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Worldcon 2015: A Con of Smoke and Fire

Indiana from the Chicago FYA Book Club recaps this year's Worldcon!

Worldcon 2015: A Con of Smoke and Fire

Image credit: Off World Designs

Please join us in welcoming Indiana to the Smarty Pants stage! Indiana hails from Chicago (and the Chicago FYA Book Club!), and she's here today to tell us all about her time at this year's Worldcon. Take it away, Indiana! 

A few weeks ago, I attended Worldcon, the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society, held this year in Spokane, WA. Over the course of 5 days, there were lots of panels to attend, authors to meet, and awards to give out (the Hugo Awards, for the previous year’s best science fiction or fantasy works). With so much to choose from (the program this year was 135 pages long) it was a full time job to sit down and plot my schedule!

I arrived in Spokane late Wednesday afternoon after road tripping to visit places such as Forks (we did not see any vampires but it was very sunny the entire time we were there) and North Bend (home of famous “Twin Peaks” cherry pie). As we drove further east, the air got smokier and smokier due to the horrible wildfires that were raging around the state. We were told Spokane wasn’t in any danger, but by the end of the week, the smoke was so thick that the air was deemed “hazardous” and the smell of burning wood was everywhere. As a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, I deemed this Worldcon, A Con of Smoke and Fire.

There has been a dedicated track of YA programming at Worldcon for the past few years now, which is what I focused on this year. I had a chance to hear from and meet a few favorites. I am a big fan of Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge, and I was thrilled when I found out that Hodge would be at Worldcon. At long last my beloved copy of Cruel Beauty is signed and it was great to meet Hodge in person! She wasn’t participating in any panels but is a regular attendee of Worldcon and she was very much looking forward to fangirling author Connie Willis.

I also got a chance to say hello to Marissa Meyer during her autographing session. This was her first Worldcon but Meyer is a longtime fan of fantasy novels. Her gateway book as a child was The Hobbit. She remembered hiding out in a tent during a family camping trip so she could read it.

I attended two readings by YA authors. Kate Elliott read from a forthcoming novel, Black Wolves, and she also discussed her recently released first YA novel, Court of Fives, which has been described as “Little Women meets Game of Thrones”. Kendare Blake read one of her Goddess War short stories “When Gods and Vampires Roamed Miami”. This was one of the few YA programs I attended where there were actual teens in the audience – some who had hoped to cosplay Anna but didn’t finish their costumes in time, much to all our disappointment!

I got to hang out with Blake after her reading, which was awesome! As a fan herself, she was most looking forward to seeing George R.R. Martin. Blake also told me about her movie deal with Stephenie Meyer’s production company for the adaptation of Anna Dressed in Blood. We also discussed FYA! She is familiar with us and enjoys reading the site.

For all its YA programming, the majority of Worldcon attendees skew older. In the "Building a Better Tomorrow" panel, the moderator asked if anyone in the room was under 20. No one raised their hands. Many of the attendees as well as the panelists seemed surprised by this. “Where are all the teens?” one older man asked at another YA panel. “This is Worldcon” was the response from others in the room.

"Building a Better Tomorrow" panel with Troy Bucher, Dan Wells, Laura Anne Gilman, and Fonda Lee

Perhaps part of the problem in getting teens to attend is that most of the panels I attended seemed geared towards YA writers, instead of talking about the books as part of a broader community of readers and authors. Many panelists also brought up the fact that adults have surpassed teens as readers of YA novels, and the most successful panels I attended ignored the reader’s age and just talked about YA and its trends and tropes in general.

WHEN WE WERE YOUNG

A couple of panels discussed gateway books to get younger readers interested in reading science fiction and fantasy novels, such as Harry Potter, Twilight, The Mortal Instruments, and The Hunger Games. Scott Lynch commented that video games can lead to literature as easily as anything else. Kevin J. Anderson expanded upon this and talked about the increased interaction between media. A Star Wars movie can lead to a young person reading Star Wars novels, playing Star Wars video games, and watching Star Wars TV shows. Anderson stated that, as authors, “we are world creators now, not just world builders.” Marissa Meyer talked about the importance of fan fiction (she wrote Sailor Moon fanfic as a teen!) and how she thinks this gets more teens reading. Fanfiction allows teens to connect and build communities online, and the interaction it facilitates often leads to its participants branching out and reading other stories.

