Baycon 2011 – Fun for SciFi Fans by the Bay


Baycon 2011Greetings, SciFi/Fantasy Fans!

The weeks have flown by since Baycon 2011, a wonderful gathering of like-minded people, lovers of science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, costumes, creativity, games of all sorts, swords and armor, dance, music…and parties!  BayCon takes place for four days each year over Memorial Day weekend in San Jose, California, less than an hour’s drive from San Francisco.  I attended Baycon for the first time in 2010 and had such a great time that I had to go back again this year.

My greatest difficulty each year has been in deciding which panels to attend of the many fun and interesting offerings.  There were fewer hands-on sessions this year than last (some of you may recall that last year I learned how to make chain mail at Baycon, which was lots of fun and will, no doubt, come in very handy at some point soon).  There were also fewer lectures/demonstrations of the knightly arts.  Fortunately, there were lots of other fun things to see and do.  One of the things I LOVE about BayCon is that sessions almost never overlap.  You just look at the list of sessions starting at, say, 10:00 a.m., pick which one you want to attend, and head over there.  No worries about seating (there is always enough), and if you don’t like the session you chose, you can just walk a short distance to another room and try something else.  It is a fun, relaxing way to enjoy a convention.

Steampunk in LiteratureThis year I had to skip the first day of the Con but was there first thing in the morning on Day 2 for “Steampunk in Literature.”  The panel of experts included author Laurel Anne Hill and Christopher Garcia, editor of Hugo award-nominated Fanzine, The Drink Tank.  The discussion was very interesting and turned out to be a great way to start off my convention weekend.  As an added bonus, there were so many books and stories referenced that I thought it would be good to share the reading list with you:

“Anti-Ice” by Stephen Baxter
“Steampunch” by James Lovegrove
“Neverwhere” by Neil Gaiman
“The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers
The “Narbondo” Series by Jim Blaylock
“Perdido Street Station” by China Miéville
“Steampunk Anthology” by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (ed.)
“Steampunk’d” by Jean Rabe and Martin H. Greenberg (ed.)
“Pasquale’s Angel” by Paul J. McAuley
“The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern World” by Edward Dolnick
“Boneshaker” by Cherie Priest
The “Parasol Protectorate” series by Gail Carriger
“The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature” by Jeff VanderMeer and S.J. Chambers
“Space 1899” by Gareth Randall and Fred Freiberger (silent video short)
“Steampunk Scholar” by Mike Perschon (
“The Apparition Trail” by Lisa Smedman
“The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello” by Anthony Lucas, et al. (short film)
“Into the Aether” by Richard A. Lupoff
“The Half-Made World” by Felix Gilman
“The Unincorporated Man” by Dani Kollin and Eytan Kollin
“Grandville” by Bryan Talbot (graphic novel)
“Why Steampunk’s Time Has Come” by Tom Shippey (Wall Street Journal article)
“Girl Genius” by Phil and Kaja Foglio (comic book series)

Next on my list was a panel that was offered last year, and may well be an annual thing, the Zombie Survival Panel.  I found this particular panel extremely informative.  Led by Kay Pannell, who has more than “25 years experience in hazardous waste remediation, including unexploded ordinance disposal and radioactive waste containment,” and with added input from Michael Sarkisian and brother-authors Dani and Eytan Kollin, this session came complete with a slideshow presentation and practical information on what to do if (when?) a real zombie apocalypse takes place.  For example, Kay suggests the survivors ask each other about what skills we bring to the table.  “How many of you know how to turn off a nuclear reactor?”  Hmm, good question.  We also learned about an “identified zombie organism,” a new dynoflaggelant found in the eastern United States, that turns infected people into something very much like zombies.  Ewww!

Kay Pannell

Zombie plague

By the end of the zombie survival panel, I had worked up a huge appetite and was ready for lunch.  What luck that the hotel bar served such yummy food!  And by the way, I would like to compliment the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara for contributing to my positive Baycon experience.  Hotel staff was always smiling, welcoming, and helpful.

