I have a sketchy, sporadic, and awkward history with science fiction conventions. My first was in Niagara Falls, a Contradiction my dad took me to as a teenager. It’s hazy in my memory; I recall feeling a certain awestruck excitement when Nancy Kress boarded my elevator, and when I watched George R.R. Martin describe, in dispiriting, soul-crushing detail, his experiences in Hollywood to date. (I expect he’s feeling better about that nowadays!) Not much else sticks in my mind from that long-ago trip.
Since then, I’ve been to twenty-odd conventions, generally with decreasing enthusiasm, as the proximity of so much brilliance, creativity, and success threw my slow-going, disappointing career into ever sharper relief. I found conventions so deflating, in fact, that by the time I went to the Anaheim Worldcon in 2006, I’d gotten into the habit of deliberately obscuring my name badge, partially in the irrational fear that some Futurismic hopeful would punch me in the face, but mostly just to stave off the indifferent expressions of people finding out who I wasn’t. Indeed, I was on the verge of throwing in the towel on writing completely at that convention. On the penultimate night, I made a last-ditch effort to be social, a fateful decision. A slow-moving Harlan Ellison, fresh from his onstage molestation of Connie Willis, nearly frustrated my path to the Strange Horizons party where I would go on to meet my future life partner. (Thank goodness Jenn figuratively turned my name badge around—my own personal darkest timeline, averted!)
Fast forward nine years to last Wednesday. Jenn and I set off along Interstate 84 on the six-hour drive from Portland to Spokane. It was our first vacation together in years, and our first Worldcon since we met. We were determined to make the most of it. The trip out was leisurely, stopping to make detours along the way to view the beautiful waterfalls on historic Highway 30. Our expectations for the trip were modest: relax and enjoy some time away, occasionally, perhaps, in the company of a friend or two.
The road carried us from the clear beauty of western Oregon to the smoky wildfire apocalypse of eastern Washington. A pall of eerie, blood-red smoke from nearby blazes blanketed the landscape as we reached Spokane at sunset. We herky-jerked through unfamiliar streets to the Davenport Tower, which is a spiffy combination of luxury hotel and jungle-themed porno set. Jenn and I checked in and raced up to what I’d already categorized as our “introversion sanctuary.” We unpacked, threw the curtains open…and found ourselves staring at the top level of a dingy parking garage, fenders backed right up against our windows.
After a disgusted groan, we made a what-the-hell decision. I raced down to the front desk and secured the corner suite they’d unsuccessfully tried to upsell us at check-in. Five minutes and twelve stories later, we found ourselves in a massive double-sized room on the seventeenth floor. It had an expansive view, a massive jacuzzi, and a fireplace, among other indulgences, and it improved our moods immeasurably. For me, this decision kind of set the tone for the convention. What the hell? Why not? Yes, please. Sure!
I decided to embrace the vacation-y-ness of the vacation, and for whatever reason my social inhibitors evaporated. After anticipating hours of hiding in my room recovering from social overload and impostor syndrome, I spent most of the convention striding around introducing or re-introducing myself or reconnecting with the various genre folks who have come to be part of my extended online family over the last twenty years. For every awkward exchange—and there are always a few—there were at least three or four friendly, energetic conversations with smart, funny, talented, generally awesome science fiction folks. I saw Clarion buddies and Taos pals, Futurismic connections, and people I knew only as Twitter handles and Facebook feeds. I rekindled old friendships and made new ones, and for the first time ever at a con, totally forgot my social anxiety. What a liberating relief!
The wildfires kicked into another gear on Friday, turning Spokane into Mordor. By afternoon, the streets were thick and hazy with smoke, and everything smelled like a bonfire. I’ll always remember this convention as the one where you could actually see the “con crud” coming for you. But oh well, I was having too much fun to get out of its way. I’m paying for that now. I can still taste Spokane.
But it was worth it. By Saturday evening, the air had cleared enough that we were able to enjoy an outdoor dinner at a tavern near the convention center. That night, a dramatic Hugo ceremony unfolded, but rather than brave the crowds, we colonized a terrace at the hotel bar nearby and entertained ourselves with drinks and Twitter reports, a satisfyingly low-key alternative to the festivities. I won’t publicize the Hugo saboteurs further by uttering their names, but happily they left the event empty-handed, no doubt claiming an unearned victory for the forces of evil. The science fiction community did us proud that night; it was a good night to be a part of it. The post-Hugo celebrations were spirited and fun.
Exhausted and starting to feel the effects of the smoke, we finally drove away on Sunday, a fraught trip featuring a dead car battery, a nerve-wracking shortage of strategically situated gas stations, and a massive traffic jam. It felt a little like the convention didn’t want us to make it home. But we did, and I return to reality full of creative spirit and fond memories. Thanks to all the great people in Spokane who made this con such a special and memorable one. Hope to see you all again soon!