BayCon 2018 Con Report

Margaret and Colin at BayCon 2018

Photo by: David Price

Oh, where to begin…

This year was a wonderful one on so many levels. Thanks to a new assistive device called Grover–officially a LifeGlider–(I really need to introduce you all to him soon), I could participate more fully in BayCon beyond my duties as a panelist than I have in the last few years.

Everything I love about this science fiction convention was in full force from interesting panels, fun guests of honor, good hallway conversations, and more. I even got to a few of the parties, though not as many as I’d hoped, and visited the new brainchild of an author friend, the Imagination Fair. The art show had pieces ranging from delightful to amazing, and the dealers room was full of new (to me) authors and crafts that would have been at home in the art show as well. I came away from the con with a collection of bookmarks after talking to authors on panels and otherwise, but I’ll have to post about that separately.

I did not make it to any of the concerts or the open singing, but I did hear Margaret Davis playing her harp outside the dealer’s room, and I admired costumes in the hallways or on video clips of the Masquerade, which I also missed. While my days of taking part in the more physical offerings are done, I heard good things about the English country dancing, martial arts, and boffer program items from those needing a physical outlet.

This is a multi-focus science fiction convention with something for almost every aspect of fandom, and BayCon is making an effort to reach out to the next generation of fans as well as increasing the diversity through multi-generational and multi-cultural panelists. The topics address current fandom as much as traditional and looked at many ways fandom crosses with life. I shared several panels with one of the younger panelists, Linden Tarr. I was on a panel with her last year about Young Adult Literature that inspired one of my panel suggestions, so was delighted to see her on my list.

And on that note, here’s a rundown of my BayCon experience. I can’t speak to the con as a whole simply because it is very much a “Choose Your Own Adventure” style convention. While something for everyone is an impossible task, the staff does a good job of trying for that mark.

I went to the opening ceremonies to both see who was there and get a glimpse of the Guest of Honor (GoH) Tamora Pierce, an author I knew only through her books and with whom I would share two panels. Turnout was a little low due to an issue at registration which was delaying the badges, and a bit chaotic as the beginning of a con is wont to be, but already the community aspects of BayCon were apparent. The members in the audience had no problem talking to the “head table,” making jokes and suggestions rather than hunkering down and grumbling about the delay. This is one reason I love BayCon. Whether it’s your first dip into fandom or you’re third generation at this con, you are a part of what’s going on rather than an observer.

Oh, and Tamora Pierce? She was both fascinating and deliberately terrifying, leaving me no idea of how she would be on a panel except that, no matter what, it would not be boring. I tested out this theory in my first panel of the con, which had me moderating Amanda Coronado, Tamora Pierce, and my husband Colin Fisk, who filled in for a drop out. The panel looked at different definitions of a hero, exploring the philosophy as much as the reality. The involvement of the audience, the interesting directions we took the topic, and the lack of notes on my sheet indicate a successful panel.

I write questions for all panels I moderate to make sure we don’t run out of things to say, and use the sheet to jot down points or follow-up questions based on what people said. When a panel is lively and dynamic, however, the questions go unasked (or come up naturally as part of the conversation) and I give up trying to take notes because too much is happening too quickly (yes, I make a horrible meeting notes taker :)). I wish I had taken better notes, because my mind teases me with things I only half remember, but I was as caught up in the discussion as anyone.

To give a glimpse of the panel, we established the hero as the person who acts, who stands up, and who does so out of selflessness…and then talked a bit on the accidental or unintentional hero when we’d established intent as a marker at first. The sources of a “hero fix” ranged wildly from martial arts movies to Robin Hood to pioneer girls to Terry Pratchett to social justice and more, but things got really interesting as we approached the concept of responsibility. What happens after the big rescue? The theme moved from a fictional context into a real world direction as well. There were no pat or one-dimensional answers, with heroes making huge marks or having received little attention praised equally.

Needless to say, the test of our GoH proved quite satisfying. Tamora Pierce was both insightful and delightful.

