Balticon: Where Time Blinks By
Memorial Day means a lot of things to people. Obviously, first and foremost, it is to remember those who have fallen in service to our country. That never should go forgotten in the midst of special events, cookouts, and friendly get-togethers. Alongside that, for those of us in the Washington D.C.-Baltimore area, we know the extended weekend to be the weekend of Balticon, a local-run convention celebrating Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. Balticon was the second convention I ever attended as a professional writer, and I have watched over a span of a decade continue to grow with its audience, never forgetting its focus on literature. However, with guests like Eric Flint at the forefront this year, Balticon still makes room for other aspects of the genre, including anime, costuming, gaming, and new media.
Where do you begin?
On this, its 51st year, I did not attend as a guest. This go-round I went as a full-on attendee which came as a surprise to those who knew me as a regular. Balticon’s registration this particular year was one of the smoothest I have encountered on the con circuit. I was checked in without fail or fault, and as a walk-in (someone who did not go through the pre-registration process) to the event, that is a real testament to how well Balticon is organized.
Another credit to Balticon: the programming. This con is less about “So what can I do at this particular time?” but more about “Okay, what am I planning my day around? What can’t I do?” Balticon’s programming is wide and varied. You can blink and find that the morning is done, the afternoon has come and gone, and you’re wanting to plan for dinner. From costuming workshops, to podcasting panels, to special events like the one hosted by Lauren B. Harris, a long-time podcaster, accomplished voice talent, and a writer-to-watch. She was making her print novel debut with Unleash; and Balticon offered her a time slot to host a special event complete with readings, door prizes, and shenanigans.
What can you expect?
Attendees could easily hop from book launch to book launch if they so desired. If book launches were not what attendees wanted, then Balticon’s media rooms featured screenings of all kinds ranging from classic episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Trek: TOS to films ranging between lasso son like Dr. Strangelove to recent blockbusters like Rogue One. Discussions, from solo presenters to fully stacked panelists, covered topics like “The Science of Fake News” to “Making Chain Mail and Scale Mail” to “Podcasting on the Cheap.” And let’s not overlook the Dealers Rooms. (Yes, as in plural.) Game stores. Makers of all kinds. Jewelers like R.E Piland, Goldsmith. Glassware from +2 Charisma. If you want to get holiday shopping done early, Balticon is the place to do it.
However, when it comes to getting around the new location for the event—the Renaissance Hotel of Baltimore—make sure you have some good running/walking shoes on your feet. You need to be able to cover a lot of distance in a short time, depending on what you want to see. Additionally, panels, special events, and media rooms are spread throughout the hotel, so allow yourself time to get from event to event. Otherwise, you may find yourself waiting for an elevator and arriving late to a panel or missing an opening to an anime you’ve been wanting to catch.
Finally, I would not recommend the restaurant in the hotel. True, it is the most convenient, but hardly what I would call “good” food or service, especially for the cost. Fortunately, the hotel is located across (and connected via a skywalk) to a row of restaurants offering everything from Irish Pub food to Spanish tapas to fast food chains. Some restaurants even offer to Balticon attendees a discount, provided they have their current badge on their person. Take advantage of that. Many restaurants are not so kind to geeks descending on their fair city.
Good Times in Charm City
If you are looking to celebrate science fiction over the Memorial Day weekend, and you find yourself out on the East Coast, you will want to make some time for Balticon. In fact, make time for the weekend. After our date, my wife, daughter, and I all agreed that a day wasn’t long enough. We needed to be there all weekend, so we are making plans for 2018. I should warn you, you’re going to meet really good people at this event. There’s a reason why I’ve been visiting (mostly on a consistent basis) since 2002: the people always bring me back. There’s something special about Balticon, and when you experience it, you’ll probably gain an appreciation over why the con’s home base is called Charm City.