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The Millennium Philcon

The Millennium Philcon, the 59th World Science Fiction Convention, was held from August 30 to September 31, 2001, in the Pennsylvania Convention Center and the Philedelphia Marriott in Philedelphia, Pennsylvania. We arrived around noon local time, in a car crampacked with books to be signed, party supplies and personal possessions. Navigating the narrow streets of downtown Philedelphia was not precisely an easy chore, but we managed it and arrived at the hotel without any untoward incidents.

Once we got the car unloaded and off to valet parking (with me hollering plenty of instructions about which boxes were fragile, in a voice and manner that could match Londo Molliari), we discovered that getting our hotel room was going to be a little more interesting than we'd anticipated. Since we were hosting the Sime~Gen party, we were supposed to be on a party floor. However, someone had apparently negelected to get that bit of information on our reservation, so we had been assigned to a quiet floor. After a little discussion we were able to get assigned to a party floor, but the fun wasn't over yet. When we arrived there with two carts full of baggage in two, we discovered that we had been given a room with a single kingsize bed. Since we were going to be sharing the room with a number of people, we needed a room with two double beds. Fortunately, the bellman then called down to the front desk and got things changed. Off we went to the proper room, and the bellman was amply rewarded with a large tip.

Once we got our possessions settled in and our room keys changed to match our new room, it was time to visit con registration. Fortunately this went pretty quickly, since the really big lines hadn't accumulated yet. It was just a matter of showing our last progress report and an official photo ID and getting our badges and con books (both the big souvenier book with the fancy cover and the small pocket program). Then we got ourselves marked in on the voodoo message board so that our roommates would be able to find us.

Then it was time to get my art onto the art show. Fortunately this year's art show was much better organized than last year's, and all that went without any major difficulties. We did catch one small error where the prices on the bid sheets didn't match the prices on the control sheet, but that was corrected quickly and easily. While I was there, I also met an English artist who does pyrography (wood-burning) art on hardwoods. Her work is intensely detailed and almost looks painted.

By that time, I'd missed one of the panels I wanted to attend, but I did manage to squeeze in two later ones. The first was "Mobile Infantry and Space Fighters: What Makes good Military SF" with David Gerrold, John G. Hemry, David Sherman and S. M. Stirling. That one was so crowded that I couldn't even get a seat at first. Even when I did, it was so far back that I couldn't see the panelists, just hear their voices. However, they did have some really good thoughts on the problems of writing military sf, including the problem of power. The more power your characters have, the harder it is to create a story in which they have to really struggle and make hard decisions. Furthermore, the higher-ranking your character as an individual gets in his or her given society, the less latitude you have for that character to have interesting adventures. While a private or a corporal can be out on the sharp end doing deeds of derring-do, a colonel or general is likely to be sitting back at HQ attending meetings and doing paperwork. That said, several of the panelists also noted that one can have interesting stories if one switches from physicial fighting to the more subtle infighting of political intrigue.

The second panel I attended on Friday was "From Torturing Villains to Screaming Queens: How Does SF/F Treat G/L/B/T Characters" with Thomis Atkinson, Lisa DuMond, Steve Pagel, Don Sakers and Delia Sherman. There was a lot of discussion of stereotypes, which went beyond simply identifying problematic stereotypes to talk about how people respond to and are shaped by the stereotypes prevalent in their culture. Some people may conform to a stereotype because it is expected of them, while others may play upon the stereotype consciously to manipulate the perceptions of others. There was some favorable mention of series such as the Pern books who have gay and lesbian characters who are just part of the background. Another person commented upon the complaints that the Baron Harkonnen in Dune represents a negative stereotype of gays as villains. This person's point was that Baron Harkonnen is not gay, he is a pedophile -- he gets his kicks from using his power to ravish innocent children, and since boys have more power in his society, he scores a greater coup by ravishing a boy than a girl.

At the end of this panel, the Spectrum Award winners were announced:

After that panel we went to the Toast the Toastmaster event and got some good cake. We missed the Meet and Greet because it had been relocated to the Overlook Cafe, so we went out to the Irish Pub for supper. We were a little disappointed when we discovered the change later that evening.

When we returned, we went around to the various parties. We also distributed party fliers for the Sime~Gen party on the flier boards that had been placed on each of the party floors. The Boston in 2004 party had shrimp among the various treats and dainties available in their rooms. Charlotte in 2004 had barbeque and various southern fruit punches. After we'd made the rounds of the parties, we turned in for the night.

