I was up at around 5:30 AM in order to catch a flight to Boston for Readercon. For all of my non-sf friends, Readercon is a s.f. convention not quite like any other. As the name alludes to, it is almost exclusively about written science fiction. It is also attended by the Best of the Best in the business. And one of my favorite writers of all time, Barry N. Malzberg, regularly attends the convention. With all of this as preface, I headed up to Boston. My flight was on time and I picked up my rental car from Hertz, making it to the hotel in Burlington just in time to make the 11 AM session I’d hoped to attend.
When I arrived at the hotel, I heard my name being called out by mabfan and gnomi, and it was good to see both of them. They are a reassuring presence at these conferences since they are familiar, friendly, encouraging faces.
The first session I went to was on science fiction as a mirror of reality, and among the people on the panel were Robert J. Sawyer and mabfan.
<shameless plug>Michael has a collection of short stories coming later this year called I Remember the Future: The Award-Nominated Stories of Michael A. Burstein. I have read almost all of the stories in the collection and they are all fantastic. Don’t read science fiction? These stories provide an excellent introduction to what science fiction is all about. Start with his story, “Sanctuary”, which by itself is worth the price of admission.</shameless plug>
I attended a session, “Transcending your influences” that was interesting. James Morrow was on the panel and I loved his Godhead Trilogy.
Wandering around, I ran into scottedelman who was so kind to me throughout the day, and very encouraging, too.
There were other session. I listed to Rob Sawyer read from his forthcoming novel, Wake. I sat with scottedelman for the “If All Men Are Tolerant, How Would You Shock Your Sister?” session. But most definitely the highlight of my day was meeting Barry N. Malzberg.
To people outside science fiction, I can’t really explain what Barry writes. His most famous novels are those like Herovit’s World and Beyond Apollo. He has a dark, depressing outlook, that is laden with humor. When I first read Herovit’s World I was blown away. No other book has ever had quite the same effect on me as that book. I first became acquainted with Barry’s work sometime in 1993 when Scott Edelman, then editor of SCIENCE FICTION AGE published a story of his called “The Passage of the Light”. At the time, I was preparing my senior paper for my minor in journalism. The paper was on science fiction and, although I doubt he remembers this, I wrote to Scott asking for more information, in particular about this guy Barry Malzberg. Scott recommended some books. I went to school at the University of California, Riverside, which hosts a famous collection of science fiction and I immediately made use of that collection to get to know Barry Malzberg. He is a writer’s writer. He chose to write science fiction but he could write anything better than 99.99% of the writers out there. He has the imagery of Ray Bradbury with the wit of Woody Allen. To try and describe his writing simply doesn’t do him justice. You just have to go out and read it.
This man, this Writer, was gracious enough to spend some time with me today. Sometime around 2:30 PM (the same time as mabfan‘s reading) Barry told me to meet him and the two of us went for a walk. We walked all around the hotel parking lots, for nearly half and hour, talking, just the two of us. Words cannot express the awe I have of Barry, and that he was willing to spend some time with me was, to me, the highlight of the conference. He asked what I did, where I went to school. And I asked him about his writing, his books. I made sure to tell him what an influence his books had on me. He asked about my writing and I told him of my progress so far. And he reassured me and told me that I was doing things that right way, that I had the fundamentals down. He told me about the first s.f. convention he ever attended, back in 1967 and how in awe he was of the writers that surrounded him. It was wonderful.
And then he signed 3 books that I brought with me, with personal inscriptions on all of them.
While I still have another whole day to spend at the conference tomorrow, I’m not sure there is anything that can top what I experienced today.
Of the 5 conventions I have now attended, Readercon is the most–how do I put it–imposing. Everyone is friendly, everyone is willing to talk to you, sign autographs, you name it. But these are the Best of the Best. Readercon is the Big League of science fiction conventions. The writers here not only know how to do it, they know how to do it really, really well. So to some extent, I felt way out of my league. But I also once again felt the urge to press forward, to keep at it, and that maybe, just maybe, if the stars align just so, and luck it on my side, I can be as good as they are.