I revived my blog a few days ago, mentioning that I was attending MarsCon 2019 for the first time. As I mentioned in that brief post, it was largely a bittersweet experience. I’d like to write about the convention itself, as it was my first time attending this particular event.
I fell in love with sci-fi/fantasy conventions several years ago. The first one I ever had the pleasure of attending was Con Nooga way back in 2015. I’d been eyeing conventions a little wistfully for many years beforehand. I decided to take the plunge due to two factors: an author that I really liked was the guest of honor that year, and I finally had a friend who lived close enough to accompany me. It was an overwhelmingly delightful time for me, and it spawned a desire for MOAR. I learned a lot that first year, mostly the hard way, but I still had a great time.
I’ve attended a few more conventions since then, notably MystiCon in 2016 (when the convention team somehow managed to charm George R.R. Martin into venturing to Roanoke, Virginia — witchcraft that I want to know the trick to), and ConCarolinas last year. I’d heard about MarsCon before, years ago, but never managed to make my way there. Last summer, when I discovered that two of my favorite authors, Seanan McGuire and Catherynne M. Valente, were going to be the Guests of Honor for 2019, I swore I’d go. I bought my pass and planned my trip with one of my oldest friends, who lived close to Williamsburg (MarsCon’s home). As I mentioned in my brief post over the weekend, that friend passed away quite unexpectedly, two weeks after we made our plans to take MarsCon by storm.
This was very heavy on my mind as I made my plans to go. I didn’t even pack until the day I was scheduled to leave (Thursday). The trip went smoothly enough; I live close enough that I was able to drive, and traffic was manageable. The host hotel, a Hilton property, offered something that I hadn’t encountered before: digital check in via the Hilton app, and a digital key. No waiting at the front desk, no having to keep up with a room key…but no cookie at check-in (apparently a Thing at Hilton hotels), and no personal interaction with the staff. Convenient, but cold. I’m not sure if I’ll do it that way again.
Once the convention properly started on Friday afternoon, I ventured off to my first panel. The theme for 2019 was something-fairies-something (my memory is so much fun sometimes), so most of the panels that I was eyeballing had something to do with fairy tales, lore, and etc. McGuire was clearly the most knowledgeable member of the fairy-themed panels, having studied folklore at UC Berkeley (Go bears!), and she wasn’t afraid to politely correct other panelists who haven’t done quite as much study on the subject as she has.
After that first panel, I wandered off to the opening ceremony and champagne toast. It was a bit of a mixed bag of an affair, but there was definitely a feeling of excitement in the air. The people who love this convention really love it, and their mood was contagious.
I didn’t manage to make it to all of the panels that I had originally planned. I missed out on special guest Mira Grant (McGuire’s pen name / alter-ego, responsible for medical/political thrillers and horror) on a few zombie based panels, which I am now disappointed about. At the time, I wasn’t feeling up to it. There were several other events that sounded great on paper, but just didn’t appeal to me in the blue mood that I was drifting around in.
A very special highlight of the entire trip was getting to hear Valente read from Space Opera. In fact, Valente’s presence was a great highlight for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love McGuire’s work, but I’ve seen her at other conventions. I’ve never had the opportunity to meet or hear Valente speak before. I was able to chat with her briefly at the signing table, and it was a truly delightful experience. I adore the inscriptions that she wrote in the two books that I brought for her to sign (Radiance and of course, Space Opera). Also, I know something you don’t know RE: Valente’s future projects, and it is delightful news that I won’t spoil.
If you ever have the opportunity to attend any event with either McGuire or Valente, take it. It’s more than worth your time.
As for other parts of the trip: I brought home no less than three new purses (one of them in a magnificently glittery galaxy fabric featuring a dancing C’thulhu that looks like it was designed by the good folks at Sanrio), two pairs of “elf-ear armor” (wire ear cuffs designed to make the wearer look like a Very Fancy Elf Indeed — I’d been eyeing them for several years at the various conventions I’d attended), a few buttons, some delicious homemade fudge, and a gorgeous hardcover copy of Little, Big by John Crowley. The bookseller took care to tell me that she’d covered it in a special dust-resistant mylar wrap, but to keep it away from sunlight to better preserve it. I brought home a few other books as well, including Histories, a short collection of Quincy Harker short stories by John G. Hartness of Falstaff Books (having acquired the first three full-length Quincy Harker collections at ConCarolinas last year). I also picked up the first two volumes in another series from a different small press. When the author was signing them, and he was confirming how to spell my name, he said “C-A-S-E-Y…Q? Z? Batman symbol?” to which I replied “The Batman symbol is silent.”
…and he then drew the Batman symbol at the end of my name. Perfection.
Overall, I give the convention an A, and my experience a C. I am in charge of my own experiences, and I learned that while I can do so, I really hate attending conventions alone. So Mr. Price has agreed to attend next year’s MarsCon with me. Two local friends are tempted to attend as well, so we’ll see what happens. Next year’s theme is Rebels and Rogues, with Scott Lynch scheduled to be the Guest of Honor! I’m quite fond of The Lies of Locke Lamora, and now have a reason to move the other two books in the Gentleman Bastard series further up Mount TBR. All in all, it looks like another good time is waiting to be had.
See you next year, MarsCon!