This past weekend, Balticon
was held in the Marriott Hunt Valley Inn, where it has not been held for nearly 20 years.
Unlike the crew who runs Lunacon, the con didn't officially rename the Hunt Valley after Escher--the fans did, for excellent reason.
Twenty years ago, the Hunt Valley was a three-story, slightly sprawling hotel, near a low grade commercial strip on a quiet highway in suburban Baltimore.
Now, the highway is higher-speed and sees a lot more traffic, strip malls are everywhere, and the Hunt Valley itself has...changed. For one thing, it's a lot larger. "They've expanded and built onto it quite a bit," a long-time Baltimore fan told me.
But it's also gotten weirder. The building sprawls about the landscape like Cthulhu having a hangover. Worse, it has floors that are only accessible from certain sides of the building--and nowhere else. There is a mezzanine--used only for hotel offices, and only accessible from a stairwell and certain elevators near the lobby. The hotel gift shop has miscegenated with a Pizzeria UNO that serves a reduced menu of mediocre deli sandwiches and undercooked thin crust pizza. There is also a Lower Lobby level. On the other side of the building, completely unconnected to the Lower Lobby level, a lone elevator descends to a Floor 0. I swear I'm not making this up. (Perhaps inevitably, the con put the few room parties on Floor 0.) In addition, the hotel structure is full of arches and roofed outdoor walkways, like the courtyards you find in a monastery--or an Escher painting. Except, of course, Christian monastery courtyards usually are shaped like a square or rectangle, and don't branch off in all directions like seaweed.
The con suite was a bit odd, also. Its home base was an abandoned 50s-style diner--complete with red, black, and white tile, red leatherette booths and stools, and neon trim--that lurked at the heart of the building. However, the con suite was relocated to totally different areas at least twice. esrblog
was inspired to make a joke about it. "It's the quantum con suite; you can know its location, or you can know its momentum, but not both at the same time," he quipped. "And it didn't appear to cross the intervening distance." In fact, over the weekend it seemed as though no one was traversing the intervening distance (except maybe me). If you went from, say, the dealers' room to the Concierge Lounge (a prime programming venue), both locations had reasonable numbers of fans, but there didn't seem to be a large number of people traveling through the corridors at any one time. This was especially odd since there were supposedly 2,000 people at the convention.
Despite the fact that esrblog
and I were thrown out of the room where we were supposed to do our martial arts workshop because Neil Gaiman was signing autographs there, I never even caught a glimpse of him during the convention. I thought I saw a guy who looked like Gaiman in the parking lot on Monday afternoon kissing someone goodbye, but I was quite a distance away and couldn't be sure.
Supposedly, there was a Masquerade, but I'm not sure when and where it was held, and there was a fairly large Hall Costume contest (which I entered but didn't win). I'm also told there was a Star Wars LARP, but except for a few signs on the walls, there was no evidence that it existed either, except maybe in a galaxy far, far away.
I had a good time at the convention (in between episodes of having to march to our room, which was located on the 3rd floor on the far fringes, directly above Floor 0), but that was mostly because there were lots of board gaming and I was able to spend quiet time with a few good friends. It had a reasonably good art show and a good dealers' room, and the filkers seemed pleasantly occupied every time I passed the filk area. But the movie and anime schedules were anemic, the dance was held in a tiny room and was still underpopulated, and the programming, though fairly abundant, was remarkably free of panels I really wanted to see.
Yet there were a lot of college age and younger fans at the convention. Maybe it was just Gaiman's presence, but I'd like to think that maybe Balticon has a shot at becoming an exciting, fun con once again, instead of the languid nostalgia fest I saw.