There was some food and hallway conversations in there somewhere, then off to my husband’s panel Bad Bar Trivia. We got to see Jim Doty literally turning colors as he tried to come up with amusing answers that wouldn’t be inappropriate to the ears of the 14-year-old panelist, the previously mentioned Linden, whose mother was in the audience with me. All three of them, Eric Zuckerman making up the last of this trio, managed to answer the trivia questions from the audience with a mix of cultural references, potty humor, and excellent comedic timing. They played well off each other and the panel was a laugh. It even produced a couple of non-virtual memes that arose several times after that panel.

My husband and I tried to wander into a couple of the parties after that, but never got further than the corridor where conversations bloomed with old friends and new, making my day complete.

The next morning, I took a good look at the program book and was overwhelmed as always. In every hour, there were at least two, if not more, things I wanted to do. As usual, rather than scheduling myself into exhaustion, I focused on my panels, tried to keep a couple others in mind, and otherwise made decisions on the fly. This meant I missed out on quite a few things, but since that time vanished into wonderful conversations, a bit of successful puzzling in the game room while listening to people play a Buffy card game, and exploring the art show and Imagination Fair, I can’t really complain. I did notice there was a wide variety from panels on spec fic history to diversity to “how to”s for cosplay, and readings and interviews, and singing and and… Yes, I could have been happy with a year to absorb it all, or a potion to split me into multiple selves.

I dropped in on the Creature Design and Anatomy panel though I arrived a little late. It went more into a plausibility direction than a focus on how to make anatomy appear feasible, but was interesting in any case. The panelists themselves made for a character study of scientists willing to play or heavily grounded in this known reality. Afterwards, I got into a conversation with the Artist Guest of Honor, Margaret Organ-Kean, who was on the panel, about the discussion as we walked to our next events. I also admired her contributions to the art show, keeping in mind her description of how she created the visual representation of creatures who existed only within the pages of an author’s books.

I ended up with my older sister in the dealer’s room as we admired the lovely steampunk goggles, gadgets, and bags made by Flying Skwirl, talked digital art tools with the proprietors, and just enjoyed ourselves. Then we met a cover artist who did striking urban fantasy covers (again talking digital art tools for some reason).

At the next table, I learned you could find lovely Japanese dragon cloth at a market in Santa Clara after admiring a book cover. It’s not for me since I read on an eReader, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it found a good home. I also chatted with David Price at the photo booth, which is why I made a point of coming back to get my picture taken (though not in my one costume because Sunday was too busy). That’s what is above. I met a group of local authors, and talked community, technique, and the indie world before collecting their cards to check them out in eBook.

My next panel was in the evening on Saturday. I was a little worried it would re-trace the hero panel in that it looked at how to define a good book when heroes can be part of that.

I should have known better. While some themes reoccurred, the content varied nicely.

My panelists were Linden Tarr, Jennifer McGaffey, and Jim Doty (so, yes, a bit of the meme I mentioned earlier rose here). We explored the themes we found compelling. The panelists offered a broad range they were interested in. We all fell on the side of optimistic and positive fiction despite using examples from questing fantasy to dystopian futures.

One genre lacked a representative on the panel, but we were pretty consistent in expressing the absence of examples from horror came not from thinking those books lacked worth, but rather from the sheer terror of knowing many of them were too good at what they set out to do.

Again, we had lots of interaction from the audience, and suggestions of specific titles flew about even though the main points were to figure out what people were reading and why. I think Linden said it best when she stated her preference for books with “fun and feels,” a description true to any genre and definitely something for authors to keep in mind.

This night I actually made it to a party and the consuite. The Bear’s Picnic was flush with wonderful cookies and great conversation, so I stayed for a while, then ended up in the consuite chatting with a couple of people including Cliff Winnig and his charming daughters. I even remembered my favorite children’s picture book and offered it up (well, it took another day to remember the title). It’s Brother Billy Bronto’s Bygone Blues Band if you’re curious. The story re-imagines the fall of the dinosaurs as a ghost story of a band’s last road trip. Okay, that’s a horrible description, but the text is in beautiful, musical cadence, and it’s both fun to read and to hear. Besides…dinosaurs.

