Letter to Parents (Outside of the Philadelphia Area)
If your child is showing you this letter--watch out! It means he or she is interested in attending Millennium Philcon (MilPhil) from August 30 to Sept. 3, 2001 in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. You could wring your hands in despair, wondering what you ever did to deserve such a kid, or you could find out what a science fiction con is all about and view your son or daughter's prospects of attending WorldCon as educational, possible, safe, and enjoyable.
Let me help. Take a deep breath. Release it. This is not hard.
Who am I? Diane Turnshek, the MilPhil Teen Activities coordinator, a science fiction writer, an astronomer and the mother of four boys.
What is Millennium Philcon? Every year, somewhere on our lovely planet, the World Science Fiction Association brings together approximately four hundred writers, editors, artists and scientists for a five-day convention, usually over Labor Day weekend. The MilPhil vision statement can be viewed in its entirety on the Con web page at http://milphil.org. In short, it is "a forum for people throughout the world for the discussion and promotion of the educational, creative, and innovative aspects of science fiction and fantasy in literature, the arts, the sciences, and the role of fandom." We're expecting MilPhil to attract over 5000 fans. It will be held in the Philadelphia Convention Center and the adjoining Marriott Hotel, downtown in the city of brotherly love. You could not ask for better facilities; self-contained shopping arcade with a covered walking bridges, so there is little need to go outside on the street most days to reach restaurants and shops.
Going to a major convention is a truly educational experience. Besides the panels, science talks, art demonstrations, musical concerts, movies, and speeches available to all members, there is a play, a masquerade, the Hugo Awards Ceremony, a room to buy merchandise and an art show and sale. Author signings run every day, plus there will be a "Meet the Pros" social. A writing workshop especially for young writers is planned. From early morning exercise groups and religious observances to late night publisher's receptions and gaming, there is more than enough excitement to keep a person occupied.
There are many issues to address in order to allay your fears. Expense. Housing. Travel. Safety. As a mom, I understand. Let's go through them one by one.
Expense. This is a big issue. The five-day con membership rate is $170.00 US if purchased by May 31 (it'll go up to around $200 if purchased at the door). Day rates will be posted on the web page shortly (probably in the neighborhood of $60.00 per day). Don't wince--compare it to the cost of soccer camp!
We are brainstorming ways to reduce the expenses incurred by teens attending MilPhil. Gofers who work a certain number of hours volunteering at the con may have their memberships reimbursed after the con. Each teen attendee has the opportunity of personally interviewing an attending author. ISAACs (Interview, Student-Author, At-Con) may be sold to magazines or newspapers.
Food. Nearby restaurants are varied and suitable for every palate and pocketbook. Chinatown and the Reading Terminal Market are across the street from the Convention Center. The hospitality suite stays open with soft drinks, coffee and snacks for members from Thursday afternoon through Monday. Besides room service, some of the nearby hotels offer suites with kitchens for those who would rather eat in.
Housing. The Marriott and the other convention hotels cannot rent rooms to persons under 21. If an adult is a resident at the hotel, an adjoining room for teens can be rented. Con hotel rates are $145 per night for a double (room must be reserved in advance, rollaways cost $20.00 per night). Our ally here is time. There is time for the students to make arrangements for sharing sleeping space with friends, for one parent to offer to look after an adjoining room of teens, and for school groups to arrange field trips to the convention with attendant supervision from teachers. The Millennium Philcon committee cannot take responsibility for supervising teens, but we will work with you to make arrangements that everyone finds satisfactory. An open discussion forum on Speculations.com (called "Teens at MilPhil") has been set up specifically to help teens who want to attend the con work out the logistics.
Travel. Shared travel is the key. From Pittsburgh (west of Philadelphia), the PARSEC science fiction club members and friends are looking into renting an Amtrak train car to carry con-goers at a discounted price. Becoming active in your local SF club is a good way to meet people who would be willing to share travel expenses.
Safety Issues. Electronic walkie-talkies, beepers and cell phones are allowed on the premises, so you can keep in touch with your teen at all times. There is a teen lounge in the convention center and a manned operations center for dealing with emergencies. No smoking allowed in the Convention Center. The drinking age in Pennsylvania is twenty-one and is rigorously observed. Science fiction fans are an extremely diverse and accepting group. Fans consist of people of all ages, genders, occupations, classes, races, political parties, religions, and sexual orientations. While this can be surprising at first, fandom is able to incorporate these differences and still be a community, but, as with every community, there just might be a predatory creep in the mix. A healthy caution is always best. We've arranged to start the con off with an orientation and safety seminar.
The author Guest of Honor is Greg Bear and the editor Guest of Honor is Gardner Dozois (Asimov's Magazine). Our invitation list is not published--one never knows who will ultimately accept. It's early yet, but so far, authors who have accepted our invitation include: Esther Friesner, Frederik Pohl, Greg Bear, David Brin, Larry Niven, Tamora Pierce, Connie Willis, Kate Elliott, Charles Sheffield, Nancy Kress, Joe Haldeman, Hal Clement, Joan D. Vinge and Robert Silverberg and artists Bob Eggleton, Michael Whelan, Stephen Youll and Jael. In the past, Worldcon programs have included Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, members of Congress, ambassadors, scientists, authors, editors, publishers, artists and fans. Major TV and film studios will often preview their new work at Worldcon. Program participant acceptances are added to the MilPhil web page as they come in, so check: http://www.dpsinfo.com/2001/participants.html
I've raised more questions than I've answered; at least I've got you thinking! Consider this a dialogue. Let's work together to squeeze the most "sense of wonder" out of this experience for our young adults.