WisCon 34 Report


It’s been nearly a month since WisCon 34, so it’s high time I posted my con report and panel notes. Once again, it was a stimulating and overwhelming experience, with the one big difference from previous years being that my feministsf.org co-conspirators Laura and Liz both couldn’t make it. I missed them and hope they can make it next time!

This post is a narrative of what I did over the course of the con, with the detailed panel notes separated out into their own posts. More below the jump.Thursday, 5/27/10

Arrived at Madison airport around 6:00PM CDT and saw my first fellow WisCon attendee at baggage claim. (It was Eileen Gunn.) Had a slight scare when my bag didn’t appear on the carousel, but was relieved to see it produced by an airline employee who said it had arrived earlier. The shuttle to the hotel was chock full of other WisCon-goers. It had had to double back to pick me up, and as we were heading away from the airport, the driver received a call to request that he return yet again to pick up someone else. As we were leaving the airport for the third time, someone joked about whether or not we could achieve escape velocity this time, and everyone in the van laughed. Clearly, I was among my tribe.

Moments after entering the Concourse lobby, I saw Na’amen Tilahun, who was animatedly greeting Elizabeth Guzik. He and I hugged hello. Then a few moments later, Tempest Bradford appeared. We hugged, too. Then we all went out to dinner at Noodles & Co. As I was traveling to the con I had worried about connecting with people socially, so it was really nice to be welcomed by such cool people right away!

While we were at Noodles & Co, Nora Jemisin and her friend Ibi Zoboi joined us. I read Nora’s book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a few months ago and quite liked it. I didn’t want to seem like a fangirl, so I didn’t say anything about it until Elizabeth mentioned asking her local Barnes & Noble to stock it. At that point, I told Nora that I had asked about it at my local Borders, only to learn that they were out of it. She seemed pleased, mentioning that “sell through” numbers were important to the publisher.

After dinner, we broke up. Tempest and Elizabeth went back to the hotel, and Nora and Ibi shortly followed them. Na’amen and I went on to a downtown karaoke bar to join a group celebrating Cabell Gathman’s marriage. A host of people I knew or at least recognized were there, including Candra Gill, Cynthia Gonsalves, and Bill Humphries. Much alcohol was drunk, and many songs were sung. I’ve always liked the idea of performing karaoke, but have never actually done it. I spent quite a bit of time paging through the song books, but in the end did not dare to sing anything.

Around 12:30, I left with Cynthia and Bill to walk back to the hotel (I wasn’t sure I could remember how to get back by myself). We talked a bit about what had happened in our lives in the two years since I’d seen them last. And then it was time for bed!

Friday, 5/28/10

Didn’t get up until nearly noon because I was recovering from the drinking the night before. Went to Michelangelo’s for food and coffee. Sat a couple tables away from Bill Humphries, Chris & Penny Hill, and Matt Austern & Janet Lafler. Felt a little awkward, because I think I would have fit in well with their group but didn’t want to intrude. Instead, I just waved at them as I passed by on my way to the bathroom. As I was leaving, I ran into Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders sitting at a table in the back, both looking very serious typing away on their laptops. (I wish I had taken a photo.) I asked them if they were both posting to io9.com. Charlie said she had already finished her weekend’s posts, but Annalee said she was trying to finish something. Nevertheless, we chatted about what panels we wanted to go to, and talked about Avatar a bit. It was a nice exchange.

Got back to the hotel and visited the dealer’s room. Bought four items: a limited edition printing of a story by Ellen Kushner called “The Man with the Knives”; the Tiptree-winning first 2 volumes of the manga Ōoku: The Inner Chambers; and the latest Eleanor Arnason book from Aqueduct Press, The Tomb of the Fathers. Popped in to The Gathering briefly, then met up with Na’amen’s friend Elizabeth in the hallway and chatted with her about computer games and various other things until it was time for the panel “Chicks Dig Time Lords”, which I wanted to attend to gain some insight into why women like Doctor Who. It ended up being very entertaining! Not least because Tempest was on it, and she delivers some great rants about things that don’t make sense on TV shows. Also, she threatens bodily harm to writers and producers who displease her, which is amusing.

