Conglomeration II was held over the weekend of August 16-18, 2002 at the Holiday Inn Lakeview in Clarksville, IN, just across the Ohio River from Louisville, KY. The con would have been a great time if the hotel hadn't been a complete disaster. Our first hint of just how bad came when we arrived to find the access road under construction and so rough it was almost impassable (at least we knew about the construction on I-65 and had bypassed it, but this was an unwelcome surprise).
We got parked and tried to find out about checking into our sleeping room. However, it wasn't ready yet. We also made the unhappy discovery that, although the hotel has a swimming pool, it doesn't have a hot tub. This was a big disappointment for us, because a good soak in a hot tub really helps with the aches and pains that accumulate from lugging almost a ton of books and other merchandise into the dealers' room.
Speaking of the dealers' room, we then went looking for it, in case we might be able to start carrying in before the official start time. That led us on a lengthy trip down several halls. That hotel is a maze, sprawled out all over the place.
Once we did connect with the dealers' room person and located our tables, we got our stuff unloaded. Here we discovered one of the really nasty characteristics of that hotel. In order to get to the dealer unloading area, we had to drive the van down a very narrow ramp that ran between the back of the building and the lake. There was no guardrail on the lake side, so if you got too close to the edge, there was a very real and very frightening possibility of tipping the van over into the lake. As if that weren't enough to put fear in the heart of even the doughtiest dealers, the actual staging area was a little patch of concrete right beside the back door to the dealers' room, just big enough to take two vehicles, three if you squeezed a little, but with very little room to turn around and drive back to the main parking lot.
Fortunately we were able to get down and unloaded without any major mishaps, and got the van safely returned to the parking lot. However, we did have a rather amusing, if embarassing, moment while we were unloading the books. A slim, gray-haired gentleman came walking by and took a look at some of our books. My husband asked if he was another dealer, and he answered that he was a writer. When my husband told him that I was a writer as well, the gentleman told us that he was David Drake (the Author Guest of Honor).
Once everything was unloaded, it was just a matter of getting everything unpacked and set up before the dealers' room opened. After that I took my artwork up to the art show and got it safely checked in without any major mishaps. We also got checked into our sleeping room and got our stuff upstairs to it, so we were ready for the evening.
Sales went fairly well Friday night. We sold a large number of books, as well as some other items. In particular, we sold every single book by David Drake that we had in stock, even secondary copies.
Several good friends dropped by to speak to me, including Gary Kitchen, Joe Major, Tim Lane and Elizabeth Garrott. Joe gave me a hardcopy of his new fanzine, Alexiad (he had e-mailed me a copy earlier this month), and told me about an interesting alternate history he's working on, in which Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron) survives WWI and goes on to have a very interesting career in postwar Germany, including foiling Hitler.
When it was time to close the dealers' room, I discovered that we had forgotten one very impotant item -- table covers. Since the hotel wasn't issuing us any, and there was no time to retrieve the ones we'd accidentally left in the van, I covered the smallest and most vulnerable items (particularly the jewelery) with the largest plastic bags I could find and hoped for the best.
Our tables closed for the night, I hurried up to our sleeping room, where my husband was waiting. He had gone ahead to order a pizza so it would be there when I was loose of the dealers' room and we wouldn't have to wait. Sure enough, the pizza had already arrived. However, our friend who was chipping in on the cost was running late, so we had to sit there with that delicious-smelling pizza for nearly fifteen minutes until he arrived. But when he did and we could all dig in, the pizza was most definitely delicious.
After supper, we headed downstairs to the con suite to hang around for a while until the parties opened. However, it turned out that the alien party was the only one going on Friday night. We stayed there a little while, but they had a bunch of black-light effects that bothered me, so we went back to the con suite and visited for a while before turning in for the night.
Saturday morning we got up bright and early and had breakfast before heading down to the dealers' room. When we arrived, the doors weren't open yet, so we and several other dealers sat around the tables just outside the doors and swapped stories about various conventions. One person told about how CreationCon, a media event, is turning some people off on the whole idea of sf conventions. It seems that this is grossly overpriced and treated like a cattle drive -- instead of being allowed to go to various con activities at their own pace, attendees are forcibly herded into one function after another, on the concom's schedule. If you're not done looking around the dealers' room or the art show when they decide your group should be moving to the next event, too bad. You're sent to it whether you like it or not, or if you're even interested in it. These dealers also told some horror stories about a really dishonest dealer who's passed bad checks on lots of fellow dealers and even conventions.
Once they finally got the doors open, we went in and got our tables opened for the day. We also had a little time to look around at other dealers' stuff before it was time to open the doors to the general membership.
Sales continued to be reasonably strong, and we had several more large book sales, which really helped reduce the volume of merchandise we'd have to pack back out at the end of the day.
During the morning, David Drake came around the dealers' room signing books. Since we'd already sold out of his novels, we did locate an anthology that contained one of his stories and got him to sign that. I also had him sign and personalize my own copy of The Chosen, which he had co-written with S.M. Stirling. Unfortunately I'd forgotten to hunt down and bring my collection of Drake's Hammer's Slammers books, so I missed the opportunity to get him to sign those.
In the afternoon I was on a panel, "9-11: Have the Rules Changed," with Mike Resnick and David Creek and moderated by Jack Nimershiem. We talked about whether the events of September 11 have led to certain topics being regarded as off-limits for fiction, and whether other topics are being treated in different ways. Mike Resnick argued that it isn't really making a difference, and that a well-written story doesn't need to be changed just to protect delicate sensibilities in the aftermath of disaster. We also talked about the general societal changes that have come in the aftermath of 9-11.
