Philcon 2017 Review

Taking off for another convention within about 18 hours of departing Philcon this year has delayed my normal post con review. Traveling for about a week straight was tiring and it is taking me a while to recover and get all my things back in order.

I was really happy with Philcon this year. The team managed to get a great guest line up and some really interesting panels. Above and beyond the normal comings and goings of the convention, it was fantastic to be able to reconnect with friends and colleagues that I don’t get to see as often as I’d like.

I got to be the moderator on one of the most entertaining and exciting panels I’ve seen in a while. The future of sports. More than one person looked at me with skepticism when I told them this was a topic for a science fiction convention panel. You shouldn’t be shocked, there are numerous references in movies and other media that tie directly to science fiction. There’s also a ton of actual science behind all this too. It was one of the best panels I’ve had in a long time. I’m actually going to recommend snatching the idea for another con in the spring – I think it’s worth running again.

Next, and most importantly to me, Don Maitz was the artist guest of honor this year. I first encountered his artwork during my very first convention. Balticon 27 he was the artist guest of honor. He’d hung the picture 40 Thieves right in the entry. I walked in and was blown away. That was 25 years ago and this convention was the first time since then that I’ve been a part of the same con where he was attending again. I grabbed my copy of his book and practically ran to meet him. I was NOT disappointed. He brought amazing art, fun stories (jogging with a steer?) and tips on creating artwork! I went to a drawing demonstration he lead in the art show area and got to sit next to him as he created and doled out little things he’s picked up over all the time he’s been working. Words don’t really do it justice. I just sat there and took it all in, desperate to remember as much as I could.

When I got the chance to chat with him later he was at his sale table. I explained about Balticon 27 and just what an impact his art had – and he pulled out one of the samples of that exact painting, signed it and gave it to me. Then, as if that wasn’t nearly enough he graciously signed my copy of his book AND added a sketch. It was awesome.

A sketch and a signature!

For those who recall a little thing that happened a few years ago where a bridesmaid was defending a pizza… sadly there were no shenanigans of that level. I suspect it will be a long time before we see something like that again, but given that brides do show up from time to time…

there’s always the chance there will be another brawl.

Interesting panel topics, great guests and the chance to get up close and chat with folks in the industry – if you’re not signing up to go to your local convention you are missing out. I’m already looking forward to the next Philcon!


I’ve come to realize that I’ll never be one of those super consistent bloggers. I tend to wander away and not stay connected to my technology. I turn my phone off at night ~ and yes, I hear some of you gasping out there when I say that. It’s not such a big deal to me.

This weekend is a fine example. It’s Labor Day and I’ve avoided being on the computer since about Thursday. What have I been doing? Glad I asked myself…

Spending time with my kiddo. Doing work around the house. Going to cook-outs. Playing games! That’s the one that has taken up a whole bunch of time this weekend. Social interaction LIVE and in person! There was role playing, card playing and board gaming – why put limits on fun?

One of the cool parts of all this game playing was getting out to a local game convention. IF you’re in the Harrisburg area you should definitely check out the Gamers of Summer. I think they’ve got a winter version too – I just can’t seem to lay a hand on the link right now. I’ll update that when I track it down.

It was a lot of fun. I dragged some of my games along with me to share with new friends. I got to play a game I was interested in to see just how much I liked it. I got to PLAYTEST a game too! Looking forward to when Cup Full of Lies is finished and out there for public consumption (from Frugal Mule Games).

An enjoyable, relaxing weekend across the board (see what I did there?) and it didn’t require being connected to the computer or the tablet or the phone. Get out there and play a game!

Balticon 51

I made a quick note on Facebook about giving a longer and more detailed review of this year’s convention. IF you’re seeing this connected to FB – here it is!

I started going to Balticon back at number 27. Yup, that puts me at about 24 years for this one. Sounds impressive until you realize that I know at least one person (Hi Ray!) that’s been to them all. Yes, all of them. That’s impressive.

First and I think most importantly credit where credit is due. Programs this year were smooth. Really smooth, not simply as juxtaposed with the struggle of last year. Got my invitation early, got my survey and panels early, and the schedule was posted and available before the week of the convention. WELL DONE!

I had 4 panels and 2 book launch events over the weekend.

The panels I had were editing the short story, reading outside your genre for SFF writers, being a fan of problematic things and the xenoarchaeology road show.

