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February 19, 2007

Boskone 2007 Recap


The object that Athena is regarding with such protean terror is not Donald Trump's hairpiece but a tribble, which I bought at Boskone, the guest of honor this year at which was David Gerrold, who wrote the Star Trek episode "The Trouble With Tribbles" from which these little fuzzy things were born. David Gerrold, incidentally, must have been 13 when he wrote the episode, since he does not look nearly old enough to have written something 40 years ago (he was apparently actually a college student when he wrote the episode).

Speaking of Boskone, herein follows my comments on the convention.

* First off, I had a lot of fun, as I did last year, and Boskone is on my A-list of conventions to attend (and indeed Boston seems like a hot bed of SF convention goodness, as I really liked Readercon as well, although I won't be able to attend it this year because I'll be at the Heinlein Centennial). What really impresses me about Boskone is that NESFA, which organizes and holds the convention, seems incredibly well-organized and competent when it comes to con-running. It makes a real difference in the overall quality of one's con experience. For those folks who might ever want to run a science fiction convention, first, you're probably crazy, and second, I suspect you could do a lot worse than to pick the brains of the NESFAns on how they do it.

* The convention was at what I understand was a new hotel, the Westin Waterfront, which is in South Boston. The hotel itself is brand-spankin' new and very modern and clad in muted wintery earth tones. I thought it was a very nice hotel with a pretty good layout for all the conventioneering that went on. I'm not entirely sure about the location, however, since there appears to be a whole lot of not much around it, and I suspect most people ended up confining themselves to the hotel whether they wanted to or not. The hotel had a Starbucks and a more-expensive-than-it-needed-to-be restaurant, and the con suite was amply packed with snackables, so there was no worries about actually starving. But it would have been nice to have more stuff within walking distance. The hotel Boskone was at in 2006 had its plus and minuses but one of the pluses was it was attached to a mall and it was downtown, so there were ample places to eat that were not at hotel-hostage prices.

* I had seven programming events (including an autographing and a literary beer) and I wanted to spend a little time catching up with friends, so I didn't actually manage to get to panels I wasn't on, which was a little sad for me. The panels I was on however, were more than sufficiently interesting, particularly one on consciousness and AI that featured world famous AI researcher Marvin Minsky. I was the moderator on that one, and as we got started, I said "Welcome to the panel on consciousness and artificial intelligence, or as I like to call it, 'We're all going to shut up now and listen to Marvin Minsky.'" Minsky indeed was brilliant and fascinating, although to be fair the other members of the panel (Karl Schroeder, Matt Jarpe and Jeffrey Carver) were rather more than spectators on the panel.

I do have one piece of advice for con programmers, which that I think it's well past time to kill either kill or drastically rethink panels on blogging. Blogs are no longer anything close to a novelty and SF con audiences in particular, I think, have heard most usable permutations of the "what does blogging mean for SF" question by now. We got through this year's "Blogging and SF" panel by more or less attacking the premise of the panel, kicking it in the face a few times, and then tossing it out the window and celebrating when it went splat on the pavement (with panelists like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Kathryn Cramer and Jim MacDonald, you can pull this off). But, seriously, con programmers: Unless you can come up with something new to do with blogging panels, consider not putting them on the programs here on out.

I will say I was very pleasantly surprised to see so many people at my literary beer; my kaffeeklatch last year had two people at it. Two quality people, to be sure (Hi Lanna and CKD!), but just two nonetheless. This year we had, uh, more than two. I personally credit Toby Buckell, my co-Literary Beer person. I'm not entirely sure we were supposed to combine forces for one co-hosted literary beer, but we did anyway and I think it worked well for everyone involved. Thank you to everyone who came to see us blather on the Sunday afternoon of a con (i.e., when most sane people have already left) -- you guys rock. I hope you had a good time, because I know Toby and I did.

* One of the nice things about Boskone is that lots of folks I really like show up to it, so I got to geek out and spend some time with lots of friends and colleagues like Allen Steele, the Nielsen Haydens, Elizabeth Bear, Lou Anders, Chad Orzel and Kate Nepveu, Shara Zoll, Karl Schroeder, the aforementioned Toby Buckell, Nick Mamatas, Meg McCarron, James Cambias, and lots of other people whose names I am blanking on at the moment because clearly I am both evil and lame. Sorry, folks, you know I love you. A special treat for me was meeting Joe Hill and his wife Leanora for the first time; we've been friendly online for some time now, so it was very cool to catch up with him in the flesh and spend some time chatting face-to-face. Not only is Joe a fabulous writer, he's also one cool dude, and his wife is even cooler.

