Boskone 59: A Con Report
by Rich Horton
My last convention before Covid was Capricon, in Chicago, in February 2020. For a few years prior to that I had been semi-alternating between Capricon (in my hometown) and Boskone (in my Dad's home state.) I remember that Capricon for unfortunate reasons -- I got violently sick, and managed only a couple of panels and about half a dinner with Arin Komins and Rich Warren before I had to retreat to my Mom's house for the weekend. (I admit that in later months I sometimes entertained the idea that I was all-unknowing Covid Patient Zero in the US, but, really the symptoms weren't consistent with that disease, and, anyway, it's kind of horrifying to think about me staying with my then 88 year old Mom and potentially giving her Covid -- luckily, no such thing happened (though as I recall Arin showed some signs of con crud and I may have contributed to that!) )
Since then the list of cons I wanted to attend that I could not has been truly depressing -- two Readercons, a Windycon, an Archon, a World Fantasy, two SFRA conferences (at one of which I was to receive an award!) ... the only convention I missed for good reasons was this past Worldcon, Discon III, which I missed because my grandson was born that week. Late last year I made single-day appearances to two cons -- Windy City Pulp and Paper, and Windycon, both late in 2021. But I wasn't on programming in either case, and I didn't really have the full experience, though they were certainly fun.
In 2022 I am ready to really get back to congoing, and Boskone 59 was my first chance! Thanks to Omicron it wasn't as fully attended as usual perhaps, but with Omicron rapidly receding it was still well-attended and lots of fun. (Though room parties remain a (wholly understandable) casualty!) The two Boskones I previously attended had already put it high on my list as a convention I would love, and this one was also delightful.
In fact my flight to Boston was my first time on an airplane since Covid. I had a work trip booked to Tuscon in mid-March 2020, cancelled at the last minute (I had hoped to run into my friends Claire Cooney and Carlos Hernandez that week, as they were in Arizona for what, as I recall, turned into an unplanned extended stay.) I still have, in my work account, credit for a future trip whenever I travel for business again. The flight to Boston was nice, in that the plane was perhaps 20% full -- a Covid hangover, I thought maybe? But both return legs were booked solid. On the way to Boston I read Robert Holdstock's Where Time Winds Blow, and on my return flight (twice as long due to connections and such) I read Peter Heath's The Mind Brothers, and E. Lily Yu's On Fragile Waves.
I had two panels scheduled that evening: Rediscovering Great Writers and Books You've Never Heard Of; and Greatest SF/F/H Book You've Never Heard Of. Definitely worthwhile topics, but I have to say I had a hard time distinguishing between the two subjects! Add that I wasn't the only person to be on both panels -- so was Greg Feeley! The first panel also featured Jim Mann and Christine Taylor-Butler, and the second also featured Steven Popkes and Grant Carrington. Between the two panels I don't think we duplicated a single book, which I thought a good achievement. Alas, I didn't take notes, so I will forget many of the books we mentioned. Here are a few: Josephine Saxton's The Heiros Gamos of Sam and An Smith. (I learned something I had wondered about concerning Saxton -- she is mixed race.) Several books by Edgar Pangborn, including of course A Mirror for Observers, but perhaps more intriguingly (as it's a lesser known book) a non-SF example, that Greg suggested might be his best novel, A Wilderness of Spring. Angelica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial (and also Trafalgar.) You Shall Know Them, by Vercors. Growing Up in Tier 3000, by Felix Gotschalk. Floating Worlds, by Cecelia Holland (a book which I think occurred to both Greg and me independently.) And Chaos Died, by Joanna Russ -- nominated by Greg on the grounds that while Russ is of course well-remembered, this one of her books, much celebrated on first appearance, is somewhat neglected now. (And, indeed, it's not a book I think of often, though I certainly read it when I was young.) The Amsirs and the Iron Thorn, by Algis Budrys. (A strange book, and one of my favorite Budrys novels, though it was Greg's choice.) (I added a mention of Budrys' last novel, Hard Landing.) Fremder, by Russell Hoban. I think we were all aware of the risk of the panels becoming "list panels" (indeed that risk applied to all four of my panels) and I think we did a good job avoiding, for instance diving into a discussion of canon forming at one point.
