Readercon 25, July 10-13, 2014, Burlington Marriott, Burlington, Massachusetts.
by Convention Report by Daniel Dern
Review by Daniel Dern
Date: 10 July 2014
If what you're looking for in a con is to see, hear, and meet authors--your faves, established players, and some of the new and up-and-coming ones--along with editors, critics, academics, experts, and fans talking about and amongst themselves, and authors reading from their current and not-yet-available works, the annual Readercon is the place to be, and this year's Readercon 25 was no exception.
Readercon is held at the Boston Marriott Burlington hotel, Burlington, Mass, at roughly "10 o'clock" of Route 128 (a.k.a. 95) semi-girdling Boston/Cambridge, with one or two buses coming within a block or so of the hotel... and a goodly range of affordable-to-fancy restaurants in walking distance or a one-to-two mile drive.
Per the name, Readercon is about books, writers, and writing. Per the Readercon web site, "Readercon is ... devoted to 'imaginative literature', literary science fiction, fantasy, horror, and the unclassifiable works often called 'slipstream.'" There's the occasional media-related panel, but there's next-to-no costumes, no official gaming, no non-book huckster tables, and no media track (although there's often one or two media presentations, e.g., this year, of the ""The Polymath, or The Life and Opinions of Samuel R. Delany, Gentleman". (And it looks like I should have purchased one of the copies that was in the dealer's room (a.k.a. "Bookshop"), for a modest $30, ah well.)
Previous GoH's have started with Gene Wolfe and then Samuel Delany, and subsequent GoH's have included John Crowley, Tom Disch, Barry Malzberg, Brian Aldiss, Judith Merril, Ursula K. LeGuin, Geoff Ryman, Harlan Ellison, Octavia Butler, Hal Clement, Jonathan Lethem, James Patrick Kelly, Elizabeth Hand, Greer Gilman, Nalo Hopkinson, Charles Stross, and Peter Straub. (See the rig ht-hand column of the Guests page for the full list.)
This year's Guests of Honor were Andrea Hairston and Kit Reed. Andrea Hairston is multi-talented; her Readercon bio says she is a "novelist [MINDSCAPE, and REDWOOD AND WILDFIRE], playwright, critic, and academic." (I've been to panels Hairston has done at previous Readercons, but not -- yet -- read her novels. They're now on my to-read list.)
Kit Reed has been writing sf, fantasy and other fiction for decades -- her first sale was in 1958, to F&SF magazine -- and I've been reading and enjoying her work for years as her entries in many of my aging Year's Best anthologies, not to mention my 1964 paperback of AT WAR AS CHILDREN will attest, and is still going strong, with a mix of stories, novels and collections.
Additionally, each Readercon has a Memorial Guest of Honor (honoring someone no longer with us, I don't know whether any MGoH has refused the honor). This year's MGoH was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, best known for her novel sub-titled "The Modern Prometheus". Past MGoH's began with Phillip K. Dick, and have gone on to include James Tiptree Jr., Alfred Bester, Gerald Kersh, Mervyn Peake, Jorges Luis Borges, Olaf Stapleton, Mark Twain, and, in 2013, Roger Zelazny.
Readercon is notable for, along with the average of roughly 150 "guests" -- predominantly authors, editors, critics and other pros, who come to the con. The program structure is comparatively simple -- a few tracks of panels, discussions, and some tasks and presentations, plus author readings, kaffeeklatches, and autograph signings, plus award ceremonies and a few other special events. For example, this year's list included Leah Bobet, F. Brett Cox, Ellen Datlow, Samuel Delany, Michael Dirda, Greer Gilman, Lev Grossman, Eileen Gunn, James Patrick Kelly, Ellen Kushner, Cecilia Tan, and Peter Straub.
A few years ago, Readercon began starting on Thursday evening, 8PM-10PM, with a smaller slice of programming, but open and free to anyone, to help newcomers decide whether they want to then get a paid membership. Regular programming then kicks off 11AM on Friday, for anyone able and willing to be there that soon.
As with any con (or other event), making the most of Readercon takes a mix of planning and practice. For example, if you like getting autographs, check your own collection against the Guests list -- or be ready to buy fresh copies from the Book Room. If you like Kaffeeklatches, check the sign-up notebook ASAP, as the ten slots per Klatch often fill up fast.
I tend to try for a mix of going to readings by authors I like; going to panel discussions where I'm interested in (or curious about) the participants, topics, or both; a Kaffeeklatch or two... and a fair amount of time in the Book Room, plus, of course, chatting with friends. Things I did (aside from taking pictures -- see my Readercon 25 Photo Gallery. o A kaffeeklatch by GoH Kit Reed, her daughter Kate Maruyama (who's also an author), and some guy who was one of Reed's writing students some years back, named Daniel Handler (bettter known to most as Lemony Snicket).
o "How to Write for a Living When You Can't Live Off Your Fiction", a panel led again by Barbara Krasnoff (which could easily have been done as a two-day seminar)
o Both GoH interviews (which Readercon ProgCom deliberately schedules nothing against)
o The "A Most Readerconnish Miscellany" talent-show fundraiser, replacing, for the second year, the previously-traditional Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition.
o Buying four ClarkesWorld anthologies, in digital form to add to my Kindle Paperwhite eReader.
As with any con, I didn't get to do everything that looked interesting. Sadly, for example, I missed seeing Lev Grossman (author of the Magician trilogy--volume 3, THE MAGICIAN'S LAND is due out early August) (although I did get one of the free mini-booklets with the first few pages of the new book, it looks very promising). Ditto I didn't make it to readings by Michael Swanwick, James Kelly, or Samuel Delany, among others. And I didn't get to the showing of "The Polymath" video.
(For a few other people's "who did what'" reports, photos, etc., see the Readercon Media page, Rosemary Kirstein's report, and even a Forbes reporter's table-crawl through the Book Room.
Addressing "diversity" (age, race, gender, culture, etc.) has become a growing focus/concern at many cons, and this year's Readercon reflected this in topics, participants, and attendees. For example, "East, West, and Everything Between: A Roundtable on Latin@ Speculative Fiction", and "When the Other Is You".
And, as always, panel topics included heady literary/critical theory stuff like "The Tension of Satisfaction and Subversion", "The Convergence of Utopia and SF", plus more readery-oriented ones like "R.A. Lafferty at 100", "The Shiny, Candy-like Zombie: Commoditizing the Undead", "Readercon Classic Children's Bookclub: Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang", and even a few science panels, like "Science Considered as a Helix of Semi-Frozen Cones" (making your own ice cream).
One persistent challenge throughout the con, particularly in the larger rooms, was hearing panelists speak, despite the audio techs' best efforts. I suspect that the shape of the larger rooms didn't help, but the problem was exacerbated by many panelists' failure to use their microphones properly, no repetition of audience questions, and panelists often speaking at an overly quick pace. And I know I wasn't the only person who was having difficulty hearing panelists speak. (The hotel's finally-redone public spaces were acoustically even worse: when the lobby was crowded, ambient noise was seriously problemmatic, and I gather that the now-one-restaurant was often even worse -- the loud sound coming from there was overwhelming to people outside waiting for the elevators.)
My "take-away" this year: planning to work my way through the program panel topics and participant bibliographies for new-to-me ideas of what to read next. I don't expect to read everything -- but I expect to find a lot of good, interesting stuff, and what more can you ask for?