Capricon 38 report

Capricon 38
Westin Chicago North Shore Hotel, Wheeling, IL
February 15 to 18, 2018

In an interview with the Capricon newsletter, Goat Droppings, Dave McCarthy, the fan guest of honor, spoke of Capricon as a family reunion. Well, yes, if your family has about a thousand members of different ages and interests, all of them, like Dave, intent on having a good time – which as far as I can tell, we all did.

This year’s convention theme, “Expanding Universes,” referred to the way written works, television shows, movies, games, and new media form a creative loop with each other: hence the eight-like loopy logo for Capricon 38. Guests of honor, besides McCarty, were Timothy Zahn, author; Sarah Wilkinson, artist; Monica Valentinelli, gaming; and Matt McElroy, special guest.

Although I am tunnel-vision devoted to print, I could have spent my weekend exploring any of those other creative avenues. Plenty was on offer: panels, an always-busy gaming room, a starship bridge simulator, anime, crafts, cosplay, children’s programming, an art show, a dealer’s room, music, filk, and two floors of evening parties.

In a world growing crowded with commercially organized genre events, Capricon remains a volunteer-run “literary” (book-focused rather than media-focused) science fiction convention. Everything seemed to flow smoothly, and even the weather cooperated with no cold snaps or major snowstorms, just heavy flurries on Saturday.

I missed Thursday evening’s activities, which included panels on topics as varied as brewing alcohol, military science fiction, and a critique of Blade Runner 2049, along with an ice cream social and opening ceremonies.

Friday, February 16

Because mass transit doesn’t quite reach the Westin Hotel, my husband dropped me off on the way to work at 7:30 a.m. I consigned my suitcase, got some coffee, wandered around, met friendly people in the Green Room, got my badge, and began the busy task of attending panels and having fun.

“Working Toward Social Equity in Speculative Fiction” considered demographic changes in the US and how that is being reflected in literature: slowly and with bumps in the road, according to the panelists.

I couldn’t stay long, though, because I had to moderate a “Rapid Reading” with four other authors. The audience never outnumbered the panel, alas, but we had a fine time getting to know each other and forging friendships.

The panel “Imaginary Races Doesn’t Erase Racism,” considered what an author can or should be trying to accomplish in their writing, and panelists suggested that over-reactions and an erroneous sense of scarcity in science fiction affect the way works are received. Next I was on the panel for “Exobiology for Dummies,” moderated by the voluble Bill Higgins; I discussed how as an author I invent the biological aliens that serve my story.

I attended “Diversity Backlash,” where Dave McCarthy spoke a lot, and for good reason. He had been a Hugo administrator for several years, including 2015 when “No Award” prevailed in an unprecedented five categories. He summarized the history and said he hoped that the attempts to “game the system” and “hijack the award for political purposes” was the dying gasp of a small minority.

McCarty moderated the next panel, “Someone Is Wrong on the Internet,” a playful look at good topics to debate, good tactics, and the art of the rant. I was on the panel and suggested a few rantable topics, such as the Oxford comma or evaluating history.

By then it was late afternoon. I took some time to check into the hotel, cruise through the Art Show and Dealer’s Room, and buy a small gift for my husband. I spent the rest of the evening at a gathering called “Writers and Donuts,” hosted by Richard Chwedyk, where we noshed on donuts and discussed writing. Then I attended various parties until midnight. The festivities were still going strong, but I was tired.

Saturday, February 17

After a light breakfast in the Con Suite, I began Saturday by attending a panel on “Care and Feeding of a Debut Novelist,” since I am one, and learned I can expect my life to get much busier. “Characters That Don’t Suck” considered craft and techniques for stock, static, and dynamic characters. Then I went to an author reading. Ada Palmer told how the 18th-century novel Jacques the Fatalist by Denis Diderot affected her story-telling choices in her Terra Ignota series; the first novel, Too Like the Lightning, won a 2017 Hugo.

After lunch with a new friend, I attended the fun-sounding panel “How to Piss Off Dave McCarty.” Any question related to Hugo voting software provoked a bitter, heartfelt, entertaining rant. At “Who’s the Boss?” a panel about working on joint projects, Eric Flint offered a cold-hearted analysis of Hollywood and its sometimes sophomoric behavior. That made co-panelist Monica Valentinelli, who has had her own adventures in that realm, exclaim, “I love you so much right now!” The next panel, “Science Fiction Cover Art: A History to Modern Day,” covered a lot of ground despite loose organization, and panelists anguished over how little value was paid to art in the early years of the genre.

By then I’d been serious for too long, so I attended a concert by the a capella group Sassafras with its tight harmonies, heard some of Kingon Pop Warrior’s music and her powerful voice, and then laughed a lot at SpaceTime Theatre Troope’s improv comedy, led by Bill Roper.

After that, I wandered from party to party until 1 a.m. Again, celebrations continued after I was snug in bed.

The Best Overall Party Award, voted on by attendees and presented at Closing Ceremonies, went to Bar Fleet, hosted by the U.B.S. Abandon crew. I can attest that it lived up to Bar Fleet standards for libations and dance music, although it faced stiff competition for the title of “best.”

Sunday, February 18

I was among the five people at the start (more stumbled in over the next hour) of a 10 a.m. panel on “The Critical Eye” about how to write a review, “a creative response to a creative work.” The next panel, “The Singularity: Mechs or Shapers?” suggested that we will only identify whatever the singularity is – a disruption or AI breakthrough of some sort – after it happens.

“The Expanding Universe of Fandom” compared large commercial cons like Dragon*Con, which draws 80,000 people, comic cons, and media cons to smaller fan-run literary cons like Capricon: huge versus up close and personal. Eric Flint observed that, like fan-run cons, some of the big commercial cons had their uses for professional authors, including reaching readers. The commercial cons’ success, he said, reflected the growing popularity of genre among the general public, although some fans bemoan them: “There’s a strain in fandom that resists and almost resents the fact that it’s won.”

The Closing Ceremonies followed, but they had just begun when my husband called from the parking lot. He’d come to pick me up, and my weekend of fun with a thousand-member fan family was over. It was time to go home and rest, full of enthusiasm to read and write a lot more.

Capricon 39 will be held February 14 to 17, 2019, again at the Westin North Shore, with the theme of “Strange Beasts Arise.”

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