Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Con Report: AnomalyCon

About a year ago, Kronda Seibert, chair of AnomalyCon, invited me to an Author Spotlight, with the bonus of me getting a free flight and hotel out. This is pretty great! Of course I'll go to a con that gives me a flight out! Since it also happened during Spring Break, that was a no-brainer. The flight was reasonable, the hotel was comfortable. 

Denver also snows! 

This is a feature, not a bug. People who have spoken to me about this have found that I am one of those strange people who do not like the long California summers and I've been craving for a reason to go back to some snowy place for some time. (Most of the conventions I've been hitting up aren't really that far north, save WisCon, and that's after the snows have melted.)

Since AnomalyCon was at the end of March, it snowed! 

Kronda had slated me to give a brief spiel at Opening Ceremonies, which didn't really sink in until like a week before. Looking through my archive of messages, she definitely had asked me several months before, but apparently my brain has become a sieve. And I thought, "Oh, I'll write my thing on the train ride out to the airport!" Then it was "oh, I'll write my thing on the plane ride there!" And then it became "oh, I'll write my thing right before (even though I'm horrifically underslept), it'll be fine."

So I did.

And then I didn't get to read it because the sound guy got stuck in the snow so the Opening Ceremonies started like 45 minutes late.

It was fine. I got to hang out with friends in line and talk to random people. 

So instead I wandered the vendor floor. AnomalyCon's hotel had most of the panel rooms downstairs, with the registration and merch tables on the second floor. I think it was a really nice setup, although I imagine it must be a pain to have to pack up every night. There was also a vendor hall, of course. And what should I see first?

The local bookstore!!

They had copies of The Sea Is Ours and everything! And they made me sign things! They identified me correctly as soon as I came in since they were right by the door and I was very surprised. I don't really know what to do with fame and people recognizing me. Especially when I hadn't even met them. 

I meandered and got to meet some folks I already knew, like Richard Preston, of the Romulus Buckle books. (Full disclosure, he gave me Romulus Buckle and the City of Founders at San Diego Comic Con 2013, and I have yet to read it, because my brain is a sieve.) And Frenchy and the Punk! Sam and Scott remembered me from the last time I saw them back in 2012 which was really nice of them. And a fellow ragin' Asian: 

Taken on the last day but who cares about the chronology of such things
Kat Tanaka Okopnik and I would be on several panels over the weekend.

I would also like to note that I was confused for her about four times over the weekend.

Wandering the floor, I got to meet people I didn't know either, especially many artists of colour, because my Steampunks of Colour project still goes on even if I drop out of the scene. 

Here is Sarin Tatroe, a Thai-American artist whose artwork is inflected by manga, especially really old-school manga from the 90's. I like this sort of thing, I like going through portfolios and seeing how many old school things I can identify to get nostalgia.  Check her out on DeviantArt:

Stan Yan does zombie caricatures, among other things. There was a little board with a Pony vs. Zombie thing going on, recording how many of each were bought over the weekend. I swore I'd get a pony, because ponies. Check Stan's stuff out here:

Here are Gerry Mulowayi and Veronica Calisto. Veronica wrote Mad Black Witch, and Gerry is an illustrator and designer.

Here is Dion Harris, an artist and illustrator.

Another artist, and part of Pandora Celtica, which disbanded after a farewell concert at AnomalyCon, here is Chaz Kemp.

I did FINALLY get to check out The Cog Is Dead! And got CDs after their concert, even. I'll say more about the concert after.

Emmy Jackson, in Denver all the way from Detroit!

And Alan Brooks, who is working with Dion to create Spotless, an urban fantasy comic!

Ugh enough of all these people Jaymee, how were the panels???

Full disclosure: I was on eight of those suckers all weekend, so despite my best intentions to get out to other panels, I did not. So I could only speak to the panels I was on. 

Panels I could actually speak on: 
"Language, Dialect, and Code-Switching" -- This was a fun panel, at which I met Veronica Calisto, Steven Dunn, Vivian Caethe, and Kat Okopnik. I'm not entirely positive we were all awake. It must have been a good conversation, though.

"With All Due Respect" -- This was the panel in which Kat and I proved that Asians are not a monolith, and we have varying disagreements and tolerances for various levels of fuckshit that we are willing to put up with. I, for one, can't stand corsets on kimonos (I find this to be intensely lazy) whilc Kat would rather a corset on a kimono than a clockwork girl or a badly-tied obi. I was approached afterwards by a nice young woman who wanted something more solutions-based, like, an example of how to do multicultural fashion right, and I internally sighed and said, "is there a way I could do this without re-centering the white body? Without giving white people carte blanche to have accolades for getting it right?" 

"How To Fail Gracefully" -- I was on this with Lisa Mantchev, who had actually failed a while back. Between the two of us, I think we carried the entire hour fairly well! I for one had gotten notes off my friend the Amazing K. Tempest Bradford (who is currently running the Tempest Challenge, check it out!).

