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.)