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Boskone

February 16, 2010 at 8:15 pm

The weekend of February 12-14 marked the 47th Boskone, but only my second trip to this terrific convention in Boston. I'm glad that it's firmly on my radar now—just as with last year's trip, this was well worth the time and effort.

Read below the cut for a long and somewhat discursive report.

Our trip began with a lot of trepidation about the weather. We were scheduled to fly from Albuquerque to Boston, via Chicago, on Thursday. But on Wednesday, all of the weather forecasts had East Coast Winter Superstorm #58 pummeling Boston with something a bit north of 6 inches of snow. By Wednesday afternoon, hundreds of flights to and from Boston had been cancelled for the following day. But we decided to bite the bullet and go for it (in spite of the danger of getting stranded at O'Hare, a fate worse than death).

Everything was on time. No delays. And when we landed in Boston… no snow. In fact, much of what I saw from the airplane on the landing approach was bare earth without any snow cover at all. The weather forecasts severely overpredicted the storm's effect on Boston. It did drop a lot of snow in New York and points south, but Boston was almost untouched. I don't know what happened, or why the forecasts for Beantown were so apocalyptic, but I'm glad they didn't pan out.

Boskone is held at the Westin Waterfront Hotel, which isn't more than a 10 minute taxi ride from the airport. Which, on top of our utterly unexpected on-time arrival, meant we had plenty of time before dinner to slink downstairs and help the concom with some of the setup work. In fact, we got down to the loading docks just as they started unloading two (large) trucks worth of furniture (several sofas, armchairs, and a refrigerator), AV equipment (very heavy AV equipment), books (probably close to 100 boxes), special carpeting for the kids' area, pallets and stands for the art show, and just about everything else I might have imagined. I half expected to see a burro and a few chickens come out of these trucks. Boskone is a major operation, and it was very impressive to see how smoothly NESFA makes it happen. (Did I mention the refrigerator?) A few others had found their way downstairs to help with setup, including Charlie Stross, although he was a lot smarter than we were—he managed to find a job stapling pocket programs rather than moving furniture. I suppose that's why he's Charlie Stross and I'm just sweaty.

Another person who chipped in with the behind-the-scenes work was the weekend's musical Guest of Honor, Mary Crowell. I met her and her husband very briefly during the flurry of activity down at the loading docks, but they were both very personable. And I thought it was extraordinarily cool of a Guest of Honor to get her hands dirty like that. I would have liked a chance to speak with them a little more. I didn't get a chance to hear Mary's concert, though I wish I had.

After the third or fourth time that I crushed my ankle on an overloaded cart, we decided it was time for dinner. We chose a restaurant for the evening. Melinda took me to an Italian restaurant in the shadow of Paul Revere's house (or so the tourist maps say). She had been there a few years earlier with Sam Butler and Daniel Abraham. I'm glad she was willing to return to a restaurant she'd already explored. After all, not every restaurant serves stuffed pork chops.

On the way back to the hotel, our taxi driver decided it was easier to drive backwards up a major thoroughfare than to go around the block. "Yeah, this right here is a special move," he said. "Ya can't do this unless ya been to taxi driver school." Who was I to argue with that?

By late Thursday morning, much of the setup was underway and in good hands, so we decided to head over to the New England Aquarium, which is about a 20 minute walk from the hotel. Penguins rule. So do jellyfish, and seals, and 60 year old sea turtles. There was an octopus exhibit, too, although nobody could figure out where the octopus was hiding in the tank. I figure it was in plain sight and watching us the entire time. I'm just glad I made it out alive.

