by James R. Stratton
December 12-14, 2003
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! www.philcon.org