The Exploding Spaceship’s Geeky Travel Special Edition!

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In this column Your Humble Reviewers take a look at a couple of recent conventions, and a look forward to some coming up, focusing our attention on writing tracks and family activities near the convention site, which can be used to turn a weekend getaway into a longer vacation. Featured are some of the smaller conventions in the Southeast from Virginia to Louisiana which are family-friendly and offer tracks for aspiring writers.

Timegate: Centered mainly on the Doctor Who and Stargate television shows, this Memorial Day Weekend convention in Atlanta, Georgia boasts a strong writers’ track. The dealer room is well organized and not crowded and has a wide variety of merchandise, with a particularly heavy lean toward Doctor Who items, much to the detriment of our wallet. Other British shows are also strongly represented here.

The Doctor Who guests this year were Terrance Dicks, who wrote for the classic TV series from the late 1960s to the early 1980s, and Gareth David-Lloyd, of Torchwood fame. Writer guests of note were Lee Martindale, Lady Soliloque and Gillian Summers.

This year featured a special announcement by North Carolina author Lady Soliloque that her book Enoch the Traveler will be made into a TV series by a cable network. Filming will be in North Carolina in the Fall for broadcast in 2015. See review of the novel here.

Enoch Lady Soliloque

The cast announcement was made at the convention, to the shock of some familiar faces on the North Carolina and Georgia convention scenes: Dorian McGee and Matt and Abby Steninger, who will be playing the characters they voiced in the audio drama version of the novel. McGee will also be doing costume design.

Enoch Cast 02

Another established feature of this convention is the appearance of the Ken Spivey Band, a Time Lord Rock Band, who have several CDs out of Doctor Who-related filk. In fact, several of the CDs have been officially released at Timegate. Their Celtic rock mixed with Doctor Who-inspired lyrics are popular with the convention-goers and if you have never heard filk done live, this is one of the best choices on the convention scene. Their website is www.kenspivey.com

Nearby Geeky Family Activities: the Georgia Aquarium, the World of Coca-Cola, and Medieval Times.

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ConCarolinas: A general science fiction convention with an excellent writers’ track with a significant focus on novel writing via the Magical Words bloggers, takes place the first weekend in June in Charlotte, North Carolina. It also has a small science track and panels related to film, costuming, makeup, TV shows, art, and comics. The dealer room is well laid out, not crowded even with people in front of the tables, and offers a great variety of merchandise.

George R.R. Martin was the author guest of honor this year, and with David Weber also on the guest list, the fans came in in droves. There were mobs trying to get into the GRRM panels; lucky for Your Humble Reviewers, we were staying on the writing track.

Weekend tickets and Saturday-only tickets had sold out ahead of time; even so, there were still occasional issues with crowding. The convention plans to move to a bigger hotel in 2015, but it would have really come in handy this year; as it was, the con staff did a great job of sending the queues outside into a courtyard so everyone could still move about in the convention spaces.

There were some excellent panels on characters, romance, and sex. There was the Baen Traveling Show where we got to see things that are coming soon, as well hearing David Weber talk about the Honorverse for few minutes, including his newest book with Eric Flint, Cauldron of Ghosts (See review here: http://bullspec.com/2014/06/23/the-exploding-spaceship-reviews-enoch-the-traveler-cauldron-of-ghosts-morningside-fall-treasure-planet-sea-without-a-shore-a-case-of-spontaneous-combustion-and-peacemaker/) . He was also on an excellent military panel which was moderated by Janine Spendlove. If you haven’t been in the room with Janine running a panel, particularly when it is full of males, you’ve missed seeing how well this Marine officer can run things. Not only does she get the guys to participate, answer her questions, and behave in an orderly manner, but she gets them to talk about some interesting aspects of warfare because of the good questions she asks. She is a currently serving officer so this casts a new light onto the military panels, which are usually staffed by males who served during a previous conflict.

She also had a new book out called War of the Seasons, Book 3: The Hunter. Her publisher, Silence in the Library, was also advertising some new anthologies: Athena’s Daughters, the sequel Athena’s Daughters II, and a new volume called Heroes!

Some of the best writing panels of the weekend were staffed by writers and editors of the Magical Words blog. Our favorite was a two-day seminar called Live Action Slush, where audience members placed a page of their manuscript into a queue to be read aloud. The three authors not reading raised a hand when something in the manuscript would have made them toss it onto the rejected pile. This panel was so popular that, even when running against a GRRM panel, it was packed to where the door couldn’t be opened. The Magical Words panels could definitely use a larger space in the new hotel next year.

In 2015 the convention will move to the Embassy Suites Concord, and John Scalzi will be the Author Guest of Honor.

Nearby Geeky Family Activities: the Discovery Place, the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the SeaLife Charlotte-Concord Aquarium, the Speedpark, the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and various NASCAR team headquarters

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Con Kasterborous: A Doctor Who convention in Huntsville, Alabama taking place the last weekend of June.

2014 guests include Sylvester McCoy and Gareth David-Lloyd. This is a relatively new convention which has grown very quickly. It’s hard to not have interesting convention-goers and scientists in the audience when NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is down the road and the nearby university is known for its engineers.

