Con Review: MarsCon 2011

marscon2011by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2011
January 14­–16, 2011
Williamsburg, Virginia

I think I saw one of the most amazing sights I’ve ever seen at a science fiction convention this year. MarsCon’s Writer Guest of Honor, Jim Butcher (Dresden Files, Codex Alera) had the hotel bursting at its seams. Yep. MarsCon broke their hotel.

Over the past few years, MarsCon has been slowly transitioning from a relaxacon into a full-fledged convention with traditional programming. After this year, I think that it’s safe to say that they’ve arrived.

MarsCon is still running out their contract at the Holiday Inn Patriot that they’ve been booked in since their days as a much smaller convention (they broke 1000 this year!) and have found some very creative ways to make the most of what little space they had. Some of their ideas included running interactive panels and concerts in the hotel bar and doing mini-concerts and how-to’s in the con suite.

Other Guests of Honor this year included author Shannon Butcher (The Sentinel Wars), artist Ursula Vernon, and toastmaster Michael Jon Khandelwal. Next year’s GoHs will be author S.M. Stirling and artist Theresa Mather (January 13–15, 2012).


Con Review: MarsCon 2010

marscon2009by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2010
January 15–17, 2010
Williamsburg, Virginia

MarsCon has been around in various incarnations for over twenty years now. It’s mostly been a fun but quiet relaxacon. Lately, however, they’ve been playing around with adding guests and programming. This year’s Guests of Honor were David Weber, Marrus, Steve Long, Tom Smith, and Michael Khandelwal. With over 70 items on the schedule this year, MarsCon took a major step away from it’s relaxacon roots. That’s not to say that they have turned serious on us though. Many of those scheduled events were concerts or workshops, so even though there’s more going on they still try to keep things fun and relaxing. The concerts were actually handled in a pretty clever way: they were all scheduled in the hotel bar. I’m told that the hotel staff was quite pleased with the results. From the corner of the room I sat in the sound system was a bit flat and hard to hear over the television, but if you moved closer it really worked well. With it’s low-pressure atmosphere and emphasis on fun events, MarsCon is the perfect post-holiday stress reliever.


Con Review: MarsCon 2005

MarsCon2005by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2005
January 21-23, 2005
Williamsburg, Virginia

I’ve been attending MarsCon for a long time now and, frankly, have begun to feel that I’m only attending out of loyalty (they were the first con to have me as a guest way back when). This year though, they made some sweeping changes that have gone a long way to revitalizing this little ol’ relaxacon.

But before I get to the good, I’m sorry to say that there was a lot of bad mojo this year—all of it completely out of the con’s control. First off there was Arisia’s decision to change their date to the same weekend as MarsCon. I’m sure that there weren’t many central Virginia fans that changed their plans because of the earlier Boston con but I know that there were a handful of pros that skipped MarsCon for Arisia. Then there was the inclement weather. A mix of ice and snow that stretched from North Carolina to New England kept a lot of people home that weekend. Worst of all though was the hotel’s last-minute cancellation of the con’s room block. One month before MarsCon, it was announced that the hotel was needed as barracks for troops that were preparing to be sent overseas. All of the convention space was still usable but room reservations were moved to a Super 8, half a mile away.

But despite all of the problems, this was the most enjoyable MarsCon in years. Not being able to crawl back to your room to take a break made it look like a very active con (even though attendance was down to 300 from it’s usual 500). Plus, there was a lot more to do this year. MarsCon’s old “fans are just here to relax” policy has given way to a new “let’s keep them entertained” policy. As in the past, they favor interactive workshops over panels and lectures and added some new ones. This year’s workshops included Mendhi, doll making, writing, poetry, art, photography, armor crafting, filking, makeup, salsa dancing, and swing dancing.

One of the best changes to MarsCon this year was the addition of Coyote Run, a local Celtic band. For two hours people forgot the sleet coming down outside and boogied in the aisles of a packed ballroom. Two thumbs up, I hope to see them again next year.

And, of course, it isn’t a proper convention without room parties. Not having a room in the hotel slowed things down at first but we were able to “borrow” the con suite from 9:00 to 3:00 Saturday night to host our usual bash. Two other groups that had planned on throwing parties, but had no space, also joined in and kept the party SRO all night long.

