Aqueduct Press (2010)
Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts
I was delighted to discover the existence of The Wiscon Chronicles a year or so ago, volumes which are intended to capture something of the vibe, spirit and content of the last several WisCons through selected articles, panel reports, interviews, blog entries and ephemera. I adored picking over the first three volumes and was beyond excited to see that my review of them had rated a blurb quote on the back of Volume 4.
Notably this quote:
What I admire most about these Wiscon Chronicles is not just the collection of intelligent thought, and the best example of documenting the convention experience I have ever seen, but the acknowledgement of the bad parts as well as the good – the exposure of privilege, of negative as well as positive reactions to the discussions, and the willingness to shine a bright torch on all the grey areas, for the purpose of greater and more constructive conversation.
Which I still think holds true.
Another excitement was to see that this year’s editor of the TWC is Australia’s own Sylvia Kelso, whom I met for the first time recently. Sylvia herself talks in her introduction about the daunting challenge of trying to capture a convention she herself doesn’t get to every year (being Australian) and indeed an event that no two people experience similarly. The clever thing about these books is that instead of trying to represent the convention by being as generic as possible, they instead try to share the deeply specific and personal, from a wide variety of people.
My only complaint about this volume is that while WisCon 33 (2009) is clearly marked out as the convention this book is commemorating, there was little to ground the reader in the basic information about that convention at the beginning, or indeed as the book continued. At the very least I would have liked to have known going into it whom the Guests of Honor where for this particular convention, something that is never entirely clear. (it was apparently Ellen Klages and Geoff Ryman, neither of whom are featured in this volume) This omission I am left feeling like the book is purely for the in crowd – like I should KNOW who those guests were, despite the event being a year and a half ago, and me being one of those people who can only live vicariously through WisCons by, you know, buying books about it!
As usual, we have a grab bag of interesting and at times emotionally affecting content. I very much enjoyed the focus on Tiptree Award winner Nisi Shawl and her experience at the con, as well as the experience of her mother who came along to share the event and contributes a letter about what it was like for her. I also enjoyed Nisi’s “Glossiphilia” article which recorded a workshop on defining terms relevant to Cultural Appropriation, and included a record of many follow up suggestions and emails that came in after the convention. The mixture of “event record” and after-the-fact discussion is one of the great strengths of these books.
“Up Off Our Couches: Mental Illness Activism and Speculative Fiction” by JoSelle Vanderhooft was an extraordinary essay about the portrayal of mental illness in pop culture, and the perceptions of mental illness in everyday community, and how these two things intersect. This is a topic very dear to my heart and the article was crunchy and thought-provoking.
With “Haiku Earring Party” Elise Matthesen describes how this now-traditional WisCon party (in which attendees write poems in exchange for handmade pairs of earrings) got started, and shares some of the special moments she has experienced over the years. I found this story really sweet and inspirational, and I think it shows very much how WisCon differs from other conventions.
“Romance of the Robot” by Andrea Hairston was a great analysis of Wall E (and some other examples of robotic romance) and I will now not be able to look at that movie without interpreting Wall E and Eve as lesbians!
I think my favourite parts of the WisCon Chronicles are the panel reports and the one on “Transgressive Women Warriors” was particularly interesting, presented by Valerie Guyant and Kate Fruend, and followed up by an essay by Nancy Jane Moore in later response to said panel. I also enjoyed the Panel Notes on the topic of Male Answer Syndrome and the discussion that ensued, and the write ups of the “Something is Wrong on the Internet” and “Getting it Wrong Gracefully” panels.
The highlight of the book for me was “We See What You Did There,” a group chat among various POC about their various experiences at the convention, and discussing their relationship with WisCon as a continuing event. This, combined with several standalone “My WisCon” con reports by different participants, definitely gives the impression that the book has achieved wide coverage as far as who and what WisCon is all about. (cough, apart from the Guests of Honour for that year)