The View From Worldcon, or Down On The Swanwick River
by Jeff Baker
A stack of autographed books and a head full of memories. Those are the souvenirs from a few days at MidAmeriCon II, the World Science Fiction Convention, held in Kansas City, MO August 17 through 21, 2016. We got there Thursday the 18th in time for me to drive over to the Crown Center (the vast convention facility where the convention was being held) and see it all for myself. I had been to Bouchercon (the Mystery Writers of America Convention) in Cleveland in 2012 so I had some idea what to expect; a program book (very nicely done, by the way!) and a handy mini-schedule, as well as crowds. At least 6,000 people there on Thursday, many of them costumed for “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” “Game of Thrones” or “Doctor Who.”
“Worldcon” (as they call it) is really several conventions in one; the actual writer’s convention, a fan convention and conventions for media (including TV shows, movies, Manga, gaming and comic books, among others.) Like Bouchercon, it features panel discussions, displays, readings and signings by well-known and unknown authors. As well as just about anything a rabid fan would want to buy, from books, to knickknacks, original sculptures, drawings and paintings as well as reproductions of magazine and book covers. To say nothing of swords, and even armor.
Admittedly, I was there to scope out authors and hopefully get some autographs and more importantly thank a few people who had been influential in my decision to become a writer back in the 1990’s. And authors were there in abundance. Exploring the building I saw legends walking the hallways: Walter Jon Williams, Robert Silverberg, Elizabeth Moon, Robert J. Sawyer, Alan Dean Foster. I saw George R.R. Martin, with a long beard, cane and hat, looking like a large Hobbit walking through the Dealer’s Room, talking with friends.
And that’s a phenomenon of conventions, people meet up with folks they only see in person every few years or just know online and fall in like old friends. I wandered into a booth and started talking with a lady who I suddenly realized was Carol Hightshoe who had published one of my stories. I spent most of my time in the Dealer’s room, looking through books and getting autographs on the books I bought. Among other authors there was Queer SciFi-er Lauren Rhoades, who happily autographed a copy of her novel “The Dangerous Type” at the booth run by Broad Universe, a group promoting women writers of science fiction, fantasy and horror. Nice, again to meet someone I only knew from online. Likewise the Dreamspinner Press and NESFA Press booths seemed like old, familiar friends.
I was, in fact, so preoccupied with the authors that I didn’t investigate the exhibits in the Dealer’s Room. Those exhibits included author Robert A. Heinlein’s typewriter, and a chart he’d drawn up detailing his “Future History.” Heinlein had been Guest of Honor the first time Worldcon was held in Kansas City in 1976.
Much of a convention involves panels and readings by authors. Panel discussions, usually between three to four authors or others included such topics as “Contracts for Writers,” “Coming Out in Teen Spec Fic,” “How to Form a Writer’s Group,” and “25 Things You Need to Know About Spaceships.” The only panel I attended was called “The Fine Art of Satire,” but when I got to the room, someone had scrawled on the room schedule that the panel had been moved to another room. After following a tall man in a Hawaiian shirt who was also looking for the room, I decided to go back and found the panel in session in the original room! The man in the Hawaiian shirt showed up after the panel was underway; it was the writer John Kessel, a scheduled panelist! The discussion went on with lively interplay between the panelists and the audience. (Yes, there were several Queer-themed panels: “Asexual Viewing and more!—Beyond the Binary Gaze,” “Queer Star Wars” and “We Deserve Better: Lesbians and Bi Women for Change.”)
The one reading I attended, by author Brendan DuBois was sparsely attended (most of them are) but the crowd was enthusiastic as DuBois read from his novel “Dark Victory,” and then chatted with and took questions from the audience. He said it was his first Worldcon and he was “overwhelmed” by the number of people there that day. At least 7,000 would attend by Friday.
There are countless other memories. Standing in line to have Robert Silverberg autograph one of his books. When I told him I was a big fan of his short-stories, he smiled and said “May your tribe increase.”
Meeting Michael Swanwick, who was honored with the runoff from the convention’s fake volcano being named after him. A sign proclaimed: “Swanwick River (Way down upon the.)”
Saying hello to NASA astronaut Janette Epps, who will be going up to the International Space Station, and thus lives the dreams of a lot of convention goers.
Friday, August 19, I walked a few blocks down from the hotel to the recently installed trolley for a ride down Main Street just a block or so from the Convention. Got in just when the convention opened at 10:00 a.m. and made my way to the Dealer’s Room and found the David Gerrold booth manned by David Gerrold himself. He seemed preoccupied or a little tired (it was early after all,) but very nice. I told him that his book about writing for “Star Trek,” “The Trouble With Tribbles” was the first book I ever read about writing back in High School. All I’d wanted to learn was how they did the transporter effect. Gerrold smiled at that and said the book was coming out in a new edition.
I told him that I’d read his stories in anthologies in the early ‘90’s when I was starting to write fiction, and there was a lot else I could have said: how I hadn’t known he was Gay in the ‘70’s, let alone realized I was Bi, but at least I got to thank him for his influence. And he sold me a copy of his book “The Martian Child.” (“You’re my first customer of the day,” he said.) He thought the book was pre-autographed. It wasn’t, but I didn’t care! That early-morning encounter and getting to thank him was worth any effort getting to K.C.
All in all, in spite of a $45 room service cheeseburger I’d do it all over again in a minute!