Science Fiction in San Antonio

LoneStarCon 3, the 71st Annual World Science Fiction Convention (aka WorldCon), took place in San Antonio over Labor Day weekend. I’d been looking forward to this con even more than usual– it’s been my first since Norwescon over five months ago, plus, it was a welcome relief from a long vacationless slog at work. I needed a break, so I flew down to San Antonio to meet authors, hang out into the wee hours with friends, and just generally have an awesome time being a geek. My roommate was the inimitable Folly Blaine, and we stayed on the 26th floor of the Marriott Riverwalk, overlooking a gorgeous view of San Antonio.

I arrived late Thursday (technically early Friday) in San Antonio, stepping out into the nighttime air which was still every bit as warm as Seattle in the midst of a hot summer afternoon. Luckily, most buildings were air conditioned down to temperatures so cold you could leave milk out without worrying about spoilage. So between staying inside and occasionally darting outside long enough to thaw, I was able to maintain something approaching comfort.

This was also the first con in which I got to use my new camera (a Canon EOS 7D, instead of my old Canon Rebel T1i). I did photography during and after the Masquerade, and during the Hugo Ceremony. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my long lens with me during the ceremony, but I did manage to find the Hugo Photo room afterward and got some good pics of the winners (i.e. the Writing Excuses crew, seen left). The set up in the room wasn’t very good– the blue photo backdrop in particular was rather useless, as you can see in the photos, and the room was so small and the photographers were crammed so close to the winners that I really needed a wider-angle lens. (I had thought I was being clever by kneeling in front of the crowd of photographers, but it turns out I was too close. Ah, well. Luckily I managed to get some good pictures while generally avoiding the dreaded Up-The-Nose Shot.)

The full Flickr set with all my pics is here. If you’re in any of these pics and would like me to send you the full-size original (or would like me to take the photo down, for whatever reason) get in touch with me via any of the methods on the Contacts tab and let me know. If you’d like to reproduce any pics on your blog, personal, or author site, you’re welcome to, all I ask is that you credit me for the photo and link back to the original Flickr page.

As far as the con programming itself, it was okay. I’ve learned what I do and don’t like on panels, and while there were quite a few that I enjoyed (like the Mad Science panel, seen here), I stayed way the hell away from anything that even had a whiff of Things were so much better in the old days, or What’s wrong with things today?

WorldCon is steeped in its own arcane tradition– as noted earlier, it’s been going for over 70 years, and it occasionally feels like a relic of an earlier time. Today there is at least one annual con in every major city and state; WorldCon dates back to a time where cons were less frequent, travel was more expensive, and there was a need for a major con which switched cities every year. (If this sounds familiar, it might be because I said the same thing about Westercon last year.) Now, there may still very well be a need for a travelling con: WorldCon is inexorably linked to the Hugo Awards, and it’s nice that those are given out in a different city every year, so lots of different folks have an opportunity to come see them. It’s nice to have a reason for folks from around the world to travel to one city and hang out, and it’s nice that that city changes. It would be nice if that city was in North America less often, to make it even more of a “WorldCon”– but it’s usually in North America. This year, Helsinki, Finland lost the bid for the 2015 WorldCon to Spokane, Washington.

So all in all, WorldCon does occasionally feel a bit conservative and stodgy, and that’s reflected in both the politics and the programming. There’s a distinct hint of yearning for “the golden age” of sci-fi, that things were better back in the glory days of fandom: in my frank opinion, that line of thinking is bullshit. Times change; it’s the nature of progress. Science fiction and geek culture is, in fact, healthier than ever, as evidenced by the huge number of conventions across the world, not to mention the huge success of science fiction and fantasy films at the box office (The Avengers, now the second-highest grossing movie in the history of ever, won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Long Form Presentation this year– my friend Patrick Swenson is seen here, guarding the Hugo in Joss Whedon’s absence.)

Sure, fandom has had its share of conflicts lately, but those conflicts are by and large fights to make fandom more inclusive: friendlier to women, and people of color, and queer and LGBT folks. I think huge strides have been made in this area, and it’s a fight that will continue– in the meantime, anyone that yearns for the olden days gets little more than an eyeroll from me. Welcome to progress, folks. It ain’t always pretty and it ain’t always easy, but it is– I firmly believe– inevitable.

A brief example of WorldCon stodginess worth mentioning is in its seeming reluctance to acknowledge Young Adult fiction as an actual thing. Despite what naysayers would have you believe (“young people these days are only interested in TV and video games”) books geared toward teens and young adults are thriving. So far, though, WorldCon has refused to acknowledge it with a Hugo category, despite increasing pressure from the membership. Hopefully that will change within the next few years, but whereas I think healthy, growing aspects of the industry should be encouraged as much as possible, WorldCon is fundamentally a small-c conservative place. Maybe that’s a good thing, in some ways. But in an era of rapid change, it can also make it seem slow, dinosaur-like, and more than occasionally a bit petulant as well.

It seems like every year after WorldCon lots of people post blog entries and tweets fretting about how WorldCon membership is getting older, that attendance numbers are declining, etc. But frankly, I’m not worried, nor do I plan to spend a lot of time worrying about it. It seems to me that fandom is fine, just different in the eyes of the younger generation. It’s evolving; it’s less exclusive, and more popular, and enjoying a heyday. I hope that WorldCon is able to keep up with fandom, but ultimately I suspect fandom is going to drag WorldCon into the future, not vice versa– or perhaps WorldCon will fade away and sci-fi/fantasy fandom will continue, different but motivated by the same geekiness at heart, the same love of asking ‘what if’ and speculating on the answers.

