Boskone 40: A Convention Report

Boskone 40 was February 14-16, 2003, at the Sheraton Boston. The most notable thing about the location, besides not being Framingham, was that it was connected to the Prudential Mall. One thus had several good eating options without having to venture outside, which was greatly appreciated on a weekend when the highest temperature was about 15 degrees Fahrenheit. (The second most notable thing was the leak that developed in one of the rooms, forcing a couple of panels to be rescheduled in a very large echoing ballroom with no microphones.)

[ If you're interested in official descriptions of the program items I mention, the schedule is at ]

Chad and I arrived Friday night around 9:30, too late for the panel on anticipating the movie The Return of the King even if we hadn't promised Mary Kay Kare to bring a boombox for the rasseff party. The party was great fun, full of excellent conversation and good food (even if the boombox didn't get used). We stumbled off to bed somewhere around two-ish.

I got a very slow start Saturday morning, in part because I needed to make a phone call for work that took approximately forever. I would have liked to hear the panel on adults invading kidlit, but I'd already missed half of it and needed breakfast. So I browsed the dealer room for a bit and then headed for the "Did Tolkien Harm Fantasy?" panel. I dislike listening to people who insist on personalizing intellectual disagreements, which is how I perceived David Brin's interactions with the panel and the audience. So I left. Perhaps it was rude, but my supply of patience was at its low end anyway, and I was there to enjoy myself.

The presentation on the Big Dig ("Civil Engineering on a Cosmic Scale") was unfortunately cancelled. It did free me up to go to Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden's "25 Minutes of Bad Advice" on books and publishing, which was just as entertaining as I was led to expect by things like Teresa's weblog post on cover letters. (And it was packed, too. If something similar is done next year, a bigger room is definitely called for.)

After a foray into the mall food court for lunch and a browse through the dealer's room, I headed for a panel on "The Two Sides of Gollum." This turned out to be fabulous. Jo Walton rather stopped the show when she introduced herself, at the beginning, as someone who strongly identified with Gollum when she was 13, and the interesting discussion just went on from there. There were a couple of comments that I found particularly striking. One of the panelists noted that since the Ring gave power according to the wearer's measure, and since one of Gollum's defining characteristics was secrets, then perhaps what the Ring gave him was secrecy—maybe explaining why, though Sauron was in Dol Goldur for decades and all those goblins were around, the Ring still didn't resurface until Bilbo came across it. (Also, since Bilbo thought of it simply as an invisibility ring, he didn't ask for power from it; this might be why he wore it so much with so little bad effect.) The most interesting comment was an alternate ending (WARNING: Spoilers for Return of the King): someone apparently asked Tolkien in a letter what might have happened if Sam had been kinder to Gollum. Tolkien responded that Gollum probably would have continued to be devoted to Frodo; he thought that Gollum wouldn't have been able to resist taking the Ring for himself at the Crack of Doom, but that Gollum would have then sacrificed himself by jumping, with the Ring, into the fire—thus satisfying, to some degree, both of the ruling passions of his life (my phrasing). I was very struck by this, because I think I would have found this a much more satisfying ending. (end of spoilers)

After that, I pulled up a chair at Tamora Pierce's "Kaffeeklatsch," essentially a small-group conversation. I hadn't signed up and intended to just eavesdrop, but ended up asking a few questions anyway. Pierce mentioned that she'd started writing the Alanna books, in which a girl disguises herself as a boy to train as a knight, because she wanted to read about women warriors. Because I'd just come from a panel with Jo Walton on it, I had her Sulien books on the brain; as her web page says, the world of those was created as a place where a woman could be a lord and a warrior and the narrator of the poem "Thirty Sword." So I asked Pierce why she'd chosen the disguised-female route to writing about women warriors. It struck me as just interesting ways of fulfilling the same goal, but it may have come off more critical than curious. At any rate, the answer was partly that she was more interested in writing the struggle, and partly that she was just fascinated with the women-in-disguise idea; she either is writing or may write a book (non-YA?) about a woman fighting in disguise in the Civil War.

My final Saturday panel was on myth and language in fantasy, in the aforementioned echoing ballroom with no microphones. I sat on the floor up front because I was tired of chairs, but I have no idea how well anyone else could hear. Jo Walton and Delia Sherman espoused exactly opposite approaches for presenting the mythic, which was amusing; I haven't read any of Sherman's works, so I can't say which works better for me. (Readers of Walton's Sulien-world novels may be interested to hear that all of the gods in those books speak in verse.) Towards the end, the panel moved into general advice for writing resonant language; as best I recall, panel members suggested you start by absorbing classic works like Shakespeare and the King James Bible. I don't recall if they said what you do after that. =>

Saturday night, Chad & I had our traditional dinner with area friends. Like approximately 3348 other people, we headed for Marché Mövenpick, which had the advantages of being casual, offering varied food, and being inside the mall; fortunately, we beat most of those people and had a nice leisurely meal. (And we got the next-to-last lobsters in the restaurant. Mmmmm, lobster.) We skipped Brin's Guest of Honor talk in favor of buying books at the mall Barnes & Noble, and then killed time until the 10:00 reading by James D. Macdonald.

