TTT – Top Ten Highlights from the Baltimore Book Festival

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. This week’s theme is Books That Give Off Autumn Vibes, but I’ve been utterly lost as to what to list for it, so I am going TOTALLY off-script to give you my top ten highlights from the Baltimore Book Festival last weekend! I talked a little bit about this on Sunday, but I didn’t cover anything that actually HAPPENED on Sunday, and I just – have more to say, LOL. I should have thought to take pictures of the panels, but I will embed tweets of people who did!

My Number One Top Highlight from the Festival was the Disability Panel. “Blind Swordfighters and Wheelchairs on Spaceships: Making Space for Disability” was an INCREDIBLE panel with INCREDIBLE panelists. The panelists ranged from blind to deaf-blind to chronic illness to cerebral palsy. Some had adaptive devices, some had service dogs, some did not. It was a glorious range of experiences talking about disability in spec fic and they were FIRE. They discussed some of the difficulties with writing books starring disabled characters – how you can be held up as “THE book” about a disability, when really it’s only representative of how one person experiences that disability. (This came up in the Queerer Worlds panel too, but more on that later.) They ripped apart this idea that disabled people wouldn’t survive in space, or in post-apocalyptic worlds. I really loved the discussion about if you have a village in a fantasy world that is constantly attacked by orcs, you HAVE to have disabled people. They’re going to have PTSD and anxiety. People are going to have disabling injuries. It’s not believable that there aren’t any disabilities in these worlds! It was a fantastic panel, and the authors and editors on it are all amazing.
Panelists: Elsa Sjunesson-Henry, Sunny Moraine, Victoria Lee, A.T. Greenblatt, Day Al-Mohamed.

My Second Highlight (and I’m having trouble ranking these!) was the Queerer Worlds Panel. This panel closed out the weekend, and I’m glad it did, because that meant they could go over their allotted time. There were a lot of shared themes with the Disability Panel; queer people exist and should be in spec fic worlds. Victoria Lee actually took this a step further and informed the audience that in her current books, The Fever King and The Electric Heir, there ARE no cishet people. They’re ALL queer. I had not realized that from reading The Fever King, but looking back on it, it’s only because that’s assumed to be the default if not explicitly stated otherwise. I’m reading The Electric Heir with an entirely different viewpoint and I love it. (Yes, I’m currently reading The Electric Heir, I’ll get back to that!) Everyone on this panel was an absolute DELIGHT. We’d (my spouse attended Saturday and Sunday with me) met several of the panelists earlier in the weekend, so it was very fun to banter with them a little during the panel. They reiterated the Wonder Woman problem – when there is so little representation, you can be expected to be representative of the entire range of an identity, and that’s just not the way it works. Nibedita Sen ultimately summed up the entire panel in one sentence: “MAKE IT GAY YOU COWARDS!” (Other suggestions included “I LOVE GAY SHIT” and “BE GAY DO CRIMES”)
Panelists: Alison Wilgus, K.M. Szpara, Nibedita Sen, Victoria Lee.

My third highlight happened at the very end of the Queerer Worlds panel. I….may have fangirled a bit, but my spouse says it was adorable, so hopefully Victoria Lee thought so too! I finished The Fever King Thursday night, just before the Book Festival kicked off on Friday. So after spending the entire weekend drooling at the ARC of The Electric Heir that Victoria Lee had in front of her at panels, I told her after the Queerer Worlds panel that I’d been daydreaming about snagging it off the table and just – running, LOL. She grinned, said she didn’t want to take it home, and would I like it? My brain just shorted out and all I could say was YES. While I was clutching the book, she then asked if I’d like her to sign it, which, um, ALSO YES. I don’t think I said anything but OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH  MY GOD the whole walk out to the car. I HAVE AN ARC OF THE ELECTRIC HEIR. I’m mostly over the incoherent screaming, but I still look over at it and squee.

My fourth highlight is similar, but it BEGAN the Festival. I follow K.M. Szpara on Twitter, so I knew he had ARCs of his upcoming debut novel, Docile, to give out at the festival. He was sitting at the SFF table when I arrived early for the first panel on Friday, and we got to chat for a while (he’s AWESOME) and when I asked if I could buy his book somewhere (I was under the mistaken impression it was out already!) he offered me an ARC instead. I honestly don’t know why I thought it was out when I knew he had ARCs – that’s kind of an indication it’s NOT out – durrr, Crystal, wtf – BUT I have a signed ARC of Docile now. So I began and ended the festival by getting two signed ARCs of books I am REALLY excited about. It absolutely made my weekend.

