Cornfield Meet

Things collide here.

Epic Peng-win.

The fact is, I’m now indebted to Wil Wheaton.

His appearances east of the Rockies seem few and far between, so when he was announced as Guest of Honor at Penguicon 7.0, I jumped in and registered for my first overnight convention stay in four years.

Honestly, if he hadn’t been scheduled, I probably wouldn’t have gone. I’ve never been a hardcore gamer, and I’m barely a dabbler in the open source side of computing, and I’ve only relatively recently begun rediscovering science fiction writing.

And yet, had I not gone, I would have totally missed out on the past three abso-frigging-lutelydamntastic days and never even known it. Yes, Penguicon rocked so hard that even though Mr. Wheaton was unable to make it, the weekend was a massively Epic Win for me and my daughter. We’ll be going back.

So, if you don’t like gushing, stand the heck back, because I LOVED Penguicon. So much that a couple times, I wanted to cry with joy, I was having so freaking good a time. So much that if you worked or volunteered or organized or handed out food or took out garbage or had even the tiniest role in making this convention happen, you are hereby A Fantastic Person and I Heart You. Seriously, Penguicon People – bookmark this page, and if you find a blog or a forum post complaining about Not Enough This or Too Much That or This Sucked or That Blew, I want you to come back here and remember that you made at least one 38-year-old Dad and one 12-year-old Daughter Awfully Freaking Happy with your efforts this year. This was our first Penguicon, and not one person met us with rudeness or sneered at our N00bism – we were made to feel welcome from our first panel Friday afternoon – a meet-up with fellow Harry Potter fans – to our last trip through the lobby Sunday after lunch and a gaming session. (More on that later.)

It’s no easy thing, sometimes, for a dad and an almost-teenage daughter to find much common ground, but these were 48 hours of pure excellence in that department, sometimes in surprising moments. Here are a few:

When we went to the Consuite (Honestly: a con with a constant supply of free food & beverage? Who does that? Penguicon.) to see and taste our first batch of Liquid Nitrogen Ice Cream – Yay for con volunteers Molly and Trevor and Phil! – another guy watching the process struck up a conversation, and that’s how we found ourselves chatting with FreeDOS creator Jim Hall, a superbly nice guy. (We met up with him again Saturday when they whipped up a batch of chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate-chocolate LN2 ice cream for his birthday. I think my eyeballs might still be vibrating from the sugar.)

Thanks to the patient and encouraging people at Aegis Consulting, I can say that I’ve seen my daughter hurl throwing knives and punch through a board with her bare hands. And it was her idea. Sure, she got a little nervous before each session, but she went through with it both times. This was even cooler than throwing knives and breaking stuff myself. (Which I did, of course.)

Friday night we had the first of a few encounters with the polite and gracious John Scalzi and Mary Robinette Kowal when their “Schmoozing 101” panel was moved to 10 p.m. in place of a scheduled Wheaton reading. Probably because of the schedule change, there were only about a half-dozen people there, I think – some of whom came in late – and the result was a really fun and entertaining hour on how not to be all “OhMyGawdYou’reINSERTNEATOFAMOUSPERSONHERE,” and how not to come off like a stalkery stalker stalking. (Information which I hope I put to good use over the next two days, since we crossed paths several times with many of the Penguicon guests.) Mr. Scalzi was good enough to chat for a few minutes afterward, and I introduced him to Kelsey, who had brought Zoe’s Tale to finish reading over the weekend. He was very courteous, and when Kelsey and I headed back to our room, she turned to me with this amazing smile and said, “That. Was. SO. COOL.”

In fact, that was one of the neatest things about the weekend: Being a midsize con – I think I’ve seen past attendance put at 800-1000 guests – and having everything there at the hotel where everyone was staying, the odds of bumping into well-known and extremely neat people were way better than average. The scope of the convention also made for a very comfortable feel and pace. Yes, the sheer immensity of something like a Star Wars Celebration is fun, but it’s also exhausting and demanding. Even though that can be fantastic in its own way, this time around, with my daughter along, I absolutely didn’t miss those wall-to-wall crowds and frantic pace. We never wanted for things to do and see, but we also had free time to swim, to sit around and chill, to play with/debug the Chaos Machine and to wander past panel rooms just to see who was in there and what was going on.

Saturday was full of more panels, and I was happy to see Kelsey interested in them. After those first couple on Friday, she realized there was a good shot of being entertained by the guests, even if she really wasn’t into the topic itself, and she was having a ball. (We also hit another of her “must see” events: the “Trust Me, It’s Just Chemistry” demonstration by Professor X. We snagged the last few feet of floor space for the rapid-fire show of “mix-these-and-watch-this” experiments, and there was much foaming and gelling and melting and fake snot making.)

