Con Review: Philcon 2013

philcon2013by KT Pinto


Philcon 2013
November 8–10, 2013
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

This is a review of one of my favorite conventions: Philcon, which took place this year (its 77th anniversary) at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Philcon has always been a highly intellectual convention which manages to create an equal balance of serious and playful events covering a variety of genres and interests. They are also a small enough con where finding staff and/or friendly faces as well as all the different activities is a very easy thing, even for a newcomer.

This is why I felt a little let down this year.

Philcon has fallen victim to a trap like many cons their size do: they tried to please everyone at the expense of their veteran participants’ fun.

I’ve noticed throughout the convention circuit over recent years a rash of overly-sensitive fen complaining about anti-female, over-sexualized and/or dangerous situations at smaller conventions. Now while cases of this are true—I myself have been both stalked and harassed at a couple of conventions and we’ve all seen the all-too-true reports online of these events—many of the situations are benign ones that occur when you have a bunch of socially-challenged (and I include myself in this description) fen and beautiful men and women (yes, the groups completely overlap) in one location.

The circuit’s answer to this has been to host flirting and socializing panels during the con that are aimed at educating people so that these incidents become less common. I have been a participant on many of these panels at various conventions. The audience during these panels is always filled to capacity (at Philcon it’s held in one of the large ballrooms, and last year there was not one empty seat), and I have yet to be on or at one where the panelists didn’t take the subject matter seriously. Although this is perceived as a fun panel, panelists always went over the importance of body language, saying no, inappropriate touching, personal hygiene, “flirting with intent,” and so on.

This year, things changed. It’s a change I’ve seen happen at other cons, and never for the better. From what I understand, because of complaints and concerns of some people, the flirting panel was changed into a flirting and harassment panel. I went to the panel mainly because my friends Dr. James Prego and Dr. Tobias Cabral were participants. The audience was sparse, and—although Dr. Cabral tried to keep people on point—the comments from the panelists ranged from how women are weak victims to comparing con-life to the movie Titanic (I know, I couldn’t follow that either). I think my least favorite moment of this panel was when one of the female panelists stated that women are raised to acquiesce and men are raised to demand and so females are targets for harassment.

There was another panel added to the schedule called “Codes of Conduct at a Convention.” By its description, it was yet another panel about how to interact with people and how not to harass others. I didn’t go to it because, not only was it at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday, but I found it rather insulting that people saw it necessary for Philcon to beat full-grown adults over the head with rules for playing nice. In short, they took a panel that was fun and actually addressed the problem of harassment and turned it into a series of lectures that talked down to its audience and attracted a smaller turnout. Bad move.

I say this not only as an experienced con-goer and panel participant, but also as someone who has been a member of convention security teams and has owned a gaming company that ran LARPS ranging in size from 20–500 people. Philcon has regularly been a safe place to enjoy a weekend, and these panels seemed like overkill.

On top of all this, the rest of the con became muted out of concern for accusations. The parties—which were at first to be fun adult events like a BLT (bathing suit, lingerie, toga) party—became low-key, taciturn events which were a disappointment (more so because I actually remembered my bathing suit this time). And there was no lobbycon, which is a Philcon staple… I know because I sat in the lobby for many hours waiting for it.

I know this may all be a coincidence, but it seemed like Philcon was missing the fun.

Moral of the story: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Philcon didn’t need fixing. Like every other living organism (for that’s what a good convention is) it needs to grow and expand, not contract and chip away. Hopefully Philcon will be able to reboot and tweak itself, and get back to being the fun, safe convention it has always been.


Con Review: Philcon 2011

Philcon2011by KT Pinto


Philcon 2011
November 18–20, 2011
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

For many years, there have been three reasons why I always liked going to Philcon:

1. The location. Originally in Philly, which was easy enough to get to from NYC, but now it’s in a hotel in the more easily accessible Cherry Hill, NJ.
2. The panels. A lot of literature panels, a lot of professionals, a lot of different topics, a lot of intellectual conversations. What more can one want?
3. The people. Three generations of fandom walk the halls of Philcon, and it’s safe to say that they are some of the friendliest geeks on the convention circuit.