Sunday, I had three panels, two of which I was moderating and the third was moderated by Tamora Pierce.

To prepare, I started consuming coffee as soon as I woke up to keep my energy and focus, assisted by ease of access. By the time I reached my first panel, my hands were shaking enough to make getting my name card to stand up difficult, but I certainly didn’t lack for energy. The topic was the direction of modern science fiction and my panelists were Linden Tarr, Amanda Coronado, Peter Beagle, and Jim Doty.

Considering the panelists, I stated science fiction stood for the umbrella term in this context and off we went.

Good suggestions of specific books, movies/series, and graphic novels were offered, but we also explored various aspects of the topic. These included the impact of fiction on views of the future, the pressure of the almighty dollar over what makes it to the public eye, how the themes and even the root of dystopia has shifted from where it started, and where dystopia is moving toward. We looked at the influence of a broader cultural base as well as the state of the world, again with a lot of questions and discussion from the audience.

The room was one of the smaller ones, and we had people on the floor and standing, which made keeping up with all the questions a little difficult but definitely showed an interest in the topic. Again, I didn’t have to keep the discussion moving. It rarely stopped long enough to catch my breath, and I’ve only skimmed the top here. As much as I wanted to explore the last few comments more, I had to cut the discussion short and shoo people out the door because the next panel was coming in. Definitely glad for the coffee, but the exhilaration of seeing so many people interested in exploring impact and sculpting a better future was amazing.

My next panel was one I walked into with a bit of trepidation. It had been a while since I proposed these topics, and I feared the concept of “happily ever after” was too specific. I had eight questions to prompt the panelists, but each could be answered in a single sentence or even less.

In came Linden Tarr, Sandra Saidak, and J.S. Devivre.

The first thing they said was how they thought it a great topic and how they couldn’t wait to explore it. Wow.

Yes, the panel went beautifully. Again, a lot of participation from the audience and wonderful answers from the panelists. We explored the concept in many respects. Linden raised the foundation of hope (a reoccurring theme Linden Tarr and I share), and we all agree with that concept. Still, it provoked a discussion of the “good death” as a possible example. We looked at how a fictional happy ending is not happy for everyone much like in the real world, but that aspect is often overlooked. What circumstances/characteristics draw the line between redemption and justice for the antagonist got some discussion, as did the fairy tale roots of the concept, and much more. The Little Mermaid came up several times in terms of the many variations on the story that changed the meaning.

As you can see, my fears were blown out of the water. I used about half of my questions to get us started then let the panelists roll with it…and roll they did.

Which brings me to my final panel of the day: Female Heroes/Female Villains. To prepare, I skimmed the books I’d recently reviewed for examples and initially saw nothing on the villain’s side. Luckily, before the panel began, my brain clicked in and villains popped out of the woodwork. This was the only panel I was not moderating as Tamora Pierce had accepted the challenge, and Peter Beagle and Sheryl Hayes joined us.

The panel went in many directions, sometimes loosely tied to the topic, but still fascinating. The audience got a solid list of authors to explore as well as a glimpse at history through the eyes of female actors who were classified hero or villain depending on perspective. We looked at what elements make up a female hero, how a female villain can be different than a male villain, and once again, what it means to be a hero and what responsibilities that creates. This led to a neat side discussion on the hero becoming a villain when saving the day isn’t enough if they don’t also consider the needs post rescue or are failed administrators.

As you can see, any aspect of the topic, and several asides from the topic, made for a fun, complex discussion that kept the audience involved, asking questions, and scribbling down things to check out. I managed to jot down some names here, though the spellings are my best guess if you want to learn more: Lady Woo, Lola Montez, Elizabeth Bathory, and Ariana Franklin (historical author). The first three are historical figures (with some questions on hero or villain as there were with the English queens: Mary, Elizabeth I, and Victoria), and the last is a historical author both Tamora and Peter love. I raised Ghost Garages by Erin M. Hartshorn as an example of the more complicated modern hero and Katherine Arden’s Bear and the Nightingale for a historical, non-traditional perspective. I had others, and villains, too, but we simply ran out of time.

