ConJose: The 2002 World Science Fiction Convention

Every Labour Day weekend, somewhere in the world, thousands of peopld gather for the World Science Fiction Convention. This year they gathered in San Jose, California, for the 60th WorldCon, as fans call it, and I was there.

WorldCon covers the whole world of science fiction and fantasy, with particular emphasis, not on TV and movies, but on literary science fiction. One highlight is the Hugo Awards for best science fiction and fantasy, and while there is a Best Dramatic Presentation Hugo (won by “The Fellowship of the Ring”), the most prestigious award is the Best Novel award (won by Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods”). The emphasis on literature means that WorldCon draws the top writers and editors in the field, who besides having lots of business lunches with each other, come to be part of WorldCon programming.

The programming is the heart of WorldCon: the pocket guide listed a whopping 618 items this year. I was on three panels this year, on Writing Science Fiction for Young Adults and Children, Humor in Science Fiction (alongside Terry Pratchett, author of the humorous Discworld fantasy novels and one of the best-selling authors in the U.K.), and Fun Diseases You Can Give Your Characters.

One way in which WorldCon differs from the Star Trek and other media-specific conventions with which most people are familiar is the very strong science component. Here are just a handful of topics, chosen at random from the programming guide: “Genetic Engineering Technology: How Might it Work?”, “Virtual Reality Control Systems,” “How Brain Chemistry Creates Personality,” and “Quantum Dots and Programmable Matter.”

Those are the kinds of concepts tossed around all weekend at a WorldCon, not only in the panels but in impassioned conversations in the halls.

Oh, to be sure, there are people who come to WorldCon who are more interested in partying than in SF literature, or more interested in films or TV or anime or comics or art or costuming than books. But at its heart, WorldCon is still what it was in the 1930s when a handful of SF fans staged the first one: a celebration of what is often called “the literature of ideas.”

I actually had a lump in my throat several times over the weekend as I listened to people like Frederick Pohl, Robert Silverberg, Joe Haldeman and Hal Clement. These are some of the writers whose words opened up the universe to me, turned me on to science, and turned me on to writing. It’s as though each of them is a comet whose glowing tails are the whole new universes they brought into existence in the pages of their books.

That’s the magic of science fiction: the imagination and creation of whole new worlds, whole new universes. That’s why I write it, that’s why I read it; and that’s why I keep going back to WorldCon.

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