Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Event - CapClave, October 9th - 11th, 2015

Our 2015 CapClave book haul
This past weekend, the redhead and I attended CapClave, the annual science fiction convention put on by the Washington Science Fiction Association that has the motto "Where reading is not extinct". Both the redhead and I are members of WSFA, so CapClave is essentially our "home" convention, and we look forward to attending every year. This is an account of my convention. Even in a relatively small convention like CapClave, it is impossible to cover everything about the event. There are usually three or four panels going on at once, as well as book launch parties, or other room parties, not to mention informal get-togethers at the hotel bar or nearby restaurants.

The convention focuses primarily on written science fiction, and the convention draws several authors, aspiring authors, editors, and publishers. This year's guests of honor were science fiction author Alastair Reynolds, and former editor and current publisher of Fantasy & Science Fiction Gordon van Gelder. In addition, this year had a ghost of honor in the form of the late, long-time fan Peggy Rae Sapienza.

Friday: Due to other commitments, the redhead and I didn't get to the convention until almost 5:00 PM, and we immediately headed to the registration desk where we first got our badges and then set about working as volunteers. Conventions like CapClave are run entirely on volunteer labor as dedicated fans donate their time, effort, and sometimes their money to make them happen. Our contributions thus far have been much more modest - a few hours of working at the registration desk checking people in and registering "at the door" attendees. But the size of the contribution is not as important as the fact that it is done. This is how most local science fiction conventions get put on. People show up, volunteer their time, and ask for nothing in return except a good convention.

While panels and organized events are important, a lot of the action at a convention like CapClave takes place in the informal spaces. Most of the authors and editors are there to interact with readers and with each other. Before I made it to a single panel on Friday evening, I ran into author Charles E. Gannon at the hotel bar and we ended up having an extended conversation about, among other things, our shared love of the writing of William Faulkner.

It was then time for the redhead and I to attend our first panel, titled "50 Years of Dune", which was moderated by Fran Wilde and featured Natalie Luhrs, Darrell Schweitzer, and C.S. MacCath. Fran proved to be a deft moderator, ensuring that the pace of the discussion moved quite quickly and giving each participant the opportunity to be heard. The only real problem was that it quickly became apparent that Dune, as a topic, is just too large to be adequately covered in a single hour of discussion. And that is without considering any of the subsequent novels in the series, or any of the film adaptations of the story, all of which were brought into the conversation at one point or another. Fran did finish off the hour with some amusing questions, including a "pun off" as she asked the panelists to use their favorite Dune related puns, prompting MacCath to pull out her Toto-inspired riff "I miss the rains down in Arakeen", and a couple of groaners from Schweitzer. Then Fran moved on to some rounds of "Love, Marry, Kill", matching up various characters and groups for the panelists to choose from for the game. Overall, this was an excellent panel full of interesting analysis and humor.

Lobbycon 2015 with Natalie Luhrs, C.S. MacCath, and Me.
Barely visible: Sunny Moraine, Bernie Mojzes, Fran Wilde
and Jean Marie Ward
From there we returned to the hotel bar for dinner and an ever increasing circle of conversation at "Lobbycon". Though we started with just the redhead, myself, and our friend Natalie Luhrs, the group progressively grew to include, among others, Fran Wilde, Sunny Moraine, Jean Marie Ward, Bernie Mojzes, A.C. Wise, and C.S. MacCath. Though the conversation was extensive and wide-ranging, covering a variety of topics (and sometimes no topic), this sticks out to me as the first time that someone recognized me based upon something I had written. When C.S. MacCath joined the group while we were talking about the WSFA Small Press Award nominees (of which she was one, for her story N Is for Nanomachine), and she remarked that she had read a piece where someone had claimed that the 2015 WSFA Small Press Award nominees were all better than every one of the short fiction nominees for the 2015 Hugo Awards. As she made the reference, she noticed my name badge and said "It was you! You wrote that!" I did write that, and I stand by that statement still. Plus, it is nice to know that at least someone is reading what I write. Though they aren't part of the programming, these sorts of gatherings are a large part of what is so special about small conventions like CapClave. Being able to sit around with a collection of brilliant creative people for a couple of hours is an experience that simply cannot be found in many places, and fan-run science fiction conventions are one of the few events where this is possible.

Saturday: The redhead's work schedule required her to leave me at the convention by myself for most of the day. After breakfast with Natalie Luhrs, I was faced with a surfeit of riches as there were panels on James Tiptree, Jr., Democracy IN SPACE! and the Survival of Short Form fiction. In the end, I went to the Tiptree Retrospective panel, as I love James Tiptree, Jr.'s writing. The panel was moderated by Scott Edelman and featured Jim Freund, Julia Rios, Sarah Pinsker, and David Hartwell. All five of them were clearly lovers of Tiptree's work, and provided great analysis of both her writing and the personal struggles she faced. As Hartwell worked as Tiptree's editor for a time and corresponded directly with her on several subjects, his contributions were especially insightful. One of the great things about conventions like this is the ability to participate in in-depth conversations about topics that are mostly only of interest to science fiction fans with a group of people who are as prepared to dive into it as extensively as you are. In day to day life, starting a conversation about an author like James Tiptree, Jr. will usually result in an empty look from the person you are talking to, but at a place like CapClave, it sparks an hour (or more) long discussion about her work and her life and how the two intertwined.