"The Future of Racism" -- This was a morning panel and I had been dancing the night before, so I was probably not on top of it as I should have been. But we did end the panel with suitably angry notes and a firm pessimism that yes, of course racism is going to exist in the future, fuck everything. 

Panels I can see why I was Stuck On But Uh:
"Queer Identities After the Apocalypse" -- This was a fun little panel that had some very optimistic on one side of me, and some very pessimistic on the other side of me, which started to show some twenty minutes into the panel. I offered to moderate since I didn't really have much to say, and it worked out terribly well. 

"Colonialism in Fairytales" -- I don't actually know that much about fairytales, to be quite honest, but I did do some reading on the Aarne-Thompson-Uther Fairytale Index. My co-panellists, however, I think really brought the panel to life, and the audience had some good questions, except for that one guy up front who was clearly up front so he could ignore the rest of the room and interject without raising his hand. I had been having some really polite and easily informal conversations the rest of the time so I wasn't quite prepared for it. But I shut him down anyway, because that is what you do with mouthy white men.

Panels That Made Me Go "But Why?"
"Science Fiction and the Future of Childbirth" -- Y'all, I'm childless and not even in the medical field, and I just don't know. Among the panelists were: two moms with vastly differing childbirth experiences, one nurse, and one new dad. And so, I offered to moderate and prevent the panel from degenerating into childbirth stories (this is a topic that people get real passionate about) so we had some interesting experiences. By and large, I think we mostly wanted to see more writing about childbirth in the first place. 

"We Have Always Fought: Women Warriors In History" -- So I'm not a historian and I was stuck on this panel with a writer and someone who I'm not sure is a historian but he definitely knew a lot of things and sure liked to talk. He was also pretty okay with being shut down because there were specific questions about things like representation and why don't we ever hear about these women and other things like that, which he was responding with "here's another cool woman in history!" And I was not about to let this become a one-man show of encyclopedic knowledge (why it was even set up as a panel, I shall never know), so I shut that down before he could finish his sentence because, like I said, this is what you do with mouthy white men. Not to say I didn't appreciate his knowledge; I did, but audience questions must be answered. 

Panel I Was Not Actually At:
"Cleavage Contest" -- Soooooo over the course of the weekend I had no less than four totally different dudes say to me, "hey, thanks for what you said the other night." This was especially confusing on Saturday, because I was not in any shape to be on any goddamn night panels on the Friday. In response, I would blink, and ask, "what was it I said?" And they would say something that I purportedly said on this panel, and I'd sigh and say "you're thinking of Kat." 

What was kind of terrible was that this tended to happen like, the second (or over) time I met these people. I suppose Kat and I have similar mannerisms and we do share the same kind of hardass attitudes, and this is not a new thing to either of us, but come on. 

The Swag:
Here are some cool things I got!

I mentioned Stan Yan's Zombies vs. Ponies thing, right? Well, when I got there Saturday night, there was NOTHING for the Ponies! Horror! So I bought a pony caricature of myself on the spot:

Pay me, I'm cute.
Kronda had also asked me to participate in the AnomalyCards as an author, so I provided a flash fiction set in a steampunk-inflected fantasy 'verse I'm developing, and Sarin Tatroe did the art:

These books are from Stant Litore's table. He's been working on a Zombie Bible series for a while now, which also have some of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen! Stant recognized me from somewhere else, I suppose, and was very gracious to me. Which was nice since he was one of the people who confused me and Kat =)

Jane Irwin and husband Paul Sizer had a table, and I haven't seen Jane in years! Her Vogelein comics are really adorable, so it was exciting to see her come out with a new book, the Clockwork Game, a historical comic of the legenday chess-playing automaton. I also got a copy of The Little White Mouse from Paul, which features a Malaysian-Chinese protagonist in the far future.

I can't wait to dig into these!

I also bought a deck of playing cards from co-panelist Dylan Edwards, featuring queer pin-up art! His comics sound really awesome too; I highly recommend folks check them out.

The Dancing:

Folks, when I go to a thing which implies there might be dancing, I will go dancing. On Friday, after much dithering, I decided that yes, I will indeed go check out the "Dark Grand Ball" which, as it turns out, was neither Dark nor really, honestly, that Grand, not because the con wasn't trying, but because there were so few people dancing, and most of them were dancing in pairs. I did get on the floor a couple of times, once even upon invitation, which was quite super. There may have been a Time Warp, and a caterwauling chorus of Bohemian Rhapsody. 

But let's talk a bit more about this lack of dancing!!!! Because I went to the Grand Concert on the Saturday night, which opened with Pandora Celtica (which I missed) and The Cog Is Dead and I saw that chairs!!! were on!!!! the dance floor!!!!! I was very concerned about this!! I ran into Kronda outside the concert hall and in possibly-overexcited tones said, "Kronda! This is terrible! Why are there chairs on the dance floor!! Why is no one dancing??"

And Kronda replied with a tragic expression, "I don't know! The attendees put the chairs there themselves! They wanna sit really close and listen!"

