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My first Readercon


People have been telling me for, oh, ten years or so about how great Readercon is, but I've never been in Boston on the right weekend before.

So this year, when Michael reminded me that it was happening this (now-past) weekend, I decided to come out a day earlier than I'd originally planned so I could attend the con.

But I got a late start on Saturday, and didn't make it to the con until most of the panels were over for the day.

Within fifteen minutes after arriving, I had run into half a dozen people I knew, all of whom greeted me the same way: "I didn't know you would be here!" I explained that I hadn't known either.

Two of those people told me that they rarely attend programming at WisCon, but that they attend lots of programming at Readercon. But then later I ran into another friend who said that they attend lots of WisCon programming but little or no Readercon programming. So I guess it's all a matter of taste, like so much else.

I hung out and chatted with various people, mostly Susan G and Ted, for a while, then attended the two GoH interviews (of Jim Kelly and Jonathan Lethem), and then had dinner at the hotel's pub with Kate and Tempest and Nina G and Mary H, and others who were way down at the other end of the table. Later, Kate and I went to the presentation of Jim K's one-act plays, but the sound system (especially the left rear speaker) was crackly, making it hard to hear the dialogue, and I think I wasn't really in the mood anyway. We chatted in the lounge area for a while, then at 10 p.m. we went to the Bad Prose Competition.

We arrived pretty promptly at 10, according to my phone's clock, but apparently it had started early. When we arrived, the people on stage were reading bits of prose that we couldn't hear very well (due to aforementioned sound-system issues); after every bit, the audience would laugh and then a bunch of people would raise their hands. Kate and I had no idea how the competition worked, nor what was going on, and we couldn't hear very well. Eventually I looked at the program guide and found the description of the competition--it's essentially like Fictionary, with a group of panelists each writing an alternative bad ending to a bad passage from a published work, and the audience voting on which one's real. Clearly the audience loved it, but we gave up and left.

(The theme of mocking other people's published bad prose kept coming up, in various contexts, all weekend. I have mixed feelings about that kind of thing. On the one hand, I don't really like mocking people in general, nor mocking people's writing. On the other hand, sometimes bad prose can be pretty funny; for example, I generally laugh at the Thog's Masterclass bits in Ansible. On the other other hand, I've also seen perfectly decent prose held up to the spotlight and mocked; I have a theory that if you tell people they're going to hear bad prose, and then you read it aloud in a silly enough voice with the wrong intonations, occasionally laughing as you read it, you can probably convince people that, say, Shakespeare is bad.)

But I digress. Ended up chatting with Kate et al for another few hours, which was great. Leah and Amanda wandered by for a while. Most of the other people I knew at the con were off playing an epic-length Mafia game long into the night; I was kinda surprised, 'cause my impression was that most WisCon people had stopped playing Mafia so I kind of assumed the game had died out in the sf world. But apparently it's still very popular out thisaway.

Eventually, maybe 2 a.m.ish, I headed back to Michael & Lisa's, where I was (and am) staying.

Got up before 9 (still on California time, so that was ridiculously early for my body clock) in order to attend the "Aesthetics of Online Magazines" panel at 10. Some interesting stuff there, though a couple of the panelists got a little interrupty. Then "Trolls Got Rhythm!?" (about mapping real-world races onto fantasy or alien races); some interesting stuff there, too, especially from Andrea H.

Then I had lunch--by myself, 'cause I didn't see anyone I knew, and I had skipped breakfast so I didn't want to take the time to find people--and wandered through the Bookstore/Dealer's Room (for those who haven't been to Readercon, the dealer's room sells nothing but books). Eventually, I attended the end of the Year in Short Fiction panel. Then back to the Bookstore, but about two minutes after I arrived they announced that the Bookstore was now closed. I made some quick purchases (the first three Aegypt books in the new trade paperback edition) and skedaddled.

Attended Jim Kelly's reading; was sad to see that only about 20 people showed up for it. Jim was recording it, to add to the collection of audio recordings of his work on his website, but there wasn't really enough of an audience to manage any good audience laughter at the funny bits.

And then the con was over, about 24 hours after I'd arrived. I hung out with Kate and occasional others (including Hannah) for a couple more hours, then headed home.

I'm afraid I found the con overall a little disappointing. It was great to get some time with Kate, and good to see everyone else even though I didn't get much time with anyone else. (Apologies to the multitude of people whose names I've left out at various points in the above narrative.) And I picked up some good books, and some interesting ideas at the panels, and I always enjoy hearing Jim K read. But the con never quite gelled for me. I think the problem was a mix of factors that had little to do with the con itself: I had much-too-high expectations for the programming; I wasn't around for most of the programming; there weren't all that many people I knew very well there, and I didn't run into most of those I did know very often; and I was jet-lagged and oversocialed from the start. (Haven't really had enough downtime or alone-time lately.)

Ah, well. If I manage to find myself in Boston this time of year in the future, I'll probably attend again, with more appropriate expectations and in a better frame of mind.


Sorry I missed you.

Darn it! I saw you eating lunch by yourself when I came into the pub, but you looked engrossed in what you were reading so I didn't bother you. Next time.

Argh! for missed opportunities.

I should have realized you would be there, Arthur; if I had, I'd have sought you out. (It's possible I even saw you and didn't realize it; I suspect that there were quite a few people there who I've encountered in written venues but have never met in person and so didn't recognize.)

And Mary, I was trying to look non-engrossed and to keep an eye out for people I knew, but I must've gotten engrossed despite myself; I'm sorry to have missed an opportunity for chatting. Next time, feel free to interrupt.

Wow - I had no idea they did that kind of thing at conventions (made fun of other people's writing). I have email exchanges with Joe Haldemann every once in a while and he once made the comment that the writing population has changed since he began; it's bitchy now (sorry about swearing - his words).

A game founded on the principal of trashing people in public - by established authors - is just not a cool thing, in my opinion.

Tburger: Not entirely sure what you mean by "the writing population," but fwiw, people have been mocking other people's prose at conventions for a very long time. I don't know when I first encountered an "It Came from the Slushpile" panel (at which editors read bad lines from submitted stories), but it was probably at or before the first WorldCon I attended, in '89. I haven't seen those panels lately; I think editors are more reluctant to do that kind of thing in public these days.

And at least the Readercon panel is mocking a published work; regardless of what the audience thinks of it, an editor liked it enough to pay for it.

I don't know whether this is true, but I'm told that the Readercon panel has often drawn on the work of Robert Lionel Fanthorpe, prose that would be pretty hard for anyone to defend as good. (If you're not familiar with Fanthorpe's work, go read that page and follow the links to some examples to see what I mean.)

So although I do have mixed feelings about the idea, I don't think that the Readercon competition is indicative of any recent change in attitudes among sf people. Among other things, I gather that this competition has been running since the late '80s or so.

And the Bulwer-Lytton Contest for writing the worst opening sentence of a novel has been going on since 1982.

And The Eye of Argon dates back to the 70s... (I confess I used a competitive reading of it as a stand-in for the "Feats of Strength" at my most recent Festivus party.)

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