Friday started bright and early as we went down to the convention center to get our votes in for the 2004 Worldcon. Then I went down to what I thought was going to be a panel between J. Gregory Keyes and James Morrow on "Ben Franklin: The Light of Reason and the Light of Alchemy." When I got there, James Morrow was reading from a book and J. Gregory Keyes was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, I decided to go back upstairs and take a look at the art show. I made the happy discovery that two of my pieces already had bids, and one of them alone (the bookstand) was enough to pay for my space fee.

At 11 I went over to the dealers' room to help get all our books by Robert Silverberg signed. Since there was a three book limit for each pass through the line, having the extra warm body helped. However, we only got through a couple of times before it was getting close to time for the Kaffeeklatch with Tor editor Claire Eddy, and I did not want to be late. So I had to hurry off for that, with a number of books still unsigned.

The Kaffeeklatch went quite well, and Claire Eddy talked about how Tor is changing now that it has been bought out by McMillan, which was subsequently bought out by German megacorp Hartzpring. Fortunately, both of these parent companies have been quite good about leaving existing executives and editors in place, so it has not made too much of a change in the day-to-day functioning of Tor. She also talked about the bestseller or bust problem and how Tor is trying to work around it and develop new authors instead of throwing them out on the racks to die.

After the Kaffeeklatch I was so wrung out that I had to head up to the con suite to replentish my resources. Fortunately it was fairly well-stocked at the time, and I was able to get some fruit in addition to the usual munchies and cheeses. I had intended to attend another panel immediately afterward, but I ended up spending the entire hour in the con suite, eating and chatting. (One of the downsides of the programming was the miniscule passing period between panels, which didn't leave any time for doing anything, even essential bodily functions).

At 2 I finally had some spare time to look around the art show and the dealers' room. I made a fairly good circle around the dealers room and identified all the book dealers. At 3PM I went over to get in line for S.M. Stirling's autographing session, but couldn't find which line was his, since he hadn't shown up yet and no one had put out his name sign to indicate where we should form up. By the time someone finally said which line was his, several people were already in it, and of course my time standing around trying to find it didn't count for anything. So then we stood around and waited for him. He finally came scurrying in almost fifteen minutes late, but he did sign our books.

At 4PM I went to the Kaffeeklatch with George H. Scithers, senior editor of Weird Tales. We talked about a lot of interesting stuff, including how to choose names for one's characters, patterns of language, and the history of invention. There wasn't that much specific discussion about his likes and dislikes as an editor, but you soon pick up the idea that he wants stories set in well-thought-out worlds.

At 5PM I went to "Sailing the Sea of Stars: The Interrelations Between SF and Naval Fiction" with John G. Hemry, Tom Purdom, Susan Shwartz and Tom Veal. They talked about the parallels and differences between sea and space travel, particularly the isolation that was the lot of the sailing ship and probably will be for the interstellar spaceship. They also noted how combat in space will be different from anything we've encountered before, and that all earthly analogs will prove inadequate at some level.

After that it was time to head up to the room and get set up for the Sime~Gen party. That turned out to be a great success. The room was packed well into the evening, with plenty of opportunities to introduce new readers to the S~G universe. Jean Lorrah read a fascinating exerpt from her latest S~G novel, To Kiss or to Kill. This is finished and is currently looking for a publisher. (We subsequently learned that Jacqueline Lichtenberg opened negotiations at Worldcon that may lead to the reissue of the existing eight books and the publication of new ones, including this one).

Saturday started with another look through the art show, where I discovered that even more of my pieces had sold. At 11 I went to Sean McMullen's seminar on writing action scenes. Sean McMullen is a historian, martial artist and SCA member, and as such well qualified to give such a presentation. He noted that much of fiction, and particularly of visual entertainment, produces a distorted idea of medieval combat, and that as such they are very poor sources for one's research. Heroic death often creates a dramatic effect that makes a character, or a historical figure, more memorable -- the greatest fighting ace of all time wasn't Baron von Richthofen, but a WWII Luftwaffe pilot who survived the war and lived to a ripe old age. Even contemporary sources are not always impeccable -- many of the medieval sources were written by monks who didn't fight and who filled their accounts with ridiculous inaccuracies for effect. He then went on to discuss some of the little-known realities of medieval miltary history, including the re-development of infantry teamwork around gunnery and how this reshaped the role of the knight.

At noon I went back to the dealers' room to get autographs from Debra Doyle and Jim Macdonald on their Mageworlds books. I also got a book from our stock signed by Tamora Pierce. While I was in that line, I talked to a girl who's a big Harry Potter fan.

