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Monday, May 4 12:00 AM ET

Penguicon 7.0 Highlights

By Brian Briggs - follow me @


I spent the past weekend enjoying myself at the sci-fi / open source convention called Penguicon. I have attended the convention for many years, but this year was my first as a participant. What follows are the highlights and lowlights of the weekend culled from my Twitter feed, my sleep-deprived brain and my pics on Twitpic. (This is another one of those reality-based posts I do from time to time. The following events are real, the names have not been changed, because no one was innocent.)

Day One - Headed over to convention for day one of the festivities. Bummed about Wil Wheaton getting sick and not being able to make it to the convention. I didn't have any panels on the first evening, so I could just relax and take in the sights.

I had pre-registered for the con so check-in was easy. The friendly volunteer told me I had overpaid for my registration (discount for being a panelist) and I could get a refund on Sunday. Getting money back always puts me in a good mood.

I grabbed a program and found a seat in the lobby, to plan what events I was going to hit. Realized Ann Arbor's own Tom Smith was sitting across from me. Chatted with him for a while. Tom had recorded the Jonathan Coulton concert I went to earlier in the year. He told me the recording didn't turn out well, but he did tell me the secret message that Paul of Paul and Storm left on the recording for Tom. It was, "This is Paul. I farted."

Openging CeremoniesI scoped out the room where my panels would be. It was a very small room. Only enough spaces for about 10-15 people. One of the panels I was in had 6 panelists, so it would be tight.

Then I headed up to the ballroom for opening ceremonies. After brief introductions of the guests of honor, Wil Wheaton's editor (and substitute Wil) read from a letter Wil wrote to apologize for not coming to the convention (for a second time). Then a Dr. Horrible impersonator appeared and said it was he who made Wil sick and kept him from the convention. Thankfully, Captain Hammer arrived and took care of Dr. Horrible.

After that Tom Smith played his Penguicon convention song recalling the previous guests of honor adding a new verse for this year's guests. Hilarious as always. It was then I realized I had come to every Penguicon except for the very first one.

Tux led a conga line out of the room to kick off the convention. I was exhausted, and had an 8 AM panel the next morning, so I decided to call it a night, and headed home.

Day 2 - I didn't get much sleep. I was nervous about being on a panel. You know, the whole social anxiety thing. A couple of the other panelists, Cherie Priest and Catherynne Valente, were surprised anyone showed up for such an early panel. The literature guest of honor for the con, Sarah Hoyt was still on mountain time and didn't show until about 15 minutes late

The panel was entitled "Liars, Liars: Discussing lying in fiction, unreliable narrator, fake memoirs and histories, authority in prose. Books like The Things They Carried that play with the idea of the author as a liar to great effect." In preparation for the panel, I read The Things They Carried, which I recommend.

I was hoping to contribute my expertise on fooling people by being an unreliable narrator myself. I was a bit nervous, and my voice cracked a bit in my introduction, but I made it through. I didn't get to say much. The other panelists provided the insight, particularly Sarah Hoyt. I can't say I was too concerned about the others monopolizing the conversation.

Finally, the talk turned to people's willingness to believe stories, and I saw this as my chance to contribute. I started to speak about BBelievers on BBspot. I got two words out, when one of the other panelists said, "That looks like all the time we have."


Next, I headed over to the consuite to grab some food and coffee. From there I posted this tweet:

Several teens dressed as cats passed by. Did I mention they were leashed? All kinds of fun here.

My next panel wasn't until 2 PM, so I had some time to fill. I sat in the lobby for a bit, and started talking with Rob Balder of the FuMP and web comics Partially Clips and ErfWorld. He was discussing a new subscription program at Erfworld. Obviously, I'm interested in different ways to make money from Web sites. After about 10 minutes of conversation, I realized I hadn't introduced myself. He was familiar with BBspot, which was cool.

I brought out The BBook of Geek and he started looking through it. He was looking at the page on Zork, and said that I should've put in a mention of MC Frontalot. Smile. Of course, I had done that. I pointed it out to him and he said that he had to have a copy of the BBook now. Thanks, MC Frontalot, I owe you one.

Tron GuyAfter signing a book for Rob, he took me up to his table in the dealers room. I returned the favor by buying a "I think, therefore I win." T-shirt. My friend Jeff had arrived at the convention, so after saying our goodbyes, Jeff and I headed over to a discussion on MMORPGs. This is when Tron guy showed up to give guest of honor Jane McGonigal a gift. You can tell I'm a geek because I took a picture of Tron guy instead of Jane McGonigal.

