I’m back from Penguicon 4.0, where I was a “nifty guest,” and indeed I had a nifty time; it was lovely to see a bunch of Michigan friends and writer friends (and, indeed, also the writer friends who live in Michigan). I keep forgetting how close Michigan actually is to me — the convention was in Livonia, which is in the Detroit metro area, and it was only a three hour trip from my door to the door of the hotel. Considering that when I was a film critic in Fresno, I used to drive three hours to see a movie preview in San Francisco and then drive back in the same night, three hours ain’t nothin’.
I have to say I didn’t much like the hotel, however. There were a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the most interesting example came on Saturday, when I, M. Keaton, Jeff Beeler and Barbara Trumpinski-Roberts were supposed to do a panel on “Warfare in Science Fiction.” The location of the panel was in a place charmingly known as “The Pit,” a small area in the lobby where a big-screen TV usually resided (one imagines guests usually watch sports there or whatever). Just before the panel was supposed to begin, however, we were told that the hotel management was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in the lobby area. Mind you, this is the same hotel which for the two nights on the con allowed security demonstrations in which convention members stalked the halls with semi-realistic toy guns. Apparently clearing and sweeping the third floor was allowable, but discussing spaceship warfare in the open lobby was not.
The hotel wanted us to do the panel somewhere else, but where they wanted us to do the panel was already being used by people playing games, eating lunch, and by a “stuffed animal tea party,” at which, you guessed it, a bunch of stuffed animals were having a delightful afternoon repast. So there was nowhere for us to have our panel. Writer Dave Klecha suggested that maybe we should change the panel to “Tea parties in Science Fiction” instead.
So we did. When the panel started, I as the moderator noted to the audience that the hotel was uncomfortable with us discussing warfare in an open area, so we were going to discuss tea parties instead — you know, as in those famous science fiction books The Forever Tea Party, and Starship Tea Drinkers, or my own novel, Old Man’s Tea Party. And thus, “war” became “tea party,” soldiers were “tea drinkers,” boot camp was “tea training,” firing on another soldier was “serving tea,” and clearly you wanted to serve tea before tea was served to you. If you were served tea, you didn’t die, you “went to the lavatory.” And off we went, and had a sustantive discussion of the subject, both among the panelists and with the audience.
And it was beautiful, for two reasons. One, because everyone understood what was being said and was able to roll with it; the panel was actually a panel on the subject at hand, and not just a smirky pun fest (there was a little of that, of course. Because why wouldn’t you. But it was mostly serious). Second, of course, every time we said “tea” and meant “war,” we were just pointing out the over-cautious stupidity on display by the hotel management. Which, I think, amused the panelists and the audience to a great degree. The fact that everyone involved — panelists and audience — twigged to the situation, ran with it, and had a good panel anyway gives you the idea of the intelligence and sense of humor displayed by both; Penguicon chose good panelists, and had smart, smart convention goers. Toby Buckell was in the audience and recorded the entire panel; when he puts up the recording (he says he will), I’ll post a link.
There were other issues I had with the hotel but there’s no point going into them too deeply; suffice to say I wouldn’t cry if the convention were held elsewhere next year.
Hotel issues aside, Pengicon was tons of fun. My panels aside from the tea/war one were generally very good, and among the writers and other guests at the con, I got to spend time with Toby Buckell, Karl Schroeder and family, Dave Klecha and family, Chris DiBona, Frank Hays, Howard Tayler and “The Ferret.” I was also fortunate to spend a fair amount of time chatting with author guest of honor Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, who among other things shared some great anecdotes about their own previous con experiences. They’re lovely people, and I’m glad to have been able to meet them. And of course it was lovely to see Anne KG Murphy and her husband Bill. I also had quite a lot of fun with Penguicon staff and con-goers, many of whom I’ve known for a couple of years now and consider pretty good friends, but am distressed to say I know not by their actual names but by their LiveJournal handles. It says something about LiveJournal, or at least, about me.
In any event, I had a very good time. But it’s also nice to be home. As much as I enjoy conventions, by the last day, I’m always a little strung out. So it’s good to come back to the family. And speaking of, now I’m off to spend a little time with them. Chat with you later.