There were people sitting right up front who were literally bouncing in their chairs and this made zero sense to me. 

"Kronda!!! You've got to get the chairs off the dance floor!! For Frenchy and the Punk!!!" and I'm sure I wasn't the only one to express this concern that night. (I'm just the excitable version of the request.)

In the meantime, off to the side where there was some space, I danced with Aubri, Kronda's elder child, as one should do at a concert. 

The chairs were cleared in between sets, and a marvelous dancing time was had during Frenchy and the Park. This began with a can-can line, and at some point included that thing where you hook your arms with someone else and then go around in a small circle before switching partners and I don't really know how that works equitably at all. Dancing was had! That's all that needs to be said! 

Other Backgroundly Impressive Things:

Aside from attracting a fairly queer crowd, there were gender-neutral bathrooms on the second floor of the convention hotel. I did mosey into one at some point, and rather liked the experience. Kronda had made clear that she wanted to make the con as safe as possible for queer folks, and I think the convention as a whole worked together to make sure this was the case. 

Also, give it up to the hotel restaurant for having some really fucking amazing food. The braised lamb, bacon mac-and-cheese were pretty amazing, and I went back specifically for dessert at some point. I had some really good conversations over these meals, too. 

And now, some assorted pictures:

The fine captain of the good ship AnomalyCon

This belledame is con chair of Motor Steam City!

Adorable little knitted be-tentacled companions

Some attendees of color whose name I might have asked for but do not remember:

It was for some reason difficult to get them at the same time throughout the weekend, and I was beginning to think Dion was pulling my leg; there is no Alan Brooks, or he's secretly Alan Brooks (and I'm sure I did confuse him for Alan Brooks at some point because Dion had told me, "Alan's gonna be here tomorrow!" so I was really weirded out by the possibility of calling Alan Dion when Dion was supposed to be not at the table??) but in the end I did get them together at the same time. 

OK, so let me finish off by giving you what I was originally going to say at Opening Ceremonies, in case you wanted to know:

I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are on the lands of the Ute tribe, and that I, having never been here before, say to the rest of you, welcome back to AnomalyCon. 
Kronda asked me to say a few things about what I do, which is a difficult question! Like many of you, I do many things. I am the People of Color Safer Space Liaison of WisCon in Madison, WI; I write science fiction and fantasy, and also edit the stuff. My last edited anthology, The Sea Is Ours: Tales of Steampunk Southeast Asia, came out in November; a few of you may have bought it. I am also on the bid committee to host the North American Science Fiction Con of 2017 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. If you are voting in WorldCon this year, and if you also have always wanted to go to Puerto Rico, kindly do not overlook site selection, and vote for us. I am a member of the Carl Brandon Society, an organization dedicated to racial diversity in speculative fiction. I am a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, and my dissertation is on steampunk iconography, its affects, and its entrenchment of white supremacy.  
I am probably here because of my blog, Silver Goggles, where I write about steampunk from a postcolonial perspective. The term “postcolonial” refers to many, wavering things: it is a “time period”, that is, the time period after the decolonization post-World War II. But a closer glance at the state of politics and economics of many of these formerly-colonized regions shows that that’s not true; so postcolonialism is also about neocolonialism. In order to understand what nation-states and their peoples are going through, we look at the history of colonialism; so postcolonialism also looks at colonialism. Postcolonialism examines the psychology, the traumas, and the scars left behind by the last wave of empire-building, the consequences made all the more stark because of the industrial revolutions and large-scale migrations. Postcolonialism thinks about who we are, past the veneer of having put history behind us, because history is not made of discrete narratives, separable into categories and centuries. It is instead porous, and the crimes of the past often reverberate in the oppressions of the present. 
Like postcolonialism, steampunk is also porous, although it is more purposeful. It is by its postmodern nature consumptive, appropriative, insistent on the breakdown of neat categories and genre, so it can snatch, like a magpie, shiny things from the past to make our present looks gorgeous. We are going to have many conversations about steampunk in the next few days. But let me propose to you a definition of steampunk beyond the obvious qualifications of genre, trend, fashion, what-have-you: that steampunk is a conversation of the present with history. It makes people nervous to look at steampunk and what we pull from history into it, because for most of us, the only history easily and readily available to us is a dominant narrative of linear progress, technologically, ideologically, from the last great period of colonialism that encompassed the world, and put into place many systems of oppression still in existence today. We’d like the shiny; we’d like to not be reminded from when it came from, not just because it reminds us of empires past, but also because it perforce must remind us of genocide and imperialism today when we’d like to think them gone. Yet by its very presence, of its when-ness in the now, that history demands to be spoken to, to be in conversation with. Very uncomfortable conversation, about imperialism, oppression, white supremacy, colonialism, their shapes and sounds, their echoes today, and into the future. 
May you have such safe spaces this weekend in your pocket fairyland for such conversations. I look forward to speaking with you and yours. 
Hope to see you next year, AnomalyCon!

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