Arisia, and What We Came Home To

It was a good Arisia, despite the many and varied problems the con experienced heading in to the occasion. Returning to the Park Plaza for a year was an exercise in nostalgia (was the hotel layout always this confusing? were the rooms always that small? were the locally available restaurants always that much better and more plentiful?†), but mostly in a good way in spite of everything.

I was on a total of five panels, including one 8:30AM panel (note to self:  let’s not do that again), with no real dogs and two standouts — the panel on sidekicks, and the panel on the problem of writing near-future sf when the present keeps catching up with and passing the tech. We had one really good dinner out, at the Marliave restaurant, where Jim Macdonald had the Beef Wellington and I had their Sunday Gravy (i.e., slow-cooked beef, pork, and lamb in tomato sauce with gnocchi. Macdonald’s verdict , after tasting the latter: “If you were to find a recipe and make that at home in the slow cooker, I would eat it.”)

We broke our trip on Sunday night in Merrimack, because of the winter storm that was even then dumping much snow on the middle and northern parts of New Hampshire, and returned home Monday to this:

path to front deck january snowstorm 2019

That’s the path leading up to the front deck.  Note the level of drifted snow.  Note also the depth of the path cut through the fallen snow by our recently acquired snow thrower.

And this is the older Subaru, left at home for the weekend to accumulate its own blanket of white:

parked car january snowstorm 2019

We’d had the forethought, born of bitter experience, to leave all of the faucets in the house on the drip, so at least all of the water was running and the toilet was flushing on our return.  The cats, left for the long weekend with fresh water from a dish in the kitchen sink (see, on the drip, above) and an entire roasting pan full of dry cat food, have more or less forgiven us now that we have demonstrated the continued existence of wet cat food in the world.

So, all in all, not  a bad road trip.


†Answers: If possible the layout is even more confusing now than it was before; I think that most of the rooms are even smaller now that they’ve renovated the place; and yes, there are a lot more, better, and cheaper restaurants near the Park Plaza than there are near the Westin.

The Unified Doyle and Macdonald Arisia Schedule

Or, where we’ll be and what we’ll be doing this coming weekend, while we’re attending the Arisia Science Fiction Convention at the Boston Park Plaza.

My Panels:

The Sidekick Lounge

Cambridge     Sat 11:30 AM

Where would our protagonist be without a trusty sidekick? Sidekicks are an invaluable part of storytelling, serving as everything from an audience stand-in to comedic relief. Let’s talk about the roles sidekicks can play, why they’re important to protagonists, and clever inversions of common sidekick tropes.

Giving Characters Big Damn Hero Moments

Beacon Hill      Sat 5:30PM

Achilles in front of the gates of Troy. Hurin in the Battle of Innumerable Tears. Daenerys and “Dracarys!” Speculative literature often includes moments of mind-blowing awesomeness where a character uses combat, skill, or persuasion to save the day. Panelists discuss favorite moments in literature with Big Damn Hero moments, but also techniques to bring these moments to their full epic potential.

Siblings in SFF

Winthrop   Sun 8:30 AM

Let’s explore fantastical siblings! Join the panelists as they talk about everyone from the general harmony of the Weasleys to the conflicts of Ender, Peter, and Valentine Wiggin. We’ll discuss our favorite sibling rivalries, sibling bonds, and when it’s obvious that the author writing a story was an only child.

Writing About a Future That’s Already Here

Cabot      Sun 10:00 AM

Has enough attention been paid to the way our world has changed in the past decade? How has the ubiquity of cell phones, social media, and on-demand manufacturing already made standard tropes of speculative fiction obsolete? Panelists will consider which technologies writers need to be aware of and how they impact characters and plots.

The Past in Present Tense: Escaping Flashbacks

Cabot    Sun 2:30 PM

Whether through flashbacks, exposition, or time travel, speculative fiction often needs to travel backward before it can go forward. How have authors handled the question of backstory besides writing a flashback? What are the advantages and disadvantages of introducing elements of the past through other means (fragments of written records, fever dreams, reality gem illusions, etc.)?

Jim Macdonald’s Panels:

Freddy, Friday the 13th, and Fangoria

Franklin      Fri 8:30 PM

In the 80s and 90s, nerd culture was less about superheroes or space wizards, and more about invincible masked murderers hunting and killing large numbers of teenagers through increasingly ornate and unlikely means. These were the glory days of Fangoria, a magazine that covered and celebrated the world of horror on film for decades, and was due to make a triumphant return in 2018, its 40th year. We’ll look back on the slasher genre, and the way Fangoria helped build a culture around it.
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100th Anniversary of the Great Molasses Flood
Whittier     Sat 5:30 PM

On January 15, 1919, the Purity Distilling Co’s molasses tank burst, sending a flood of molasses that killed 21 people, injured 150, and killed a large number of horses as well. What were the scientific and engineering reasons that caused it? And why has it (thankfully) not happened since?

Writing Fights That Matter
Newbury    Sun 1:00 PM

Fight scenes take many forms in speculative fiction–space battles with improbable physics, wizard duels, and your classic bar scene dust-up, but at heart, a fight is an argument fought without words. This panel will focus on convincing readers that no matter what form your battle takes, the stakes are clear, enormous, and compelling. How can a writer make every fight not just plausible, but memorable?

(Seasonal) Thought for the Day

A word of warning to anybody contemplating the acquisition of offspring: Be aware that anything you do for Christmas just once instantly becomes a Hallowed Holiday Tradition, and you fail to do it again every year thereafter at your peril. By the time all your kids are teenagers heading for college, you will inevitably be dragging a whole sled-load of Tradition behind you as you head into the joyous season.

