Convolution, held last weekend at the Hyatt Airport Hotel near San Francisco Airport, started only 3 years ago. I’d never attended before, and really enjoyed it. I came at it from a literary con experience – Wiscon, World Fantasy, FOGcon. I’m not giving up those Cons, but this was different.
Convolution was a multi-con, a big tent. From steam-punk people in gorgeous gowns or vests and hats to a troop of Vulcans and Darth Vader himself, to singers and authors and gamers, it seemed to have something for every flavor of fan. It had literary tracks with discussions of genre divisions and publicity for authors. It had science tracks, and a Silicon Valley Science Fiction short film festival (which unfortunately I missed). It had filks and karaoke (going on simultaneously). It had costuming – people making them, people wearing them, and people entering a masquerade contest. It had a whole children’s track – Playzone. And a Dealers Room and an Art Show. I even got to attend a panel about Babs Con, a convention for the thousands of followers of My Little Pony.
The programming was insanely wonderful. For a 700-hundred person Con, it had up to 10 events going on simultaneously! I always found 3 or 4 I wanted to attend at the same time. The downside was that the audience for each thing was small – sometimes only 3-4 people. With such small groups, they tended to run out of steam before the allotted 90 minutes, though all the panelists were very good. (Well done, Convolution!) The only really well-attended events I went to were the Masquerade, and then the closing ceremony. Convolution hopes to grow into this amount of programming – they would like to see 1000 people there next year.
Costumes. Other Cons I’ve attended don’t encourage costuming. I thought it added atmosphere. This was especially important because owing to the hotel’s layout, Convolution doesn’t have a hub. There’s no place where people can hang out and gather. The hotel is laid out in a giant square, with a beautiful tree-lined atrium with a restaurant. There’s no place to gravitate to. The sports bar is off to one side. The Con suite was up on the 2nd floor, a long walk from the elevator. (There’s only one set of elevators, so it can be a very long walk indeed.)
Convolution had events going in multiple venues on 3 sides of the square, which diffused the effect and reduced the buzz – except that there were all these people in awesome costumes wandering around.
I wondered how many of the 700 people attending actually stuck around the whole time. I went in on Friday evening, after the opening ceremonies, and stayed through the closing ceremony – but I think quite a few people only came for a day or even just a few hours. That’s the downside of the location being so accessible.
The hotel is ADA-compliant, and quite a few people with mobility issues attended. It didn’t seem easy, exactly, because the hotel had some many different levels with steps up and down, but it was generally feasible. It was also nice to see gender and race diversity.
The food situation at the hotel wasn’t great. It was not too bad in the morning and until 2 p.m., though their cafe easily gets overloaded. But from 2 p.m., there’s either nothing but the sports bar, or the rather expensive restaurant for dinner. The Con Suite, to my surprise, closed at 8 p.m. (though parties went later, to maybe 2 in the morning). Some people ordered in food from outside restaurants. Next year, I might bring a care package from home and stick it in the mini-fridge.
The hotel apparently discouraged signage, and so there wasn’t enough. It took a while to get oriented, especially since the Con had so many venues . The parties (on the 2nd floor) were especially tough to find. I never was quite sure whether I was in the right room for a panel, because the doors didn’t have signs on them saying what was going on. Unlike FOGcon and Wiscon, where the hotel seems to welcome the Con and want to support and be part of it, this hotel seemed to just tolerate it. At the feedback session, some people mentioned maintenance issues, like the mini-fridge not working or not existing.
Other than that, the hotel was nice. The atrium was awesome – my room looked out onto trees inside the hotel! The hallway also had windows overlooking SFO’s runway, and planes were always landing or taking off. The staff were friendly. The person who checked me in comped my parking when I said I was at the Con but hadn’t registered early enough to get the block rate. They also comped the internet, which was good enough though not as fast as I would have liked. Apparently, they normally charge for it – even in the 21st century.