LibertyCon Recap

Well, it’s been over two months since my last post, and I had HOPED to have a very different “first post back,” but unfortunately that announcement is still running late. However, I DID just come back from Libertycon (well, I started this post shortly after coming back from the convention; it’s taken me weeks to finish, but more on that later), and I figure I should report how things went.

Now, I haven’t been to a convention that was outside of one day’s driving range since Dragoncon in 2007, which I went to by train.  Libertycon is even further away than Dragoncon, and despite being the home to a nationally-renowned railway museum, there is no train between my hometown and Chattanooga.  (In fact, according to a local taxi driver, there are no trains into the town at all)  So I had no choice but to fly in on Thursday.  Keep in mind that I haven’t been in an airport, much less on an airplane, since I was in Junior High School (late 80s/early 90s), so this was an adventure for me in more ways than one.

My flight required taking a connecting flight in Atlanta.  I’d seen several Libertycon veterans talking about flying into Atlanta and then renting a car for the rest of the trip, but that didn’t make any sense to me — I wasn’t going to be driving anywhere once I got to town, and it would be much cheaper to take the connecting flight than to rent a car for the whole weekend.  What I was unaware of was that the flight from Atlanta to Chattanooga is too short for any sort of air conditioning to work, so… 90+ degree weather in a what is effectively a metal can like that isn’t pleasant.  I, and all the people on the plane, were roasted by the time we arrived.  (According to my taxi driver, this is a common problem for flights from Atlanta)

I arrived at my hotel late Thursday night, tired (from the early morning; it may have been a relatively short flight, but thanks to a longish layover in Atlanta it took all day) and extremely overheated (also from the flight).

Now, most regular readers of my blog are probably unaware of LibertyCon’s problems this year.  They were moving to a new hotel, the new hotel had problems just processing the number of people coming into the convention, then they LOST the new hotel and had to change both hotels and dates in the last few months… (their founder also died, and a few other things I’m not remembering right now happened over the past year)  The end result is that, even though I usually NEVER plan to go to a convention without having first secured a hotel room in the host hotel, I was NOT in the host hotel for this convention.  I was, however, in the hotel that had a back door into the City Cafe Diner.  The City Cafe Diner produces great food, at great prices, 24 hours a day — the best dining I’ve ever had at a convention.  So there was that going for me.

So, I had dinner at close to midnight (the cafe was packed even that late, by the way), and wasn’t back to my hotel room until 1am.  I didn’t have time to unpack and prepare myself for the convention, but I figured if I set my alarm I’d be fine getting everything ready to pick up my badge and familiarize myself with the convention center before the first panel of the con.

Except I slept through my alarm.  I woke up at almost noon, and by the time I rushed through getting dressed and found my way to the convention center (skipping breakfast and most of my unpacking, by the way), I’d missed the first panels of the day.  I was able to pick up my badge in time for the 2nd set of panels of the day, however.

That panel (and forgive me, I didn’t note who was on it other than Toni Weisskopf and Les Johnson) was a discussion of the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, which is an every-18-month (what do they call that, anyway?  Annual-and-half?) symposium discussing the implications of and the realistic methods for interstellar travel, now sponsored by NASA and Baen Books.  It sounded interesting, and learning (as something which had added urgency to the symposium) that there was now a congressional directive ordering NASA to prepare to launch an interstellar probe to Alpha Centauri by the 100th anniversary of the moon landing was news to me.

After that panel, I returned to my hotel room and did all of those things that my late start had prevented me from doing (unpacking my gear, eating breakfast, figuring out my schedule, etc.).  It took a while, and another good meal had me fall in love a little with the City Cafe Diner.

By the time I had everything sorted, I’d missed the opening ceremonies of the convention (which I had planned to go to, for once. Oh, well — there is a recording of it, which includes Sarah A. Hoyt saying “Moose and Squirrel.”  If you aren’t sure why that would be notable, you will have to watch it).