The dealer room is good and many of the vendors are from local shops, so they take credit and debit cards. There are plenty of good restaurants in the area and at this year’s location there is a Barnes & Noble nearby. Even the chain bookstores in Huntsville are a treat because of the odd local demographic; the local authors/interest section regularly features science-oriented books, including some textbooks, NASA publications, and science fiction books. Plus, the science fiction section is very large because of the large number of people buying books.

The 2014 convention is June 28-29 at the Westin Bridge Street.

Nearby Geeky Family Activity: the US Space and Rocket Center.

See our previous review column here.

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Contraflow: A general science fiction convention in New Orleans held on the first weekend of October.

It has a strong writers’ track, a science track, as well as an excellent dealer’s room. The convention venue is out by the airport, so there are plenty of great places to eat without the parking and traffic headaches of the French Quarter. However, if you do want to go to the Quarter, getting there is not a long drive, assuming you don’t try to go during the Friday rush hour.

The 2013 convention featured Stephanie Osborne doing science and writing panels, Lee Martindale doing writing panels, and Doc Osborne doing balloon sculptures all weekend. There were also panels on gaming, TV and movies, art, and costumes. There was a gaming area with a few fan group tables including one with the Krewe du Who and the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, two fan groups for Doctor Who and Star Wars who do a science fiction Mardi Gras parade every year. Krewe du Who female cosplayers dressed up as their favorite Doctor and took over Audubon Park for a photo shoot, which resulted in a 2014 Femme Doctors calendar with part of its proceeds going to the Disaster Services of the South Louisiana Red Cross. The dealer room had all types of vendors, including a book table from the New Orleans Public Library.  There was even a painted pumpkin contest among different groups in the hotel, which resulted in some fabulous seasonal decorating in the common spaces.

contraflow pumpkin photo

The writing panels were informative and were relatively small, and thus were quite interactive. The convention is relatively small so there are plenty of opportunities to interact with the guests. One advantage of the October date is that you can actually go outside and enjoy the city without getting heat exhaustion.New Orleans not haunted photo

Nearby Geeky Family Activities: the French Market, Jackson Square, Café Du Monde, Audubon Zoo, and the New Orleans Aquarium

New Orleans haunted photo

The 2014 convention is scheduled for October 3-5 at the Hilton New Orleans Airport Hotel. The Author Guest of Honor is Greg Benford, Mark Van Name is Toastmaster, and Les Johnson of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the Science Guest.

In 2015, Contraflow will be the 53rd DeepSouthCon, and is scheduled for October 2-4. The Author Guest of Honor will be Robert Sawyer, and Toni Weisskopf, Publisher of Baen Books, will also be attending.

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Ring of Fire: Also known as ROFCon, this general science fiction convention is held in Virginia Beach, Virginia on the last weekend of February and covers games, comics, writing, anime, cosplay, art, music and film.  There is a major cosplay crowd at this convention so you can see people dressed as almost any character you can imagine. The photo opportunities are many and varied.

frozen cosplay photo rofcon

We attended writing panels with the primary draw for us being our writing mentor, Steve White. The hotel was quite crowded but the layout was done well, so panels that were similar had adjacent locations. They had the autographs being done at a table on the main walkway to writing panels, so the logistics of this were good. This is a new convention so there were some panels without many guests on them because the number of writers from a specific genre was small.

The hotel is very nice and they had parking restricted to those staying in the hotel, which made going out for dinner and returning later not quite so difficult. One problem at this non-smoking hotel: they do not restrict where smokers can congregate, so you are likely to have to run through a smoke cloud to get in the door. If a hotel is non-smoking then the front door area and the pool area should be also. Locations for smokers to go outside should be clearly marked and should have places to put cigarette butts. Also, such a large hotel needs many more luggage trolleys; finding one during the convention proved to be a Sisyphean task. We were more than an hour getting our car unloaded because there were no trolleys to be found and the elevators were crowded. The hotel was full, requiring many last minute attendees to stay elsewhere. The dealer room was good, but heavily anime-focused. It could use a bit more variety and more artisans/craftspeople.

Virginia Beach has many good places to eat and drink, which is a good thing because with the hotel being so full it was good to get out of there to eat, plus the wait at the hotel was long.

In general this convention was a good experience, but it could use a more restrictive membership policy for Saturday so the crowds are not so heavy. More effort should be put into the writing track to attract more authors so nobody has a panel to themselves. Interactive panels are nice, but when there is only one guest on the panel, how well it goes depends solely on the content of the audience since there are no other guests with whom to interact.

Nearby Geeky Family Activities: the Virginia Aquarium, Nauticus, the Old Cape Henry Lighthouse, historic Williamsburg, and Busch Gardens.


2 Comments on “The Exploding Spaceship’s Geeky Travel Special Edition!”

  1. hlmorris85 says:

    I was at ConCarolinas this year. It was my first con, and I found the crowds a little (ok, a lot) overwhelming, and I didn’t get into as many writing panels as I wanted because of the space issues and bad timing on my part. But they had a lot to offer, and I’m hoping that the new hotel next year will offer lots of bigger and better spaces.

  2. Pat F. says:

    Thanks for the reviews–there are all sorts of resources listing the various cons, but not many that tell us what we really need to know (strength of the panels, logistical issues, etc.). Would love to see more along this line. Cheers!


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