the Little Red Reviewer

Virtual conventions? Yes please!

Posted on: May 17, 2020

This weekend, I attended my first fully virtual SFF convention, Flights of Foundry.  In fact, at the moment that I started drafting this blog post,  panels were still happening!



Fresh from the experience, I can say without a doubt- if you have the opportunity to attend and online convention, DO IT.   Flights of Foundry had a suggested donation, but you could register for free.  I did a donation for my registration, and for how much enjoyment I got out of my experience (and no travel expenses!), I plan to send them another donation to show my gratitude.


Are there some negatives to a virtual convention? yes, but in my opinion the positives far outweigh the negatives.    Keep in mind I have no idea what technological things were happening behind the scenes,  what I do know is that the volunteers kept the Go To Meeting feeds and Zoom feeds running smoothly,  and there were Discord channels for chats and asking questions in panels (I didn’t register for discord, so I can’t really speak to that).


The panels and presentations were done through Go To Meeting, and audience members could hop in an out as they chose,  and the readings, workshops, and other smaller events were done through Zoom. (If you’ve not used those platforms before:  GoToMeeting means the audience can see the speakers but the speakers can’t usually see the audience, and in Zoom everyone has the opportunity to see everyone else, if you have 9 people it looks like The Brady Bunch grid.)


The vast majority of panels had sound and video,  but that didn’t mean I was shackled to my desk while I was listening to a panel.  The experience felt like watching a live twitch stream,  or listening to a live radio show.  I was listening on a wireless headset,  so I could wear my headset and walk away from my desk.


Here are some  more positives, and this list is long!

– Didn’t have to pay for a hotel room,  didn’t have to put shoes on, didn’t have to wait for a table at a restaurant at dinnertime, didn’t have to drive anywhere or worry about flights or worry about traveling/bad weather. all the stresses and costs of travel were gone.  I literally attended in my pajamas. (and at this point, haven’t we all forgotten how to wear shoes?)

– Registering and getting into the live feeds was super easy.  This convention must have had some tech wizards working behind the scenes!

– Panelists seemed more relaxed, since they also didn’t have to rush around a hotel looking for their next panel room.

– if I’d thought to use two devices, i technically could have listened to two panels at the same time!

– I could fidget to my hearts content because no one could see me.  Those chairs in the panel rooms at hotels? my legs are short, those things are hell for me, I’d rather stand or sit on the floor (and have, on occasion). I was listening to the panels on a wireless headset, so I could walk around the living room, go to the kitchen for snacks, do some light excersize. I could even *whisper* leave a panel that wasn’t what I expected, without being disruptive,  or hop into a currently going panel, without being disruptive.

– not only could I hop in and out and fidget without distracting others, I didn’t have the distractions of an in-person convention. No loud panel rooms next door, no squeaky panel room doors opening and closing constantly, no disruptive audience members.

– I saw that many panels were recorded so people can watch them later. I didn’t register for this service, but I saw that some panels had closed captioning for the hearing impaired!


the few negatives were:

– no people watching.  I just had to be OK with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to people watch or compliment people on their outfits.  I do love me some people watching.

– no socializing, no parties, no “omg how are you!”‘s in the hallways, no random encounters, no thanking people after a panel for doing such a great panel or a wonderful reading, no autograph session. Had I registered for the discord chat rooms, i could have had a more social experience. But also? no awkward social encounters either!

– there was something about a Dealers Room, but I didn’t explore this.


I “registered” for a ton of panels ahead of time, which meant those showed up as super convenient links in my email that morning.  But like every con I’ve ever attended, I made last minute decisions about what panels I would go to, and ended up skipping some that I expected to attend.  I did love getting those links on Saturday and Sunday,  they were really convenient!

For those of you who enjoy After Con Reports,  here’s some very brief comments on some of the panels I attended.

Martha Wells reading – it’s a good thing I wasn’t in the room with her, because I was squeeing the entire time. She read from Network Effect,  and then did a Q&A,  with people typing their questions in the chat function. There was some discussion of Murderbot’s chosen pronoun being “it”, instead of “they/them”,  and Wells explained this as that Murderbot chose “it”, because it rejects everything human.  This lead to a discussion around that the author puts their art out there, and the author has no control over how readers will interact with, interpret, or respond to the work.  a large portion of the “questions” during the Q&A were “this isn’t a question,  just wanted to tell you how much I love your books”.


Bringing International SFF into the English Speaking World – Liz Gorinsky, Neil Clarke, Andy Dudak, S. Qiouyi Lu, Rachel Cordasco – I wish I had taken better notes in this panel,  mostly in regards to all the anthologies and titles that were dropped.  My favorite part of this panel was the discussion on how different publishing is in the US/UK than in China. Basically, things move really slow in the US – a writer could wait 6 months to find out that a magazine rejected their story, whereas in China things more faster and it is also far more common for authors to just put their work out there on forums and websites, for everyone to read, right away.  The Chinese market is also, HUGE. Cixin Liu is a celebrity there, he makes national news everytime he wins an award! when was the last time a spec fic writer in the US made national news?


SF&F&Folklore – Marie Brennan – boy I hope this panel was recorded, because Brennan packed about three hours of amazing information in 45 minutes!  She was talking about her researches into folklore, and among other topics, she talked about common elements of folklore stories,  such as “the hero is pursued”, or “the hero gains a magical item”,  and for writers who want to write something folklore-ish, you can mix and match many of those various elements, with a certain prose style. It was a great presentation, I wish I had taken notes. I hope this one was recorded!


