Bewildering Stories

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SFCon HowTo

by Kate Bachus

Typical day at a con:

Wake up far earlier than the 0400 hour you went to bed and fact that your roommate — whom you only just met and is FAR scarier in real life than they were on the internet and that’s saying something — snored and mumbled things about needing to finish their costume in their sleep all night. Wake up because you are seized with this awful, heavy dread that will stay with you for the duration of the con that you might


and so you rub at your sandy eyes and fumble for your con schedule and find you can’t make heads or tails of it which you can attribute either to its being a typical con schedule or that you’re excruciatingly hung over

— or both.

Someone’s knocking at the door. It’s your new friend, whom you picked up in the hotel lobby at about 0330, or rather they picked you up and seem disinclined to let go. They can recite to you facts from SF and fantasy books, SF TV episodes and the hotel coffee shop menu at the drop of a hat and with fair accuracy, this last fact being the reason that you decide to stick with them at least long enough to have them guide you to a cup of coffee.

— Which costs $3.50 at the coffee shop and is accompanied by a bagel that costs $10. $12 if you want it with cream cheese.

You sit in the coffee shop and slowly it dawns on you that there’s a woman with a stuffed dragon on her shoulder sitting at the table next to yours, and both she and the dragon and the guy with next to her sipping a $7 orange juice and wearing a T-shirt that says “WE ARE BORG” are regarding you suspiciously, a fact that mystifies you until your $3.50 coffee arrives and you take a sip or two and realize suddenly

— you’re still in your pajamas.

You slam your coffee, race to your room and dress, because that pressing sense that you’re going to


is growing heavier on you. In desperation, you ask your new friend both his name finally and how to decipher the con schedule, and discover at that point that all your favorite authors are having signings at exactly the same hour

— and it was an hour ago.

The sensible thing to do at this point is to give up and go spend about six hundred dollars on books, furry art and a velvet cloak that you don’t need and will never wear but makes you look REALLY COOL. You don’t do this, however, because you might


and so you consult the con schedule again (this time on your own because your new friend — whose name you’ve forgotten — is in conversation with a girl mostly in, but also somewhat out of, a charming Leia slave-to-Jabba costume and looks like he’s not going anywhere for a while) and find that if you run the entire length of the hotel (which will take you about 20 minutes because there’s a thick knot of people clustered tightly around Gardner Dozois smack in the middle of the walkway, all of whom are asking him about GETTING PUBLISHED and all he really wants is to bolt for the coffee shop and his $10 bagel and a cuppa joe), you can make the last 14 minutes of a panel about Alien Sex, which sounds pretty interesting.

After going from door to door reading the panel signs, none of which look right to you, you realize you’ve been looking at the Sunday schedule and it’s Saturday, so you collapse in exhaustion in a likely-looking panel which turns out to be about homosexual themes in Buffy, so you have a pretty good time after all.

By the afternoon you’re getting into the swing of things, and after attending a rockin’ good panel where most of the authors wound up hollering and slamming their water glasses around (which means that Harlan, China or folks like that were in attendance (assuring you of a REALLY good time)), you retire to the art gallery to wander around and look at paintings of Gandalf and hobbits that should be lame as hell but are really frelling amazing, like Sistine Chapel amazing

— and starting to be, despite yourself, fairly awed at some of the talent that surrounds you.

Or maybe it’s just that you’re sleep deprived and all you’ve had is a cuppa very expensive coffee and a handful of M&Ms that you swiped when you went up to ConSuite to get yourself a new schedule after you threw the last one into the hotel swimming pool in a fit of pique.

You consider the coffee shop which is now packed and the waitresses are having to ask people to leave their staffs and broadswords in the coat rack and are looking a little stressed. You decide against it, despite the fact that you think you could probably get by on a plate of $9.50 french fries and a $5 Coke.

Instead, you strike out on your own to the nearest restaurant, which turns out to be seventeen blocks away through urban hell. You eat, surrounded by similar costumed and not-costumed refugees, who all have the look of folks who are happy to be eating but are terrified that they are seventeen blocks away and might


You make it back to the hotel in time for the panel on How to Get Published (Dozois is conspicuously absenst), which is packed to the walls and turns into almost as much of a chaotic melee as the China/Harlan panel as soon as the editors stop talking and the assembled mob can surge forth with their manuscripts.

Still, it’s a rockin’ good time, and you pass out quietly in the hotel lobby for a few hours, watching someone’s yip yip dog, who is wearing a Federation uniform and looks almost as exhausted as you feel. You both sleep happily until your new friend whose name you’ve forgotten rousts you.

There is an emergency. Your roommate has forgotten the helmet of his costume, and someone has kindly made an emergency run to Home Depot, but it’s just NOT GOING to be the SAME and there’s a hell of a lot to be stapled and glued before the Masquerade starts.

You spend most of the afternoon and early evening stapling and glueing, and go along to the masquerade because by that time your hands are covered in hot glue blisters and you feel as if you have a certain stake in the damn thing.

Your roommate’s costume, however, is for naught because really no one can compete with a trio of scantily clad women in Leia slave-girls-to Jabba-the-Hut costumes.

After the Masquerade, you find that the sense that you might


can be fairly well snuffed by alcohol. A lot of alcohol. This can be either gotten at the hotel bar, where a longsuffering torch pianist is sitting amidst most of the crew of the Galactica, or at the parties, which your new friend (whom you still can’t shake) seems to know all about but can’t get into a damn one of them.

No matter, you are master of the scam and besides, Gardner’s posted to you nearly directly on the Forum on several occasions.

This means you can grab at least a beer or two before someone notices you’re there and you’re thrown back out of the SFWA suite again.

You make a brief appearance at a dance where a lot of people are sitting and watching the remaining three of the four Leia costumed girls, who look a little strange dancing just by themselves and with a stray four year old — who ate the entire bowl of M&Ms in the ConSuite and can only run in circles and holler “QUART!” at random intervals — to some surprisingly decent music.

You sit around and wish you could pluck up the nerve to dance, then go and hang out in a filk room and sing until someone politely suggests that there’s a really nice dance going on with slave girls down the way, or failing that, you look tired and shouldn’t you go to bed?

After propositioning someone in a Xena outfit that you later realize (more sober) was a man, you find your room

— or what you think is your room until sometime in the middle of the night when the Galactica fleet arrives —

and pass out unconscious, con schedule still clutched in your hand.

* * *

I’d bring a couple of pens for marking your schedule, and getting things signed and writing down the name of your new friend so you can find him the next day.

I’d bring some snacks you can carry around, and plenty of dough.

I’d bring comfortable shoes, and the realization that no matter what happens you’re absolutely, inevitably going to


but you’ll still have a lot of fun.

Copyright © 2003 by Kate Bachus (reprinted from the Asimov’s forum with permission)

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