I think editing the short story went relatively well. I also thing reading outside your genre went well – I did my best to toss ideas out there of things I’d read that I felt could be of interest to folks. I got the biggest reaction when I mentioned Devil in the White City as apparently some others have read it. All in all, not bad.

Being a fan of problematic things was going to be a contentious panel. Intellectually I knew this. Emotionally it took a lot bigger toll on me than I thought it might have. It was a difficult panel. I have written about this topic before (Your Protest May Vary published in Watch the Skies and again here at my site) and given the topic a great deal of consideration.
I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t. Part of it was the audience. There were a couple of attendees that talked over almost everyone for the duration of the panel. It can be a very personal subject, but I felt it was a disservice to the rest of the folks in the room to do what they did. The moderator struggled against them the entire time. The other struggle was sitting between two panelists with definite thoughts on the matter. I could feel tension just sitting there. I can say that S.M. Stirling impressed me with the depth of knowledge he could bring to hand without notes or references. While I don’t know that I shared his opinions, he recalled the specifics of an example I pulled from a very old novel. I pulled the example based on the clarity of the language that might show it to be problematic. He knew the context of the characters and brought all that out in defense of his position on the matter. Agree or not, he had that information rattling around upstairs. By the end of the hour I was just done. It took a lot of effort to stay level and calm for me in there – and it didn’t really have much to do with the topic itself.

I’ve really enjoyed attending the Xenoarchaeology road show in the past. The panel pretends to be archaeologists digging up long forgotten things from a human world. See something come out of the box and make up a great explanation for what it obviously is. I signed up to be a panelist on a whim for this one. It was an hour after the problematic panel, and being funny at the drop of a hat is not easy. Clever, maybe. Witty, perhaps on a good day but not for an hour straight. I don’t know that I’ll sign up to be on that panel again because I just don’t feel like I brought the humor that panel deserved. It was something of a let down to me. I was disappointed in myself, I can only hope the audience had a good time. I know I enjoyed what my fellow panelists came up with as much as the audience did. The running gag of “it’s clearly a ritual item…” was pretty funny.

The launch events were Fortress Publishing (TV Gods Summer Programming – available now) and E-spec books (DTF – Man and Machine – available now). The Fortress launch was wedged into the hour between the problematic panel and the road show. I couldn’t stay nearly as long as I wanted to, but I did get to sign a few books while I was there. The E-spec launch was a pretty big shin-dig. It took over the con suite for 2 hours. It was really well done and it looked like everyone involved had a really good time.

In between all this programmed goodness was the chance to play test a game for a friend. I can’t give out details but I can say I think I’ll be jumping on a copy when it comes out! Lots of fun trying to break the mechanics of it and stretch the rules to see where the holes show up.

Surprisingly, I didn’t come away from the weekend feeling the creative charge I normally do. I really enjoyed having dinner with friends. I liked sitting and chatting with people that I don’t get to see nearly enough. It’s a silly thing, but I was extra excited to recognize a ‘Sky High’ cosplay and earn the pink ribbon you can see in the picture (hey – the preferred term is hero support). Somehow I just didn’t feel that juice flow, that battery charging jolt I usually have when I get back to the house.

I would call this year a successful year even without that jolt. It’s always good to see old friends and add new ones. I’m going to dive into some projects that have been waiting for me while already plotting and planning for next year!

New Story!

Just in time for that perennial Summer launching Memorial Day weekend – Fortress Publishing presents : TV Gods – Summer Programming! 18 stories taking your favorite pantheons and mashing them up with memorable TV shows to allow hilarity to ensue. Only $16 and available from Fortress Publishing after 5-27-17.

I’m really looking forward to the book launch at this year’s Balticon!

My story “Somebody’s Got Talent” will be one of the stories in there! IF you want a little teaser – here’s the cover art:

All Quiet – Philcon 2016

It has once again been a week since I returned from Philcon and I could almost just re-post last year’s review. I went back and read the post convention review I did last year before I started in on this one. This review and that will be remarkably similar.

There were differences and they were notable, but the portion that continues to worry me is the attendance. It was dead there. I mean to the point where I wondered if the convention was actually still open a couple of times. I can only believe this desperately low attendance drove some of the other factors. I know the sales numbers were crushingly low for a couple of the folks in the vendor’s area. There looked like a lot of no-shows in there. The art show was slim pickings, including a couple of no-shows. The artist guest of honor had 4 or 5 sections and beyond that there were only a handful of artists on display. I won’t disparage the quality – they were and are fine artists, it just seemed to be very small. The freebie and flyers area in front of the vendor room wasn’t full – and there’s ALWAYS somebody looking to get word of mouth out there that way. I continue to worry for this con, but they seem to survive.

