WisCon, the internationally recognized feminist science fiction convention, will be holding its 30th annual event this weekend at the Concourse Hotel, but don't expect Downtown to be overrun by light sabers or Spock ears.
Ten years ago at WisCon 20, convention organizer and founding member Jeanne Gomoll was slightly confused when she received a call from the organizer of the Madison Marathon asking if the convention-goers would like to cheer on the start of the race.
"He said he thought the picture would be so cool to have all the runners starting off with a background full of people dressed in Klingon costumes," Gomoll says.
"I said, 'Um, we're a literary science fiction convention, and nobody dresses in costume.'
The convention's lack of gadgetry and gimmicks hasn't affected its popularity. This year's 1,000 memberships sold out in March with attendees coming from places as far as Japan, Slovakia and New Zealand. Only one in six attendees at the conference, which runs Friday through Monday, will be from the Madison area.
Gomoll, who runs a graphic design business from her East Side home, was in several feminist book groups when she heard about a science fiction book group that explored feminist issues.
Before "Star Trek" became popular, most science fiction conventions focused on literature, and in the 1960s and early 1970s writers like Ursula K. Le Guin (a former WisCon guest of honor who will be in attendance this year) and Alice Sheldon (under pseudonyms James Triptree Jr. and Racoona Sheldon and later her own name) were garnering attention and winning awards for their feminism-informed work.
Still, the Madison group of students and young professionals found the representation of feminist thinking at major conventions inadequate.
A trip to the 1976 Worldcon science fiction convention in Kansas City (also dubbed "MidAmericon") inspired Gomoll and the group to organize a convention of their own with feminism as the dominant theme. Fellow founding member and this year's registration coordinator Richard Russell was 32 when he took the trip to Kansas City. He says the experience left an impression on a lot of people.
He said science fiction fits perfectly in the context of social movements and theories. "One of the things that is a byproduct of science fiction is an incredible tolerance for fellow human beings. If you can readily imagine being able to interact in a meaningful way with a slimy tentacled methane-breather from Neptune, the petty differences between human beings seem trivial by comparison," says Russell.
If you go
WisCon 30 is sold out, but three programs open to the public will be held this weekend.
What: WisCon 30 feminist science fiction convention public programs.
When: "Words at Play: Speculative Poetry and Fiction" at 8:45 p.m. today, "Scarabs and Sandstorms" at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, and "Empathy, Lust, and Destruction" at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Where: Michelangelo's Coffee Shop, 114 State St.