Chessiecon 2017

I went to Chessicon again this year, which is a small, regional convention held in Timonium, MD. As per usual over this holiday weekend, I could only free up my schedule for one day, so I attended on Saturday. I had an excellent day, and here are the sessions and events that I attended:

  • Unintentional Geoengineering: The Current and Future Status of Climate Change — One major consequence of modern industrial society is shifts in the Earth’s climate variability: aka, climate change. Find out about the reasons why (over all) these changes our detrimental to our society; and the prospects of responding to it in the future. [With Tom Holtz]

    An excellent and comprehensive presentation, including slides, on the topic of climate change. With a concentration on the science, Tom Holtz, a professor at the University of Maryland, covered a wealth of topics: primary factors in climate change on long and short timeframes, an overview of how climate change occurs, the reasons why recent climate change is man-made, etc. Very cool stuff, backed up by a killer slide deck.

    One sad note. Like a lot of scientists, Holtz is worried that much of the publicly available climate data will be taken down by the current presidential administration. I confess, I never thought in my lifetime that I’d see a totally anti-science stance by our very own government, so I understand why he’s afraid.

  • Concert: Kiva — Kiva blends strong vocal harmonies with rich and diverse acoustic and electric instrumentation, performing originals, traditionals, and covers. The musicians are inspired by many cultures, spiritual disciplines, and musical styles, including celtic-folk, folk-rock, blues, big band, traditional chants, and jazz. [With Kiva]

    Kiva was a surprise. I’d been heading for another session, but got pulled in by a song as I passed the concert room. I ended up staying for the whole set, and even buying one of the band’s retrospective CDs. A wide variety of music, in different styles, played/sung by people who love what they do.

  • Where Do We Dystopia from Here? — Dystopia as a genre has been reigning in many science fiction circles and shows no signs of losing popularity. What’s powerful and useful about this trend or its manifestations? What’s limiting or frustrating? How do we feel about dystopian fiction when we live in dystopian realities? [With Mary Fan (M), Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Timothy Liebe and Jay Smith]

    A fun talk about dystopias in fiction. Not a lot of true information content, but a fun time was had by all.

  • Suddenly, the Power Went Out… — How is horror affected by modern improvements in technology? Do you have to knock out the Internet and smart phones to have a compelling horror story? Or can modern terminology be used to enhance the experience, rather than an impediment that has to be subverted or mysteriously disabled before things can truly get chilling? [With Elektra Hammond (M), Cristin Kist, Jay Smith, Kelly Szpara and Martin Wilsey]

    The general consensus was A) people, including the panelists, were tired of the same old tropes, and B) new technologies actually provide new opportunities for horror. If you still want to use the old tropes, you can still set your story in the appropriate time period with whatever technological limits that you want. Twilight Zone was also mentioned for the minimalistic and timeless ways in which it did its stories. Also intriguing, because the kernel of a new short story came to me during this talk.

  • How the Twilight Zone Embraced “Less is More” — Sterling’s television anthology The Twilight Zone engrossed audiences with thrilling stories of all sorts. In 2017, many episodes of the five-season series and its various spin-offs are still intense, captivating and even scary, often thanks to the show’s ability to say as much as possible with very few special effects. Our panelists talk about their favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone and how the minimalist style made it more effective and memorable. [With Scott Edelman, Elektra Hammond (M), Steve Kozeniewski, Karen MacLeod and Alanna Morland]

    Panelists described some of their favorite Twilight Zone episodes and how they still held up so well today. Ably helped out by a fan in the audience who knew the name of every single episode. Another fun talk.

  • Author Meet & Greet — This was the first of two author signing slots.

    The authors were excellent, including my friend, Martin Wilsey. The other authors at this session included J. L. Gribble, Andrew Hiller, Steve Kozeniewski, Steven Southard and Michelle D. Sonnier. I even bought books from Southard and Kozeniewski.

    If I were to pick a nit, it’s that I didn’t feel the convention did much to promote the event. Authors ultimately come to conventions to promote themselves, after all.

  • Zuul: Destroyer of Shins! (and Other Recent Prehistoric Discoveries) — Aside from being the coolest dinosaur name ever, what does the recent find of Zuul, and other dinosaurs of 2016/2017 mean? A review of the latest finds, and how they inform the scientific world and the public. [With Tom Holtz]

    Another fun presentation from Professor Tom Holtz, this time on the various dinosaur-related discoveries of the past year. Including one dinosaur that was named after Zuul, the demon from the original Ghostbusters move. It was also interesting because it gave you a view into the back and forth nature of scientific research, as recent discoveries bring into question some aspects of the currently accepted taxonomy of dinosaurs. Very much worth staying late for (the talk ended at 10:15 PM, and then I drove back home).

More than other conventions, Chessiecon has a prominent filking (folk music and mixes of other types of music) track. That’s not really my thing, but I’ll confess that Kiva pulled me in with some excellent music. It was a small convention, with some pretty good content, but not a lot of it.

The event was noticeably smaller than last year, and almost overwhelmingly gray in terms of age. I honestly think they need to try to do more to appeal to other age groups, at least if they want the convention to continue being viable.

I was also surprised that there was no day rate for Saturday—I got charged the full convention rate for just that single day, which is unusual. Even more annoying, though, was that the writing workshops were only available for advanced sign-ups. Since I got charged the full rate, but still couldn’t attend the one writing workshop I was interested in, I can’t help but feel slightly cheated.

Still, despite that one annoyance, overall, I had a good time.

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Fran Wilde at WSFA

The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran WildeFran Wilde, the author of the acclaimed novel Updraft and its upcoming sequel, Cloudbound, visited the regular “First Friday” meeting of the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA) on August 5th. She came down from Philadelphia to talk to the group, of which I’m a member, and to read from her new novella, The Jewel and Her Lapidary, which was just published by Tor.

She spoke for a while about herself, her background and what it was like to be a relatively newly published author. She mentioned that some of her inspiration for “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” came from her own experiences working in a jewelry shop, although she confided that she didn’t get to work with dangerous, magical jewels like the ones in her story. She was friendly and engaging, welcomed questions from the audience and even had a few giveaways.

All in all, a fun time.

Her new novella is about two young women, one the last surviving member of the ruling family of a valley defended by magical jewels and the other magically bound to obey her. Toss in a heartless betrayal and a ruthless invasion, and you have all of the elements of an engaging story.

By the way, Fran Wilde took the following picture of the whole WSFA crew. That’s me in the front row…

Fran Wilde Reading at WSFA  Photo Credit: Fran Wilde

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Torment Inflicted at Capclave 2015

This is me looking on as the attendees of my workshop, “Creating an Adaptive Setting,” work diligently on Exercise 3 of the workshop, October 10th at Capclave 2015. It’s always fun watching a group of people learning new skills and stretching writing muscles they didn’t even know that they had. It’s even more fun when you know that this is only the first hour of the two-hour workshop and there’s a serious left hook at the end that’s going to blow their minds.

Watching the Workshop Attendees

Photography: Martin Wilsey, author and workshop attendee.

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