My schedule was decent for the weekend. None of the panels had huge attendance. Lots of empty seats. My favorite panel was the first one on the list – the best of military science fiction. I was really looking forward to being on that panel with Barry Longyear, but alas he was unable to attend… no-shows are starting to feel like a theme here too. Anyway – if you haven’t ever checked out his work, see if you can dig up a copy of “It Came From Schenectady”. The forward of the book makes me laugh every time I read it. It’s from the early 1980s and still works. That’s just the forward. The stories are wonderful. There’s some really good stuff in there.


The programming was good. It was in fact better and more timely than the past 2 conventions I’ve been invited too. There was a dud of a panel in there that I consider a tremendous missed opportunity, but that had everything to do with the moderator and nothing to do with the topic itself. All in all I think I held my own. I have made panel suggestions for next year and I think the panels will continue to be strong.

I didn’t stay in the con hotel this year. It’s the first time I’ve stayed off site for a con. It worked and was a really good thing to save the expense of the hotel. What else it did was pretty much eliminate any shenanigans or chances for weird encounters late at night in the hotel. No pizza, no elevator roulette. Just quiet really.

I actually feel like that’s as much review as I need. There just wasn’t much. I hope to go back again next year – and I hope a lot of folks join me.


It’s difficult to believe that my next convention is less than a week away. I’m very happy to have been invited to be one of the guests at the Philadelphia Science Fiction Society’s annual gathering.

It has taken me some time to sort of get into the groove with this convention as opposed to others, but I’m now at a point where I really look forward to seeing folks and having interesting discussions. I don’t know that any experience at Philcon will ever top Defend the Pizza. That’s a tough act to follow, but who knows right?

I hope you get out to the convention. IF you’re looking for me, here is my con schedule:

Fri 7:00PM in Plaza II (Two) – The Best of Military SF
Fri 8:00PM in Plaza V (Five) – Learning to be an Effective Panel Moderator

Sat 12:00PM in Plaza IV (Four) – The Changing Nature of Fandom
Sat 7:00PM in Executive Suite 823 – The eSpec Books Launch Party, Hour 1
Sat 8:00PM in Executive Suite 823 – The eSpec Books Launch Party, Hour 2


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.


The Second Was the First

It has taken me a day or two to regain my footing and put together a few thoughts on the convention that was Regeneration Who 2. Now that the glitter has settled (and has failed to go away) I will attempt to put into writing the things that have been running around in my head looking for a way out.

I titled this piece the way I did because while the was the second Regeneration Who con it was the first to have a dedicated children’s program. It was also the first time I’d been in charge of a chunk of con program. Yes, I’ve been part of the Intervention team for years but this was different. It was my direction – and I’m the kind of person that criticizes myself easily twice as much as anyone around me, probably more than that really. I had a grand vision in my head.

No plan survives contact with the enemy… Wait. Perhaps that isn’t the right way to phrase that. My full vision failed to account for certain realities. My free time for planning crashed directly into aspects of my day job. Another volunteer organization I work with put unexpected demands on my time. I didn’t have enough knowledge of materials and cosplay materials specifically to pull off one of the things I thought would be a centerpiece of our program. I failed at a couple of points that I wanted to be epic wins and that’s exactly the sort of thing that frustrates me. The plan generally survived, but I’ve been going over it and over it in my head since then figuring a way to make it better.

I take the time to read Oni’s “real talks” and I suppose this falls into the same category despite my inability to master her specific… eloquence. I know there has been a lot of praise for what we did, and I am truly thankful for that. It makes the struggle worth it. I know there weren’t as many problems to the eyes of convention attendees as there were to my eyes, but I saw the things I could do better. I saw the opportunities to really let my small portion of the team excel and really push it all over the top. Eta and Channon deserve a huge chunk of the credit for all that we did. I wouldn’t have survived the weekend without them. My unofficial helper (my lovely wife) was indispensable as well. They were the glue that held my macaroni to the page. I will always strive to hit that grand vision and really nail it – always. I know my team will be there with me.

In the end it was not the grand vision, nor was it a centerpiece activity. It was a small, simple gesture that made it all come together. Share a hug with a teddy bear and make the whole world better.


