Thursday, August 27, 2015

Sasquan - The 2015 World Science Fiction Convention

Sasquan mascot image by Artist Guest of Honor Brad Foster

We've returned home safely from what I think was my eighteenth World Science Fiction Convention: Sasquan, which took place in Spokane, Washington last week.

My first Worldcon was in 1993. I was living in Grand Forks, North Dakota, having finished grad school but still waiting for my then-boyfriend, now-husband Paul to finish up there. Although I had vague dreams of being a writer, I hadn't yet done much about it, and so I went very much as a fan the first time. I remember being goggle-eyed at everything, including meeting the fan Guest of Honor, the late jan howard finder. I met many other people at that first Worldcon with whom I remain friends to this day.

(And as an aside, I was still living in North Dakota the following year, when Worldcon was conveniently in Winnipeg, the closest big city to Grand Forks. Seriously, how convenient was that?)

I still love Worldcon. Now I find myself there as both author and fan, and I still get as much out of it as ever. These are some of the highlights for me this year.

Getting there

Abandoned house near Hartline, Washington. (This was on the return trip, when the smoke haze was much worse.)

I know a lot of folks weren't thrilled with the prospect of getting to Spokane, as its airport does not boast a lot of direct flights. Fortunately, we had a very attractive alternative: we flew into beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia and visited Paul's parents, who then lent us one of their vehicles to drive down to Spokane. We hadn't been on that long a car ride together for a while and boy, was I ready for some real scenery! (Houston to Dallas, a trip we take several times a year, is a little ... dull.)

So, instead of taking the main highway, we took Route 2 through Stevens Pass, and saw some gorgeous mountains, the "Bavarian" village of Leavenworth that has been mysteriously plopped into the middle of Washington State for some reason, orchards galore, and then lots of lonely wheat fields up on a plateau that reminded us of our North Dakota and (in Paul's case) Manitoba days. There was already a little haze in the air from the fires, which would get much worse over the next few days.

And in the best serendipity ever, as we neared Spokane, I turned on Paul's cell phone for the navigation, and saw a text from our Houston friend, Greg, asking if we'd gotten in yet. I said we were about 20 minutes out, and he said he was just de-planing.

Ten minutes later, I realized we were passing the airport. In an "I could have had a V-8!" moment, I called Greg back and offered him a ride if he hadn't already made other arrangements. He hadn't, except that he and his plane seatmate, who was also going to the convention, were going to share a cab. Since we had plenty of room, I said his new friend could come with us ... and it was our old friend, author and Alaskan David Marusek! We truly could not have planned this if we'd tried.


PERFECT. Seriously, a big shout-out to the Sasquan staff. We got in line for pre-registered memberships behind about 30 people and were through in about 3-5 minutes. Easiest Worldcon registration ever for me. (That first con in 1993? I stood in line for 2-3 hours. Heck, last year in London I stood in line for an hour and a half.)

Brother Guy

On Wednesday evening, we went to the Carl Sagan Medal Speech, given by Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican Astronomer. Paul has known Brother Guy for many years through the science community and I've been lucky enough to see him at several Worldcons, but this was the first time I've seen him give a formal talk, and I really enjoyed it. The title was "Discarded Worlds: Astronomical Ideas that Were Almost Correct." It focused on a lot of astronomical and cosmological theories that have been put forth over the centuries. Many of them made perfect sense given the information available at the time, demonstrating that good science was being done even if additional knowledge eventually disproved those theories. And that was the real point of the talk, that scientists must not only be willing to admit failure, they should embrace it because it's an absolutely necessary part of the process. Arguing over theories and trying to prove or disprove them is often what leads to a new way of thinking.

Trailer Park

Another fun item for me this year was "Trailer Park," which was the short form title for "Keith and Alan's Movie News and Previews: Trailer Park Edition." In previous years, "Trailer Park" has been a selection of movie trailers, and often has been disappointingly heavy in both horror and video game previews, which are of the least interest to me. This year, Keith Johnson and Alan Halfhill interspersed the trailers (which were mostly not for horror films and video games) with news and gossip from the movie industry and even the theme park industry, which seems to be incorporating more movie-related attractions than ever. Unsurprisingly, a lot of the material focused on Star Wars and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And I was just fine with that. I haven't enjoyed "Trailer Park" this much in years. It also included a trailer for a Chinese film combining live action and animation about monsters, which looked terrific. (Sorry, I don't remember its title!)


I tried to get to a mix of author and fan events this year. Author events included "Drinks with Authors" at a nearby brewery, Clarion West, Fairwood Press, the SFWA suite, and the very tail end of the Hugo Losers Party (the official one, not the private George R.R. Martin one). The Hugo Losers Party was held at Auntie's Bookstore, which I thought was an inspired idea. And while I thought that GRRM made a lovely gesture in having a party to celebrate lots of folks, including those who would have been on the ballot had it not been hijacked, I felt very sorry for the organizers of the official losers party. I believe this party is usually put on by the next year's Worldcon staff, in this case the folks from Kansas City/Mid-Americon II, and I found it unfortunate that their hard work in putting on the party wasn't appreciated as it should have been, when the whole mess had nothing to do with them. Just more of the unfortunate collateral damage, I suppose.

