Posted by: J. Thomas Ross | June 1, 2018

Balticon 52: 2018

Balticon 52


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, The Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, Balticon, atrium

Fifth floor atrium, 5-26-18


Balticon 52, the Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention sponsored by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society, Inc., took place from May 25, 2018 through May 28, 2018, at the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve missed Balticon the past few years, so this is the first time I’ve attended it at this venue. I’m not a fan of downtown city driving, but I found the hotel easily and parking was readily available. The facilities were beautiful, the hotel staff friendly and helpful, and the view from my room was amazing.


The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Baltimore Harbor, Inner Harbor

Baltimore Harbor, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Baltimore Harbor, Inner Harbor

Baltimore Harbor, 5-25-18


Due to snail-paced traffic on the interstate in Delaware, I missed the afternoon programs I’d wanted to see, but I arrived in time to see the Opening Ceremonies and the introduction of the special guests: Guest of Honor Catherine Asaro, Nebula Award winning author, singer, and PhD physicist, and Artist Guest of Honor Galen Dara, winner of many awards, including the 2013 Hugo Award and 2016 World Fantasy Award. Special Guest Larry Niven, author and winner of multiple Hugo Awards, was unable to attend.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Guest of Honor Catherine Asaro

Guest of Honor Catherine Asaro, 5-25

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Artist Guest of Honor Galen Dara, Opening Ceremonies

Artist Guest of Honor Galen Dara, 5-25









Other special guests included: Filk Guest of Honor Tim Griffin, who uses music to teach kids the basics of science, math, and history; Special Guest Neil Clarke, Hugo-winning editor of Clarkesworld; and Fan Guest of Honor Filthy Pierre (Erwin S. Strauss.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Filk Guest of Honor Tim Griffin

Filk Guest of Honor Tim Griffin, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Special Guest Neil Clarke

Special Guest Neil Clarke, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Fan Guest of Honor Filthy Pierre

Fan Guest of Honor Filthy Pierre, 5-25-18


Two awards are presented during Balticon’s Opening Ceremonies, the Compton Crook Award, which honors the best first novel of the year written by an individual author in the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award for outstanding published works in science fiction and technical writings that inspire the human exploration of space. Last year’s Compton Crook Award winner, Ada Palmer, introduced this year’s winner, Nicky Drayden, who won the award for her novel The Prey of Gods.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Ada Palmer

2017 Compton Crook Award Winner Ada Palmer, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Ada Palmer and Nicky Drayden

Ada Palmer introduces Nicky Drayden, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Nicky Drayden

2018 Compton Crook Award Winner Nicky Drayden, 5-25-18









The Robert A. Heinlein Award for 2018 was presented by Beatrice Kondo (her father, Dr. Yoji Kondo, long-time friend of Robert Heinlein and founder of the award passed away last year) to Neal Stephenson. Since Stephenson had previous commitments and could not attend, his editor, Jennifer Brehl, read his inspiring acceptance message.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Beatrice Kondo

Beatrice Kondo presents the 2018 Robert Heinlein Award, 5-25-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, Opening Ceremonies, Jennifer Brehl for Neal Stephenson

Jennifer Brehl accepts the 2018 Robert Heinlein Award for Neal Stephenson, 5-25-18











In addition, the Baltimore Science Fiction Society sponsors three writing contests for Maryland writers: the BSFS Jack L. Chalker Young Writers’ Contest, the BSFS Amateur Writing Contest, and the BSFS Poetry Contest. Winning entries were published in the program booklet.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, The Dealers Room

The Dealers Room 1, 5-26-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, The Dealers Room

The Dealers Room 2, 5-26-18









Convention goers could browse through (and make purchases in) the two Dealers Rooms and the Art Show and Auction in Artists’ Alley. Other activities included the charity auction, the Marty Gear Memorial Masquerade, the Short Film Festival, and the Heinlein Society Blood Drive. Attendees could spend time in the anime film room, the science fiction and fantasy film room, or the Hal Haag Memorial Gaming Room (for board games, card games, and role-playing games). Also available were concerts, author signings and readings, book launch parties, children’s activities, a science fiction trivia contest, and hours of other multi-track programming.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, panel

