Sasquan: The 73rd World Science Fiction Convention
Spokane, Washington, USA, Earth • August 19-23, 2015
By Denise Robarge Tanaka
Community… That’s the word I kept hearing throughout the five days of attending Sasquan this year. This annual event gathers people from all over the world to share and celebrate speculative fiction. Here you will find the daydreamers, the stargazers, the ones who look ahead to what might be instead of what is. Here the fans stroll side-by-side with their idols, reunite with old friends and make new connections.
Worldcon tends to have a personal ambiance, more like a large family reunion than a media-driven convention such as Dragon-Con or Comic-Con. The Worldcon tradition grew out of a simple gathering of authors in 1939 under the auspices of the World Science Fiction Society and has kept that spirit throughout the years—a reunion of colleagues rather than a business convention. Worldcons are held in a different location each year, recently in San Antonio (2013) and London (2014). This year’s Sasquan hosted the site selection vote for the 2017 Worldcon among bids from Helsinki, Shizuoka, Montreal, and Washington DC. The 2016 Worldcon will be held in Kansas City, Missouri USA.
Out of over 11K memberships, representing 54 countries, about five thousand warm (or not so warm) bodies attended the event. It did not feel crowded thanks to the Spokane convention center that has a spacious floor plan. The two adjoining hotels offered additional open space so there was always somewhere to go and relax on a couch to read or chat with friends. The only time I saw big crowds was for the Hugo awards ceremony and for autographs with George R.R. Martin.
So, what was it like? If you’ve never attended a Worldcon before, I recommend doing at least one. For the lifelong sci-fi fan, it is a chance to immerse yourself in whatever aspect of fandom interests you: comics, gaming, literature, filk, science, costuming, collectible merchandise, and more. For the casual sci-fi fan or the curious muggle, it is an opportunity to open a door and explore a new world. The schedule had such a wide variety of topics and activities, it was impossible for one person to see it all. I went on a road trip with a group of friends and between us only saw a fraction of what could be seen.
Step one is preparation. Consider in advance what you’d like to get out of the experience. You could attend one day or all five days, for as much or as little participation as you’d like. The website was up and running several months ahead and kept updating as the dates came closer.
Things that you could experience:
- as a reader, you could view the list of attending authors to decide about signing up for a kaffee klatsch or a literary beer chat, or plan to listen to an author reading
- if you enjoy podcasts, a couple of them were being recorded before a live audience such as Writing Excuses with Brandon Sanderson
- as an aspiring writer, you could submit a manuscript for one of the critique workshops and professional literary agents made themselves available for speed-dating style 10 minute pitch sessions
- as an artist, you could display your work at the art gallery for silent auction or you could rent a booth in the dealer’s room to sell your wares
- as a costumer, you could attend hands-on workshops or compete in the masquerade show
- if you enjoy musical performances and ballroom dancing, you could plan to attend those events
- if you enjoy viewing independent films, the Sasquan International Film Festival showcased the best “and the strangest” film shorts and features from around the world
- if you just want to collect rare books, unusual merchandise, jewelry, T-shirts, or costumes, then you could spend hours browsing in the dealer’s room
- and, of course, the discussion panels offered a broad variety of topics
There was a mobile app for my smart phone so I did not need to carry the glossy program book in my tote bag. Even so, it is inevitable that you’ll leave with more luggage than you brought. Business cards, flyers, postcards, souvenirs, books, jewelry, T-shirts, and freebies accumulate like the sticker ribbons on your convention badge.
I am a costumer and traveled with a fellow costumer. Both of us were competing in the masquerade show, which meant that half our luggage involved over-stuffed suitcases for costumes and accessories. We joked that, when packing up the back of her SUV, “The bat’leth goes on top!”
The Opening Ceremony began with a storyteller who sang a song of blessing and then proceeded to tell a few stories from the folklore traditions of the Pacific Northwest. The guests of honor were introduced on stage. There was a video feed from a very special guest–the astronaut Kjell Lundgren who is currently on the International Space Station and is a huge fan of science fiction. He doesn’t just read it, he lives it! (Video can be found at http://sasquan.org/2015/08/kjell-lindgren-welcome/)
As I said before, the daytime activities offer endless choices of discussion panels, hands-on workshops, and free time to explore the dealer’s room. There was a display of Discworld memorabilia in honor of the late Sir Terry Pratchett. The World Science Fiction Society set up a display of all the Worldcon program books and Hugo awards of years past.