But larger questions aside, I enjoyed myself at LoneStarCon, and many thanks to the volunteers who worked their butts off putting on the con. My only regret is that many friends were so busy that I didn’t get to hang out with folks much outside of late nights at the bar. The con was also fairly spread out, and I found myself going long hours, even most of entire days, without running into a single person I knew. As a result, I had some occasional issues with depression– I’m also in the midst of switching meds, which didn’t help– but I’m pleased to say that the end, the good times outweighed my own personal neuroses.

And of course, congratulations to all my friends and personal heroes who won Hugo Awards! The Hugos were the icing on top of a tasty WorldCon cake. And even if the cake did occasionally seem in danger of going stale, I have every confidence that things will be fine. With folks like the group below leading the way in Science Fiction & Fantasy, why on Earth (or off Earth) wouldn’t I be?

(P.S. Major props to Paul Cornell for his hosting of the Hugo Awards, and his shoutout to the SF&F activists– some in this picture, but many others less well-known or working entirely behind-the-scenes– who are helping to make sure that the field truly is welcoming and relevant to all.)

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Voted for the Hugos!

Earlier today I submitted my ballot for the Hugo Awards, which are annual awards for the best works of science fiction and fantasy, given out every year at the World Science Fiction Convention. I made a concerted effort to read as many of the nominated works as I could, and I’m glad I did, because there were many fabulous stories, authors, and artists nominated. By and large, I enjoyed the works of all the nominees, and will offer my hearty congratulations to whoever wins.

But, because these awards are still about choosing winners from among the best, here’s what I picked.

Best Novel: Feed, by Mira Grant. It’s a zombie novel, which makes a lot of people groan these days. (Har.) But Feed isn’t really about the zombies– here, the zombies have already come, and they’re now part of daily life as humanity struggles to adapt to a changed world. In Feed, the zombies are the backdrop for a near-future political thriller. And it’s probably the best near-future, “realistic” science fiction book I’ve read in years.

Best Novella: Troika, by Alastair Reynolds. This was a tough category to pick; all of the stories were great, and each had a unique hook that drew me in. But Troika, a near/alternate future story about the discovery of an alien object orbiting the Sun, and set amidst the backdrop of a second Soviet Union, won me over. I suspect The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang, about artificial intelligences being raised as “pets,” will end up winning the category– no complaints there, either.

Best Novelette: The Jaguar House, by Aliette de Bodard. Another tough category to pick– there were three or four stories I could have easily voted for, but I went with The Jaguar House because I really liked the Mexican flavor to the story, and also because kick-ass female assassins have a special place in my heart (those who’ve read parts of my novel will understand).

Best Short Story: Amaryllis, by Carrie Vaughn. I liked the depiction of family life in a near-future world, and also the happy ending. Happy (or at least, satisfying) endings seemed kind of few and far between amongst all the short fiction categories; many just had a hanging ending that left me feeling kind of haunted. And while there’s nothing wrong with that, I felt a bit beaten down by the time I read all the stories, even though my reading was spread over a couple of weeks.

Creating a satisfying ending that doesn’t feel orchestrated or sappy is very difficult to do in short fiction. And I wanted to encourage it, because those are usually the stories I like best.

In the end, it was a tough call between Amaryllis, or For Want of a Nail by Mary Robinette Kowal. I suspect the latter is going to win, so my top choice went to the former because I’m like that.

Best Related Work: Writing Excuses Season 4. Regular blog readers will have seen my previous posts raving about Writing Excuses, a writing podcast by Brandon Sanderson, Howard Tayler, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal. They’ve already won two Parsec Awards, and I was pleased to be able to vote for them in the Hugos.

Best Graphic Story: Schlock Mercenary. If you haven’t been reading the webcomic, you should start. Epic space opera, with a deep story, great characters, and still manages to be funny every day.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Inception. It was a tough call between that and Scott Pilgrim; in the end, I went with Inception. Most sci-fi that Hollywood churns out these days is along the lines of Franchise: The Reboot-ening, Superhero Movie #37, or Lousy Film Version of Great Novel. Inception was none of these, and while Scott Pilgrim was quirky and fun, Inception was my favorite film last year, hands down.

Also, I’m a total Christopher Nolan fanboy.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury. If the title offends you, don’t watch the video. It will most likely give you a fatal aneurysm, and I don’t want that on my conscience.

Best Editor, Short Form: John Joseph Adams. A really tough call here, but I went with my gut on this one. John Joseph Adams edits two magazines, Fantasy and Light Speed, and has also put together a ton of great anthologies.

Best Editor, Long Form: Moshe Feder. I’ll admit some potential bias here, since Moshe Feder edits two of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, both of whom have put out several awesome books in the past year. (They’re both also Writing Excuses podcasters.) It was a tough call between Moshe Feder and Lou Anders, but I suspect Lou has a better chance at winning the category, so I voted for Moshe. (Did I mention I’m like that?)

Best Pro Artist: Dan Dos Santos. All the artists in this category are great, but I’ve been a big fan of Dan Dos Santos ever since he did the cover art for Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. Check out the video below to see him at work. I’m not an artist, but it’s still inspiring to watch.

Best Fan Artist: Randall Munroe. Randall draws the popular nerdy webcomic XKCD, and I don’t really consider him so much an “artist” as a “commentator”. That said, he has a gift for visually conveying information in really neat ways. And even after familiarizing myself with the other artists in the category, Randall still gets my vote.

Campbell Award for Best New Writer: Dan Wells. In addition to being a Writing Excuses podcaster, he’s also put out a great trilogy of psychological thrillers over the past year or so, told from the point of view of a teenage sociopath. If you haven’t yet, you should totally read I Am Not a Serial Killer.

I can’t wait for WorldCon in two and a half weeks! Hopefully I’ll get to meet and congratulate most of the nominees and winners in person. Is it possible to increase the awesomeness of one’s own work via osmosis? I hope so.