It’s vital to have these moments and keep all of our kids interested in the joy that is sharing our passions. I can only hope to equal that in the years to come. I will be there – and maybe I’ll bring my teddy bear too.

Check out some of the other things we had going on and make plans to be there next year:

Children’s Program!

Shenaniganator – or – Philcon 2015

It’s been a week since I participated in Philcon 2015. I have held off a week in writing up my review partially because it was Thanksgiving week and that meant a busy schedule and partially because I wanted to take some time to consider how best to write up my thoughts on the whole venture. For anyone who has been with me for a while here at the Pretend Blog, I did remember my socks this year.

Last year was the first time I’d attended as an invited guest and I was a little surprised to have gotten another invitation this year ~ not through any misdeed or indiscretion, I just hadn’t really given it much thought. Thankfully I was able to secure a room and once again have the fantastic option of riding with my friend Mary. Travel and check in were smooth sailing.

There were a number of friends in attendance, but a more than significant number of friends that were not this year. The lack of attendance was palpable to me. There were empty seats in the lobby, empty seats at the hotel bar, empty seats in the gaming area and lots of empty seats in the panel rooms. I missed seeing many of my friends. I had commented last year on how the attendance felt really low to me, and this year seemed worse to me. Once again, I don’t have numbers to back me up or any kind of data for that matter. It’s just a feeling, but a feeling based on simple observation like: I could put my arms out to my sides and not hit anyone or anything in the dealers room. There wasn’t anything even vaguely resembling a crowd even in the middle of Saturday afternoon. Not encouraging.

Panels were totally up and down. I had six for the weekend and they all subjects I could speak to with some form of knowledge. I think that says good things about programming. Yes, the information about the panels arrived a little later than one might want (it was plenty of time for me as a non-moderator), but I did not ever encounter the “well I have no idea why I’m on this panel” person.

I really enjoyed the first panel called “Judging a Book By Its Cover” on Friday. Ray Ridenour was a good moderator and the panel was quite diverse. It was nice to have all the bases covered with Ray’s insight as an artist, a publisher and an author on the panel. I was really hoping to meet the editor that had been scheduled to be there, but he didn’t make it.

I also learned a great deal from the panel Military Culture In Science Fiction. It was easily the best attended panel of mine for the weekend. I did my best to have solid input to this panel but frequently found myself listening and getting caught up in what the others were saying.

I’d have to say the first was probably the best for the weekend for me. Most were decent. They did not all go well in my humble opinion. I’m not going to detail each panel, but when an audience member approaches you and another author after the panel and offers to buy you both a drink just for getting through I suspect the reviews wouldn’t be stellar.

The small panel attendance did have one big advantage. I had the chance to really chat with both the folks I was on the panel with and some of the folks in the audience. It was really good to meet others that are fans and genuinely interested in what others were working on. I might have even gotten folks to check out Watch The Skies so we can keep the connections rolling through the rest of the year.

Lastly, and I think somewhat sadly, I came to the conclusion over that convention weekend that I am no longer a Shenanigan-ator. I am not really even a good participant at this point. After really talking up and enjoying the memories of Defend The Pizza I know that Sawney HattonTheLoot was disappointed when nothing even remotely resembling a brawl happened on either Friday or Saturday night. The room parties on Saturday night were… not exactly what you would normally see as a party I think. We (and by we I mean the people I was with) decided we needed something to happen – and so the great game of Elevator Roulette was invented. I genuinely laughed the hardest at the convention goers that exited their elevator cab cane first much to Sawney’s chagrin. The details are fuzzy. I really enjoyed watching that, but was somewhat relieved it wasn’t my elevator that opened. I don’t think I would have carried things off as well as the others there. I am sure they would have been disappointed then and I know they were disappointed when they moved ahead with the “something needs to happen” concept. I will totally own the simple fact that I decided not to crash the reception that was sharing the hotel. I don’t know when I stopped being the shenanigans guy – but it was pretty clear this past weekend that I am no longer that guy. Maybe I’ll come back around to it some day.

Someday. As I typed that I had to genuinely wonder how many somedays Philcon has left. I don’t want to be the pessimist here, but this year didn’t convince me the downward slide has stopped. I do hope they pick up next year. I also hope they’re willing to invite me again and that I’ll have the chance to once again see friends and find out who the Shenanigan-ator will be.