(". . . Featuring ME!")
I drove west through sleet, rain, and fog — but no snow, which was a huge relief as I was in a car without snow tires — to Albany, which looks as if someone decided to drop the 1960s capital city of a large post-colonial nation into the middle of a standard-issue Rust Belt American industrial region.
Because of my programming schedule I decided to have a substantial lunch before starting. The convention hotel, the mostly harmless Albany Airport Best Western, is on the Wolf Road commercial strip in northwestern Albany, so I could pick from just about every restaurant chain in existence, alternating with big-box stores, office parks, and nail salons. Nevertheless I managed to find a real gem: Maharaja Indian Restaurant, where I had a spicy, delicious, and gratifyingly cheap buffet lunch including a couple of dishes I've never seen before. Heartily recommended.
Then the convention!
My first program event was a critiquing panel, part of the Albacon writing workshop series. We only had one submission, a nifty little ghost story which I expect to see in print some time soon. It's a good thing there only was one story, because between the need to have the author read it aloud, and then allow six of us to bloviate on how it might be improved (summary: a couple of minor tweaks, then send it in!) there wasn't much time left for anything else.
The second event was about "Lost SF Themes" — concepts in science fiction which have more or less fallen by the wayside, either because of new scientific knowledge, social shifts, or changes in literary fashion. Science fictioneers love to pat ourselves on the back for some of our forward-looking predictions, but there are some embarassing skeletons in our closet. Psionics is the best-known one, but there's also a certain amount of embarassed throat-clearing whenever anyone brings up concepts like eugenics.
Nowadays, of course, it's a sure-fire identifying marker for the Bad Guys in a story, but there was a time when eugenics was one of the scientifical science things which would bring about a better world. Doc Smith's Kimball Kinnison was the result of a long super-scientific breeding program by the all-wise and benevolent Arisians, and Heinlein's immortal Lazarus Long came out of a secretive Victorian-era project by the Howard Foundation. Even a post-World War II work like Frank Herbert's Dune featured a hero who is the end result of a breeding program, and it's presented as at least morally neutral.
I spent the rest of Friday evening doing some socializing, first at the Ice Cream Social and then at the Art Show Reception. Albacon's not a big convention, so I think I managed to at least nod and say hi to all the other attendees. The ratio of "pros" to "fans" is probably greater than 1:1, and it's a wonderful opportunity for aspiring writers to interact with more experienced professionals with no barriers at all.
Saturday I rose early and had an enormous breakfast at Denny's. I think it was called the Self-Loathing Special or something like that. It was enough to fuel me for the rest of the day, which was good as I didn't really have time in my schedule for meals.
In mid-morning I did a reading from my current work-in-progress. I had to read from my laptop screen because (as one can see here) I didn't notice before the convention started that I would be doing a reading at all. This was the first time anyone but myself has seen or heard anything from the new book, and I was relieved to see it went over well.
Next up was the extremely fun panel "We're Off to See L. Frank Baum." I almost feel as if I need to apologize to the other panelists, except for fellow Oz obsessive Ryk E. Spoor. With two big loud Oz fans on the panel, I'm afraid the others may have been drowned out by the Ryk & Jim Show. I would happily have gone on for another hour if we had been allowed to. (I did take the opportunity to introduce a new batch of Oz enthusiasts to my theories about Agent Diggs and the unfolding secrets of Project CYCLONE.)
The bulk of the afternoon was devoted to my 7th-Edition Call of Cthulhu adventure, "The Drowned City." Net result: one character insane AND gruesomely killed by a tentacled horror, so I think we can count it as a success.
I had just enough time to dash out to my car and drop off the game bag before hurrying over to my next panel, on the Most Influential Games of All Time. Turns out I need not have rushed — the instructions to the panelists had us in the wrong room, and the correct room was still in use as the Costume Contest awards were given out. Still, we managed to start only fifteen minutes late. That was an excellent panel, and not merely due to my expert moderating. The five panelists brought an interestingly diverse array of knowledge and opinions to the table. I know I learned some things about the history of certain game concepts and mechanics.
And then . . . I left. I would have enjoyed the chance to stay longer, but I knew that a two-hour drive over the Berkshires with a chance of sleet and icy roads made leaving early the wisest decision. I definitely had fun for the twenty-four conscious hours I spent at Albacon this year, and there's a good chance I'll be there next time. Any science fiction fans within driving range of Albany should go.