The 45th World Fantasy Convention was held October 31 – November 3, 2019 at the Los Angeles Airport Marriott in a still-smoky California. Guests of honor were Margo Lanagan, Beth Meacham, Reiko Murakami, Sheree Renée Thomas, and Tad Williams, with toastmaster Robert Silverberg. Life Achievement Awards winners were Hayao Miyazaki and Jack Zipes.
Attendance was down from the prior year, with 660 warm bodies out of 762 total memberships purchased, as compared to 2018 with 757 warm bodies and 854 total attending memberships purchased, and 2017’s approximately 720 warm bodies of 844 total attending memberships. Congoers received a small tote bag filled with free books and a pocket program. The full-sized perfect-bound souvenir book was titled World Tales: Special Fantasy Noir Edition in the style of Weird Tales, and featured cover art by GoH Reiko Murakami of a skeletal man in a tux dancing with a woman in a white dress, as well as more Murakami art inside, the committee list, the World Fantasy Award nominations and honorees, appreciations and bibliographies for the toastmaster, guests of honor, and Life Achievement Awards winners, an in memoriam, and writing by Thomas and Lanagan.
The sleek and modern Los Angeles Airport Marriott Hotel was just over a mile from the airport. A free shuttle made transport easy but the location meant tourist destinations – and quality dining outside the hotel – required a car ride, albeit a short one. The hotel proper had overpriced restaurants but was redeemed by a bar space well suited for mingling. The con suite offered snacks as well as meals and a view of the airstrips.
Programming started Thursday at noon with “Writing Fantasy for Television”. Over 214 industry professionals participated in 105 events, including four sketchbook tours “designed to work like readings but for artists.” Options included an “Introductory Social Event” with ice cream and a cash bar.
There were 38 panels scheduled. Programming staffer Katie Warren said, “The sketchbook tours… were a runaway success, largely thanks to leadership from our artist Guest of Honor Reiko Murakami. She took the first plunge in piloting this new event and really helped it take off along with our other artist participants (Francesca Myman, Bernard Lee, and Kathleen Jennings).” Highlights included topics such as “California Dreamin’: Fantasy Set in California” with Kary English, Ellen Klages, Matt Maxwell, Kevin Murphy, Tim Powers, and Ysabeau Wilce; “Black Fantasy & Horror” with Steven Barnes, Tananarive Due, Andrea D. Hairston, and Sheree Renée Thomas; and “Hopepunk vs Grimdark” with Sarah Beth Durst, Christopher Husberg, Marshall Ryan Maresca, Anna Smith Spark, and Edward Willett.
The schedule included 47 readings, down from the prior year’s 100+ readings, with industry notables including Tobias S. Buckell, Brenda Carre, Amanda Downum, Gwynne Garfinkle, Max Gladstone, Eileen Gunn, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Susan Shell Winston, Alvaro Zinos-Amaro, and more.
The spacious dealer’s room was in the lower level of the hotel, which was also the level where panels were held. Dealers included independent presses like Patrick Swenson’s Fairwood Press and ShadowSpinners Press, book dealers like Cargo Cult, Broad Universe, Skyboat Media, magazine publishers, jewelers, and more. There was no book consignment table provided by the con this year for the authors who were signing, but some dealers sold on consignment individually. Organizer Sandy Cohen said, “I felt traffic was a bit slow, but think most vendors were satisfied…. We had 31 dealers with 42 spaces – a few shared spaces.” Greg Ketter of Dreamhaven Books said, “Several dealers I talked to said sales were alright. Personally, my sales were some of the best I’ve had in years and I only sold about 7 books. Sales in dealers rooms have changed at all conventions since airlines started charging for bags and the internet claims most book sales anyway…. The dealers room and art show used to be the hub of the World Fantasy Convention. No longer.” Heroic Fantasy Quarterly editor-in-chief Adrian Simmons said, “I thought the dealer’s room was well organized and well setup. I especially liked the conversation space at the back end between the dealer’s room and the art gallery and that probably should have been more publicized. Heroic Fantasy Quarterly has only done two WFC dealer’s tables and it seemed that traffic at WFC 2019 was less than WFC 2018…. While WFC probably doesn’t have a lot of control over it, I found the hotel’s costs and policies regarding electricity and wifi a bit outrageous. Sales for us were okay – not quite as good as 2018, but if you like your sword and sorcery and adventure fiction we are pretty much your jam and your only jam.” Locus design editor Francesca Myman said, “We were well taken care of; the room was spacious and well attended, and the dealers’ room crew, especially Sandy Cohen, was communicative.”
The art show was held in the back of the hall past the dealers room and the conversation lounge. There was an art show reception held on Saturday at 8PM, where congoers could meet the artists and talk to them about their work. Co-chair Bruce Farr said, “The 2019 WFC Art Show had 26 artists exhibiting with a wide variety of 3-D and 2-D pieces. Artists included Guest of Honor Reiko Murakami, AF Award designer Vincent Villafranca, as well as Sara Felix, Sarah Clemens, Lisa Snellings, Elizabeth Berien, and Bob Keck. Included was an exhibit on Fantasy Noir.”
