Wiscon 38, Day Two – Friday May 23rd, 2014

This year, the Science Fiction Research Association (SFRA – “Siff-ra”) also had its annual convention in Madison, at the Inn on the Park. This is Wiscon’s alternate hotel, a short walk away from the Concourse (which is the main hotel). Wiscon and SFRA co-ordinated, so those attending either event could also go to the other one. This worked really well; the academic offerings deepened the whole experience.

Unusually, I found myself awake early Friday morning, eager to get started on the Con. After a decadent breakfast at the Dayton Street Grille, I attended a couple of SFRA sessions – presentations of academic papers. Walking up to Inn on the Park, I noted with sadness that a wonderful antiquarian bookstore (“J Taylors Antiquities, Notable Books & Rare Maps“) had closed down and the space was for rent.

antiquarian bookstore closed

One SFRA paper I found particularly interesting was an analysis of the economic system within some questing-type videogames (“Bind on Pickup: The Virtual Economics of Digital Science Fiction” – David M Higgins). Though I’m not a gamer myself, I thought the design of these alternate universes – and their parallels with capitalist ideals – quite interesting. “Bind on Pickup” refers to the way in which treasures/ weapons/ etc that players achieve in the course of the game “bind” to the player, so they cannot be sold or given away within the game and thus prevent a secondary market from arising or stronger players unfairly helping weaker ones. Within the real-world capitalist system this would be ideal for profit-maximizing. It in fact applies to some kinds of electronic products that cannot be sold or given away.

I got back to the Concourse in time for lunch and The Gathering, which is like a fair in a large meeting room. There’s free coffee and cookies, a clothing swap, tarot readings, fabric arts, paper arts, hair-braiding (and we saw the pretty and complex results on people for the next several days!), and Galley Ho! offering pre-publication book galley for a one-dollar donation. I tried to avoid this table, which is overly tempting, but when I met up with Julie, she had an armful of  books and I couldn’t resist going over to check it out. In about five minutes, I had acquired more books than would fit in my suitcase.

Dropping the books off in my room, I decided to attend a panel before I was tempted to return to Galley Ho: Class in the works of Hiromi Goto.” In some ways, it focused more on the immigrant experience and cultural issues than just class.  Hiromi Goto attended, sitting quietly in the back of the room. Though it was interesting, I think I’d have got more out of it if I had read her books first.

Friday evening’s ‘People of Color’ dinner, organized by LaShawn Wanak and Tempest Bradford, was awesome. There’s just so much cameraderie and enthusiasm and general noise!  I found some people I already knew, including Nisi Shawl’s mother, a gentle and engaging lady who I met at Wiscon 37, as well as some new and interesting people. Then I went on to the Opening Ceremonies. It’s always nice to see and cheer for the people who make Wiscon happen. Especially after I got involved with the FoGcon committee, I’ve developed a sharper appreciation for what it takes to make a Con.

opening ceremonies - wiscon 38

I picked panels over parties. “The Politics of Being Poor” was excellent. A couple of panelists spoke from direct experience about the difficulties of poverty. It’s worse when it happens suddenly, in one case owing to a disability that not only cost medical bills, but prevented them from working. Very quickly, the family went from solidly middle-class to impoverished. They didn’t even know what services were available or how to get them. Panelists spoke of the patchwork of services available, but the paperwork – and effort – required to access them is daunting for someone without a car and maybe with some mobility issues.  Being poor, one said, is a full-time job. This whole system needs to improve, but the poor are so busy with survival that they cannot always agitate for change. They discussed the embarrassment of depending on Christian charities if you’re not Christian. They also spoke of the problems with food pantries. One suggestion:  If you’re donating to a food pantry, donate some cake-mixes that don’t need any additional ingredients except water (none needing eggs, for instance) and birthday candles. Poor moms also want to celebrate their children’s birthdays, and baking a cake is a good way – if it’s available.

Can You Be Transphobic and Still be a Feminist?” was a wholly new topic for me; I had no idea that some people who consider themselves feminist object to trans women being considered women – or that this had started in the 1970s. Everyone on the panel was trans, and so they could speak to the direct effects of this kind of exclusion. Bottom line: a person’s gender depends on their own definition and what they identify as. No one else has the right to tell a trans woman what gender she is.

After that, I did swing by the parties. They seemed very quiet, perhaps because it was nearly midnight.  Also, this year,  some of the 6th floor party rooms were converted to regular guest rooms. The parties were split between the 6th and 2nd floors, making it difficult for people to drift back and forth.


Here’s a set of links to all my Wiscon 38 posts.

  • Day One: GoH Readings at “A Room of One’s Own.”
  • Day Two: Economics in video-games, The Gathering, PoC Dinner, Poverty, Transphobic feminists?
  • Day Three: Non-romantic endings, Time and Memory, Outer Alliance reading, Tiptree Auction without Klages, Telestrations game
  • Day Four: The Capitol, SFWA, readings, GoH speeches and Tiptree winner, parties.
  • Day Five: The End. ‘Hard Chargers’ reading.
  • Note on Reaching your Readers/ Selling Yourself.

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