At 1PM I went to the Alternate History Challenge with Orson Scott Card, Joe Siclari, Edie Stern, S.M. Stirling, Harry Turtledove, Andrew Wheeler and Rick Wilber. Things started rather slowly, and S.M. Stirling didn't show up for nearly fifteen minutes, having been delayed by lunch with an editor and a possible book deal. One of the panelists made the comment that we're in a low-probability universe -- President Reagan should have followed the pattern of previous Presidents elected in years ending in zero and have died in Hinkley's assassination attempts. When Reagan survived, it flipped us into a low-probability universe, which explains the improbable events of 1989. However, the real meat of the panel was having the panelists come up with alternate timelines that would result in a given unusual event happening. These got pretty interesting, including a future with virgin sacrifices under the Eiffel Tower and another with an Amerind nation putting a man on the moon in 1947.

After that I had free time until 3PM, so I went down to the dealers' room and did some more looking around. At 3PM I went to "The Next Step: What Happens After Breaking into Print?" with Michael A. Burstein, Cory Doctorow, Nalo Hopkinson, Ellen Klages and Shane Tourtellotte. There was a lot of discussion about the various mileposts that one sets for oneself after that first professional sale, and how this may help or hinder one's long-term career. One of the biggest problems can be winning a major award early in one's career, which can lead to freezing because of the expectations this creates. Nalo Hopkinson also discussed the use of various kinds of grants and other funding to buy writing time.

At 4PM I went to "Writing on the Web: the Internet as Resource and Tool" with Ceclilla Dart-Thornton, Ellen Key Harris-Braun, James D. Macdonald and Diane Turnshek. They pointed out that while some online writers' workshops are good, others can become traps, and that online publication is really good only for something that has no legitimate print market. They did note that there are four major ways for a writer to use the Internet: for research, for workshopping, for market information, and for finding a supportive writing community.

At 5PM I went to "The Business End of Writing: with A.C. Crispin, Lucienne Diver,Christy Hardin Smith and Joshua Bilmes. They discussed the importance of keeping all of one's recepts and maintaining them in some kind of an order, and having a log of submissions and responses from editors. They also discussed the importance of having one's literary estate in order and having a will. Many writers have made major headaches for their heirs by not wanting to deal with the fact of their own mortality. On a more day-to-day level, they also discussed how to get along with one's agent and how to handle taxes.

After that we headed back up to our room to have leftover pizza for supper. Then we went down to the hot tub and soaked out some of the aches and pains of the convention.

Then it was time for the parties. At her Kaffeeklatch Claire Eddy had extended an invitation to the Tor party, so I made a point of going. That was absolutely crampacked, but there were lots of interesting people there and I had a great time. After that we went up to a few of the other parties, but it was getting pretty late and there wasn't much spare time before we needed to turn in for the night. Just as we were going to bed, we got the word that Boston had won the bid for the 2004 Worldcon. This was a disappointment for us, since it was a lot less likely that we'd be attending if it went to Boston than to Charlotte.

Sunday started bright and early with "Structuring of YA/Children's Fiction" at 10AM with Terry Bisson, N. Taylor Blanchard, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Wendie Old and Josepha Sherman. That got to be a very lively discussion, with various panelists arguing for and against the need for strict adherence to a particular set of structural requirements, including the presence of a happy ending. There was a lot of discussion about the difference between children and adults, particularly as related to life experience, and how issues of child psychology affected one's construction of stories.

At 11AM I went to "Size Matters: Writing Novels, Writing Short Stories" with Sheila Finch, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress and Connie Willis. They were playing games with their name signs, switching them off to confuse everyone who wasn't already familiar with them, so it was a little confusing to follow. They did talk a little about the differences between the two forms, but ended up talking more about their own personal methods of writing, and really didn't get to the questions that I was hoping to get answered.

At noon I went to "Characterization for Writing Children's/YA Fiction" with Roger MacBride Allen, Ef Deal, Jean Lorrah, Tamora Pierce and Pat York. They talked about the range of character types appropriate for children's and YA fiction, and how one must know whether it is the parent or the child who is actually selecting and buying the book. They talked about violence and how kids like it because it's a simple way to "solve" the problem, but that crises really bring out the best and worst in one's characters, and aren't just there for splatter. Also, YA fiction allows more room for characters to make dumb mistakes, so long as they learn from their mistakes and don't keep making the same mistakes over again.