Hotel bar


After lunch I just had to check out the dealers’ room, where I just had to pick up a few things that can only be found at an event like this one.  The room was not huge, but there was a great selection of books, shirts, costume pieces, jewelery, blades, and various and sundry other tidbits, all of the highest quality and most of it affordably priced.

Game of Thrones 2012 CalendarFed and pampered, I was ready to go back upstairs to the main Con, and “The Worlds of George R.R. Martin.  I am a big fan of Mr. Martin’s work and was excited to see what would be on offer at this panel.  The “panel” ended up being one person (not sure what happened to the other advertised panelist), but that one person was terrific: Mr. John Picacio, artist extraordinaire.  John was selected by George R.R. Martin to do all of the art for the upcoming 2012 Game of Thrones calendar, which is currently available for pre-order and will be in stores on July 19, 2011.  Attendees at this panel (me!) were the first to see many of the images that will appear in the 2012 Game of Thrones calendar.  Partial images can be seen on John Picacio’s blog.

I next decided to attend an informative panel on Worldcon 2011 (a.k.a. Renovation), the World Science Fiction Convention, home of the Hugo Awards.  This year Worldcon will take place in Reno, Nevada, August 17-21, 2011.  Worldcon is one of the most important scifi/fantasy conventions in the world and is held at a different location each year.  This will be the first time in six years that Worldcon has been held on the west coast of the United States.  It sounds like it is going to be a spectacular event and I am definitely going to try to be there.


There were a few more sessions on offer Saturday night, but Xena Warrior Dog needed her supper and it was time for me to head home.

Xena Warrior Dog 

Sunday morning I again opted for a literature-themed session, this one entitled “Make It or Break It: The First Three Pages” with esteemed panelists: multi-award-winning editor Marty Halpern, and writer/authors Mary Robinette Kowal, Emily Jiang, and Tony Todaro.  In this session the panelists shared their insights and experiences with regard to the pitfalls and foibles that can send your masterpiece to the top of the junk pile.  They also read many examples of openings from books that never made it—and wow, could we all see why!  What were some of these people thinking?  If any of you are aspiring writers, make sure you get several readers before making your final changes and sending that book off to the publishers, and make sure at least one of your readers is not a close friend or any kind of relative.  You may not like the criticism but better it should come in time for you to fix it than after it has already gone out to every potential publisher in the nation.

First Three LinesNext I headed over to the Renaissance Fencing Demonstration.  I saw this group last year and really enjoyed watching them.  Husband-and-wife team Tony Barajas and Sydney Ivana Thomson, and a few more talented people of their acquaintance, were on hand for a lecture/demonstration on swords, foils, armor, and dueling, with plenty of live-on-stage fighting with real weapons and armor.  It is simply amazing how much they can do while wearing a full suit of armor.  Of course, they need a lot of help to get the stuff on and off.

Renaissance Swords


Putting on armor


 The swordfighting demonstration being in same neck of the woods as the dealers’ room, I could not resist another foray into the magical world of cool-stuff-for-sale.  I meant to just do a quick walk-through but ended up spending quite a bit of time in there.  I even found myself being thoroughly bound up in a well-made and quite lovely corset.  Thank goodness I knew to inhale before each tightening of the laces or I would have been ridiculously short of breath!  The corset did not come home with me but I did find some lovely gifts for friends and family.

I was finally able to tear myself away from the dealers’ room with the lure of more John Picacio, this time focusing on the man himself and his artistic process.  John was the Artist Guest of Honor at Baycon 2011, and rightly so.  In addition to his recent work on the Game of Thrones Project, Mr. Picacio’s extraordinary talent has been featured on a long list of fantasy/scifi covers including many from the Elric, X-Men, and Star Trek series.  John shared his artistic process from first ideas and sketches, more fleshed-out pencil sketches, how he works with color and layers, and integration of traditional and technological methods.  I had such a good time at his panel, and as an extra treat found the man to be very approachable and personable.  I will definitely seek him out in the ComicCon artists alley.