And a further, happier thought:  If you’re still stumped over what to give as a holiday present to the writer in your life (even if that writer is you), remember that my seasonal sale of editorial and critique services is ongoing through Twelfth Night (5 January 2019.)

Civic Duty, Accomplished

Jim Macdonald and my brother and I went out at 9:30 this morning and voted. (Pencil and paper ballots, marked in curtained booths and stuffed into a big wooden box. We’re a small, small town.) The folks at the polling place said there had been a high turnout so far.

The only hard decision on the ballot was for our district’s state senator. The incumbent, a Democrat, has been accused of domestic violence; the challenger, a Republican, is . . . well, is a Republican; and not voting at all might as well be voting for the Republican. So no matter which way a non-Republican of conscience votes, at least one set of personal principles is going to get outraged.

This is why secret ballots are a good thing.

An Unsolicited Endorsement

Breathe easy . . . it’s not political.

We live in an old house, by American standards; the core of it — the part where the basement has a dirt floor and the basement walls are granite rocks that probably came out of the ground the basement was dug in, and the support beams are essentially whole logs — was built sometime around 1850, and is, ah, somewhat more permeable to the world outside than your standard suburban no-basement house set on a concrete pad. This means that over the years we’ve played temporary hosts to a variety of local wildlife, including squirrels, chipmunks, and — one memorable winter — an ermine.†

And of course, we always have mice. Most of the time, our cats keep the local rodent population within acceptable limits, but this year, between the long winter and the wet summer and — for all I know — the Trump administration (because lord knows, the orange-haired vulgarian is responsible for most of the rest of this year’s horrors), the numbers have gone beyond what two hard-working cats could be expected to handle.

This isn’t just a problem, we said to ourselves; this is an infestation. Time to call in reinforcements.
12065
So we’ve gone high-tech. Not for us the cheapie spring traps, or the glue traps . . . we’ve laid out serious money for a Victor Multi-Kill Electronic Mouse Trap. Because damn, this thing works. We’ve had it in place for around a week now, and the score currently stands at Victor Multi-Kill 21, Mice 0.

Highly recommended.


We only saw him once, heading across the kitchen floor at speed and disappearing under the closed basement door, but our house was remarkably free of other vermin while he was in residence.

Where We’ll Be This Weekend

We’re going to be at Scintillation, a science fiction convention in Montreal. Except for being in a different country and all that, Montreal is actually more local to us than Boston, or even Manchester. (Reminder to self: Must go to Montreal more often.)

Scintillation is more or less a successor-state to Farthing Party, the convention that Jo Walton ran for eight years from 2006 to 2013. Jim Macdonald and I made all of them — even the year when we had to do the con as a Saturday day trip because we were moving our younger daughter into Simmons College in Boston on the following Sunday — and we were sad to see it go. When we saw that Jo was running a Kickstarter to bring a convention back to Montreal, we jumped onto the bandwagon right away.

(If you’re going to be at the con, don’t miss Jim’s presentation on A Century of Dead Magicians, which looks at the history of modern stage magic through the lens of a succession of magicians who had some really bad days.)

A Meditation on Stuff

For about the first decade and a half of my post-undergrad life, I moved house on a regular basis, progressing first through a series of progressively less crappy apartments and then through two stateside and one overseas Navy billets.  This did a great job of keeping the accumulation of Stuff down to a tolerable minimum, since every time I — later, we — moved, a certain amount of Stuff would be deemed not the worth the trouble to transport and recategorized as Trash.

There were idiosyncratic categorizations, to be sure (my class notes from two semesters of Gothic at UPenn have been permanently classified as Important Stuff, even though I don’t think I’ve looked at them since I got the degree back in never-you-mind) and some equally idiosyncratic and regrettable losses (there was a nice silver necklace from Arizona that got lost somewhere between Philadelphia and Newport News, back in 1980 or so, for example), but by and large a certain equilibrium was maintained.

Then we moved to northern New Hampshire, and raised four kids, and put them all through college, and haven’t moved anywhere since we got here.  And the Stuff keeps trying to take over.

Never mind the fact that more objects come into the house than leave it purely in the natural way of things.  There are also those four kids.  And one by one, they all went off to college with Stuff every year in the autumn, and came back every year in the spring with Stuff Plus, most of which stayed behind like sand and gravel after a receding glacier when they went back again to college with New Stuff in the fall. Four kids.  Four years each — five, for one kid, because of weird required course scheduling — of undergrad, and then four years or so combined of grad school for two of them.  That’s something on the general order of twenty-one kid-years’ worth of Stuff, almost all of it remaining in residence.†

And yet sometimes, I still wonder:  How did I get from arriving in Philadelphia with one suitcase plus two footlockers to be sent along later, to this?


Because you know that as soon as something gets thrown out, that bit of Stuff will suddenly turn out to be the one thing that’s desperately needed for some new project in their current life.

Where We’ll Be This Weekend

This weekend, Jim Macdonald and I are going to be at Albacon, in (surprise, surprise) Albany, New York.  This will be the first convention we’ve fully attended since Arisia, back in January — Readercon was a bar-and-lobby con for us this summer, for one reason and another, so we didn’t get the full experience with that one.

Albacon isn’t one of your big crowded conventions that sells out its hotel room block within 24 hours of reservations opening up, and then goes on to fill an overflow hotel or two.  It’s a pleasantly-sized regional con that won’t overwhelm a newcomer.  So if you’re in the area, why not swing on by?  Jim and I will be wearing name badges (and so will everyone else) — if you greet us, we’ll say hi.

(Well, I’ll probably squint at your name badge and try to remember exactly where I know you from, because I suck at remembering names and faces.  Just say, “I read your blog,” and that’ll be introduction enough.)