Wednesday, June 3, 2015

A Taste of WisCon

Image blatantly stolen from their website (sorry...)
Memorial Day weekend in Wisconsin can often mean many things. Most years, it means a return of spring, of the snow (hopefully) being gone after about six months of winter. It means renewal and finally stepping outside without all the armor the cold forces on us. It's fitting then, that it also means a return of WisCon, a convention that is, at its core, about provided space for people passionate about science fiction and feminism to meet and talk without the need for all the armor that is sometimes required for simply existing as a fan of speculative fiction.

Perhaps I don't have the best basis for comparison, as WisCon has been the only convention (aside from a Wizard World Chicago which was much different) I've attended. But it was amazing seeing many of the writers whose stories I have read and admired and while I did not have the courage to approach any to say hi they were there and I was there and that was enough in many ways. Living in Wisconsin, though, means that this convention is close enough and just the right kind of thing to get me out of my hermitage to engage with real, living, breathing people.

I would be remiss if I didn't talk about the location first. Madison is a nicely sized city, and for those staying away from the convention hotels (I stayed with friends), the convention site is pretty easy to get to. Just be sure to park in the structure closest to the Concourse (the one with the $5 daily max, because otherwise parking adds up fast). On Saturday there's the Farmer's Market on the Square, less than a block from the convention, and anyone who has never had fresh (and I mean squeaky) cheese curds should be sure to check that out. Normally it's too early in the year to get too much in the way of produce, but it's always a fun walk to see what's for sale. There's tons of places to eat and drink just in general, from very fancy restaurants to more laid back bars. Plus there's the Bar in the Concourse itself, which featured a special drink menu for the Con (combining my great loves of stories and booze!).

And the puns! Oh, the puns!
There are also some bookstores that you should not miss whenever you are in Madison. The first is A Room of One's Own which is awesome and carries books new and used with a special eye for diverse books. They also always have a table in the vendor room as well, but making the trip down to the brick and mortar store is a must. I wish I had a bookstore like this in my city, but as that is not the case I settle for buying lots of books there when I'm in town. Just a few blocks away is another amazing bookstore, Rainbow Books. It's a queer-centric bookstore with its own cat! The selection of fiction isn't as robust as elsewhere but it has tons of nonfiction and has a large zine selection and did I mention the adorable cat? Because yeah, it's an amazing store.

But the Con! There were so many things to see and do. The panels were, by and large, both provocative and entertaining. Things don't really get going too much until Friday, but once things got going they really got going. That first night had both Misandry, Reverse Racism, and Other Imaginary Creatures and Death to Love Triangles. Imaginary Creatures was probably the most fun I had in a panel this year, the panelists really hitting their stride and engaging with the ideas in a powerful and hilarious manner. Death to Love Triangles, meanwhile, featured Guest of Honor Alaya Dawn Johnson and others speaking about how to subvert the "standard" tropes that continually pop up in YA and beyond.

Saturday had Sex Positive SFF and The Future of Gender: Beyond the Binary, as well as The Mixtape, an examination of science fiction in music that made me think about how science fiction can be interpreted in music even when the lyrics of a song are not explicitly speculative. Really, anyone looking to get a great reading list or music list has only to sit in on some of these panels to hear a dozen titles thrown out of works that manage to capture some aspect the panel discusses. For me it meant walking away with a great many new books and albums in my mental to-read queue. Saturday also featured a full slew of parties, but as I am not much of a party-person, I opted for dinner out with friends and some lively discussion.

Sunday was a very full day, with the morning featuring Towards More Realistic Fictional Diasporas, a great discussion on integrating immigration and diasporas into spec fiction in a way that is sensitive to those real-world populations actually displaced and scattered. And, of course, Sunday had the…fascinating panel Elim Garak's Weird Cardassian Penis, a discussion on alien genitalia, which was everything it sounds like and more. As Garak is my favorite DS9 character, it was a must-attend, and I did not leave disappointed.

And the panels were only part of the fun. The convention was also full of readings by many talented writers. Alaya Dawn Johnson had a hilarious reading of a gay zombie romance(ish) story that was great and I also attended a reading of Comics Against the Gender Binary as well as a Mythical Creatures reading featuring Nino Cipri, David J. Schwartz, and others. I also count the Guest of Honor speeches as a reading of sorts. Kim Stanley Robinson spoke about climate change, politics, and economics while Alaya Dawn Johnson stunned with a song and an impassioned speech on the importance of diverse books and the power of stories. The convention would have been worth the price of admission with that speech alone, and it was the highlight of the weekend for me.

Not that things were over. There were a few more things to do on Monday, including a panel on food in world building and the Sign Out where I may have gotten a number of things signed. It was amazing getting to talk (even very briefly) with the writers there and to have something to take home to treasure (besides the invaluable experience and reading recommendations).

I might have a book problem...
So yes, in short, WisCon was amazing! It really is something that gets me incredibly excited for stories, for reading and writing and reviewing. If you haven't, definitely consider giving next year's (big whomping anniversary year) WisCon a go. Guests of honor will be Sofia Samatar, Justine Larbalestier, and Nalo Hopkinson! If you go, you just might see me there...

POSTED BY: Charlesavid reader, reviewer, and sometimes writer of speculative fiction. Contributor to Nerds of a Feather since 2014.