Picacio Terok Nor

The rest of my day was spent wandering the Con, talking with all the people offering information on other upcoming events, checking out the game room, chatting with costumed folk, and perusing the art displays.

Costume People

Costume guyAwesome costumeMonday morning I opted once again for a literature-themed session, this one entitled “Writing Science Fiction.”  The panelists were Marty Halpern, Gerald David Nordley, Cliff Winnig, and Dani and Eytan Kollin.  Although I am not a scifi writer myself, I am a big fan of books and so I found the panel discussion very interesting.  The advice offered by the panelists appeared to be helpful, based on their own experiences as writers, readers of others’ works, editors, etc.  If you are looking to add to your reading list, some of the books mentioned during this panel included Frank Herbert’s Dune and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, as well as E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” “The Good Humor Man” and “Fat White Vampire Blues” by Andrew Fox.

For the next time slot I tried out“We’ve Got a Barn, Let’s Put on a Show!” but it never really got off the ground for me.  The session was going to be a sort of behind-the-scenes, informative discussion of what it takes to put on your typical scifi/fantasy convention, but they must have gotten to the more useful bits after I left.  It was time to go back to the art auction anyway and pick up the pieces I won.  Yay!

I also ran into John Picacio again in the hallway, and he took me and my companions back into the art room to see some of his pieces that were not yet packed away.  Again, very cool guy.  (Thanks for the picture, Tammie!)

John Picacio with OffworldTraveler

Next I sort of wandered around from panel to panel, restless but not really ready to leave.  I sat in on a few minutes of “Who is Your Favorite Star Trek Actor and Why?” (the general consensus seemed to be Avery Brooks), and ended up in “Saved by the Fans” a sparsely attended panel discussion of television shows rescued by the fans.  This last I thought might be some little-known stories of fan groups convincing networks to keep shows on the air, but no, it was really more about beloved series that continue to be aired in reruns.

I spent a little time in “What’s So Punk, Then?” a discussion of the “punk” aspect of steampunk, cyberpunk, and various other –punk genres, but then my Baycon experience was at an end and it was time to head home.

Lest you think that Baycon is just panel discussions and shopping, I am obliged to tell you that there is a whole other aspect to this convention and others like it, that I just could not fit into my schedule this year.  Baycon boasts numerous evening and late-night activities including musical performances, dances, and parties.  They booked several rooms on the third floor of the hotel where parties were hosted by the good people promoting a variety of upcoming adventures.  In fact, a lady of my acquaintance actually spent most of her Baycon daylight hours asleep in the hotel, the better to stay up late, late, late and enjoy the nighttime activites.  Despite its proximity to my home and family, I may have to book a room at the hotel next year so I can play with the night owls.

There are a lot of other great events coming up, some of which were at Baycon 2011 to promote and answer questions, including:


July 1-4, 2011 in San Jose, CA, Westercon 64, the West Coast Science Fantasy Conference featuring Patricia A. McKillip and Phil and Kaja Foglio (

?July 15-18, 2011 in Albuquerque, NM, Mythcon 42 (

August 17-21, 2011 in Reno, NV, Renovation, the 69th World Science Fiction Convention featuring Ellen Asher, Tim Powers, and Boris Vallejo (

August 20, 2011 in San Francisco, the San Francisco Browncoats present the Sixth Annual worldwide charity screenings of Serenity and Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog (

September 3, 2011 in San Mateo, CA, The Space Cowboys’ Ball, an evening of 19th century and neo-19th century dance reconstructions to live music from Bangers and Mash (

January 20-22, 2012 in Seattle, WA, Rustycon (

March 2-4, 2012 in San Diego, Condor 19, with special guests Lowell Cunningham and Mike Bocianowski (

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