World Con 2013: The Trip of A Lifetime

With Toni outside Marriott Rivercenter's main Restaurant
With Toni outside Marriott Rivercenter’s main Restaurant

Well, I’ve been away from blogging for a month due to various reasons, with apologies to those who follow the blog. And so I’m going to try and get back into the swing of it with this report on my recent trip to San Antonio for World Con. As those who’ve seen my pictures on Facebook can already tell, I had the trip of a lifetime.

This year’s World Con brought my first solo sit down meal with a Big Five editor. My first sit down meal with a Grand Master and writing hero. And my first chance to sit in the front rows at the Hugo Awards. Amongst other things. I met so many people, built on preexisting relationships, laid foundations for new relationships, and explored new possibilities in so many ways.

For me, World Con is the most important business meeting of my year by far. So many publishers, authors, editors, booksellers and others come together in one place that it just creates tremendous opportunities. So I plan my trip accordingly. I arrange meals in advance, focusing mostly on people I want to do projects with, friends or not. I try to get on panels and a reading and signing. But then I leave the rest of time free to just mingle and network.

Although this year’s trip started rough with a lost cell phone (a bit of a handicap when trying to meet up with people at a con spread over 3 buildings with 3500 attendees), I quickly shoved it aside and launched into my second day by having lunch with Toni Weisskopf, who was delightful. I remembered chatting with her in 2010 at ConQuest in Kansas City, when she was Editor GOH, but this time we met as publisher and author, as I am coediting an anthology for Baen. We mostly talked about life, ourselves, and anything but business but she did inquire how the anthology is coming and wound up inviting me to pitch another, so I offered two ideas. I’ll be more formally presenting them soon. One is an immediate follow up to Shattered Shields, the military fantasy anthology I am editing with Jenn Brozek for Baen right now. (We just closed our Table of Contents and are doing final edits now). The other is a collaboration with the delightful Cat Rambo.

I also got to finally meet Lezli Robyn for lunch. She’s been my online friend for ages and we had missed each other completely in Chicago, so we made a point of getting together this year. She’s delightful. We sat on a Mexican restaurant’s outdoor patio overlooking the River Walk and were soon joined by Kay Kenyon. Two lovely ladies. Such fun.

In between I had done my first panel, a science panel titled “My Favorite Dinosaur” and had fun with Elizabeth Bear and the other panelists, including artist-author Spring Schoenhuth, a paleontologist, and a scientist from Japan. Later that night, I did a panel with the flawed question: “Do SF Stories have Fewer Happy Endings Now?” which the panelists and I basically deconstructed for an hour. When you name panels, narrow questions work best. Broad ones so dependent on people’s perspectives, tastes, etc., generally don’t work as well, at least for writing panels.

My moderating seemed to go over well, so I was excited for my last panel with Gail Carriger, Robin Hobb and Amanda Downum the next day on “Intricate Worlds.” But first, I spent the evening at parties and BarCon, then did a little crit work for my Writer’s Workshop session that Sunday.

Saturday I slept in then worked on panel prep and workshop stuff before meeting Dave Farland to get Raygun Chronicles bookplates signed. We had chatted the night before for ninety minutes at the Writers and Artists of the Future panel and wound up hanging and chatting again for a while, with David Brin even stopping in at one point. Dave is a really nice guy who is in two anthologies for me this year, and I am very glad, after hearing about him for years, to finally get to meet and work with him.

Mid-day, JM McDermott took Maurice Broaddus, Django Wexler and I off site for a signing and panel on faith in fiction. We had a small crowd but a great discussion, then Django and I hit the food court for a quick meal before I headed to the worldbuilding panel. The ladies and I had decided in advance to not do the stereotypical worldbuilding panel, so I launched us off with worldbuilding pet peeves and we went for there. In all, I was told, it was a favorite and very helpful panel for many. We covered the under valued areas of worldbuilding, favorite examples and more. And the hour simply flew by. Fun people, and, of course, sitting between Carriger and Hobb, I was fanboying the whole time.

After that I just took a nap and worked on my crits so I could print them, then hit a couple parties. The Baen party was a priority, and due to all the rushing around and walking, wound up being my sole stop for the night, though I did grab dinner for a “date” with my pals Jay Werkheiser and Lisa Montoya, whom I met last year and joke around with now constantly on Facebook. Jay is in Analog a lot as a writer and has generously beta read for me a couple times. Just delightful folks.

