by Rob Balder
January 17-19, 2004
Going to Bean Town in January is a certain way to freeze your beans. Boston gave its chilliest reception to the throngs of Fen arriving at the Boston Park Plaza, but the atmosphere inside was friendly, cozy and warm.
Arisia is a well-planned and well-executed literary SF/Fantasy con with a broad spectrum of programming for gaming, art, music, comics, and free-form fun. For sheer variety of programming choices, in fact, this is one of the best middle-sized cons on the East Coast.
The chosen theme for programs this year was “The Future of Freedom,” which meant the inclusion of some unusual panels and panelists. Electronic security experts and open-source programming gurus were nearly as common as writers and artists. Panel topics such as “Does Information Really Want to be Free” produced many spirited debates which continued even long after the panels were finished. But the slate was not a slave to the theme, and there was much to enjoy, whatever your fannish obsession. Other panels included everything from Monty Python to Astonomy to LiveJournal. Tim Powers, the writer GOH, really gave of himself and graciously participated in a great many panels and events.
One particularly notable track was all of the music-related programs. King of Filk Tom Smith was the filk GOH, and in addition to performing concerts he spent a good deal of time in the filk circles. There was also a chorale workshop, giving particularly ambitious singers the chance to filk in four-part harmony. But the one music program which got the biggest response was the demonstration of a theramin. The crowd packed the conference room and spilled out into the hallway.
The most fascinating GOH had to be the kinetic sculptor Arthur Ganson. A special reception for the display of his bizarre, hypnotic inventions was held on Friday night. It is impossible to describe these works and do them any kind of justice, but if you ever get a chance to see his work, seek him out. The little mechanical gems he makes will blow your skull off.
Our only major beef with Arisia was its alcohol policy and the threatened enforcement thereof. We know that this had a lot to do with codes in the City of Boston, but still. For a con themed around freedom, threatening to infiltrate our party with plainclothes officers (in order to ensure that adults of legal age were not choosing to imbibe alcoholic beverages) seemed a little Orwellian.
But other than that, the management of Arisia was outstanding. Dealers’ Row was hopping, and many merchants reported excellent business. The Green Room was well stocked and comfortable. The printed programming materials were beautiful and informative. And the staff was as friendly and helpful as you could ever ask for.
We loved Arisia! Despite the long drive and the dangerous weather, we are looking forward to the next one which is scheduled for January 14-16, 2005 with Barbara Hambly as the Guest of Honor (www.arisia.org).