I did, however, make it to a panel James Beall was giving on “Warships of Sea and Space.”  Thanks to my computer disaster earlier this year, I was never able to write up my report on Ravencon, but Jim Beall had previously provided me a great deal of help for a short story I’ve had in the planning stages for years (still haven’t finished it, but after the computer crash I’ve been too busy with other things).  This panel of his was… rather topical, as most visitors to this blog might recognize:

Beall discussed the Battle of Hampton Roads (aka the battle of the Monitor vs the Virginia, aka the battle of the Monitor vs the MERRIMACK), the Battle of Mobile Bay (made famous by Admiral FARRAGUT’s orders (paraphrased), “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”), and the Second Battle of LISSA. If you’ll recall, some of the titles I intend for my Shieldclads series are The MERRIMACK Event, The FARRAGUT Affair (in progress), and The LISSA Incident. While I knew many of the details that he discussed about these battles, he shined a new perspective on them which I will likely consider while continuing the series.

When that panel let out… well, I never quite found out what happened, but there were a large number of fire engines and ambulances driving around, and I think they stopped at the hotel attached to the convention center.  A bit distracting, I must say, and the flashing lights were still flashing an hour later, when I went to my next panel, “Meet the Literary Guest of Honor Sarah A. Hoyt.”

I’d never seen Sarah in person, though I used to follow her group on Baen’s Bar (though I doubt she remembers. I was only an active poster there for a few months; there was a technical glitch which had me in read-only mode on the Bar for a a couple more years that was never fixed, and when they changed forum software I never went back).  Now I’ve joined one of her groups on Facebook, which is a large community very reminiscent of the old Bar. Her blog\essay, “He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher,” greatly influenced my decision to self-publish my works instead of continuing to try and hunt down a traditional publisher.  Under her pen name of Elise Hyatt, she writes some of the only mysteries I enjoy reading (I usually find I prefer mysteries in theatrical\video\film over books). But I had never met her in person.

This was a wonderful first impression.  Her interview was hilarious, discussing things like how to deal with writing while also looking after a four year old son who could concoct effective explosives, why she associates the word “Dragon” with Mexican Fried Ice Cream, and the vagaries of the Portuguese language, among other things.  Unfortunately, this ended with one reminder of why I usually never go to a convention unless I can get into the host hotel.

I’d been keeping an eye on the weather for weeks leading into the convention.  The predictions had all said that the weather would be good for my flight over, but there would be several thunderstorms during the convention itself.  The weather app on my cell phone, all day, had been predicting thunderstorms that evening.  Finally, towards the end of the panel, I noticed some flashes out the window that I thought looked a lot like lightning.  No rain, yet, but distant lightning.

Knowing that my next stop was my hotel room, and that I would have to walk a couple blocks outside to get there, I felt I needed to beat the storm (which never, as far as I can tell, materialized. Perhaps that wasn’t lightning, after all?), so I had to run before I could introduce myself or to ask any further questions.  It was a missed opportunity… (which became a recurring theme in this convention, but we’ll get to that later).  And thus ended my first day of the convention… (after another City Cafe Diner dinner, of course).

I woke up on time on Day 2, though I had various minor hotel problems throughout the day that didn’t amount to much, but seemed annoying at the time (the only hotel elevator quit working — and would stay broken through my departure, which made carrying my bags out something of a problem when I was leaving.  My WiFi wasn’t consistently working… which is par for the course with hotel wifi, I suppose, .  Oh, and I forgot to mention this one on Facebook — my hotel coffee maker didn’t work, which meant (as I was packing light and didn’t bring my usual electric kettle) I couldn’t make any of the tea, or coffee, or instant ramen packs I brought from home.  Ah, well, the City Cafe Diner was open 24 hours a day, so I was okay on that front).

The first panel I attended was the Indy Author Resources panel.  I was hoping, being in a different state (indeed, a slightly different region of the country), the panel might cover resources I was unaware of.  Alas, no, but I figured it would be rather informative for the newbie.