Sunday I had my Bucket List breakfast with Robert Silverberg and my roommate, Alex Shvartsman–fellow editor and author, tagged along. Silverberg was a blast, as usual, being funny and a great conversationalist, and soon his wife Karen Haber joined as well, and she is a similar delight. Alex and I both got the All-You-Can-Eat buffet but ate only one plate because we didn’t want to go back and miss any of the conversation.100_0458

Then it was off to print my crits and lead my two hour Writer’s Workshop session. I think at least two of the writers were quite receptive. The third was polite but didn’t seem to agree with an assessment all four of the rest of us made of his work. But I hope all of them found benefit in it nonetheless. Time will tell, as always.

At one, I met Patrick Swenson, publisher of Beyond The Sun, John A. Pitts and Brenda Cooper and we had lunch and discussed our mutual book launch at OryCon. These are three of my favorite people in SFF. Normally, I see them once a  year at World Con. Excited that I’ll see them again, and that working on books has had me in touch with them a lot more this year than normal as Patrick published Beyond The Sun and Brenda and John each wrote stories for others.

The last bit of official duties was to record SFSignal podcast with Patrick Hester, Patrick Swenson and Beyond The Sun contributors, including authors Jean Johnson, Cat Rambo, Jamie Todd Rubin, Alex Shvartsman, Maurice Broaddus and artist Mitch Bentley. It flew by but was fun and I hope brings more attention to our collaboration, a project we’re all very proud of. Good reviews keep coming in and Gardner Dozois is reviewing it for Locus next month. Mitch also gifted me an original canvass of his cover art, which was a nice surprise I’ll treasure. I’ve worked with Mitch on four books now and his cover for Beyond The Sun is getting him accolades from Toni Weisskopf, Jack McDevitt, Robert Silverberg and more. Since I do anthologies to help myself and others build our careers, it’s nice to see it paying off for friends like that.

The night was taken up with Hugo Awards, where Alex accepted for Ken Liu and we spent the night carrying around a Hugo.

It was delightful to be together with the community and see recent conflicts and kerfluffles not interfere. That was probably the best surprise of all. Even Silverberg had confessed his fear that there would be a dark cloud over the proceedings but I was as warmly received by all as anyone, and clearly those who matter don’t pay much attention to rumors based on assumptions and innuendo, thankfully. We all had better things to do than discuss such overwrought unpleasantness. And I was relieved.

I am not naming everyone I met, but I did also meet several fans and Kickstarter backers, as well as other top people in the field. It was just an all around delight, and I wish I could afford to go to London. At this point, it appears World Con will be out for me, but we’ll see. It sure is a once a year time of greatness I’d hate to miss. The trip of a lifetime, as I said in the title to this post, and I look forward to many more to come.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. In addition to Shattered Shields, he edited the anthologies Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012), Beyond The Sun (2013) and Raygun Chronicles: Space Opera For a New Age (2013). He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter as @BryanThomasS.

SPACE BATTLES Author Profile: Meet Patrick Hester

Every Tuesday night, a new episode of the Functional Nerds podcast is posted at www.functionalnerds.com with hosts Patrick Hester and John Anealio chatting with authors like Blake Charlton, James Enge, L.E. Modesitt, and more. In addition to running the podcast, Patrick edits and records podcasts for www.sfsignal.com (for which he was just nominated for a Hugo) and author Mur Lafferty and can be found at www.atfmb.com. But beyond podcasting, he recently signed with Agent Bob Mecoy and is marketing his first science fiction series to publishers. His Space Battles story, “First Contact,” is his first SF short story sale and has a lighter, more humorous flair than many of the others.

BTS: How did you find out about the Space Battles anthology and what made you decide to submit?

Patrick Hester: You contacted me about the anthology.  At first, I was flattered but uninterested; I’ve had a hard time with short fiction.  I think I’m wired for novels.  It wasn’t until a second message that I thought I should at least give it a try.  Now, I’m glad that I did.

BTS: This is your first anthology sale, correct? Tell us a little about “First Contact.” What’s it about? Where’d this particular idea come from?

PH: Yes, this is my first anthology sale.  I like an adventure, and this anthology lent itself to the kind of story I wanted to tell.  “First Contact” has a pilot and his navigator out on the rim looking for the enemy.  They’re at war, and what they find is more than they bargained for.  Where this came from is complicated.  I had two ideas for a long time and neither one worked right until I decided to put them together.  In this case, a fighter jockey on the rim was one half-written story, and the second part, what they find, was actually a different, earlier story.

BTS: Does it tie into any of the other fiction you’ve written?

 PH: I have two universes that I write in.  Yes, this ties to one of them.  If I sell more stories, you’ll get to see more of this universe.  🙂

BTS: Yours is one of the more humorous stories in this collection. What’s the trick/challenge to writing humor successfully?

PH: Oh, boy.  It has to be natural.  You can’t force it.  I know writers who try to force it and you can tell.

BTS: You recently signed with an agent and have some novel series in the works. What can you tell us about those?

