I attended my first ReaderCon this weekend. ReaderCon is a lovely Speculative Fiction convention in Massachusetts, this year held on the ground floor of its host hotel. The Marriott was under construction, which meant no bar, no Irish pub and fairly jammed hallways. However, the hundreds of visitors were remarkably polite and maybe the best crowd I've ever seen when it comes to not stopping two paces in front of a door. Other cons take note: it's not that hard to walk out of the flow of traffic before pausing to check your iPhone.
Being a newcomer, I missed the controversies about sexual harassment at previous ReaderCons. They seem to have confronted this ardently by implementing a clear policy on prohibited behavior and greenlighting at least a dozen panels that critiqued various angles on privilege. There were two consecutive panels on "Writing Others" (after the second, John De Lucca joked that the room was hosting panels like this all the way to dinner),"Egalitarian Character Trauma," "The Gender of Reading Shame," "Agency and Gender," "Sociolinguistics in SF/F," and many more. Such topics fascinate and always worry me, and so I attended three on my first day. Part was for the pleasure of hearing so many smart critical thinkers weigh in, like Anil Menon, Rose Lemberg and Daniel Jose Older. And part was to keep challenging my notions of inclusion and compassion.
But the highlights of conventions are usually face-to-face exchanges. It was good to meet Neil Clarke and thank him for running such a fine venue as Clarkesworld. I met Scott Lynch three separate times; he's the author of The Lies of Locke Lamora, one of my all-time favorite debut novels, and a very sweet man. He was alerted that he'd been signed to do a reading five minutes before it started, and ran in to call it off when he saw the people outside.
"Are you guys here for me...?" he asked with an adorable pity. In a minute he convinced himself to grab his laptop and improvise a reading for the seven people who'd waited it out. In an amazing event of spiritual dissonance, he then settled in to read about a thief tyrant breaking the spirits of orphans. Then he stayed late to take questions.
I attended two "kaffeeklatches," which is German for "a dozen of your fans sit around drinking with you." One was with the brilliant short story writer Ken Liu, who went frank and deep into his anxieties over copyright law and transition into longer works like novels. I am a huge sucker for earnest shop talk. I gained an entire additional level of respect for Liu in how much he was willing to reveal about his personal projects and even reading habits. Many of the best parts of panels across ReaderCon had writers and editors similarly letting you in on their internal lives regarding why a social issue scares them or excites them to type faster. I probably saw more people talking like that than at any other convention I've yet hit. And there's always more to be learned from hitting intimate readings and studying how authors present themselves.
The capper on my weekend was a special dinner with all of the Viable Paradise students and alums in the area. We assembled at a nearby Thai restaraunt, and I got my first chance to meet my roommate and chat about kaiju fiction. We walked in just late enough to miss all 24 seats at the table and ate in the adjacent corner next to the giant VP conversation, which still seems to funny to me. Two VP alums, Kate and Fran, sat with us and dropped some knowledge about pacing and getting the most out of the workshop. I'm going to strive to take Fran's advice to rise early and go for dawn walks on the pebble beach.
Especially for its cramped space, ReaderCon did a wonderful job of feeling open and having plenty of events available. It's a convention I'm marking to try to hit again next year. The only thing I'd change is not commuting into the hotel every day. By the lunch drive on Saturday, I averaged 400 feet of road every fifteen minutes.