Fan-wise, I spent all of Thursday night at the Texas party, put on by Randy Shepherd (Chair of LoneStarCon 3), Tim Miller (frequent FenCon chair and Texas SMOF), and other assorted Texans. Randy gave out "hero" awards to folks who'd been instrumental in making LoneStarCon 3 the success it was; the awards were bronze-cast statuettes of an astronaut reading a book -- the very same astronaut figure that appeared on the Hugo Award base for that Worldcon, which was designed by Vincent Villafranca. That is one of my all-time favorite Hugo bases, and I thought it was a terrific way to thank the key LoneStarCon players.

Other nights, I got to the Helsinki party (where I watched the last two Hugo awards being given out on the television), a New Orleans for 2018 party, and a San Jose for 2018 party.

Speaking of parties, early on I made the call to stay in the convention hotel (the attached Doubletree) rather than the party hotel, in part because a lot of author events end up being held away from the official con party hotel. I was a bit worried at the distance, though, because I knew I would of course want to visit the party hotel frequently.

I needn't have worried. Sasquan promised shuttles, and by God, there were shuttles! And not just tiny, infrequent mini-vans, but full-size shuttles that ran 24 hours a day. After 2 a.m. they weren't as frequent, but I was still able to catch shuttles with ease that late and even later (I stayed up until 4 a.m. my last night). Seriously, another great job by Sasquan.

Site Selection

And Helsinki wins the 2017 Worldcon bid! Paul traveled to Helsinki for work last year and is dying to go back, and I'm always willing to see some more "World" in Worldcon even if it means I can't always attend. I thought that Helsinki worked hard, and I'm excited by the fact that Hannu Rajaniemi will be their guest. I haven't read his novels yet but am partway through his story collection from Tachyon, and I can honestly say I haven't been this impressed by a single-author collection since Ted Chiang.

Winner aside, as far as I'm concerned, that was the most exciting site selection in years. I mean, it's hard to go wrong with Helsinki, Japan, Montreal, and D.C. as your choices.

Dealers Room

I ended up volunteering at the Locus table for a couple of morning shifts, which is always a nice way to see folks as they walk by. (This is often where Michael Tallan (sp?) and I usually exchange our annual lament about lack of bookshelf space.) I bought three books from the Fairwood Press table that they'd featured at their party the night before, plus two from the McFarland table. McFarland is an academic/popular culture publisher that always has a table full of tempting choices any time Worldcon is in the States. This year, I bought The Politics of Big Fantasy: The Ideologies of Star Wars, The Matrix, and The Avengers. I'm currently on an Avengers kick these days, having watched the newest movie twice on plane trips this month, and since I don't know the comics, I'm interested to find out more about that world. And seriously, check out that cover image of Princess Leia as Rosie the Riveter!

There was also no shortage of jewelry, t-shirts, costumes and accessories, puzzles, and games in the dealer's room. Seriously, you can't believe the variety in a Worldcon dealers room until you've seen it.


All fun and no work makes Amy ... lazy, I guess? So I tried to get some "work" in. Okay, it's not really work, but I did attend the SFWA Business Meeting, which was completely painless at only an hour long. I think it's a worthwhile organization, and important to attend the meeting so that a voting quorum can be achieved.

Not quite as painless, but so worth it was attending my very first WSFS business meeting, in order to listen to the debate and vote on the "E Pluribus Hugo" proposal that if passed will change the way Hugo nominations are counted. I will not attempt to explain it in detail here, but I will say that I've discussed it in depth with two of its creators, and I think it's quite brilliant. It would allow slate nominated works on the ballot, but is designed in such a way to keep them from sweeping categories. Instead of 15% to 20% of nominators getting 100% of the five spots in a category, they would likely only get one slot, which is, appropriately, 20%. Which means that even folks who want to run slates, which most Hugo voters oppose on principle, will still get a voice, as they should.

Both the "E Pluribus Hugo" proposal and the "4 and 6" proposal passed this year; this means that both will be voted on at next year's business meeting in Kansas City. While I like the intent behind "4 and 6", under which a person can only nominate 4 works in a category but 6 works appear on the final ballot, I think it can easily be gamed by two different but coordinating slates -- and in fact, that's what happened this year, since the tearful juvenile canines and the mouth-frothing juvenile canines are so intent on pointing out that they were different from each other.

I urge folks who plan to attend the Kansas City Worldcon to educate themselves on this issue. And thanks to Kevin Standlee for his skillful handling of an emotionally-charged meeting.

