Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

WisCon 2015

Friday morning, May 22nd, we drove over to Madison for the 39th WisCon. It was a good drive over and we got checked in to the hotel and the Con with no difficulties. Since I had a panel at 2:30PM, we went out a bit before noon and got lunch at Mediterranean Café, which left us time for a check through The Gathering before my panel.

The first panel was "The Purpose of Human Beings in an Extensively Automated World," which asked the question, what do people do when cars take over the driving, etc.? Alex Gurevich did a good job moderating the panel, which included Amelia Dudley, Daniel Grotta, and Elijah Itah, in addition to myself. After discussion of the potentials of automation and the possibility of actual machine intelligence evolving, we tended to agree that machine intelligence could not totally replace human intelligence in areas of subjective judgement, and so there would continue to be a function for us as guides and mentors for our machine descendants. I took the position that we probably could not go to the stars, but our machines might, and they could carry the great works of our culture along with them, if we taught them that they were important.

Afterward, we went to the "Men's Issues (Really)" panel, which didn't get to most of the questions posed in the program description, such as "What issues can intersectional feminists find solidarity in with cis het white men?" Nevertheless it was an entertaining panel, lead by Benjamin Rosenbaum, with Jim Lutz, Jack Ralls, and Ian K. Hagemann, exploring questions of what it means to be a man these days, and how one can be an "ally" without necessarily being a complete lackey.

We killed time over the dinner break chatting with friends and acquaintances. Since we had had a substantial lunch, we really didn't need a formal dinner. I had seen the Con Suite "menu" and knew that the featured item that evening was to be "Ian's Pizza," which I had never had and was curious about, so we went upstairs and got in line for the suite to open. Once the first shipment of pizzas was actually delivered, we were allowed in. I selected a piece of the cheese pizza, which I deem most likely to give a fair reading on the basics-cheese, crust, and sauce. I'm sorry to say I found Ian's Pizza disappointing, and not nearly up to the "hype." In particular, the sauce was sweet, bland, and stingily applied, a vice unfortunately common among commercial pizzas. Cheese and crust were good enough, but nothing special, and no better than any of a dozen other pizza makers I could name.

We went to the Opening Ceremonies, which included a game-show style "trivia contest" that was quite entertaining.

After that, we went to the panel "Overlapping Magisteria." I found this panel interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. The discussion involved the issue of whether or not science and religion can be reconciled. All the panelists variously took positions that they could, requiring varying degrees of intellectual elasticity. I was disappointed that there happened to be no contrarian voice on the panel, but I expect it happened that no one of that temper volunteered. Unfortunately, we didn't get to the Saturday evening panel "Science-Compatible Religions in Fiction: A Exploration of Spiritual Traditions Supportive of Intellectual Growth" which might have hit some similar territory from a different angle.

Parties that evening were the Helsinki WorldCon bid party, Sisters of the Revolution book launch, Archivist Wasp book launch, and the Carl Brandon Society party. We visited each one, and bought a copy of Archivist Wasp, but didn't end up staying long at any party and turned in fairly early.

Saturday started early, with Georgie having a panel "Old Heroes-Are They Really Possible," moderated by Kenzie Woodbridge, and Sigrid Ellis and Nonie Rider joining as panelists. Works discussed included Remnant Population, the "Witches" novels by Terry Pratchett, and others. It was a lively discussion and well received by the audience.

I was very interested in the panel "Fixing Policing," due to my past experience, so we went to that one next. Some interesting ideas were proposed, but very little that seemed practical or likely to be greeted with enthusiasm by the law enforcement community.

Saturday lunch break we spent as usual at the Tiptree Bake Sale, and had some particularly good treats this year. The Bake Sale is always a good spot to meet and greet people and we had some very interesting conversations while we were there.

After lunch, Georgie had the panel on "Little Known Goddesses," which had a very good, multicultural set of panelists. Nisi Shawl spoke about the Ifa faith, also known as Orisha, mentioning goddesses such as Oya, goddess of the whirlwind; Yemaya, mother of fishes; and Oshun, who "owns" erotic love, money, culture, and "the finer things in life." @SoosheBot, talked about South Asian goddesses, and Lauren Jankowski and Na'amen Gobert Tilahun contributed favorites. Georgie, as moderator, chimed in with brief tidbits about Cardea, the goddess of the door hinge; Chao San Niang, the goddess of wig salesmen; and, handy to know even if he is a god, Arazu the Babylonian god of construction that was completed! This was a very enjoyable panel and the audience seemed to have fun with it.

