Monday, June 25, 2007

ApolloCon 4 - a review

Photos are beginning to be posted at Flickr.

It was nice to run into Alexis Glynn Latner from Rice University and found she had the cover story in last year's summer double Analog issue. Their first cover featuring a unicorn from a hard SF story. Alexis participates in a group blog now - No Fear of the Future. She has a debut novel, Hurricane Moon, due out later this summer and is revising another.

There were a number of Rice doctorates at the Con which as always features a rich variety of fine programming due to the efforts of Kim Kofmel, a digression for her link to LOLcats and cheez pics. There were a lot of writers, NASA people, filkers and artists attending the Con. Also a lot of role playing gamers. A huge diversity of people by age and interest. Even the sex ratio seemed balanced which is way different from gaming conventions and even some SF cons.

There was mostly good news about gaming at ApolloCon this year. The good - there was much more of it. The not so good - the room became too crowded and noisy even with some games escaping into the lobby or programmed for a hotel room on another floor. The other new event was the gaming takeover by tabletop and live action role playing gamers. The gaming room was frequently six or seven tabletop RPG's and one miniatures or other game. I thought last year the decision was to expand beyond that room but it turns out there is no space to expand to except for hotel rooms or conference rooms on other floors. ApolloCon is using all of the hotel's main floor spaces. RPGers had a great time. There were some pickup games of card games, Liar's dice, a settlers of Catan game. Needed for next year are good boardgame and miniatures organizers who can attract fans. The tabletop RPGers were very happy. The LARPers were fairly happy - "Why didn't we have my favorite LARP?" "Volunteer to get someone to organize your favorite LARP event for next year." Games that didn't make - the large Pirate version of Liar's Dice where one person stopped by, and many if not most non-role playing games. Little of the scheduled games attracted me this year, I am more a board gamer unless I am in the right mood for role-playing or miniatures. A Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirl pickup card game was fun.

Parties. friendly socializing low key affairs. There were some organized tasting parties. The chocolate tasting party committed heresy - at the end you realized that some chocolate you thought was good actually tasted bad compared to truly excellent chocolate. Don't make me think some chocolate tastes bad! The FenCon party offered a special deal, and excellent programming with fantastic guests for their upcoming Con and friendly people at the party who seemed much like the ApolloCon organizers. I am very tempted to go but I need to see what my schedule and finances look like closer to September. The size seems ~ApolloCon + 50.

"CornerCon is the best Con Party, all other Con's and parties are pale imitations of CornerCon." Late Night LobbyCon was another interesting small party with fully clothed erotic posing.

The Con Suite had an excellent chocolate fountain Friday night, chocolate fountains don't normally taste as good. Excellent fresh fruit in the Con Suite. The free food at the Con Suite, donations requested, is an excellent bonus feature of SF Cons. This one met special advance requests of guests and was one of the finest. For example, there was an incredible variety of teas available both loose leaf and bagged due to a request. J-Mag & Johnathan Guthrie, assisted by Pat Van Houte and others, are deserving of special rewards.

Hotel service, excellent. The Hotel actually really likes the SF Con and is eager for its return. The only down side is the dining establishment with poor service, although much better than the previous years, and the limited hours of the coffee establishment. The hotel snack and gift shop stayed open very late because he was making money hand over fist. Next year should be the last at DoubleTree Houston Intercontinental Airport purely because ApolloCon is outgrowing it. Both cheap and good eats were near the Hotel and listed in the programming or mentioned in the Con newsletter.

ApolloCon was tops in organization - no complaints at all. Well labeled rooms and with an excellent book and program schedule which was followed. Excellent descriptions of nearby places. Minor exception for game room programming where a gap is needed for changeovers to the next game and variable length game blocks should be allocated. Some games take one hour or less, some run for six or more hours. Trying to fit them all into 4-hour blocks is wrong and may have cut down attendance at the short games.

Volunteers - confession, this is the first Con where I didn't volunteer but just had fun except for trying to get people interested in the Lying Pirate's Dice game. That was fun but did mean I was on the schedule. I did stay around Sunday to help with take down of the Artist's Den and stage and sound equipment. They had an excellent new system of trying to get everyone to be part of making it "our Con" with volunteer shifts as small as ten minutes and a chance at a prize for volunteering. Excellent job Kristie Belding & Hope Pineau - this may be the best volunteer organization of any Convention of any type.

Music and Art and Selling - Like the gaming room the Art room needs more space. I noticed high priced items seemed not to be attracting bids. There was song and music and dancing frequently scheduled for the con. That may be why there were not strolling musicians or dancers in the hallways much this year. Excellent vender's room, well laid out and they seemed to be making money. I picked up some herbs and drink flavorings and a free hand massage at one booth. I patronized some vendors and even didn't follow my policy of only buying books at a discount. I paid list price for four paperbacks where I could have received free shipping, no sales tax, and one book free at This was because I wouldn't had thought of buying two of the books except for the Con. I also picked up books and stories on CD to try out my phone as an Ipod for more than music. The Con t-shirt was easy to miss in the room because someone had folded it when I was there. I didn't notice as much costuming this year but was having a hard time seeing wearing my Pirate eye-patch. I wonder why pressure on one eye affects the other? There were some worthy winners in the masquerade.

GoH and other guests I hadn't mentioned the Guests of Honor. This is mostly because unlike the prior two years I was not a huge fan of the honorees. For C.S. Friedman I had read the beginning of the first book of a trilogy and returned it to a book group saying it was not my thing. Many other people are big fans of her stories. David Hartwell is an editor whose Best SF of the Year contains fewer of my favorite stories than Dozois's similar anthology. He is reportedly an excellent book editor. He has an unique fashion sense which is a big plus. What I saw of the other GoH's was favorable. I am always very impressed by the less well known guests that attend these conventions, Rosemary Clement-Moore, John Cramer, Alexis Glynn Latner, John Moore, Chris Roberson, Selena Rosen, Shanna Swendson, and Martha Wells stood out for me this year. Buy their excellent works, I am.

Panels - I made a mistake of not getting a hotel room which meant an over 45 minute drive back and forth each day. Blame pets and not finances this year. I also forgot to set alarms after getting home after 3 AM. Rush hour traffic also greatly delayed my Friday arrival. This all cut down on the panels and other programming I attended. Pat filled me in on some panels - 101 uses for a Paper Clip and Costuming with Duct Tape as well as more of the traditional. The hard science panels I attended were excellent. I particularly liked John Cramer and with one more book might nominate him for Writer Guest of Honor in the future. The panel programming is a big plus for ApolloCon and should be a reason to attend.

Overall, excellent. Attendance seemed up slightly despite the big hit of losing the Texas Browncoat's to FenCon in September for their Lone Star Shindig this year. The film in less than 48 hours contest had only two teams but both completed and are supposedly pretty good and may be posted somewhere shortly. Mark Hall, link to an interview one minute in, improved upon last year's impressive ApolloCon performance and leaves very big shoes to fill for the new ApolloCon Chair. Last year with the BrownCoat's Shindig taking place at the Con, attending ApolloCon might have been a bit more colorful but this year was pure ApolloCon and overall as good.

What did I miss from last year Katamari Damacy and more non-RPG games. Having media guests last year seemed to attract more costumers and fun loving party people. My short report from last year.

The great news is the growth of ApolloCon and the fact that it improves each year. I prepaid for next year at the special Con price. It looks like I will just have to patronize OwlCon in February and San Jacinto College's free Labor Day Weekend Con for my board game Con needs, which is probably as it should be. ApolloCon is a science fiction and fantasy Con and everything should relate back to that.

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