"Bob, These Are The Strangest People I've Ever Seen."
A Bubonicon Report

Bubonicon had a new hotel this year, the Wyndham Airport close by the Albuquerque airport. Larger facilities, a more upscale ambience than the Howard Johnson East where the con had been for years, and with still-reasonable room rates ($69/night).

Hilde and I drove up from Phoenix on Thursday. Even though we no longer have the extra hassles of packing along goods and equipment for a dealer’s table, it’s still a long drive, especially with only one driver. (Kay, who usually goes with us, had to stay home to take care of her new granddaughter.) And a full night’s sleep before a con is an added benefit.

We also wanted a bit of an opportunity to act like normal tourists. So Friday morning we got up and went off the the Albuquerque Biopark, which includes large botanical gardens with a very nice aquarium.

The aquarium has a number of smaller tanks with various fresh- and salt-water fish, including many brightly-colored tropicals. In the first of the larger tanks we saw were . . . manta rays.

Ooh! Ooh! Mantas! Neat! Seriously cool!

(Can you tell I sorta like manta rays?)

Then there was an impressive display of jellyfish, in shaded tanks with spot lighting that highlighted the jellyfishs’ delicate structure. Really lovely creatures.

(Though I did wonder a bit about the plush toy jellyfish in the gift shop. Is it really a good idea to teach kids to cuddle jellyfish?)

Then, the shark tank, which also featured numerous other large fish, moray eels, a sea tortoise, more mantas (yay!), an artificial reef, and several scuba drivers dispensing food to the non-sharks. (One assumes the sharks are fed-well at other times.)

The botanical gardens area held, besides some extensive, nicely-designed gardens and greenhouses, a Children’s Fantasy Garden, with immense concrete versions of fruits and veggies and a big dragon guarding the entrance, and a butterfly pavilion with numerous species fluttering about inside the big mesh enclosure.

Between the aquarium and the gardens, I took about ninety shots with my Sony digital camera, the one that uses mini-CDs as a storage medium. Unfortunately, right after the butterfly pavilion, when we were leaving the Biopark, the camera started flashing error messages: the disk had gone bad, and would no longer write. Worse, it would also no longer go through the finalization procedure, which readies the disk for removal and insertion into a computer’s disk drive. No finalization, no pictures.

Bummersville. (I still had a spare disk in the camera’s carrying case, so I was able to take some photos at Bubonicon itself later that weekend. But damn, I had some good shots of those jellyfish!)

The con had already started registration by the time we got back to the hotel. I was scheduled to be on a couple of panels, and give a reading, that weekend, but nothing on that Friday. So it was a fairly laid-back evening, saying hi to people we knew, perusing the dealers room, and attending Jim Moore’s very interesting talk on “The Science Of Archaeology.”

There was also an interesting panel on the future of space exploration – manned or unmanned? that turned out to have an unexpected consequence for me:

I was scheduled Saturday for a panel on what aliens would look like. Thinking about what to say on that forthcoming panel mixed in with some of what had been said on the space exploration panel, and in Jim’s talk about archaeology. And Saturday morning, while Hilde was still asleep, I found myself with pen and notepad, and actually writing a complete short (1100 words) story in one sitting.

(Two completed stories in four months? For me, a definite Wow!)

Back to Friday for one more note: At the panel on shared and media worlds, Melinda Snodgrass made the announcement that the WILD CARDS shared-world series was being developed as a television series by Sci Fi Channel, and she had just turned in the script for the pilot episode. Since I’ve always enjoyed the WC books, I consider this cool news, and hope the concept transfers to television smoothly and well.

Saturday started fairly late. Hilde slept in while I worked on the story, and then were the usual start-of-day routines like Hilde’s twice a-day exercises, washing, medications, and breakfast out of the cooler we’d brought with us. So it was early afternoon by the time we actually got out of our room.

At the Mass Autographing Session, I took the opportunity to have George RR Martin sign my copy of his big fiction collection from last year’s Worldcon, GRRM: A RRetrospective. I hadn’t heard about the book until Locus’ post-Worldcon issue. The publisher, Subterranean Press, hadn’t made that large a print run – they recently announced there’ll finally be a second printing – and it was a bitch trying to find a dealer who still had copies of the $40 trade edition. The first couple of dealers I tried had copies, but they were asking, two months after publication, the same price for the trade edition as for the still available-from-publisher $125 deluxe edition. Finally found Clarkeworld Books, who were still selling the trade for the initial price.

Also got some books signed by Connie Willis and Walter Jon Williams. (And would have liked to have had Steve Stirling’s new book, Dies The Fire, with me, but my copy hadn’t arrived from Science Fiction Book Club yet.)

