Portland in the fog has all the charm and beauty of Los Angeles of 2029 in Blade Runner, but without quaint charm of suffocating corporatism. Instead, it defaults to a decidedly more Stalinist aesthetic: gray and oppressive during the day, moody and hazy at night. It’s skyline is punctuated by the occasional train yard and industrial complex on the one hand, and the very occasional example of exquisitely gaudy hyper-modernist architecture on the other. Driving through on a drizzly night (and, in Portland, most nights are drizzly), I’m often taken by the fancy that Paris, France and the Southern Pacific Railway crept into Soviet Moscow on a cold winter’s night to birth their love child and stow it safely in the city’s forgotten historic sections, so that they wouldn’t be publicly shamed by the rest of Europe.

On the other hand, there is Powell’s. And The Montage. And the other things about Portland that keep me coming back for a visit every now and then even though the weather is appalling and the streets are paved with potholes and designed according to arcane 1950s theories of traffic control that bear as much resemblance to the patterns of human travel as does spontaneous human combustion to real-world thermodynamics.

These are the kind of thoughts you have after a ten hour drive up from San Francisco with the always entertainingly snarky Gail Carriger in search of a novel con-going experience.

It was novel–or, at least, a chapter and a half of a novel plus a short story. I write a lot at cons during the downtime, and OryCon had some very comfortable seats in the bar (and in the panel rooms) that were well-tailored to the task of keeping my ass affixed to them. As cons go, it was uneventful — low key, some interesting bits of programming, lots of wifi, but in general it had that Portlandy vibe, with which I have an infamous love/hate relationship.

After all, I did live here for a couple years, and in that time I grew to love the landscape, made some very good friends, and had a marvelous time, discovered some wonderful restaurants, venues, and cultural hotspots, all while growing to hate the weather, the politics, and the general dreary-perpetual-fight-against-depression-and-oppression feel of the place. I’m a spoiled Bay Area native–you can tell, can’t you?

So, I’m forced to admit that, by the end of the con, I was exhausted. It’s hard to be simultaneously having a good time and irritated to death, but Portlandiness does that to me, and in the midst of admittedly good and productive times, it wore me down.

Powell’s, which is possibly the greatest book store chain on earth, is a Portland-area legend, and for good reason. Walking into one has for me the same pornographic appeal that walking into a teddy-bear outlet has for a Plushie. I had to resist, very diligently, the urge to pluck the uncorrected galleys of Glory Road off the shelf and take it home with me. Last night, they had an uber-signing: 31 (or so) science fiction authors packed the Beaverton branch for an hour-and-a-half marathon session. (I wasn’t signing, I was off to the side writing another chapter).

I’ve always thought the best part of cons are the unexpected meetings, and this one was no different. In this case, just after the signing, I walked into a bar with Gail Carriger, M.K. Hobson, and a handful of other young-and-hungry Steampunk authors and their entourages, only to see before me a table peopled with authors who I recognized, all of whom were a generation older.

My policy when engaging in shop talk: go for the experience. I introduced myself, they remembered me from my occasional blog comments and invited me to join them for dinner. I spent the next three hours talking shop with Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Dean Wesley Smith, and Adrian Phoenix, along with con-organizers John Lorentz and Ruth Sachter. This alone was easily worth the time the trip took–when people who have been in an industry long enough to know its rhythms (and who are very deliberately feeling out the tech and legal trends that acre currently wreaking creative destruction) are willing to discuss their thoughts, entertain debate, and gab about aspects of your business that are difficult to research, you make time in your evening for it.

It was also fabulously entertaining–a whole table full of folks whose sense of humor is more twisted than mine. Not often I run into that, but boy is it fun when I do!

So, recommendations for OryCon:
Their panels on violence are world class, no kidding. They are a must-attend for any fiction writer (though if you have a weak stomach, you might need to look away from the slide show screen from time to time). The people who run it (and evidently it’s a yearly fixture) are some of the acknowledged world experts on the physiology and psychology, and other panelists are trained killers. I went for research concerning the upcoming book on firearms, and left with a reading list for prep work for book 2 in the firearms series.

Likewise, the panels on costuming and particularly on bodypainting are very well-run. I get the sense that this is a core competency of the Portland fan community, and if your interests run in these directions, you’d be well served to attend.

Also, if you value your palate, As con food goes, the food at OryCon is passable, but not great, while the prices are too high for what they’re selling compared to even the Bay Area cons (which, being in the Bay Area, have far more business being pricey, yet are mysteriously more reasonable on the food). The con hotel sits in the midst of a number of excellent restaraunts–a short walk will be rewarded with gustatory satisfaction without undue pain on the wallet.

Now, back to writing. Maybe I can knock out most of the rest of a novel before SteamCon…?