The Armadillocon 36 committee very kindly invited me to be a participant in this year's convention, so I accepted. My talented wife and I decided to make a weekend mini-vacation of it, and flew to Austin on Friday.
Austin surprised me. Last time I was there was in the early 1990s, when Austin was still a small, quaintly funky college town plus state capital. Now it's a big city, part of the titanic San Antonio-Austin megapolis.
It has also become something of a food mecca, with an impressive array of top-notch restaurants. Our brief visit only allowed us to sample a couple of Austin eateries, but they were both excellent. The South Congress Cafe has creative new dishes, leaning heavily on the state's agricultural bounty. Chuy's is an Austin institution, with classic Tex-Mex food.
We didn't manage to visit any of the famous regional barbecue places, although we did avail ourselves of the Salt Lick barbecue stand at the airport for takeout to have on the plane home. Next time . . .
On Saturday night we accompanied friends to one of Austin's quirkier events: the daily departure of the bats from their nesting place under the Congress Street bridge. About a million and a half bats take flight right at sunset, and apparently range all over eastern Texas during their nightly feeding. Several thousand humans gather on and around the bridge at the same time to watch them go, then hit the bars on Sixth Street.
Armadillocon is not a big convention, and is fairly tightly focused on written SF and fantasy, with a small but lively gaming component. There was no video room or costume contest, so the hotel guests attending a family reunion or a lacrosse camp didn't have to dodge Klingons in the elevators. The tone was very relaxed, and very friendly. There were none of the velvet-rope barriers between members and guests that some larger conventions have to put in place. The feel was much like that of conventions in the "old days" before 1980 or so.
For a smallish convention Armadillocon 36 boasted a very impressive dealer room, with booksellers and small presses from all over Texas in attendance. I spent a bit more than I should have, but not as much as I wanted to. The con members were obviously people of discerning taste, because they bought up all the copies of A Darkling Sea available.
As Texas is the home of the space program, the convention had a strong pool of space experts to draw on for the science panels. I learned a lot about the bleeding edge of space science, and collected several email addresses of people to question about science for future stories.
Overall, Armadillocon 36 was great fun. I had a wonderful time and look forward to a return visit.