Parties were sometimes official such as the SFWA suite hosting a meet-and-greet for those participating in the writer’s workshops. Others were meet-ups of special-interest clubs or fan groups. Worldcon offers opportunities to network with professionals and star authors walking the hallways along with the rest of us.
Each morning, a Stroll with the Stars was organized to meet by the Spokane riverfront. About 100 people went on a leisurely walk and talk. All around me, I heard fans casually come alongside authors to ask questions and engage in dialogue. The guest of honor David Gerrold complimented my costume and gave me a hug!
I should say something about the wildfires because they were a concern. After years of drought, this is the worst fire season I can remember. Some flights and trains were delayed and some roads were closed because of fires. Each day, the skies over Spokane got smokier and smokier until it took on an eerie post-apocalyptic look. The sun appeared as a ruby jewel through the brown haze, and on Friday afternoon the whole city had the odor of a backyard barbecue. Signs taped on the doors of the convention center warned those with respiratory problems not to go outside. Musician guest Tom Smith, a humorous songwriter, performed a filk calling it “Smoke-ane” and the name stuck.
The highlight event of Friday night was the masquerade show and costume competition held in the INB Performing Arts Center. The master of ceremonies was Kevin Roche and the director was Sharon Sbarsky. Until now, I had only participated in the smaller-size conventions in my local area and never one of this scale. I was not sure if I would be worthy of it, but my friend (the knitted Klingon) encouraged me and joined in herself. I read the guidelines on the website and decided to take the plunge.
About 45 entrants (roughly 60 people) entered the competition. They used the International Costumers’ Guild Fairness Guidelines Division System of novice, journeyman, or master. Anyone was permitted to compete at a more difficult level if they chose. The judging looked at both workmanship and stage presentation.
Although my experience with professional costume competitions is limited, I chose to compete in the journeyman class because I had an insanely spectacular idea! I had already made a Wonder Woman costume for a local convention in my area. Now, I wanted to kick it up a notch and do a live on-stage spin change from Diana Prince in the navy uniform. Am I nuts? Possibly. It took me about two months of thinking and planning, constructing the tear-away costume with Velcro in the seams, and rehearsing the performance.
The organizers provided a checklist sheet and assigned each of us a rehearsal time. I had a chance to walk the stage the day before, and the tech crew adjusted the lights for my costume both in the bright colors of Wonder Woman and the subdued colors of the navy uniform. Backstage, there was a professional photographer to take portraits of each entry. With such a large pool of entrants, it helped to organize them into small groups under the watchful eye of a “den mother” so that everyone made it to the stage on time.
What impressed me, and humbled me, was the creativity and quality of the other entrants. Among them I saw the Weeping Angels from “Doctor Who”, a rainbow jellyfish, a steampunk time traveler, a group calling themselves the Victorian Justice League, a giant black widow spider, Chiana from “Farscape”, a 10-fooot Groot,and a Klingon uniform made entirely of knitting. I’m honored to have won a ribbon for workmanship among this group of talented artists.
Again, the word community comes to mind. Backstage there was not a sense of competitiveness or jealousy even though it was technically a high stakes competition. To win a ribbon at Worldcon means you are not an amateur anymore. Yet, loitering around the green room’s buffet table of cheese, crackers and veggie sticks, we admired each other’s’ workmanship up close. When each group was called to go on stage, we called out war-whoops to cheer them on their way. A video screen was set up to watch the show, and we applauded backstage for each one of the acts. “You looked great,” and “You were fantastic,” kept echoing throughout the night.