All of these things are great if you are an attendee of the con. But when you are going to the convention for business reasons, that isn’t enough to make the grade. There were a few issues this year…

Programming. The programming for many of the professionals was not only finalized with very little time to spare, but the individual schedules were also very sparse. Panels are many authors’ and artists’ bread and butter; it gets them noticed, and gives them a chance to promote their work. Two panels for some—which is nothing for a three-day convention—while others had eight or nine panels left the sour taste of favoritism in the air. There was also a disregard for requests such as time restrictions and moderator requests. For example, Dr. James Prego asked to not have any panels before 11am, and did not want to moderate. Out of his three panels, he had 10 am panels on both Saturday and Sunday, and was slated to moderate on Sunday’s panel.

The Dealers’ Room. Along with programming, professionals have to have a good experience in the Dealers’ Room to make a convention worthwhile. Although the convention cannot be held responsible for the lack of buyers, they do have to consider how the attitudes of the staff members in the Dealers’ Room may affect the professionals (making one feel like they’re a bother is not the way to go when dealing with people), and from an author’s perspective, having the room saturated with used-book dealers makes it that much more difficult for small press authors to sell their wares. It doesn’t seem like the convention—which is supposed to be pro-literature—took this into consideration at all when planning out who was going to be vending.

Would I go back to Philcon again? Definitely.

As a panelist? Maybe. Minor changes need to happen for that.

As a vendor? Not unless there is a complete overhaul…


Con Review: Philcon 2009

philcon2009by Michael D. Pederson


Philcon 2009
November 20–22, 2009
Cherry Hill, New Jersey

Located just across the state line from Philadelphia in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Philcon remains the oldest science fiction convention (yes, they were the first). And this year didn’t show any indications of slowing down from old age. Guests of Honor included Catherine Asaro, Frank Wu, L.A. Banks, and Cory Doctorow. I was disappointed not to get the chance to see Frank Wu; I heard he was there and having a great time but we never crossed paths. On the other hand though, Nth Degree Staff Artist J. Andrew World was quite thrilled to be on a panel with Cory Doctorow.

Programming was, of course, the true star of the show. As always, Philcon put together one of the year’s best programs. With over 250 events listed in the program book there was truly something for everyone. I was kept busy with panels on the science of zombies, natural disasters (moderated by the always-entertaining David Silverman), the fannish generation gap, BBC America, Chuck, and regional science fiction. The only snags I hit were poor attendance to panels on Sunday morning (we had some great parties going on Saturday night) and a lack of program books when I checked in. The program book’s showed up early in the evening on Friday though and the rest of the con ran smoothly. I eagerly await Philcon 2010.


Con Review: Philcon 2004

Philcon2004by James R. Stratton


Philcon 2004
December 10-12, 2004
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Until recently, Philcon’s attendance ranged from 1,000 to 2,000 paid attendees. A few years ago Philcon moved its location and date, and seems to be suffering from being too close to Christmas. Last year attendance dropped to just over 1,000 paid memberships. It is my understanding that this year attendance dropped again, to between 700 and 800 paid memberships. It is my hope that the con committee has taken note and will be taking steps to remedy this.

Despite the drop in numbers, those in attendance still had a wonderful time. This year, the Artist Guest of Honor was Joe Devito. The scheduled Writer GoH, Brian Aldiss, was unable to attend due to health problems, but the con was able to book Pamela Sargent and George Zebrowski in his place. As every year, the merry Nth Degree Crew was in attendance as well, running a table in the Dealer’s Room and dispensing the much-sought-after glow-in-the-dark drink cup at their room party.

The venue—the Marriott Center City Hotel—is worthy of mention. Philcon obtained this venue when they hosted the World Science Fiction Convention in 2001. It is a four-star hotel in the heart of Philadelphia and is a beautiful facility. My family had reserved two rooms, but found when we arrived that the hotel had mistakenly given away one of our rooms. They promptly upgraded our reservations to two adjoining suites at the Marriott Concierge Deluxe Hotel next door, at no extra charge. The staff at this hotel is nothing if not professional and discrete. With no fuss, we spent the weekend in rooms that were easily double the size of the standard room at the con hotel.

As in previous years, Philcon had enough activities to satisfy just about anyone. There was an Art Show with auction, along with a full weekend of panels discussing various aspects of artistic endeavors; a Dealer’s Room with dozens of merchants; a Masquerade competition; a gaming room with competitions running around-the-clock; an anime room with showings running from late Friday until late Sunday; a movie room with a similar schedule; Filk performances; readings by various authors; and of course, seven or eight panel discussions running simultaneously on such topics as graphic novels, sex toys of the future, the business of writing, space exploration and Internet fraud. In addition, the con committee added a new activity, a networked computer gaming room separate from the main gaming room, running such popular games as Unreal Tournament and 1942. And, of course, they had the Philcon Writers Workshop, my favorite activity each year.

