This was my first SF convention, and was something of a test to see if I could enjoy conventions of any kind. Last summer, while I was in San Diego for Clarion, I went to ComiCon, which managed to awaken an inner agoraphobe the existence of which I had not previously suspected. But a week later Nalo Hopkinson made me promise to attend WisCon, assuring me I would find it a valuable experience. Boy, was she ever right.
Kat, Keffy, and I drove to Madison from Minneapolis, in Kat’s VW Beetle. I rode in the back, and slept part of the way, waking up in time to see our entry into the city. We checked in to the Concourse hotel, then wandered out into downtown until we found a restaurant that wanted to fill us with post-road-trip margaritas. Then it was back to the hotel, where we visited the Dealer Room (where I discovered that attempting to talk to Ted Chiang turned me into a stuttering fool, albiet one able to correctly identify literary influences), then wandered around until it was time for the opening ceremonies. I managed to catch Geoff Ryman, Guest of Honor and one of our Clarion teachers, as he was coming in the door, and we monopolized his attention until the stage manager for the opening ceremonies came and asked if we wouldn’t mind terribly letting the GoH go to take part in the Con programming. There was a skit, which was mildly entertaining but was completely overshadowed by Geoff and Ellen Klages spontaneously making out with each other.
After the opening ceremonies, Keffy had a panel. “TYRANNOSAURS IN F-14S!!!!” on the topic of SF that is so bad that it’s good. The discussion focused mostly on television and movies. The consensus opinion was that books generally don’t fall into the “so bad it’s good” category for most people because (a) books lack the audiovisual component that, when done well, can act as foils for a weak story, and (b) the time investment required to read a book is usually enough greater than the time to watch a movie that they are held to a higher standard. After Keffy’s panel the programming of interest was over and we were off to the parties, where we met Jed Hartman and had a reunion with Mary Anne Mohanraj, another of our Clarion teachers. We didn’t stay at the parties long, though, as we were all exhausted.
Breakfast was had at a coffee and crepes place we found called Bradbury’s, which struck us as an appropriately SFnal name. Then Kat and I went to Ellen Klages’s Guest of Honor reading while Keffy went to another panel. We met up again in the Dealer’s Room to find, among other things, the new issue of Sybil’s Garage, which contains Keffy’s first publication. Then Kat went to have lunch with Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, Keffy went to moderate a panel, “Keeping Up With Science,” and I went to another panel, “What’s in the Air?” with Geoff, Jed, Neil Rest, and Kristine Smith, which was about how techonlogy will be changing human society in the near-term future. My favorite comment from that one was made by a textile preservationist named (I think) Laura who observed that a post-privacy technological society might have more in common, in terms of interpersonal relationships, with a pre-technological small town than it does with the modern day. When that panel was over I went to a reading by, among others, Ellen Ku. and Delia. The reading was notable as the only Con programming at which I encoutered people being assholes: a pair came in late and sat behind me, whispering loudly about how it was “happening again” and “rude to the real writers.” As it happened, the Con program was printed before the full lineup for the reading was finalized, and the first reader wasn’t listed (though her name was on the sign outside the door). So the natural thing to do, at least in the minds of the people behind me, was to stand up and interrupt her mid-sentence to say, “When are the writers who are actually scheduled going to be reading?” Ellen Kushner smacked them down.
After the reading I went to “How Should Magazines and Anthologies Review Submissions?” with Mary Anne, Susan Marie Groppi (EIC of Strange Horizons, a letter from whom I have framed on the wall of my office), John Joseph Adams, Sumana Harihareshwara, Deb Taber, and Adrian Alan Simmons. The best thing about this panel was getting to meet Susan, Sumana, and Deb, with whom I would find myself interacting more as the Con progressed. I also learned from J. J. Adams that when F&SF takes a long time to get back to you, it is generally a good thing. (As of this writing they’ve had a story I sent them for eight weeks.) After the panel the group got together again for the Tiptree auction, which was one of the most entertaining events I’ve ever attended. Highlights included a Geoff Ryman striptease act and a group recitation of a hilariously queer award from Ellen Klages’s childhood.
Again began the day with breakfast at Bradbury’s. Then Keffy went to “Keeping the S in SF,” and Kat and I attended “The Kids’ Books That Made Us,” after which we went to the art room to pick up a print Kat had purchased. I ended up buying a different print by the same artist, Ingrid Kallick. “Giant” whispered to me as I walked past it that it was actually a short story masquerading as a piece of visual art, and really needed to come home with me so I could write it.
As we were leaving the art room, Ellen Kushner invited us to lunch with her and Delia. We tracked down Keffy and headed out to an Afghani restaurant. On the way we ran into Mary Anne, Ben Rosenbaum, and Mary Kowal, and the group grew. And then seemed to grow some more, until Ellen turned around and announced, “I don’t do twelve person lunches.” The final tally ended up at nine. From lunch Keffy went to be on “The Obligatory Workshop Panel,” and Kat and I went to hear Geoff’s Guest of Honor reading, after which was what turned out to be my favorite event at WisCon: the Strange Horizons Tea Party.
At the Tea Party I managed to drop all of my social anxiety for perhaps the only time during the Con. I finally met my editor on “Husbandry,” Karen Meisner, who I had been looking for all weekend. We hit it off quite well. I excitedly related my Con activities, and she, amused, told me that I was imbuing ubiquitous experiences with the wide-eyed wonder of a neophyte. She also tracked down and introduced me to Meghan McCarron, who I had been wanting to meet and of whose writing I am a huge fan. I stayed for the whole party and then some, sweating profusely and chatting incessantly. I also met Alice Kim, Eric Vogt, and Jennifer I-Didn’t-Get-Her-Last-Name. Sadly, the Tea Party did eventually end, and I went back to my room to clean up for the Guest of Honor speeches and Tiptree presentation.
Before we went to WisCon I decided that my friends needed to experience the joy that is a polyester robe with dragons on, so I got them each one as a gift. We donned them before heading down to the ceremony, in preparation for the fancy dress party later than night.
We wandered into the big conference hall which had been set up like a dining room, and Ben Rosenbaum gestured us over to the table where Jed, Mary Anne, and Sumana were already sitting. We listened with them to the speeches, and then to the presentation of the Tiptree award to Nisi Shawl (Patrick Ness was unable to be there to accept his; Geoff read a letter from him). Then, this years Guests of Honor having been given there full due in accordance with WisCon tradition, the Guests of Honor for next year were announced. They will be Nnedi Okorafor and… Mary Anne Mohanraj! We all completely lost our shit, gawking at each other and, when she came back, hugging Mary Anne. We trailed along behind her, taking pictures and freaking out for about the next hour, then bounced around the parties for perhaps another hour or two before heading back to the room and crashing.
Due to the exigencies of flight schedules and other non-WisCon committments, we got up early and left without taking part in any of the final day’s programming. But I think we all felt that we got our money’s worth. I pretty much can’t wait to go again next year.