ReCONvene

Yesterday was ReCONvene, a single-day virtual convention put on by the NESFA/ gang. It has two program tracks with panels, gaming, lectures, plus a Discord server and an art show on their website. I participated in all of that except the gaming, of course.

The convention started at 4pm my time, but the first panel I was actually interested in was at 5pm so I spent the first hour in the Discord and checking out the art show.

The art show was beautiful; it was a single gallery on one page, with a title card and five images per artist in the Main show. At the bottom was a smaller Open art show with a single title card explaining what it was followed by about eight images submitted by individual members. While this was a very good experience as a viewer, as an artist or as a buyer it was a bit clunkier in the sense that you had to click on each image individually to see if it was for sale and how much, and if interested you was to scroll to the top where there was a link to the list of exhibiting artists, then click through to that list to go to the specific artists website and find the image for sale. Some standouts; Lee Moyer, Anne E.G. Nydam, Robert Crooker, Dave Seeley, Vincent Di Fate, Donato Giancola.

For the Open art show there was no list provided, so aside from googling the name of the artist there was no way to find out more. In fact there was one artist I did look up and I have not been able to find them with just their name, which is a bit of a shame.

For programming, there were four programme rooms, each with it’s own channel in Discord for discussion during/after the panel. I spent most of my time in the Earthseed room. Obviously there was also the Zoom chat function, I generally kept an eye on the Zoom chat but was active in the Discord if there was chat there. I also popped over to the NOTWorldCon Discord to chat in the convention channel there, as a place where I could be a bit snarky with less risk of bumming out the panelists.

The first panel I attended was The Distant Future in Science Fiction which has some good stuff but was the sort of panel that wandered too far off topic for my preference, it got a bit existential so after about twenty minutes I wandered to the Discord. I was happy to see that unlike at Worldcon, there seemed to be a handful of pros in the chat as well as fans.

Second panel was The AI Among Us, with R.W.W. Greene (m), Ted Chiang, Alastair Reynolds, Karl Shroedger, and Martha Well. This one was top notch, on-topic, lots of great back and forth between panelists, a diversity of viewpoints including outright disagreements. All the panelists brought their A game, but Chiang in particular was great.

I got some beer and settled in for my third programme item, this time a lecture rather than a panel. Physicist and author Les Johnson talked about building solar sails and the like, with a good overview of the history (the ISS is pretty big y’all), the potential (Dyson dots, graphene), some juice alien speculation (the Boötes void), and finishing with some very cool stuff about recent and current solar sail projects. It’s a bit weird to realize that think about these as current engineering happening right now. We slide into the future piecemeal and don’t even notice. I say, participating in an international conference during a global pandemic on my overpowered home computer.

I got some more beer and a jacket potato and clicked through to my fourth item of the day; Inspiring Speculative Art with Erik Wilkerson (m), Bob Eggleton, Donato Giancola, and Ingrid Kallick. I hadn’t seen Giancola speak previously and was delighted that in contrast to his classical old master art style, he is a cheerful, enthusiastic dude. The panel started out as a charming lovefest between several of the panelists, who are fans of each others work, and expanded to some interesting topics and examinations of the practicalities and the business side.

And finally the last panel was Worldbending in Speculative Fiction which was a rollicking discussion between Ellen Kushner (m), Aliette de Bodard, P. Djèlí Clark, Dr. Carlos Hernandez. and Cerece Rennie Murphy. Kushner’s moderating style was very dynamic, reminiscent of a roundtable or teacher leading a discussion, it might not work for every panel but I greatly enjoyed its effect on this one. The topic was big, but the panel remained on topic, zeroing in on specifics to flesh out the full picture. It is a rare panel where I come out excited to read more by every panelist and their work, from the ones I have read previously to the completely new to me.

And that was it, there was a convention feedback session immediately following the end of the panel, which makes sense but it was a shame that was the only panel that didn’t really have a chat afterwards. I skipped that, and chatted with random people for a bit in the Discord, but things shut down pretty quickly, with the art show already offline before I signed off.

In summary, a really solid short convention with excellent programming. It benefited from a focused approach, offering a small variety well-delivered. At six hours of content for $10 it was also a good value and worth an impulse-buy if there was a single item of interest, John was able to decided on the day that he was up for it, for example.

I’ll definitely be there if they do another one, or if Boskone goes virtual in February.

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