Panel: “The Future of Work” with Jennifer R. Povey, Erwin S. (Filthy Pierre) Strauss, Bill Lawhorn, and Joy Ward, 5-27-18

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, panel

Panel: “The Great Divide – Genre vs. Literary” with Joy Ward, Mike Luoma, Don Sakers, and Bugsy Bryant, 5-26-18









If you could squeeze in time between the many activities, free snacks and drinks were available in the Con Suite. More substantial fare could be purchased in the Watertable Restaurant, which has a wonderful view of the Inner Harbor. Both were located on the fifth floor of the hotel, right in the heart of many of the convention’s activities.

The Author Chronicles, J. Thomas Ross, Balticon, panel, editors and publishers

Panel: “Ask Me Anything – Editors and Publishers” with Jeff Young, Walt Boyes, Scott H. Andrews, Neil Clarke, and Ian Randal Strock, 5-27-18


After Opening Ceremonies, I continued my convention experience with Catherine Asaro’s Concert. Backed by her long-time accompanist Greg Adams and the great local band Chasing Mellow, Catherine performed a selection of jazz-infused songs, many of which were written for her own literary works. After my trying drive to the convention, this concert was just what I needed to ease into a relaxing evening. The song selection was varied and the sound just right, not too quiet, nor too loud.

Catherine Asaro’s Concert featuring Chasing Mellow: Rachel Sandler on keyboard, Catherine’s accompanist Greg Adams, Catherine Asaro, Diego Retana on guitar, Basil Miranenko on bass, and Nate Royer on drums, 5-25-18

Catherine Asaro, 5-25-18

Catherine Asaro’s Concert, Rachel Sandler, Greg Adams, and Catherine Asaro, 5-25-18












I attended a number of programs and panels, most of them related to writing or science. With so many interesting topics, it was often hard to decide which one to attend, but that’s a good problem to have. I wish I could’ve attended more, but I did need to eat, and although you wouldn’t think so, while sitting in a chair through all those panels and programs may be inspiring and enjoyable, it’s also exhausting.

Panel: “Afrofuturism 101” with B. Sharise Moore, Stephanie ‘Flash’ Burke, Chad Eric Smith, Nicky Drayden, and K. Ceres Wright, 5-26-18



Here’s a sampling by topic of the many programs, panels, and workshops scheduled:

The Arts

  • Art:  Life Drawing Workshop; Cover Design Workshop; Hot Glue Sculpting; Making a Good Book Cover
  • Dance:  Hula Hoop Jam; Medieval Dance with Live Music; Solo Charleston and Jazz Dance
  • Drama:  How to Write and Edit Your Skit; Writing Scripts Based on Your Own Work; Cold Reads
  • Music:  Medieval/Renaissance Music Jam; Everything You Need to Know about FIlk; Building Musical Bridges; Writing a Teaching Song; Arranging Songs and Making them Your Own; Slightly Off-Key: Good Music in Terrible Movies


Panel: “Mythwits Presents – The Merits of Hard Sci-Fi” with Bruce Press, Jack Clemons, Catherine Asaro, Mike Kafes, and Peter Bryant, 5-26-18


Child-Focused Programs

  • Activities:  Dinosaur Dig; Slime; Lego Challenge; Space Dough; Pirates Ahoy!
  • Food:  Snack Time; Planet Cookie Decorating
  • Science:  CSI Kids; Strange Science Again; Fossils: What Are They and What They Tell Us about Prehistoric Life

Panel: “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction” with David Keener, Tom Doyle, Martin Berman-Gorvine, and Joy Ward, 5-25-18

Panel: “Yourself and Someone Unlike You – Why Representation is Good for Everyone” with John Edward Lawson, Sue Baiman, Craig Laurance Gidney, D.L. Wainright, and Valerie J. Mikles, 5-27-18












Costuming and Other Creative Construction

  • Costuming:  Introduction to Costuming; Kamikaze Kostuming; Japanese Chain Mail; Fuzzy Ears Workshop; Working With Thermoplastics; Impossible Possibilities of Wire; Be a Superhero: Working with Spandex; Easy as Herding Cats: Group Costuming
  • Creative Crafts:  Learn to Crochet; Spinning with a Drop Spindle; Knots — Scalable and Extensible; Faux Marble Painting; Leatherworking: Carving and Stamping
  • Food Creations:  Gonzo Cake Decorating; Introduction to Brewing and Distillation; Science in the Kitchen