So, in all: another excellent Boskone. I recommend going.

Posted by john at February 19, 2007 02:39 PM

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James | February 19, 2007 04:24 PM

Thanks for the opportunity to meet'n'greet at Boskone. I had the opportunity to attend several of the panels in which you participated in; I have to say that I enjoyed your sense of humor and your insights immensely.

PixelFish | February 19, 2007 04:26 PM

Sounds like you had an awesome time and I'm glad you enjoyed yourself. I have much envy. I'd like to go--particularly as I have several friends in the Boston area--but it's never been in the cards yet.

Chang, father of pangolins | February 19, 2007 04:56 PM

It sounds awesome. I will spare everyone my sad tale of woe - I left it in the comments of other posts - but I am sorry I missed it. I appreciated your email to the effect as well.

That hotel did seem way the frig out in the middle of nowhere. Good for functions and meetings and keeping people at bay. I wonder how much the remains of the Big Dig affected people. If they could do it in town next time at the Sheraton or the Westin, that would be awesome. Boston has some bitchin' restaurants and stores which would have welcomed the attendees.

Ah, next year, I guess. I figured you wouldn't be around for Readercon with the Heinlein thingie, so maybe I'll stalk you somewhere else. Perhaps it's time to go out to the Midwest for sausage on a stick and skiffy.

Jody the Librarian | February 19, 2007 05:44 PM

I got to be David's liaison when he was guest of honor at CONvergence in MN. Most excellent man! Was Miles with him? Sigh. I really need to go to a con soon to get my geek on. Still working on getting you out here to MN as a guest of honor, John!

Steve Buchheit, in full-on monkey mode | February 19, 2007 06:36 PM

Sounds like it was an excellent con. So, how come panels at cons you don't get to attend always sound better than the one you do get to attend. Or is that just me and my pathetic con going budget?

Lis Riba | February 19, 2007 07:22 PM

Nice to put a face (and a voice) to your blog. BTW, I'm now about half-way thru "Old Man's War" now that I pried it out of my husband's hands...

[For anybody not at the con, we bought it midday Saturday and he finished it Saturday night, bumping into a lot of people all afternoon...]

Christopher Davis | February 19, 2007 08:45 PM

"This year we had, uh, more than two."

Yeah, and it filled up quickly enough that I didn't get a chance to sign up for it. Sigh.

I did at least get to enjoy having you and Lou Anders join the Bear-accretion in the lobby. As Adam's already mentioned on his LJ, Lou sold us both on Keeping It Real just from his description, which definitely makes it sound like it's "made of awesome" as Bear would put it.

I'm hoping there will be more development and/or less freezing wind OF DOOM around the hotel by next Boskone. I also hope you'll be there again. Given the odds, I'm more hopeful about the latter.

Hugh Casey | February 19, 2007 08:56 PM

I had the chance meet and enjoy David's company a few years ago when he was a guest of PSFS and I was the president. He told some great stories about Trek, and also about Sid & Marty Kroft, for whom he produced "Land of the Lost". He's not only a fine writer, but a fine person, too!

And he's got a movie coming out in the fall... "The Martian Child", based on his novella, starring John Cusack. Can't wait for that!

Lis Riba | February 19, 2007 09:07 PM

And he's got a movie coming out in the fall... "The Martian Child", based on his novella, starring John Cusack. Can't wait for that!

Ooh. The book's description in the Program sounded interesting, but... fingers crossed!

Paul Estin | February 20, 2007 12:13 AM

It was good to see you again, John!

Re the hotel: Yep, pretty much spot-on. Very nice, but surrounded by Nothing. (Maybe that section of post-Dig Waterfront will fill in, given time.) Also, even though I live within Boston city limits, it's a long annoying commute by public transit and it would have been expensive to drive my car and park near the hotel.

For me, this was a better-than-usual Boskone for attending panels. Quite some time ago, I discovered that who is on a panel is more predictive of the panel's entertainment/information value than what the panel is purportedly about. So once I discover that someone is an entertaining/informative panelist, I tend to go to more of their panels. (Thus, my comment at the blogger panel, that "I came for the personalities anyway.")