Later, I attended Tom Doyle's book launch party for his new novel The Left-Hand Way, which was also the book launch party for 1636: The Cardinal Virtues, Walter F. Hunt's collaboration with Eric Flint in the 1632 universe. I read The Left-Hand Way several months ago as an advance review copy, and I really liked it, and hope it does well for Doyle so that the third book in the series will be published sooner rather than later. I didn't get Hunt's 1632 universe book, but I did pick up a copy of his Victorian mesmerism novel Elements of Mind, which I hope to review in the reasonably near future. As far as I can tell, the party was a success, as everyone seemed to enjoy themselves quite a bit and Doyle even read an excerpt from the novel. I ended up sitting in the middle of a conversation between Charles E. Gannon, Lawrence M. Schoen, and Hildy Silverman, mostly about Gannon's new novel Raising Caine (which I hope to review soon) and Schoen's blog feature Eating Authors. Moments like this, when I can sit and be part of a stimulating discussion involving multiple Nebula Award nominees are why I go to conventions, and are also the moments that I would like to go back in time to tell 12-year-old me are in the future, because he wouldn't believe it.

I spent part of Saturday afternoon sitting in for Colleen Cahill at the WSFA silent auction which raises money for the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund. From there, I headed off to A panel on Non-Western Influences in Fantasy featuring Day al-Mohammed, Ann Chatham, Alex Svartsman, and Michael Swanwick. With the broadening of the fantasy field, stories that depart from the tried and true "vaguely Medieval pseudo-Europe" have become more common, and questions related to how to present such settings are looming larger in the field. The panel was quite interesting, with each author providing insightful commentary, although the working definition of "non-Western" fantasy used by some of the panelists and audience members seemed to me to include some things that I would have classified as being in the "Western" camp.

Beth Zipser, Jim Henley, Me, and Jon Zeigler
Any plans I had for the rest of the afternoon were derailed when I ran across the File 770 meetup in the hotel bar. Going in to the convention I had intended to attend this meetup, but had forgotten about it in the swirl of activity. Fortunately, Jim Henley recognized me as I was walking by and called me over. It is a curious feature of the modern world that so many of our friends are people who we have met only in electronic form, and while I had conversed with all three of the other "File 770ers" quite a bit in Mike Glyer's online forum, I had never met them in person. Going to CapClave fixed that, and we had a great time talking about books, the then impending WSFA Small Press Awards, File 770, books we were considering for Hugo nominations, Puppies, and other sundry topics. It was great to actually meet some other File 770 commenters in meatspace, and I hope that this becomes a regular event at future conventions.

Alastair Reynolds
As I noted before, CapClave is a convention focused on written genre fiction, and the centerpiece event of the weekend is Saturday night, when the mass author signing and presentation of the WSFA Small Press Award take place one right after the other. By the time these events rolled around, the redhead had returned from her exile to work, and my friend Dave, a first time attendee at CapClave, had also joined us. The mass author signing is a fantastic event, and it is exactly what it sounds like. The largest room at the convention is filled with authors ready to possibly sell some books, certainly sign some books, and spend some time talking with the people who love what they write. Almost all of the authors at the convention attend the mass author signing, and for a couple of hours CapClave essentially turns into a chaotic love-fest. I generally wait until the mass signing to start getting any books at the convention, as I prefer to get them directly from the authors, and this year was no exception. I picked up Chuck Gannon's novel Raising Caine, Alex Shvartsman's collection Explaining Cthulhu to Grandma, James Morrow's novel Galápagos Regained, C.S. MacCath's collection The Ruin of Beltany Ring, and the anthology A Is for Apocalypse. I got a second copy of Sarah Avery's novel Tales from Rugosa Coven, because I am sometimes absent-minded and forget that I already have a signed copy of a book. I was also able to spend some time talking with the authors Bud Sparhawk and Will McIntosh who, being short fiction writers, didn't have any books on hand for me to buy. I was also able to chat a bit with Gordon van Gelder, the publisher of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Neil Clarke, the editor and publisher of Clarkesworld.

Alex Shvartsman
Before long it was time for the awards portion of the evening, and everyone took to their seats for the presentation. The 2015 CapClave Chair Sam Lubell led things off by introducing a representative from the Baltimore Science Fiction Society to announce George R.R. Martin as their guest of honor for the upcoming 2016 Balticon, as well as to remind everyone that as it is the 50th Balticon, they have invited every guest of honor from the previous forty-nine Balticons to attend, and are currently raising money to allow them to be able to afford to bring them all to the event. The Baltimore Science Fiction Society also announced the winners of their Amateur Writing Competition, but I was exceptionally remiss and did not write down the name of the winner or the names of the individuals who placed second and third.