What I Missed

I'd intended to take advantage of Sasquan's film festival, having enjoyed Worldfest-Houston the past two years, as well as the Golden Blaster Awards as part of last year's Eurocon in Dublin. But when I looked on a wall chart, I saw that most of the slots were a minimum half hour and many were an hour, whereas I tend to prefer lots of quite-short films. I noticed one session that listed many films together, which is what I was looking for, but I had a conflict; my husband went and said it was entirely horror, so it's just as well I didn't see that one. Ugh, there's just so much to do at a Worldcon that I didn't manage a single film session.

Similarly, I had a handful of panels that I'd marked down as "must-see" ... and didn't see them. I'll do better next time, I swear.

And like an idiot, I slept through my alarm and missed the Codex Writers Group breakfast. That's what I get for staying up until 3 a.m.! But I did meet many of my new online acquaintances in person for the first time this year, which is always fun.

What I Would Have Liked to Miss

The smoke. On Friday when I went in to lunch, I hadn't noticed anything. Two hours later I came out and couldn't believe how strong the smoke smell was. Then I went into my hotel and thought "Am I smelling this inside?" And then I went in the convention center and was really gobsmacked -- the entire Exhibit Hall was like the inside of a big old fireplace. Scary stuff. Luckily, the worst of it seemed to be gone the next day, but I feel for anyone with asthma -- that can't have been good for them.

And I would have preferred to miss a particular tearful juvenile canine. (Sorry, couldn't resist!)


Best part of Worldcon, always.

Just for a start, I got to reconnect with several Clarion West classmates and fellow alums, including Paulette Rousselle and Allan Rousselle, who brought their three kids, with whom I had fun talking Marvel movies. The Rousselles were kind enough to include me in a group meal with Connie Willis, and I swear, I could have spent the entire convention just listening to that woman. Between her graciousness and her sense of humor, she's one of the most fun people I've ever met. If anybody can make getting bitten by a bat funny, it's Connie.

I got to see (although not enough of) the "Wharf Rats", a group with whom I've been hoisting beers (well, wine for me) at Worldcons since 1998 in Baltimore; folks in this group come from Ireland, Dublin, Texas, Baltimore, St. Louis, and California. I got to see Lee and Russ from Houston, and give them the latest update on the semi-feral kitten they entrusted us with three years ago. I got to ride not once but twice on airport runs with David Marusek, because in yet another coincidence, he ran into us right before we were ready to leave the convention. I got to see the lovely Francesca Myman (Clarion West classmate, and designer of all those gorgeous Locus covers we've been seeing lately), plus Gail Carriger, Matt and Tracy Rotundo, and Mark Boeder. As mentioned, I met many Codexians in person for the first time. I got a book signed by sometimes-Houstonian Carrie Patel, and saw her husband Hiren Patel as well. I saw Jim Van Pelt, Patrick Swenson, and Ken Scholes for the first time in a while, and got to talk a little opera with Fairwood Press author Louise Marley. I saw Rob Sawyer and Carolyn Clink, but only separately, leading me to believe they are really alter-egos of each other and can never be in the same place at the same time. I saw Lori Ann White after several years, and I got to hang out with Shoshana, whom Rob introduced us to in Denver some Worldcons ago. Shoshana makes the most amazing headdresses you've ever seen and is always the best-dressed person in the room.

I also got to meet an online friend from LibraryThing named Annie, and in the small world that is fandom, found out that she'd been working closely with my friend and writer Keith Watt, who was the driving force behind "E Pluribus Hugo." And Keith brought his wife Sally to her first, but hopefully not her last, Worldcon. And (now Full) Professor Laura was there -- the one who introduced me to Keith in the first place. Seriously, your Worldcon family just grows and grows.

And finally, I met Bret from Colorado, who was kind enough to bring books with two of my stories in them for me to sign, which of course was a thrill in itself.

Right after I arrive at a big convention like Worldcon, I have a few hours of mild anxiety in which I wonder why I came, and I worry I won't have a good time. And as soon as I walk into the dealer's room for the first time, that feeling goes away. I get this big stupid grin on my face when I see the book dealers (especially the ones with lovingly protected second-hand books) and the hall costumes. And it never takes more than two minutes to run into a friend. You also get the pleasure of being able to tell an author in person, in an informal setting, how much you enjoyed one of their books -- and trust me, that means a lot to them.

(Apologies because I know I missed some folks, both in this post and at the con itself!)


Gary said...

Glenda and I are sorry we couldn't be there. It sounds like you had a terrific time.

scotchgrrl said...

So happy we could spend some time with you and Paul. Only wish we had a little more! See you soon.

Bon M said...

"I have a few hours of mild anxiety in which I wonder why I came, and I worry I won't have a good time."

Me. EVERY convention!

* *

Sounds like you had a great time. It sounds like it was fun.