The mass autograph reception was Friday night, with a cash bar and a variety of finger foods. Hundreds of authors attended, including Greg Bear; T.J. Berry; Gerald Brandt; Marie Brennan; Curtis C. Chen; Zig Zag Claybourne; Ellen Datlow; David Drake; Steven Erikson; Susan Forest; Joe Haldeman; John Hornor Jacobs; Steven Graham Jones; Rajan Khanna; L.E. Modesitt, Jr.; Susan Palwick; C.L. Polk; Sharon Shinn; Jacob Weisman; Walter Jon Williams; and many, many more.
The World Fantasy Awards Banquet was held at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday and was followed by the awards ceremony coordinated by the WFA committee. The banquet had about 130 diners in attendance, down from 2018’s 195 people and approximately 180 in 2017. Additional spectators were admitted after the banquet for the awards presentation.
Co-chair Sherri Benoun offered an apology to DAW publisher Betsy Wollheim for an error in the souvenir book, which listed someone else as the recipient of Wollheim’s 2018 Life Achievement Award, then introduced toastmaster Silverberg. Silverberg began by remarking that while he’s known as a science fiction author, he has “dabbled in fantasy,” and that “science fiction… is in fact a sub-branch of fantasy…. Consider the great ideas of science fiction. Who comes to mind first as great science fiction writers… H.G. Wells: The Time Machine. You can’t travel in time, except by wishing to make it so. It violates all the laws of thermodynamics – it’s not gonna happen…. The War of the Worlds… there’s not going to be an invasion from Mars; there’s nobody living up there: fantasy.” Silverberg also cited Robert E. Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps” and works by Isaac Asimov. He addressed generational changes in the field, first by saying “I’m the oldest person in this room – by three months!” and referring to the introduction to a Robert Sheckley collection, paraphrasing, “You may notice from the copyright page of this book that I wrote these stories quite some time ago. And therefore, I must be old. Well, I am. But, a) these stories are still worth reading, and b) I don’t like being old any more than you will.” Which was met with heartfelt laughter. He continued by saying, “I’ve lived on into an era where there have been some cultural changes, and it’s very easy to offend people nowadays…. Well, I’m a nice guy… and I don’t want to offend anybody. Though it is the tradition of toastmasters at science fiction and fantasy conventions to be irreverent, and poke fun here and there, I’m thinking of such great toastmasters of the past as Robert Bloch and Isaac Asimov, and Bob Tucker and Harlan Ellison – they were rough customers – I am not going to say anything remotely offensive. If I think something offensive up here, I will remain silent for 30 seconds. When I do that, those of you who are offended by what you think I was about to say, should, in the silence of your souls, loudly express your fury. Those of you who agree with me, stamp your feet – silently.” His ensuing pause brought laughter again.
The guests of honor each gave five minute speeches, then Gordon Van Gelder thanked the con chairs and everyone involved with the convention, as well as the awards judges, whom he asked to stand for applause. Life Achievement Award winner Hayao Miyazaki did not send a speech but Van Gelder read a speech sent by Neil Gaiman, who said, “[Miyazaki] is a man of genius and of principle, sensible and deep. Generous and kind…. Mr. Miyazaki is one of us, one of the very best of us.”
Ellen Datlow introduced Life Achievement Award winner Jack Zipes. Zipes thanked everyone present, saying, “This was a great surprise, when Ellen called me…. It’s a great honor to be listed next to Miyazaki, whom I admire tremendously.” He talked about his work, saying, “My motto now is to unbury the dead, talented writers, artists, and illustrators, before I myself am buried.” He went on to discuss founding a publishing house to publish his translations and his fiction, as well as working with other publishers for wider distribution. He finished by saying, “This is the most unusual conference or convention I’ve ever gone to, because we academics are goddamn boring!” to applause and laughter.
Datlow presented the first World Fantasy Award of the evening. Special Award, Non-Professional went to Scott H. Andrews, for Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Rajan Khanna accepted for Andrews, who thanked his first readers past and present, colleagues, friends, authors, readers, and more. He described the “slow and steady” success of BCS as “a testament of the power and potential of independent electronic magazine publishing…. Ezines can be started by people with no professional editorial or publishing background, like me, and they can feature a niche style or mission that can be too uncommercial or too bold for others…. I’m delighted to see dozens of new indie ezines launching in our field in recent years…. Eleven years ago I hoped that a magazine of otherworldly fantasy with a literary focus on characters would resonate with readers and writers. I’m delighted that indeed it has. ”
Van Gelder presented the Special Award, Professional to Huw Lewis-Jones, for The Writer’s Map: An Atlas of Imaginary Lands. Van Gelder read Lewis-Jones’s speech, thanking the judges and reflecting on the power of maps, saying they are “so often the starting point for journeys into the unknown, reassuring to travelers and inviting to readers…. For me, the best fantasy books, films, and maps each locate us, but also send us out on new journeys. They inspire adventure; they help us to get lost, and to explore. As Tolkien famously wrote: ‘Not all those who wander are lost.”‘
Rovina Cai won the award for Best Artist. Murakami accepted for Cai, saying, “This award is an incredible honor.” She thanked the judges, the organizers, and the attendees. She said of the other nominees that they are some of her favorite artists working today, and that “it is a joy to know that my work is appreciated and understood.”
