by James R. Stratton
December 13-15, 2002
Philcon is the oldest science-fiction convention held in America today, having been held most every year for roughly 60 years, and at times has been put forward as the oldest such convention in the world. Philcon started as a convention devoted to literature in the 1930s, but in more recent years has branched out to include costuming, gaming, anime and movies, genre related artwork, and SF folk music (known as filk). There’s also a large and varied dealer’s room with books, costumes, jewelry, videos, clothing, and gaming supplies. Annual attendance at the convention runs between one and two thousand people each year.
My family and I arrived at the convention hotel, the Marriott Center City, early Friday morning. I always like to arrive early and help set up. For those new to conventions, let me recommend this to you. I’ve been part of Philcon’s art show crew for four years and am now a staff member of the convention. The advantages to this are that I’ve met a number of the people who run the convention and my membership fees for attending are waived.
Philcon is considered a large regional convention and is able to attract nationally recognized writers, artists, and actors each year. This year the Writer Guests of Honor were Connie Willis, Nalo Hopkins, and Spider Robinson. The Artist Guest of Honor was the illustrator Donata Giancola. Spider and his wife Jeannie also appeared as Filk Guests of Honor (they led an amazingly fun Beatles sing-along). And at the last minute the con organizers were able to arrange for Robert Picardo from Star Trek: Voyager to appear. There were also hundreds of other authors, artists, editors, and actors including Catherine Assaro, John Ashmead III, John Gregory Betancourt, Jack Chalker, Hal Clement, Gardener Dozois, Scott Edelman, Laura Ann Gilman, Yoji Kondo, Dr. Paul Levinson, John Passarella, Mark Rogers, Robert Sawyer, George Scithers, Diane Weinstein, and Mark Wolverton.
Friday night, after my son and I finished with the art show set up, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed back to the con. (The Marriott is at the edge of Chinatown in Philadelphia, and just blocks from the Italian market.) My son’s primary focus is gaming and anime so I left him at the gaming room and headed to the discussion panels. A new game called “Mage Knight Minions” was the featured game and my son came away with enough freebies and instructions from the designers to be able to participate in a full tournament by the end of the weekend.
My interests are more ordinary, so at 7:00 I attended a panel discussion on the greatest inventions of the twentieth century. At 8:00 I caught the GOH speech by Nalo Hopkins, then slipped downstairs to catch the tail end of a demonstration by the Artist GOH, Donato Giancola. I also had my first conflict when I passed on the “Meet The Pros” cocktail party at the same time. At 9:00 I slipped into the anime room, then at 10:00 attended a slide presentation by Mark Rogers on his illustrations for the Samurai Cat series. I called it a night at this point although there were a number of parties open to the public in the hotel.
I was up bright and early on Saturday and was back downstairs by 10:00. Saturday is the main day of the con, and the busiest. I’m not going to describe every event I attended (this would take up too much space) but will give you some highlights. I sat in on a discussion of the Klingon language presented by the Klingon Language Institute. I visited the dealer’s room and the art show, had coffee with some friends I’ve met at previous cons, and caught a panel discussion by a number of editors from various magazines—including Asimov’s, Analog, and Weird Tales. The topic was about what trends they see in the market right now—vampires are out, as are terrorist dramas.
At 1:00 I attended the Writers Workshop for aspiring writers like myself. For those of you interested in becoming a published writer, this is a must. Eight of us submitted stories to the workshop in advance, and each story was reviewed and critiqued by a half-dozen writers and editors. The experience is painful, but invaluable. I received comments from six of the leading editors in genre fiction including John Gregory Betancourt and George Scithers. I’m not aware of anywhere else you can receive this kind of feedback in a single afternoon.
I spent the rest of the afternoon getting a meal with my family, shopping in the dealer’s room, and watching some more anime. At 4:00 Connie Willis spoke about her life, her writing, and other things. She’s an excellent speaker and was in good form this weekend. At 9:00 we all attended the masquerade. This is the main costume competition at the con, and is guaranteed to produce some of the best of the costumers’ art in the area. After the masquerade my kids headed off to watch a movie while my wife and I visited several room parties. Charlotte, Seattle, and Los Angeles were all throwing Worldcon bid parties, and Nth Degree was hosting its usual bash.
Sunday was more scattered, as this is the last day of the con and the day when the bids at the art auction close. I caught a panel discussion on the science of time travel, then went to the art show to make a few bids. For the uninitiated, most cons have an art show where artists offer their works for sale by written bid. If an item pulls more than four bids, it goes to a voice auction. Each of us had found items we wanted and placed our bids. The Chinese-style watercolor I bid on went to the voice auction, as did a dragon sculpture my son wanted. The art show closed at noon and we went to the dealer’s room for last minute purchases, grabbed lunch and came back in time for the voice auction. In the end, we won the two items we wanted plus four others that were a steal. I then caught a panel on the worst items editors had seen in their slush pile before we loaded the car and headed home.
Philcon 2003 will be held December 12-14, 2003 at the Marriott Center City hotel in Philadelphia. You can purchase your badge at www.philcon.org. Needless to say, me and mine are already making plans to attend. We each had a wonderful time, and already have our memberships. I heartily recommend this con to you.