Thursday, March 2, 2017

Boskone 54: A quick con report

Boskone, 2017, a Quick Look

by Rich Horton

This February 17-19 I attended Boskone 54, the first convention I’ve ever attended on the East Coast. (In fact, almost all my conventions have been in the Midwest, and quite close to my home in St. Louis – I’ve been to quite a few Archons (Collinsville, IL, just East of St. Louis) and ConQuests (Kansas City, MO), as well as a few WindyCons and one CapriCon in Chicago. Besides that I’ve been to Worldcons in Chicago (2012), Spokane (2015), and Kansas City (2016). (And one NASFIC, but that was in Collinsville, so basically an extra large Archon.) I also haven’t been to the East Coast period that much (not counting the Southeast – my sister lives in Atlanta, GA, my daughter went to school at Clemson in South Carolina, and my parents used to winter in Florida, so I’ve been to those three states many times). My Dad grew up in Hadley, right in the middle of Massachusetts, so I’ve visited there a couple of times, and Cape Cod once, but never Boston. So this was a cool trip just on those grounds.

In my report below I will mention the panels I was on, but I apologize in advance for not going into too much detail about what we discussed – I waited too long to write this up, and my memory has failed me. (I also lost some notes I had.)

The Con was held at the Westin Waterfront, not too far South of Logan Airport. So I flew in and took a bus from the airport to the hotel, which was pretty easy. We did have a trivial hitch – I ran into author Joe McDermott waiting for the bus, and we convinced ourselves that the right bus stop was South Station. Turns out that’s a nice walk (close to a mile) from the hotel – but we’re young (erm …) vigorous men, and the walk was, let’s just say, bracing.

I got to the hotel in the early afternoon, and my first scheduled panel was not until 9:00 PM. So I didn’t do a whole lot for a while – checked in, wandered a bit, took some pictures of the local scenery. There was a freebie table in the basement near the dealers’ room. Somewhat had contributed a whole bunch of digests from the ’60s through the ‘80s. I was able to grab a number of copies of Galaxy and Worlds of Tomorrow and Analog that intrigued me, including some of the late ‘70s Galaxys that I have unaccountably lost. (I bought every issue of Galaxy from August 1974 through the rest of Jim Baen’s tenure, and a few issues after, but I lost them all, or so it appears after a recent reorganization of my bookshelves.) I did go to a reading by C. S. E. Cooney – she read a short story she had just finished (having rediscovered it after abandoning it a few years back). The story was pretty cool, but, cruelly, we ran out of time right at the climactic moment! It’s in submission right now, and I have no doubt it will sell, so I guess I’ll find out how it ends eventually.

Around dinner time I wandered by the bar and grabbed a bite or two with a varying and stimulating group of folks including Jo Walton, Ada Palmer, Lauren Schiller, Max Gladstone, Charles Stross, Alter Reiss, and others I have forgotten. I was particularly pleased to meet Alter, an Israeli whom I had known online back in the days (oh halcyon days of the earlyish internet!), and who has recently been publishing some impressive short fiction.

My 9:00 PM panel was entitled Hard to be a Hero. My fellow panelists were Ada Palmer (author of Too Like the Lightning, a really impressive first novel), Sarah Beth Durst (author of several fantasy novels, for children and adults), and Margaret Ronald (whose short fiction I have reprinted, so I was particularly happy to meet her). We had a nice discussion of things like heroes vs. antiheroes, what it takes to be a hero, ordinary people vs. heroes, etc. – including lots of discussion of manga, some very interesting stuff (that I was not at all familiar with) – including the notion, brought up by Ada Palmer, that the hero character who has had the most difficult time is Astro Boy.

(My only regret about this panel is that it was schedule opposite Trivia For Chocolate, traditionally one of my favorite panels (at Worldcons, usually, and also at at least once at either a WindyCon or a CapriCon). I usually – I think maybe always – finish second, and I was looking forward to doing so again!)

