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World Fantasy Convention 2012

Last weekend, I had the honor of attending the 38th World Fantasy Convention, held in Toronto, Ontario (Canada) from November 1st-4th. It was a weekend of learning, laughs, and fangirl moments, culminating in a renewed appreciation for the fantasy genre…and plenty of thinking to do about the state of fantasy and where it’s headed in the future. If you didn’t have a chance to attend the con this year, I’m going to attempt to give a brief overview of what occurred, and possibly entice you to attend next year’s World Fantasy Convention, held in Brighton (UK).

The theme for the weekend was Northern Gothic & Urban Fantasy, with some remarkable guests of honor and special guests: Elizabeth Hand, John Clute, Charles de Lint, Tanya Huff, Patricia Briggs, Mercedes Lackey, Richard A. Kirk, Gary K. Wolfe, and Larry Dixon. In addition, the attending members list included enough recognizable names to make anyone faint with excitement, such as: Garth Nix, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Graham Joyce, Holly Black, Jo Walton, Guy Gavriel Kay, Tim Powers, S.M. Stirling, L.E. Modesitt…I could go on, but we’d be here all day!

The con began on Thursday afternoon, where attendees could pick up their 35lb bag of books—yes, that’s World Fantasy’s version of a swag bag—and presumably find someplace to stash it before the panels began.

The opening ceremony was brief but dramatic, with the guests of honor led into the room by a bagpiper. Introductions were quick, to the point, and then we were all released to head to the bar. That actually seemed to be the larger theme of the weekend, with “meet me at the bar” becoming as natural a part of conversation as “hello” and “goodbye”—and it helped that the con also provided a hospitality suite, where attendees could enjoy free food (a full Greek buffet on one day!) and of course, more drinks.

While I attended numerous panels over the four days of the convention, several of them stood out for me as providing some deeper thinking points about this genre that we love and admire. One of the most interesting panels on Friday morning (which provided fodder for additional panels throughout the rest of the weekend) was Defining Urban Fantasy. Naturally, all the panellists had a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes “urban fantasy” as a genre, and what separates it from the labels of “contemporary fantasy” or even “horror”. The panel was summed up nicely by S.M. Stirling, who commented that “urban fantasy has a flavour—you know what it is when you point at it.” In the end, no one particular definition was determined, but the discussion provided a starting point to think about what kind of interpretations and expectations writers and readers bring to the genre.

And amid the panels on the real world in fantasy fiction, changelings, and the changing nature of cover art, one stand-out panel concerned the appearance and use of diversity in YA fantasy. Panelists implored readers and writers to demand authenticity in their fantasy, supporting the inclusion of characters of color, background, and various sexual orientations who are real people and not “issue-driven”. While the use of token characters was acknowledged as a traditional cliché, Megan Crewe in particular spoke out concerning the importance of those token characters as a stepping stone to the inclusion of more diverse main characters in fantasy.

While a number of the panels diverged in their described discussion, overall I found the panel content to be highly engaging and thought-provoking. These weren’t your typical writing conference technique panels, but discussions on ideas, topics, themes, and—more often than you might think—philosophical issues that arise when working within a fantasy framework.

The several readings I attended were also enjoyable, as Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, and Garth Nix all read passages from currently unpublished work (PS: fans of the Stormlight Legacy? Sanderson read a chapter of the second book…), and attendees to Charles de Lint’s hour-long one-on-one panel were treated to a mini-concert by de Lint and his wife at the end.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Late Night Fantasy Flash reading event! Eighteen readers signed up to read their short work on Friday night, with a five-minute time limit. The vast majority of these stories were of remarkably high quality, and the audience was very receptive and appreciative. As a flash editor, I felt thrilled to know that there are some truly talented up-and-coming writers in speculative flash fantasy. There’s a minefield of talent out there!

Saturday night saw a mass signing event, where all the authors attending the con were seated at tables in the convention’s Grand Ballroom, and attendees could bring their books to get signed, have photos taken, and so forth. The place turned into a bit of a madhouse, but that’s to be expected when you have so much beloved talent packed into a room, not to mention plenty of small press authors who also sat for autographs (and often Tweeted their excitement after being asked to sign something!). I had a fun moment when Pat Rothfuss swore he’d met me before…which he hasn’t, but we may have crossed in passing at other cons in the past. Either that or I have a doppelganger running around somewhere…!

Between the Saturday night art show, the Sunday World Fantasy Awards Banquet, and the Dealer’s Room full of enthusiastic small press editors and authors, the non-panel parts of the program kept attendees busy from day one until the end. New friendships were formed, connections made, and I can honestly say I didn’t hear one negative comment about the con during the entire weekend—it ran smoothly, addressed any issues quickly (I assume, since I didn’t have any or hear of any), and even managed to deftly handle working around an unforeseen funeral and reception unexpectedly held in the middle of the convention building (many thanks to the Sheraton Parkway Toronto North Hotel for getting us around that!).

On the whole, I have to admit that the World Fantasy Convention 2012 was the best organized convention I have ever attended—with the best swag bags, hands down—and while I didn’t leave feeling a sense of elation, I left feeling mentally stimulated, encouraged, and humbled by the incredible talent I’d been surrounded by all weekend.

And now? I have about thirty new books to read, so…onward to Brighton in 2013!

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One Comment

  1. Ryan Howse says:

    I agree! It was my first real convention experience, and it was a lot of fun. It had great people and was really well-organized.

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