The only problem this year is that I was trying to follow too many proven excellent panelists all at the same time; in particular, you, film reviewer Dan Kimmel, and Special (Science) GoH Brother Guy Consolmagno. This was not actually physically possible-- especially considering I was also busy filking, eating meals, seeing old friends, meeting new people, and seeing the rest of the con-- but it did mean a full Saturday of good panelgoing. :-) I did enjoy seeing you at the Great Worlds and Blogging panels, plus of course the Literary Beer on Sunday with you and Toby. (I'm not sure why I missed your Kaffeeklatch last year; I suspect I had a scheduling conflict.)

I was somewhat surprised not to see you on the "My Favorite Bad SF Movies" panel, having enjoyed your "Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies" and figuring it was maybe more up your alley than one or two of the panels you actually were on. Heck, even Dan and Guy were both on that panel, so it could have been a three-fer. :-) Out of curiosity, what would you choose as your guilty pleasures of SF movies?

Brett Cox | February 20, 2007 09:22 AM

Running into you and the Hills in the lobby Saturday evening was one of the high points of the con. When I get my "thanks for participating" email from the committee, I'm going to reply that they really, really need to invite Joe Hill as a guest next year.

Marc Moskowitz | February 20, 2007 09:31 AM

On the location, yeah. I work in that area, and it is in fact undergoing significant redevelopment. But there is stuff in that area if you're willing to walk a few blocks, such as the new Institute of Contemporary Art. (Apparently there are historical reasons for Boskone not to be downtown; usually it's out in the suburbs.)

Sarah Beth Durst | February 20, 2007 10:33 AM

Hi John,

Just wanted to say that I attended your literary beer at Boskone on Sunday, and I really enjoyed it. (You probably don't remember me -- I was the one with really, really curly hair.) Hope to see you again at future conventions.

- Sarah

Sarah Beth Durst | February 20, 2007 10:35 AM

Um, sorry for the double post. Blame Netscape. :)

John Scalzi | February 20, 2007 10:37 AM

Hi Sarah --

Actually, I do remember you, although, of course, you only have my word for that. I'm glad you enjoyed the literary beer! At which, if I remember correctly, no one actually drank beer.

Lanna Lee Maheux-Quinn | February 20, 2007 11:01 AM

Hey, thanks for the shout out, John.

I had a blast at Boskone, and I loved the Hotel. The restaurant was way too expensive, so we ended out ordering out for pizza and chinese food.

My husband and I went to Arisia this past January (also in Boston area) and found that we liked the atmosphere of Boskone much better.

I am bummed that I didn't meet Joe Hill Saturday night. I was too busy going to parties on the 4th floor and reading his book. (Which was fantastic!)

Finished The Android's Dream yesterday. Loved it! Okay, that thing with the fart joke - brilliant.

"Charles Dodgson" | February 20, 2007 11:16 AM

From a long-time Bostonian, here's the deal with the hotel:

It's built where it is because it's anchored to the huge, hulking convention center next door --- which was designed to host colossal conventions even though when it was built, there were no hotels within walking distance. There was, in fact, nothing within easy walking distance.

That convention center was built because all the other Mayors had a nice, shiny, new convention center and Mayor Menino wanted one too. It was built in this location because it was convenient to politically connected construction workers from Southie, but not close enough that the actual conventions would inconvenience them once the project was finished. In fact, no one would be inconvenienced, because the site was asphalt vacated years ago by (I think) former railroad yards. Well --- no one except the convention goers, whose views were apparently not anticipated when the conference center was imagining its marketing pitch.

There is the hope that a new neighborhood will appear in this now-vacant land, and even that the convention center will help make this happen --- but I'm not sure how, as it gets intermittent, itinerant business, which isn't really enough to sustain local shops --- and so far, not much of that. A few development projects are planned which might bring in actual residents, but they're mired in legal wrangling.

So, if you thought that the lite-brite thing was an unprecedented, expensive screwup by Boston's local government --- we have high standards here for that sort of thing. You have no idea.

(BTW, I did run into you at the con, though I didn't introduce myself by pseudonym --- so if this sounds like an extended version of something you heard late Saturday at the hotel bar, I'm more memorable than I expect...)

Lis Carey | February 20, 2007 11:57 AM

There's quite a bit of additional development planned for the immediate area (including new restaurants and retail space!) We also expect that the hotel will be a lot more receptive to our suggestions about increasing less-expensive, more convenient food options inside the hotel, based on what happened this year.

Part of the problem this year was that the Westin Waterfront and the Sheraton Boston are both Starwood properties, so the Westin looked at the Sheraton's numbers to see how much food we bought in the hotel during our several years there. Those numbers, of course, were completely accurate, and totally misleading.:( But based on Friday they added the sandwich cart Saturday, and based on the sandwich cart sales they added the burger & pasta station in the Birch Bar on Saturday night. So they were responsive once they started to see that we'd been correct in our projections.

