I got back last night from the first con of 2019, ShadowCon in Memphis. I got invited to the convention a couple of years ago because it’s essentially an SCA household holiday party writ large. Schedules have prevented me from going previously, and that’s too bad because I had a very good time.
Given its origin and its billing as a Relaxacon, you would be correct to assume that it’s laid back. It has all the stuff. In fact it’s got a ton packed into Saturday, but it’s pretty laissez faire about structure. This is a virtue for a con of its size. I was able to get on three panels, play a round of Pathfinder Society, and socialize until 3pm on Friday. I’d have done more but, as a Cowboys fan, I essentially took Saturday evening off to watch them play the Seahawks.
The first panel I was on discussed books new readers should look for to get started in science fiction and fantasy. There was some confusion on where it was supposed to be, and I think it might have actually been done in two places. For me, I sat with four or five people and discussed where to go and some of the subgenres. In all honesty, this was probably the best way to have this sort of panel. It might be fun to schedule a session with a number of authors in a room with various tables and interact with new readers on this level as opposed to lining us up in front.
I intended to join the Indie Publishing Pros and Cons panels. Unfortunately, I wrote down 2pm Saturday on my notes instead of 12noon. Of all the panels, it was the one I wanted to be on and I missed it. Next time, I suppose, but I’m still frustrated with myself on that one.
The one panel the organizer wanted me to take was a comparison of Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville. He had a scheduling conflict at the last minute and needed help on that panel. Humorously, I’ve never watched either, though Orville looks fun. The other person on the panel had only watched a few episodes of either, but was a major Trekkie with a ton of experience in that fandom. We ended up riffing on the kinds of characters that draw us into shows and the kinds of writing keep people watching. More than anything, we talked about how Babylon 5 did both of those things well, as did some other shows. All in all, it turned out OK, but I sure felt clueless walking in.
Immediately after was my favorite panel, Where Did It Go Wrong. We panelists all had slightly different viewpoints where we going with that, and we sort of settled on where movie adaptations of books go wrong. The first answer, which is fairly obvious, is that two hour long movies will always struggle with a novel. Short stories, like the ones that spawned Shawshank Redemption and Blade Runner, are much more likely to translate well to the big screen. Novels that do translate well will tend to be fluffy, short, or both. Other novels, like Lord of the Rings or Dune will need mini-series or seasons of a regular series to tell their complex stories well. The second answer is that the producer of the movie needs to know and love the ethos underlying the book. My personal pet peeve is the animated Beowulf, where they did not have any recognition of personal responsibility. Contrast this with 13th Warrior, which gets it. That’s what makes 13th Warrior a much, much better film and, in my opinion, the best retelling of Beowulf on the screen so far.
In general, it was a good schedule of panels. Had I made the Indie Publishing Panel, it would have been about the right number for Friday and Saturday. I could have done more, but about right.
Nothing was officially scheduled for Sunday, by the way. It’s a decision I’ve thought about on the drive home. On the one hand, scheduling stuff for Sunday allows time more panels and more things to do. On the other hand, Sunday panels and events, especially those at 10am, are inconsistently attended. In the case of ShadowCon, which is at its core a social gathering, setting it up that people can hang out until whatever Saturday night without any real need to be at a thing Sunday morning makes a lot of sense. At some other cons, where the basic foundation is different, Sunday scheduling is important, but not ShadowCon.
I really enjoyed myself, though I must mention the quality of the hotel. Or rather, lack thereof. It’s the first hotel I’ve dealt with that will not allow, under any circumstances, room entrance before 3pm. It’s a request I often make, and only a request, but every other hotel I’ve asked tries to accommodate it. Then, at 3pm, they had a shift change, but if the next shift is late, as this one was, there was literally nobody to check anyone in. That meant there was a ton of people in the lobby trying to check in, waiting for way too long. Panels and other events started at 4pm and I barely made it despite being one of the first in line. For all this, I blame the manager, who was rude and clearly did not want to deal with anyone. How dare customers intrude upon her job? Oh, and as a side note, the posted hours for the breakfast aren’t actually true. Get there early, or you won’t get anything. It’s a decent con space, especially for a con the size of ShadowCon, but I’d suggest not going to the West Memphis Clarion for any other reason.
Despite the hotel, the con is worth it. The people were helpful and relaxed. Lots of good conversations. The gaming was good and there was lots of it. The con suite was one of the best I’ve seen. I didn’t go to any, but there were a number of SCA and Larping demos. The dealer’s room was bigger than most of a con its size. The panels all had attendees who were interested and had good questions. I am intending to go back every year that my schedule allows.