Best Collection went to The Tangled Lands by Paolo Bacigalupi & Tobias S. Buckell. An overwhelmed Buckell accepted on behalf of both of them, saying that Bacigalupi had left 20 minutes prior to catch a flight. They thanked Steve Feldberg of Audible, Bill Schafer and Yanni Kuznia of Subterranean Press, Joe Monti of Saga Press, the judges, and the community. Buckell especially thanked Nnedi Okorafor and others who “came before” saying, “They fought a really scary and tough fight, and as much as it seems challenging to examine some of the scars that we’ve had to address, the work that we did was amazing. Because I would never have had the courage to step into fantasy as much as I’ve had over the last three years, because seeing that there was a place for me personally to sort of explore some things in a genre that I had felt might not necessarily want to hear my voice gave me a great deal of courage…. I really appreciate all the really hard work they did ahead of time so that it was easier for me to head down this path.”
Worlds Seen in Passing, edited by Irene Gallo, won the Best Anthology Award. Gallo thanked everyone and said, “Short fiction was my first love, andit really got me into science fiction to begin with…. Obviously this belongs to all of the authors that have written for the site, regardless of if they are in the book or not. It was such a hard job, getting the book down to a sizeable page count.” She thanked the Tor.com artists, her “amazing dream team,” and Greg Manchess.
“Ten Deals with the Indigo Snake” by Mel Kassel and “Like a River Loves the Sky” by Emma Törzs tied for the award for Best Short Story. Törzs accepted for both, saying, “I don’t have a speech, but I have Mel’s speech!” In the speech, Kassel thanked her parents, Lightspeed, the judges, Törzs, and the other finalists, adding, “Just so everyone knows, fantasy and its sister genres are unapologetically thriving at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. This was a pleasant surprise to me when I arrived. But I think I came to the program in the midst of a global upwelling that was finally getting the recognition it deserved…. I would bargain with 100 snakes if it meant the world would be less hateful tomorrow.” Törzs thanked Uncanny, “This was my first published speculative fiction story. I have published literary fiction. I’m moving away from it, so this was really validating.” She thanked Clarion West and her classmates: “I learned so much and really changed…. They do so much work to promote inclusivity and diversity….” She thanked her students at her creative writing class: “I see the future in my students and I am so inspired by them.”
The World Fantasy Award for Novella went to “The Privilege of the Happy Ending” by Kij Johnson. Kathleen Jennings accepted for Johnson, who thanked Neil Clarke, Sean Wallace, and Kate Baker of Clarkesworld. She said, “We make literature from the world in which we find ourselves. ‘The Privilege of a Happy Ending’ was my attempt to think about the Syrian children playing across Europe, in some cases without family. I did not expect this dark story to win any awards. Thank you for proving me wrong.”
The Best Novel Award went to Witchmark by C.L. Polk. Tearful and hands shaking, Polk thanked everyone, saying of the other nominees, “Your amazing books sustained me last year.” She said, “I spent some time thinking about what winning a World Fantasy Award, an award that guided my reading all through my childhood, would mean to me. Because I’m used to being on the outside looking in, the one in the corner wondering if I belong. And to receive this honor for a debut novel is a sign that I AM HERE! That my life of reading stories about other worlds and magic and wonder has a place in science fiction and fantasy.” She thanked agent Caitlin McDonald, consulting editor Justin Landon, Tor.com, and grandmother Wilhelmina Oprah Polk, “for tuning into Star Trek, for bringing me to Oz, and Middle-Earth, and Narnia, and passing on her love of fantasy and science fiction to me.”
Next year’s World Fantasy Convention will be held at Little America Hotel in Salt Lake City October 29 – November 1, 2020, with guests of honor David Cherry, Stephen Gallagher, and Anne Groell; special guests C.J. Cherryh, Stephen Graham Jones, and Cindy Pon; and toastmasters Tracy & Laura Hickman.
World Fantasy 2021 will be held at Hôtel Bonaventure in Montréal, Canada, November 4 – 7, with guests of honour John Picacio, André-François Ruaud, and Nisi Shawl; special guests Owl Goingback and Yves Meynard; and toastmaster Christine Taylor-Butler. For more information go to <www.worldfantasy.org>.
–Arley Sorg & Liza Groen Trombi
This report and more like it in the December 2019 issue of Locus.
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