, and none was original that I could see – only digital print-outs and lithographed repros. The Artist GoH – Billy Tackett – had one end of the room for his prints. They were what you would see on his website – paintings of Dracula or Tor Johnson rising from the grave, except even more ghastly looking, if possible. The artist himself was thin, dressed entirely in black and wore a “bad-ass” cowboy hat… also black. Actually, he looked more the sort who would be more comfortable in a cinder-block biker bar with a neon Coors sign in the window. He was from rural Kentucky… where that may well be the general fashion sense.
The dealers room had at most ten dealers. I can recall eight or nine, but will allow for another one or two that I don’t remember. Bakka was there, three or four small press reps and the authors they published kept a vigil, and a collector or two who was selling his surplus pretty much filled the room. They were almost all in the book business, one way or the other. One dealer was filk-singer – whose name meant nothing to me – with his DVD’s. One other table that was nothing but hand-made Victorian jewelry. I have no idea who buys that sort of thing – costumers? Gypsies? I don’t think business was brisk, but Bakka assured me that they would do alright.
As small cons go, I’d say SFC was top-heavy with costuming and filking. There was a prominent Steampunk event. There was at one time two simultaneous filk events. As well, the con featured a spin-off of Dr. Horrible’s “sing-along-whatever.” I counted three anime panels — in fact, I was on one of them, which was surprisingly lively and one of my personal favorite hours during the con. The bottom line is that SFC was more “literary” than Ad Astra has been for years, but not quite as “literary” as it seems to me they had been presenting themselves.
Mike Glicksohn and Susan Manchester attended on Friday, but not Saturday or Sunday. He’s looking well, considering his chemotherapy.
I did four panels, and was exhausted by Saturday evening. I won’t go into the details of what’s wearing me out so easily, but by the time I had finished my last panel I felt I had seen everything and had nothing left to do. People at the con seemed constantly busy, so trying to work up a small talk in the halls was often wasted effort. I seemed to be meeting actual discouragement from some of them. Apart from helpful staff, the con suite was occupied by a couple of the usual bores whose stories I had heard the day before. I really didn’t know what to do with myself at that point. I left for home at a surprisingly early hour – 8 p.m.
For me the con was a bumpy ride with several ups and downs. I loved being on the Studio Ghibli panel with René Walling and some English dude from Anime North. We obviously all knew the subject well, were passionate about the films of Hayao Miyazaki, and had the desire to communicate that passion. Another of my panels, on the effect of digital technology on pubbing, went fairly well, I thought. Several usable suggestions were made that Bill Burns needs to hear about. A third panel – on why fans accept some movies and TV shows as legit SF but not others – I think could be counted a success. The most fannish panel I participated in was the one I ended up being least enthusiastic about. It was a round-robin in which good fanwriting was demonstrated by readings and discussion. While the other participants were probably pleased with the proceedings, I thought we were largely going through the motions.
When I enjoyed myself at SFC, I really did. What does it say, though, that my peak experience may have been going around the corner with Bob & Sharry Wilson to have a hamburger? (It was the only time I ate out at the con, in fact. No one asked, and I didn’t notice anyone leaving either.) Other moments, though, were like those recurrent bad memories I have of cons from the Old Days – SFC was often exactly like some of the dullest, most pointless times I spent at cons in the 70s and 80s, when I was desperate to engage in small talk with perfect strangers at 2 a.m. …because otherwise there would have been nothing to do at all.
I think I may have just outgrown that sort of thing… Maybe outgrown conventions, even. At some age, a good hamburger or a good night’s sleep becomes better than any con.
SFContario next year will be held at the same Ramada Plaza on Jarvis Street, November 19-20, 2011. Guests already confirmed are John Scalzi, Karl Schroeder, Gardner Dozois and “Toyboat.” http://sfcontario.ca/home-2011