There are three things you can do while at Readercon during the day: talk to friends, browse and patronize the Bookshop, or attend the program. This is a significantly shorter list than provided by other science fiction conventions (which typically include an art show, gaming, musical performances, and so on). It's thus not an exaggeration to say that Readercon is all about the program. As we used to say, it's not just the heart of the convention, but the lungs, brain, liver, and kidneys.
The Readercon Programming Philosophy
The form and content of the Readercon program are shaped by the following principles:
- The broad range of interests and tastes of our attendees should be recognized and satisfied. In terms of genre, attendees may be into any combination of hard science fiction, literary sf, fantasy, horror, or "slipstream" (unclassifiable non-realistic) fiction. They may be variously interested in the writing and reading processes, in editing and publishing, and in the criticism and teaching of sf. They may like to hear panel discussions more than author readings or solo talks or discussions, or vice versa.
- There should be something of interest every hour for all but the most narrowly-focused attendee.
- It's better to force someone to choose between two attractive alternatives than to leave them with nothing of interest in a given hour. However, items with obviously overlapping interest should not be held simultaneously.
- There should be enough programming to keep our program participants reasonably busy: at least one item for everyone, a handful or more for our best speakers.
We've found that we can satisfy these principles by featuring the following simultaneously:
- Two panel discussions featuring five (or occasionally six or four) participants, usually including a "leader" who both directs and takes part in the discussion (sometimes with the more traditional "moderator" who directs but doesn't opine). The participants sit in arm chairs in front of coffee tables, rather than behind the usual table. Usually, the last ten minutes or so are devoted to questions from the audience, but the leader is free to solicit audience input at any stage. Although some of the panels are based on ideas given us by the participants, they are all ultimately the brainchildren of Readercon's Program Subcommittee (see below).
- Two tracks of author readings. Usually, each consists of a pair of compatible 30-minute readings, but there are 60-minute readings as well. Unlike nearly every other convention, we give you the title (and sometimes a descriptive blurb) in the Program Guide.
- Two tracks of solo talks and/or discussion groups (the "mini-tracks"), usually 60 minutes long, sometimes 30. Unlike the panel discussions, these are the brainchildren of the individual presenters or discussion group leaders.
- Two author Kaffeeklatsches — an intimate get-together between an author and up to 15 readers (who sign up in advance).
- Two autograph sessions in the Bookshop.
The items in any hour are carefully selected to avoid overlaps of genre and topic. If there's a hard sf panel discussion, there will rarely if ever be a hard sf author doing a reading, autograph session, or the like at the same time. (There's another reason for this: we want them in the audience of the panel discussion). If there's a panel we deem useful to aspiring writers (who are legion in our audience), it will not be up against a solo talk about writing. In fact, someone with a fairly narrow set of interests should be able to pick and choose their way through the program: first a panel discussion about fantasy, then a reading by a fantasy author, now a discussion, another panel, a Kaffeeklatsch, and so on. The attendee with broader tastes finds themselves (we hope) at a sumptuous but well-balanced buffet.
Very simply, we pride ourselves on doing panel discussions you haven't seen at a previous sf convention. We develop our ideas at meetings of our Program Subcommittee (there were ten of us this year, which is to say roughly half of the entire convention committee). If we have a driving principle, it's to start the panel at the right point, which is often roughly where the typical panel on the topic ends. In other words, we strive for panels that ask the next question (the driving cognitive philosophy of sf great Theodore Sturgeon, Memorial GoH at Readercon 2).
If this sounds attractive (or like a bold claim we need to back up), we urge you to read through the programs of past Readercons!
The convention begins Thursday at 8:00 PM with programming open to the public.
Friday's full schedule starts at 11:00 AM. Since many local attendees are arriving after work and hence at dinner time, there's no dinner break. Special events start at 10:00 PM (see below).
Saturday's full schedule runs from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. While there's no lunch break, we do try to populate the lunchtime hours with some of our more specialized programming — and if that fails, there's a concession stand which sells very satisfying sandwiches! See the "Special Events" section for what happens after 4:00 PM.
Sunday programming once again begins at 10:00 AM and ends at 3:00 PM.
Traditional Program Items
While the bulk of the program items at every Readercon are novel, there are a handful that you can count on:
- The "Bookaholics Anonymous" meeting Friday — a great way for folks attending their first Readercon to meet some of the regulars and get into the spirit of the weekend.
- A set of panels appreciating the career and works of our Guests of Honor, and of the outgoing Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award winners.
- Panels reviewing the year in short fiction and in novels, and (in most years) the "Absent Friends" panel remembering writers who have passed away in the last year.
- The Readercon Book Club: China Mieville's The City & The City
At the center of former Readercon GOH China Mieville's new novel is a stunning, beautiful conceit that is revealed, in its basic dimensions, over the first six or so chapters. Reading these was about the most fun we've had with speculative fiction in years — and the book then gets even better. The reader gets a taste of the lived experience of a world existentially very peculiar, in prose much sparer than Mieville usually writes. That the conceit is revealed early makes the novel difficult to discuss without spoilers, so we urge you to read it before reading any reviews. And then come to this panel!
- A series of 30-minute author talks called "How I Wrote Novel Title." The titles are announced on the web site in June and are a mix of books just out in hardcover and just reprinted in paperback. You're all urged to read as many as possible before the con. (One of our past slogans was "The con that assigns homework!")
This year's selections are:
- Wonderwall by Elizabeth Hand
- A is For Alien by Caitlin Kiernan
- Enclave by Kit Reed
- The Orphan's Tales by Catherynne M. Valente
- Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro
- Wildfire by Sarah Micklem (forthcoming in July)
- The presentation of the annual Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award, Friday night at 10:30 PM. This is followed by:
- The Meet the Pros(e) Party. This is a chance to not only meet the program participants, but a fragment of their work! See the program listing for any recent convention for the details.
- The Rhysling Award Poetry Slan, Saturday afternoon at 3:00 PM (as part of regular programming). The Rhyslings are the annual awards of the Science Fiction Poetry Association, and Readercon is proud to be their new annual host. (A poetry "slan" — to be confused with "slam" — is a poetry reading by sf folks. If you don't get the in-joke, ask an sf fan above a certain age).
- Interviews with our Guests of Honor from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on Saturday. Our Guests of Honor are eminent and interesting enough that we don't need to program anything else (except an open Bookshop) opposite them.
- The famous Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition Saturday evening (after a two-hour dinner break). To our chagrin and secret satisfaction, we are perhaps as well known for "Kirk Poland" (widely regarded as the funniest 90 minutes in science fiction fandom, and certainly the funniest 90 minutes at any literary conference) as for everything else we do combined. Again, see a recent program listing for details.
- In some years, Something Else at 8:00 PM, between the dinner break and Kirk Poland. We've had a Poetry Slan, one-act plays, and several James Tiptree, Jr. Award presentations and auctions. Watch this space!
- The Shirley Jackson Awards Sunday morning. Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, "The Lottery." Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work. The Jackson Awards have been established in her name for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic; they are voted on each year by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. Awards are presented in six categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology. Readercon hosted the inaugural Jackson Award ceremony last year (with nominees present in every category, and half the winners) and is delighted to host it once again.
Complete Readercon 20 Program Guide (PDF, 9.1 MB)
Thursday and Friday panel grid (PDF, 100 KB)
Saturday and Sunday panel grid (PDF, 100 KB)