Barkley: DisCon III, the Third Day

The File 770 DisCon III News Desk

To Be Fair, I Was Left Unsupervised: A Disjointed Chronicle of 79th World Science Fiction Convention, DisCon III — December 17-18, 2021

By Chris M. Barkley:


After yesterday’s events, I decided to sleep in a bit, until about 9 a.m. Because, you know, Worldcon.

The first bit of news came from Newsletter Number 3, which was published late Thursday evening. The middle column had the BIG news: that the proposal to create a Best Audiobook category had passed muster at the Preliminary Meeting and would be debated at the Main Session on Friday. After my blistering attack on the Business Meeting I feel slightly encouraged. But let’s see what happens next. Watch This Space, as Rachel Maddow intones on a regular basis…

At 10 a.m., I was on the move; today was the day I was going to race around like a whirling dervish and get books signed, come hell or high water!

I dashed down to the Dealers Room eagerly to seek out Mary Robinette Kowal, only to find out her signing session had been rescheduled due to a conflicting panel. So, you may wonder, who else would be crazy enough to get up that early in the morning to sign autographs? Yeah, THIS GUY, fellow Ohioian John Scalzi…

On my way back to my room, I made a stop at the Press Office. Peter Thomas was there and he informed me that a dozen media reporters had registered and that he did not have a firm number on how many warm bodies were on site, but had heard unofficially form the folks in Registration that the figure may or may not be around 2,500 people. He promised to text me directly if he got any solid information. (As of Friday evening, he did not have any additional information.)  

After tempering my disappointment, it was time for breakfast. The weather remained unusually warm with moderate winds and an overcast sky. Our destination was Open City again because our companion Anna, Juli and I were wondering if their breakfast menu was as good as their dinner menu. Readers, we were not disappointed!

Juli had the Chorizo Scramble with an arugula salad, Anna had the California Scramble with a side of fruit. I decided to go big and have the Biscuit (singular!) and Gravy with a Breakfast Burrito. And yes, they serve animal crackers with their tea and coffee!

[Chris Barkley’s report continues after the jump.]

I am not showing Juli or Anna’s meals because I don’t want to be held responsible for the apoplectic hunger pangs you would have felt after viewing it. As for my meal, well, for a while, I was wondering if I could finish this hearty meal. But I did. A feast fit for any con-going fan! If you ever visit the D.C. area, you must have a meal there!

Worldcon regular David Gallaher was there as a repeat customer and was wearing a stunning, hand-made shirt that was a wonder to behold.

After breakfast, I caught the very end of Ellen Datlow’s panel, “Speculative Noir,” in which moderator Victor Manibo, Andrija “Andy” Popovic and T.C. Weber discussed how the sub-genres of cyberpunk, urban fantasy and fairy tales could be modified or blended with some elements of hard boiled mystery. 

I was there specifically to have her sign my copy of her Shirley Jackson-themed anthology, When Things Get Dark. As the panel ended she was delighted to see I had a copy and happily signed it on the title page.

She then opened up her rather large shopping bag, dumped out several trade paperbacks and hardbacks and said, “You know, I have some other books here that I’m trying to get rid of.” My eyes immediately lit up when I saw that one of them was Alien Sex, one of her more famous anthologies, published in 1990.

“That will be ten dollars,” she said brightly, dashing my hopes that I was going to get it for free. But hey, I happily opened up my wallet and gave her the last of the cash I had in my pocket for the con and she signed it to boot. I advised her not to spend it on lottery tickets…

I started feeling a food coma coming on by 12:30 p.m. so I went back to our room. At breakfast, Juli had mentioned that I could probably, maybe, possibly fit the GIGANTIC Krazy Kat book in my carry-on bag. Juli had gone off to the Glasgow in 2024 Tea and Gin Party, so I decided to put her hypothesis to the test.

I emptied my bag, hefted the book, and lo and behold, it was a PERFECT fit, filling up most of the available space.

When Juli returned, I told her that she was right (as she usually is) but that I would probably have to mail my laundry home. She gave me one of those piteous looks and said, “You know, we could roll your clothes up and get most of it in there.”

And, of course, she was right again; all of the clothes did get into the nooks and crannies, save for my tuxedo. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll wear that going home. We’ll see.

At around 1:15 p.m., Juli started cursing up a storm. As I was chronicling Day 2, Juli had read our esteemed editor’s post about the announcement that a staff member had been tested positive Covid-19. 

Juli was particularly upset because, unlike me, she has been unable to receive a third Pfizer vaccine booster under advice of her doctors and had been tenuous about attending to begin with. I felt particularly guilty because I’m the one who persuaded her that it was safe enough to attend. So, needless to say we will be even cautious about our movements going forward.   