Afterward, I sat on floor 2 near the stairs until Elizabeth passed by and asked if I wanted to join her and some other folks for the “White Allies” dinner. I heartily accepted the offer, and we went downstairs to congregate. Dinner ended up being at Flavor of India. We had to break up into smaller groups to be seated, and I ended up with Elizabeth, Kirsten (from Scotland), and Daedala. We conversed about various topics while enjoying the tasty and plentiful food. Onion chutney: yum.

We arrived back at the hotel just in time for the opening ceremonies. I sat next to Penny Hill and pulled out my laptop to take notes. She asked if I was live-blogging, and I said I wanted to take notes for Liz and Laura, neither of whom could make it this year. The ceremonies were amusing, mostly because of Ellen Klages impersonating a matronly librarian, including wig, flowered cardigan sweater, and high speaking voice.

After the opening ceremonies, I tried to respond to a call for help schlepping stuff to the Carl Brandon Society party, but was too late. All the stuff had already been schlepped. So I went back to my room, thinking I would just drop off my backpack. I ended up lying down and resting for about an hour and a half. Then I girded my loins and headed up to the party floor, where I mostly hovered between the CBS party and the Karen Healey book launch party across the hall, which had some alcohol that wasn’t weird Kahlua shots. I chatted with various people, but the unexpected highlight of my evening was talking to a local fan named John Wardale, who produced some delicious Scotch from his backpack when he discovered that I liked it. He had decanted two different varieties (a Canadian mix and some Highland Park 15 year) into smaller blue bottles, whose sides were obscured in paper. I said they looked like Samuel Adams Triple Bock bottles, and he pulled one out of its sleeve to show me that I was correct. Then we slapped high five. It was hilarious!

I later recounted this story to Elizabeth, and it turned out that she is a big fan of Scotch as well! Then she mentioned it to Victor Raymond, and not only does he love whisky, he does a pretty good Scottish accent as well. Heh heh.

Saturday, 5/29/10

Felt really exhausted again, so didn’t get up in time for a panel I wanted to go to, “Activism: When to Speak Up, When to Let It Go”. Instead, I was roused by my old housemate Mike calling me to ask if I was at WisCon and to tell me he was very entertained by my Facebook status updates. “You are such a dork!” he exclaimed. Kind of insulting, but also kind of funny. I was now up, so I slapped on some clothes and headed to the coffee shop for some fuel, then caught the last few minutes of the panel. Afterward, I sat down in the hall and was catching up on internet things on my laptop when Elizabeth and Na’amen saw me and asked if I wanted to join them for the Carl Brandon Society lunch. A group of about 20 of us went to The Great Dane and were seated in a very dim and pleasantly cool basement (we had all become quite hot on the walk over in the unseasonable heat). Most of the talk during the lunch was about “guilty pleasure” books. Many people were intrigued by Na’amen’s description of the Black Jewels books by Anne Bishop, which include magic cock rings that the women use to control the men. There was also some discussion of Anne McCaffrey’s Pern books. Victor Raymond and Claire Light both stood up to ask for volunteers, and a book was passed around for people’s contact details. I volunteered to help with the wiki and other web tasks, though I probably shouldn’t have, given my sadly neglected Alliance Francaise duties…

People returned to the hotel in several different groups. I had to run to catch up with Na’amen, Elizabeth and Lee after belatedly handing over my money for CBS membership. We walked through the capitol building as a short cut. It was majestic and very echoey. We all headed directly to “Revenge of Not Another F*cking Race Panel”, which was quite entertaining. Then I went to the “Diversity in Video Games” panel. After that, I realized I felt kind of claustrophobic and cold, so I headed outside to get some sun and heat. Walked to A Room of One’s Own and browsed for a while. Read most of Bayou by Jeremy Love. By the end I was totally confused about what was going on. A lot of embodied archetypes (Bayou, Jim Crows) acting in surreal ways, and nothing is resolved at the end of book 1.

Came back to the hotel and sat in the bar for a couple hours, reading news and tweets and Facebook updates, and working on these entries. Was feeling kind of lonely and sorry for myself, but felt better after eating some food and having two special WisCon cocktails.

Stopped in to the Tiptree auction briefly before meeting Paige Kimball for an interview. She’s writing her dissertation on “WisCon and Fan Identity” and had asked for interview subjects on LiveJournal. We spent about 45 minutes talking about my interest in science fiction and development as a fan. It was fun!

