Observations of Science Fiction & Fantasy Conventions in General and WisCon in Particular
Today is the morning after WisCon, and I’m in recovery from the lasts-about-a-week hangover stage following The Dead Dog party-hearty phenomenon of fandom.
Those of you who know that I — not unlike Count Alucard — no longer drink wine, may wonder how I can have a non-alcoholic hanger. Instead of booze, I now drink copious amounts of black coffee. WisCon and the Madison Concourse Hotel were gracious enough to have a separate room directly across the hall from the con suite that supplied all-day free fully-leaded coffee, decaf, and tea. The hotel also furnished coffee makers and pouches of free coffee fixings in each guest room, plus the Concourse wasn’t at all stingy when I stopped by the desk and requested additional packages of coffee each time I passed the front desk on my way to the outside “smoking room”, aka “Designated Smoking Area”. I’m wired on caffeine, nicotine, and good vibes.
The Madison Concourse Hotel is a natural, of course, for hosting a fantasy & sf con. “Con,” as all you Bobs and Mary Sues know, is short for a science fiction, fantasy, or horror convention. Like-minded souls, many of whom reside in other far-away parts of this mundane universe or other impossible worlds both imaginary and real, come together for a week or a weekend of actual face-to-face in-the-flesh sharing instead of their usual HPL-era letter-writing, e-mails, blogging, or Facebook interactions. There are also Mystery, Romance, Thriller, and multi-media conventions, but those are another story for another day.
Cons are where writers, editors, agents, publishers, wanna-be writers, and fans (affectionately referred to as “fen”) meet and intermingle as equals because we all share the same love for, and sense of wonder at and of, the well-written word.
WisCon is a gender-bending multi-track genre convention that includes and welcomes academics, is LGBTQ+ friendly, caters to people of color and people with disabilities, and provides multiple mind-opening, mind-bending, and mind-altering experiences. I have attended WisCon since before its inception forty years ago when I was a regular at X-Con and Mad Con and MinnCon and Windycon. Fandom was a way of life for me, and I guess it still is.
As a straight, white male who continues to smoke tobacco products, I often feel like an alien outsider at WisCon because I really am, like Michael Valentine Smith, a stranger in a strange land. WisCon is a feminist and gay-rights convention. Many of the people at WisCon speak languages that are not native to my universe. They force me to stretch my understanding in order to grok. In short, each WisCon is a growth experience that makes me a better person and a better writer.
Writing is a solitary profession. Sitting alone at a keyboard is my comfort zone.
Why, then, do I attend fantasy and sf conventions?
Because the people I meet there are my extended family. We’re united not by blood but by ink. My sisters at WisCon include Pat Murphy, Eleanor Arnason, Debbie Notkin, Ellen Kushner, and Nalo Hopkinson. My water brothers include Philip Kaveny, Hank Luttrell, Alex Bledsoe, Eric Heideman, James P. Roberts, and David Levine. WisCon is our annual family reunion.
Of course, like other authors, I do attend conventions to network with other professionals and to market and introduce my writings to readers.
I don’t do a lot of hard-core serious marketing at WisCon. I’m there primarily to visit with friends, attend panels and workshops, and to buy books. Some people are there primarily to party, and WisCon hosts some wing-ding parties. TOR Books used to sponsor great new release parties. Aqueduct Press and PM Press still do. Lots of cake and chocolate and free booze and ARCs. I make an appearance at the parties, but I don’t stay long. Few of the parties serve coffee, and none allow smoking pipes or cigarettes. While others are partying, I’m usually outside drinking coffee in the fresh-air smoking room.
I’m rethinking my future attendance at cons where I must walk long distances to reach a designated smoking area. This is the last year I will make the full convention circuit. My arthritic knees make walking increasingly painful.
I don’t need nor want to smoke around non-smokers. I wrote an sf short story entitled “The Last Wooden Indian” back in 1966 that foretold of the day when just the possession of smoking materials warranted an instant death penalty. I can identify with the protagonist of that story. Only people who have a death wish smoke.
Though I plan to limit my attendance at future cons, I have already registered for, and made my hotel reservations for, next year’s WisCon41. If you attend, you can find me in the smoking room.