After the panel I returned to the dealers' room and our tables. We had some more sales, good but not outstounding, before the dealers' room closed for the evening. When we got out, we made the unhappy discovery that the only elevator serving that area had broken down. My husband was able to painfully drag himself up the stairs, but several fen in wheelchairs were trapped.
Then we joined the FOSFAX crowd for the annual FOSFAX dinner. Since nobody was really impressed with the hotel restaurant, we all piled into two cars and headed up to an Applebee's that was supposed to be near the mall. We had a little more trouble than we'd anticipated finding it, and when we did arrive, we discovered that there would be a thirty-minute wait -- and only limited seating for waiting. Since we had several people in our group who could not stand for extended periods for health reasons, I ended up having to stand up the whole time, although my knees and feet don't handle it well. We talked about the problems with the hotel, and I started in on my convention report, since I had my Palm Pilot with me and it did give me something to do.
We finally shortened the wait a little by agreeing to split our group between two back-to-back booths instead of waiting for one big table. This did reduce the conversation opportunities, but by that time we were hungry enough and tired enough of standing that we were willing to make a few sacrifices. My husband and I got the booth with Tim Lane and Elizabeth Garrett, and we had some pretty good conversation among us, although we were also able to catch some of the conversation in the other booth, if it was a bit dificult to participate.
After we got back to the hotel, we dropped by the con suite to get some munchies before the parties began. This time there were a few more parties than Friday night, including one that was showing a video of a masquerade -- whether this year's or a previous year's, or even some other convention's, I couldn't tell. Unfortunately, some of the parties were being held upstairs, and getting up wasn't always easy, although the elevators were at least working, if slow.
After we had visited the parties, we went back to the con suite for a while. Then we headed back to our room and turned in for the night.
Sunday morning we got up quite early so we could pack our personal belongings and get them out of our sleeping room before time to go down to the dealers' room. We got that done in good time and hurried down to the dealers' room so that we would be able to get our tables opened and set up in time for me to get to my 10:00 panel. As it happened, I ended up running a little late and got in just as the panel was starting.
That panel was on E-publishing, and was moderated by Ryck Neube. It included Marian Allen, Eric Flint, William Levy and Karen Zimmerman, as well as me. We talked about some of the strengths of electronic publishing, as well as the pitfalls such as credibility and the difficulty of sorting the professional operations from the amateurs. I talked about my experiences both good and bad, including e-publishers that printed my stories and then never paid me, and others that accepted my stories only to disappear before ever publishing them.
However, a lot of the panel time was taken up by the issue of electronic piracy and copy protection. Eric Flint, who in addition to being an author is also the librarian of the Baen Free Library, argued that copy protection is actually counterproductive. It only annoys legitimate users by putting obstacles in the way of their ability to read, and instead of deterring piracy, it actually creates challenges for hackers. He noted that, in spite of Baen's liberal policy on e-books (the publisher not only runs the Free Library, which provides free e-copies of books from various authors' backlists, but also runs the Webscriptions program, which gives subscribers unencrypted electronic copies of each month's new novels for a small fee), Baen books are almost never found on any of the pirate e-book newsgroups or websites. However, many publishers who either refuse to provide e-versions of their books or charge prices equal to that of a hardcover have their books regularly pirated. He argued that this is evidence that most people will do the right thing if given the opportunity, and piracy is primarily a symptom of frustration with the unavailability of legal copies.
He offered as an example of this principle some factories where he worked before becoming a writer. All produced inexpensive products, but those who had draconian policies about employee theft often ended up making it a challenge for employees to beat the system. By contrast, when he worked at the Wrigley gum factory, the management put large buckets of gum packages by the employee exits and encouraged their employees to take some.
I seconded that with some of my own fast-food experiences. The harder the management came down on us about unauthorized eating as theft (as opposed to a food safety issue), the harder we tried to swipe bits and pieces of ingredients, to the point that we were using the same dirty fingers to fix other people's food, and probably spreading germs.
David Drake, who was in the audience, compared and contrasted his experience with Baen and with Tor, another publisher for whom he writes. While Baen welcomes his practice of putting sizeable portions of his books on his website, Tor has taken a far more restrictive policy. When he suggested to Tor's chief editor that he was planning to put the entirety of the first book in his series on his website, and that Orson Scott Card had done similarly with at least one book he'd published through Tor, Drake was told that he was not to do any such thing and Card would not be doing it any more.
After that panel, I hurried back to the dealers' room to help pack. I also had to retrieve my art from the art show and get the check for the art that had sold, which took a bit of doing because the art show staff was harried and confused. But I did get everything successfully, and headed back to the dealers' room. We had some decent last-minute sales, and we were still able to get all our stuff packed by the time the dealers' room closed.
This time we did not go down the narrow little lane between the building and the lake. Instead, we parked in a lot on the other side of the building, but still close enough to the dealers' room that we didn't have too much trouble getting in and out. We also were able to secure several gophers and a heavy cart to help us load out. But just to make things complicated, it started raining just as we were carrying stuff out, so we had to load most of our stuff in the pouring rain. As it happened, the rain stoped just as we were finishing up the load-out.
Then we moved the van up to the regular lot and headed up to the con suite for last minute good-byes. That done, it was time to head back to Mundania.
In all, the con was a pretty good convention in spite of the hotel, not because of it. The concom really needs to look into finding a better hotel for future cons.
With apologies to R.E.M., don't go back to Clarksville and waste another year.
Copyright 2012 by Leigh Kimmel
Permission is granted for reproduction in fanzines and other non-profit fannish publications.
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Last updated October 21, 2012.