Faces of Fandom: Christopher J. Garcia

Chris Garcia

Illustration by Michael D. Pederson

by Chris Garcia


Over the past few years, Chris Garcia has been a frequent contributor to Nth Degree. He’s written short stories (as Johnny Eponymous), con reviews, and gaming reviews for us but now we’re letting him turn the white hot spotlight of public scrutiny on himself…

How To Be A Toastmaster:
My BayCon 2005 Experience

BayCon is the Bay Area’s largest, oldest, and most established SF Convention. Having attended the first one, and many off and on over the last 22 years, it’s my home convention and the event that really brought me fully into fandom after a lay-off of several years. For some reason, they chose me to act as their Toastmaster, running the “Meet the Guests” event and the Masquerade. If you’ve ever been to a large convention, you know that these events can be huge and facing the task of leading them is daunting. I got a chance to chat with last year’s Toastmistress, Esther Friesner, and 1999 and 2000 Toastmaster Kent Brewster, who both gave me great pointers. As a public service, I created a set of rules that anyone who is asked to be a Toastmaster should follow.

Be memorable and make sure folks can find you among the crowd.

Friday, noon. I’d arrived nice and early, ready to get down to the fun of the con. There was already a maddening crowd. A great many folks were milling around, and for some reason, there were far more young folks than usual. In the 1980s, BayCon was the home to a large crowd of young fans who would go on to become important to fandom over-all and this was like being back in those days. By the end of the con, there were more attendees than any BayCon I’d ever been to and one of the largest BayCons ever.

As I walked through the halls, I ran into Jay Lake (Writer Guest of Honor, 2004 Campbell Award Winner and respected anthology editor), Frank Wu (Artist Guest of Honor and 2004 Hugo winner), Andy Trembley and Kevin Roche (Fan Guests of Honor and well-known party hosts) and a number of other folks, all wearing fezzes made of purple. They had one for me. The rest of the convention, I walked around with my purple fez worn proudly.

Be funny, but not offensive or out of control.

As the day went on, we were introduced to a small crowd at the Opening Ceremonies. This was simple and small and no one had anything to say, though I did manage to do a spit-take for the delight of some (OK, mostly myself). After the Opening Ceremony, I had to prepare for the Meet the Guests.

If you’ve only been to the Meet the Pros events on the East Coast you probably have no idea why I was freaking out. Meet the Guests is an event where all the guests talk for a minute or two and the Toastmaster runs the show in front of 500 or so attendees. This year, the number was likely a bit larger, as there were no free tables and little standing room left. As I had to run the thing, I was panicking, though not nearly as badly as I should have been.

I walked up and introduced everyone, saying funny things that fit with the theme “BayCon: The Con You Can’t Refuse” (Sonny Corleone couldn’t make it tonight. There was some hold-up at a toll booth) and pointing out that Jay and I had once been confused for one another, which is easy to understand as we could both be described as Big Guys with beards and Hawaiian shirts. We worked the room and Chase Masterson of Deep Space Nine fame performed a few jazzy numbers as the place opened up for the Charity Casino. A late night playing blackjack and generally having a good time.

Always show up early and ready to perform.

With all the gambling we did, and a few late-night parties, I was dragging on the way to the early morning panels. BayCon’s best panel, “5 Dollars, a Time Machine and a Dead Fish,” was a morning panel and featured hilarious and brutal ideas of how to change history for the funnier using those three things. This was the first year I wasn’t on the panel, but the guys did a great job.

Sadly, I was nearly asleep the entire day. When I made it to the panel about MonkeyCon (the convention which is always held next year), I was tired, but we all managed to have a good panel. I even got to make Jay Lake sing for the entire audience. The other panels that were going on were really well-attended, with the young fans who had shown up all coming to more panels and getting more and more involved. They weren’t just there for the parties. The only downside was that all the Guests of Honor were scheduled against one another. That’s kinda tough, as we were all friends, so we would have liked to have attended each others panels.

Remember: The audience wants to like you!

The next thing I had to worry about was the Masquerade. As Toastmaster, I was given the option of MCing it, and for some fool reason, I said yes. We gathered beforehand with all the judges for dinner and I was seated next to a lovely young thing who was working as the runner for the judges. We chatted and ate and then I headed into the Green Room, where I got to see the costumes before anyone else.

And they were magnificent.

A brilliant British Admiral’s costume, an amazingly cute Ewok and mermaid, and the best was Jem & The Holograms along with Sinergy from the 1980’s cartoon. All of them were great. I went about making sure I had everything right so I wouldn’t look like an idiot when I was doing the announcing.