Also, on Saturday night, even with the burger & pasta station, the convention sales manager walked through the con suite and saw the tables laden with delivered take-out, and was clearly mentally calculating the lost sales they could have had, if those people had been able to buy what they wanted at a reasonable price from the hotel.

So, yes, food's a problem, we knew it would be a problem this year and tried our best (including having menus available from the restaurants willing to deliver) to alleviate the problem, and we believe it's going to be significantly better next year.

(And, while it was not the only reason for the move--more like the last straw--our room rate at the Sheraton Boston this year, if we hadn't moved, would have been $175 per night for single/double. We had visions of large numbers of fans, especially younger fans, simply staying away, in the face of that kind of room rate.)

John Scalzi | February 20, 2007 12:15 PM

Thanks, Lis, that's all helpful stuff to know. I do indeed hope they have a wider range of food choices next year. For me it wasn't a convention-dampening glitch, but an improvement would good going forward.

Carol Elaine | February 20, 2007 12:45 PM

Who's to say Trump's hairpiece isn't a tribble? I wouldn't be surprised if he found one and skinned it, or kept it sedated (because you know it'd go all hissy in Trump's presence). Poor defenseless Trump tribble...

BTW, why is Athena so scared of a tribble? They love everyone except Klingons and Donald Trump. Hmmm...

Lis Carey | February 20, 2007 02:36 PM

Carol Elaine, she's scared because that's an unnatural tribble. A silent tribble. No trilling. Who knows what it's up to, or what horrific plans it might have?

Erin | February 20, 2007 04:15 PM

I had a great time at the literary beer, and I was happy to finally get a chance to meet both you and Tobias Buckell. Thank you both for being so entertaining and informative!

Given the winds outside, staying inside was probably the smart thing to do. (Though my friend Bonnie insists that wasn't bad for Boston in February.)

Deb Geisler | February 20, 2007 05:48 PM

It was delightful to meet you, and thank you again for personalizing that ARC lurking on my bookshelf and encouraging me to sloth. Some day, perhaps I'll have enough free time at a Boskone to go to your literary bheer.

Oh, and just so everyone knows, it's was (and I am not making this up) 50°F outside today at my home on Boston's north shore.

Deb Geisler | February 20, 2007 05:51 PM

And I really am more literate than that post up there made me appear. "Oh, and just so everyone knows, *it* was..." *sigh* Not back to normal, I see.

Mark | February 20, 2007 06:42 PM

Among con runners it's generally agreed: NESFA is terrifingly competent at running interesting conventions. Good people, great depth (if there's a problem area - which former Worldcon chair do they ask to work it out) and they do not try to reinvent the wheel every other year. I liked Boskone and regret that moving to California (from Ohio, of course) meant that I last attended almost ten years ago.

Laurie Mann | February 20, 2007 09:22 PM

While I'll take the "credit" for the lit beer and the pairing with Toby, I'll also take the blame on the blogging panel. It probably needed a slightly different twist, and I felt pretty uncreative over most of the last few months. So that was definitely put together as a "personality panel."

I did find out that my mind-numbing contract is up on Friday, meaning I might have some creativity restored in time to put together Confluence program and to enhance the Denvention Web site.

Matt Jarpe | February 21, 2007 10:57 AM

I've always liked Boskone, and fortunately they've always liked me. They put me on panels back when I had but one story in Asimov's. NESFA has spoiled me for other cons.

You did a nice job moderating the AI panel, trying to get the rest of us into the conversation without depriving the audience of Minsky's wisdom. At little nerve wracking sitting next to the world's foremost expert on the topic, a man who speaks with more authority than tact. Everything I say can and will be used against me. I imagine I looked rather stupid, but hey, what else is new?

John Scalzi | February 21, 2007 11:11 AM

I think you did well, Matt.

Steve Buchheit | February 21, 2007 11:41 AM

Laurie Mann, "I might have some creativity restored in time to put together Confluence program"

Here's to sending you as much energy as you need. I'm already looking forward to attending Confluence.

Doctor Memory | February 21, 2007 04:22 PM

I swear, Scalzi, every picture of Athena you post makes me momentarily question my commitment to childlessness.

Admit it: you're in league with my mother.

John Scalzi | February 21, 2007 04:27 PM

Well, do remember that I typically don't show you all the times Athena is being a butthead. Remember that you're getting the edited Athena feed, and your childlessness will be safe.

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