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Wiscon 30
Review by Daniel Dern
Date: May 26-29, 2006 / Show Official Info /

According to their site, WisCon "encourages discussion, debate and extrapolation of ideas relating to feminism, gender, race and class. WisCon honors writers, editors and artists whose work explores these themes and whose voices have opened new dimensions and territory in these issues. And, oh yes, we also like to have fun while we're at it."

I can't speak for previous WisCon's -- this was my first -- but that's definitely what they did this time around.

In honor of 30 years' worth of WisCon's, the con committee did its best to have as many as possible of former Guests of Honor (see WisCon History and WisCon Guest) in attendance. This year's GoHs were Jane Yolen and Kate Wilhelm; previous GoH's I saw included Katherine MacLean (author GoH from WisCon 1 in 1977), Ursula K. Le Guin (WisCon 20 GoH), Samuel R. Delany (WisCon 11 GoH), Emma Bull (WisCon 14 GoH), Suzette Haden Elgin (WisCon 6 & 10 GoH), Carol Emshwiller (WisCon 27 GoH), Nalo Hopkinson (WisCon 26 GoH), Ellen Kushner (WisCon 22 GoH), Vonda N. McIntyre (GoH at WisCon 2 GoH) and Terri Windling, if health allows (WisCon 23 GoH)... plus another dozen or more.

WisCon normally has about 700 attendees (up from 200 in the first year.) This year, the Con Committee capped attendance at 1,000 -- often filling rooms and halls to capacity.

The first WisCons were held in February, when the Wisconsin weather is much colder -- and attendees had a two-block walk between dorm housing and event programming. Memorial Day in Madison is hotter -- not intolerably, as the air was dry, and the lake presumably provided some cooling. But it was hot out, for those who called too late to get reservations in the Concourse hotel where the con was being held (or out in search of food).

One of the con's highlights was the interview with Joanna Russ (conducted by phone, as she was unable to attend), done by Samuel Delany. Russ isn't writing currently; amusingly, one of the things she's doing is watching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Both GoHs gave moving speeches. Kate Wilhelm spoke without notes (although it's likely she done large parts of her talk before) on the twists and turns that led her to being a writer, including having gotten lost as a young child in the Cleveland library. Jane Yolen spoke on various aspects of being a writer, and the writer's life, including tributes to, and stories of, her late husband (who died this past April).

Special events at WisCon 30 included the AIR by Geoff Ryman. (Unlike many awards, the winner knows in advance.)

Funds for the award come from bake sales and auctions held at WisCon and other cons. The bidding this year was quite spirited, with many items going for prices in the $300-$600 range.

With auctioneering being done by the irrepressible Ellen Klages (Klages' "Basement Magic" won the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novelette.), the auction is an event worth attending even if you have no intention of bidding. Klages -- and a well-primed audience -- make the auction rival ... and at times, surpass ... ReaderCon's Kirk Poland Memorial Bad Prose Competition, in terms of over-the-top entertainment.

As was noted in one of the con's publications, some people attend cons just to socialize; at WisCon, it would be easy to attend just to go to panels, readings, and special events.

Scheduled events started at 8:30AM every day -- and ran up past midnight (except on the last day)! (On the other hand, there were decent no-event breaks for lunch and dinner... and nothing or nearly-nothing scheduled against the main evening events -- the Tiptree Awards auction on Saturday night, and the GoH Speeches and Awards on Sunday night. (And there weren't as many panels in the late evenings, afterwards.) We got there too late for "Feminist/Women's Jeopardy," dagnab it!), but got to some interesting ones, like "Fundamentals of Feminism." My and my SO's priorities, mostly, were readings, to hear authors like Ursula K. LeGuin, Samuel Delaney, Nalo Hopkinson, and Jane Yolen.

WisCon also has an academic track (which I didn't get to), where academics present on a range of topics, along with kids programming (this year, including "Ursula LeGuin Reads to Kids").

Like ReaderCon, being at this year's WisCon gave me a lot to think about ... and notes towards a long list of books to try reading.

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