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Worldcon 2015 - Sasquan - August 19-23, 2015 - Spokane, WA by Report by Judy Newton and Barry Newton
Date: 01 September 2015

Links: Sasquan Website /

Sasquan Con Report: Spokane, Smokane and Blowing Smoke

The Weather:

When we arrived in Spokane on Tuesday afternoon, the air was clear. By Friday evening, however, the sun had turned red and the smell of wood smoke was pervasive. The haze made your eyes smart and throat burn. It only lasted a day, but was enough to earn the nickname "Smokane".

Warnings that it was not healthy to breathe were posted on the doors of the Spokane Convention Center (SCC) at the exit for the INB Performing Arts Center, the venue for the Masquerade and Hugo Award Ceremony. They were correct.

It was bad enough to persuade us to forego the bid parties on Saturday, but had an unexpected silver lining: instead of escaping the Masquerade at the end of the presentations to get a start on the parties, as we usually do, we stayed to hear Tom Smith (the filk guest of honor) perform. And were we ever glad we did!

The Surprises:
Not being big filk fans, we had no idea how good Tom is - and this was his only musical performance of the Con. It was one of the highlights of the weekend, and combined with the 35-entry Masquerade itself, a good night's entertainment.

Besides, we had made the hike to the party hotel twice already. It was not entirely clear from the advance publicity, but the Historic Davenport (no, not the Davenport Grand nor the Davenport Tower), was a good eight-block hike from the SCC and the Doubletree, where we were staying. The shuttles helped to get back, and after only a short wait around midnight - we're not as young as we used to be.

The Surroundings:
When the air was clear, which fortunately it was for two outside events, Spokane around the SCC was a lovely place to be. First Night was held in the adjacent park. Over the wooden bridge across the river and up the hill to the meadow, we found tables of fanac and playing fields occupied by the SCA and an array of games. And free Ben and Jerry's ice cream courtesy of MCFI, in honor of Leslie Turek (Fan GoH), "Who Ran the First First Night." May there be many more!

DC in 2017 put on a last-minute push for votes (alas, in vain - Helsinki won) with a cookout on Thursday, in addition to their nightly bid parties. The hamburgers were sizzling and the drinks were cold. Wonder Woman greeted potential voters at the gate.

And just let me say how great it was for the city of Spokane to make us feel truly welcome. Not only did they have a staffed table for the city at the con information area with a big bin full of Aplets and Cotlets (a local candy to which I am now addicted), but all the service folks in the hotels, park, restaurants and stores around the SCC were wearing little "Welcome Sasquan" ribbons. I heard that we were the biggest convention Spokane has ever hosted. As one fan said, "London never even noticed we were there."

The Food:
I attended a panel on Spokane food as a complement to the nicely done Sasquan Restaurant Guide (thank you, Cherise Kelley), picking up many tips which (un)fortunately had to go unexplored, due to the generous offerings provided in the con suite. After a dismal breakfast of stale, overpriced muffin and ditto coffee at the kiosk opposite con registration, we decided to explore breakfast on the fifteenth floor of (serendipity!) our hotel. What a delightful surprise!

I guess it must have been the effect of all those supporting memberships that allowed the con to provide smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese (among many other goodies, but that will always be my first choice) every morning. Kudos to Joel Phillips and the entire con suite staff!

We did manage dinner out: notably at the highly-recommended Mizuna (delicious sablefish entree but a bit pretentious) and the divey Hills (I hit the right tone with an elk burger and Cock 'n Bull Ginger Beer).

The Big Room:
I haven't bought art from the art show in years. I took a quick tour to ascertain that there was nothing I couldn't live without in this one. Affirmative.

The dealers' room seemed to have fewer booksellers than ever and more stuff: costume pieces, games, jewelers.... Balancing this was a pretty good independent bookstore, Auntie's, a block from the SCC. More on it later.

Exhibits, Guinan's Place (a cafe/bistro with continuous entertainment, of varying quality), Fanzine Lounge, Fanac Tables: Lots of fun and activity happening here. A great gathering place, and a place to meet old or new friends or just hang out in your (scarce) down time. What the con suite used to be before Worldcons got so big. And as part of the science program, the Stonerose Fossil Site had an exhibit. They were giving out rocks embedded with Eocene fossil leaves! How cool is that? I wished we had time to visit the site.

The Program:

Other actual program items I attended: Connie Willis' reading (entertaining as always, with great questions afterwards); Medieval Science and Engineering; Reading Rare Books, at which very old but damaged (and therefore not very valuable) books were passed around to the audience for Actual Handling!; a lecture on the geology of Washington State (where I learned two new terms: hill eyebrows and Mima mounds, aka pimple plains); The Future of Food (in which Scott Edelman kindly supplied lunch for the panelists because it was scheduled at noon, and offered to distribute extra macaroons to the best questioners); the Sassafrass:Trickster and King concert; and Laura J. Mixon's reading.

Which brings us to

The Hugos:
Here's the bottom line from Sasquan: although there was some discussion and tension around the Hugos during the con, there was nothing like the animosity that could be found online. The contrast between the Internet and the "real world" was never clearer, and those who expected some sort of disruption at the Hugos or during the con were disappointed.

When it became clear that "No Award" would be the answer of greater fandom to the attempted domination of certain categories by the faction known as the (Sad and Rabid) Puppies, a few people got up and left the hall. (Turns out, they were blowing smoke.) Otherwise, the ceremony proceeded with alacrity. Accolades to the Master of Ceremonies, David Gerrold, who handled the situation with as much grace as humanly possible.

I volunteered to help out at the post-Hugo Loser's Party. It was held at Auntie's Bookshop, which thoughtfully provided staff to handle any book purchases the attendees might need, in between the schmoozing, nibbling and drinking. There were a few Hugos in attendance, despite the "No Awards".

Ann Marie Rudolph did a great job organizing it and making sure everyone had a good time. The main attraction was barbeque, not from St. Louis (Midamericon, the 74th Worldcon, was the party's sponsor, as is the current tradition), but a reasonable facsimile. It thinned out around midnight.

On Sunday, Connie Willis and David Gerrold held forth while George R.R. Martin sat, rather quietly for him, and Vonda McIntyre hardly got a word in edgewise, on a panel billed as Colleagues as Family. Larry Niven dozed in the first row. In the wake of the Hugos, the discussion inevitably turned to the SF community and how so many other professions never developed the sense of collegiality that SF writers have.

I suspected I knew why George was so reticent. He had thrown his own Losers Party the night before, competing with the "official" one. He even gave out "Alfies". Now, I find this ironic. He was the originator of the Loser's Party way back when the "official" Con-run party was restricted to winners. After a few years, everyone acknowledged that the Loser's Party was a lot more fun than the Winner's. It became institutionalized as the Post-Hugo Party (even though everyone still called it the Loser's Party), sponsored by the next-year's Worldcon Committee - so it was a sort of non-official official party.

Now, the circle has been completed and George threw a party in competition to the one Ann and others worked so hard to make a success. When she called it "The Lamest Hugo Loser's Party", I thought it was because so few Hugos would be awarded. At least it wasn't populated solely by puppies - in fact, I didn't see any of them there - but many folks decamped for George's party, which by the account I read, was a whole lot of fun.

The Hugo nomination process is broken. When so few nomination votes can succeed in dominating the ballot, it needs fixing. Proposals have been made to do that. I hope that positive energy can be brought to bear to make it better without ruining the inclusive atmosphere of which the SF community is justly proud.

And that concludes my con report. We live in interesting times.

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