PH: Yep, I have an urban fantasy series, set in Denver (where I live).  First two books are written and currently being shopped by my agent, Bob Mecoy (http://www.bobmecoy.com/).  My pitch for the first book is: SAMANTHA KANE: INTO THE FIRE is a 95,000 word, fast-paced, first-person detective story, full of adventure, magic and flagrant smart-assery.  The book follows a week in the life of my protagonist, Samantha Kane, as she tries to hold her family together while learning to control a new power growing inside of her.  Before it kills her.

BTS: You are also a master podcaster, constantly busy. How’d you get involved with that and where can we find and listen to your work?

PH: A few years back, I became aware of the idea of an author platform; essentially, this comes down to your visibility, online presence, marketability and networking.  I was already blogging and dipping my toes into the burgeoning social media platforms, and podcasting felt like a natural progression, so I did a little research and started producing my own podcast at www.atfmb.com.  This got the attention of John DeNardo from SFSignal, who was talking about a musician named John Anealio.  Anealio and I started chatting.  He was doing his own podcast and we decided to meld the two, creating the Functional Nerds podcast (www.functionalnerds.com).  About twenty or twenty-five episodes in, we approached DeNardo about producing a podcast for SFSignal.com as well.  He liked the idea.  Today, Functional Nerds puts out a new episode every Tuesday (we’re nearly at a hundred), and SFSignal.com has two episodes a week, Mondays and Thursdays (we have passed a hundred episodes!). And we just got nominated for a Hugo for that.

BTS: Congratulations! What other projects do you have in the works that we can look forward to?

PH: There are some things on the horizon for Functional Nerds, but John and I are still in the planning stages so I probably shouldn’t say too much just yet.  I have a space opera I hope to add to my agent’s plate soon.  Also, I’ve been working on a space western series, a throwback to the old-time serials I used to watch with my grandmother years ago.  But I want to get the novels published first.

patrick@thenewuniverse.com

My blog, All Things From My Brain: http://www.atfmb.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/atfmb
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/atfmb
The Functional Nerds Podcast: http://www.functionalnerds.com
The SFSignal Podcast: http://www.sfsignal.com

Webcomic: ShadowBytes.com
Skype: guitarbluesman

Here’s a sneak peek at Patrick’s Space Battles story, “First Contact:”

First Contact

Patrick Hester

“I hate this.”

“Know what? I love it.”

Xyn banked hard to port to let the chunk of rock in front of them pass by harmlessly. The asteroid belt before them was full of such natural missiles whizzing past, and this had been a little stray rock breaking away from the rest of the group. The nav deflectors would take care of the smallest bits, but he’d need to keep his eyes open for
the larger rogues. Seated behind him, Zian manned the scopes and watched for League ships. “Best hit the shields, Z. We’re getting close now.”

“You would love this,” Zian replied sourly. “All alone on the Edge. Two hours from the nearest help and looking, actually looking, for League ships. It’s madness!”

“It happens to be our job to look for League ships. We signed on for this when we joined up in the first place. Besides, it’s fun! We’re actually on the Edge, Z. On the other side of these rocks is the Great Unknown! Billions of worlds could—no, should, be out there just waiting to be discovered. When this war is over, we’ll be able to go out there with the fleet. We’ll be explorers, not fighter jocks.”

“Why do they always hide in asteroid fields anyway?”

“No clue. Maybe they’re looking for something.”

“Like what?”

“Who knows? Shields in place?”

“Yep.”

“Good. Keep your eyes peeled for—”

Alarms started squealing and the HUD lit up with fireflies seconds before the ship shuddered and shook violently.

“What the hell?” Xyn banked hard, kicking the thrusters up to max and spiraling away from the attack.

“Where’d they come from?”

“No idea! They just appeared—the scope was clean and then they were just there!”

“Some sort of cloak…?” The ship shuddered again, and again Xyn took her into a spin, trying to come around and bring his own weapons
to bear on the enemy fighter. “I can’t shake em…”

The forward view flared and popped as the fire from the enemy pulse cannons impacted the shields and lit up the debris from the asteroid field. There was something different about the fire, coming in faster than he was used to with League ships. He needed to get them away from that fire if they were going to make it out alive.
Staring out the view, he got the craziest idea he’d ever considered. Throwing the engines into full, he tucked his tail and flew for cover.

“What are you doing? You can’t go into an asteroid field!”

“I can, I just shouldn’t. There’s a difference.”

Setting his course for the biggest asteroid he could see, Xyn made a beeline for it while the cannon fire intensified behind him.

“They really don’t want us going in there,” Zian commented. “Huh.”

“What?”

“The ship is different. Computer can’t identify it.”

