Here’s a not-so-secret: I’m a big ol’ nerd. To me, a perfect day is writing for four hours, eating lunch, writing for four hours, eating dinner, then reading for four hours. Yeah, yeah, I know, Colorado. You like to go ice-climbing and bike-rafting and be all sportsy outdoorsy. But me? NAH! Give me a couch and a book or time to write my own uncanny worlds and I’m a sack’a’smiles.
The books I love most are speculative fiction, which is an umbrella term for work with futuristic or supernatural elements. Why spec fic? Because it’s inclusive. You want women as main characters? CHECK! How about queer characters a’plenty? YUP! People of color in power roles who don’t die first? PRAISE BE it exists in spec fic. A rad place to find these books and community? A SCI-FI CON!!!
MileHiCon is a Denver-based sci-fi and fantasy literature convention that’s been around for 50 years. What goes on at a sci-fi and fantasy con? A whole lotta authors, editors, readers, and genre-lovers fill a hotel for an entire weekend with an art show, 24-hour gaming, cosplay contests, movie screenings, readings, and panels that dissect the who, how, and why of writing. Plus, boozy room parties.
This was my first MileHiCon. Within an hour of being there, I had to settle the hell down because I walked by guest of honor Connie Willis. I mean, COME ON. How do you not excito-squeak? Willis has 11 Hugo Awards, 7 Nebula Awards, and she wrote the frikkin’ “Doomsday Book,” for cryin’ out loud. Other guests of honor wandering the halls included Carrie Vaughn, Michael Swanwick, and Stephen Graham Jones. Plus a f-ton of other participants like Alex Acks, Melissa F. Olson, and Molly Tanzer – and if you don’t know Molly Tanzer, she’s the author of “Vermilion: The Adventures of Lou Merriwether, Psychopomp” – a weird Western about a Taoist gunslinger who guides the souls of the dead. SO GOOD. Basically, a Hyatt was filled to capacity with brilliant writers I went agog over. Repeatedly.
If you were bopping around MileHiCon, you might’ve seen me moderate the “Flavors of Horror: From Gore to Gaslighting” panel, reading a dark tale at “Ghoulies, Ghosties, and Long-Legged Beasties,” or chatting with other panelists at the “Wanted: Professional Henchpeople” panel. (Side note: I discovered that my favorite hench is Dan from “Deadwood” and more and more I wonder about how in “Star Wars” the Death Star is filled with background characters, and are these folks Empire henchpeople? Even the dude getting minimum wage for running the convenience store? Is that like running a 7-11 for Nazis? Who is a henchperson versus an indirect supporter of evil? Are both just as bad? That panel only left me with more QUESTIONS.)
If I’m going to leave my couch, I want there to be a good reason, and a con? At a con, I find people like Veronica R. Calisto, who writes the SparkleTits Chronicles. I shit you not. This is a series, and both the books and the author are fantastic. At a con, I get to attend a panel called “Writing Credible Characters with Visible and Invisible Disabilities” that is PACKED to standing-room. A con is a place where I can go to a panel called “Houston, We Have a Problem,” not really knowing what to expect, but then leave it asking myself, “Hot damn, wouldn’t it be more cost effective to have robots as astronauts? Will human astronauts become a relic of the past?” Maybe some folks have Big Thoughts in their heads already, but usually when I’m standing in front of my microwave waiting for coffee to re-heat, I’m looking at sloth gifs, not thinking intergalactic travel. Cons stir my brain into a potent stew of fresh considerations.
Convention spaces, like MileHiCon, are where authors and fans come together to decide how to better create fictional worlds . For instance, at the “Alt-History with Fantastical Flair” panel, authors like Barbara Hambly and Molly Tanzer (yes, I’m a super-fan) discussed the secret histories we tell and the language we put on the page to do so. To paraphrase Tanzer, why should she write a racial slur on the page (even if it is historically accurate) when she can write a person punched in the face before they can say it? On another thought train, Tanzer questioned the idea of whether we are what we read. If we only ever consume bad news, if we only ever read of wrecked worlds, do we end up projecting that dark future as our only possible future? What’s the answer? ::shrugs:: Only thing I know for sure is I’m thankful there are writers out there taking the time to create escape and possibility.
Verdict: Hit up next year’s MileHiCon. A three-day pass is only $50. (Cheaper if you buy it early.) You’re bound to discover a new author you love, drool over the art show, and see cosplay that ranges from furries to spot-on comic book characters.