Arisia is one of three prominent SF/F/H conventions held each year in the Boston area (Boskone and Readercon being the other two). This year was Arisia’s 22d edition (January 14-17, 2011) and my 18th consecutive Arisia.
Each of these three conventions has its own distinctive focus. Readercon, usually held in July, is devoted entirely to the reading, writing, editing and publishing of SF/F/H. Its Dealers Room is unashamedly devoted entirely to books and other genre related printed materials. Readercon does not stage an art show. Boskone, usually held in February, has its primary focus on genre writing , editing, and art with a secondary, minor, interest in gaming, filking, costuming and films. Boskone’s Dealer Room is strong on genre books but also gives a noticable nod to games, crafts, and costuming. Boskone stages an art show as a major element of its programming.
Arisia, usually held in January, was founded in 1989 by members of Boskone who wished to expand the range of interests served by the convention, and held its first separate convention in Boston in 1990. Like Boskone, Arisia took its name from the works of E.E. Smith. In Smith’s universe the Boskones were the bad guys and the Arisians were the good guys. In its fourth year, 1993, Arisia became the Boston area’s most attended annual genre convention, at about 1700 persons. This year’s attendence looks to match or exceed last year’s mark of just over 2400, making it about twice the size of Boskone and Readercon.
Like Readercon and Boskone, Arisia has a Writer Guest of Honor, hewing to its roots in SF/F/H publications. What has come to distinguish Arisia almost from its beginnings is the inclusion of a broader range of interests more or less balanced against the areas of writing & art. Gaming, costuming, dancing, crafts, weoponry, swordplay, leather & metalwork, films, filking, fan culture, science topics, children’s activities, and alternative lifestyle feature strongly in both its programming events and larger number of dealer concessions. Hall costumes and the Masquarade are very much a part of the con’s ambience (Steampunk Star Trekers were observed).
Arisia’s program books are professionally done and pleasing to the eye, and their pocket program addresses all the venues in an easy-to-follow format. Arisia also stages a local blood drive during the con in Heinlein’s memory. Arisia’s attendence figures over Boskone and Readercon are likely attributable at least in part to this wider range of interests served, So far, Arisia has refrained from becoming a Media Convention where the primary focus would be on media personalities, tv progamming, comics, and films. While all three of the Boston area conventions are welcoming of alternative lifestyles, Arisia actively includes progamming and dealer venues of interest to attendees in alternative lifestyles.
This year’s Arisia was held at the Boston Westin Waterfront Hotel, next to the Boston Convention Center, in Boston’s most extensive area of recent urban redevelopment. The Boston Westin is also the site of Boskone’s convention. One could almost hear the collective sigh of relief from the attendees at registration anticipating for the first time in many years that the con would finally have enough space and functioning elevators to accommodate Arisia’s needs. For all but four of its first 18 years, the Boston Park Plaza had been home to Arisia.
Wide corridors and speedy, well-functioning, elevators and a larger and more easily accessible convention layout improved this year’s Arisia over past years. With 640 scheduled panels and events, spread over the four-day Martin Luther King weekend, one had plenty from which to pick and choose. I usually check out the Artist Guest of Honor’s presentation of his/her work at the cons I attend and Arisia’s AGoH this year was glass artist Josh Simpson, an artist of whom I had not previously heard but whose presentation proved quite interesting. We watched an hour-long screening of the special PBS did of the trials and eventual success of his efforts to cast for Corning Glass an extraordinary and record-setting spherical paperweight exceeding 100 lbs. There followed an informative question and answer session during which we learned that his wife, Katy Coleman, was unable to be with him at the con due to her assignment by NASA as a mission specialist presently on the ISS (she will return to earth in May).
Shorter panels either seemed to run out of gas early or else have more gas than time. These longer panels each came to a smoother and less chaotic conclusion than the shorter panels. This was also true of another art panel I attended featuring Lex Berman and husband and wife artists Frank and Brianna Wu providing commentary to Lex’s slide show of poster and cover art depicting Robots (originally intended to include Alien Invaders and Madmen, but the robots took all of the 75 minutes. Alien Invaders and Madmen, we were advised, will each have their 75 minutes within the programming for Arisia 2012 and 2013 respectively.)
I did get to briefly meet all of the Guests of Honor, including Kelley Armstrong (Writer GoH), Josh Simpson (Artist GoH), Shaenon Garrity (Webcomic GoH), Rene Walling (Fan GoH) and Seanan McGuire (Special Guest GoH). Past GoH’s have included Harry Turtledove, Tim Powers, Michael Whelan, Spider & Jean Robinson, CJ Cherryh, and Lois McMaster Bujold. Next year’s Arisia, again to be held at the Boston Waterfront Westin Hotel (January 13-16, 2012), will have Phil and Kaja Foglio, and artist Gareth Hinds as Guests of Honor. Contact www.arisia.org for information.