Next, Jeff and I split up. I went over to a panel on how authors can use social networks to keep in touch with fans. During this panel I had one of my geekiest moments (and for me that's saying something).

Tron guy showed up with a gift for Hugo-award winning author John Scalzi. It was a cardboard box taped shut. Scalzi asked if anybody had anything to open it. I popped up and handed him my Swiss Army Knife (which has a 32 GB USB drive duct taped to it). I stood there in my "Good Spock, Evil Spock" shirt while he opened the box and as Tron guy took our photo. After the boxes were open I returned to my seat and Twittered:

"Just let @scalzi use my Swiss Army Knife to open a package delivered by the Tron guy w/ my evil spock shirt on at #penguicon #outgeek"

No one even tried to outgeek me on that one.

CombatJeff and I grabbed some lunch, then returned to the con to the Atari 2600 competition. This was supposed to be a showdown between Wil Wheaton and Linux Journal editor Shawn Powers on the game Combat. Wheaton's substitute didn't show up either, so members of the audience took on Shawn while Scalzi did the play by play. I was surprised how much fun it was to watch two people play an ancient game. It kept us entertained for 45 minutes.

Next up was my "So you want to quit your day job?" I felt much more prepared for this panel having actually quit my day job. On this panel were sci-fi/fantasy authors Elizabeth Bear, Jim C. Hines and Sarah Zettel. It was a full room, and I contributed a few tips to the audience from my experience of quitting my day job. The other panelists were great. It was fun and I think very informative for the audience.

After an hour break, my final panel of the convention about humor in science fiction and fantasy entitled "What's So Funny?" with fellow panelists John Scalzi, Dan Hoyt, Daniel Hogan, Jim C. Hines and David Crampton. The six of us squeezed together at the front of the room and had some fun. During my self-introduction, Scalzi chimed in that he had my book and that it was "actually funny." I noted that this would be on the cover of the second printing "actually funny" - John Scalzi. Maybe I can ask him to revise it a bit.

The PrisonerThis panel was a lot of fun. We did have some serious discussion about humor in sci-fi and fantasy, but most of it was joking around, which is something I can contribute to. During the panel Scalzi twittered:

"On a panel on humor. I plan to be dour."

I replied: "@scalzi saw you smile - fail."

To which he Twittered: "@briggsb It wasn't a smile. It was a rictus of pain and angst. So there."

Not sure that outgeeks the Swiss Army incident, but it's pretty close.

There was one panelist who didn't have much of a sense of humor. I made a crack about something he said, and he got all serious on me. I think he forgot it was supposed to be a humor panel. I think the crowd was on my side though.

I was a bit bummed that the humor panel coincided with the Tom Smith concert, but luckily there was a Funny Music Project concert that was a blast later that evening. You really should head over to the FuMP's Web site and download Tom Smith's latest tune entitled, "Cruisin' for Chicks on Google Maps."

After the concert I called it a night and headed home for some much-needed rest.

Day 3 - On the final day of the convention, I was part of a book signing with the other authors from the convention. It was 9 AM on Sunday morning, so none of us expected a very big crowd and we weren't disappointed. In fact, I walked into an empty ballroom at 8:50 AM. It didn't even look like it was set up for a book signing. Scalzi showed up. We chatted a bit, and then he headed off to find out what the heck was going on with the empty room. We decided just to set it up ourselves. Daniel Hogan and I put on our +3 Sandals of Creeping then went and stole acquired a table from another part of the convention.

Chilling with CthulhuI had brought along my giant stuffed Cthulhu and the LEGO portrait of myself for the signing. I figured since I wasn't a famous author like the others, I'd have to resort to some cheap tricks to get people to come over. The room was pretty empty.

Elizabeth Bear did some readings from the other author's books. I should've had her read something from mine, but didn't get the chance. Most of the time I sat and listened to Scalzi tell some funny stories about previous conventions. I did sell one book (thank you!), so it wasn't a total wash.

I think I looked pretty noobish with my box full of about 20 books. Next time I'll know better, and only bring a few.

After the signing I grabbed some coffee and breakfast at the ConSuite, then hung around a bit to grab my refund. That was it for Penguicon 7.0. I had a great time and met some great people. I look forward to doing it again next year.

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