We got some free Ubuntu stickers, which she stuck at the corners of her eyes. My kid rocks.

Saturday night’s live performance of “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” was incredibly fun, and frankly, as I told the guy who played the title role afterward, may have “ruined” the real video for my daughter, who had never seen it. She absolutely loved it, and I’m not sure seeing it on the TV screen (masterful as the film is), will ever be as funny to her as it was seeing it for the first time in the hands of passionate fans.

So Sunday morning, we started off by popping in to the book signing session, and here’s where another “wow-I-love-this-con” rush kicks in: I realize I’ve become a potential fan of several of these writers based on just hearing them speak or talking with them briefly, so I picked up Brian Briggs’ “The Bbook of Geek” and Daniel J. Hogan‘s Lulu-published “The Magic of Eyri.” I’d also planned to buy a copy of Jim C. Hines‘ “The Stepsister Scheme” – he had Kelsey in stitches during a panel on humor in science fiction, incidentally, and later we talked about the book for a few minutes in the lobby – but there was a quirk in scheduling, and I didn’t get to the dealer room in time, and he didn’t have any copies on hand, so it’s on my “to get” list. My daughter and I both also fell hard for Chris Hallbeck’s “Biff” cartoons, so I bought Vol. 3, “Fresh Toast” from the author’s table.

So now it’s late morning, and we hit the home stretch, and we’ve got one more box to check off Kelsey’s list: Open Soda – a crash course in making our own pop (because that’s what we call it here). She’s been looking forward to this one a LOT. About 15 minutes before I’m supposed to meet her for the presentation – she’d gone back to the room for something – I’m in the Consuite, and I see Andrew Hackard, Wil Wheaton’s editor, who’s been on a couple panels we’ve attended. I go over to say hi, and we talk for a few minutes about editing books with friends, and he becomes the 765th person to whom I say something along the lines of, “This is our first time here and we are totally blown away and loving it!” and then my phone buzzes, and I have to excuse myself because, I explain, it’s my daughter calling about Open Soda, and I need to head over. “That’s where I’m headed,” he responds, “Let’s go!”

Over the next hour, as we learn the details and process of making a fine fizzy peppermint beverage, I mention that the one thing Kelsey and I didn’t get to do was learn to play Munchkin, since we’d missed the only Beginners course of the weekend.

Then, since, you know, he’s the Munchkin Czar, Mr. Hackard says if we have time, he’ll teach us.

And that’s how we spent our last hours at Penguicon 7.0: Learning and then playing a full game of Munchkin with this incredibly generous person we’ve just met, and I’m watching him give Kelsey advice and I’m reveling in the smile on her face as she’s learning the twists and turns and sneaky fun moves – and, it should be noted, she’s totally kicking our butts under Mr. Hackard’s tutelage. “We have to get this game,” she tells me, lowering her head and looking over the top of her glasses.” In fact, not long after a particularly venomous and level-boosting turn – at which point our gaming host says with a smile, “That’s it. You get no more help from me!” – Kelsey wins. It is gorgeous and she is thrilled and I am bowled over once again at just how amazing a weekend we have had thanks to so many people who were unknown strangers just 48 hours before.

At about 2:15 p.m. Sunday, as we pulled back onto I-275, headed south, I turned to my daughter. “I just realized,” I said, “what we forgot to do.”


“What was the last thing you ate?”

Realization crosses her face. Another smile. “Breakfast.”

“It’s not a con,” I say, holding up a palm, “until you forget to eat.”

High five.

May 5, 2009 - Posted by | Books, Current Affairs, Fiction, Film, Games, geek, linux, Science, science fiction, Travel, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Just wanted to say, a link to this just got passed around the Penguicon general list, and your commentary is making the day of a lot of people. A lot of people you didn’t get a chance to meet just tossed you into the ‘friend’ list.

    Comment by Chuck Child | May 5, 2009 | Reply

    • I’m glad it’s being shared with the many, many people I didn’t get to thank in person, although I tried to let as many volunteers as possible know what a great time we had.

      Comment by jrbooth | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  2. […] bookmarks tagged rapid Epic Peng-win. saved by 12 others     knivesxd bookmarked on 05/05/09 | […]

    Pingback by Pages tagged "rapid" | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thanks for writing such a great review. Sometimes I’m in danger of getting jaded about the con. I grumble about the beef line, or Wil canceling again, or the jets on the hot tub not working… but when it’s all over, all I can say is that I had a blast, and can’t wait to do it again. Seeing the con through the eyes of a n00b just reinforces the positive. :-)

    Comment by wolfger | May 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Hey – I just checked your blog: You must’ve been sitting in the Open Soda class with us!

