Zombies and reading lists: A weekend at Armadillocon

I’ll be at the 33rd annual ArmadilloCon this weekend, participating in panels pontificating on everything from what sf books should be on college reading lists to why people still love those cuddly flesh-eating zombies.

Guests at the venerable Austin convention include Guest of Honor Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl, which has won the Hugo, Nebula, Locus and just about every other award you can think of; Artist Guest Vincent Villafranca, known for his vibrantly imaginative bronzes; Editor Guest Lou Anders, award-winning editorial director for Pyr Books; Fan Guest Fred Duarte Jr.; Toastmaster Mark Finn; and Special Guests Emma Bull and Will Shetterly.

I counted nearly 100 participants, including horror giant Joe R. Lansdale, off-the-wall short story writer Howard Waldrop and fellow Alamo City residents David Liss and Scott A. Cupp. (Cupp, I believe, has attended every Armadillocon since the con was established.)

The convention is being held Friday, Aug. 26, through Sunday, Aug. 28, at the Renaissance Hotel Austin, 9721 Arboretum Blvd. Three-day memberships are $50. Individual daily passes are available for $20 (Friday and Sunday) and $35 (Saturday).

I have enjoyed every Armadillocon I have attended, and I appreciate the organizers’ continued focus on sf, fantasy and horror literature. Yes, folks, good old-fashioned books. That’s not to say no one dresses up in costume, bitches that Firefly was cancelled or huddles in a corner playing GURPS while nibbling on Cheetos, just that media and gaming are not the sole reasons for the con’s existence. If you’re a reader, a writer or aspire to be either, it’s a con not to miss.

Here’s a list of my panels, if you’re inclined to catch some:

Friday, 6 p.m. in the Sabine Room: Texas is a Scary Place
Myself, Matt Cardin, Joe Lansdale, J.M. McDermott, Nate Southard and Frank Summers
Friday, 10 p.m. in the Trinity Room: Fantastical Feast: Food in SF/Fantasy
Myself, Cat Rambo, Linda Donahue, Kimberly Frost, Julia Mandala and Marshall Ryan Maresca
Saturday, 1 p.m. in the San Antonio Room: SF101: A Reading List for a College Course
Myself, Bill Crider, Scott Cupp, Jess Nevins, James Reasoner and Josh Rountree
Saturday, 9 p.m. in the San Antonio Room: The Rising Popularity of Zombies
Myself, Linda Donahue, Scott A. Johnson, Josh Rountree and Nate Southard
Saturday, 11 p.m. in the Trinity Room: Ghost Stories
Myself, Don Webb, William Browning Spencer, Nat Southard and Scott A. Johnson

For a full rundown, including a list of all the panels and participants, check out the Armadillocon website.

An obligatory capper to a year for the crapper

Modeling Vincent Villafranca's "Shellmet" at the World Fantasy Awards in San Jose.

Modeling Vincent Villafranca's "Shellmet" at the World Fantasy Awards in San Jose.

2009 sucked. I had to abandon a job I once enjoyed, I saw friends lose theirs as a result of an economic meltdown spurred by corporate greed, and the world situation became increasingly dire, in no small part because of our country’s ill-advised overseas adventures.

But I’m going to keep things on a positive note and list some of the things that made the year bearable. Yes, there were some.

  • Science fiction/fantasy/horror flicks that didn’t suck: Between District 9, Moon, Drag Me to Hell, Star Trek , Watchmen, Coraline, The Road and a few others, I’m hard pressed to think of a recent year where there have been this many smart and entertaining genre films. And I haven’t even seen Avatar yet.
  • My first World Fantasy Convention:Overpriced bar aside, it was a splendid time. It was great to catch up with some old friends, meet new ones and soak in the craziness of that many SF/F/H pros, fans and freaks collected in one place. And I finally get to explore the wacked out Winchester Mystery House. (Check out the pics, courtesy of new bud and sculptor extraordinaire Vincent Villafranca.)
  • Grad school: Yeah, it’s been a time suck and an occasional pain in the ass, but also it’s been a blast to get back into the classroom. I had forgotten how much fun it was to be immersed in academia. What can I say? I’m a dork.

    Touring the Winchester House with John and Traci Picacio.

    Touring the Winchester House with John and Traci Picacio.

  • Joe Abercrombie making fantasy grim again:I burned through two of the Brit author’s books — The Blade Itself (first book of his The First Law Trilogy) and Best Served Cold — and I must say his gritty, blood-soaked tales of betrayal, revenge and torture are a perfect antidote for the namby-pamby volumes of overwrought commercial high fantasy currently wasting space on bookstore shelves. Good thing I still have the rest of the trilogy to go.
  • Jeffrey Ford for making fantasy fantastic again:I just can’t say enough about Jeffrey Ford. The Drowned Life, his most-recent short story collection, and the novel The Shadow Year — part thriller, part memoir and part magical realism — contained some of the best and most imaginitive prose I laid my eyes on this year.
  • Kij Johnson’s monkeys:Kij Johnson’s “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss” is the best short story I’ve read in ages. It’s the tale of a woman who buys a travelling monkey show then tries to figure out the secret behind the primates’ nightly disappearing act. But, as with other great short stories, it’s about more than that. Namely learning to work through grief and loss. Thanks, Kij, I needed that.
  • Staying on track with the writing: Despite a lot of distractions, I still managed to keep cranking out the prose. Not as many sales in the second half of the year as I’d hoped, but I’m sure things will pick up. I just need to stay focused and keep the words flowing.
  • Missions Unknown: As you may know, I’m 1/3 of another blog, Missions Unknown, which tracks SF/F/H in San Antonio. It’s been a pleasant surprise to see just how vibrant the scene here has become and to discover how many other creators of fantastic art there are in the Alamo City. No, we’re not New York, London or Seattle, but I’m happy to see the level of creativity going on here.
  • Audible.com: Audible applies the Netflix model to downloading audio books. And it’s helped keep me sane for my workday commute from downtown San Antonio to my office outside Loop 1604.

Here’s wishing for a better 2010.

Still recovering from Armadillocon

Hardest working man in showbusiness: Mr. Joe R. Lansdale. (Photo swiped from John Picacio.)

Hardest working man in showbusiness: Mr. Joe R. Lansdale. (Photo swiped from John Picacio.)

I’m back and still digging myself out from under work I put off to attend Armadillocon 31 in Austin, the state’s longest-running literary sf/fantasy convention.

It was great to see old pals like John Picacio (fellow Missions Unknown blogger), Scott Cupp (the con’s toastmaster), Chris Roberson (the editor guest of honor) and Joe McKinney (S.A.’s zombie-writing homicide detective) — and to rub shoulders with literary giants like Joe R. Lansdale, who signed books like a madman, and Michael Moorcock, who made a surprise appearance opening night.

I also got to meet swell new folks like Mario Acevedo, Nancy Hightower, Matt Cardin and Vincent and Michelle Villafranca. (By the way, any of you folks ever check out Vincent Villafranca’s art? You really owe it to yourself.)

Can’t wait to do it again next year.