Con Review: Balticon 39

Balticon39by James R. Stratton


Balticon 39
May 27-30, 2005
Baltimore, Maryland

Once again, me and mine attended the annual science-fiction convention of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society over Memorial Day weekend. The Writer Guests of Honor were Stephen Barnes and his spouse, Tananarive Due, the Artist Guest of Honor was Bob Eggleton and the Filk Guest of Honor was Jordan Kare. This was the fifth year that Balticon has been held over Memorial Day weekend with an expanded, four-day schedule, and I can truly say they have handled the transition beautifully after some initial growing pains.

My son and I arrived at the Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel midafternoon on Friday. Check-in was quick and painless. My son, a gamer, spent the bulk of the weekend running between the computer room (participating in networked online tournaments), the gaming room and the anime room. My interests on the other hand are focused on writing. I started off with a panel on fanzines moderated by Nth Degree’s own Michael Pederson with great visual aids and stories supplied by Steve Stiles, followed by a panel on “Creating Realistic Species,” and finished off the evening with a panel on “Humor In Science Fiction” moderated by Bud Sparhawk. I also managed to watch a few episodes of anime and visited the Dealer’s Room and Art Show. The topper for the night was a presentation by local TV personality Count Gore De Vol, dressed in full vampire regalia. The Count was in good form as he introduced a number of independent films.

Saturday started off early for me with the Writer’s Workshop at 9:00. This workshop, moderated by writer Steve Lubs, is a teaching workshop and this year he focused on creating believable characters. With a room full of aspiring writers, we had lively discussions on how to create compelling characters for our stories. The art show was in especially good form with a whole section devoted to Bob Eggleton’s work as well as dozens of other artists. My favorites were Moifa’s Chinese-style brushwork, and Mark Rogers’ fantasy artwork. I first saw Moifa’s work at Philcon several years ago and have watched as her sparse watercolors have gone from being a steal to the point where I can no longer afford them. The rest of the day was spent in various panels, including one on “Breaking Writer’s Block.” This panel was especially comforting as it helped me to appreciate that writer’s block among authors is as common as Klingons at a Trek convention. I just wish they had some magic bullet for curing it.

After dinner, my son and I attended the Masquerade. As usual, the competition was hosted by Marty Gear in his vampire persona, with roughly twenty entrants. My favorite was a humorous presentation ably assisted by Marty. He reminisced fondly about visits from the tooth fairy when he was a child. She removed the tooth painlessly and paid you lots of money. The lights then came up and out on the stage walked another fairy, wearing a white fright wig and carrying a three-foot hypodermic. Marty advised us that now that we’re adults, we will receive visits from this person, the root canal fairy. She will cause you great pain as she extracts teeth, and will leave only after you have paid her lots and lots of money. It was a scream! As lighthearted as this presentation was, it still managed to take two of the top prizes of the night.

After the last presentation, my son headed back to the gaming room and I headed to the room parties. Sadly, this year the number of parties was quite low. Nth Degree had the most popular party of the night, dispensing its own special brew of “tea” in the much-sought-after glow-in-the-dark cup. But aside from a party hosted by the Philcon con committee and another hosted by the Chicago in 2008 bid committee, that was it (at least that I could find). Understand, this is quite unusual for Balticon, as there are usually a dozen or more parties to choose from all weekend.

Sunday started for me at 10:00 with a panel on “Writing as a Second Career,” with a number of authors—including novelist Robert Chase—participating. This panel was the highlight of the weekend for me. As I am an attorney like Bob Chase, as well as a fledgling writer, I asked how he dealt with the ticklish ethical question on how to keep your legal career separate from your writing career. Attorneys have strict ethical requirements as members of the legal bar not to mix their legal careers with any other public endeavors. Our discussion continued after the panel was done, and he took me to the Green Room to continue our chat. We were joined shortly by Analog Mafia member and noted Heinlein historian Eric Kotani (Yoji Kondo) and by David Silver, also an attorney and the President of the Heinlein Society. Our talk covered a number of topics and lasted for the rest of the morning. Wonderful! Contact with important writers in the field is what I come to cons for.

Sunday was another busy day attending panels, watching videos, bidding at the art auction, participating in the voice auction that followed and then collecting my prizes. The day was capped off with the Second Annual Balticon Film Festival. Although still a new feature of the con, they received more films than they could schedule on Sunday. I understand that many of the films that Count Gore De Vol presented on Friday actually were submitted for the film festival, but could not be presented because of time constraints. As you would expect, they ranged from truly awful to quite good.

Monday was the final day of the con, but was still very active with panels, video presentations and of course the Dealer’s Room. I had visited several times throughout the con but was surprised to see the room still packed with dealers eager to do business. One dealer later explained: At most cons, you do little business on the last day so many dealers pack up and leave as soon as they can. For some reason, most of the dealers were doing better business Monday at Balticon than they had the rest of the weekend, and nobody was leaving.
After making my round of good byes, I packed my car and headed out. Next year will be yet another transition for Balticon. After over a decade located in Center City Baltimore, the con committee decided to relocate to the Hunt Valley Marriott outside the city. From its web page, it looks to be a beautiful facility, so I guess change is good. See you next year!


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