Con Review: Arisia 2014

arisiaby KT Pinto

 

Arisia 2014
January 17–20, 2014
Boston, Massachusetts
http://2014.arisia.org

I’m going to start with the obvious: Arisia’s hotel is mad expensive. Parking alone was $90 a night! Granted, the hotel is in Boston, but it’s not within walking distance of anything, with a garage that couldn’t hold all the guests’ cars. The opulence of the lobby is amazing, but the set-up of the hotel makes things difficult to get to because of the distance and various levels.

Beyond the cost, Arisia was pretty good. From before the con even started, Arisia was efficient, well managed, and participant friendly. Pre-programming as usual was a dream; Arisia used Zambia, which is a perfect program to organize your schedule and choose panels from their huge selection. This year’s Guests of Honor were Tanya Huff (Author) and Lubov (Artist).

Registration was amazing. There were almost a dozen people behind the registration table, plus a separate group that handled the badges, and their efficiency made a long line move like a breeze. Security had a presence at the convention, but wasn’t a hindrance to the attendees. The convention even arranged for food trucks to be there (although they weren’t prepared for the high demand) to compensate for the fact that the hotel wasn’t near anything.

But, there was something missing. It took me a little while to figure out that it was the same thing that had been occurring at smaller cons: harassment-phobia. It seemed that everything was low-key and people were walking on eggshells, even to the point of worrying about using the wrong pronoun when speaking to someone. It is a concern to me that Arisia—which always seemed to maintain a perfect balance of naughty and nice—turned suspiciously low key.

Will I go back? I’m not really sure. This time around, Arisia didn’t leave me wanting more and, with the high expense and distance, I may have to put this one on the back burner for a while…

 

Con Review: Arisia ’05

Arisiaby Tee Morris

 

Arisia ‘05
January 21-23, 2005
Boston, Massachusetts
http://2006.arisia.org/

With fellow author and con-hopper Tony Ruggiero grudgingly meeting up with me at the Plaza Hotel, I was returning to Beantown after two years. In 2003, I visited Arisia and was impressed by the convention. I skipped a year just to give other January cons a try, but the return to Boston reminded me of just how good Arisia is and how I should make the trek north more often.

The weekend began with a smooth check-in at the Plaza Hotel, something I will say was a huge improvement from the last visit. In 2003, Arisia had a “hotel liaison.” Guests and con-goers needed to contact the convention, Arisia would then make the reservation via the liaison, then the liaison would confirm the reservation with the con, and then the con would confirm with the guest. It was chaos with many attendees sitting by their luggage wondering, “What the frel happened to my room?” This year, the reservations were handled directly by the Plaza. No frack-ups. Well done, Arisia.

This year’s Arisia appeared busier than 2003. With such a busy con, I salute the Boston fans running this weekend without incident or mishap. All my best to Sheila Oranch and her staff for creating tracks with great topics, easy to meet schedules and plenty of items to keep attendees busy. And extra bonus points to the con staff for commandeering the Plaza Hotel’s private channel for showing favorite SF/F/H television series and movies during the con.

The panels themselves were extremely well attended, two of the most impressive turnouts on my schedule being “The SciFi Superiority Complex: Elitism in SF/F/H” and “The George Lucas Bash-a-Thon.” The Elitism panel was a bullet-sweating moment, as one of the panelists and half the audience had read my article on this very topic appearing on StrangeHorizons.com. The discussion was passionate, spirited, and still talked about hours later. As far as “The George Lucas Bash-a-Thon,” I think the last time I had that much fun on a panel was at Balticon 38 with Mike Pederson, the Lamplighter-Wrights, and other panelists talking about Harry Potter with a ballroom filled to capacity. The jokes flew, left and right, along with the frustrations, and this panel was—much to my elation—captured and “enhanced” (with clips from Star Wars and credits) for posterity by Astronomicon’s Con Chair, Wayne Brown. I had two more panels planned for Sunday…

…but it is here where Arisia took a wild, wacky and windy turn.

Saturday afternoon, Tony and I were enjoying some downtime in the bar and watching TV. What was on, you ask? Not the New England Patriots. Not a replay of the Red Sox’s winning game. Not even a repeat of Battlestar Galactica, featuring Richard Hatch’s return to the series.

No, the TV was tuned to The Weather Channel.

We were all watching as a Nor’easter (one of the biggest and baddest in the past century) was heading our way. The lucky ones on the fringes of this storm would get six inches of snow. At the least. And the fringes of this storm were places like Manassas, Fredericksburg, and Washington, D.C. The more beer we drank, the closer the storm came, and around us attendees and local guests all said the same thing: “Eh, we’ll just ride it out. It’s not going to be that bad.” Tony and I, on the other hand, decided the best course of action was to call Amtrak and brave the storm before it hit Boston full force. Saying our goodbyes, Tony and I managed to grab one of the last cabs available in the city. The storm, it appeared, was moving faster than The Weather Channel predicted. The Plaza charged us for only one night’s stay—again, another pleasant surprise—and Amtrak was apparently having a very good day. By the time we boarded the train, Logan Airport had officially shut down. When we left Boston, the Nor’easter was on top of us. Fourteen hours later, I stepped off the train in Quantico.

I was told by guests who rode out the storm that Arisia extended itself an extra day. The Plaza was hospitable, trying not to fleece those guests unexpectedly forced to stay. Things were getting a little tense when the hotel kitchen reported that supplies were getting low, but in the end there were no “missing guests” followed by a “Dahmer Party Special” from Room Service. Logan reopened two days later and everyone made it home safely, with a few fun stories to swap with friends, post on blogs and write about for premier magazines.

In 2003, Arisia was a bumpy ride with illness, reservation mixups and a longer than usual train ride. In 2005, it was a mad dash to Amtrak through a nasty Nor’easter. You would think I would read the signs and say, “Maybe I shouldn’t do Arisia. MarsCon is closer, and Chattacon in Tennessee is less northern.” So what are my plans for January, 2006?

After a weekend like this, what can I say other than, “See you in Beantown, baby!”

 

Con Review: Arisia ’04

Arisia04by Rob Balder

 

Arisia ‘04
January 17-19, 2004
Boston, Massachusetts 

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).