by James R. Stratton
May 23-26, 2003
Balticon is considered a large regional con, like Philcon in Philadelphia or Albacon in New York, with attendance between 1,000 and 2,000 members each year and offers a wide array of activities to satisfy just about any fan. This year the Writer Guests of Honor were Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, the Artist Guests of Honor were Sheila and Omar Rayyan, and the Filk GOH was Steve MacDonald. In addition, there were dozens of SF luminaries including Jon Ashmead, Joseph Bellafatto, Tobias Buckell, Hal Clement, Brenda Clough, Ann Crispin, Keith Decandido, Scott Edelman, Laura Anne Gilman, Eric Kotani, Paul Levinson, Mark Rogers, Tony Ruggiero, George Scithers, Bud Sparhawk, Laura Underwood, and Diane Weinstein. Understand, this is only a partial list.
My son and I arrived at the convention on Friday and checked into the hotel with a minimum of difficulty. For those of you who have not visited the Wyndham Inner Harbor, this is an excellent hotel with extensive facilities just blocks from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The opportunities for good food, shopping, and entertainment are too extensive for me to discuss here.
My son attends conventions with me so that he can participate in the gaming track and watch lots of anime. Balticon did not disappoint him. The con had set up a networked computer room with about a dozen stations and ran tournaments all weekend. My son spent a great deal of time competing in Unreal Tournament, as well as playing the World War II computer game “1942.” He also spent time in the gaming room set up by Looney Labs, a local gaming company, and purchased several card games. When he tired of that, he visited the anime room, the art room, and the dealer’s room. The anime started at noon on Friday and ran continuously until 3:00 PM Monday, so he (and I) had ample opportunities to visit. The biggest problem I had with my 15-year-old was getting him to eat and sleep.
My interest differs substantially from my son’s. I read and write genre fiction, so my time was spent in the writer’s tracks as much as possible. My first panel on Friday was put on by the publishers of the fine magazine you are presently reading. The panel was entitled “Nth Degree: A Fanzine Meets the Fans” and was hosted by Mike Pederson, publisher and editor; with Cate Twohill and Rob Balder, administrators and contributors. Those of you who write certainly understand how valuable it is to be able to meet the people who publish the magazines you read and submit to. The rest of the evening I sat in on panels relating to various writing topics, such as “How to Make Nonhuman Sentients Really Alien” and “New Trends In Publishing: Print On Demand,”and ran into the Nth Degree crew again at the “Fanzines and SF Fandom” panel. I finished off the night with a presentation of the classic movie, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Saturday, I was up early to attend the writer’s workshop, one of the main reasons I attend these cons. Balticon’s workshop is put on each year by Steve Lubs, with able assistance this year by Diana Weinstein of Weird Tales magazine and author Ann Crispin later in the morning. For those aspiring writers out there, I strongly recommend these convention workshops to you. I am aware of no other venue where you can get direct comments from editors and authors on your writing.
The rest of the day was spent decompressing from the workshop and catching panels on every kind of subject imaginable. They included discussions of the Lord of the Rings movies, literary scams to be aware of, art demonstrations by Joseph Bellafatto and Mark Rogers, and a workshop on balloon sculptures. In addition to these, there was a strong science track with lectures on artificial intelligence, time travel, the Hubbell Space Telescope, and surgery in space. Then it was time for dinner.
My son and I made a quick trip to the Inner Harbor for dinner and hurried back to get in line for the Masquerade. For those not familiar with masquerades, the Balticon Masquerade is one of the premier regional competitions for the costumer’s art, and is one of the high points of the convention for me. There is no way for me to describe either the costumes or the presentations, beyond saying I was thoroughly entertained for hours. I finished off the night by visiting a number of room parties put on by Nth Degree, Charlotte in 2005, Seattle in 2005, L.A. in 2006, Capclave, a Buffy fan group, and several others that just seemed to be there for the heck of it. This was a late night for me.
Sunday was another busy day starting with a workshop on improvisation in writing, run by author David Sherman and others. I was introduced to the Malaysian poetry form known as pantooms, which is poetry written in four lines. You then use the second and fourth line in your poem as the first and third line in a new poem and so on. As this is all done on the fly, you’re forced to achieve some interesting imagery. I then put in my bids at the art auction before it closed and won several Chinese-style paintings on silk. The rest of the afternoon was spent visiting various panels, including “Crazy Science Ideas,” “How to Prevent Identity Theft,” and “The Effect of Recent Changes in Copyright Law.” I finished the evening catching a film festival showcasing a number of movies presented by local producers and hosted by Chainsaw Sally, a local horror show maven.
Monday was the slowest day at the con for me. Most of the artists had left after the art auction concluded on Sunday, and many fans had headed home as well. Still, the organizers worked hard to keep the members interested. The dealers were offering deep discounts on many items on Monday only, and were giving out tickets for each purchase that could be redeemed from the con organizers for prizes. The con also had a premiere presentation of The Animatrix on Monday.
I should mention that I partook in a number of other activities over the weekend… I watched the complete anime series Sabre Marionette J, the anime movie Spirited Away, and the very odd anime series Real About High School. I also caught several movies, including Spiderman and The Witches Of Eastwick. Last, but not least, I taught Steve the bartender how to mix my favorite adult beverage, the blue sky martini. He mixed his first ever on Friday and gained great proficiency with repeated practice over the weekend. In addition, there were many other activities that I did not have time for. There is a separate poetry track, an artist track, a media track, and a costuming track. In short, there was more there than any one person could ever hope to experience in one weekend.
Overall, I can highly recommend Balticon to the writers, readers, artists, and just plain fans out there. You’ll find the experience compares favorably to any of the many other conventions held throughout the year. If you attend next year (May 28-31, 2004—www.balticon.org), look for me as you wander about. If you’d like, we can chat as we give Steve another practice round at the blue sky martini. Until then, enjoy!