I attended my first science fiction convention in 2000 or so. EerieCon in Niagra Falls, New York. A decade-and-a-half later, I’ve become a regular at some conventions, such as GenCon, but others I don’t regularly attend. The big, more corporately-driven conventions like GenCon, Comic-Con, and DragonCon, are very popular, but it’s the smaller literary conventions where the real die hard fans like to gather. As much as I love many of the media representations of science fiction and fantasy, I fell in love with the genre through books.
Last weekend, I made the drive from my central Indiana home up to Dearborn, Michigan, for ConFusion. I lived in Detroit for 4 years and attended ConFusion several times during that period, but moved away over a decade ago and have only been there a couple of times since. Twice I was fully prepared to go, but mid-January weather caused last minutes changes in my plans.
This year, the weather cooperated. The drive took about 4 hours, and I wasn’t alone. This time it was a family trip, with my wife and two sons (9 and 5 years old) along for the adventure. We typically devote a day as a family to GenCon, but I’ve avoided bringing my kids to the more literary conventions. ConFusion has historically had a pretty solid kid’s track, KidFusion, including a Saturday night pizza/pajama party. It’s definitely one of the more kid-friendly conventions, so we decided to give it a try as a family this year.
Weather allowing, ConFusion is a great convention for those in the Midwest to attend, both for those who love to read and those who love to write. It draws a lot of fantastic authors, including a regular stream of top names in the field, authors that regularly appear on award nomination (and winner) lists.
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Last month, I attended the World Fantasy Convention in Washington D.C. (my first trip to the city) and had a marvelous time. I attended readings by over a dozen writers, sat in on terrific panels, and reconnected with close friends I haven’t seen in far too long.
But I probably spent the most time in the Dealers Room, where publishers and collectors laid out their wares on closely packed tables. We talk about a lot of new books here at Black Gate, and I’m proud of our coverage of the industry, but let me tell you — there’s nothing like wandering past stacks of newly-published fantasy titles from dozens of publishers to make you realize how woefully you’ve underrepresented the cavalcade of new books that have arrived in just the last few months.
I vowed that when I returned to our rooftop headquarters here in Chicago, I’d showcase those publishers that most impressed me — and not just with a book or two, but by trying to show you what it was like to stand in front of their tables in that room, with the full range of their current books on display. I’ve done that once already, with Valancourt Books; today I’d like to focus on one of the most innovative small press publishers in the field, the brilliant ChiZine Publications.
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One of the many delights of the World Fantasy Convention, as I reported last week, is meeting the small publishers doing marvelous work in the industry. Seeing their catalogs of books spread out before you on a table in the Dealers Room can be quite a revelation. That was certainly the case with Valancourt Books.
As they proclaim proudly on their website, Valancourt Books is an independent small press specializing in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction. They have five major lines: Gothic, Romantic, & Victorian; Literary Fiction; Horror & Supernatural; Gay Interest; and E-Classics. For World Fantasy, they crammed their table with titles from their Horror & Supernatural line. And I do mean crammed: their small table was piled high with dozens of beautifully designed trade paperbacks reprinting long-out-of-print horror paperbacks, chiefly from the 70s and 80s.
All it took was one glance to see that Valancourt Books has two significant strengths. First, their editorial team has excellent taste. They have reprinted work by Stephen Gregory, R. Chetwynd-Hayes, Hugh Walpole, Charles Birkin, Jack Cady, Basil Copper, Russell Thorndike, John Blackburn, Michael McDowell, Bram Stoker, and many, many others. And second, their design team is absolutely top-notch. Their books are gorgeous, with beautiful cover art and striking visual design. I’ve selected eight to highlight in this article, just to give you a taste of what they have to offer, and replicate (in a small way) what it was like to stand in front of their table gazing appreciatively at their assembled treasures.
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There are a lot of books vying for your attention at the World Fantasy Convention. Publishers put free books in your convention bag, publicists place colorful flyers on the giveaway table, and hopeful authors hand out bookmarks and cards by the dozens. I always leave the con with my head brimming with promising new books, authors, and publishers.
Of course, I forget most of them within a day or two. Well, maybe it’s for the best. I couldn’t possibly read them all anyway.
It’s the ones that linger in my mind a couple weeks after the con that truly deserve my attention. Sort of a Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest contest, taking place in the dusty corners of my brain. Good to know those brain cells are doing something, I suppose.
It’s been over two weeks since the 2014 World Fantasy Convention now, and I’m already having trouble remembering what city it was in. (Some brains are more skilled at forgetting than others. My brain is an expert.) But a handful of books I glimpsed at the con have managed to stay with me, and a surprising number of them are from the brand new publisher, Saga Press. In fact, I’d venture to say that Saga had perhaps the most impressive slate of upcoming titles I saw at the con — and that’s saying something.