      Comment by jrbooth | May 5, 2009 | Reply

      • Yes. I remember the 2 little girls there who were very excited. Didn’t even recognize Wil’s editor in there (he was pointed out to me on Friday, though I never actually met him)

        Comment by wolfger | May 5, 2009

  4. Wish I could have been there…sounds like a must-do next year when I WON’T be in the midst of a bachelor weekend!

    Can I just say that WINDOWS SUCKS!

    Linus Torvalds RULES!

    Comment by Kink | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  5. Hi John–I found your blog via the magic of Google Alerts. Thanks again for buying my book, I hope you and your daughter enjoy it and the podcast. I’m glad you had a fun weekend and that you enjoyed all of the panels. Thanks again :)

    Comment by Daniel | May 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Always glad to support a fellow self-publisher: I was planning to hit the Sunday afternoon panel on self-marketing on a limited budget – something I’ve been working on for awhile – but by that time, we were dungeon-deep in that unplanned “Munchkin” game!

      Comment by jrbooth | May 5, 2009 | Reply

  6. Thank you so much! I worked the ConSuite much of the weekend this year. I very much appreciate the acknowledgment and appreciation, as well as the account from a self-proclaimed n00b of a wonderful time! It definitely took me back to my first year at P-Con, and brought a tear to my eye thinking of just how many meals I actually REMEMBERED to eat! :)

    Comment by Angela | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  7. I just want to say, seeing this really made my day. Seeing you and your daughter really helped make my con. It means a lot to me that you two could share your weekend with one another and us.

    This is what it’s all about.

    Comment by Molly | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  8. […] Some of the stuff we brought home from Penguicon 7.0: […]

    Pingback by Penguicon leftovers: Reheated and still tasty! « Cornfield Meet | May 6, 2009 | Reply

  9. Now that you’re hooked, any ideas on what you can contribute next year? Regardless of room space, there’s always time to squeeze in one more panel. The community is about sharing, after all :-)…

    Comment by Rick | May 9, 2009 | Reply

  10. […] cool coolness from Clone Wars writer George Krstic Just before I headed off to Penguicon, I received an absolutely jaw-dropping email about “Collect All […]

    Pingback by Amazingly cool coolness from Clone Wars writer George Krstic « Cornfield Meet | May 11, 2009 | Reply

  11. Now THAT’s a cool way to learn Munchkin.

    Comment by Kato | June 30, 2009 | Reply

  12. […] Dr. Horrible’s Live Penguicon 2009 Performance Remember the incredibly fun live performance of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog that I mentioned seeing at Penguicon in May? […]

    Pingback by Dr. Horrible’s Live Penguicon 2009 Performance « Cornfield Meet | August 21, 2009 | Reply

  13. […] May, author Jim C. Hines was among the many incredibly friendly and cool people my daughter and I met at Penguicon 7.0. (Kelsey still cracks up over a distubingly hilarious Sesame Street-related story he told during a […]

    Pingback by Go Mad with Jim C. Hines’ Mermaids and Princesses « Cornfield Meet | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  14. […] May, author Jim C. Hines was among the many incredibly friendly and cool people my daughter and I met at Penguicon 7.0. (Kelsey still cracks up over a distubingly hilarious Sesame Street-related story he told during a […]

    Pingback by Go Mad (in a good way) with Jim C. Hines’ Mermaids and Princesses « Cornfield Meet | October 6, 2009 | Reply

  15. […] Catherynne M. Valente’s weekend wedding. (She’s another author I discovered thanks to Penguicon – I absolutely love “A Buyer’s Guide to Maps of […]

    Pingback by To Infinite Cornfields – and Beyond! « Cornfield Meet | November 3, 2009 | Reply

  16. […] 1) May 6 – Hands-on and Close-up Fun: Penguicon 7.0 . That weekend in May was absolutely one of the highlights of the year, and even the decade, for me. (I did a longer, more personal and detailed post here.) […]

    Pingback by The 10 Things I Had The Most Fun Writing For GeekDad In 2009 « Cornfield Meet | December 31, 2009 | Reply

  17. Thanks for a great con review – I sure had a total blast, and look forward to another awesome Penguicon experience in 2010. Let me know if you have a favorite flavor so we can try making it for you next time!

    Comment by Phil Salkie | December 31, 2009 | Reply

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