After the aquarium, and my brush with eight-armed death, it was time to prepare for the convention. By which I mean it was time to hang out in the lobby and greet old friends. Sam Butler made it up from Brooklyn, and seemed to spend half the weekend running outside to move his car to a different parking meter. (You can take the man out of New York, but…) Leo Korogodski stopped by to say hello, and he was kind enough to present me with a signed copy of his diamond-hard SF novella Pink Noise, which will be released on Bubonicon weekend. (Hey, Craig and Kristen! Leo would be a great guy to have on programming this year—he's planning to come. Mail me offlist and I'll tell you about him.) I've known Leo since my OWW days, so it's exciting to see his work in print. Sam also introduced me to David "New Guy Dave" Fortier, whose name I've seen popping up on the OWW mailing list during the past year or so. Dave is a very warm, very friendly guy, and impressively serious about getting his writing career off to a strong start.

We had just enough time to grab some pub food for dinner before we all went off to our various evening panels. Melinda, Sam, Leo, and I managed to get the last table in the Westin's faux-Irish faux-pub, which was filling up quickly with con attendees. I mentioned to Leo that my upcoming panel was a discussion of faster-than-light travel in physics and science fiction, and he gave me all sorts of terrific suggestions for topics of discussion. When he's not writing diamond-hard SF about the human brain and the plasma universe, Leo is a mathematician and physicist. So that's the second year in a row that I kicked off Boskone with a great physics discussion over dinner in the "Irish pub". (Last year it was Corry Lee and her thesis research on CP symmetry violation.)

The FTL panel was a great deal of fun. Our charmingly self-effacing moderator, Chuck Gannon, challenged the rest of us—Jordin Kare, Geoff Landis, and (gulp) me— to tunnel beneath the bedrock of modern physics understanding and come up with an FTL concept on the fly. Geoff Landis was the MVP on this panel, no question. Jordin did explain how it's possible to exceed the speed of light by strapping a turtle to one's head, however.

Later in the evening we did a reprise of the "Business of Writing" panel that Sam, Melinda, and I did last year. Elaine Isaak joined us this time around, and I'm glad she did. Elaine is very smart, very on the ball, and full of terrific information about self-promotion for writers. (The bane of our lives.) This was another well-attended panel.

My reading on Saturday morning wasn't heavily attended, but that's about what I expected. I only hope that more people start coming after my book has appeared in the wild. I read a scene from Bitter Seeds that I had never used for a reading before because I've read the prologue too many times to be anything other than sick to death of it. The new selection seemed to go over well, and I'm happy about that. One of the attendees was Scott Andrews, editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a webzine/podcast site that has been getting a lot of great buzz since its launch a couple of years ago. I recognized Scott's name from (where else?) the OWW, though we'd never met in person, so it was good to meet him in person. He's a very nice guy and clearly dedicated to giving short fiction a good home.

My panel on Saturday afternoon ("The Fermi Failure") had almost the same cast of characters as the FTL panel the previous day, but with Mark Olson in Jordin Kare's place. Mark is a chemist in his life outside developing programming for Boskone, and he was a terrific moderator. Once again, Geoff Landis was the MVP. But I like to think I added something special to the discussion: when asked to explain quantum entanglement, I yelled, "Oh my God, look!" while pointing behind the (sizeable) audience. And then I ducked under the table.

As a matter of fact, no, I am not making that up.

After the panel, I had a nice, long conversation with Chuck Gannon, with whom I had crossed paths on one of the writing-related email lists where I lurk but whom I had never met in person.  Or even spoken to directly prior to last weekend.  He's a very interesting guy, thoughtful, and good company.  And—small world—he's an old friend of New Mexico's own Jane Linskold.

Sam arranged a terrific dinner outing on Saturday. Sam, Melinda, and I joined superstar Tor editors Stacy Hague-Hill and Susan Chang plus Stacy's incredibly cool husband Tom at Helmand, an Afghani restaurant in East Cambridge. The food was out of this world. My appetizer, for instance, was candied pumpkin served with a red meat sauce. I don't know what kind of mad genius ever thought of pouring meat sauce on candied pumpkin, but I am grateful for that person's insanity. Tom writes software for financial services, which made for some entertaining dinner conversation with Sam, who is a retired (reformed?) bond trader.

