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Arisia 2011: Bigger, better, and building up to Boskone


This past weekend, Arisia returned for its 22nd annual year. It's a sci-fi and fantasy convention that happens in Boston every year, and ... yes, this sounds familiar, doesn't it? Sounds a lot like Boskone, the sci-fi and fantasy convention that is slated to take place in the exact same location -- the Westin Boston Waterfront -- on February 18-20.

Don't worry. These two cons aren't in direct competition -- well, not exactly. Possibly inaccurate con legend ahead: Boskone and Arisia used to be the same con, but they got too big, too rowdy, and above all, too sexy for the hotel they normally booked for the event. So, Boskone became the con for stiff, serious sci-fi and fantasy fans, and Arisia was for the fans who wanted to strut about in corsets and garter belts ... while still having serious conversations about sci-fi and fantasy, mind you -- okay, and also sex. Many fans attend both cons, both cons' names are references to the Lensman novels by E. E. Smith, and now they've both grown so big that they actually take place in the same hotel just a few weeks* apart -- and not even the same hotel that kicked them out the first time around, mind you, but a much bigger one. One wonders why these two cons don't just combine forces and take over the entire convention center, but perhaps their history has more nuance than we know ... or more likely it would just be too much of a sensory overload.

After all, Arisia is a sensory overload as it is. All good cons are, of course, but Arisia overwhelms your hormones as much as your wits, since half the panels are about the best ways to bang. The con took place over MLK weekend this year, which made it into a four-day fest of freaky fun, and the new location at the Westin meant more room for more events and less claustrophobia. All in all, a great success.

I wasn't looking for love at Arisia, but the friends of mine who were on the prowl had no trouble, uh, making ends meet. Different events cater to each of the age groups looking to meet fellow geeks; the 8-bit and demoscene dance nights are best for the college set, the Barfleet parties are a better fit for the older Trekkies, and the constant shadow-casts and film screenings make for a great con "date" once you find someone to ask. If all else fails, there's always the annual renowned "Flirt Like A Pro!" panel, where you need only look around the packed room to find fellow flirters.

Last year, I felt so overwhlemed by the con's unabashed focus on sexiness that I almost felt like Arisia wasn't "for" me. It's still true that much of the con caters to the polyamourus circuit and BDSM practitioners in particular, but this thing has gotten huge enough that even the most conservative sci-fi geeks would find panels they'd enjoy (although, walking through hallways full of sheer shirts and nipple tape might be too much for a truly conservative geek).

Arisia had 640 events over the course of the weekend, which included panels, plays, shadow-casts, screenings, and miscellaneous meetings -- and that's not including all of the informal meet-ups at the hotel and surrounding areas. Needless to say, some events are better than others. Here are the highlights:

Friday night, I attended Dr. Who: The Starship of Madness, a live radio play by the Post-Meridian Radio Players about H.P. Lovecraft meeting Dr. Who. The rest of the characters were original -- as far as I know -- and the whole thing was hilarious. I'm a pretty casual Dr. Who fan, but I still got all of the jokes, and the Lovecraft interludes were a nice touch.

On Saturday, I went to Take Back the Sci-Fi, in which Genevieve Iseult Eldredge, Catt Kingsgrave-Ernstein, Ken Kingsgrave-Ernstein, and Trisha Wooldridge talked about science fiction's employment of rape as a plot device. Shira Lipkin moderated, taking careful note at the outset to explain that this wasn't a panel meant to discuss survivors' personal experiences, as last year's panel apparently went left field into triggering territory. This year's panel took a step back and talked about various books and television shows with a more clinical eye, which was appreciated given the violent subject matter. Two of the panelists were certified to work at rape crisis centers, and all of the panelists were writers and/or readers of science fiction themselves, so they all had examples of both "right" and "wrong" depictions. Arisia has many panels advising would-be writers and creators how best to structure their stories, and having a panel about the notorious overuse of this particular plot point made sense and was skillfully and carefully handled by the panelists.

Saturday night, I checked out the 12-minute Game of Thrones preview. I've written about this upcoming HBO fantasy drama before, multiple times. In my most recent post, I fretted that the new trailers were focusing too much on action and not enough on dialogue. I've read the series by George R. R. Martin on which the show will be based, so I already know how I want this show to look and feel. Although I'm trying to lower them, my expectations are damn high. I ended up enjoying the preview very much, and I felt more confident about the show's progress afterward. The twelve minutes included more interviews with the actors about how they saw their characters, as well as more dialogue, and some really neat new shots of costumes and sets. This preview was clearly meant for the detail-obsessed fans like me, whereas the action-packed trailers are meant to interest the unfamiliar.