A few more panels: “Pulp Fiction: The Importance of SF & The Short Story” which seemed to mostly conclude that publishing overall is in a state of flux right now, which leaves markets for short stories in a similar flux. The traditional magazines may end up continuing, but with reduced print runs and circulation. Webzines may eventually flourish, but not until a successful business model is found that allows actual profits. Gardner Dozois pointed to Fictionwise.com as the only fiction (mostly reprint) site that seems to actually come close to finding that business model.

Then my panel on “BEMs or Grays: The Look of Aliens.” I raised what I hoped was an interesting point: Eventually, either humanity, going out, or aliens, coming in, may have the ability, with gene-engineering and other technology, to send an unmanned vessel that will probe and study a target planet, then custom-tailor and build an organism maximized for survival in the planet’s environment. Add in a capability for downloading intelligence into the tailored body, and space-travelers will be able to go just about anywhere. So, if such a spacecraft ever arrives on Earth, we’ll most likely find ourselves shaking hands with cockroaches.

Hilde and I went to dinner after that, in the hotel restaurant. My order, a Grilled Portobello Mushroom With Spinach Hummus turned out to sound better on the menu than actually was on the plate. The “Spinach Hummus” was more like a lightly creamed chopped spinach (with, I think, some of the mushroom liquer used in the cream sauce); if chickpeas had ever been near it, I couldn’t tell. I think this is something I may try fiddling with at home. (A Spinach Hummus certainly sounds like it has potential.)

We skipped the Costume Contest. Sorry, but costume contests and masquerades are generally hot, crowded, go on for far too long, and lack sufficient reward for the time and energy expended.

Spent some time in the Con Suite with various nice folks likewise ducking out on the costumes. Then I tucked Hilde into bed, and I went to see The Stink of Flesh.

TSOF is a movie produced and directed in Albuquerque by a fellow named Scott Phillips. A couple of years ago, he presented a short film, Science Bastard, at Bubonicon. That presentation was hilarious, in the “so bad, it’s good” tradition. So I was looking forward to more of the same.

Alas, TSOF wasn’t that bad. The premise is, in the usual world where almost everyone has been killed and come back as flesh-eating zombies (don’t you hate when that happens?), an “alternative-lifestyle” couple has to find some of the few survivors so the husband can watch them have sex with his wife. (Okay, it sounds that bad, but it wasn’t. Not that bad.)

Sunday morning was spent packing and taking stuff out to the car. Then my reading at 12:30.

I’m grateful when anybody shows up for one of my readings. Had two people there when I began reading, and a few others come in within a few minutes. And got a nice compliment from James van Pelt for “The Shining Boy” at the end of the reading.

At 1:30 was an Authors Afternoon High Tea in the Con Suite. Yep a real high tea, with multiple teapots and cucumber sandwiches, presented by local author Pati Nagle and assistants. Crowded and noisy, but much fun. An award was given for the Best Hat & Gloves, and attendees got to take home their tea mugs. (White coffee mugs printed with a drawing of a tall pile of papers, a hand and forearm poking from the top, and the caption “I can handle it!) If Pati holds High Tea again next year, I’ll have to remember to pack along my fancy cowboy hat from the back of the closet.

We had several bids on pieces in the art show. Pickup was at 3:00 for winning bids, but my last panel was at 3:20, so I left Hilde in line with the checkbook and went off to do the panel.

The panel was “Send In The Clones” and wandered over the subject as panels are wont to do. At one point, Connie Willis brought up that recent studies show stresses in the womb itself, not just initial genetics and upbringing, may play a major part in determining a person’s personality and characteristics. I responded that this might actually make a selling point for artificial wombs; by raising an embryo in a strictly controlled environment, you might be able to get a kid that comes with a guarantee!

Hilde came into the room partway thru the panel, with a box on her lap. We’d won two of the three pieces we’d bid on in the Art Show: a painting of a winged cat (I collect winged cats), and a highly dramatic half-figure sculpture of an archer by a guy named Jim Humble. (The guy is good!)

And at that point we skipped the closing ceremonies, went out to the van, and began the long drive home.

I’ve been going to Bubonicons for over thirty years now. I like the size (I think they hit a new record this year with just over 400 attendees), I like the people who attend, I like the people who put it on, and I like Albuquerque. (I even considered moving there, back about 1976.) I think it’s safe to say Bubonicon is, and has been for a long time, my favorite convention.

And I knew it had been a good con overall when I was taking some of the last boxes out to the van, and went by an older, mundane-looking couple standing by the front entrance. And heard the wife say to her husband, “Bob, these are the strangest people I’ve ever seen.

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