Make sure you dress for respect.

I wore my tux with a Hawaiian shirt underneath. When it came time to go out there, I introduced myself as Entrant #0: Christopher J. Garcia as Evening Wear Jay Lake. Jay, who was in the audience, said that I did a better than passable job.

Make sure you go over every name you’ll have to announce to avoid messing them up.

I managed to get every name correct. Even the weird Celtic ones. Heck, there was even a Jwlhyfer that I had to work out, and I managed it.

But I should have put more into learning the names of the entries. You see, there was a word on my sheet for announcing that read A-V-E. Well, it’s obvious to me that you would pronounce that word to rhyme with Knave. I announced it as such and then she came and started singing. Started singing Ave Maria. I then realized my mistake and nearly exploded. I was trying to fight down hysterical laughter at how moronic I had been. I then grabbed the mic after she was done and said “that was Number 7, Ave” rhyming with agave. I was saved and made it through the rest of the night without incident. The winner was an excellent kaiju entry with two monsters that ended up dancing to SpongeBob SquarePants.

The night ended early, I was in bed by midnight, and preparing for my heaviest day of programming.

Try to interact with as many attendees as possible.

On Sunday, the place was jumping. It seemed even more fans were arriving every minute. I went to my panels and found myself stopped every few minutes.

“What’s with the fez?” they’d ask.

“I’ll tell you later” I’d respond in my best reference to Buckaroo Bonzai.

The Sunday panels were very good, including a panel on “How to Be a Villain” which included my dear pal Neil Zawacki who wrote the book How to Be a Villain. This was a fun panel with lots of the audience coming through with great funny comments.

I had to take a nap and ended up watching an MST3K Fanfilm on the in-room BayCon TV Network. I realized that I had nothing to do for the next few hours, so I settled in. Gen, the darling girlfriend, and Evelyn, her precocious daughter, came over and we had room service and watched Shrek which they projected on the side of the hotel. It was nice, and once Evelyn got to sleep, I managed to finish reading the National Fantasy Fan Federation Handbook and a few fanzines that managed to make their way into my hands.

Monday was a few panels, a few lunches, a nice chat with Frank and Jay, and that was that. This BayCon was younger, more vibrant, faster, harder-to-follow, bigger, louder, and more terrifying than any other I’ve been to. Having been Toastmaster, I’m ready to do it again, though maybe at a smaller con this time. The Guests of Honor for BayCon were the friendliest I’ve ever seen. I used to say that Steven Brust was #1 for inviting folks into his room for whiskey and singing at Conjecture, but watching Jay mingle and break it down on the dance floor, Frank talking to everyone, Kevin and Andy greeting everyone and making sure that folks were having a good time, these guys easily took the cake.

And I’m still recovering.

Above all, don’t swear into a live microphone.

And this is the only one of my rules I managed not to break at all.


Con Review: BayCon 2004

by Chris Garcia


BayCon 2004
May 28-31, 2004
San Jose, California

As always, Baycon has proven to be a highlight for Bay Area science fiction fandom. Even with FanimeCon drawing nearly 5000 attendees less than three miles away, Baycon still managed to bring more than 2200 attendees together for panels, parties and madcap hijinks.

This year’s guests were a varied bunch, featuring Writer Guest of Honor Michael Swanwick, Artist Guest Jael, Fan Guest Elayne Pelz, Toastmaster Esther Friesner, special guests Mark Ryan (Swordmaster for King Arthur) and Chase Masterson (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as well about 100 program participants from around the US. The Meet the Guests event featured several hundred folks schmoozing, Esther presenting each participant with a brief hula dance, and a terrible lightbulb joke from Swanwick. The event was followed by a charity casino which drew a strong crowd as it does every year.

The panels themselves crossed more boundaries than ever before, featuring many panelists who had not yet appeared at West Coast conventions. Some fan favorites included the Chicks in Chainmail readings featuring authors including Kevin Andrew Murphy and Lee Martindale; the Armored Combat Shows; $5, a Dead Fish, and a Time Machine which led to many curious alternate history gem-lets; and Dr. Destructo who took apart all sorts of modern contraptions for the delight of children of all ages. The Masquerade was heavily attended and allowed 30+ fans to show off some amazing costumes. Trailer Park showed off the previews of some great films coming to theatres in the near future and gave out tons of movie schwag.