My fifth highlight is the diversity of the panelists. The team planning the panels for the SFF stage (I know part of the team is Sarah Pinsker and K.M. Szpara, so they get some of the credit, I’m not sure who else shares in it) is amazing. Almost every single panel we went to had more than one gender present, people of color, multiple sexualities, AND people with disabilities. There were a few that had no people of color; in one case, while everyone was white, one of them was a Russian immigrant woman. But over three days of panels, to only be able to think of one specific panel that didn’t have people of color? I didn’t attend EVERY panel at the SFF stage, but I was there A LOT. Absolutely A+ programming.

Six is just that the Book Festival fanned the flames of my love of reading. I won’t say it reignited it, because I wasn’t exactly in a reading slump, but I was slowing down. It is back to a raging thirst to devour novels, though, after talking about what makes spec fic great and where it needs to grow. I have a list of new authors and new content to track down, and I can’t wait to get started. Too bad daily life like laundry, feeding my family, and writing blog entries is taking me away from reading!

Seven is the conversations sparked between my spouse and I after attending panels. They’re about….70% of the book nerd that I am. Which is still pretty high! They didn’t make to Friday’s panels because they had to work, but they came with me Saturday and Sunday, and we’ve been talking about topics raised by the panelists ever since. We were using our constantly open text message conversation to write down titles and authors we need to look up, and I need to get that written down elsewhere so I don’t have to keep scrolling up to find things! I’ve learned a lot about what they like and don’t like in things like dystopias (I love them, they mostly dislike them, but there are exceptions) and romance. (GTFO HETERONORMATIVITY)

Eight was when my spouse and I stepped out of the News Media in SFF panel, because we needed to stretch our legs before the Queerer Worlds panel, and stumbled upon K.M. Szpara, Sarah Pinsker, and Bob Proehl doing SCIENCE! This was HILARIOUS, and I’m so glad we were there to see it in person.

Nine are the book and short story recommendations we received. I’m probably going to be subscribing to Uncanny Magazine soon, but I bought the two issues starring disabled authors, Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction! (edited by Elsa Sjunesson-Henry) and Disabled People Destroy Fantasy! and I’m really looking forward to reading those. The comics and graphic novel panel gave us such fun recommendations as The Invitation (lovecraftian horror with LOTS of sex), Filthy Figments, “irreverent humorous pornographic stories” (requires a subscription though), O Human Star, about a trio of robots and robotics scientists, and Moonshadow, a “fairytale for adults.” (Also the only non-webcomic of the four I wrote down.)

Sunny Moraine, from the Disability panel, has two short stories on the internet dealing with different aspects of mental health; Shape Without Form, Shade Without Color and Singing With All My Skin And Bone. Another short story recommended on Friday is Things With Beards by Sam J. Miller, described as a fanfic sequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing. There were many other things recommended that I simply added to my Goodreads To-Read list – far too many to fully list here, but I’ll give you some highlights. The Grace of Kings starts a trilogy by Ken Liu, who translated the Three-Body Problem and was the editor of Broken Stars, a collection of translated Chinese SFF I was reading before running into the library due date! Rhetorics of Fantasy is a nonfiction book that might help me to get deeper into my reviews.

Ten are ALL THE AUTHORS WE MET. I’m going to link to their Twitters here, because I’ve followed A TON of them.
Heading the list are K.M. Szpara and Sarah Pinsker, who are, to my knowledge, largely responsible for the SFF programming. They were both quite wonderful to talk to, and I’m thinking of asking them how I could get involved next year, because I think it would be a lot of fun. I’m not a member of SFWA, though, and I’m not really a writer, just a blogger, so I don’t know if I can be a part of it? Anyway. I bought Sarah’s book, A Song For A New Day, and have the ARC of K.M.’s debut, Docile. (He also wrote the fantastic short story, Small Changes Over Long Periods Of Time.)