In the 2:30 time slot, we went to "Literacy or Appropriation?" which struck a pretty good balance on the central issue, how can writers of one culture fairly write inclusively, without being accused of tokenism on the one hand, or "cultural appropriation" on the other? K. Tempest Bradford moderated, and @SoosheBot, Sally Weiner Grotta, Andrea Hairston, and Mikki Kendall contributed. I was a bit concerned by the announcement that questions or comments from the audience would only be taken via Twitter! The reason given was that these discussions can get rather "fraught" (which is certainly true, but didn't actually happen in this case--), but doesn't take into account a) not everyone present may have a mobile device; b) those that do may not have a Twitter account; or, as happened, c) connectivity in the ballroom may not be very good. In the end, questions were taken live with perfect decorum. I comment on this because there appears to be a growing trend at WisCon to treat panelists as "presenters" and the audience members as passive receivers, which I consider a grave mistake. (WisCon being WisCon, there's usually at least one person in the audience who knows as much if not more about the subject under discussion than the panelists do--.)

We took the next segment to visit the Dealer's Room and the Art Show, which were both well worth visiting. For dinner, we went out to the renascent Kabul Restaurant, now relocated across the street and upstairs from its old location. They were busy, and there seemed to be a long wait between ordering our entrees and having them come, but when they did, everything was very good, and dishes that had been brought along from the old menu, such as khofta chalow, were as good as ever.

Back at the hotel, we checked out the parties, viewing the DC WorldCon bid materials with some interest, but still calling it a fairly early night.

Sunday morning started off with Georgie on the "Silenced Women Characters" panel, which went well. The reference to the missing Entwives in "The Lord of the Rings" sparked some humorous and creative speculation. Georgie spoke up for the mothers in Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," making a good case that in no way could they have been as clueless as the boys were allowed to think.

At 1:00PM, we went to Kim Stanley Robinson's Guest of Honor reading, which was quite unusual and fascinating. Robinson read a script dramatizing a portion of his forthcoming novel, Aurora, accompanied by an intricate soundscape created as part of an abortive collaboration between Robinson and performance artist Marina Abramovic. The project eventually foundered on the rock of "creative differences" between the two (Robinson insisted upon a certain amount of narrative, whereas Ms. Abramovic's works, such as the recent 512 Hours, have tended towards lack of structure), however, we are fortunate to have this artifact of the collaboration remaining.

The next panel we went to was "My Favorite Book When I Was Twelve," which was good because the panel members were a variety of ages, and therefore mentioned a broad spectrum of books and authors, some of which were "down memory lane" for us, and some new and still worth looking up.

At 4:00PM, the panel "WisCon Last Summer" went on in Capitol A, and played to a packed house. Former concom members Jeanne Gomoll and Debbie Notkin, and current members Mikki Kendall and Jackie Mierzwa, moderated by "neutral party" Chesya Burke, gave a very frank and honest history of the concom difficulties and divisions of the past year. Panelists also responded very openly and reasonably to audience concerns, including mine regarding the unceremonious dismissal of Richard Russell. The session ran long, and I had to duck out to meet Georgie before it was quite over, but it seemed a lot of air was cleared.

For dinner, we braved the drizzle for burgers at Five Guys, which were very good as usual. Perhaps it was the combination of Sunday night and the persistent rain, but we were the only people in there for most of our meal, which was unusual.

We attended the Guest of Honor speeches, which included a short and charming thank-you from Tiptree Award winner Monica Byrne, a song and strong speech against sexism and racism by Alya Dawn Johnson, and a fascinatingly political talk by Kim Stanley Robinson ("Deoligarchization" was the word of the evening--.)

After the speeches, we again cruised the parties, us among others being surprised that the Con Suite stayed dark and closed after the speeches. However, we ended up at a reprise of the "Tales of the Unanticipated" party, which was an old-style sit on the beds and SMOF party, which we enjoyed a lot.

The one big event we took part in Monday was the panel, "Mars," at 10AM, which I was moderating. Due probably to the presence of Kim Stanley Robinson, the panel played to a packed house, with lots of good input from panel members Emma Humphries, Jackie Mierzwa, and Ian Hagemann as well. We discussed the "romantic Mars" of the literary past, and the "scientific Mars" of the current times. Robinson, (or "Stan" as he prefers to be addressed), ruefully admitted that, like many other works of science fiction, his "Mars" trilogy had been overtaken by science: the apparent pervasive presence of perchlorates in the Martian soil as reported by the Mars rovers means that the environment is toxic and the terraforming plan projected in the trilogy could not have worked. He counseled setting aside the dream of Mars as a new frontier and concentrating on working where we could, instead. The panel was very well received by an attentive audience, and Mr. Robinson complimented me on the running of it after it was over.

Then, we headed home. Overall, it was a very good con, though a bit lower-keyed than some.

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