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Sofia Samatar with the World Fantasy Award. Photo by Nathan Ballingrud
As I was pleased to report last week, Sofia Samatar won the 2014 World Fantasy Award for her acclaimed first novel A Stranger in Olondria. And as I also mentioned, Sofia addressed “the elephant in the room” in her remarks to the audience, saying a few words about the fact that she was being honored with a bust of Lovecraft, a man who expressed profoundly racist views in his fiction and poetry. Nonetheless, she was articulate and extremely gracious, and accepted the award with humility and gratitude.
In the days since, she has expanded slightly on her remarks, saying on her blog:
I said it was awkward to accept the award as a writer of color. (See this post by Nnedi Okorafor, the 2011 winner, if you are confused about why.) I also thanked the board for taking the issue seriously…
I am not telling anybody not to read Lovecraft. I teach Lovecraft! I actually insist that people read him and write about him! For grades! This is not about reading an author but about using that person’s image to represent an international award honoring the work of the imagination.
While the issue of replacing Lovecraft’s image on the award continues to be hotly debated, I was pleased to see that Sofia’s remarks in large part have not been. She is a class act, and if there’s anyone who can gently nudge the calcified old guard of fantasy into accepting that the field’s highest honor remains (at best) a dubious honor for people of color as long as it bears Lovecraft’s image, it’s Sofia Samatar. In the meantime, she reminds us that, if she can maintain a sense of humor in all this, so can the rest of us. On her Facebook page she posted the image at right, captured moments after accepting the award (snapped at her table by fellow Small Beer author Nathan Ballingrud), along with this comment:
And also, to be real, we’re practically identical. Race is a construct! TWINSIES!
This is how you win arguments. By being simultaneously more articulate and dignified — and funnier — than everyone else in the room. I know who gets my vote to replace Lovecraft’s visage on the statue. Perhaps they won’t even have to modify it all that much. But trust me, when they’re done, it’ll be a lot more beautiful.
I was able to attend the World Fantasy Convention this year, for the first time since 2011, and I really had a terrific time. It was fabulous to attend all the panels, readings, parties, and events — and especially to re-connect with so many old friends, and make so many new ones. Years ago, Mark Kelly at Locus Online called World Fantasy “a reunion,” and I think that’s really the best description.
The highlight of the convention is the Sunday banquet, where the World Fantasy Awards were presented. The toastmaster for the event was the delightful Mary Robinette Kowal, who gave a highly entertaining speech about rejection, and the awards themselves were presented by Gordon van Gelder and David Hartwell. I sat at Table 25 with my new friends Amanda C. Davis and Matt O’Dowd, where we had a great view of the proceedings.
The World Fantasy Award itself is a cartoonish bust of H.P. Lovecraft sculpted by the brilliant Gahan Wilson (seen at left). It’s an extremely distinct award that honors the contributions of perhaps the finest American horror writer of the 20th Century. But using Lovecraft as the poster child for the awards has also caused some recent controversy (that surfaced twice during the proceedings.) I’ll get to that in a minute.
But first, the Awards themselves. This year’s winners of the World Fantasy Awards are:
- A Stranger in Olondria, Sofia Samatar (Small Beer)
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This will be our final post about the World Fantasy Convention in 2014. Tomorrow, we will be leaving early to drive back to Indianapolis.
Today, I slept in a bit more and didn’t join the convention activities until 11. I attended readings by Joe Haldeman, Kelly Link, Mary Robinette Kowal (my close friend), and Lee Martindale.
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Friday was the first day when I felt like I had enough sleep to actually function properly. So I decided to stay up until the wee hours of the morning.
The day began with panels: Language and Linguistics in Fantasy, Everybody Was There, and Guns, Gears, and Wheels: Medieval Technology in Fantasy (photo below).
Pictured above: Michelle Markey Butler, Scott H. Andrews, and Elaine Isaak
Another panel was Beyond Rebellion in Young Adult Fantasy.
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Although there were some pre-convention workshops to start the day, the panel discussions didn’t begin until 2. So Bess and I decided to do some sight-seeing. We took the Old Town Trolley tour from our hotel, which allowed us to ride between multiple locations at our leisure.
Who’s this handsome devil? Just kidding. I know it’s me.
Our first stop was the Lincoln Memorial, which is also near the Vietnam War Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. It seems cliché to use the word surreal, but seeing these monuments just makes me feel like I’m not living in reality or it’s the realization that I am living in a reality I wasn’t fully aware of.
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I’m usually posting retro reviews of Galaxy, but for the moment, I’m on assignment covering the World Fantasy Convention in Washington. Okay, technically the hotel is located in Virginia, but we are only minutes away from the White House, Pentagon, and U.S. Capitol building, among other sites.
My wife, Bess, accompanied me on this trip, which is my fourth WFC. For her, this is a brand new experience. I’ll add her brief comments after mine to provide a full range of coverage, both from the perspective of someone highly involved in the speculative community and someone who supports someone highly involved in the speculative community.
We elected to drive from Indianapolis, which provided amazing views of the changing foliage within the forested hills and mountains of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Maryland. It was truly outstanding.
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