This year’s panels had more breadth than any other. Baycon attracts more techie fans per square inch than any Con on Earth, and folks like Hugh Daniels, Annalee Newitz, Tom Galloway, Adrienne Gromley, and Chris DiBona made for fine discussions on everything from PDAs to privacy, PGP to piracy. Authors like Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Howard Hendrix, Jonathan Fresmire and Irene Radford spoke on a variety of panels including film, television and writing. History panels featuring wells of knowledge like Ben Yalow and Brad Lyau were exceptional, as were writing panels by folks like Lori White, Ken Wharton and Ashley Grayson. Panel attendance as a whole was way up from previous years, on par with the attendance found at the larger East Coast cons.

Of course, a Con would not be complete without CONsumption of drinks and parties. This year’s party floor featured the League of Evil Genius inducting another batch of villains into their Hall of Fame while the bubbly flowed. Screamworks presented both a sanctioned dance and a fine party room. Many of the bids and seated Wester- and Worldcons held delightful parties as well.

The DoubleTree Hotel, which has housed all 22 BayCons, will host BayCon ’05 on Memorial Day weekend, with Writer Guest of Honor Robert J. Sawyer, Fan Guests Kevin Roche and Andrew Trembley, and Toastmaster Christopher J. Garcia.


Con Review: Conjecture II

ConjectureLogoby Chris Garcia


Conjecture II
October 3-5, 2003
San Diego, California

No city in America is more identified with a single con than San Diego is with Comic-Con. But to think that Comic-Con is the only game in town is to forget that there is a rabid fandom in SD. One of their annual activities is Conjecture, a small con in its second year that has not failed to impress.

This year, in honor of Guest of Honor and Chronoliths’ author Robert Charles Wilson, Conjecture was subtitled “A Brief History of Time Travel.” The theme ran throughout the convention which featured Time Machine Wars, a Mad Science Fair, and film programming that featured time travel films from the last five decades. Panels dealt with everything from “The Physics of Time Travel” to “Microscopic Temporal Anomalies,” alongside the standard Star Wars, Buffy, Fandom, music, literature, and sex programming.

What’s a con without parties? The League of Evil Geniuses threw a fine party as part of the push to bring CostumeCon 2008 to the Silicon Valley. Fan Dave Bloom held an open-door fortieth birthday party which featured authors like William Wu, Vera Nazarian, and Lee Martindale playing with nearly fifty balloons that covered the floor. Both the San Diego in 2006 and Monterey 2006 WesterCon bids threw shindigs as well.

Perhaps the most stunning thing was the number and quality of the guests. For a con attracting only about 350 attendees, the names brought in for programming were astounding. Authors Vernor Vinge, David Brin, Nancy Holder, Gregory Benford, and David Gerrold all participated on panels with artists like James Stanley Daugherty, Frank Wu, and Sue Dawe.

Another excellent small, West Coast con that is looking towards bigger and better things in the future. Conjecture III is scheduled for October 1-3. Next year’s GoHs will be C.S. Friedman (Writer) and Jess Heinig (Gaming). More details at www.conjecture.org.


Con Review: BayCon 2003

BayCon2003by Chris Garcia


BayCon 2003
May 23-26, 2003
San Jose, California

Bay Area fandom has had a busy 18 months, from the half dozen regular conventions to hosting last year’s Worldcon. BayCon returned to the DoubleTree hotel in San Jose for the twenty-second time in twenty-two years. As always, BayCon brought together fans from all over California, plus Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, British Columbia, Alaska, and Great Britain, more than twenty-two hundred over the course of the convention.

As always, BayCon brought some great guests: Greg Bear, who brought with him tales of the forth-coming Science Fiction Experience museum in Seattle; Artist GOH Mark Ferrari, who gave a delayed, but highly regarded reading from his up-coming novel; Fan guest Janice Gelb; and Toastmistress Rachel Holmen, along with more than one hundred guests made BayCon 2003 the most impressive line-up in years.

BayCon tends towards the highly decorated. The huge ScreamWorks party took up two large guest rooms, plus a significant portion of balcony. At one point, more than 200 people crowded into the space. The League of Evil Geniuses’ celebrated alumni including Cruella DeVille and Eric on the Elevator, an elevator talk show, hosted a party that featured the debut of the first two seasons, filmed at BayCon 2001 and 2002.

