David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

PhilCon 2006 Wrapup

I’ve mentioned before that I’m new to science fiction conventions. ReaderCon 2006 was the first con I ever attended (if you don’t count an experience at Balticon in 1990 that’s better left unexplained). That makes this weekend’s PhilCon 2006 only my fourth con ever.

So don’t take my word for it when I say that PhilCon was a tad disorganized. Take the word of other veteran congoers I talked to who said they wouldn’t be coming back to PhilCon. The word “sucks” was tossed around more than once. The best opinion that could be heard came from an insider, who said that “there have been better PhilCons, and there have been worse.”

Keep in mind that my circle of friends is pretty much confined to the Literary track. You know, the people who were more excited about seeing Charles Stross than dressing up like their favorite Buffy character. To the gamers and the filkers and the people dressed up in chain mail and goth makeup, PhilCon might very well have been a blast. But to the Literary folks, the common wisdom was that PhilCon 2006 was a bust.

Some of the frustrations included:

  • A rather lackluster keynote interview with Charles Stross. There was nothing lackluster about Stross himself, who appeared relaxed and humorous and fully engaged. But the MCing by Darrell Schweitzer was quite haphazard, as if someone either threw him a microphone at the last minute or he lost his prepared list of questions.
  • None of the moderator assignments were given out ahead of time. I arrived at PhilCon on Friday only to discover from the program booklet that I was moderating two panels that weekend. Some moderators didn’t realize they had been assigned to moderate until they arrived at the panel.
  • Room changes were rampant. Everything was constantly moving around at the last minute. And because the panels were spread liberally among at least five floors of confusingly labeled rooms, salons, parlours, ballrooms, and (in at least one instance) the middle of some random hallway, finding one’s way around was close to impossible. My understanding from various sources is that the Sheraton hotel was mostly to blame for this.
  • The hotel closed the bar on Saturday night for a private function involving some very well-dressed people who had some involvement with Barbados. No bar to hang out at on Saturday night at an SF con? Lame.
  • Parties died down early. The SFWA party was the place to be on Saturday night, but even that was on life support by midnight. When you hear lots of people say on Sunday that they retired to their rooms a little after 11 p.m., you know that something’s a little askew with the social vibe.
  • The reading schedule bordered on the farcical. I had hoped to do a reading from Infoquake at PhilCon. But as late as Saturday noon — halfway through the con — we were being told that the reading schedule was “still being worked out.” Finally, mid-afternoon on Saturday, a sign-up board materialized at the top of the escalator with slots for each hour and a few names scribbled in (illegibly, in one case). How could one sign up to do a reading? Well, if you could decipher the (also pen-scrawled) message in the bottom corner of the sign, you would be directed to someone in room 1200-something who could get you on the list. Where were the actual readings held? Who knows? The room listed in the program booklet was wrong, and the sign didn’t say.
  • Bizarre panel assignments. I’m not sure how I ended up moderating “Teleportation Is More Than a Way of Getting Somewhere” and “Navigating Amazon,” while I wasn’t even on panels for “Blogging and SF” and “Websites for Writers.” I suppose this could have just been me, however.
  • Nobody in the dealer’s room was carrying Infoquake. I’ve just about given up on getting con dealers to carry my book. The only people on the programming they go out of their way to stock are the guests of honor. Hell, it doesn’t matter, I get a much better margin hand-selling them anyway.

But don’t let my list of gripes give you the impression that I didn’t enjoy myself despite the confusion. Some highlights:

  • Meeting members of a Philadelphia book group that chose Infoquake for their discussion this week. One of them even had me sign his library book, in which I exhorted future borrowers of Infoquake to enjoy America. The book clubbers and I enjoyed some greasy fast food at the Anonymous Pizza Dive Down the Street, and then hightailed it over to Monk’s Pub for some seriously good beer. Luckily, Monk’s was only one block away.
  • Hobnobbing with the inimitable John Scalzi about science fiction publishing, book promotion, life goals, SFWA, careers, and just general gossip. Yes, in case you were wondering, we did indeed talk about you.
  • Sitting in the bar and coming up with a list of the Best Cities in the U.S. to Live That Are Culturally Relevant, Very Cheap, Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, and Not in a Red State with Scalzi, Bud Sparhawk, and Ernest Lilley.
  • Dining with Ellen Asher and Andrew Wheeler of Science Fiction Book Club. (Check out my fellow Pyr author Joel Shepherd’s Crossover, coming soon to SFBC.)
  • Debating “Has Science Fiction Moved to the Right?” on a very heated panel with John Scalzi, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, and Ernest Lilley. The Irony Police made an appearance after we were repeatedly drowned out by the thumping music of the Christian revival event going on in the next room.
  • Moderating a panel on teleportation that might have gone nowhere fast if not for the presence of physics wiz John Ashmead and his very thick binder of printed reference material. Not only did John keep the panel focused and interesting, but he also confirmed that the method of teleportation I used in Infoquake is indeed scientifically valid. (Or, at least, as scientifically valid as it gets these days.)
  • Getting rhetorically spanked on the panel for “Pointy Headed Intellectual Fiction For the Pretentious Elite” by James Morrow for being excited about the release of Thomas Pynchon’s new novel.
  • Getting interviewed for SFWire by Slush God John Joseph Adams. The interview made up for the fact that John’s circle of folks (which also included Doug Cohen, Amy Tibbetts, Chris Cevasco and Jenny Rappaport) seemed to have made a conscious decision to schedule meal outings right when I was due to appear on a panel.
  • Discussing science fiction webmastering with web dude and just generally nice guy Nathan Lilly.
  • Chatting with game designer and horror novelist Richard E. Dansky about whether having a “pay the bills” writing career helps your “enrich the soul” writing career. (Richard’s opinion, in a nutshell: no.)
  • Talking about first novels with Roger Zelazny biographer (and nascent novelist) Theodore Krulik. Ted’s been attending SF cons since the year I was born, and has not only dined with Isaac Asimov, but stood at a urinal next to John W. Campbell.
  • Completely forgetting about my 3:00 Sunday panel on the tradition of the anti-hero and spending the hour chatting with the lovely and charming Danita Fries instead. Tip for would-be fans: tracking down an author and buying four (additional) copies of their book on the spot is a good way to get that author’s attention.
  • Confusing everyone by appearing on a panel about “50 Ways to Leave Your Reader” alongside Scott Edelman. (For the last frickin’ time, people, no relation to Yr Humble Narrator.) PhilCon didn’t help matters by misprinting the program booklet to show Scott moderating the panel on teleportation instead of me.
  • Picking up, absolutely free, a first edition hardcover of Robert Charles Wilson’s Hugo Award-winning novel Spin on the freebie table. (Read my review.) The guy who got there right before me picked up a first edition hardcover of Old Man’s War.
  • Discussing the technology/creativity nexus and my upcoming appearance at Penguicon with Matthew Arnold.
  • Finally getting to meet Hildy Silverman, an old friend of my sister’s from Brandeis, through whose intervention I was put on the programming at PhilCon. Thanks, Hildy!

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  1. Hugh Staples on November 20, 2006 at 3:11 pm  Chain link

    Sitting in the bar and coming up with a list of the Best Cities in the U.S. to Live That Are Culturally Relevant, Very Cheap, Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, and Not in a Red State with Scalzi, Bud Sparhawk, and Ernest Lilley.

    Just curious, what was the consensus? I can’t think of any US cities that aren’t disqualified on at least one of your criteria.

  2. Elizabeth Bevilacqua on November 20, 2006 at 3:19 pm  Chain link

    Luckily, Monk’s was only one block away.

    Hah! Poor Lee isn’t going to live that one down any time soon.

    Glad you liked the beer though, I love Chimay (and lots of other Belgians) and it’s always nice to introduce others to them.

  3. David Louis Edelman on November 20, 2006 at 3:48 pm  Chain link

    I believe the closest contenders were Portland, OR and Dayton, OH.

  4. David Louis Edelman on November 20, 2006 at 3:51 pm  Chain link

    That Chimay was pretty darn tasty. And Lee knows that I’m-a just funnin’ wit him. I hope. :-)

    Oh, and great to meet you, Princess LeiaLiz.

  5. Armchair Anarchist on November 20, 2006 at 4:53 pm  Chain link

    Hey, were you too busy, or did you look in on the live-linkup with Second Life that apparently happened there? All the SL blogs are mentioning it, but the lack of mentions from the writer lobby seems rather telling…

  6. David Louis Edelman on November 20, 2006 at 5:09 pm  Chain link

    I am way too uncool to have gotten around to fiddling with Second Life yet. I vaguely recall hearing something about it now that you mention it, but that’s the most I can say.

