Last weekend, I attended my first WorldCon!
For years I’ve been wanting to attend, but haven’t been able to travel to the many wonderful destinations the event appears at around the world. So, when I saw that WorldCon 76 was going to be in San Jose, California (practically my backyard), I jumped at the chance to finally attend — and not only attend, but participate in a reading!
During WorldCon, I still had to work my day job, so I didn’t get a chance to fully experience the event. But even just going in the evenings and on the weekend, I had a fabulous time. I ran into several writer and reader friends, chatted it up with some lovely strangers, and shopped for books and other goodies to my heart’s content (and pocket book’s misery). Here are a few highlights from my first WorldCon.
Watching the Hugo Awards
Rather than going into the grand ballroom, some friends and I gathered in Callahan’s to watch the live stream together — which allowed us the ability to grab some beers and snacks while we were watching. While the ceremonies as a whole were great, one of the best moments of the night was N.K. Jemisin winning the Hugo for Best Novel. She’s the first person to ever have one this award three years in a row, and her acceptance speech was a moving and funny and powerful. I cried seeing it at WorldCon and I cried again rewatching it on video. Check it out. It’s amazing.
Breaking Out of the Margins
Panel with Michi Trota, JY Yang, Foz Meadows, Caroline M. Yoachim, and Sarah Kuhn (moderator)
Breaking Out of the Margins was probably my favorite panel at the event. All of the authors were brilliant, pulling from each of their experiences to form a thoughtful, intelligent discussion on the subject of identity in relation to creative endeavors.
Both Michi Trota andCaroline M. Yoachim noted that when they were young writers, they had defaulted to putting white people as main characters. As they grew as writers, they began including characters who were more like them, representing their own experiences and backgrounds.
Sarah Kuhn noted the people will often ask why the author made the character black or Asian or gay, which reflects the default white straight perspective. But when an author makes a character white, straight, cis-gendered, this also is a choice that they’re making, although it’s not seen as such.
Kuhn also brought up the concept of “Rep Sweats” the stress of watching, reading, or creating a work that is the sole representation of a culture or group of people. Suddenly, there’s a lot of pressure for that work (she used Fresh Off the Boat as an example) to be perfect — in part because if the show fails, then it could be a years before anything like it comes around again.
Foz Meadows replied that when there’s a lack of diverse content in the world, then the little bit of content that is produced has a greater weight to it. So, the solution is to have a wider range of representation that allows authors and creators to have the room to fail.
Meadows also quoted a tumblr post talking about Jupiter Rising, which stated that it’s garbage, but it’s your garbage. The point being that some of the fun of fiction and film and such is being able to enjoy fun trash with characters who represent them.
“Yes,” replied JY Yang. “I just want to make stories about kissing and shooting things in space!”
In the end, “Let us write trash,” became a gleeful rallying cry — and I’m hoping we will all get to read some fantastic new trash from these authors in the future.
Research Rabbit Holes
Karen Joy Fowler, Andy Duncan, Lawrence M. Schoen, Ann Leckie, Irene Radford, and Sarah Pinsker (moderator)
Research Rabbit Holes was a delight of a panel, presenting for the most part stories of the ways the authors had fallen into such holes, how those holes had revealed surprising inspiration for their stories, and a multitude of fun facts they discovered over the years. I unfortunately wasn’t able to retain all of these stories, even though they delighted me.
The panel pointed out that there are two kinds of research — the brainstorming stage (before you start the story) and the plug-in-a-fact stage (when you just need to know one specific thing while you’re writing). The brainstorming stage is the hardest to know when to stop and each writer had their own take on when that moment is. Ann Leckie noted that you don’t need to know all the details before you start writing, while Lawrence M. Schoen explained that he likes to feel fully immersed in the research, knowing he won’t be writing it all out, but that that immersion allows details to come out naturally in his writing.
On being afraid of getting it wrong, Karen Joy Fowler said, “When someone sends me an email saying ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’ because I’ve intersected two streets in a story that could never intersect, I just think, ‘I gave that person more pleasure by getting it wrong than if I had gotten it right.'”
Petrified Trees, Enchanted Mirrors: The Gothic Universe of Female Mexican Horror Writers
Raquel Castro, Andrea Chapela, Gabriela Damian Miravete, and Pepe Rojo (moderator)
The three panelists — each of whom write horror themselves — provided some fascinating insight into the long tradition of female Mexican horror writers. This is a horror that is specifically feminine, with women using the genre to explore the circumstances of their lives and the stereotypes and repression of women within the country.
There is something about horror that has to do with control, explained Raquel Castro, a control that women don’t have. These stories help women deal with the horrors of their everyday lives that they don’t have control over — providing a way for them to exorcise these feelings. “I’ve heard so many stories of the women’s lives around me, and these stories haunted me,” said Castro. “I wanted to tell these stories — but coded through horror.”
Gabriela Damian Miravete said, “Horror is a place for of creativity and life. Even though it speaks of grim things, it is a safe space. It can give you comfort, as you read it, knowing there’s daylight and that in the end, you can put down the book and escape the haunted house. It’s a joy we must recover.” Miravete also pointed out that as horrors in real life increase, the horror genre tends to decay — but that she hopes that we can reverse the flow, compensating with genre.
The panel named a dozen or so female horror writers in Mexico, but unfortunately I had a hard time getting all the names down. However, The Outer Dark podcast will be sharing the panel in a future episode and plans to provide a list of all the writers and stories suggested. So, I’ll be sure to link to them once that list appears.
On Sunday, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (SFPA) hosted a reading of speculative poetry. I always find joy and inspiration in hearing poems read, and I was honored to have been read alongside G.O. Clark, Sue Burke, John Phillip Johnson, Mary Soon Lee, Denise Clemons, and Alan Stewart (author website included where I could find it).
Several of the SFPA crew were also on the Science Fiction Aesthetics panel that followed immediately after the reading. I was able to pop in for half of the panel before running off, but enjoyed the discussion while I was there.
The first night I came home from the con, my roommate stared at me in confusion. “Where’s your usual stack of new books?” she asked.
I laughed. “What do you mean? It’s only the first day! I’ll have plenty of books by the end, I promise.”
And I certainly lived up to that promise. Here’s what I grabbed.
- My Life, My Body, Plus… by Marge Piercy
- The Atheist in the Attic, Plus… by Samuel R Delany
- Skies of Wonder, Skies of Danger: An Isle of Write Anthology, edited by John Appel, Jo Miles, and Mary Alexandra Agner
- The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter by Theodora Goss
- The Long Way to a Strange and Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
- Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic, edited by Eduardo Jiménez Mayo & Chris N Brown
- The Book of the Unnamed Midwife by Meg Elison
- Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys