by James R. Stratton
May 28-31, 2004
Balticon is the annual convention of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society (BSFS), and this last Memorial Day weekend marked its 38th year. Balticon is considered a large regional convention with attendance in the range of 1500 to 2000 members each year. The Writer Guest of Honor this year was Lois McMaster Bujold, the Artist GoH was David Seeley and the Musician GoH was Heather Alexander. This year’s convention marked a turning point for the con organizers. Until a few years ago, Balticon was a three-day con held over Easter weekend. In 2001, BSFS opted to move the convention to Memorial Day weekend and added a fourth day of programming on the Monday holiday. After suffering some growing pains, I’m happy to report that BSFS has made the transition to the expanded schedule successfully.
My son and I arrived at the Wyndham Inner Harbor Hotel midafternoon on Friday. Check-in was quick and painless. My son, a gamer, was off to the computer room as soon as we were settled, and he split his time between the computer room and the main game room, with the odd side trip into the anime room. Over the weekend he participated in competitions on the networked computers for Unreal Tournament and 1942, and tournaments in the game room for Mage Knights and Hero Clix. My interests are focused on writing, often leading to several schedule conflicts. I started off with a panel on research and writing, with Ms. Bujold, Josepha Sherman and Bud Sparhawk offering some lively discussion. At 6:00 I joined your own merry Nth Degree crew at a meet and greet panel, at the same time passing on panels on what to do once you’ve completed your first novel and a reading by Scott Edelman. This was common for me throughout the weekend, and I won’t dwell on it here. At 7:00 I caught part of a panel on mythology in genre fiction and then headed to the video room for a special showing of the extended version of The Fellowship of the Ring.
Saturday is the main day for the convention traditionally, and it started off early for me with the Writer’s Workshop at 9:00. This workshop, moderated by writer Steve Lubs, is not your typical read and critique workshop. Steve runs this as a teaching workshop, and this year he focused on humor in genre fiction. Sadly, this was less well attended than in previous years with only myself and two other attendees joining Steve. Still, we had three hours of discussion and exercises that I look forward to each year. I met a friend from the Baltimore area for lunch and we made the rounds of the Dealer’s Room and Art Show afterwards. The Art Show was in especially good form with a whole section devoted to David Seeley’s work as well as dozens of other artists. My favorite is Moifa, whose Chinese-style brushwork is always impressive. I first saw her work at Philcon several years ago, and have watched as her sparse water colors have become much sought after. The rest of the day was spent catching panels like Dueling Easels (two artists compete to create a painting based on a selected writer’s work), watching anime and shopping in the Dealer’s Room.
After dinner my son and I got in line for the Masquerade. Balticon is considered one of the prime regional costume competitions. As usual, it was hosted by Marty Gear with roughly twenty entrants. My favorite was actually a practical joke on Marty, who presides over these competitions in the guise of a vampire. When he announced competitor No. 8, the tech crew cut in over the PA.
“Marty, where does a vampire stay when he visits New York City?”
“I don’t know,” Marty replied.
“Why at the Vampire State Building of course!” they said and out walked a gentleman dressed in a ten foot high model of the Empire State Building with large bloody fangs. I was amazed to see Marty manage to blush through white pancake makeup.
The Masquerade is also the time for the Reading Is Fundamental charity auction, an annual event for BSFS. The auction allows BSFS to buy books for middle school children at area schools. Many of these children have never owned a book, but BSFS is able to give away two or three per student with the proceeds of this auction. This year was extremely successful. In addition to the normal array of autographed books and other genre-related items, BSFS received a limited-edition Hirschfeld lithograph of the Star Trek: The Next Generation crew donated by Brent Spiner. Bidding was lively and it sold for over $1000.
My son headed back to the gaming rooms and I headed to the room parties. These rooms parties are put on by various groups like the Japanese bid committee for the 2007 Worldcon, and are always wonderful opportunities to meet your fellow fans. I’m happy to report that the Nth Degree room party was the most popular this year, offering various concoctions in glow-in-the-dark cups that were a huge hit. This party was especially fun for me. I have met most of this merry crew at other cons, but was able to spend time with their illustrator, J. Andrew World, for the first time. If you’ve admired the artwork of the magazine, you’ve admired his work. I stayed late. The drinks were enlightening, the company congenial, and a good time was had by all.
In past years, Sunday was when the con would lose steam. Things would wrap up by midafternoon, with the art show closing at 1:00 and the dealers closing shop by 2:00 or 3:00. This year, BSFS made a special effort to extend the programming and other attractions, with great success.
My day started at 10:00 with a Kaffeeklatsch with author Bud Sparhawk followed by another at 11:00 with Keith DeCandido. I grabbed a quick bite and headed to the art show to put in my bids on some jewelry (for my wife and daughter), and one small Chinese watercolor by Moifa that I had to have. I won all my bids and picked up these items after 2:00, then headed over to the voice auction to watch the bidding on the more hotly contested items. I even bid on a few myself and picked up some small items at very reasonable prices.
After an excellent dinner at the Harbor Lights restaurant at the Baltimore Inner Harbor, my son and I attended the First Annual Balticon Sunday Night Film Festival, featuring eight short films by amateur producers. The competition was judged by the audience, and played to a packed house. As you might expect, the films ranged from truly awful to surprisingly good. My favorite was a film on how George Lucas made a deal with the Devil for the success of his Star Wars movies (Fall of a Saga) which won first place. The festival concluded with a special showing of The Return Of The King. I saw this in the theater, but that was nowhere near as enjoyable as watching the movie in a room full of active and vocal fans who were enjoying every nuance as much as I was.
Monday was the final day of the con, and I started it off with a panel on the differences between authors and editors in judging the quality of fiction, moderated by Nth Degree’s own Mike Pederson. The discussion was lively, even if we did have trouble getting into the room initially. My son and I made one more sweep of the Dealer’s Room, and were shocked to see most of the dealers still present and happy to dicker over prices on this last day. We then hit the Art Room for a special showing of genre related artwork on display from a local collector.
As you can see, there was hardly a slow moment for me throughout the entire weekend. I credit this to BSFS working hard to ensure the added day of the convention was worth while. Understand, the above description glosses over several completely separate tracks of activities that were running throughout the weekend, like Regency dancing, art-related panels, panels for costumers, filk music concerts and a Live Action Role Playing (LARP) competition. In addition, BSFS provided a separate track of children’s programming for the young fans. Needless to say, there was more going on here than any half-dozen people could have followed. I left with regret, and look forward to returning next year. See you there!