Oh, and I dearly wish I could remember what I said to provoke the reaction, but I “killed” Tamora at one point. She flopped face down on the table. I believe it was my comment about the only reason we think the machines will rise up and murder us is because we give them our motives, but that could be pure revisionist history. It does give a glimpse into the dramatic nature of Tamora as a panelist…and why she’s so fun. You should have seen her reaction when she realized Peter was talking about an author she loves.

That night, my husband and I wandered through a couple of parties, a wee bit hindered by Grover as he’s not built to wiggle into small spaces nor to vanish should I claim a seat. I did learn I can slide him in around me in a skinny chair, but the back wheels become a tripping hazard. Anyway, again, I saw old friends, met new ones, and had great discussions. Oh, and that was also the night of the three-hour walk down two halls because every three feet, it seemed, there was a new conversation to enjoy. It got to the point where I was the only one still standing…thanks to Grover. There just might have been a bit of the endless coffee still in my system :).

It was in the hallway where I received my annual “this is why I publish” encounter with Daryle, who discovered my Seeds Among the Stars series at BayCon a few years back and is eagerly awaiting Apprentice. I wasn’t happy to admit the edit is still going, but plan to use the thrill of a persistent fan to get it ready, I hope, in time for WorldCon.

Which brings us to Monday. I remember heading for a panel in the morning, but ending up in a hallway conversation. So, I didn’t quite make it there, but had fun regardless. You might have noticed hallway conversations are a big part of my con experience. BayCon is a thriving intellectual (and not in a stuck-up way) environment where people are happy to talk books, philosophy, personal challenges, and pretty much anything, something rare in “real life.”

My final panel was in the last hour, so I wasn’t surprised to have fewer people coming, especially since the one across the hall had a more amusing description. We ended up with more people than the panelists–barely–and so converted the panel into a circle discussion instead.

The topic was community versus individualism as reflected in literature, but with the format change, I moderated only loosely. We talked about the two elements in a fictional context, but also in a generational and cultural one. The changing perspectives as the dominant culture, especially in the US, is being joined with a better understanding of other narratives was explored as well as how people raised to global crises (economic and environmental for example) are looking more toward cooperative solutions than the lone hero come to save the day. Even modern “lone hero” narratives are rarely without a group with different skills.

We had a nice range of ages and cultural perspectives. I enjoyed the ensuing discussion. It was a good way to round up the weekend, and nice to see others are recognizing the narrative shifts I’m seeing. Besides, how can you not like a discussion that explored the differences between Lord of the Flies and The Maze Runner in terms of what the dominant culture is trying to teach about coming together in groups?

After that, we tried to catch those we wanted to thank and say goodbye to with moderate success, before we had to skedaddle off to another engagement.

I’m exhausted, but it’s the right kind of exhaustion filled with lovely memories, thought-provoking discussions, and good times with good friends. I came to fandom late, but it’s everything I enjoy about the college campus while being more welcoming.

In keeping with the theme running through many of my panels, BayCon is full of heroes working together to make something wonderful happen from the staffers responsible for the event, programming, and everything big to the volunteers who chip in wherever needed and everyone in between. This includes the membership whose ticket purchases make the convention possible, but more than that, whose interest and willingness to engage in conversations about fandom, fiction, and society gives me hope for the future.

Read well, write well, think well, and enjoy yourself… See you next year at BayCon.

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2 Responses to BayCon 2018 Con Report

  1. ebmcgaffey says:

    Thanks, Margaret, we’re very sorry to have missed it (and especially Tamora Pierce) this year. It sounds like it was even more fun than last year. Here’s to the future–and more BayCons.

    • Margaret McGaffey Fisk says:

      Hugs on the miss, but it happens. I see no reason not to expect a wonderful con next year as well :).

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