This year Philcon was different for me. In the past, my family and I scattered once we arrived. My son and I would help with the Art Show set-up (and earn our badges for the next year), while my wife and daughter took advantage of the wonderful shopping to be found in Center City. My son would then focus his time on gaming and anime, my daughter on anime and shopping, my wife on shopping and jewelry design, and me on various panels on writing with some videos thrown in when I could find time. But the past year has seen changes and growth in my writing career, and Philcon marked the release of a collection of my short stories published by Big Blind Productions. This was a happy occasion, allowing me the unique experience of spending most of my weekend autographing my chapbook for purchasers. Is this really how authors spend their time at cons?

The rest of my time on Saturday was spent at the Writers Workshops, where my story and nine others received the close, critical attentions of editors George Scithers and Darryl Schweitzer, and professional writers Carl Frederick, P.D. Cacek and Roman Ranieri. I’m happy to report that my story received mostly positive comments. Still, I had the chilly experience of watching as Hugo and Nebula award-winning editor George Scithers, in his kindest and most sincere tones, advised several authors, “This is a bad story! Don’t do it again. Now that it’s out of your system, go write something better.”

Sadly, I had to pass on my annual visit to the Masquerade, but I understand it was well attended with thirteen entrants displaying their works.

The weekend ended with the Art Show auction, where we won a half-dozen items ranging from a limited-edition print to fantasy-themed Christmas balls for our tree. When we were ready to go, the hotel staff literally whisked our bags from our rooms to our car with a minimum of fuss, and we were on the road home, tired but well pleased with our weekend. We already have our memberships for next year, and I can heartily recommend that you consider doing the same.


Con Review: Philcon 2003

Philcon2003by James R. Stratton


Philcon 2003
December 12-14, 2003
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philcon is Philadelphia’s large regional convention, with attendance between 1,000 and 2,000 fans each year (closer to 1,000 this year). The con offers a huge array of activities to satisfy any taste. This year the Writer Guest of Honor was Jack McDevitt, the Artist Guests of Honor were the Brothers Hildebrandt (although only one of the brothers was able to attend), and the Special Guests were Peter David and Harry Harrison. Of course, many, many other artists, authors, editors, costumers, and other genre luminaries were in attendance as well. A grossly incomplete list would include Dr. Paul Levinson, P.D. Cacek, Michael Swanwick, Diane Weinstein, Mark Rogers, Darrell Schweitzer, George Scithers, John Gregory Betancourt, Tony Ruggiero, Laura Anne Gilman, Scott Edelman, Gordon Van Gelder, Gardner Dozois, Jon Norman, and David Hartwell. Of course, the merry Nth Degree crew was there as well, with Issue #8 in hand, literally hot off the presses.

As with past Philcon’s, my wife and children joined me, along with a friend and her three children this year. For me, this was a con characterized by many highs and lows. We arrived at the convention hotel early Friday morning so that the five children and myself could volunteer for the Art Show set up. I highly recommend this; volunteers make conventions happen and for the few hours you put in setting up, helping out, or tearing things down afterwards, you get your membership for the next year waived. You also get to meet the wonderful people that work so hard all year to put on the show. While we were laboring away in the showroom, my darling wife and her friend went shopping. The Marriott Center City is one block from Lord and Taylor, the Reading Terminal Market, and a multistory shopping mall. Given the proximity of this con to Christmas, these stores were very handy.

The con officially opened for business at 7:00 PM, with such panels as “Breaking the Belljar: Peter Max Draws Harlan Ellison” on genre art and “Transformation of the Graphic Novel.” I especially liked the panel entitled “I Want to Write That When I Grow Up” followed by “Contract and Literary Law.” I also found time to visit the Art Show and the Dealer’s Room. This year’s art show was in excellent form, with dozens of artists attending.

Throughout the evening my children and their friends split their time between the gaming room and the anime room. My son even entered a Mage Knight tournament and took first place. He literally walked away with his arms loaded down with prizes from the game designers. Later, my wife and I stopped off at the lounge in the atrium of the hotel for martinis before we called it a night.

