I recently launched a Kickstarter for a one-of-a-kind history-making anthology, Speculations KC for the 2016 Worldcon, a return to Kansas City after 40 years. One of the joys of moving here has been discovering the rich connections to genre history and fandom that the area has. The Midwest may sometimes not be the first place to come to mind when you think about genre, so I thought it might be good to remind people why the Kansas City region is so important in genre history and fandom and why it’s a great place to visit. So here are a few thoughts:
1) Star Writers—From Robert Heinlein to William F. Nolan, Larry Niven, and James Gunn, the Kansas City area has been home to a lot of big name writing stars of genre fiction. Two of these are SFWA grandmasters, Niven will become one this May, and Nolan will become one at the World Horror Convention later this year. Lesser known talents include Frank K. Kelly, who was an early pulp writer in his teens and twenties and sold every story he wrote to the pulps, then went on to write speeches for Harry S. Truman. He also happens to be Nolan’s cousin. Tom Reamy was an openly gay writer whose 1970s stories included daring-for-the-day homoerotic themes and characters. And Pat Cadigan and Kij Johnson are two of the most respected female writers working today and have both won numerous awards.
2) Fandom History—The Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society has been around since the early 1970s, and has hosted ConQuesT, the local fan-run science fiction and fantasy convention, every Memorial Day Weekend, 46 times as of this year. From members of this group also came the original MidAmeriCon, “Big MAC,” in 1976, which put Kansas City on the map of fandom and paved the way for today’s thriving local groups and events. Naka-Kon, the area’s main anime convention, is in its twelfth year, and continues to receive rave reviews from fans and professionals alike. KC is also home to not one, but two large comic/media conventions that have been receiving amazing local press as of late. Spectrum Fantastic Art Live acts to bring together artists, industry professionals, and fans of the science fiction and fantasy art community from all across the globe.
3) Genre History—MidAmeriCon, the first Worldcon here, started the Hugo awards Academy Awards-style ceremony, was the debut of Star Wars props and pics to science fiction fans with guest appearances by Mark Hamill and Gary Kurtz, had the first official film festival at a Worldcon, and hosted the first Hugo Losers Party, founded by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois. It also was the first videotaped Worldcon. Conquest 46 will be the first time George R.R. Martin is Editor Guest of Honor, and many other worthwhile guests have received early recognition here.
4) Academic Study—The University of Kansas hosts the unparalleled Gunn Center For the Study of Science Fiction, named after its award-winning founder, a legend in the field, and currently run by Chris McKitterick and Kij Johnson, active writers in their own right. From offering numerous classes, guest lectures by David Brin, Gary Wolfe and others, to handing out distinguished awards like the annual John Campbell and Theodore Sturgeon Awards, to running professional-quality workshops every summer for novel and short fiction writers, important academic work for our field is being done here. And I’m not even mentioning the invaluable collection of pulps and papers held in nearby libraries.
5) Location–You can’t get a much more centralized locale in the United States than Kansas City. By air, you can arrive in 1 ½ hours from Dallas or Chicago, 2 ½ hours from DC, 3 hours from New York, 3 ½ hours from Los Angeles, 4 ½ hours from Montreal, 11 hours from London, 13 ½ hours from Finland, and 15 hours from Japan. MCI international airport is just a quick 20 minute drive to downtown. If train is your preferred mode of transportation, Amtrak is located at the historic Union Station, a mere 1.5 miles from the KC Convention Center. And for those that love a good road trip, you won’t necessarily have to travel far to reach Kansas City…. it’s an 8 hour drive from Chicago, Denver, Dallas, and Nashville just to name a few.
6) Arts Mecca—With Hallmark Cards based here and Spectrum Fantastic and more, Kansas City has a strong reputation for the arts. That includes comic book companies like Andrews McMeel which have published The Far Side, Fox Trot, and other famous cartoons, and many other wonderful events from symphonies to theaters to opera and more. The arts community thrives and receives a warm welcome and great appreciation here.
7) Family Friendly—Not only will there be educational and fun children’s programming at MidAmeriCon II, as well as onsite childcare, but Kansas City also offers plenty of family-friendly attractions throughout the metro for kids of all ages. Kaleidoscope art studio in Crown Center, free to the public and operated by Hallmark, offers the creative opportunity for children and their parents to produce masterpieces with leftover bits from the Hallmark studios. For a more technical adventure, visit Science City at Union Station where numerous interactive learning stations allow children to play and learn hands-on while encouraging interest in science, technology, engineering and math-related fields. Other popular family outings include Legoland Discovery Center, SeaLife Aquarium, The Kansas City Zoo, and Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead—all within easy reach of downtown and the conventions.
8) The Blues—Kansas City’s Blues scene is legendary and some of the most famous musicians and songwriters got their start here. Kansas City now hosts the American Jazz Museum and it still has a great live music scene on both the Country Club Plaza, the first outdoor mall of its kind in the country, as well as in local bars, clubs and more.
9) Museums–Whether your interest is art, history, music, toys, sports… Kansas City has a museum for you. By far, the most popular of these is the National WWI Museum at Liberty Memorial, which houses one of the largest collection of WWI artifacts anywhere in the world. For a bit more regional content, I already mentioned the American Jazz Museum, so let’s add the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Steamboat Arabia Museum (a don’t miss for you steampunk fans), and the Truman Presidential Museum & Library—all of which offer a wealth of exhibits which showcase some of Kansas City’s past. A few other popular attractions are the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Airline History Museum, and the National Museum of Toys and Miniatures.
10) Dining–In 2014, Travel and Leisure dubbed Kansas City the nation’s third best city for foodies, as well as number one for the most affordable dining. From fine dining and fusion foods to cultural food trucks popping up all across the metro, the dining scene is continually growing and enticing new chefs to relocate to Kansas City, bringing their unique flavors and concepts to the area. To help Worldcon attendees in 2016 make the delicious decisions of where to dine while in KC, MidAmeriCon II will be offering a taste-tested dining guide of Kansas City’s eateries. And did I mention the BBQ?!? Kansas City is home to a plethora of world-renowned BBQ joints. Everyone in town has their opinion on which establishment is actually the best–Gates, Arthur Bryant’s, Woodyard, Jackstack? But between the locals there’s one BBQ opinion that’s not in dispute: KC Style is the king of BBQ!
So there are some great reasons why Kansas City is a great part of fandom and genre history. Hope to see you all at MidAmeriCon II in Summer 2016, and please check out Speculations KC, which will pay tribute to many of these contributions and more and be a great keepsake for fans and collectors!
About the Author
Bryan Thomas Schmidt is a critically praised, award nominated editor and author of anthologies, novels and short fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince, received Honorable Mention on Barnes and Noble’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases of 2011. His anthologies include Shattered Shields with Jennifer Brozek, Mission: Tomorrow, Galactic Games, and Monster Hunter Tales with Larry Correia, all from Baen as well as others for EDGE, Fairwood Press and more. He hosts Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat under the hashtag #sffwrtcht regularly on twitter, interviewing top guests from around the field, and is a Junior Acquistions and Developmental editor for Wordfire Press.