Notes from Balticon 51

Assorted notes from a great convention categorized.


  • All stargates are time machines
  • Krestakov’s tube
  • Earth rotates and drags spacetime behind it
  • We can measure the gravity radiation of two blackholes colliding
  • We use general relativity to search for oil
  • Ships with stargates on them
  • Time slows down when you get near a gravity well
  • Novikov self-consistency postulate
  • If you create a paradox, the universe won’t let you – “paradox noise”
  • Wormholes grow when you feed them with exotic energy (negative energy)
  • Feed wormholes normal matter to reduce its size
  • You don’t hack the NYTIMES, you hack the ad service to embed bad stuff in the cookies
  • Americans who code are not aware of Unicode which the rest of the world uses. Leaves vulnerabilities in the code
  • Sociopaths can make pipe bombs today. In the future, what destructive tech will they have access to? Black hole makers?


  • SHORT STORY – “Think Like a Dinosaur”
  • SHORT STORY – “Burning Chrome”
  • POEM – “My God, It’s Full of Stars”
  • Space & Time Magazine
  • “Year’s Best Anthologies”
  • Eating the Fantastic, podcast


  • Avoid clichés
  • Go for something beyond the obvious
  • Stories that build up to the obvious and then stop are no good. Throw that away and start the sequel
  • If you are telling a cliché and are trying to subvert it, you need to telegraph it early or people will stop reading
  • Gotta be good on page one. Tear out your pages until your story starts
  • A short story is about the most important moment in someone’s life
  • “Who hurts?” in a short story
  • You can build a world by putting characters in a culturally rich setting. A meal for instance. Who cooks, where people are seated, what types of food, how much food, etc. is very revealing
  • Short stories begin when your character makes a choice
  • Characters need to want, need, risk, hurt
  • Don’t say the sun is shining, say how the shining sun made the character feel
  • ASK: are things going too well for your characters? Are you being mean enough?
  • A scene must advance the plot, reveal characterization, or reveal detail about world. Your scenes must do at least do of those.
  • Do characters consider the long term risk of what they are doing?
  • What is it in the character’s mind that makes the outcome worth doing bad things for?
  • Violence is not a simple thing. Should not be treated simply or lightly in fiction
  • If you face trauma in everyday life, it’s hard to keep living that life. For example, liquor store owners who are robbed still have to go back to that same life every day and wonder what the next customer will do
  • When you need a character to get info, you can do a prophecy or oracle or vision but it’s good to make those incomplete or misleading to create conflict or tension
  • When editing, are there scenes where nothing is happening?


  • Self-publishing: Have a backlist of 3 – 5 books before you start advertising
  • Gain popularity of Wattpad, tell your audience you have a book on Amazon, tell bloggers about it
  • Find an established author who can mentor you. Easiest way is to be a fan first
  • Participate in author spaces
  • If you write a train SF mystery, go to a model train convention. You’ll be the only SF writer there
  • Reader luncheons are great for meeting fans. Signing and eating with author
  • On social media: what parts of your personality are interesting and what are you willing to share
  • If you have knitting in your book, join a knitting forum
  • Booktube
  • Publishers:
    • Del Ray – Huge, cinematic space
    • TOR – editor driven
    • Orbit – want to expand
    • Harper Voyager – on the rise
    • SAGA – cheaper debut, not great promotions
    • Baen – classic, traditional SF
    • ACE – one protagonist you follow closely
    • Angry Robot – genre blending
  • Facebook is a good place to find open calls for submissions

Balticon 50 Recap

I’m always terribly sad when Balticon is over. Those four days during Memorial Day weekend are a welcome break from work, the blues of the news and the nastiness of this election cycle, and the grimness of life in general.

For those four days, it’s nothing but good feelings. It’s non-stop science fiction and fantasy. It’s a chance to meet cool people and geek out over stuff you’d dare never bring up in your day-to-day life. This is a place where you can attend presentations about dinosaurs and Pluto by paleontologists and scientists who actually work on the New Horizons probe. It’s a place where you can have drunken late night conversations with philosophy professors and bioethicists about your favorite Doctor. A place where you can see science fiction grand master Larry Niven walking the hallways in the middle of the night on his way to a filk concert. A place where you’ll be forced to get up in front of a crowded room and read from “The Eye of Argon” until you mess up and are cheered for messing up. A place where you can attend a live podcast where two people wearing luchador masks engage in a rap battle to determine the fate of earth.

In other words, it’s a magical place.

This was the fourth year I’d gone and every year has been better than the last. This year was particularly insane with the Guest of Honor George R.R. Martin who is, despite all of the fame and acclaim, a very down-to-earth, nice and generous man, and a true fan. Every talk he gave was full of tweetable nuggets of wisdom mixed with interesting stories from his life, from the inspirational role comics played in his early and impoverished life to the memories of attending past Balticons as a fan.

He had nothing but nice things to say about Balticon and he made a very good distinction between fan-run, all-volunteer conventions like Balticon and for-profit conventions that mostly feature actors – you purchase a “membership” to Balticon and you purchase a “ticket” to these other conventions. It’s fandom versus profit and it’s a big part of what makes Balticon special.

Other cool stuff:

  • Connie Willis, one of the most awarded science fiction and fantasy writers of all time, dropping some serious knowledge on the craft of writing at an 8am panel.
  • Writer and all around hero Kim Stanley Robinson signing my copy of 2312 and giving good advice and encouragement to a new writer.
  • The volunteers who run the ship. They’re amazing!

ksr-2312 signed asoiaf meeting-grrm