I followed that up by attending a panel entitled “Beamed Energy Launch.”  This panel was a technical discussion on the sort of beamed energy propulsion as theorized by physicist (and hard science fiction author) Robert L Forward.  And when I say “technical discussion,” I mean that I wasn’t able to follow half of the things that were talked about (and I would like to think I’m fairly knowledgeable about these sorts of things, for a layman).  The half that I was able to follow, however, might wind up incorporated into a story, some day, so the panel was worth it.

Libertycon, I’ve been told, is one of the best conventions out there for authors to do some networking, and one of the best features of the convention for networking was the Libertycon Banquet.  It’s an additional charge, but that charge is about the same as a regular lunch, but that means you really don’t want to miss it.  And it was being held just about as far away from the panel rooms as it could be, so I left the Beamed Energy Panel a little early to be certain that I’d be able to get to the banquet in plenty of time.  And I did… and had to wait in line for a bit, as they weren’t yet letting anyone in.

They finally opened the doors, and almost instinctively I went for the table which was the least occupied.  There were a few people sitting there already, but not many… however, I was told, when I got to it, that they were reserving seats for “someone else,” but I was free to take any of the seats on the other side of the table.  I wound up at a very bad seat at a very good table.

My seat was… well, to explain, you have to understand how the room was set up.  There was a long table at the head of the room where the head of the convention and all of the guests of honor were sitting (for those unfamiliar with these types of conventions, there are usually two levels of guests — the regular guests, who some conventions call “attending professionals” or “panelists” or whatnot, and guests of honor, who get all the perks (in larger conventions, I’ve heard this can include such things as an appearance fee, free travel to the convention, a limo ride to the convention center, free hotel rooms, free meals, maybe some complimentary fruit baskets and champagne, etc.).  The other tables included a mix of attendees (as I was for this convention) and regular guests.

Sitting where I was, there was a large pylon between me and the head table, so I couldn’t see the guests of honor at all.  So, a bad seat.  However, when it comes to who the “someone else” I’d been asked to move was, well…

My table included Ben Yalow (son of Nobel Prize winner for physics Rosalyn Sussman Yalow), Libertycon guest Jeff Greason, and… uh… Baen Books head editor\publisher Toni Weisskopf.

Unfortunately, as I said earlier in this blog, the theme of my experience at this convention was one of missed opportunities.  Toni was there to talk with someone else (a new and inexperienced publicist for — and possibly the relative\wife\girlfriend of — an author going by the pen name of S. Andrew Swann… who was also, incidentally, sitting at the table with the lot of us), so I decided to let them talk.  Don’t get me wrong — I LISTENED to everything that they were saying; they were talking about book marketing, and whatever else you might think of Baen Books, they understand how to market science fiction to the masses better than just about any of the Big Five publishers do.  But I kept quiet, figuring that eventually they would either wind up their conversation so that I could involve myself a little better, or at least that the conversation might drift to something I felt a little more on even footing to talk about.

Unfortunately, just as the conversation seemed to be reaching that point, we were all interrupted by the guests of honor speeches.  And thus that opportunity to try and glean more relevant (to me) information from Toni was missed.

The speeches themselves were interesting.  Sarah Hoyt, as she was at every panel I saw her on, was hilarious.  The science guest of honor broke down on the podium in a way everyone could sympathize with (the founder of the convention had passed away unexpectedly a short time ago, as I mentioned earlier, and the two of them were quite close).  The Master of Ceremonies used dry humor to bring things back up so the banquet could end on a lighter note.  (Honestly, I forget the artist guest of honor’s speech — it probably was very interesting, but I was focused on trying to solve the dilemma of not being able to see the speakers thanks to the pylon standing between me and them).

