December 10-12, 2004
Until recently, Philcon’s attendance ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 paid attendees. A few years ago Philcon moved its location and date, and seems to be suffering from being too close to Christmas. Last year attendance dropped to just over 1,000 paid memberships. It is my understanding that this year attendance dropped again, to between 700 and 800 paid memberships. It is my hope that the con committee has taken note and will be taking steps to remedy this.
Despite the drop in numbers, those in attendance still had a wonderful time. This year, the Artist Guest of Honor was Joe Devito. The scheduled Writer GoH, Brian Aldiss, was unable to attend due to health problems, but the con was able to book Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski in his place. As every year, the merry Nth Degree Crew was in attendance as well, running a table in the Dealer’s Room and dispensing the much-sought-after glow-in-the-dark drink cup at their room party.
The venue—the Marriott Center City Hotel—is worthy of mention. Philcon obtained this venue when they hosted the World Science Fiction Convention in 2001. It is a four-star hotel in the heart of Philadelphia and is a beautiful facility. My family had reserved two rooms, but found when we arrived that the hotel had mistakenly given away one of our rooms. They promptly upgraded our reservations to two adjoining suites at the Marriott Concierge Deluxe Hotel next door, at no extra charge. The staff at this hotel is nothing if not professional and discrete. With no fuss, we spent the weekend in rooms that were easily double the size of the standard room at the con hotel.
As in previous years, Philcon had enough activities to satisfy just about anyone. There was an Art Show with auction, along with a full weekend of panels discussing various aspects of artistic endeavors; a Dealer’s Room with dozens of merchants; a Masquerade competition; a gaming room with competitions running around-the-clock; an anime room with showings running from late Friday until late Sunday; a movie room with a similar schedule; Filk performances; readings by various authors; and of course, seven or eight panel discussions running simultaneously on such topics as graphic novels, sex toys of the future, the business of writing, space exploration and Internet fraud. In addition, the con committee added a new activity, a networked computer gaming room separate from the main gaming room, running such popular games as Unreal Tournament and 1942. And, of course, they had the Philcon Writers Workshop, my favorite activity each year.
This year Philcon was different for me. In the past, my family and I scattered once we arrived. My son and I would help with the Art Show set-up (and earn our badges for the next year), while my wife and daughter took advantage of the wonderful shopping to be found in Center City. My son would then focus his time on gaming and anime, my daughter on anime and shopping, my wife on shopping and jewelry design, and me on various panels on writing with some videos thrown in when I could find time. But the past year has seen changes and growth in my writing career, and Philcon marked the release of a collection of my short stories published by Big Blind Productions. This was a happy occasion, allowing me the unique experience of spending most of my weekend autographing my chapbook for purchasers. Is this really how authors spend their time at cons?
The rest of my time on Saturday was spent at the Writers Workshops, where my story and nine others received the close, critical attentions of editors George Scithers and Darryl Schweitzer, and professional writers Carl Frederick, P.D. Cacek and Roman Ranieri. I’m happy to report that my story received mostly positive comments. Still, I had the chilly experience of watching as Hugo and Nebula award-winning editor George Scithers, in his kindest and most sincere tones, advised several authors, “This is a bad story! Don’t do it again. Now that it’s out of your system, go write something better.”
Sadly, I had to pass on my annual visit to the Masquerade, but I understand it was well attended with thirteen entrants displaying their works.
The weekend ended with the Art Show auction, where we won a half-dozen items ranging from a limited-edition print to fantasy-themed Christmas balls for our tree. When we were ready to go, the hotel staff literally whisked our bags from our rooms to our car with a minimum of fuss, and we were on the road home, tired but well pleased with our weekend. We already have our memberships for next year, and I can heartily recommend that you consider doing the same.