Saturday is the main day for the convention, with activities running from early in the morning until the wee hours of the night. I’ll just mention a smattering of the things we did. I started the day with a panel entitled, “Can This Writer Be Saved?” and a discussion of time travel by the noted author and physicist John Ashmead at 10:00 AM. At 11:00, I ran into my first serious conflict. Scheduled at the same time were: “The Editors’ Panel” with Gordon Van Gelder, David Hartwell, Andrew Wheeler, and Gardner Dozois; a panel on recommended jobs for writers hosted by Scott Edelman; a panel on the use of pen names; and a panel on writing from the point of view of a sociopath. For a writer like myself, each of these panels was a must-attend, so I felt terribly torn.

At noon I grabbed a quick bite and then presented myself at the Writer’s Workshop, the highlight of the convention for me. For novice writers, this is definitely something you should do. This year the convention had arranged for Darrell Schweitzer, P.D. Cacek, Roman Ranieri, Diane Weinstein, and George Scithers to review and critique any and all manuscripts submitted. Nowhere else have I ever been able to get such a concentrated dose of professional feedback on my writing, and as painful as it sometimes is I can’t pass it up. Sadly, this was the first low point in the convention for me. The workshop was not well advertised this year. Only my story and one other were received, compared to 6-10 manuscripts in previous years. Did you ever wonder how a scrap of meat thrown among a pack of hungry wolves felt? It was a good news/bad news kind of experience. The other story was an effort by a novice writer about a knight in shining armor rescuing a beautiful princess from an evil ogre. They tore the tale to bloody bits. Having already satisfied their bloodlust, they then spent close to an hour with me and I’m happy to say that they were largely positive. They had some specific recommendations, but overall liked it. I floated out of the room.

I spent the rest of the day watching anime, making a few purchases in the Dealer’s Room, and watching my son take third place in another Mage Knight tournament. For dinner, our friend took the kids to the Mall for pizza while Patty and I went across the street for an excellent Italian dinner. Back at the hotel, we got the kids settled in the gaming room and headed over to the main ballroom for the Masquerade. While CostumeCon and Worldcon are the premier events for costumers, Philcon has traditionally been an important regional competition. Sadly, this year was not up to past standards. I understand the convention committee ran into problems obtaining a venue for the competition and had a great deal of difficulty setting up. Although scheduled to start at 8:00, the doors did not open until 8:30, and the show did not start until almost 9:00 due to technical difficulties. The presentations were truly wonderful but we were disappointed to learn that there were only nine competitors this year, as compared to the usual twenty or so in previous years. Still, we did get one pleasant surprise. A young man on the convention staff contrived an elaborate ruse to get called on stage and then had his girlfriend brought up as well. On one knee he proposed and she accepted. The popular rumor afterwards was that their ceremony will be the highlight of next year’s Masquerade.
We exited before the awards were handed out and scattered. I headed to the video and anime rooms, the kids returned to the gaming room for yet another tournament, and my wife and her friend visited the lounge before calling it a night. The rest of us followed shortly after midnight. We had enjoyed the day and were well tired out. Unfortunately, we hit our third low point of the convention shortly after we turned in.

At 5:00 AM the fire alarm sounded. The security staff assured us that there was no emergency and they were checking out the alarm. Still all of us and many others dressed and headed down to the lobby to await the outcome. It turned out to be a false alarm and we were back in our rooms by 6:00. The rumors the next day were that someone had triggered the fire alarm intentionally, but I never did hear a final resolution. (Someone not involved with the con had accidentally started a trashcan fire—ed.) Still I am disturbed by the whole scenario, as this is how Disclave in Washington, D.C. ended.

Needless to say, we all slept in late the next day, and then headed to the Art Show to place our bids for the items we’d selected over the weekend, then moved over to the Dealer’s Room for some last-minute purchases. I caught a panel on suspended animation before we all returned to the Art Show to pick up the items we had won in the bidding. Normally, we would have stayed for a few more hours, but the weather reports were calling for rain/snow/sleet, so we (and many others) loaded up the car and headed home.

Overall, I enjoyed Philcon very much, as did my family. It is true that there were some glitches as noted, but the high points far outweighed the low points. We already have our memberships for next year and I would recommend you do the same. See you December 10-12, 2004!


Con Review: Philcon 2002

Philcon2002by James R. Stratton


Philcon 2002
December 13-15, 2002
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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 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.