Arisia trip report: Awesome fun at new location

The just-concluded Arisia science fiction convention in Boston provided its usual eclectic mix of events and panels, with several new improvements that made the experience better than ever. (Not an sf fan? Just skip this post.)

First was the hotel: After the past couple of years at a somewhat smaller hotel, this year (and, according to the program, the next two) the venue was the Westin Waterfront. This is much more of a "convention" hotel, with expansive public spaces for coffee and conversation (and the setups for grabbing a quick sandwich on all three floors were very handy). The Art Show and Dealers Room now had a full function space, and the only time I experienced elevator overcrowding was on checkout morning.

Sorry to lead with the space rather than the content, but it really made a huge difference.

The panels, as usual, were excellent, with what I inferred was a deliberate mix of seasoned experts, neo-folks, and fan voices on most of the literature and media sessions. Also new this year, the standard length was increased to 75 minutes with a 15-minute gap, which provided more breathing room as well as some time to navigate the new hotel's larger space.

They put me on all 8 panels that I indicated interest in, so I spent most of the weekend cramming and only got to a couple that I wasn't actually *on.*

Did two on Friday, a very thoughtful discussion of Heinlein's "Stranger in a Strange Land," with great audience interaction. I'm not sure we came up with any new perspectives, but we chewed it over and grokked it thoroughly. There was a late-night panel (one of those 11pm items that can go either way) on the Future of School, and it was great. The panelists brought a range of perspectives, from a home-schooling dad, an ELA teacher, and online course designer, and an educational psychologist. Probably the key insight that emerged from the discussion was seeing the formalization of "many kinds of minds" and social learning instruction as frontiers as much as educational technology. For an sf crowd, there was a pretty strong awareness of the limitations of just talking about tech.

Then at midnight, I had to go see the Tesseracte players do their shadowcast of "Rocky Horror." Every once in a while, it's fun to sit in the dark and yell stuff.

Saturday morning, I saw an excellent panel on science fiction and fantasy (sf/f) manga, and scribbled down a boatload of suggestions. Karen and Jack came up and we got him into the "Fast Track" kids programming (which was, as always outstanding) and I took in an early afternoon session on editor John W. Campbell's influence. Ian Randal Strock provided the "insider" perspective as someone who had worked at Analog (though after Campbell), and Catherynne Valente offered an ascerbic counterpoint.

Late afternoon, I was on a fascinating panel on sf/f as the modern myth, where we talked about everthing from Joseph Campbell to comics to Mythbusters, with two intertwining threads of folklore and fantasy and the roots of myth in our existential predicament (you can probably figure out which thread I kept tugging on...)

Saturday evening was an AWESOME panel on imaginary texts as critical and artistic tools. Catherynne Valente talked about her work, Valerie Grimm made linkages to interactive fiction, Adam Lipkin brought a deep publishing perspective, and Adam Nakama had the game angle. Yes, we talked about Borges, and the Necronomicon, and William Ashbless, and I even snuck in "The Courier's Tragedy." General consensus on the importance of creating the world of alternate possibility and making it real (sometimes to the point where the imaginary book ends up getting written.)

While I was doing the panel, Karen took Jack to his first Masquerade (fan-created-costume show and judging, for those unfamilar) and they got there early enough to snag first-row seats. They both had a blast, by all accounts, and Jack came back sporting a handful of origami demon claws.

Sunday morning, I took in an excellent panel on steam technology, proposed by fellow Aquidneck Islander James Hinsey, who provided deep practical experience from the Navy perspective, along with a couple of other engineers who brought fanatical expertise. I really love this kind of tech panel. Even though I don't write steampunk, I just dig the history of technology.

Spent the morning prepping for Language and Linguistics in Genre Fiction, and glad I did. What an amazing group: Lauren Burka, Tananarive Due, Greer Gilman, and Sonya Taaffe. We covered everything from the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, the difficulties of translation, the absence of erotic registers in English, to the challenge of representing speech. Taaffee was lamenting the stereotyped sentence structure some writers fall into when attempting to capture the sound of someone who has not quite mastered English. "I can haz dialect?" I suggested, which made it into the conference Twitter stream and, I think, might just have led Taaffe to forgive me for mixing Akkadian and Sumerian in "The Ashbazu Effect."

I moderated a James Cameron retrospective, which had a strong group of panelists (Richard Ralston, Santiago Rivas, and Boston movie critic and all-night sci-fi movie maven Garen Daly).

The 5pm panel on Metropolis was another awesome group: Justin Graykin, Sonya Taaffe, Eric Van, and Frank Wu. The first hand from the audience wasn't a question, but the observation that we all were completely lit up just talking about the new restoration. And, I'll admit, yeah, we were. We yammered about how totally jaw-droppingly spectacular it was for the full 75 minutes. If you haven't seen it, go, do. The movie makes *sense* now.

I stopped by Fast Track to watch an apocalyptically huge Nerf gun battle, which I suspect Jack might have enjoyed just a little bit.

The late-night panel on Sunday, SF as the Literature of Things, would have been a fascinating discussion, but with no one in in the audience, we decided it didn't even meet the criterion for adjourning to the bar.

This morning, I caught one final panel on forgotten favorites of sf literature, which reminded me to go back and re-read Keith Laumer, Cordwainer Smith, and Lord Dunsany. On the panel were two smart sf types who call Rhode Island home: Vikki Ciaffone and Peter Maranci, and we traded used bookstore recommendations.

Bottom line: They kept all the good stuff about the con, and added more elbow room and more relaxed scheduling. Massive win.