Note: Like jazz, gender and the word “literally,” genre fiction never submits to narrow definition, so fans of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, horror, Western and noir also get to nerd out.
With aficionados of so many styles coming together, it’s no surprise that Bubonicon attendance has grown tremendously in the last few years. Organizers expect as many as 850 attendees, who will hopefully have the sense to carpool. The planned events have kept up the pace too. This year’s extravaganza of activities might’ve been generated by the Heart of Gold, because it seems to touch every point in the universe at once.
The core of the con is author sessions, wherein authors willingly spend 55 minutes alone in a room with their fans. Some of the finest names in contemporary genre fiction fill the schedule of Bubonicon 46. Jane Lindskold, Livia Blackburne, Pati Nagle, S.M. Stirling, David Lee Summers and many more talents will be on hand to tell audiences what they’re working on, share their know-how, answer questions and accept kudos. (Don’t hold back on the kudos! Writing is, as co-founder Bob Vardeman puts it, “not ditch-digging work, but it is more difficult than most believe until they try it.”)
That old standard of fandom—autograph collection—is officially scheduled for Saturday at 5:20pm. All the con guests will be in the main convention room, pens at the ready. Bring your Ernest Cline, Connie Willis, Steven Gould and Ian Tregillis books and get ’em signed, up to three at a time before you head to the back of the line. If watching Stephen R. Donaldson scrawl in your battered copy of Lord Foul’s Bane completes you, do not miss this session.
On the other hand, fans more interested in pearls of wisdom than drops of ink will find that panels are where it’s at. Topics include YA dystopias, developments in military SF and the impact of pop culture on science fiction. Bubonicon 46 addresses its theme of sidekicks and minions in panel discussions regarding viewpoint characters, sidekick and minion mythos, clichés and comic relief.
If this begins to sound like Back to School is early this year, know that you can skip John Hemry’s talk about learning quantum physics from the Three Stooges in favor of a steampunk fan discussion with Cherie Priest. If you can’t decide between Hemry and Priest, you’re in good company, as the organizers couldn’t either. The two writers are co-Guests of Honor and take part in a variety of sessions (separately and together) throughout the weekend. Other top-billed guests are Toastmaster Steven Gould and Guest Artist Darla Hallmark, each of whom will be joining panels, leading sessions and workshops and sneaking off to peep the goodies in the Dealer’s Room whenever they can.
For the outgoing types, there is a costume contest so vast it requires a pre-contest instructional hour and a halftime show. In fact, Bubonicon is simply stuffed with things to do—probably enough to fill three volumes of the Encyclopedia Galactica, were it all described in detail. Rough calculations suggest it would take a minimum of five people to check out all the formal sessions. We don’t even have space to talk about the auctions, film screenings, Green Slime awards, tabletop gaming sessions, collaborative program book or the filking.*
Considering the extensive array of activities going on at Bubonicon 46, it almost beggars belief that the con used to be so small. Bob Vardeman, who began this event along with Roy Tackett, tells stories about organizing by snail mail and early years with fewer than two dozen attendees. One of his stories about cutting-edge technology at Bubonicon illustrates how far into the future we’ve come:
“Gordon Garb, a Silicon Valley tech guru and one of Bubonicon's longtime attendees (and often toastmaster) brought a suitcase to an early '80s convention. It contained an acoustic coupler and keyboard, and he fastened the RF converter to a TV set. Using the link, Gordon accessed the MIT computer so we could play Zork for hours and hours. For most of us, this was not only the first exposure to an online computer game but also the internet.”
Maybe someday you’ll be telling the young people about the time you went to Bubonicon and everyone was carrying the internet around in their pockets, on their phones, which were also cameras, and they’ll just roll their cybernetic eyes at you and go back to the 4D film playing in their heads-up display while chatting telepathically with their friends. In science fiction, it’s all possible.
* Don’t worry, filking isn’t dirty. It’s a jam session for sci-fi fans.