Here is the official list of winners:
Best Comic: Ms. Marvel, Sashti Ramadorai
Best Media: Arya Stark, Alexis Davis
Best Young Fan: Emma Swan, Melinda Kilbourne
Honorable mention: Red, Megan
Best Use of Traditional Materials: San from Princess Mononoke, Casandra Friend
Best use of recycled materials: Immortan Joama, Claire Stromberg
Best exhibit of woodworking magic – League of Legends Ashe and Lux, Rachelle Henning, Tori Wheeler
Best accessory: Fauntal, Ashlee
Judge’s Choice, Tanglwyst: Octopus Dress, Desiree Gould
Judge’s Choice, Michelle: Don’t Blink, Paulina Crownhart, Julia Buragino
Best in class: WE ARE GROOT, Jason Giddings
Rising Star (novice): WE ARE GROOT, Jason Giddings
Honorable Mention: Don’t Blink, Paulina Crownhart, Julia Buragino
Dead Ringer Award: The Captain, Robert Mitchell
Best (Novice) Recreation: Immortan Joama, Claire Stromberg
Best Novice: WE ARE GROOT, Jason Giddings. Jason will receive a free membership to Costume-Con 36, San Diego, 2018
Honorable mention: Luigi, Bevan Rogers
Honorable mention transformation: Diana Prince/Wonder Woman, Denise Tanaka
Best use of non-traditional materials: Sleeping Beauty, the Vintage Edition, Hal Bass, Sharon Bass, Barbara Galler-Smith, Janine Wardale, John Wardale, Ita Vandenbroek
Best use of materials that hate you: Theia the Tabbybrook Mage, Natalie Rogers
Worst Infection of the Beading Disease (Tie): Victorian Justice League, Barbara Hoffert, Mark Ezell, Ellie Ezell, Ann Ezell, Zachary Brant, Kathryn Brant; and Doctor Who: Time Lords, Carol Hamill, Forrest Nelson
Best Patterning and Fitting: Marian Keiffer, 7 of Eowyn (Debi)
Best Journeyman: Blood Dragon Lord, Lesli Jones
Rising Star (Journeyman): Blood Dragon Lord, Lesli Jones
Best Recreation: Doctor Who: Time Lords, Carol Hamill, Forrest Nelson
Most Beautiful (Journeyman): Marian Keiffer, 7 of Eowyn (Debi)
Best Journeyman: Blood Dragon Lord, Lesli Jones
Best Use of Shower Accessories: Rainbow Jellyfish, Orchid Cavett
Best use of a sweater patterns: Knit Klingon Warrior, Shael Hawman
Best dye job: Senator Padmé Amidala, Torrey Stenmark
Go big or go home award: Princess Marshmallow, Lance Ikegawa
Best use of light refraction: Dreams of a Rainbow, Susan Torgerson, Chris Corbitt (prop)
Most skill sets in a single bound: Professor R. Miles Levell Gentleman Time Traveler, Richard Miles
Rising stars (Master): Knit Klingon Warrior, Shael Hawman; Rainbow Jellyfish, Orchid Cavett
Honorable Mentions: Rainbow Jellyfish, Orchid Cavett; Senator Padmé Amidala, Torrey Stenmark
Best Critter: Roll for Initiative, Jonnalyhn Wolfcat, Melissa Quinn, Alita Quinn, Anita Taylor
Most Beautiful: Princess Marshmallow, Lance Ikegawa
Best Master: Professor R. Miles Levell Gentleman Time Traveler, Richard Miles
Best in Show
Workmanship: Roll for Initiative, Jonnalyhn Wolfcat, Melissa Quinn, Alita Quinn, Anita Taylor
Presentation: Victorian Justice League, Barbara Hoffert, Mark Ezell, Ellie Ezell, Ann Ezell, Zachary Brant, Kathryn Brant
The Hugo Awards
What is the Hugo award? First presented in 1953, it is given each year by the World Science Fiction Society at a ceremony during Worldcon. The selection takes place in two stages. Nomination is in the hands of anyone who held a supporting/attending membership in a previous or current Worldcon. Ballot voting is open to the members of the current Worldcon only, and members choose between the finalists in each category. Each year, the award’s base has a unique design chosen by a competition of artists. This year, Matthew Dockery’s design was selected as the base for the 2015 Hugo Award trophy.
On the night of the awards ceremony, there was limited seating in the Performing Arts theater and the line started forming hours ahead of time. People camped out in the hallways for the chance to get a seat. The alternative was a cafe area dubbed Guinan’s Place that had a large screen with live video feed. I watched from there instead of the theater, as it was more comfortable and accessible. Another option was to view the broadcast on Ustream.net or streaming on the Hugo Awards website.
Before the show there was an hour of the “Radio Free Skaro” podcast hosted by Stephen Schapansky and Warren Frey discussing the controversy over some of the nominees leading up to this year’s awards. George R.R. Martin and John Scalzi sitting side by side offered their observations. John Scalzi said that because it’s not a judged award, it’s a fan vote, the Hugo is a gift from the community and tonight the community will have its say. George R.R. Martin said that the internet has magnified and distorted what could have been a healthy debate about the nominating process. Ann Leckie (nominated for Ancillary Sword) said that when you look at the Hugo as only a marketing tool, the means by which you pursue the prize risks damaging the very thing you desire to hold. (The podcast can be found at http://www.radiofreeskaro.com/2015/08/23/radio-free-skaro-490-smoke-on-the-water/)
The show opened with a gigantic grim reaper strolling onto the stage. A few women in classic Star Trek red miniskirt uniforms came out and fought it off with phasers. Our co-host Tananarive Due was one of them! David Gerrold started us off with a motto, “We love our science fiction fantasy community and we are going to have a party tonight!”
