May 26-29 in Madison, Wisconsin, at the Concourse Hotel
Friday, May 26
Chicago to Madison
The last time I attended a Wiscon was 2008, then 2003, and before that, the 1990s. It was the first sf convention I ever attended, and it’s remained one of my favorites for its ambitious programming and friendly atmosphere.
My husband and I left Chicago on Friday morning and, after a three-hour trip with moderate construction and traffic, we arrived a little after noon, checked in, and registered.
Friday afternoon’s programming included The Gathering: a ballroom filled with welcoming activities such as lock-picking lessons, a chance to test various gadgets, a nail polish swap, hair braiding, and a clothing swap. I brought two dresses for the clothing swap and took a blouse and a little black dress – and I began to say hello to old friends and meet new ones. I tested out a Kindle Voyage at the gadgets table since I’m thinking of upgrading, spun a Fidget Spinner and was unimpressed, and then left for a panel on “What Makes a Fun Story.”
Dinner was a kielbasa at a bar on State Street with my husband. In the dealer’s room, I bought a used book, The World of Null-A by A.E. Van Vogt, and my husband was disappointed to see no tee-shirts for sale. A tour of the art show was delightful, and later in the weekend I returned for a small purchase. The opening ceremony largely dealt with logistics, announcements, and the crowning of The Tiptree Award winner, Anna-Marie McLemore. Among other honors, she received a gold and pearl tiara to wear during the weekend.
After that, the evening was largely beer, parties, more old and new friends – and I met and got all fan girl over Naomi Kritzer, author of “Cat Pictures, Please,” which won the 2016 Short Story Hugo. I loved that story. Now she knows I did.
Saturday, May 27
Saturday was more friends and panels. I also wore a diadem I’d picked up the night before at the Carl Brandon Society Party. Tiaras were fashionable that weekend.
“The Future of Genetic Engineering” explained why we can’t get scorpion tails. (Damn!) I went to another panel on “Direct Payment and the Creator,” but it seemed to be going to focus on how unfairly money is distributed, which I already knew, so I went to “Stay in Your Lane.” It was billed as a discussion of power, privilege and oppression, but it really dealt more with people arguing on the internet, and despite a brief attempt to consider when listening might be more worthwhile than making noise, some panelists seemed to present themselves as awfully noisy.
I had lunch at the Tiptree Award bake sale (rhubarb is a vegetable, so a rhubarb bar counts as a salad, right?) and chatted with a librarian and a friend from my church in Chicago. The afternoon included my participation in the Broad Universe Rapid Fire Reading. I read an essay about how Miguel de Cervantes remained poor despite writing one of the world’s most famous books. (He made about $3,700 in current value from Don Quixote). I attended some other panels, had dinner at a Chinese restaurant with friends, enjoyed the always-funny Tiptree Auction, and then it was party time.
At the bar, I discovered a Madison beer, Fantasy Factory, an IPA whose label features a fire-breathing unicorn being ridden by a ninja cat with a ray gun, all this against a background of a rainbow and a castle. It seemed perfect for a con. At the Haiku Earring Party, dozens of us wannabe poets were able to select earrings in exchange for writing a haiku. I chose a pair of lovely blue and black bead earrings and was assigned the title “the lotus after midnight.” After a little pondering, I wrote: black sky and bright stars / white flowers floating in a pond / these sleeping colors. Not my best work, but I tried.
Sunday, May 28
More panels. The funniest one of my weekend was “How Lazy Writing Recreates Oppression”: for example, in J. K. Rowling’s “History of Magic in North America,” she seemed unaware that Native Americans have many tribes and nations, all with very different beliefs and customs. (In my experience, Europeans in general don’t know this.) Other examples showed even more lamentably how a lack of research led to unfortunate and easily ridiculed consequences.
Next was “Speculative Fiction in Translation” featuring Rachel S. Cordasco, Arrate Hidalgo, and me. We three had known each other for some time by internet, and I’d gotten to meet Arrate, who’s from Spain, in Chicago during the week before the convention, but this was the first chance we three had to meet in person. The audience seemed fascinated when Arrate and I talked about sticky details of translating, such as how to deal with puns, and they were delighted by the M&Ms and books that we gave away.
In the evening, right before the Guest of Honor speeches, we lined up (hundreds of us!) for the Dessert Salon. Each of us could take two desserts and enter the main ballroom. I got an excellent piece of Key Lime Pie and a slab of decadently dense chocolate espresso mousse. I also made new friends at the dining table.
Kelly Sue DeConnick, guest of honor and comic author, gave a speech touching on what had been suppressed in comics for many year. Amal El-Mohtar spoke about her sources of inspiration, including the children’s television show Steven Universe. The Tiptree Award winner, Anna-Marie McLemore, said she had been afraid to publish the winning novel, When the Moon Was Ours, a magical realism transgender romance. (It did well and received other awards.)
Then I went to a panel on “Science Fiction and the Role of Violence” where panel members expressed concerns about the sad fate of bystanders of superhero-supervillain battles. The rest of the night was parties, and at one we debated which member of the Three Stooges most closely resembled each president, and what narwhale tusks are for (sensing the water).
Monday, May 29
Madison to Chicago
On Monday, we checked out, attended a panel of “Canon vs. Fandom,” then went to The SignOut, where authors sign works for fans. I found Naomi Kritzer there. In my morning email, I’d learned that she’d been nominated for an Ignotus Award for Translated Short Story, Spain’s equivalent to a Hugo, for “Fotos de gatitos, por favor” (Cat Pictures, Please). I belong to the organization that presents the award, so I could tell her all about it. Total fangirl, as I said. I hope I didn’t annoy her.
The ride back to Chicago took less than three hours, and we encountered surprisingly light traffic. In addition to the Van Vogt book, I brought back two anthologies plucked from freebie tables: After The Apocalypse by Maureen F. McHugh and The Arbitrary Placement of Walls by Martha Soukup. I also bought issue 31 of Tales of the Unanticipated, an anthology published by SF Minnesota.
Next year’s Wiscon’s guests of honor will be Saladin Ahmed and Tananarive Due.
— Sue Burke