WesterCon 70 ~ Part 1: Steampunk & 19th Century F&SF

Aside from our 2013 trip to San Diego ComicCon, Eric and I hadn’t been to a convention since…probably WesterCon in 2009. The difference between ComicCon and conventions like WesterCon is that there are less media personalities and more panels featuring science fiction and fantasy writers and artists. At least, that’s my experience of the con. If you’re into cos play, there was a costuming track. If you game, I’m not sure the gaming suite ever closed. Filk? Films?  There were all sorts of great panels and activities. The con lasted four days, July 1-4. It was held at the Tempe Palms Hotel, which is pretty much in our backyard. No reason not to go to a con with no travel expenses attached!

On Saturday, we helped a friend of ours pack some furniture for his impending move then headed off to the con. By the end of the day, I was pretty tired. I’m not sure that I was too much better off on Sunday. Remember, I’m an introvert. My social batteries only go so far. On Monday, things were complicated by an arthritis flare-up. I skipped out on one  panel *and* we cut the day short. I ended up sleeping after dinner from 6:30pm-9pm only to wake up for a couple hours before officially calling it a night at 11pm. By Tuesday morning, I was in pretty good shape and enjoyed that day more than all the rest.

Roughly, the panels I attended fell into four groups: 19th Century F&SF, Science, Visual Arts, and Writing. I’ll start with the 19th Century.

Due to my current interest in the scientific romances of Well, Verne, etc. and my writing stories set in the early 20th century, I was eager for the panels on classic SF and steampunk, but many of those panel choices were cannibalized due to fatigue or conflicts. One of the first panels I attended on Saturday was “Classic Science Fiction vs. The Modern Perspective.” Half the panel was about how to enjoy classic science fiction, whether from the 19th century or the 1950s when the views of the writers were sometimes much less sensitive about race and gender issues. The secret, it was somewhat agreed upon, is to consider context. In many ways, these problematic classics were progressive for their time. The second half of the panel was about what the future might bring: even our 21st century literature often lacks speculative fiction from non-western worldviews, gender fluid characters, older characters, and usually doesn’t include much in the world building about how women’s issue might change.

On Sunday, I attended a panel with Eric about the “Science of Steampunk.” The panel was fairly split between writers, who often use magic to power their cogs and gears, and scientists, who were there to discuss what might be era-appropriate hard science alternatives to magic. I *think* the panel avoided being too contentious, but I’m sometimes a bad judge of that kind of thing. There was consensus that sometimes, especially when the science isn’t the main point of the plot, a little hand-waving doesn’t necessarily matter much to the audience.

Also on Sunday was an overview of 19th century science fiction and fantasy. And that’s a huge topic to fit into an hour. Talking about Jules Verne and H. G. Wells could each fill an hour. I’ll give the presenters credit: their effort was valiant. After another three four cons, it’ll be a good presentation. As is, I walked away with a huge reading list—90% from the panelists and 10% from the audience. Lots of titles I hadn’t heard of, but none covered too deeply.

Next post, I plan on tackling the science and writing panels.


2 thoughts on “WesterCon 70 ~ Part 1: Steampunk & 19th Century F&SF

  1. Pingback: WesterCon 70 ~ Part 2: Science and Writing – The Writerly Reader

  2. Pingback: WesterCon 70 ~ Part 3: Art and “Aftermath” – The Writerly Reader

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