Another Year of Onions and Roses at Norwescon

Last weekend was Norwescon 37, and the fourth I’ve attended since moving to Seattle. Norwescon has become my “home” con, in multiple senses of the word. It’s the largest sci-fi/fantasy con in Seattle focused on literature and writing– which makes it a good home for me as a writer. But it’s also large enough to host a thriving cosplay community, which makes it a good home for me as a photographer. It’s small enough to be friendly and low-pressure, yet big enough to get some energy out of the crowd. Every year I go, the con becomes more enjoyable as I meet more people, make new friends, and feel more a part of the community.

Every year after the con is over, Norwescon solicits feedback from congoers, asking people to submit feedback in the form of “roses” (good things) and “onions” (bad things). So with that in mind, here I go. Some of these are duplicates from previous years, but if they remain prominent in my mind, well, I’m including them again.

Rose: Panels. There were a lot of good panels this time– and some more advanced and creative stuff, alongside the usual Worldbuilding 101 and ZOMG E-Books.

First Page Idol was a panel with some nice audience interaction, where you could anonymously submit your first page and the panel would judge it, which resulted in some interesting feedback. There were also some good science panels– I particularly enjoyed David Levine’s recap of his visit to NASA.

A few of the panels seemed to wander around their subject a bit, never entirely delving into what they were meant to delve into. For my money, anytime a panel can get past the uber-basic introduction that is widely known to anyone with a passing fancy in the subject, into more detailed and interesting stuff, it’s a win for me. This tends to be why I favor panels with narrowly focused and clear-defined topics, especially if they’re dependent on some unique knowledge of the panelists.

All in all, Norwescon is better than most cons at making interesting panels. In fact, the panels are popular enough that they’re frequently standing room only… the Cascade rooms are often too small for the panels they’re trying to host. I don’t know what the solution is there.

I also saw a lot of demo panels, where the panelists were actually demonstrating something and the audience was usually involved. Those were fun. Weapons and armor demos, horror makeup demos– those were my favorites, without a doubt.

Onion: Registration. Norwescon had (as far as I can tell) basically the same process in place as last year. This meant long lines as people waited to input all their information into a computer (there were about eight computers in the reg area), printed a sheet to take to the cashier, then paid and got their badge. For pre-registered folks with a sheet already printed, they could sometimes skip ahead in the line, but if you weren’t registered, or had pre-registered but didn’t have a sheet, well, then, you were stuck.

There has got to be a better system. These days, Norwescon is the only con I go to that has more than a five-minute wait to register, and from my understanding, there were points on Thursday afternoon when the line was at least an hour long. Maybe I just never see peak times at the other cons? When I was at RadCon, I did see the line back up a bit a few times as I walked by on the first day, but never to an hour long.

One difference between Norwescon and most other cons is that Norwescon prints the names on the badges right at registration, whereas most cons pre-print their badges, or use regular old paper stickers for people’s names. Norwescon’s method results in a slightly nicer badge, but it’s never exactly well executed. This year, the badges were printed well (and you could choose to have ONLY your badge name printed– props for that), but the art design of the badge was such that you could only read the left half of the badge, before the black printing blended into the darkly-colored art on the right side.

Maybe this is a case where something is being Rube Goldberg’d that doesn’t need to be? I mean, in the end, I think most people would be happy with easy registration and a readable badge.

Rose: Room parties. As usual, the room parties were awesome. On Friday night, I particularly enjoyed a party that was hosted by Evil Girlfriend Media, celebrating the launch of an anthology titled Bless Your Mechanical Heart. (Side note: Several friends of mine have stories in this anthology. But favoritism aside, I’ve read a few stories so far and am highly impressed.)

Just like last year, my favorite room party was Master Plan, which is always a blast– the mixology contest on Friday was particularly fun (speaking as a non-contestant, anyway).

Onion: Dealer’s Room. The Dealer’s Room was okay this year, however, it did seem to lack in terms of booksellers. There was only one small bookseller, from what I saw (there were a few writers’ associations and authors with booths, both inside and outside, but only one dealer that appeared to sell more than a handful of books). If an attendee wanted to buy a book by the Guest of Honor, so they could get an autograph (as was the case with a friend of mine), it appears they were S.O.L.

It seems like it would be worthwhile to ensure that there’s a dealer who can sell books by the Guests of Honor and the various writing panelists, so that interested attendees can spend their money… but that didn’t appear to be the case.

Other than that, I had no complaints about the dealer’s room. But I can haz books for sale at my sci-fi con please?

Rose: Photography. I feel like the Saturday evening photo area gets a little bit better organized each year. The layout was slightly changed from last year… the standing area was only behind one row of chairs, instead of two, which meant that the people in the second row weren’t caught in an awkward half-standing crouch, like I was last year.

The photo area is set up like an L-shape, with photographers on both sides of the L looking toward the cosplayer(s) in the middle. I was standing on the short side of the L, while all the photographers giving direction were on the long side of the L… which is okay, although I do have a large number of profile shots because the cosplayer just never turned to face the short side. There are two marks for the cosplayers to stand on, one facing each direction, but they would frequently face the long side from both marks, because that’s where the photographers talking to them were. Tip to cosplayers: for a better chance of seeing good shots, face both directions.

Despite my whining, I did enjoy the photo area– it’s a feature not seen at many other cons– and I stood there for over four hours on Saturday night taking pictures.

Speaking of pictures, you can see the full set on Flickr or on my photography Facebook page.

Thanks again to all the folks who made Norwescon awesome, especially the volunteers who put in a lot of hard work before, during, and after. See you next year!