“Great. That’s what we need, the League with new ships. Intelligence should’ve warned us.”

“Maybe they don’t know?”

“Dump the power from the forward shields into the aft. I won’t be able to avoid all the fire if I want to keep us on course. Too many asteroids, not enough room to maneuver.”

“You do realize that you’re insane, right?”

“I’m a pilot. Part of the job description.”

“If you get me killed, I will haunt you.”

The ship lurched as the League fighter found its mark. Xyn let them hit the aft shields, then pulled back on his speed just enough to make it seem, he hoped, like he’d been damaged. Behind him, Zian was muttering about energy signatures. “What was that?” he asked.

“The energy signature is all wrong.”

“New ships and a new energy source? Intelligence my ass. Kobo will lose her mind.”

Kobo was Fleet Commander, Third Division, and Xian’s mother. She never wanted him to enlist, but the war kept dragging on with mounting casualties and fewer pilots. Convincing her to let him sign on became easier over time. Now he was one of the best pilots around, according to his direct superior.

Waiting for the League fighter to close the distance between them, Xyn kept his eye on the giant asteroid looming before them and the fighter behind them. When the computer told him he was in trouble, he counted to five, then fired his aft torpedo. The torpedo shot out and shattered into a thousand pieces halfway between his ship and the enemy, each bit of what looked like shrapnel glittering with energy. Arcs jumped between them, dancing along to build strength and intensity. The energy web expanded. The enemy fighter altered course, trying to avoid collision, but the net formed too fast. As soon as the fighter struck the corner of the web, it contracted,
wrapping the fighter in crackling energy, rippling across the hull.

Momentum kept the ship moving forward, but the pilot would not be able to navigate or fire weapons for a few seconds.

“Got ’em!” Zian whooped.

“Only slowed ’em. We still need the cover of the asteroid field to turn this whole thing around. Put the forward shields back up.”

“Aye.”

Xyn turned hard to port, already feeling the pull of the giant asteroid before him.

“Um,” Zian said. “We’re pretty close.”

“Hush,” Xyn ordered. The ship shuddered violently. He guided her around without crashing, but it was closer than he would’ve liked. Diving to put the asteroid between him and the enemy, Xyn started firing torpedoes at seemingly random targets. Each torpedo impacted after they passed, shredding the rocks, scattering debris behind them.

“Why blow up the rocks?”

“Makes it harder for the enemy to follow us, all that garbage flying at ’em. Hold on to something.”

The sleek ship curved, banked, and spun to avoid the chunks of rock that could easily destroy it. Xyn charted his course by relying on his sight alone, what the old-timers called ‘seat of the pants’ flying.

The only path he saw open to them was to pass through the asteroid belt. Rocks of all sizes zipped along; most he avoided, some landed blows that shook the ship. The trip was shorter than it felt, then they were staring out at open space and into the Great Unknown.

“Um.”

“Calm down, I know what I’m doing.”

As he stared out at the deep, dark nothingness between galaxies, Xyn wasn’t actually sure he believed that statement. Keep it together, he thought.

“Contact aft!”

“Already?”

Xyn kicked the engines back into maximum, trying to build up a little speed and bring his weapons to bear. The League pilot was better than he gave him credit for. He expected to have more time. The shields flared and popped.

“What in Fel is that?”

“What?” Xyn launched an aft torpedo, but the League pilot shot it down before it could even arm. New coordinates popped up on his HUD. He blinked. “That…what is that?”

“I don’t know. Something big out here where there isn’t supposed to be anything.”

“No wonder he’s trying so hard to kill us. We better have a look.”

“Can we kill the enemy first?”

“Don’t rush me.” Xyn spared a glance at the shields. “We have forty percent left on the shields. That buys us time.”

“Great. I will haunt you. I’m not kidding about that.”

The League ship’s fire intensified. Xyn cut his engines, spun the ship and started firing wide of the League fighter, driving it to bank starboard. Trailing it with fire, he landed a few blows, but not enough to do any real damage. Kicking his own engines back up to full, Xyn shot towards the asteroid belt. Angling his course, he skirted the edge, cutting a zig-zag pattern in and out, heading towards the coordinates Zian fed to the HUD.

“I—What? The computer doesn’t even know what that is.” Zian breathed.

Through the forward port, he saw a massive ring, wider in diameter than any ship of the line. Lights pulsated all along the rim, bits of energy arcing along the surface. Xyn found his eyes fixed on the armada of League ships assembled before the ring. More ships than he’d ever seen together in one place before. The reports he had seen said the League couldn’t pull a fleet like this together. Obviously, they were wrong.

“That,” he said to Zian, “is the end of this war.”

Continued in Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 which you can purchase here starting now (preorders end April 17).