Panel: “How to Incorporate Critique” with Joshua Bilmes, John Appel, Rosemary Claire Smith, Leah Cypess, Day Al-Mohaned, and Alan Smale, 5-27-18


For the Fans

  • Diversity:  Being a Fan of Color; Finding Your Place in Fandom
  • Fandom:  Raising a Fan; Fandom Trolls and How to Vanquish Them
  • Fanfiction:  Fanfiction as Critique and Commentary;  Slash of Our Ancestors: A History of Fanfiction

Panel: “Sentience vs. Sapience” with Griffin Barber, Brian Groover, John Ashmead, and John Robinson, 5-27-18

Panel: “Religion and Spirituality in Sci Fi” with John Robison, Alex Shvartsman, Robert ‘Bob’ Chase, and Tom Doyle, 5-26-18










Gaming and Media

  • Gaming:  The Do’s and Don’ts of Game Organization and Storage; Tabletop Gaming Miniature Painting 101; LARPing 101; RPG World Building; Gateway Games: How to Get Your Friends into Gaming; Gaming Isn’t Social…Is It?
  • New Media:  Crowdfunding New Media; Tools for Collaboration in New Media; Serial Space Opera in the New Media Age
  • Podcasting:  Daily Podcasting; Which Way Do we Go?; Recommend Me a Podcast; Dead Robots Society Live; The Melting Podcast Live; Geek Radio Daily Live
  • Television:  What Dr. Who Means to Me; The Orville and the Return of Optimistic SciFi to Television

Panel: “Best Books on Writing” with Joshua Bilmes, Marilyn ‘Mattie’ Brahen, Sarah Pinsker, Val Griswold-Ford, and Scott Edelman, 5-27-18



  • Classics:  What Makes a Classic?; Frankenstein at 200; Fantasy and Folklore in Shakespeare
  • Criticism:  The Critic’s Toolkit; Mark Twain versus James Fenimore Cooper — Literary Criticism at Its Finest
  • Genre:  The Solo Novel in Genre Fiction; The Blurring of Genre Borders; Reading Outside Your Genre; Non-Genre Fiction That Inspires Us; Cross-Genre Workshop; The great Divide: Genre vs. Literary
  • Libraries:  Science Fiction at the Library; Libraries of the Future
  • Miscellaneous: The Best New Novels; Fictional Works of Fiction

Panel: “Keeping Your Antiheroes Likable” with Joy Ward, Robyn Wyrick, Andrew Fox, and Marilyn ‘Mattie’ Brahen, 5-26-18

Panel: ” Law and Justice in Speculative Fiction” with James R. Stratton, Griffin Barber, and John Walker, 5-26-18











  • Pitching:  Improving Your Pitch Workshop; Pitches We’re Sick Of (and Ones We’d Like to See)
  • Independent and Small Press Publishing:  Freelancing in the Publishing Industry; Effective Marketing for the Self-Published Author; Running a Small Press
  • Miscellaneous:  Recognizing Predatory Business Practices; Late Night Tales from the Slush Pile

Panel: “Exoplanets and Exobiology” with Dr. H. Paul Shuch, Inge Heyer, John Ashmead, Charles Gannon, and Suzanne Buck, 5-27-18

Mark L. Van Name interviews Catherine Asaro, 5-27-18











  • General:  What Is Science?
  • Health:  Stopping Time: The Latest Insights in Human Aging; The Dynamics of Traumatic Brain Injury; War Games in the Immune System; Coffee, Guilty Pleasure or Part of a Healthy Diet?
  • Life:  Liquid Crystals: the Molecules for and of Life; Sentience vs. Sapience
  • Space and Technical Sciences:  Tales from the Grid; CSI: Jurassic Park and Cloning Dinosaurs; Exoplanets and Exobiology; Space Weather and Its Implications for Space Travel; Practical Telepathy: the Science and Engineering of Mind-to-Mind Communication
  • Zoology:  Saving Our Fisheries; Big Cats, Big Cat Rescue, and the Cheetah Genome