Saturday night was the Masquerade, which was all well and good, but I think I've been spoiled by the big to-dos at Anime cons. Arisia focuses more on costuming and walk-ons than on sketches and dance skits, which some people prefer, but I would've liked to see some more comedy bits in there. Maybe I'll have to enter one myself someday, and start a trend.

On Sunday, I attended Scientific Consensus vs. Scientific Truth. Needless to say, global warming came up a lot, but other theories were discussed as well. Even huge advocates of the scientific method occasionally make rhetorical slip-ups about this type of thing, and I thought it was enlightening to hear from a panel of Real Live Scientists about disagreements in the scientific community. Said scientists included Thomas A. Amoroso, Terry Franklin (moderating), Steven Hirsch, Ken Olum, and Jason Schneiderman.

Immediately after, I went to a completely different but equally excellent panel called Running Great Games. Geneveive from the Take Back the Sci-Fi panel was a panelist here as well, this time talking about her experiences running tabletop RPGs and more specifically, taking part in LARPs, which seem to come with their own interpersonal dramas. A panelist who went by "DKap" talked about his experiences running RPGs that have lasted 20 or 30 years; you have to read huge reams of text if you want to join up with his games. Adam Nakama was the "youth" on the panel, and he spoke about how he likes to run more emotional, dramatic games and encourages intense role-playing from his players by rewarding experience points to the best actor of a given game session. The moderator was Mike McPhail, an Air Force vet who likes military strategy games and who was hands-down the best moderator of any panel I saw at the con. McPhail was so good at his job that audience members could scarcely think of any questions to ask that hadn't been answered; this is an impressive rarity at Arisia, where audience members love to ask questions and pipe up during panels.

On Monday, I checked out Post-Antibiotic SF, which included both SF writers and medical professionals discussing bacteria. The panelists didn't talk much about fiction or writing at all, nor did they discuss bacteria or antibiotics in science fiction as I think they were supposed to, but it was a fantastic panel nonetheless and I never would have expected to learn so much information about bacteria and antibiotics at a convention. The panelists included Thomas A. Amoroso (who had also been on the Scientific Consensus vs. Scientific Truth panel), Amy Chused, Justine Graykin (moderating), Seanan McGuire, and Sarah Smith. McGuire stole the show by reciting excerpts from a song she wrote about the Black Death (lyrics here) and telling an audience member seeking health advice: "Well, don't lick things."

The last panel I attended at the con was The Future of Etiquette, with Christopher Davis moderating and David Larochelle and Mistress Simone as panelists. Simone, being a professional dominatrix, has had a lot of experience dealing with unprofessional customers, as well as issues of online privacy and modern etiquette. Chris Davis and David Larochelle had less specific concerns, although the conversation kept veering away from etiquette into privacy issues. I mentioned Blizzard's Real ID controversy in a question, and I was surprised to find no WoW or StarCraft players present, and thus I was forced to remember: no, I am not at a video gaming convention. Much as Arisia loves its LARPs and tabletop and board games, video games don't seem to be as well-represented here for whatever reason.

Lastly, I'd like to extend a special thank-you to whichever con staffer decided to use a smartphone app called The Conventionist to provide Arisia's maps and schedules to attendees. The con's new home at the Westin meant an unfamiliar and larger lay-out, so both newbies and prior attendees alike needed easy access to maps in order to make sense of the new place. Arisia provided paper schedules and maps, signs with directions, and this fantastic app. I strongly hope that other conventions take note and use The Conventionist for their own cons. We're looking at you, Boskone!

* Boskone and Arisia are not two weeks apart; they are five weeks apart. My apologies for my apparent inability to perform basic math.

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  • samuraix47 said:

    I enjoyed Arisia too. Been going for 6 years now. But I must take issue with your characterization that half the panels are "about the best ways to bang." Out of the 640 events, lectures, panels, workshops, etc, etc.  36-40 or so could be considered related to sex, or sexuality. I think that is just undeserving for 6 percent of the convention.  There is much that is geared for families and children. The Arts, Crafts and Costuming are geared for everyone. The more adult themed panels and events are kept to the late evening hours. Maybe take a look at all the programming again and you can see there is a lot more there for everybody.

    January 21, 2011 1:05 AM
  • TheOne said:

    To clarify Arisia's origins, while Arisia did indeed come about in part from folks who were disappointed in Boskone's new direction after leaving Boston in the mid-80s (and dropping considerably in size) Arisia and Boskone were never the same convention.

