Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The joys of WisCon, or, why I’m running away from home yet again

If you type “Wiscon” into Google Image Search, maps of Wisconsin and portraits of dairy farms appear, but if you keep clicking through the offerings, something unexpected shows up.

A group of tired and slightly frazzled people smile into the camera, and they’re all wearing name tags.

A woman, or at least I think it’s a woman, is shown wearing a day-glow orange eye patch and a long, colorful scarf tied around her head in a photo labeled “Pirate Party.”

A group of people are crammed precariously onto a stage. They’re singing. If you look closely, you can see a tall, dark-haired man standing in the middle. He’s wearing a tiara.

Move onto other pages and you’ll find photos of women and men seated behind tables, talking intently. Names appear: Karen Joy Fowler, Ursula K. Le Guin, Carol Emshwiller, Molly Gloss, Eileen Gunn, China Miéville, Nancy Kress, Mary Anne Mohanraj, Pat Murphy and Jane Yolen. Go far enough, and you’ll bump into a photo of someone named Ellen Klages, who is on a stage, wearing a bright, yellow chicken suit.

Because of Karen, Ursula, Pat and hundreds of other wildly enthusiastic people, I run away to Madison, Wis., every Memorial Day weekend to attend a science fiction/fantasy convention called WisCon. I've done this for the last seven years.

As you read this, I have left my son, my mother and my cat. I’ve very regretfully, and most temporarily, left the honey I love deeply. I am on my way to Madison, once again.

The reasons I go are packed into those photos and into my memories of incredible people like Laurie J. Marks, Suzy McKee Charnas, Amy Axt Hanson, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Debbie Notkin and, oh yeah, In This Moment’s very own Nancy Jane Moore. Honestly, there are too many people to name.

I go every year because these talented writers, critics and editors crowd into the Concourse Hotel, and we talk. We talk about, well, everything: how we write, how we don’t write, the sociology of gender, the sociology of government, the twists and turns of feminism, and the rights and wrongs of religion. We talk about culture, science, books, movies, turning tragedy into story and unlocking the key to character. We talk about language, disability and, yes, even sex.

How can I be so enthusiastic about WisCon? Why should it matter to you?

As anyone with any sense will tell you science fiction and fantasy cannot be considered serious literature. Only fools, adolescent boys, and adults without a life either write or read it. It’s Star Wars stupid through and through, yet…

What if there were a literature that allowed you to imagine what life would be like if fundamentalists took over the country? (Margaret Atwood in The Handmaid’s Tale.)

What if there were a literature that let you imagine how you would act if you were in the same situation as the one Christopher Columbus faced? Would you, and your very culturally sensitive 21st Century friends, destroy a new culture? Would you even understand it? What would you learn about the existence of God while you dealt with this new world? (Mary Doria Russell in The Sparrow)

What if you could experiment with gender roles and create a society where gender doesn’t exist, or is expressed differently than in our culture? Would it be better place than our world or worse? (Ursula K. Le Guin in The Left Hand of Darkness and every other winner of the Tiptree Award.)

And, oh my, what if you could imagine how you would fight back if your country were attacked and thousands died? (Think 9/11, only worse.) How would you defend yourself and your family without turning into the enemy you hate? (Think Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay). (See Laurie J. Marks in Fire Logic and Earth Logic.)

That’s why this literature is important, and that’s why WisCon is necessary. All of those topics and more are on the table.

WisCon opens my mind. It helps me find the answers I’m so desperately seeking about politics and my world. It helps me find the right questions to ask.

And then, of course, there’s that Pirate Party and the tiara, not to mention Ellen and that darn chicken suit, but those are stories for another day.

1 comment:

simplexity said...

have a great trip :-)