Alma Alexander, Kevin J. Anderson, Marissa Meyer, Scott Lynch, and Steven Barnes

31 FLAVORS OF FANTASY DEVOURED BY KIDS AND TEENS

There was some discussion on upcoming trends in YA. Brandon Sanderson commented that, with the new Star Wars movie along with the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel and the Expanse TV show, space opera might take off as a new trend, with Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series brought up as an example of one that is currently popular in YA.

Cassandra Rose Clarke, Esther Jones, Alma Alexander, and Brandon Sanderson

BUILDING A BETTER TOMORROW

There was some debate on whether or not dystopian novels were still in or heading out. Why are they so popular? “Because we live in one” was Dan Wells’ response. “We live in District 1 instead of District 12.” Fonda Lee thinks dystopian novels always reflect the current fear of our generation; we are now seeing eco-dystopia about climate change, instead of the nuclear bomb fears of the 1970s which were popular in novels such as Z is for Zachariah. Troy Bucher mentioned how, in the past, it was the government that kept things stable in dystopian novels but now they are often controlling and the enemy.

DIVERSITY WITHIN YA & MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

Wesley Chu talked about the challenges in trying to write diverse stories. Many writers are afraid to write “the other” because they are worried about receiving criticism when they attempt to do so and are told they are doing it wrong. A friend of Fonda Lee’s, who is a Filipino-American, wrote a middle grade book about a Filipino-American and got criticized by other Filipino-Americans who did not think the book represented their experiences. (“That can have a chilling effect on a writer.”)

Lee stated that the diversity movement in literature is being led by librarians and teachers who serve a diverse community and need books that speak to their students or open a window to the community. As a writer and teacher in Texas, it was important for Cassandra Rose Clarke to write a book where the characters weren’t white, as there have been times when she has had no white students in her classroom. But she had a lot of anxiety writing and was worried about hurting people. In writing she tried to be careful to not just pull things that seemed “cool” from other cultures and tried to make sure they made sense to the story.

Cassandra Rose Clarke, Fonda Lee, Kate Elliott, and Wesley Chu

FRESH YOUNG BRAINS

This was one of the best panels I attended. It focused on the popularity of zombies with teens, not only in YA novels but in other parts of pop culture as well (iZombie, World War Z). Kendare Blake stated she didn’t like zombies and is actually afraid of them! “Zombies cheat,” she remarked. “You hack away at them and cut them into pieces and they can still win if you get a piece of their brain in your eye.”

Julie McGalliard speculated that zombies are popular because they are fresh and relatively new monsters that have mainly been defined by movies. Monsters like vampires and werewolves have historical roots in literature. Zombies are this generation’s monster. As for why zombies are so popular with teens, Susan Forest attributed it to the fact that “zombies are the loss of identity and so much about YA is about finding identity.” 

Susan Forest, Steven Barnes, Julie McGalliard, and Kendare Blake

HUGO AWARDS

Much has been written this year about the Hugo Awards and the controversy with the Sad Puppies. If you have no idea what I am talking about… be thankful. While YA novels are already eligible for the Hugo’s and have in fact won a few in the past, most readers of YA do not consider the awards or the YA books that have won to be representative of YA. The suggestion to add a YA award has been going on for many years now but has gained traction in recent years, with the possibility of creating a special non-Hugo YA award currently being explored.

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Next year, Worldcon will be in Kansas City, MO. The Kansas City team is full of awesome people and I know they will have some strong YA programming next year. I will be there for sure and I hope to see some of you YAngelists there as well!

Thanks so much for stopping by, Indiana! You can find the Chicago FYA Book Club on Goodreads, or just show up at their next meeting!

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