We attended Planetfest in Pasadena yesterday. It’s still going on now, a two-day event by the Planetary Society timed to match tonight’s landing of NASA’s Curiosity space probe on Mars.

Inflatable mockup of the Curiosity Mars rover.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but it was basically a bunch of space enthusiasts and people in the industry. SpaceX has a mock-up of their crew capsule, and other sponsors had exhibits with things like space plane mock-ups or geological drills. There was a life-size inflatable model of the Curiosity rover. There was a single track of programming with speakers on topics from the actual science of Martian exploration to the question of just why we explore space in the first place. Katie caught the Sally Ride tribute while I walked J around the exhibits, and we both watched Bill Nye’s talk about “Our Place in Space,” which he finished up with a fun science demonstration featuring liquid nitrogen marshmallows, gas toruses, a candle, and Robert Picardo.

SpaceX crew capsule mock-up.

The exhibits for “kids of all ages” turned out to be for kids from 4 on up. J wasn’t really interested in the Martian soil uplift demo, or the dirty snowball CO2 comet demo, but he liked watching the Xbox Mars Lander game, and he was fascinated by the robot that picked up and tossed basketballs. He had fun hanging out with grandma and grandpa, at least, and playing with a magnetic meteorite. (The tiny fragment of verified Martian meteorite was carefully mounted on a slab with plastic wrap to protect it from skin oils, but they had a couple of non-valuable rocks that you could pick up and hold.)

A robot that plays basketball.

A family friend invited us to the after party at the mall across the street. It was divided into two main areas: the sci-fi-themed dance floor out on the plaza, and a set of tables on the terrace above for the sit-and-talk crowd, where the main event was a participatory art project: A group had set up one blank postcard for each day of Curiosity’s journey from Earth to Mars, and was asking attendees to draw what they imagined the probe would write home about.

Planetfest party at Paseo Colorado in Pasadena

I finally made it to a Westercon! It’s been years since I’ve been to a general science-fiction/fantasy convention. The last one was WorldCon/LACon IV in 2006, but I was distracted by a summer cold and lots of DayQuil. Before that was the last Loscon I attended in 2002. So while I remembered how this sort of event is usually run, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

A Bit of Background

Westercon is a fan-run convention that travels around the western United States and Canada, similar to WorldCon on a smaller scale. It’s usually held during the Fourth of July weekend. This year it was held in Pasadena, California, and combined with the filk convention ConChord 23 to form WesterChord, Westerconchord, or simply Confirmation.

I’ve been to a couple of Westercons, but not anything you’d call recent. I remember attending one in San Diego and one in Anaheim, having a dinosaur-themed T-shirt from one year, and picking up a particular issue of The New Teen Titans in San Diego, so I think the two I attended were San Diego in 1986 and “Conosaurus” in Anaheim in 1989. Yes, it’s been twenty years since my last Westercon!


I had no trouble finding the Pasadena Hilton, but getting inside was a little tricky. The entryway was under construction, so they were routing people through one of the ballrooms, which had been set up for some sort of banquet. (More about that later.) The hotel was vaguely familiar from my memories of Loscon in the 1980s, but has been remodeled to add a coffee shop and a restaurant in the middle of the conference center. The Starbucks was most welcome, though the con was good at making sure pitchers of water and plastic cups were available in each panel room and the main hall.

Since I was only there for the day, I didn’t explore the area looking for restaurants or other activities. I just relied on Starbucks and the ad-hoc pizza, sandwich, pastry and salad counter that had been set up across the way.

Anyway, I found registration easily, but the onsite sign-up forms were on a table behind a planter. I wasn’t the only one who walked straight past them.


It was a much smaller convention than I’ve become used to in years of attending the big comic-book events like Comic-Con International, WonderCon, and Wizard World. Even Long Beach Comic Con pulled in 6,300 people its first year, but I’d count the attendance here in the hundreds.

Attendees were also older than Comic-Con on average, mostly 50+ rather than mostly around 30. Certainly there were plenty of younger fans at Westercon, and there are plenty of older fans at Comic-Con, but there does seem to be a generation gap of sorts between the two types of conventions, at least in the southern California area. At least this con seemed more alive than the last few Loscons I attended — and a lot less bitter!

Maybe it’s the literary focus. LASFS has always been very book-oriented, and there were a lot of writers among the con guests. One of the book dealers even had an entire shelf set aside for books by authors who were guests at the con.

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