Panel: “Are Advances in Technology Making Spec Fiction Harder to Pull Off?” with Carl Cipra, Nicky Drayden, Catherine Asaro, Neil Clarke, and Sarah Pinsker, 5-27-18


The Genre

  • Fantasy:  Detectives in Urban Fantasy; Character Building in Fantasy
  • Miscellaneous: Science Fiction — Is It Viable Today?; How Contemporary Fears Shape Apocalyptic Fiction; Post-Apocalyptic Fiction; Contemporary Near Future SF That’s Not Dystopian; Afrofuturism 101; Anthropomorphism in SFF
  • Science Fiction: 50 Years of Pern; The Influence of Ursula Le Guin on Speculative Fictions; Science Fiction and Sports; Stopping the Clocks: Time Travel in Writing

Panel: “Plotting Character Growth” with Valerie J. Mikles, Jamaila Brinkley, Gail Z. Martin, and Charles Gannon, 5-26-18

Panel: “Writing the Spectrum of Feminine Strength” with Michelle Sonnier, Jean Marie Ward, Jamaila Brinkley, and Valerie J. Mikles, 5-27-18










Writing Craft

  • Characters:  Ordinary Heroes; Designing Alien Aliens; Writing Characters with Agency; Writing Intriguing Characters; Writing Major Minor Characters; Plotting Character Growth; Character Design Workshop; Writing the Spectrum of Feminine Strengths; Keeping Your Antiheroes Likable; Writing Compelling Villains
  • Miscellaneous:  Best Books on Writing; Sustaining Tension in Your Writing; When to Tell Instead of Show
  • Plot:  Techniques for Plotting Your Novel; Non-Linear Narratives; Storyboarding Workshop; Outlining vs. Pantsing; How Do I Make This Work?; Basic Novel Writing Organization; Balticon Writer’s Workshop: Story Engineering; Ending Your Saga
  • Revision:  How to Incorporate Critique; How to Self-Edit that Lousy First Draft; Grammar for the Afflicted and Conflicted

Panel: “Character Building in Fantasy” with Michael Ventrella, Michelle Sonnier, Griffin Barber, and Scott H. Andrews, 5-26-18


Writing in the Genre

  • Alternate History:  Alternate History: Creating Stories by Changing the Past; Alternate History World Building: Not Just Evil Goatees
  • Diversity:  Beyond Robotic Arms: Writing Physical Disabilities in SFF; Writing Neurodivergent Characters; Diversity Readers and Why You Need Them; Yourself and Someone Unlike You: Why Representation Is Good for Everyone
  • Forms:  Microfiction and Micropoetry; Parody Writing Workshop
  • Miscellaneous:  How to Present Your Genre Work in a Non-Genre Community; How to Be a Good Moderator; Writing Psychological Horror; What Makes an Idea Worth Exploring?
  • World-Building:  Making Fantasy Feel Real; Worldbuilding for Fantasy or Science Fiction Novels; Class Structure in SF and Fantasy; Horses 101
  • World-Building: Law and Governments:  Turning the Starship of State: Government in SF; Law and Justice in Speculative Fiction; A Judicial Frame for Superpowers; Monarchy and Empire in Speculative Fiction

Guest of Honor Presentation — “Predicting Near-Term Future Technology” with Catherine Asaro, 5-26-18

The broad-based science fiction and fantasy community has always been accepting and inclusive. Although we fans may have disagreements and differing viewpoints, we share the same interests. (After all, if we’re going to deal successfully with other species like elves, dragons, or space aliens, we humans must stick together.) This year, from the Opening Ceremonies to many of the programs and panels, the convention emphasized accepting, respecting, and valuing diversity. Diversity is our strength.

Balticon 52 may have sailed into the sunset, but Balticon 53 is scheduled for the long Memorial Day weekend next year, May 24-27, 2019. Elizabeth Lynch, Scott Bear, and Nicky Drayden will be guests of honor. Come and join the fun!

The Constellation in Baltimore Harbor, 5-26


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