A final word to the 200 people that were unable to attend this year… You missed the best MarsCon in years. The convention is already negotiating with a new hotel for next year, so I expect things to be even better in ’06.


Con Review: MarsCon 2004

Marscon2004by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2004
January 23-25, 2004
Williamsburg, Virginia

Once again, all of the regulars descended upon Williamsburg for another fun and relaxing weekend of Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and LARPing. I love the absolute consistency of MarsCon. I’ve been attending this con for eleven years now (since their second or third year). In fact, they were the first convention to make me a programming guest (way back when) so I have a soft spot in my heart for them.


The ultra-cool interactive miniatures strategy game, Quickfire 2, being played at MarsCon.

The con committee took it easy on me this year—only scheduling me for a single panel—so I had lots of time for catching up with old friends. My light schedule for panels was mainly because programming at MarsCon is heading more and more into a heavy workshop-oriented schedule, which is nice as it makes for a more interactive convention experience. This year’s workshops included Art, Miniatures Painting, Terrain Building for Gamers, Armor Making, Writing, and SF Poetry. I’m told that next year there will be even more.

And, of course, all the usual guests were there: Bud Webster, Daniel Trout, John and Jason Waltrip, Women of Whimsey, Luna-C, Robin Welch, and others. Overall attendance was down (fandom in a Navy town takes a big hit when the fleet is out) but I still saw several new faces at the con and talked to a few people who were enjoying their first MarsCon.

Next year’s con will be held January 21-23, 2005. You can visit for more details.


Con Review: MarsCon 2003

MarsCon2003by Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2003
January 24-26, 2003
Williamsburg, Virginia

The late 1990s was a rough time for science fiction conventions in the state of Virginia. When both Sci-Con and Disclave folded up their tents, MarsCon was left standing as one of the largest cons (along with Technicon and EveCon) in the state. It’s no surprise then that MarsCon is beginning to show some signs of wear-and-tear. This year’s attendance was close to 500 and everyone seemed to be having a great time. Some of us old-timers were a little bored though. Every year at MarsCon LARPers flood the halls playing Machiavellian Madness, classical guitarist Robin Welch is guaranteed to be playing in the con suite, Luna-C will be hamming it up for their comedy show, and Women of Whimsey always give an enjoyable filk performance. I didn’t have a chance to get to much of the programming, but I did hear some grumblings about the need to expand the schedule. As Relax-a-Cons go, this one draws a great pool of talented guests each year, including Bud Webster, Rikk Jacobs, Daniel Trout, and John and Jason Waltrip. With attendance dropping off at conventions around the area it might be time for the con chair to think about trying to freshen up this old favorite a little. Either way though, I’ll be there next year. A date for MarsCon 2004 hasn’t been set yet but it will be posted soon at


Con Review: MarsCon 2002

colormartshipby Michael D. Pederson


MarsCon 2002
January 11-13, 2002

Williamsburg, Virginia

MarsCon promotes themselves as Southeastern Virginia’s premier Science Fiction/Fantasy/Gaming Relax-a-Con. That’s a pretty narrow field of competition, but it’s still a fun con.

This year’s con had approximately five-hundred members; counting staff, guests, and dealers.

For a quiet little Relax-a-Con, MarsCon had a pretty solid schedule of events. Sci-Fi Win, Lose or Draw; four LARPs, ranging from Machiavellian Madness to Vampire and Werewolf themes; filking by White Plectrum; a skit and improv show by Luna-C, a local comedy troupe; a charity auction (more on that later); and their main event, a performance by the Women of Whimsey ( WoW have been performing at MarsCon for six years now and they’re a constant favorite with con-goers.

Like all good cons, MarsCon had a well-stocked Dealer’s Room. The usual run of vendors were there selling jewelry, music, comics, books, gaming supplies, and the various oddities that go over well with con crowds.

This year’s charity was the Heritage Humane Society of Williamsburg, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding homes for dozens of dogs and cats each year. The animals are not put to sleep, but are kept until they all find homes. The auction proceeds ($1800) went toward purchasing food, kitty litter, chew toys, and upkeep of the facility. As an added bonus, the HHS brought in four cats and three puppies on Saturday afternoon to show con-goers what the HHS was all about. The animals were a smashing hit with everyone present, and the animals that were brought to the con found homes in the days afterward.

Next year’s MarsCon is already scheduled for January 24-26, 2003. For more info, visit