C.S. MacCath, Neil Clarke, Paul Haggarty,
Unknown, Bernie Mojzes, and Day al-Mohammed
Sam Lubell once again took the podium, this time to present gifts to the two guests of honor: A set of planet-themed drinking glasses for Gordon van Gelder and planet-themed plates for Alastair Reynolds. Sam also presented Roger Burns, CapClave's Programming Chair, with a gift to thank him for his work putting together the programming for the convention.

After Sam completed his presentations, 2014 WSFA Small Press Award winner Alex Shvartsman took over to present the 2015 Award. CapClave is a convention oriented towards written science fiction, with a special emphasis on short fiction, and that bent is reflected in the WSFA Small Press Award, which is given to a work of fiction shorter than 17,500 words published for the first time by a "small press" in the previous full calendar year. After reading off the list of nominees, Shvartsman announced Ursula Vernon's story Jackalope Wives as the winner of the award, to much happiness, as the story seems to be quite well-regarded even among Ms. Vernon's competitors. As Ms. Vernon was unable to attend, the Small Press Award committee chair Paul Haggarty accepted on her behalf and read a short statement from the author. Afterwards, all of the nominees in attendance and the designated representatives of those who could not attend lined up for pictures, closing out the ceremony.

The redhead and I had intended to go to the Eye of Argon reading after the WSFA Small Press Award ceremony. I have been to see a reading of this terrible and almost incomprehensible story before, but the redhead has not. However, for the second year in a row we got side-tracked into playing games with our friends Day al-Mohammed and her wife Renee. This time our friend Dave joined us, as did Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and a good time was had by all, so we didn't mind missing the reading too much, although from what I have been told (and the pictures I have seen of it), the reading was quite epic and even included some attempts to act out scenes from the story.

David Sklar, Hildy Silverman,
Shahid Mahmud, and Day al-Mohammed
Sunday: The last day of a convention is always sad, because, of course, the convention is about to end. On the other hand, it is also kind of a relief, because to be perfectly honest conventions can be kind of exhausting. Our first stop was a panel titled Separating the Author from the Work moderated by Day al-Mohammed and featuring Shahid Mahmud, David Sklar, and Hildy Silverman. As the panel had two publishers on it, the panel focused heavily on when one would publish a problematic author and when one would not, but it also touched on when and how a reader would support (or not support) an author who held distasteful views or who included problematic scenes in their writing. I was mildly surprised that Neil Clarke was not on this panel, as he has published a few stories from at least one author widely viewed as problematic, but on the whole the panel was quite interesting and relatively informative.

Our next to last stop of the convention was the dealer hall to round out our purchases after our book buying spree at the mass author signing on Saturday night. We picked up several books from Larry Smith, and a few of the volumes published by the WSFA Small Press. One of the books we acquired was Fran Wilde's Updraft, and since she was there, we got her to sign the book. I also picked up paper copies of the last twenty-one issues of Clarkesworld magazine from Neil Clarke at the Wyrm Publishing booth. I just wish the magazine would let people get a paper subscription, but that is probably economically unfeasible for them. After that there was time for a round of Star Realms with Day and Renee, and then the convention was over.

After the convention, I spoke with my mother on the phone. She had traveled to New York to visit my sister for the weekend, and she was somewhat perplexed that the redhead and I had gone to CapClave rather than New York ComicCon. While the redhead and I enjoy big conventions with tens of thousands of attendees every now and then - we have been to DragonCon once, and we go to GenCon every year - there is simply no substitute for the congenial and friendly atmosphere of the smaller fan run conventions like CapClave, Balticon, Chessiecon, and the hundreds of other small conventions that take place every year. The blunt truth is that the large professionally run media conventions like New York ComicCon are simply exhausting. New York ComicCon had about 170,000 attendees this year. CapClave had about 400. To attend almost any panel at New York ComicCon, you have to wait in line, often for hours. You might be able to see stars like Chris Evans, George Takei, or Carrie Fischer, but you'll likely see them from the back of an auditorium as they speak to a couple of thousand people. Or if you want a personal interaction you'll pay for the privilege, and you will likely only be able to interact with them for a minute or two. At CapClave, on the other hand, the panels are small and interactive. I have never had to spend any appreciable time waiting in line for anything. Most of the authors who attend are more than happy to sit down and talk with you, whether after a panel, sitting in the con suite, or simply while hanging out at the hotel bar. An event like New York ComicCon is a spectacle, while CapClave, by contrast, is a conversation. There is room for both in the genre fiction world, but as for myself, I prefer the conversation.

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  1. Thanks for the good words! I'm glad you liked the convention and thank you for helping out!

    1. @Sam: You did a great job chairing the convention. It was great. One of my goals for the upcoming year is to get more involved and volunteer to help out more with next year's CapClave.