Balticon 50

There it went.

I have tried to give myself a little time to get past the immediate reaction and allow for more thought. The problem with that is news of a convention gets stale rather quickly. I’ve been going to Balticon for a while, but not as long as quite a few folks. In fact I had a conversation with a man this past weekend who has attended all 50 of the conventions so far. It’s an impressive number.

For me, it was an impressive convention celebrating the 50th anniversary, but probably one of the worst for me personally. That makes it sound worse than it really was. Perhaps it was the level of expectation going in? I’ve got that sort of thing going with books and movies, maybe it was the same thing for the convention. If I go into a movie or a book with crazy high expectations – those expectations are almost never met so it feels like a disappointment, even it the work in question was actually quite good. IF I go with low expectations and get something crappy, I’m good. My expectations were met. If I go with low expectations and get something excellent… you get the picture. I’ve seen a number of folks on social media and other blogs say they had “wonderful”, “awesome” and “fantastic” conventions. My reaction wasn’t as positive.

I have had a lot of great cons over the years. I’ve really loved being a participant and not just an attendee at conventions. Balticon is the one that I consider my “home convention” and is the one I always give preference to. This year had real issues for me. Some of those things were directly related to the convention, some of them were all about me and some of them were outside the realm of things the con could control (and it’s not fair to blame them for those). I was also somebody that friends brought issues to (they know I’ve joined BSFS), presumably so that word would travel with somebody. That made it a struggle. When you’re the staunch defender, what happens when you don’t want to defend anymore? I got really, really tired of trying to help and defend things that I didn’t find defensible.

The hotel was new this year. That was important – the space was needed for a record number of guests. It also made for lots of people not knowing where anything was, long lines at the elevators, confusion about parking and frustration over added expense. Some of that was just the unavoidable nature of change. Some of that was trying to settle in to a new location. Some of that was people not communicating well and having their expectations not met. I could have worked with all that. I expected it.

I know some of the people involved and I know the intent was good. Programming was an unmitigated disaster from my point of view. Double booked rooms, double booked panelists, changes, deletions and random additions that weren’t communicated well just made a hash of things for me. I’m going to emphasize that again – for me. I am the D list person here and I understand that I’m not going to get priority or even a lot of attention. I got nothing for programming. Nothing. When I asked about this the response was a very snappy “well what do you want?” I want these things figured out before Saturday morning of a convention that starts on Friday for starters – and a little less attitude to go with the response. I get the stress. I work cons too. Snapping at me isn’t going to help anyone. It will in fact hurt the process and cause responses that aren’t necessarily deserved. I just stopped trying to fix it right then. There’s nothing I could do that would have made the situation better and anything I said in anger would not help. I stopped defending. I stopped volunteering to help. I walked away and just did my own thing the rest of the weekend.

I was not the only one in a situation like this. For me – a total ‘D’ lister – it’s not such a big deal. I’m sure I’ll get over it. I’ve already received an invitation to another convention asking me about my thoughts for programming. I’m going to hope for better, or at least in advance, there. The problem is I’ve heard from other people that should be the backbone of the convention – the folks you want to return again and again because they’ve got a solid following and some excellent knowledge to share – that they won’t be back. They reached their saturation point with the frustration and problems and have decided to just walk away as well. I was actually saddened by this. Conventions are where I get to hang out with these folks. Some I might not see otherwise. Most of all, I’m concerned for the next convention, and the next one after that. There was, rightfully, a lot of attention paid to the big names that were there, all the big names that were brought back. Those folks got a lot of attention and drew a lot of convention goers, but at what expense? I fear the damage done. Perhaps I just haven’t gone through this from the participant side of the fence before.

I don’t want this to to turn into some kind of doom and gloom sort of thing. There were a lot of fun things that did happen at the convention. There were great times, laughs and fun mixed with the frustration. I was super glad to have helped out with the Liar’s Panel again this year. I was one of the runners that dashed around the audience collecting up the donations for charity. There’s actually a photo and a little more detail over at Mark’s Journal. Raising a few hundred bucks for charity is a great thing and the panelists were really funny.

I also watched the Mr. Poor Choices III comedy show. I howled. It was fun and funny. The show was totally stolen (from my vantage point) by the sign language interpreters. How do you sign “the nut mangler gym shorts” exactly? Their expressions were wonderful. I went and thanked them after the show. It was great fun.

I got to connect with a lot of folks this past weekend. I think that was really what made it all survivable for me. I had dinner with folks I don’t get to see often enough, drinks with others that I was thrilled to sit and chat with and even a teeny amount of time in the game room (even though I can’t hang with the Power Grid guys and totally forgot my t-shirt – sorry John, I’ll get it right eventually).

I expect with time that I’ll gloss over 50 and other Balticons will be better for me. I really want some of the folks I talked to this past weekend to make some good connections. I’m hopeful that some of the connecting I did over the weekend will lead to future projects. I’m also hopeful that folks that said they were done would be persuaded to return. I am hopeful, and if I work hard and am lucky enough maybe I’ll be one of the folks brought back by special invitation for number 75.



I meant to post this earlier. I sat on this post for a while. I still struggle with putting my feelings forward into words. It’s what an author is supposed to do really, but I just don’t believe I’m that good. Hopefully one day I’ll be good enough to write words that move people.

The past couple of weeks in my life have been the definition of chaotic. An emotional roller coaster peaking and dipping day by day. In the past 2 weeks I’ve had the death of a family member, a 50th wedding anniversary celebration, a departure meeting for the exchange students I’ve worked with this year, an ongoing issue at work involving a substantial amount of money, my daughters spring band concert and the funeral for the relative we lost. Oh and right at the start of all that one of the exchange students suddenly living with us for a little while after she was asked to leave the house she was staying in (surprise!).

Some of these things were one day after the next – a couple of them were on the same day. It’s been… I don’t even know what it’s been. I’m exhausted. Wrung out and done.

Perhaps it’s this state of mind that has brought on my choice of examining these things in the context of the military and particularly the military in science fiction and fantasy.

There’s a lot of debate out there about the best way to handle the military, it’s role and the soldier’s place in it all when writing. There are those that ignore introspection and go for action. There are those that take on the story from a commander’s point of view and those that take it all from the grunt’s point of view. Ethics, sanity, the physical toll and the reasons behind it all. I have spent some time attempting to review military science fiction over at and spent more time considering how it is I feel about all these stories.

At their heart military stories are about the people involved and what war does to them. The soldiers and their families are the ones that pay the price of war. There are stories out there that show the trauma and mental damage soldiers end up with as a result of having everything stripped away to the core of their self and being forced to face that. Some people make it, some people don’t. Some are broken and spend the rest of their lives living with the broken parts. That is the reality we live with, every day.

I have come to learn that what I prefer are the stories where there is a level of heroism. The main character should be someone I can empathize with. He or she needs to be somebody that faces down very real dilemmas, struggles through and ultimately comes out with a positive result, even if not the initially intended result. I struggle with and generally don’t like stories where the mental damage wins. I dislike the characters that don’t make the heroic choice. I want the sacrifice to mean something. I want the positive result, perhaps as a direct reaction to the real world.

I like the fiction. The reality is much more difficult to manage. The death in our family was my father-in-law. He was a veteran of 2 wars and was laid to rest this past week with full military honors. Flag ceremony, rifle salute, taps and a direct punch in the heart for me. I didn’t expect it to hit so hard. I’m not going to lionize the man now that he’s gone. He wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but I suspect that some part of that imperfection might be that damage seeping through. I wept when it was time to say good bye – and I haven’t wept in many, many years.

I wanted to have some grand, sweeping point here but it’s just not coming to me. Maybe one day I will master the words, but today is not that day.

Rest In Peace.


Get Out

Writing is a solitary business. You and your chosen method of applying words to paper (virtual or otherwise). It can be difficult, draining and many other words that don’t have very positive connotations. There is something you can do that is a tremendous help.

You can get out.

Yes, get up and move. Stretch in the way that makes that spot between your shoulder blades grind and sort of pop. Focus beyond the meager couple of feet between you and your screen and walk out the door.

I tell you this because an “adventure” doesn’t have to be a big deal. You probably won’t travel through the mines of Moria, nor are you likely to slip into London below. You might however find that one street you hadn’t noticed before. It’s turned at just such an angle that the noise from the busy streets at either end of the block doesn’t carry to the middle. There are concrete stoops with unusual plants. Delicate fairy lights dangle in a miniature garden between two houses just before you see a sign for a shop you never knew was there. It could be better lit, but something about it draws you in anyway. Just a trio of steps off the street, with the jingle of dainty bells and suddenly you’re very far away.

It could be anywhere. Down the street, across town or into that restaurant you’ve been meaning to try. You’ll be shocked at just how much little differences can make when you’ve been stuck in the same place for too long. My travels this evening were fruitful. I netted a free book at an author appearance, learned of a particular author I may need to cyber-stalk and came home with at least 3 new story ideas.

Get out. There’s a world out there filled with interesting new places and people. When you’ve had enough, rush back to your key board and finish that story. I think you’ll find a little adventure might just be exactly what you need.