Though the reading was not from the in-progress sequel to The Apocalypse Door (alas), it was still pretty entertaining. Macdonald read one short story, and Debra Doyle read another: you could tell they were children's stories because of all the blood. Macdonald was kind enough to tell me about the in-progress sequel; it's a deal-with-the-Devil story in which Peter Crossman finds himself having to enforce the deal, in order to prevent (you guessed it) The End of the World . . . I suspect Chad & I will have to do rock-paper-scissors for first reading rights when this one comes out.

We headed up to the Tor party after that, where I had much lovely conversation with lots of people, including Thomas Yan and Del Cotter (I'd met Thomas the night before, at the rasseff party, but that was the first time I'd met Del) and a guy whose name I never got because he wore his badge at waist level, on the side. The Tor party is always great fun, and this year was particularly good because the rooms were larger than those in the past few years, so the noise and heat dropped to reasonable levels fairly quickly. I stayed until I started turning into a pumpkin and enjoyed myself tremendously.

[ I suppose I have to mention the fandom semi-legend in the making: no, we weren't there when Jo Walton poured Coke on David Brin's head, but we heard much about it, and I was talking with Jo when he came back in (and kept talking with Jo when I realized that he'd come back in, until he left again . . . ). ]

On Sunday, I dragged myself out of bed in time for the 10:30 panel on J.D. Robb, which I thought I ought to go to since I'd read every one of her books. It's nice to be among the company of addicts. I did feel obligated to point out some of the less-admirable or enjoyable things about the books, just to get some discussion going (I truly am addicted to the books, but uncritical lovefests aren't that fun). I think I offended a woman sitting behind me, who asked, "Do you like these books?", which was not my intent, but oh well.

After that, I went to a panel on "War—Conan Style," just because I don't know anything about it and it's so common in fantasy. Unfortunately, by now I only remember two things about it: 1) there are some Renaissance (?) manuscripts that are just now being translated that are approximately equivalent to Cliff Notes for various weapons schools; 2) people will talk for a long time about the "lone knight in the wood" setup.

One of the people on that panel was from the Higgins Armory; he seemed pretty knowledgable and enthusiastic, and I had some time to kill before lunch with a friend, so I went to the Higgins swordfighting demonstration. That was excellent. They did four demonstrations: short swords and bucklers; daggers (I forget the specific type; point and no edge); long sword; and halberds (I believe; very long with small axe head). They'd do one demonstration at speed, walk through it explaining everything, and then do it again at speed. One of these days when going through Worcester we're going to have to stop at the Higgins Armory—I was quite impressed.

Then we headed off for lunch with more area friends. When we came back, we picked up our art auction winning, a really cool dragon made of transistors and wire and computer chips. Then we headed to the hotel lobby's bar; Teresa Nielsen Hayden & Jo Walton were having a "Literary Beer" there (I'm not at all sure how this was different from a "Kaffeeklatsch"), so a bunch of people we wanted to say goodbye to were there. People admired the dragon (many people would admire the dragon, since we didn't have a container to put it in; hey, it was a conversation piece on the subway), and of course we got sucked into several different conversations. My semi-accomplishment for the afternoon was inspiring a possible program item for next year's Boskone. Someone (I think it was TNH) mentioned Vernor Vinge, which caught my attention because the last name was pronounced with two syllables, not one, as I usually think of it. When I mention this, someone else (I think it was PNH) pointed out that there was a good idea for a short panel next time: how do you pronounce that name—Vinge, Bujold, Cherryh, Heinlein, Lethem, Brust, etc. etc. I think there should be a special sub-section on Tolkien: I keep hearing people pronounce it Toll-keen, but it insists on coming out of my mouth as Toll-kin. Perhaps it's an American thing?

Anyway, we finally tore ourselves away and headed out, well ahead of the large quantities of snow that were (correctly) forecast (we got about a foot and a half Monday night). I understand, from posts to rec.arts.sf.fandom, that quite a lot of people with Monday flights were stranded. Definitely a good thing that this didn't happen in Framingham . . .

We always enjoy Boskone, and it was a definite bonus this year to be back in Boston. We're looking forward to next year (and debating Worldcon as well . . . ).

Copyright March 8, 2003 by Kate Nepveu.

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