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Special Con Review, Part I: WorldCon 76 Offers a Universe of Diversity

A cartoon rocket flies through space.

WorldCon 76 (a.k.a the 76th World Science Fiction Convention) in San Jose ran from Thursday of last week through Monday of this, but I was only able to attend Friday through Sunday. I wasn’t even there for the majority of Friday because I left the house late and had to take a later train from Sacramento. But even if I had been there all five days it still probably wouldn’t have been enough time to see everything. For one thing, the time slots of many great events overlapped with each other. For another, many of the panels were packed to the point where there wasn’t even standing room. At least half of the ones I made it into I was either standing or sitting on the floor which this latter was a literal pain after having sat for 20 minutes. Other than the overcrowdedness, it all went by really good. There wasn’t even much of a problem with the Alt Right protest going on outside the McEnery Convention Center. Before, I thought I was going to have to walk a detour from my hotel to the con. But for me, it was almost as if they were never there because I was inside the building enjoying panels all day, some of which may had been at the root of the Alt Right’s purpose for protesting. Compared to the last World Science Fiction Convention I attended back in 2006 in Los Angeles, WorldCon 76 was much more culturally and racially diverse in its programme of events.

Diversity and the Mexicanx Initiative

The cultural and racial diversity at WorldCon was much more noticeable than I remember it being in Los Angeles (Anaheim to be exact) more than 10 years ago. In fact, according to an article by Charlie Jane Anders in the WorldCon 76 souvenir booklet, this year is the first World Science Fiction Convention that had a Mexican-American Guest of Honor, artist John Picacio (not Picasso!). A big project for WorldCon 76 was the Mexicanx Initiative, a programme that Picacio organised to get funding for Latino speculative fiction creators and fans to attend the con. The con itself had several panels on Latinos, Blacks, Asians, the disabled, women and LGBT in genre culture. There was even a panel on Afro-futurism which, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend. This diversity in race and culture added to the diversity in panel topics that the World Science Fiction Convention has offered for years.

Panels I Attended

Here’s a partial list of the panels I attended and found most useful to myself both as a writer and reader of speculative fiction:

“Imposter Syndrome”: Many authors, myself included, have been discouraged from non-writers and non-artists over our craft. This is especially those of us who come from more “practical” families or communities. This first panel I attended Friday evening talked about how to overcome such discouragement. One of the best points the panelists brought up was that if you get totally absorbed in your story and its characters while writing it, you “cease to exist”. Which means you don’t care what the outside world thinks of you if you’re really into the act of writing. It’s kind of like mysticism.

“The Bob Wilkins Creature Features Show”: I ducked into this 5-hour screening for about an hour. Even though I have on DVD many of the clips and footage from Bob Wilkins’s TV shows, I still wanted to honour this late night TV horror host from my childhood. I had donated to thecharity auction a beautifully sculpted action figure of a monster from a sci fi-horror movie in honour of him but wanted to be present for the gHost of Honor at the con.  

“Apocalypse Tomorrow: The Tumultuous History of Mexican Science Fiction and Fantastic Literature”: I went into this 10 AM Saturday panel about 15 minutes late so didn’t quite capture all the briefly told history of Mexico’s speculative fiction scene. (I say “briefly told” because you can only get so much into a one-hour panel.) I was too addicted to the complementary all-you-can eat breakfast at the hotel I was staying at, even to get to a panel in time that talks about sci fi and fantasy in the country of one of my ancestries. But one thing that was worthy of note here (among many others that I don’t have the time to discuss now) is when a person in the audience asked the panelists how Mexican authors use indigenous traditions in their sci fi and fantasy, the panelists laughed nervously. In answer, one panelist said that it was hard to do that because European domination was so big in Mexico for a long time that it alienated a lot of pre-Columbian culture. Another panelist, Gerardo Porcayo, said that today’s Mexican fantasy and science fiction writers are not only trying to integrate the ideas between indigenous and European cultures but also the ideas of other cultures from around the world. It shows how open-minded authors of Mexican ancestry are and how innovating science fiction and fantasy is. 

“Silence In the Library”: As an avid reader and writer there’s no way I can’t love libraries. That’s one reason I’m a library technician by day. So I thought attending this panel would help me as a library pro. But it also helped me as an indie author. The best advice I got from this one as a writer was that in order to get your book noticed by the Library of Congress you should get an ORCID. The panelists, all who worked in library science, also had a lot of interesting things to say about science fiction/fantasy cataloging in libraries and innovative library technology.

“Idea Versus Story”: I went to this afternoon panel as a second choice to the memoriam for Harlan Ellison. The memoriam was one of those panels that was literally packed wall to wall and so did not allow for any standing room. I was going to just settle for listening at the door but I couldn’t hear a damn word that was spoken. So I walked off saying to myself, sorry, Harlan but I tried. I’ll make it up to you. So I attended this panel that was basically about turning your story idea into a full story. The best piece of advice I got from this panel was that in order to write your idea into story form more easily start with the main character. Characters, as with real people, make decisions and actions and those two make events and a set of events makes a story. 

“Keeping Ahead of Tomorrow: Near Future Fiction”: This panel was moderated by John Scalzi who, like the other panelists, had some really useful things to say about staying ahead of real life’s scientific and technological advancements when writing science fiction. One of the two best tips they gave was that when you’re worldbuilding, to speculate how technology will be used differently between the upper tiers of society and the lower ones. The other tip was about outdated science fiction. Although this is one I’ve already believed in, I felt it was worthy mentioning here: if you date your science fiction story and if that date arrives and very little of the science and technology in the story occurs in real life, that story becomes alternative history.

TV Series Preview: Space Command: This is an “atompunk” series in the making. A half-hour of the two hour pilot episode was screened and showed a lot of promise. The series seems to be partsocial commentaryand part escapism reminiscent of the 1950s’ Space PatrolTV series. It features use of technology based on today’s advancements while innovating a retro style of fashion and architecture.I told the director, Marc Zicree, who presented the screening, that I really hope this series will be accepted by the TV networks (online or off) because the world needs more atompunk. I definitely support this series and you can too at its Kickstarter page. I plan to do a whole post on it at a later date.

“Fantasy Aliens”:This panel discussed the influence of mythological creatures on modern day alien characters. An important point that the panelists brought up was that when you create an alien who’s different in physical appearance it’s important to make them different in their way of thinking based on their culture. This makes the story more plausible and better developed.

These were the panels I attended Friday and Saturday that I thought would be most useful for this blog where I try to focus on the science fiction and fantasy writing and readership of the two genres. Sunday I mostly shopped and looked around in the dealer’s room which I’ll talk about next time. I’ll also discuss some interesting things that happened to me between panels, the masquerade (cosplay) and much more.

Did you attend WorldCon 76? Have you been to any World Science Fiction Conventions from other years?

Until next time . . .

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This post first appeared on A Far Out Fantastic Site, please read the originial post: here

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Special Con Review, Part I: WorldCon 76 Offers a Universe of Diversity


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