    Two decades later, they remain separate events, each with a different focus, even if there is now more overlap in the people involved in running them.  (There has always been overlap in the attendees.)

    As for why these conventions don't use a convention center, the economics of using a convention center are very different from being in a hotel, and would mean a very different pricing structure at least.  Using a convention center could easily increase the budget for the event by an order of magnitude.

    January 21, 2011 5:20 AM
  • Meagan said:

    Maddy Myers didn't attend the same con as I did. As Samuraix47 says, there were 640 different events, panels, etc, etc. To emphasize the 40 that were lifestyle or related to sexuality does a disservice to Arisia. It's a varied place where I think anyone in fandom can find something interesting, including families, teens, and adults of all ages and interests.

    January 21, 2011 8:27 AM
  • Ron Newman said:

    Boskone is five weeks after Arisia, not two.

    January 21, 2011 10:31 AM
  • heinleinfan said:

    That special thank you goes mostly to Assistant Con Chair Lisa Holsberg, who did a lot of the legwork to get that app in use and out there for congoers.

    January 21, 2011 12:18 PM
  • Micah said:

    I am a member of the Programming Department, and partially responsible for a portion of the panel scheduling, I must take exception to a part of this article. As others have said, characterizing half of our programming as "about the best ways to bang" is a gross exaggeration, and does a grave disservice to the image of Arisia. Yes, we talk about sex and sexuality. We also talk about costuming, literature (and not just sci-fi or fantasy), science, art and more. Yes, we have an active nightlife, but it is not just about hooking up, and never has been. There is something for everyone at Arisia, and it would be a shame if anyone decided against coming to the con because of a mischaracterization.

    Although maybe a panel entitled, "The Best Ways to Bang" might be a good addition to the late night lineup. I'll bring it up at a future Programming meeting. Thanks for the idea!

    January 21, 2011 1:46 PM
  • Douglas said:

    Life itself, and modern media, certainly has a more than 6% obsession with relationships and sex. Why should nerd culture be any different?

    Arisia also has a tremendously successful series of programs and panels for kids. Please don't make it out to be so pervy!

    January 21, 2011 4:16 PM
  • Fuzcat said:

    ARISIA is a big enough convention that everyone can find what they are looking for. I find it strange that anyone who claims to attend large anime cons would be shocked in any way by the hall costumes at arisia. That your eye was drawn to so many panels dealing with sex says more about you then it does about the con.  Yeah, they are there (and as someone already pointed out, are usually scheduled late in the evening) and there is a significant subset of the fanish population who enjoy these panels.  

    There is also and entire track of programing just for kids (called fast track), programing on science, writing, art, dance, history, comics, film, live preformances and just about every other subset you can think of in the genre.  One of the nice things about it being a fan run convention is, if you do think of something you want and arn't seeing it, you can always suggest it or even get involved in planning it.

    I was there for the entire convention.  I attended panels, workshops, live preformances and the always fantastic art show.  I didn't have any trouble filling my schedule with "non-sex" related activities.  If anyone would like a more objective view of what can be found at ARISIA, I recomend goint to their web page and look at the schedule. (

    Boskone has not finilized their schedule yet, but you can also get a general idea of what they will be offering at their website. (

    January 21, 2011 8:07 PM
  • fibrowitch said:

    I think Maddy and I went to different conventions. I attended panels on comics, movies, tv shows turned into movies.

    This article does a major disservice to a wonderful convention. I am disappointed that the editors of this newspaper published it!

    January 23, 2011 1:33 PM
  • AudioBoyMA said:

    While I agree that Maddy over-stresses the emphasis on sex and sex-related things at Arisia, I find it interesting that some people are, in turn, doing the same thing they're accusing her of: focusing only on one aspect of her article.

    It's not like this was a vitriolic blog from a horrified parent or some group trying to "protect the moral fiber of our youth" or something. She genuinely enjoyed herself, talked about events and panels that she went to, and came away with many positive things to say about her experience and giving the con a very good review.

    In light of that, I'm not quite sure how it "does a major disservice to a wonderful con" when, in fact, she was saying how wonderful a con Arisia is...

    January 23, 2011 3:24 PM
  • samuraix47 said:

    Yes the rest of the article is great. She did have quite a diverse experience. It was really just that one line that could set a prejudicial tone to the rest of the article and that some casual readers would be put off at that point and not look at the rest of it.

    January 25, 2011 1:42 AM

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