Neuroscience for Writers – Benjamin C. Kinney – Another one that I hope was recorded, and that I wish I had taken notes for!  Kinney was trying to cram a longer presentation into 45 minutes, and he had no way of asking the audience “if you know what this term means, raise you hand”.  The presentation was about misconceptions about how our brains work (“you only use ten percent of your brain” is crap, for example), that the brain is very plastic,  that you can very cool things with magnets on your head, and some neuroscientists have done pretty gross things to lab animals.  Our brains are super cool!!  and we still don’t know how they work, and that makes them even cooler!


An Interview with Ken Liu – exactly what it sounds like.  This panel was amazing, I hope it was recorded.  Ken Liu is so incredible, all the things he thinks about and the connections he makes.  Liu mentioned the same thing that Wells did – that authors have zero control of their work once it is out in the world. An author may intend one thing, but they can’t control how people will interpret their work, what connections their readers will make, etc.  Liu was talking about his Dandelion Dynasty series, and about how the whole concept of the series is how does a disparate group of people become one people, and then how do their build their country/constitution/etc from the ground up? Fascinating!!!


Considerations for Translation – Alex Shvartzman, S. Qiouyi Lu, Rachel Cordasco, Tracy Canfield –  (I attended a bunch of these Translation panels, and I may be getting my memories mixed up about who was talking about what, when).  This panel talked about do you translate the work word for word,  or do you “interpret it”, towards western sensibilities? What about puns?  Do you change around the words so that it is still a pun in English?  Canfield, who translates contracts and computer manuals, had some fantastic input on translating non-fiction.  Lu talked about how infodumps are very common in Chinese literature, and less common in English, so sometimes she has to discuss with the author about if entire paragraphs should be edited out for English translation. I really got a kick out of all this “behind the scenes” of translating!


Behind the Scenes at a Speculative Literary Magazine – Victoria Sandbrook, Elsa Sjunneson, Neil Clarke, LaShawn Wanak – talk about behind the scenes, woah!  What exactly does an editor do? how do magazine editors learn how to become magazine editors?  What is the first thing you should if you want to start your own magazine (hint: don’t). Where does the money come from to start these things? Clarke had the best financial business advice, in my opinion: Decide up front how much money you can afford to lose, and when you’ve lost that much it’s time to re-evaluate, because whatever you’re doing, it isn’t working.  How does slush reading work? What are editors looking for, in their slush readers? What types of social media works, what doesn’t work?  I love behind the scenes stuff, so I was in heaven listening to this panel!


In conclusion, if you have the opportunity to attend a virtual convention, Do it!   You mileage may vary. . . but you won’t have to drive anywhere.



11 Responses to "Virtual conventions? Yes please!"

I had a lot of fun this weekend, too! We “went” to a l9t of the same panels & readings. I did some on my phone, then switched to my desktop & enjoyed that more. I checked out the Discord area briefly & scrolled through the “Dealers Room” chat to see what was being offered. Very impressed with the guests and even more with the tech – they did a great job handling problems. And it was fun to attend panels with 100+ attendees!


Just curious, how was the GoToMeeting view on your phone? could you see all the panelists on one screen, or did it change as different people talked? How was the dealers room chat set up?


and that is another benefit! didn’t matter how many people were in the panel (100+!!!!), I felt like I had a front seat to everything, and didn’t have to worry about standing room only!


Reblogged this on Amy Clare Fontaine and commented:
Hi, friends! Check out Andrea’s review of the amazing virtual SFF convention, Flights of Foundry, that happened this weekend! This was a great experience for me too. I learned a lot, had a blast, and made cool new friends!


Amy Clare Fontaine

Liked by 1 person

Thanks Amy! I’m happy to hear you had a good time too!

Liked by 1 person

Not having any of the platforms on my computer, not doing “social media”, so no F-Book, Twitter, Insta-gram, etc. etc. No Zoom or Twitch or Wigger of Talkie-Talk or Group Chat or any of it, I doubt this would work for me.

I go to cons for three things: panels, to see friends and the book room. Keep in mind these are mystery cons, not SFF cons, so there is a different vibe, especially the room party aspect, but meeting new-to-me authors is important and it sounds like that didn’t/couldn’t happen.

Still, I’m really glad you had a good time, and want to get full reports on future events you attend.

Oh, and stay safe and wash your hands! 🙂

Liked by 2 people

they had it set up really nice – if you weren’t familiar with the technologies, all you needed was an internet connected computer and an email address. you just clicked a link, and in a new tab of your browser, the correct software interface magically showed up and the panel began. Attendees didn’t need to learn any new technologies, and didn’t have to do any kind of social media anything. you just needed an email address.

Liked by 1 person

This sounds as pretty cool. I think I will have five this a whirl. Would be MUCH easier for me and the fam to attend. Sounds like a wonderful experience.
I would love to see the behind the scenes of the tech that goes on. YES I AM A GEEK AND PROUD OF IT


you probably would have understood the instructions 100 times better than I did! there was a bunch of tech stuff and troubleshooting tech stuff on their website that I didn’t even understand, but everything worked so seamlessly that I didn’t need to worry about any of that.

I think Wiscon is next weekend? and fully virtual? Absolutely a breeze for families to attend. Even easier if you have a wireless headset – you can wrangle the kids while listening!

Liked by 1 person

Sorry if I sounded too grumpy, it does sound cool. Maybe sometime.


i think you’d be surprised that something like this could work for you. they even let grumpy people attend. 🙂 🙂 🙂

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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