Review by Ernest Lilley
Con ISBN/ITEM#: PHILCON06
Date: Nov 17-19, 2006 / Show Official Info /
Friday night there was the traditional meet the pros in the art show, and we milled and swilled around there for a while before heading up to our room to change into fashionable evening wear for the Milky Way Ball to be held later that evening. When we arrived at the ball though, we found a handful of folks jumping around to the techno stylings of a cluster of DJs...who claimed not to have anything else to play. No swing, no waltz, not even disco...not that I would have danced to disco. Well, maybe a little. Now, I'm all for integrating content into cons that will bring in new fans, but considering the median age of the attendees, a few slow songs would have been nice. As it was, we retired to the bar and told tall tales of SF, youth, and the decline of civilization until we got tired.
Somehow, Gayle (Surrette) and I had our panels on Saturday, lasting well into the evening where we were both on a panel about UFOs and the interaction between SF and popular belief. It was fun, and we had some pretty good discussion about the moving focus of mass fancy, deciding that UFOs have had their time in the sun...and the public is moving on to other phenomenon that can't be so easily captured on camcorders. I also did a panel with Gardner Dozois and David Hartwell on the good new stuff and was pleased to find that they concurred with my suggestions (Blindsight by Peter Watts really deserves a close look, as does Air by Geoff Ryman and The Strange Adventures of Rangergirl by Tim Pratt). At least until I realized that I was recommending books that David had published and Gardner reads mostly short fiction.
As usual I missed a good deal of the con wandering around the dealer's room, but I did catch a few interesting panels on Second Life, the virtual community, as well as "The SF Quiz Show" a trivia contest that SFRevu's own short fiction reviewer, Sam Tomaino, won. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to see more panels, because the programming grid was chock full of good stuff I'll forever wonder about. Well, better than the alternative.
We missed last year's Philcon, which is rare for us, so we didn't catch the first year in their new hotel, the Sheraton Philadelphia City Center. It's located only a few blocks from the site of the old hotel, the Marriott Center City Hotel, which is a good thing, since there were considerably fewer restaurants by the new place. We did fine a good hoagie shop (Rex's) around the corner, but we wound up walking back to the Marriott so we could have dinner at Maggiano's, a Philly favorite of mine. But we didn't come for the food. Well, not just for the food.
The new hotel is nice, but a bit overly impressed with itself, which translates into expensive parking, bellhops to take your stuff from the curb to the lobby, and more bellhops to take your stuff further along. There were some nice views, and plenty of program space, but I'm sorry that the plans to move the con out into Valley Forge seem to have come to naught. The elevators were painful as always, but we quickly discovered the stairwells and were happy enough with that. The con's room block sold out well before the con, and in fact the whole hotel was booked. Still, some rooms freed up just before the con and the hotel liaison was able to convert full price rooms into con rate ones even after check in, which was nothing less than terrific.
Con attendance seemed down from the last (2004) Philcon we'd attended, but the new hotel may have thrown some folks off, or messed with my sense of scale. Regardless, Philcon remains one of the best literary sf cons around, and they're clearly making a serious effort to create content with cross-generational appeal.