After dinner (and a brief taxi ride where conversation mostly centered on the Tick) we returned to the hotel, where we caught up with Dave and Leo and watched some Winter Olympics action over drinks. (I now owe Sam more drinks than I am capable of counting. Sam, will you settle for your own brewery?)

On Sunday morning, I had breakfast and lively conversation with my editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden.  We discussed famous writers who may or may not have been hopped up on goofballs while they wrote (Robert A. Heinlein, Ayn Rand, Georgette Heyer); finalized cover art (coming really really soon); publication schedules; neurology; and other things.  I came out of that meeting feeling more excited than ever about the prospects for 2010. 

Late morning and early afternoon I spent perusing the art show and the dealers' room.  The art was incredible! The Official Artist of Boskone 47 was John Picacio, and the NESFA Press Artist Guest was Michael Whalen.  Both jaw-droppingly talented.  I especially enjoyed the long retrospective exhibit on Whalen's career, which contained examples of his work from the 70s to the present.  It's likely I would have come out of there with a stack of prints under my arm if I hadn't had to worry about getting them back to New Mexico safely.

Sadly, Vernor Vinge couldn't stick around for our time travel panel on Sunday afternoon.  I would have liked to have a chance to talk with him, because the last time I met him (for about three minutes at the LA worldcon a few years ago) I hadn't yet read A Fire Upon the Deep, which is a masterpiece.  But we managed to soldier on without Vinge's insights, though the panel certainly would have gained from his presence.  I think we managed to put together a decent discussion of the various (hypothetical) methods of time travel, ranging from the plausible to the magical.  We had a lot of audience participation, with people tossing out stories and novels that made use of these various methods.  My own contribution to the panel (I didn't hide under the table this time) was this thesis, which I tossed out completely off the top of my head with no forethought whatsoever:  If character truly is the heart of story, then the best time travel stories succeed because they illuminate human nature in a way that other stories can't.  They form a literature of human longing. 

I have no idea whether that's true or not, but it sounded good at the time.  My fellow panelists seemed to think so.

After that, it was already early Sunday afternoon and time to say our goodbyes to old and new friends and to Boston for another year.  Then Melinda and I hitched a ride with Sam Butler back to his palacial brownstone in Brooklyn, where we had a terrific dinner with Sam and his wife, Susan Jett.  Two of my favorite people in the world.

On Monday, Melinda suggested we make an outing for dim sum in Chinatown.  She and Moshe Feder had been corresponding on Facebook about possible get-togethers while we were in town, and Moshe had been interested in trying out some of the Brooklyn dim sum places featured on Chowhounds.  Pacificana in Chinatown wasn't more than a 15-minute drive from Sam and Susan's home, so we piled into the car and headed over.  But it wasn't until we arrived that we realized that we had just stumbled into the middle of the Chinese New Year celebrations!  Long story short, we spent 2 hours in a very crowded line waiting for a table at Pacificana.  Our wait might have been a bit shorter if not for the 3— count them, 3—dragons that wandered in from the street to dance and drum through the entire restaurant.  It was worth it for the photos.  And for the chance to chat with Moshe, whom I'd met very briefly a few years ago, and who, in addition to being an SF editor of long standing, is also a hardcore science buff.  

We did eventually get seated, and it was worth the wait.  Terrific dim sum.  Then it was back to Brooklyn for a quick rest, and then the subway into Manhattan for dinner and drinks with our super-fantabulous agent, Kay McCauley.  I wish we could have had more than a few hours with Kay.  She's one of my favorite people, even aside from the fact that she's a brilliant agent who sells my books.  I came out of that dinner feeling even more excited about 2010 than I had been the previous day.

Back at Susan and Sam's house, it was time to pack and wrap up another wonderful trip to Boston and New York.  By 8 AM on Tuesday we were already through security at LaGuardia and on our way back to New Mexico.

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