After that, I went down to the 6th floor and became entranced by the vidding party. I stayed for a while, but eventually the plentiful free alcohol seemed to depress my mood and I began to develop a headache from the loud music. Also, I experienced some socially awkward moments that brought me down some more. So I went to the con suite for some pizza, stopped in to the Tor party briefly, then went upstairs and to bed, even though it wasn’t yet midnight.

Sunday, 5/30/10

Despite going to bed early, I once again awoke very late. Went to Michelangelo’s and kick started my brain with two large cups of coffee before heading to the “Dollhouse: Win or Fail” panel at 1:00. It was quite lively, with much disagreement among the panelists. There were some great comments, but I was frustrated by the fact that the panelists who most disliked the show were making larger claims about Joss Whedon’s work and lack of feminist cred when they admitted they hadn’t watched most of his shows (and one of them hadn’t even finished season 2 of Dollhouse – the show the panel was about!).

Afterward, I went immediately to the “Race and Gender in Avatar” panel down the hall. Another interesting, but more sedate, discussion. I had never seen Terry Bisson on a panel before, and really enjoyed some of his insights. It was also interesting to hear Annalee and Cabell (both white) calling the movie racist, and Nnedi and Ibi (both women of color) defending it on this score. No question, viewer response to Avatar is complex!

Chris Hill and I had attended both panels, so I chatted with him in the hall for a bit, then headed up to the Strange Horizons Tea Party. I hadn’t seen Jed Hartman all weekend and wanted to say hi, but every time I looked over he was talking with someone, and I didn’t want to interrupt. So I drank tea, ate some cake, and ended up having a lovely chat with Karen Babich and some friends of hers. She complimented my “geek” T-shirt. Thanks, Rent-a-Geek! Afterward, I went back to my room to relax for a few minutes and consider what to do for dinner. Feeling a bit more outgoing than previously in the weekend, I tweeted Paige to ask if she wanted to catch a bite together, but she was having another interview. I pondered for a moment, then tweeted Bill Humphries and Cynthia Gonsalves to see if they had plans already. They did.

Oh well! Back to the hotel bar for another meal, more WisCon-themed drinks, and the first volume of Ōoku. I was so into it that I kept reading while standing in line for the Dessert Salon. Nisi Shawl was next to me in line, and taking one look at my shirt and my preoccupation, she laughingly told me that I was definitely a geek. I love that WisCon is a place where this will never sound like an insult. We chatted as the line slowly progressed down the hall, up the stairs, and around the second floor. She was concerned that she might get some flack for losing her dessert ticket, but everyone in the vicinity agreed that as a Very Important Person she would be fine. She corrected me when I called her a former Guest of Honor, saying that she was a Tiptree winner, but had never been GoH. “You will be soon,” I replied, and she said, “Yes, I will.” In retrospect, I find this exchange hilarious, because at the end of the night it was announced that she would be one of the Guests of Honor for next year. She must have known already when we were talking, whereas I just thought it would be a logical course of events. Heh heh.

Bill and Cynthia had saved a seat for me at their table, and we had a nice time chatting about Glee and other TV shows. Then the Guest of Honor speeches and Tiptree Awards began, and I started taking notes on my laptop. The ceremonies ran till past 10:00, and we all took off in different directions afterward. My plane was leaving at 7:30 the next morning, so I planned to make an early night of it, but I still wanted to make at least one pass through the party floor. I’m very glad I did, because I finally got to talk with Jed Hartman and was formally introduced to Mary Anne Mohanraj for the first time. And I witnessed Nisi performing “Billie Jean”, complete with sequined glove. AND, I had a great conversation with Timmi Duchamp about The Secret Feminist Cabal and On Joanna Russ… and then she asked me if I wanted to be involved in a new project she’s thinking of, a regular literary review in hard-copy form (not just online). Wow! The answer was yes! I love Aqueduct Press and think Timmi is awesome!

Head full of happy thoughts, I returned to my room before midnight and set the alarm clock for 5:30 AM.

About the author

Janice Dawley

Outdoorsy TV addict, artistic computer geek, loner who loves people.

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