Boskone is the annual science fiction and fantasy convention put on by the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) in Boston, Mass. One of the reasons I attend this convention is its focus on the craft of science fiction, that is to say, there’s a focus on writing, science, art, and reading.
The convention is on the small side with approximately 1500 attendees which gives it an intimate feeling. There’s no Green Room for the pros to hang out in, so you’ll see famous authors in the audience at panels or hanging out in the Con Suite. When I first started attending Boskone seven years ago, the con had a very old white person vibe. What made it fascinating was the rich sense of the history of science fiction and fantasy, since many of the volunteers and participants have roots in the genre dating back to the 60s and 70s and are happy to share their stories. This year, I noticed more twenty and thirty-somethings in the crowd.
I’ve helped out with the con’s social media presence for several years, but this year was my first year helping on the Program committee, as well as participating on panels: What’s Hot in Comics, Yet Another Dystopic Fiction, and Women in Comics. I also had the chance to attend panels and be an audience member.
Here are some highlights:
Being in Boston and close to MIT, the science connections run deep. Science programming at Boskone is stellar.
For science geeks, the Tall Technical Tales panel with David L. Clements, Guy Consolmagno, Jordin T. Kare, and Joan Slonczewski was one of my favorite panels from this year’s con. When you have an astrophysicist, a scientist from the Vatican Observatory, and a microbiologist just returned from a research trip in Antarctica and an aerospace engineer known for research on laser propulsion, you know you’re in for a fun ride. They regaled the audience with tales of near lab disasters, “centrifuges are tricky beasts at the best of times,” “vodka is still a liquid at -40 degrees, but it is not advised that you drink it,” and “in the category of only in Antarctica disasters” which made science seem cool, dangerous, and fun. Much giggling was had.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m a junkie for women in STEM, so I stopped by the Women in Science & Technology panel with Janice Gelb, Janet Catherine Johnston, Jill Shultz, and Edie Stern. Jill Shultz really stole the show with her focus on science, starting with joy and curiosity. Some of the stories of professors pushing women out of science felt a little dated as the women appeared to be in the middle of their careers and not just starting out. A big concern for getting more women into the science fields, especially academia, was a better continuity of benefits. Female scientists are more likely to be married to a male scientist than the reverse, in part due to the job opportunities available. Scientists know they need to move around for research, but when you make a move you start back at square one for seniority.
For the love of comics
With the impending blizzard, I wanted to get a chance to meet Marjorie Liu, as I was concerned she might not be able to make our Women In Comics panel on Sunday. So I headed to the Are We Living in the Superhero Renaissance? panel with Carrie Vaughn, Jack M. Haringa, Daniel M. Kimmel, Marshall Ryan Maresca, and Marjorie Liu. The panel started out with the typical superheroes as wish fulfillment, but also recognized our fascination with justice in a moral universe and how these characters choose to devote their lives to heroism. I like that last point as it helps explain why we’re so fascinated with the human supers like Batman and, following the Iron Man movies, Tony Stark. The panel did spend a fair amount of time on the recent film adaptations and paralleled it to the rise of legitimacy of horror movies in the 70s. Both genres started using well-known actors and directors, and the result is movies worth watching.
For a blizzard, the Women in Comics panel had a good turnout. Unfortunately, several of the panelist couldn’t make it, so Debbie Lynn Smith of the women-owned comic book company, Kymera Press, and I held down the fort. Due to the size, we were able to take a lot of audience questions. Instead of the old statements of “there are no female characters in comics,” we had questions like “can you recommend comics with female characters like me.” We also discussed the challenges of finding up-and-coming female artists and what can we do to encourage them.
I’m not always serious
Not all my weekend was serious paneling. I took a few moments with friends to sip delicious scotch before heading to the science fiction improv and silly poses Saturday night festivities. Improv is one of my secret loves, so I’m glad when a friend rushed over and reminded me it was starting. The Science Fiction Theatre Company of Boston did a great job. Silly poses was hands down the best. The idea came about at last year’s Boskone, having participants recreate some of the cheesecake pulp science fiction covers. This year’s selection was more tame, but fun nonetheless.
That’s just a sampling of my weekend. I met some fabulous people, saw some beautiful art, and have more writing inspiration than I know what to do with. Hopefully it’s not my own bias, but overall, the con had an overall good vibe. Similar to the criticism of science fiction literature evolving from the “old white cis men,” this con feels like it’s evolving, too. Many of the panels I attended had at least one, if not more women, on the panel, although ethnic diversity was still a little lacking. If you like like science fiction and fantasy literature and want to brave Boston in February, you should check it out.