The next morning began with a search for a breakfast place. I wanted to do some walking and exploring of the local Boston area. I looked for breakfast places, and couldn’t really find any. So I tried donut shops – I do like my donuts! (Krispy Kremes need not apply!) Donut shops seem kind of thin on the ground in Boston, except for Dunkin Donuts, and I wasn’t going to go to a nationwide chain! I found a place called Doughboy Doughnuts and Deli, in South Boston about a mile from the hotel. For complicated reasons the walk there ended up being about a mile and a half, including navigating a steel staircase down a couple of storeys – but that was fine, I wanted to see the neighborhood. The donuts, alas, were a bit of a disappointment. The walk back was the GPS-advertised 0.9 miles (it’s easier when you go the right way).

My first two panels on Saturday were back-to-back at Noon and 1:00 PM. The first was called The Magic of Magical Realism in Literature, with Carlos Hernandez, Cerece Rennie Murphy, Gillian Daniels, and J. M. McDermott (whom I had met on the bus from the airport!) I thought the panel went well – we discussed things like the definition of Magical Realism, and Magical Realism from different traditions than South American (African, for instance); and is Magical Realism really just Fantasy by another name (not really!) The second panel was for Hugo Recommendations in Written Works, with Bob Devney, Jim Mann, and Vincent Doherty. The only problem with this panel is that we ran out of time. (For my recommendations, you can see my posts here, or the summary at Black Gate.)

It was time for my only Kaffeeklatsch of the con, hosted by Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. These are always enjoyable for me – after all, conversations are what really bring me to conventions. We discussed things like genealogy and the difference between Books and Tor Books … Quite a nice talk.

I did wander into the Dealers’ Room, of course. I visited Michael J. Walsh of Old Earth Books, and bought a copy of Liz Hand’s chapbook Fire., from the PM Press Outspoken Authors series. Michael also showed me his new edition of Keith Roberts’ Pavane (one of my favorite books), with the original Leo and Diane Dillon cover painting, plus, most interestingly, Roberts’ own paintings (from Science Fantasy), with the color mixing fixed (apparently the original magazines were a mess.) I also saw Sally Kobee, and talked to her a bit about Larry Smith and his passing, and what she’s doing with the business; and bought one book from her (Martians Abroad, by Carrie Vaughn). I was on a strict book buying limit because everything had to fit into a carry on bag. (I did make some room by leaving a couple of copies of my Best of the Year books on the freebie table.)

My 4 o’clock panel was on From Rapiers to Ray Guns (on weapons in SF and Fantasy). My fellow panelists were Jo Walton, James Macdonald, and Scott Lynch. I did wonder what I could contribute next to three such distinguished writers who have written plenty of battle scenes … I kind of forgot (completely forgot!) that I actually work on what we call Advanced Weapons at Boeing. Alas, though I do have a certain expertise in pointy things that go really really fast, I’m kind of limited in what I can say about them in public. At any rate, the panel went quite well. I may as well quote Macdonald’s law on how to avoid getting emails from gun nuts about the details you might get wrong about the particular firearm your character uses – always identify the gun as “modified”.

I had already arranged to have dinner with Claire Cooney and Carlos Hernandez. Our three schedules intersected in such a way that we could only fit into a 90 minute window, from 5:00 to 6:30, which meant staying at the hotel restaurant, a sort of Irish-themed place (I had a hamburger which was very good, and some very good onion rings as well). The conversation was delightful – we discussed the upcoming novels from both Claire and Carlos (Claire’s is in submission, and Carlos is just about finished with what looks to be the final draft), and how they met, and their almost accidental collaboration on the delightful story “The Book of May” (which appeared in Clockwork Phoenix 5 last year), and Carlos’s Dad’s history with Fidel Castro (both for and against), and much more.

Later on I wandered over the lobby area and ran into Ben Yalow and Michael Walsh, and we ended up having a long and absorbing talk, about a variety of things, noticeably certain details of fannish history, and also Chris Offutt’s book about his father, SF writer Andy Offutt, and his father’s porn career. We ended up deciding (after sometime later verifying that it was published in 2016), that this book, My Father, the Pornographer, would be a worthy Hugo nominee in Best Related Work.

