WisCon 38 Con Report
(Madison, WI, May 23-26, 2014)
by Charles Payseur
Fear and excitement could probably have best summed up my feelings getting ready to attend WisCon 38, my very first SF convention, my first step out of the relative shelter from the rest of the world that west-central Wisconsin is. Fear because I'm an introvert, shy, and the thought of a convention with its crowds sends a bit of a shiver up my spine. Fear because I'm white and male and didn't know what to expect, how my presence would be received at a feminist convention (despite being a feminist). Fear because I'm balding and it was finally sunny in Wisconsin and I needed to pick out the perfect hat to wear (which I then forgot in the car the first day and sunburned the top of my head anyway).
But I was excited as well, excited because I was finally going to a convention, that I would finally hear people talk about issues like race and gender and sexuality in an environment largely safe from harassment and trolling. Excited because I was going to be surrounded by books, and writers, and interesting people, and I had the very real opportunity to listen, and learn, and try to participate in the conversation happening in the genres that I love and want to be a part of. And in the end the excitement won the day, and brought me awkward and stuttering to Madison, Wisconsin, where I attended WisCon.
I probably shouldn't have worried. The atmosphere was passionate, fun, free. The people were all there for the same reason: because they loved science fiction and fantasy. And out of that love sprang so many interesting and insightful panels, research presentations, and readings that even days afterwards my head is still processing everything. The genres were well represented by Guests of Honor Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin, both of whom I got to hear speak on panels as well as readings (as well as give a gushing hello to during the book signing). As a fan of their fiction, it was a great opportunity to hear their thoughts on the issues facing the craft at large and their advice for those hoping to make it as writers.
The topics for panels and research were incredibly diverse, ranging from an examination of the evolution of steampunk to a look at transforming bodies in comic book movie adaptations, from discussions about race and gender to food and cultural identity. In some ways, though, it was an incredibly difficult convention to attend, because there was simply so much going on. I had thought my hardest decision was over when I picked out my hat, but with some time slots packed with seven or more different options, every day was a process of trying to pick what seemed most interesting. And while I don't regret having gone to any of the things I did, I do regret not being able to also have attended others.
And the books. For someone trying to survive the convention without spending a lot of money, the dealers’ room was a killer. From private booksellers to publishers like Crossed Genres and Aqueduct Press, the dealers’ room had enough to make any fan of SF/F salivate. Add to that an amazing art show, a delicious bake sale, and dozens of other smaller events, and I came away from WisCon with arms full of books and a much lighter wallet. Couple that with the fact that the convention space was walking distance from a number of great new and used bookstores, and it was enough to make my heart break a little at the selection, knowing that I couldn't have it all.
In the end, WisCon has left me feeling rejuvenated, better able to appreciate great science fiction and fantasy and more excited to create it. The fear is still there, in the back of my mind, that I might make mistakes, that I might get something wrong, but I feel the main message of the convention was that it is vital to try anyway, that one has to be the change one wants to see. And that fills me with hope and excitement, something well worth the costs of attending.
Charles Payseur lives with his partner and their growing herd of cats in the icy reaches of Wisconsin, where companionship, books, and craft beer get him through the long winters. His fiction has appeared at Perihelion Science Fiction, Every Day Fiction, Dragon's Roost Press, and is forthcoming from Wily Writers Audible Fiction.
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