Feb 17, 2003

Report from Boskone 40

So this was my 10th Boskone. When I went to my first in 1994 it was only their second year in Framingham, which is extremely convenient for me since I live the next town over. I already knew where all the fast food places were (not entirely self-evident when you walk out the front door of the Framingham Sheraton) and how long it took to get there, I could go home for a few hours late Saturday afternoon and come back for the evening festivities. I could stay out late Friday night for the trivia contest and still get home before midnight. I could take the family out to breakfast on Sunday morning at the hotel before things got going. And one year when we got a foot of snow the first day of the convention, I was only four miles from home and not particularly worried about getting there.

For me Boskone has always been a Framingham convention, so it was with mixed emotions that I faced the prospect of having to schlep all the way into Boston this year. Not that schlepping into Boston is unusual for me. I work there, so it’s an everyday occurrence. Which if anything makes it less appealing. I’ve also in the last 10 years been to Arisia three times, which is also downtown and in the dead of winter and was always kind of a pain, and the convention was never enough to my taste to make it that worthwhile. But I know the area of the Sheraton Boston, since it’s near Symphony Hall, know how to get there, where to park, etc., although I don’t think I’d been inside the hotel since Jeff and I went to some Northwestern alumni event there probably 15 years ago.

In general there seemed to be plenty of space for everything, Darrell Schweitzer was grumbling as he arrived late for a panel about how it was more of a maze than the “Escher” hotel where Lunacon is held, but I think that was overstating things a bit. It wasn’t a maze so much as spread out. At Worldcon time hopefully they will allow a few more minutes to get from place to place. There didn’t seem to be many problems, and general chatter seemed positive about being downtown instead of the hinterlands of Metrowest. The fact that it was 5 degrees all weekend and there was no need to go outside didn’t hurt.

I go to cons primarily for the programming. I didn’t set foot inside the art show, the anime room, and only spent 30 seconds in the con suite. The dealers room had the usual suspects, minus Glen Cook, and I was able to find a few of these high-priced low-printrun novellas that are being cranked out now, but the one British dealer (Andy somebody) seems to focus on hardcovers, and I would’ve bought a few BSFA nominees in paperback. As I mentioned yesterday, no Interzone or Spectrum was available, either. Since Charles Brown was a guest, Locus had a table, so I could pick up the February issue a few days early.

Friday

Making Fantasy Real, with George R R Martin and a few others

There were a lot of fantasy-related panels this year, and since I don’t read much fantasy I mostly avoided them. The one exception was this one, because Martin’s “Ice and Fire” series is probably the best fantasy I’ve read besides Tolkien. Much discussion about the relative need for realism in fantasy, Martin promoting the use of vague terminology such as “leagues” to avoid having readers pick apart the logistics of what goes on in his books.

British Fantasy and SF That Doesn’t Cross the Pond, w/ Charles Stross, Peter Weston and others

First time I’ve seen Charles Stross, who demonstrated a broad knowledge of SF in general and British SF in particular. The always-entertaining British fan Peter Weston moderated, mostly going through a list of just about every UK author out there now, plus a few classic ones, and talking about the general gloomy disposition of British SF and whether it was a recent phenomenon and what exactly was the root cause.

New Directions in the Small Press, w/ Cecilia Tan, Rob Sawyer and others

The conclusion to be drawn is that there is no new direction in the small press, there is merely more of it, with more small presses publishing bigger authors. POD and ebooks never really came up. As is the case with some panels, went to this more because Tan and Sawyer are interesting to listen to, not so much because of the topic itself.

Saturday

SF and the Web, with Jim Kelly, Laurie Mann and others

Two people who really know this topic, plus a couple of other guys, talking about where to go for SF info on the web (isfdb, sci-fiction, etc., not much new there), how to get your web page noticed (pictures are good), how to take advantage of search engines, etc. Actually very informative as I try to figure out what to do with this site.

Slides and Stories, with David Brin and Jim Burns

Jim Burns went through three trays of slides while Brin extemporized a story that tried to connect as many of the pictures as possible. Generally entertaining, although I don’t think he was trying very hard.

Did Tolkien Harm Fantasy? with David Brin, Darrell Schweitzer and others

Any panel with Darrell Schweitzer is by default entertaining, and here he even got a bit passionate over Lester Del Rey, whom he thinks was the real detriment to fantasy by publishing and promoting The Sword of Shannara. The general consensus was you couldn’t blame Tolkien, that other forms of fantasy would have dominated instead.

SF of the 40s 50s and 60s, with William Tenn, Hal Clement and others

Anecdotes from Phil Klass (aka William Tenn) and Harry Stubbs (aka Hal Clement) about the old days.

SF of the 90s, with Charles Brown and David Hartwell

I only saw the last half of this panel, which seemed to consist of Messrs. Brown and Hartwell reading aloud through lists of books published in the last 10 years and occasionally saying “That was a very fine book”. I was hoping for more observation of trends and less of the laundry list.

The Renaissance of Hard SF, with Peter Weston, Cathryn Kramer, and David Hartwell

Now that The Hard SF Renaissance anthology has been published, editors Kramer and Hartwell talked about definitions of hard sf while Peter Weston badgered them about things like why Ursula Le Guin was in the book. Talked about some of the reasons why hard sf kind of fell out of favor for a while in the 70s and 80s.

How Biology Affects Thinking and Society, with David Brin, Shariann Lewitt, Eric Van and others

Better than I expected, with some interesting biology and sociology info from people in the field.

Sunday

TV Brainstorming, David Brin and Tom Easton

Brin and Easton talk about their ideas for tv shows, none of which have ever seen the light. Brin wants to do a survivor show where people have to start in a pre-bronze age environment and learn how to smelt ore. Interesting observation about how most of the cable channels out there now show the equivalent of what used to be the domain of PBS (nature shows, history, etc.)

Catholicism in SF, with Michael Flynn, Teresa Neilsen Hayden and others

Just saw some of this, good anecdotes from Flynn and Ms NH, who announced that she was coming out of the closet and revealing she was a converted catholic as her grandmother had just died.

The Politics of Literary Acceptance, with Patrick Neilsen Hayden, Darrell Schweitzer, Brett Cox and others

Schweitzer and Neilsen Hayden, both talking at near-lightspeed, spar over various writers through history that have either been shunned or included unfairly by either the masses or academia. Schweitzer offered examples of Dunsany, who is largely ignored by scholars because he’s an Irish writer writing in an English style, and Clark Ashton Smith, who has become famous not because of the quality of his work but because he was part of the Lovecraft crowd.

The Universe of the Far Future, with Rob Sawyer, Jeff Carver and others

Just saw some of this panel, generally discussing how to depict the far future and what exactly are the expected lifetimes of civilization, humanity as we know it, etc. Sawyer pointed out that some of the more wildly speculative ideas of the far future are well-suited to the short story, as they can just throw out the idea without taking an entire book to imagine the details that are so far from our current frame of reference.

SF Archetypes – First Contact, with Hal Clement, Allen Steele, Jeff Carver and (briefly) David Brin

Brin was off to take the family to the USS Constitution (bet that was chilly), so he only stopped by for a few minutes. Starting with the Leinster classic, they discussed different ways of first contact, the generally anthropocentric approach favored by movies and tv vs. books like The Mote in God’s Eye where the protagonists spend much of the novel just trying to understand what the aliens are up to.

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