While we have no plans to leave the convention, we both plan on being incredibly careful about our activities and contacts from now until the end of the convention.

At around 2 p.m., I decided the throw caution to the winds and go up to the Glasgow Tea and Gin party and raid them for a few tea bags. On my way to the elevator the door opened and out came author Michael Swanwick and his wife, Marianne C. Porter.

I had written to him last weekend to inquire if he was coming to DisCon III because I had wanted him to sign my copy of Being Gardner Dozois, his book of interviews with the late editor. He replied that he and his wife would be there only Friday and Saturday, so it was very lucky that I found him today.

Although I am quite sure I had slightly annoyed them  by accosting them as they were headed to their room, Mr. Swanwick consented to sign my book, seeing that it’s about my fanboy interest in Gardner Dozois. I quickly went back to my room, retrieved the book and went to their room.

Well reader, you can imagine my surprise and shock when I opened it to the title page and saw that someone had ALREADY SIGNED IT! 

 “Uh,” I stammered weakly, “Is that your signature?”

Mr. Swanwick peered at it and said, “Why yes, that is my signature!” And he chuckled heartily.

Apparently when I purchased it last year, the used book dealer neglected to tell me it was a signed First Edition. I made my apologies to both of them, briefly exchanged our mutual admiration of Mr. Dozois (who is probably laughing his ass off right now) and made a hasty exit.

The Glasgow Tea and Gin Party was well underway when I arrived. As you can see in the photographs, there was a splendid collection of teas (and treats) to raid.

In the suite’s kitchen I encountered two good friends, our host, trainmaster and former Worldcon Chair (Dublin 2019) James Bacon and two-time Worldcon Chair Vincent Docherty (Intersection 1995 and Interaction 2005). Also, there were a great many empty bottles of various spirits, so I know it was a pretty popular stop over the past several days.

My next destination was the 2:30 p.m. concert by Dead Sexy, whose lead vocalist is triple Hugo nominee Seanan McGuire and her bandmates Amy McNally, Brenda Sutton, Bill Sutton and Dr. Mary Crowell.

After Dead Sexy had finished their set, I presented Ms. McGuire her early Christmas gift. A week-and-a-half ago, I stumbled upon a post of hers on Twitter, heavily lamenting that she had a burning desire to see the classic courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny (with Joe Pesci, Ralph Macchio and an Academy Award-winning performance by Marisa Tomei). I went out a bought a pristine DVD the very next day.

Ms. McGuire was delighted with her gift, and I was very grateful that people had not inundated her with multiple copies beforehand.

From there, my next destination was the Art Show but I also had in hand two very influential  anthologies of Black speculative Fiction and fantasy, Dark Matter (1999) and Reading The Bones (2004) by Sheree Renee Thomas, who was also one of my targets today.

Well, my serendipitous streak of luck continued because I happened to meet her at the Eastern bank of elevators as she was headed to do a virtual program item, “Envisioning Black Futures.” As she signed, Ms Thomas stated her admiration of the black Adidas jacket emblazoned with a bright yellow Wakanda patch and I felt very chuffed at her compliment.

The DisCon III Art Show was very small by Worldcon standards but that wasn’t anyone fault; being restricted to one hotel and a limited amount of function space meant tough choices had to be made.

From what I could observe, the quality of the works that were presented in such a small space were well worth the time and effort. John Picacio’s display of works was excellent as was fellow Hugo Fan Artist nominee Sarah Felix’s.

But the most arresting and interesting works I saw were Heidi Hopper’s series of works that were made from dryer lint. YES, I said DRYER LINT! The multiple portraits and groups she portrayed gave off a warm, folk art vibe that I have seen many times before on PBS’s Antiques Roadshow.

It is quite unfortunate that I am unable to show you any of these fabulous works because of the strict rules against photography. This was the only official image I was authorized to take at the DisCon III Art Show:

Juli and Anna were participating in Sarah Felix’s Tiara Workshop so I decided to drop in and take a few photos there.

For dinner, I had a Kind Bar and a Sweet Tea. Because, WORLDCON!

MASQUERADE. The next big event was the Masquerade. Anna was working as a volunteer usher so Juli and I were assured some excellent seating in the press area. 

As we were waiting to be seated we met one of the Masquerade judges, Jill Eastlake, and her husband, Donald. She was resplendent in a stunning embroidered cloak, that Juli insisted on photographing.