My other two panels were on Saturday. One was a panel I've done before at Boskone, with the same four person team as I recall: myself, Bod Devney, Vince Docherty and Jim Mann; recommending Hugos in the fiction categories. As always, we ran out of time! I suggested The Unraveling, by Benjamin Rosenbaum in novel; "The Dark Ride" by John Kessel in novella, "If the Martians Have Magic" by P. Djèli Clark in novelette, and "Crazy Beautiful" by Cat Rambo in short story. Other stories mentioned (some by me, and others of which I'd have mentioned but someone else beat me to it) included "Where Oaken Hearts do Gather" by Sarah Pinsker, "Unseelie Brothers, Ltd" by Fran Wilde, "The Ghost Birds" by Karen Russell, "Proof by Induction" by José Pablo Iriarte, "Broad Dutty Water" by Nalo Hopkinson, A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine, Project Hail Mary, by Andy Weir, Perhaps the Stars, by Ada Palmer, "A Master of Djinn" by P. Djèli Clark ... and others that I have forgotten, I am sorry. (I need to think of taking notes.)
Finally there was a panel on SF, Fantasy, and Horror for People Who Don't Know They Like SF/F/H. The other panelists were R. W. W. Greene, Joshua Bilmes, and Ian Randal Strock. We approached this from two directions -- SF works by writers outside the genre on the one hand, and those works within the genre that non SF readers might be likely to respond to. The first category includes some "usual suspects" -- Nobelists like Ishiguro and Kipling and Saramago and Lessing, and other prominent writers like Nabokov and Kingsley Amis. And David Mitchell and Michael Chabon. Or, of course, Emily St. John Mandel and Station Eleven. From within (to some extent) genre borders we mentioned, I think, Le Guin; and Crowley. I think I brought up Susan Palwick's Flying in Place, which I know can work for non SF readers because my wife loved it. (Same for Karen Joy Fowler.) I know there were many other suggestions, which I just can't recall now.
I attended some other panels as well, of course. Brendan Du Bois, Jim Kelly, and Suzanne Palmer talked interesting about novellas and novelettes, and when (or if) a writer knows she's got a novelette or novella on hand or just a short story. There was a virtual panel on "Impossible Cities", featuring Fran Wilde, Ada Palmer, Mur Lafferty, Greer Gilman, and Kelly Robson. Greg Feeley, Ginjer Buchanan, Bob Devney, and Jim Mann discussed "What Classic SF Got Right and Wrong". Ted Chiang gave a really neat talk on Time Travel, and the differences between historical stories involving time travel and the more contemporary science fictional representations. Claire Cooney had a book launch of her story collection Dark Breakers. I attended one Kaffeeklatsch, by Michael Swanwick, lots of interesting stories.
As ever, however, the best part was meeting friends, old and new, and the various conversations I had. I talked, sometimes at length over a drink, sometimes just briefly, alas, with Greg Feeley (first time we'd met in person), Ken Schneyer, Walter Jon Williams, Ian Randal Strock, Mark Olson, Fred Lerner, Claire Cooney and Carlos Hernandez, Bob Devney, Michael Swanwick, Jim Kelly, Jim Cambias, Mike Allen, Margery Meadows, Mark Pitman, Ted Chiang (first time to meet him), Sally Kobee. I got to talk very briefly to Tamsyn Muir in an autographing line. I was able to (all too briefly) meet Filip Hajdar Drnovsek Zorko, who has published some intriguing short fiction in places like Lightspeed and Clarkesworld, but who I met virtually in another context entirely -- we are both members of an online trivia league, and he coordinated a project to write a long set of questions for the league about SF -- and I was one of the assistants on that project.
Also of course I bought some cool books in the dealers' room, and I got a bunch of intriguing free books from the free table. I even gave away some books at the free table, but I have to admit, I came home with more books than I got rid of!
Boskone remains a favorite convention of mine, and it was wonderful to be "back in the saddle" again, so to speak.