Last weekend I attended Capricon 34. This was my first time at this convention (although it was only my second convention overall) and my first time ever being on a panel. I wanted to share my experience with you all about what happens when someone who doesn’t usually attend conventions decides to break out of his comfort zone.
When Steven H. Silver asked if I would be interested in participating in Capricon, I admit I was at first skeptical. Why would anyone want to listen to me talk? Nevertheless, I liked the time travel theme of the convention and, since I am always on the lookout for new experiences, I said to myself “why the hell not” and submitted an application. I was eventually contacted with my schedule which would have me sitting on three different panels titled “Time Travel without Technology,” “Judging a Book by Page 119,” and “Time Travel and Alternate History in Media.”
That is around the time I started to get nervous. Seriously, what the hell was I going to talk about? What made me an expert about those topics on the same level as fellow panelists like Roland Green, Ken Hite, and Tadao Tomomatsu? Oh well, too late to back out now, although it did seem like the universe was trying to prevent me from attending. First, my work wouldn’t give the time off due (which meant I had to miss Thursday and most of Friday) and then some bad accidents on the expressway meant I arrived much later than I had planned. Still, I made it in time and was even able sit in on an excellent panel about researching the past featuring S. M. Stirling and Mary Robinette Kowal. After listening to a lot of amusing tales about the past I made my way to my first ever panel: Time Travel without Technology.
I don’t care what people told me after the fact, I felt that it was a disaster. Despite all the time travel I had consumed in my life, I could not for the life of me come up with examples of the event without technology. My fellow panelists were much better informed and were able to speak clearly to the audience without a microphone, unlike myself who kept speaking too softly for anyone to hear. Although people in the audience came up afterwards to chat and assured me I did a good job, I think I was way too nervous to be an effective panelist. I drove home that evening feeling down in the dumps, but I had made a commitment and I was not ready to back out now. I resolved to do better tomorrow.
The next day I attended the Phandemonium Book Club meeting where they were discussing one of my favorite novels, Dies the Fire. It was a blast. I got to meet my Internet friend Kier Salmon (she also runs the Stirling fan fiction site) and had an interesting discussion about the novel and surviving an apocalypse in general. I did have a stuttering fan boy moment when Stirling himself showed up, but otherwise, I have to say, it was a great experience and thus I went into my next panel, Judging a Book by Page 119, in high spirits.
Page 119 was certainly an improvement over my first foray as a panelist. Here is the gist of the panel: authors tend to hook you in the first 100 pages, but then tend to lose the audience after that. So what if the only thing you know about the book is a short passage of text at or around page 119? I and the other panelists read from a book around that point, but we did not say the name of the book or author. Afterwards the panelists and the audience said what they liked/ disliked from the passage and voted on whether or not they would read the rest. Then there was the big reveal and we gauged people’s reactions. It was fun and I think everybody left with some good book recommendations.
After attending a panel on trademark and intellectual property rights (so sue me, I’m an attorney and I thought it was interesting), I felt the universe try once more to strike me down. Sinus pressure, runny nose, sore throat…it was obvious I had a cold. Instead of trying to get an autograph from Stirling or watch Time Stranger, I was forced to take a short trip to a local Walgreens and sit in the hotel lobby for a half hour to catch my breath. Now high on cold medicine I checked out the Chicago SF Book Club where we had a rousing discussion about HG Wells’ The Time Machine and several other topics ranging from society’s fear of the future to where we would go if we could time travel. Finally, it was time for my last panel, Time Travel and Alternate History in Media.
Hollywood, if you are listening, cast Tadao Tomomatsu in more things. He is hilarious and he set the tone for the entire panel. This had to be the one I had the most fun with and since most of the other panelists were more experienced with time travel, I got to be the expert on alternate history. So many great examples and so much hope for the future of film and television. It was a great way to end my Capricon experience, although I wish my cold didn’t have to kick into overgear as soon as it was over.
All in all, I had a wonderful time at Capricon and I will probably do it again if I get the chance. I especially enjoyed my time with the book clubs, but I wish they met someplace closer to my home. Nevertheless, I had a lot fun, met a lot of interesting people and look forward to attending future conventions.