At this point, I must profusely apologize; it was my intent to photograph all eleven entrants of the masquerade and post them the same evening on File 770 but I brought my new smartphone to use and since I was still not as well acquainted with its camera functions, the resulting photos were of a less than desirable quality.

We left after all of the presentations because I was becoming very frustrated with the camera and my hands began to cramp up (which were probably related).

As Juli and I made our way back to our room, we ran into John Picacio. He mentioned that he got a message that he was wanted at the masquerade because one of the contestants, Catherine Anastasia Nelson, had done a fantastic, lifelike rendition of one of his Loteria creations, “La Calavera.” He was tired and wanted to go to his room and crash but we INSISTED he go down there and check it out. He looked reluctant but relented and said he would. Is he ever glad he did…


An Editorial Why I Voted For Isabel Fall’s “Helicopter Story”

I am keenly invested in the results of tomorrow’s Hugo winner in the Novelette Category,  because I fervently think Isabel Fall’s “Helicopter Story” should be, without a doubt, the hands-down winner. 

By now, everyone reading is probably aware of the troubled history of “Helicopter Story’s” publication and the virulent reactions it generated on all sides of the political spectrum when it was first published in January of 2020.

Incel fanboys thought it was an attack on their gender-based politics and some of the more reactionary members of the LGBTQ community were outraged because they thought it was a cis-gendered man was making sport of the transgender people using an insulting right wing trope.

I just want to point out that if this had happened to me, I would have been delighted. Because as a writer, I treasure these reactions because provoking reactions, for good or for ill, is the ultimate goal of literature and the arts. Mind you, in these turbulent and interconnected times, I would have done it under a pseudonym, just as Ms. Fall did.

But Isabel Fall reacted differently.  

All of the unwanted attention drove her spiraling into a terrible bout of depression and self doubt.

I don’t know what drove Isabel Fall to write such a provocative and terrifying story but I want her, and you, to know that it affected me deeply.

As an African American cis-male living in America, I know what it’s like to suffer societal aggressions, slights, racism and hatred from strangers on sight. When I first read “Helicopter Story” I was confused about its intent. Upon a second and third reading, after the controversy over its authorship and the shitstorm that followed, I feel as though I do understand its intent.

To me, it pushed about all of my buttons about my gender, sexuality and purpose in life. Barb and their pilot are pushed through the gamut of emotions as they undertake a dangerous and dubiously moral mission in a bleak and savage post-apocalyptic version of America.

It was as exciting as it was downbeat. I applaud Ms. Fall for successfully pulling off an ambiguous yet satisfying ending.

I’m hoping that Isabel Fall’s “Helicopter Story” wins tomorrow. Not because I am supporting a fellow member of a marginalized community, but because it is a devastating story of courage, purpose and ultimately, of love, under a myriad of  difficult circumstances.

Good Luck to Ms. Fall and all of the other nominees as well.

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7 thoughts on “Barkley: DisCon III, the Third Day

  1. I voted for Mx. Fell as well because I simply thought it was the best in show and I can’t agree with you more.

  2. Better pictures than I took. The mermaid ended her performance by opening a Seattle 2025 umbrella – apparently even the merfolk find that spot a bit too damp.

  3. When Juli returned, I told her that she was right (as she usually is) but that I would probably have to mail my laundry home.

    When Hilde and I flew to one of the American Booksellers Association annual trade shows (generally just called “the ABA”, later BookExpo), we knew we’d end up with a lot –like, a LOT– of ARCs and giveaway books from the publishers there. Even though we packed extra suitcases inside larger suitcases, plus my old Army duffle bag and other containers, we ended up with ALL our luggage filled with books for the flight back.

    So we actually did end up taking our dirty laundry to a pack-n’-ship store, boxed it up, and mailed it back home. Much cheaper than trying to mail heavy books home. (Pretty sure it was even the ABA held in Washington DC that particular year.)

  4. I concur with your comments on “Helicopter Story.” I read it the day Clarkesworld came out, and I was blown away. It is so sad that all the angst followed for was was an evocative and emotional story. I tip my hat to Isabel and thank her for allowing me as a reader to share her vision.

  5. bill:

    “Remember that books can be mailed at Media Rate, which is cheaper than other USPS shipping rates.”

    I learned about Media Rate when I was publishing fanzines and sending out apa mailings, long before Hilde and I were selling books. But a box of clothing weighed enough less than a box of books that the savings was still significant.

  6. @Bruce Arthurs
    The comment about media rate was to readership in general; I didn’t mean to imply that you (or anyone else) wasn’t aware of it.

    If it were me, I might prefer to do as you did and ship clothes, so that I could make sure the books were protected from the terrible swift sword of the machines of the Post Office.

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