At 1PM I attended "Editing A Professional SF Magazine: The Editors Speak" with Gardner Dozois, Shawna McCarthy, Charles Ryan, Stanley Schmidt and Gordon Van Gelder. They started by joking about how they were going to reveal the Big Secret of writing, and then pointed out that it's a lot harder than it looks and that gimmicks just won't work. They also warned against anything that's obviously borrowed from Star Trek or other media science fiction, or some of the old worn-out cliche's like the Adam and Eve story, the "it's only a dream" story and the one in which the mysterious journey turns out to be a baby being born.

At 2PM it was time for "Wooden Ships and Zoology: The World of Patrick O'Brian" with Delia Sherman, Wendy Snow-Lang (who came dressed up as her Royal Navy persona), S. M. Stirling, Walter Jon Williams and Sarah Zettel. They talked about how O'Brian's works are a meditation upon the nature of honor, and how so many of them set up conflicts between different kinds of honor, a technique that provides a keen look into the worldview of the culture. They also noted that the role of Stephen Maturin as ship's physician, and thus his priveleged relationship with Jack Aubrey as the one man with whom the captain can talk frankly, and how this distinguishes the Aubrey-Maturin books from C.S. Forrester's Hornblower books, in which Hornblower is utterly alone and has no one to turn to. At the same time, O'Brian drew much of the character of Jack Aubrey from the historical Lord Cochrane.

At 3PM I went to "Editing: The Book Editors' Perspectives" wtih Ginjer Buchanan, Claire Eddy, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Steve Saffel and Anne Sowards. They talked about how book editing is much looser and more variable than magazine editing. While a magazine appears regularly and things get pretty much automatic, book editing doesn't have the inflexible deadlines and one becomes much more of a jack of all trades. Most book editors do very little of their editing in the office, instead preferring to work at home in odd hours. Most book editors generally either stay in their positions forever or burn out quickly. They also discussed the problem of "orphaned" books, ones acquired by an editor who then leaves, and how their publishing houses go about matching those books with another editor. This can be particularly bad when the chosen editor is a mismatch for that particular book, and can make or break a writer's career.

After that I had some time to go up to the con suite and get some food. I also took a look around the dealers' room, since by that time the art show was closed.

At 5PM I went to "Why Harry Potter?" with Katherine Macdonald, Ruth Sanderson, SHelly Shapiro and Magi Shepley. They brought out a number of interesting points, including the deceptively simple plotting of the story, the combination of humorous and serious elements, and how every major character type can be found in it. Also, Harry's a good kid, but he's no goody-goody. He gets into fights and breaks rules and gets into trouble with teachers, sometimes even when he's doing something for a greater good. He's not perfect either, and he has to really sweat to get out of the jams he ends up in.

After that we attended the harvest ritual, an earth-centered spiritual event of thanking and community. While we were there we met up with a couple of friends, and after it was over we went out to Chinatown to eat supper at a Chinese restaurant. Unfortunately I wasn't able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked, since I was starting to come down with a cold and my sore throat made swallowing difficult.

Then we walked back to the Marriott and visited the parties. We made a special point of going to the Noreascon 4 party and getting some of their shrimp. We also went to Charlotte's party, which was now becoming a bid for a possible 2005 NASFiC (since the only active Worldcon bid for '05 is Glasgow's). We also picked up the flier with the Hugo award winners, and I was very happy to discover that _Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire_ had won in Best Novel. However, not everyone was nearly so delighted -- one person immediately made some rather sharp remarks about it being a second-rate fantasy that should never have beaten the good sf books it ran against.

Monday morning we gathered up our belongings to get out of our room. I also went down to the art show to get checked out and made the happy discovery that I'd sold two more pieces than I'd thought I had. In total I sold eight of my fourteen pieces and made over a hundred dollars in sales, which breaks all my previous high sales records. I felt really good about that.

Once we got checked out of the room and our stuff loaded in the car (and somehow it was just as crampacked even after we'd eaten a fair amount of the party supplies), we headed down to the dealers' room for one last look around. While we were at one dealer's table, we saw a white-haired older man in a tweed coat, sitting behind the table and signing books. Then I took a closer look at the books he was signing and realized that this was John Norman (Dr. John Lange), the notorious author of the Gor books. Now that close encounter felt rather odd, even if I never did speak to him and he didn't seem to even notice me.

Finally it was time to say our last good-byes and head out for the long drive back home, in a car that was still crammed full of stuff. Overall it was a good con, even if I did come down with a cold while I was there.


Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel

Permission is granted for reproduction in fanzines and other non-profit fannish publications.

For permission to quote or reprint in other venues, contact Leigh Kimmel

Last updated October 21, 2012.