The panels were far-ranging, fascinating, and typically well attended. Some highlights included “Five Dollars, a Dead Fish, and a Time Machine, or Turtledoving for Dummies,” which filled a room designed for 50 with nearly 80 attendees. “Futurism: or How the Future Has Failed Us at Every Turn” took the classic Where’s My Flying Car debate into areas such as world government, single pill meals, real internet security, and the fifteen-hour work week. Panels on art and tech were highly successful, as were all the Buffy panels, despite the fact that author Nancy Holder had to cancel at the last moment. All that, plus great readings from Ferrari, Howard Hendrix, Lori White, Cory Doctorow, and Irene Radford made for much great stuff for daytime consumption.

Running alongside the parties in the evenings were the largest masquerade in recent memory, Off The Wall films (actually shown on the side of one of the hotel’s towers), half a dozen concerts, and at least two dances a night. And every issue of Nth Degree that hit the fan handout table flew into a greedy fan’s hand almost instantly!

All in all, a great weekend that signals the begging of a little rest for NorCal’s hardest working SMOFs. Next year’s convention, with GOH Michael Swanwick, will be held May 23-31 (www.baycon.org/2004).


Game Review: Showbiz Shuffle

Showbiz Shuffleby Chris Garcia


Every now and again, you accidentally find yourself in the perfect place for the perfect event: you find a dropped 100 dollar bill in the middle of the road, a diamond in your Campbell’s Soup, or end up in the path of a Home Run ball worth 3.81 million dollars. I had a moment like that in Philadelphia this past December, where everything lined up and I got to be present at a party where a group of game designers were showing off their first presentation: a miraculous game called Showbiz Shuffle.

I had come out from California for Philcon to be on a few panels and down a few Philly Cheesesteaks, no idea that my life would be changed by attending a party. There, the designer—the uproarious Joan Wendland—and friends who had play-tested the game sat me down and taught me the basics of Showbiz Shuffle (2-4 players): try to assemble an actor, director, and some supporters. The first thing you notice are the cards, featuring caricatures of Hollywood personalities, past and present, drawn by professional caricaturist Lar deSouza. It’s fun just to test the knowledge of those you play with to see who can name the most stars from their pictures, a game in which I am the undoubted Sunnyvale, CA champion. The cards though, aside from being pretty, also contain the essentials of the game: point values used to determine the success of a finished film, and a color-coded section which tells you the genre of films the player can appear in. Some cards, such as the Studio Favorite (which I believe is Mr. Martin Scorsese) tell you to draw a Biz card, allowing you to improve your movie, or hurt others by doing things like winning Oscars, or causing their stars to be Upstaged. The cards are classy, but how do they play?

Each turn is like taking a meeting in the classic Hollywood boardrooms of the Studio era. Who do we cast to star in our new romance picture? Who in the stable can direct a family film? What’s that Wood fellow doing casting Clint Eastwood? You keep a hand of five “Bod” cards, contract players who are potential stars, directors or supporting players. There is a Cattle Call of five more Bod cards that every player can pull from on their turn. Every turn, you can cast one Bod from the Cattle Call and two Bods from your hand into your latest opus, but they must be able to fit into the genre of film that you are making. You can also play one of your Biz cards each turn, allowing the fun to add up. You can only have one director, two Stars, and a pair of supporters in each film, which makes casting harder as there are lots of supporters, while directors are precious indeed. When you have completed the five Bods needed, you total up the points from your actors, Biz cards, and any of the little bonuses, such as playing the Classic (Kate Hepburn) with the Final Bow (Spencer Tracey), giving you +2 to your film, and write it down (though, recently we’ve been using poker chips to keep track, mostly so we have something to do with the poker chips we got for Christmas). After you have run through the cards once, the player who draws the last card plays and then every other player gets one turn to complete the movies that they have in the works. If you fail to complete a film, the points you put into it count against you, since your studio blew all that cash on casting and got nada out of it. The one with the most points wins, just like in Hollywood.

Now, the room in Philly where I ended up was a Blood and Cardstock party where they were teaching folks to play the game. As soon as I started playing, I knew all of my friends back west would want to get a piece of the action; after all, Cali is where a good Hollywood game would be most appreciated. It’s a blast, especially as folks start to screw their friends by playing Drug Problems on others stars, or sticking their films with the dreaded NC-17. The power of the game is the simplicity, the fact that you can complete a game in half an hour, and there is just enough room for movie fans to make cinema references and talk trash, which a film geek like me specializes in.

Showbiz Shuffle is the first game from Blood and Cardstock games, and they are planning an expansion deck featuring the golden age of Hollywood. You can order the original at www.blood-and-cardstock.com. Their next card game—Counting Sheep, the surreal game of dreams you play while you’re awake—will be released this fall.

All in all, a great game for anyone who loves card games or movies, and the perfect game for those of us who live in both worlds.