The author Robert Silverberg, called “Rabbi Silverberg” by David Gerrold, came up and spoke about a Worldcon in 1968 in Berkeley during all the protests over the Vietnam War when the police were hurling tear gas that sometimes leaked into that convention center. Then he led the Sasquan audience in a subdued yet inspiring rendition of the “Hari Krishna, Hari Krishna” song. He even had a tambourine.
The Trans-Atlantic Fan Fund (TAFF) delegate Nina Horvath, from Austria, did a great job of presenting a couple of the early awards. She charmed the crowd with her delightful presence. At one point, David Gerrold was making side jokes to break her composure, and she got a big laugh by saying, “Now let’s get back to the topic.”
Hugo award winning author Connie Willis gave a humorous speech and handed special “medal of honor” ribbons to the co-hosts. And just like at the Oscar awards, they had a segment called In Memoriam which was a rolling slide show of names. David Gerrold choked up saying there were too many friends on that list.
Despite the entertaining elements of the show, such as Wesley Chu dropping to his knees to be crowned with a tiara for accepting the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, an air of tension hung over the audience because of the controversy over this year’s ballot. One of the voting options in each category was “No Award” – basically, none of the above. We all braced ourselves.
The first time it happened was for Best Related Work. The envelope was opened and the result was announced, “The voters have decided that No Award should be given in this category.” There were cheers mixed with howling boos and overall a hush of shock. Then came Best Editor short form, Best Editor long form, Best Short Story, up to Best Novella at the end. David Gerrold holding a stack of envelopes at the podium said, “It’s like juggling hand grenades up here.” All in all, five categories took No Award which is kind of a sweeps. The last time No Award was presented at the Hugos was in 1977. The blogs and the Twitter-verse exploded with opinions before the night was out. In all, 5,950 valid final ballots were cast by the members of Sasquan which is a record participation. (Video of the Hugo Awards can be found at http://www.ustream.tv/hugo-awards)
Hugos awarded this year are:
“The Three Body Problem”, Cixin Liu, Ken Liu translator (Tor Books)
“The Day the World Turned Upside Down”, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Lia Belt translator (Lightspeed, 04-2014)
BEST GRAPHIC STORY
“Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal”, written by G. Willow Wilson, illustrated by Adrian Alphona and Jake Wyatt, (Marvel Comics)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, LONG FORM
“Guardians of the Galaxy”, written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman, directed by James Gunn (Marvel Studios, Moving Picture Company)
BEST DRAMATIC PRESENTATION, SHORT FORM
“Orphan Black:” “By Means Which Have Never Yet Been Tried”, written by Graham Manson, directed by John Fawcett (Temple Street Productions, Space/BBC America)
BEST PROFESSIONAL ARTIST
“Lightspeed Magazine”, edited by John Joseph Adams, Stefan Rudnicki, Rich Horton, Wendy N. Wagner, and Christie Yant
“Journey Planet”, edited by James Bacon, Christopher J Garcia, Colin Harris, Alissa McKersie, and Helen J. Montgomery
“Galactic Suburbia Podcast”, Alisa Krasnostein, Alexandra Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Presenters) and Andrew Finch (Producer)
BEST FAN WRITER
Laura J. Mixon
BEST FAN ARTIST
JOHN W. CAMPBELL AWARD FOR BEST NEW WRITER
Award for the best new professional science fiction or fantasy writer of 2012 or 2013, sponsored by Dell Magazines (not a Hugo Award):
There is some talk of modifying the Hugo awards rules to minimize the disruption of small groups or individuals with an agenda. There is some lamenting that deserving nominees did not get a fair chance because of the taint of controversy, but the community did indeed have its say. I’m left with reflecting on the long history of Worldcon and Hugo awards of years gone by. I’ve come to the conclusion that even the worse of controversies will eventually pass. As Robert Silverberg said in a deep fatherly voice, after leading the crowd in song, “It’s all going to be OK.”
(official photos by Olav Rokne of Worldcon, the Hugo Awards ceremony, and the Masquerade are on the Flickr page https://www.flickr.com/photos/135602186@N03/)