  7. anghara on November 20, 2006 at 6:15 pm  Chain link

    Nobody in the dealer’s room was carrying Infoquake. I’ve just about given up on getting con dealers to carry my book. The only people on the programming they go out of their way to stock are the guests of honor. Hell, it doesn’t matter, I get a much better margin hand-selling them anyw”ay.”

    Been there, done THAT.

    Try a cross-genre novel – or one that’s been marketed as cross genre – next. I have a handful of friends amongst con dealers who WILL have my stuff on hand but they don’t go to all the cons I go to, so that’s a haphazard thing to rely on, and many of the rest blink owlishly at the mention of Endeavour Award finalist “The Secrets of Jin Shei” and go, “Whaaaa….?”

  8. Hugh on November 20, 2006 at 10:11 pm  Chain link

    I believe the closest contenders were Portland, OR and Dayton, OH

    Ah. Portland makes sense, though I doubt it’s “Very Cheap.” And Dayton is in a Red State.

    And I have no clear idea what any of you mean by “Culturally Relevant.” :)

  9. David Louis Edelman on November 20, 2006 at 10:22 pm  Chain link

    Hugh: Yeah, well, I suppose there isn’t really a perfect match. But Ohio’s not really red, is it? It’s kind of… purplish.

    By “culturally relevant,” I meant a city where there’s some vestige of high culture. You know, restaurants other than Applebee’s. Movie theaters that show independent films. A literary scene. Decent museums…. Admittedly this is a very subjective measurement.

  10. Soni on November 20, 2006 at 11:15 pm  Chain link

    Re: places to live, I nominate western NC, specifically the Asheville area. It’s where I’m at now and although there’s a bit of a housing/cost of living boom centered on Asheville itself at the moment (for lots of reasons), it’s still quite reasonable to live here (I’m renting a very roomy one bedroom with hardwood floors for $425 plus electricity and phone, and it’s pretty cheap in the surrounding, more rural areas), it has a cool summer and short-and-only-occasionally-snowy winter, is known for its progressive politics and is very culturally rich and diverse (it’s been called both the Paris of the South and the SF of the East). Not to mention the fact that, being in the Blue Ridge, there are million dollar views from every supermarket parking lot and from where I’m at, 15 mins gets you into the heart of the Blue Ridge Parkway itself.

  11. Matt Jarpe on November 21, 2006 at 2:27 pm  Chain link

    If it’s a well organized con you’re looking for I just have one word for you:

    Boskone

  12. Hugh on November 21, 2006 at 6:25 pm  Chain link

    But Ohio’s not really red, is it? It’s kind of… purplish.

    Actually, Ohio’s quite red, at least in the southwestern part of the state, which is where Dayton is (and Cincinnati, where I live). All the “blueness” of the state is up in the northeast, in and around Cleveland.

  13. Michael Walsh on November 22, 2006 at 12:17 pm  Chain link

    “Nobody in the dealer’s room was carrying Infoquake. I’ve just about given up on getting con dealers to carry my book. The only people on the programming they go out of their way to stock are the guests of honor. Hell, it doesn’t matter, I get a much better margin hand-selling them anyway.”

    There’s essentially one dealer who specilizes in stocking new books: Larry smith – Bookseller. Selling books is good chunk of his income, so he really likes to sell books; pays the bills and all that.

    If you can find a list of program participants on the Philcon web site, more power to you, ’cause a quick look reveals nada.

    So what to do? Drop Larry a quick note telling him what conventions you’ll be at, and book info (title, isbn, etc). Best way to contact Larry is via his wife, Sally Kobee: sallykobee@hotmail.com

    As for the rest of the book dealers, most of us carry few *new* books. I carry my own publications and an odd ball assortment of new/used/UK imports/and just weird.

    Hope to see you at Capclave next year!

  14. David Louis Edelman on November 22, 2006 at 12:40 pm  Chain link

    Thanks for that, Michael. I thought twice about griping about the dealers almost as soon as I published this blog post. Larry does seem to have a very good selection of new titles in general at every con I’ve been to, and I’ll make sure to contact him next time.

  15. Theodore Krulik on April 9, 2009 at 9:38 pm  Chain link

    Hello David,

    I’m very pleased you remembered me enough to include me in your blog. I enjoyed meeting you and discussing our books.
    I’m new to blogging and would appreciate some pointers in setting up my own blog. Please get back to me when you can.

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