I added two romance authors to my Twitter, and one of them is romance/SFF, so the one solely romance author is Robin Covington. She was one of the bright spots of the few Romance panels I went to. I was otherwise largely unimpressed with the Romance programming. The other romance and SFF author is R.R. Angell, a charming older queer gentleman who writes queer SFF romance. I bought his book Best Game Ever and had him sign it. I appreciated that he made a point of announcing his pronouns on every panel he was on.

Victoria Lee was AMAZING and I already loved The Fever King but I will now read everything she writes. She struggles with chronic illness too, and I will always support my people!

Saturday night I was looking up who was on the Queerer Worlds panel, and realized I knew who everyone was except Alison Wilgus; when I googled them I realized we’d been talking to them the day before and really enjoyed it! So we were pretty excited to hear what she had to say. And she’s awesome.

Day Al-Mohamed, Sunny Moraine, and Elsa Sjunesson-Henry, all from the Disability panel, are all great. Erin Roberts was on the Monarchy panel, and I wish she’d had more time to talk, because I wanted to hear more from her specifically. Ruthanna Emrys was on several panels, and writes eldritch horror; I picked up her first book this weekend. Lesley Penelope was also on several panels, and I want to read her books as well. Lara Elena Donnelly, author of The Amberlough Dossier, was also on several panels, and I could have listened to her talk for MUCH longer.

I had SUCH an amazing weekend. The Baltimore Book Festival is always a highlight of my year, and it coinciding with Daylight Savings Time (so I got an extra hour of sleep Saturday night!) was a godsend. I have so much reading to do now!


11 thoughts on “TTT – Top Ten Highlights from the Baltimore Book Festival

  1. Wow, what a fantastic time you had! I really want to meet K.M. Szpara, and I’m so glad I have an ARC of Docile as well. Song for a New Day is one of my reading highlights this year, I hope you love it😁

  2. Wow, it sounds like you had an amazing time! The disability panel sounds fascinating, and of course they’re so right – frankly it’s astounding we don’t see more people with disabilities in fantasy, and in historical fiction, considering how brutal those worlds often are.

  3. Wow this is amazing !!!! I’ve been thinking if I should write my own post about the festival but wasn’t sure I remembered enough (or can articulate my thoughts properly) to put up a whole post but you are definitely motivating me now ….
    I only got the chance to attend on Sunday from 1 to 6 and mostly was splitting my time between the SFF and romance panels…. and I have to say that the Queerer Worlds panel was the one I had the most fun at too… I loved how passionate they all were …. And like your experience with Victoria, I was the one jumping out of my seat after the panel when KM Spzara offered the ARCs of Docile 😍😍😍 I had already been rejected for it when I requested, so it was such a delightful end to my day….
    Your post made me remember again how happy I was attending all the panels and I hope I’ll be here next year too 😊😊😊

      • Ohh that would be awesome if there was a blogger meetup…. we should definitely plan it !!!
        And I agree about the romance panels… I only attended two but enjoyed one… the one I really was looking forward to was about romance bloggers but I ended up not finding it very engaging or much different from last years… I loved the two SFF panels 😍😍😍 I missed the Dystopia panel though because I really wanted to hear Ibram X Kendi speak about his books …. Overall though, definitely one of my best days in recent times 😍😍😍

        • Yeah, the blogger panel was much the same as last year – it seems more geared towards authors-who-blog rather than just authors. Also the description mentioned “a tour through the bloggerverse” and I don’t think it lived up to that AT ALL. The Dystopia panel was really good – I love dystopias, though. My spouse does not, but that actually made it really interesting and gave us some really good conversation topics later, about what makes me like it vs what makes them dislike it. How was Ibram X Kendi’s talk?

          • I agree… it’s definitely more catered to authors and not just bloggers which was disappointing….
            I read dystopia very rarely, so that’s why I gave it a miss but I wish I could have managed it…. Ibram X Kendo’s talk was very informative and educational… I think he gave a lot of points to think about … but i felt that it might be more helpful for people working in social justice/activism …. and many in the audience seemed to be that because they asked very relevant questions…

  4. Your favorite panels were also my favorite panels! The coolest thing is because I’ve been to a lot of panels over cons sometimes even topics that I’ve seen before will be great if the panelists are great and have a lot of interesting things to say which I why I’ll still always go and check them out.
    Glad you noted down some of the book recs. I was frantically trying to add things to goodreads during some of the panels lol.

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