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.”
How long until we hit the road for Penguicon? This long.
I’m deep in the important preparations: Laptop batteries & spares? Charged. (Yes, Jenn has been warned we’re taking the laptop with us, so she can spend the next few days adjusting to avoid separation anxiety. My wife loves an Ubuntu-equipped laptop. How awesome.) New double-As for the Flip and our digital cameras? Check. (Note to self: Clear the memory cards so we’ve got plenty of room for pictures. And don’t forget the USB cables.) Route: Mapped. (Look – we’re on here! We’re the red marker – see? We’re waving right now!) Schedule? Highlighted.
Kelsey & Me? Gearing. To. GO.
I haven’t made a full-on con road trip since Celebration III in 2005.
I considered looking into a table at the Artists Alley, but decided that since this was my first Penguicon and my daughter’s first convention, I’d rather be immersed in it and not feel like I was chained to my own little stack of Collect All 21! copies while everybody else was eating Schadenfreude Pie. Still, being amidst a crowd of do-it-yourselfers, I figure I’ll equip myself for some casual self-promotion accordingly. (There are, after all, even a few panels about this very thing!) I’m getting some Collect All 21! postcards printed up, and I’ll have a good supply of the New and Improved Edition on hand.
One of the local 501st garrisons is supposed to be there for awhile on Saturday, so I’m hoping there might be a Star Wars fan or two in that bunch.
Things are obviously a little weird around the Booth house of late, what with my newly-acquired Flying Solo work badge, but even amidst the uncertainty and the phone calls and emails and crossed fingers upon crossed fingers, I remain unbendingly optimistic and excited about two things:
The first is that we’re going to visit Jim in Florida soon, and see Jenn’s family, too. This will be awesome.
The second is Penguicon 7.0, which I’ll be attending for the first time along with my daughter, who’s reading “Zoe’s Tale” and asked if she could go after hearing about stuff like the liquid nitrogen ice cream, the gaming, the general geekitude, and watching Wil Wheaton sing Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on A Prayer.
Kelsey’s never been to a convention (Not one that she remembers, anyway: She did spend a day at FX Orlando back in the late 1990s, but she was an infant in a stroller at the time.) and while I was thrilled at her interest, I also wasn’t sure about the appropriateness of Penguicon. I mean, she would’ve done fine at, say, a Star Wars Celebration, but I’ve heard those Dragon*Con tales, too. Anyway, after receiving a little insight from someone who’s not only been there but has a daughter of similar age, Jenn & I gave Kelsey the greenlight, and our first Dad/Daughter convention road trip is a GO.
Last fall’s Screaming Tiki scratched my convention itch a little bit, but there’s nothing like a few nights away from home in a geekcon environment, soaking it all in.
(In fact, here are – so far – a dozen reasons to go to Penguicon.)
And c’mon, when Jane McGonigal teases with the notion that she’s “plotting cool stuff,” how can I not be psyched?
I’m also hoping that the whole do-it-yourself Open Source Attitude makes for a good atmosphere to share “Collect All 21!” – I thought about trying to get an Artists Alley table, but honestly I don’t want to feel lke I’m stuck there – and in fact, there are a couple panels on self-publishing and marketing that I’m interested in.
Mostly, though, I’m looking forward to hanging out with my daughter and hoping we have a good time. I don’t think that will be a problem.