Sunday morning began with another unsuccessful attempt to find breakfast outside the hotel. This time I walked to the World Trade Center, which is right on a channel – the Main Channel, I guess it’s called. It seems to be a working seaport, for sure. I walked up and down a couple of piers. There are lots of restaurants in the area, but none were open. (Because it was Sunday, I guess.)

Back at the con, my first order of business was another trip through the dealers’ room, and also a look at the art show. I will say that the Boskone art show is EXCELLENT, the best of any convention I’ve been to. Among the artists were Vincent di Fate (a long time favorite), Bob Eggleton (ditto), Artist GOH Dave Seeley (whose work I quite enjoyed – I had not been familiar with it), Tom Kidd, and numerous others, many of them quite impressive. There was also a really impressive exhibit called 100 Years of Black and White SF Art.

Then I saw Brimstone Rhine (Claire Cooney) in concert. Claire sung a half-dozen or so pieces, a few from her album Alecto! Alecto! (songs based on Greek myths or plays, done in a variety of styles), and some unrecorded work, including my favorite, a version of a ballad based on the murder of Daft Jamie by Burke and Hare (this time recast in SFnal terms).

My Sunday panel, at 1:00 PM, was Best Book Ever!, which was just that – the panelists were supposed to cite particular favorites – interpretable several ways: as really the Best Book Ever; or as a book that was the Best Book Ever at a critical time; maybe a book that was great then but we’re afraid to revisit; or a book that isn’t objectively great in all ways but is a particularly delicious read. The other panelists were Walter Jon Williams, Maryelizabeth Yturralde, and Beth Caywood. I had a list of the books I was thinking of mentioning – and I meant to list them all here, but I’ve lost it. I know I mentioned The Anubis Gates, and Ares Express, and The House of Mirth, and The Fifth Head of Cerberus, and A Dance to the Music of Time, and Wallace Stevens’ Collected Poems, and Nova, and Engine Summer, and Malafrena, and more. I wish I had kept my notes, and I wish I could remember the other books that the other panelists mentioned. Old age stinks!

I also encountered Theodora Goss and James Patrick Kelly. Theodora was one of the people I was really hoping to meet at the con (I was hoping to see Jim Kelly as well, but we have met before, a few times), so that was good, and we had a very nice chat. I also attended a panel Theodora moderated, on Making Magic Real (the other panelists were Jo Walton, Jim Macdonald, and Craig Shaw Gardner). Oddly enough I just realized that was the only panel I was in the audience for – there were quite a few other panels of interest to me, but some of them were scheduled opposite panels I was on, and the others somehow just didn’t fit my schedule.

Indeed, I had had a list of folks I had hoped to meet for the first time at the con, and of that list, besides those I’ve already mentioned (Theodora Goss, Carlos Hernandez, Margaret Ronald, Alter Reiss) I also ran into George Morgan, Paul di Filippo, and Allen M. Steele (whom I had never met when he lived in St. Louis, not terribly far from me, some years ago). I missed Greg Feeley, who was under the weather and couldn’t make it. I also never managed to meet Ken MacLeod, who was there; Darrell Schweitzer, who was apparently there but whom I never saw; Cynthia Ward, who had to cancel; Greer Gilman, who was there; and Fran Wilde (I couldn’t have congratulated her on the Nebula nomination then, but I can now!).

I really enjoyed the convention. I was very glad to visit Boston for the first time. I’ll have to take my wife some time – she wasn’t terribly excited about going in February, between the cold and having to walk everywhere. So perhaps I’ll try a Readercon sometime soon (not this year, though, the schedule won’t work). I would like to get back to another Boskone too sometime. Thanks to Erin Underwood for inviting me (and for putting up with my shamefully late response)!


  1. Excellent report, Rich! I admit I haven't been at Boskone since the 1990s, but might go back next year.

  2. :: waves :: thank you!

    hopefully at some future con we can grab a coffee!