And then the banquet was over.  Oh, and as I seem to make an effort to review all of my meals at a convention (this was not intentional, but something I’ve noticed that I do in these recaps), I recall that the food was good but that there wasn’t anything adequate to drink it with — the only drinks available were water (which had been acidulated with lemon juice to the point it tasted like furniture polish) and unsweetened iced tea (I like tea, but if it isn’t cut with sugar and\or cream (when hot), it’s far too tannic for me).

After the banquet, I followed Toni Weisskopf (not literally; in fact, if I recall correctly, I left before she did) to the Baen Books Traveling Roadshow.  Usually a fun time (and I suppose it was, here, too), with a chance to pick up a free book (not this time, for me), but my ultimate downfall for this convention.

I sat on the front row, on the left (which was probably a mistake for more than one reason; I had a bad viewing angle of the screen and couldn’t see half of the guests), and initially had no-one near me.  About five minutes into the presentation, someone came and sat next to me… and promptly coughed directly in my face (he tried to cover his mouth with his arm, but he didn’t succeed).  He did that about half a dozen times, then left.

Those of you familiar with the term “con crud” probably have a good idea of what happened after that, though nothing happened at first.

I later attended a panel led by Sarah A. Hoyt and my tablemate from the banquet, Jeff Greason, entitled “Space Pioneers.”  My biggest takeaway from this panel was a line Jeff Greason had, referencing how some protests of the various private interests in Manned Mars expeditions were complaining that people would contaminate scientific findings we might have if we landed them on the planet, “The Universe is not a scientific preserve.”  I’ll have to steal that line.

Once again, the threat of rain chased me back to my hotel before I could meet and socialize with anyone (such as Sarah Hoyt, who — as I mentioned earlier — I had come to this convention hoping to introduce myself in person to).  I had a quick dinner at the City Cafe Diner, and that was it for my day at the convention.

I slept horribly that night, and woke up with the start of a sore throat.  Undecided if it was just the bad night or a cold, I stayed in my hotel the next morning… which was a real shame, because (in YET ANOTHER example of how this was a convention of missed opportunities for me) I missed another of the premiere networking events of the convention on Sunday:  The kaffeeklatsch with all the guests.  It was an opportunity for anyone to network with… well, anyone, again befitting Libertycon’s reputation as a great place for networking.

And I missed it, because I was feeling sick.

But later in the day, after missing the kaffeeklatsch, I was feeling better.  I decided it must have been the bad night’s sleep, so I went back to the convention for one last panel:  A discussion of SIGMA, a think tank featuring scientific-minded authors (many of whom have highly technical PhDs) who provide public service futurism consulting, founded in part by the science guest of honor (and a former Science Advisor to the White House, back in the 90s), Dr. Arlan Andrews.  The very concept of such a thing has long fascinated me, and I remember being very intrigued by the panel at the time… but I don’t remember much about it.  I went back to my room afterwards, fell asleep, and didn’t wake up again until I had to pack up to go home.

I made it home, safe and sound (I was worried I’d oversleep, but that was never an issue, and after dealing with security\etc. from Dulles, going through the Chattanooga airport was a dream).  Since then, though, I’ve either been suffering from con crud, helping my mother who caught the con crud from me, falling down a flight of stairs rushing to get some cough medicine for my mother who needed it desperately (I’m okay, but I was bruised and sore for several days afterwards), or… well, just too busy.  Which is why this write-up has been so late in coming.

Overall, I rather enjoyed those bits of Libertycon I was there and alert for, but the “missed opportunities” thing, the wrong hotel thing, and the con crud thing all worked together to make it so that I didn’t have as good of an experience as I think I could have.  I have (well, had; they SOLD OUT in LESS THAN 30 MINUTES, so it wouldn’t matter if I changed my mind at this point) no intention of attending Libertycon in 2020; indeed, I’m still not certain if I want to go to any conventions in 2020.  But I DO hope to go back to Libertycon, some year, and hopefully I’ll be able to make more of the opportunity next time.

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