Context 17, Marillion, and a Hell of a Good Time

October 7, 2004

Context17 in Columbus was very, very cool. The setting was unbelievably small compared to Boston, with a dealer’s room which would fit in my living room, and a couple of small conference rooms, again, smaller than my living room. This intimate setting was an advantage during the readings by authors, interviews and panels.

When we arrived Saturday we immediately sat in on a reading by Connie Willis of her new book. We had ran into her in the hall only a few minutes before as she was muttering to herself trying to find the right room. "Don't you hate it when the room moves without you?" I asked, after kayleigh and I directed her to the correct room.

As we walked away, kayleigh asked, wide-eyed and grinning, "Did you see who that was?"

"I saw."

Willis had been poked fun at during the Hugo Awards with comments about the night moving faster since she wasn't on the podium as much, winning awards (she has more Hugos and Nebulas than anyone). And this was true judging from this weekend. She likes to talk, but it's an enjoyable listen because not only does she know what she's talking about and says it with a great deal of genuine humor and self-deprecation, but she has plenty TO talk about. We sat in on her reading, an interview by Mike Resnick, a joint panel on plotting with her, Nancy Kress and Maureen McHugh, and even got to listen to her just chatting away with Nancy Kress at breakfast on Sunday since we were seated next to them.

As I indicated, Nancy Kress was there and I listened to her read from one of her published works and discuss her writing. Afterward, walking down the hall with her, I asked how long she'd been writing the Writer's Digest column — 13 years! "You've been reading it that long?" she asked, surprised. I admitted I'd ended my subscription some time ago but I'd subscribed for years, and she told me that marketing studies had shown subscribers usually only remained a year, thinking the magazine had shown them all they need to know.

Mike Resnick, an old-timer who we discovered lives in Cincinnati, was also there. We sat in on his own interview as well as the one he conducted with Connie Willis, and he talked about how he got his start with "hairy chested men's magazines" and bragged proudly about his bestselling daughter Laura, who won the John W. Campbell Award.

The current co-editor of Weird Tales, Darrell Schweitzer gave an interesting if distracted talk on 'what editor's what' — Darrell simply seems that way — and bantered with both kayleigh and I in the dealer's room about a laminated piranha he bought.

Sunday afternoon kayleigh and I left the convention and went to the Germantown area of Columbus, grabbed a coffee at Starbucks where I sprung the Marillion concert on her (much to her delight), headed across the street to the Book Loft, which has 32 rooms of books, and then headed to a late lunch at Schmidt's Sausage House which has good German food and even better, monster-sized cream puffs. We headed to Cincinnati, stopped at a bookstore, dropped by her house to refrigerator a couple of cream puffs we'd brought with us and headed to the concert.

She was enthralled. John Wesley opened with a strong set and impressing us, especially with a new song entitled "King of 17."

After a rousing rendition of a Pink Floyd song whose title I can't remember, John left to loud applause and my wanting to buy a couple of his CDs.

A few minutes later, Marillion simply walked out on stage, lead by keyboardist Mark Kelly dressed in white. For the first part of the set they played nothing but selections from "Marbles," Steve Rothery's guitar singing, Steve Hogarth telling us stories in song, Ian Mosley on keeping everyone in line with drums and Pete Trewalas just jamming on bass. I love Rothery's guitar, but I love to watch Pete. After about an hour they took a short break and surprised me in the second set by playing no Fish-era music. This was a ballsy but right thing to do, to concentrate on their stuff. They opened the second set with "Bridge," from "Brave," tossing in, among others, "Quartz," "Afraid of Sunlight," "Between You and Me," "The Great Escape," "Cover My Eyes," and "Uninvited Guest" at the end. kayleigh was enthralled. Her huge grin told me everything I needed to know. We stood about 15 feet from the stage in a sea of wildly enthusiastic fans. The band seemed to genuinely enjoy the crowd's reactive energy, grinning widely and waving as they left the stage to a near deafening roar after a second encore.

It was a damned fine weekend.

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