A Belated Report on the 2017 World Fantasy Convention

The 2017 World Fantasy Convention ended a week ago as I write this.  It was in San Antonio, which is a 6 hour drive from where I live.  I got back Sunday night and returned to San Antonio Tuesday morning for another event, which is why I’m a little late in writing this report.  WFC started on Thursday and ran through Sunday, making it an excellent weekend.

I’ll give a brief overview of some of the panels I attended, then make some general statements.

Keeping Texas Weird, l. to r., Sanford Allen, Bill Ledbetter, Scott Cupp, Bill Crider

I missed the panel on Occult Detectives; I was checking into the hotel at the time.  I did make the panel on Keeping Texas Weird.  The panelists were Sanford Allen, Bill Ledbetter, Scott Cupp, and Bill Crider filling in for Tex Thompson.

I didn’t catch many panels the rest of the evening, but I did attend a party that was jointly hosted by Skelos and Heroic Fantasy Quarterly.  There weren’t many parties this year, at least public ones, but I had a good time.  I met John R. Fultz there, as well as Darrell  Schweitzer (whom I had met briefly at the 2000 WFC).  Mark Finn, Jeff Shanks, and Adrian Simmons hosted a great party.

l. to r., Ann VanderMeer, Joe Lansdale, Bill Crider, and Jeff Conner discuss the legacy of Robert Bloch

Highlights of Friday’s panels included a tribute panel to Robert Bloch, who would have turned 100 this year.  I came away with my appreciation of Bloch renewed.  I really need to read more of his stuff.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled “The Women Other Women Don’t See“, which has become one of my most commented upon posts.  In that post, I focused on women writers who have been forgotten.  Friday afternoon there was a panel on Mildred Clingerman, who wrote a number of highly regarded stories in the 1950s and 1960s.  A new collection has just been published by Clingerman’s family, with her daughter and grandson being in attendance.  I picked up a copy and am looking forward to getting reacquainted with her work.

Late in the day, I attended readings by Howard Waldrop and Frederic S. Durbin.  There was a small get-together that night among a group of Texas writers.  And of course, there was the autograph party Friday night.  I’ve attended WFC twice, in Corpus Christi in 2000 and in Austin in 2006.  Both times the autograph party was held in an open venue.  This one was in a “ballroom” which was in the basement of the hotel’s parking garage across the street.  You could reach it by an underground hallway, so you didn’t have to go outside to get there.  It was not the best venue for this kind of event.  The photo on the left shows part of the room.  With all the pillars, I couldn’t get a clear shot of the entire room.

l. to r., David Drake, John R Fultz, E. C. Ambrose, and Alex Irvine discuss Ancient Cultures, Modern Sensibilities

Saturday I attended panels on Weird Westerns (I missed most of this one); Ancient Cultures, Modern Sensibilities; and one on the legacy of Zenna Henderson, who is another woman writer from the 50s who has fallen into obscurity.  There was a panel that evening on women writers that men don’t read.  Dave Smeds read a list of women he thought most of the audience wouldn’s have heard of: Jacqueline Carey, Robin Hobb AKA Megan Lindholm, Terry McGarry, P. D. Cacek, Katherine Kerr, Linda Ngata, Judith Tarr, Sherwood Smith, Madeleine Robins, Lillian Stewart Carl, Risa Aratyr, Sharon N. Farber AKA S. N. Dyer, Deborah J. Ross, Kristine Smith.  Except for McGarry, Aratyr, and maybe Robins, I’ve heard of all of them.  I can recommend Hobb, Carl, and Smith.  Several of the others, such as Ngata, Smith, and Ross are on my radar.  I’m not Carey’s target audience.  I think I’ve read some Farber; she wrote a lot of short fiction in the 80s and 90s.

l/ to r., Finn, Cupp, Simmons, and Shanks discuss the Hyborian Age

One of the best panels at the convention was The Secret History of the Hyborian Age, with Mark Finn, Scott Cupp, Adrian Simmons, and Jeff Shanks.  For a 9:00 p.m. panel, it was very well attended, showing that the interest in Howard is still strong.  While I didn’t learn anything new from this panel, these guys are a knowledgeable group and are always fun to listen to.  The audience was knowledgeable and interested in Howard, as well, which only added to the enjoyment of the conversation.

Sunday morning I only attended one panel.  It was entitled Pulp Influences: the Expiration Date.  Panelists were Betsy Mitchell, James Stoddard, Jeff Shanks, and Gary K. Wolfe.  The answer to the question is that there pretty much isn’t an expiration date.  This was a great panel to end the convention on.  Betsy Mitchell is currently an editor at Open Road Media, which is bringing back a number of classic works into print in ebook, such as Simak, Anderson, Ellison, and many others.  Check them out.

l. to r., Mitchell, Stoddard, Shanks, Wolfe

I have to put in a brief word about James Stoddard.  If you love classic fantasy, especially the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, then you need to read his work.  Start with The High House.  James and I met at the 2000 WFC and at least one other convention.  I initially wanted to say it was the 2006 WFC, but now I’m thinking it might have been an Armadillocon.  He remembered me, and not in a bad way (that was a relief).  It turns out we now only live a few miles from each other, so we have tentative plans to get together for coffee soon and talk about books.

I said my goodbyes and hit the road.  I didn’t stay for the banquet or the awards.  I only recognized a few of the nominees, and none of them were people I had any interest in reading.  The new award was premiered this year, but I’ve pretty much lost interest in any of the awards since the wooden assholes were handed out at the Hugos a few years ago.

David Drake chats with Paul Herman and John Bullard at the REH Foundation table.

A few general comments.  I shared a room with Adrian Simmons.  He’s a good roommate who handles stress well.  (We had to be moved to another room Thursday night because the air conditioning in our room wasn’t working; the temps were in the upper 80s that weekend.)  I ate dinner with Paul Herman and John Bullard (both of the Robert E. Howard Foundation), and they are great dinner companions.

The art show was the smallest art show of any of the big conventions I’ve attended.  I’m not sure if this was an off year, or if things are trending this way.  I’ve seen bigger and better art shows at regional cons.  I liked the pieces on display, so please don’t think I’m slamming the quality of the art.  Just the quantity.  One of the highlights of the show was Gregory Manchess’s work for his new illustrated novel, which he signed for me and provided an original illustration.

While I was in the art show, I did overhear someone saying that the WFC dealer’s room was defunct.  I didn’t catch all the reasons, but from what I did hear, it seems that all the pulp oriented collectables have moved to other venues.  I know that there weren’t many pulps this year.  Jeff Shanks had the only ones I recall seeing.  At the 2000 WFC, a number of dealers had pulps.  This was also the smallest selection of books I’ve seen at the three WFC I’ve attended.  Not that there weren’t a lot of cool treasures to be had.  I certainly dropped plenty of cash.

The attendance seemed low to me, although there were some people I never got a chance to meet or talk to, even though I did see them from down the hall.  I’ve heard speculation that some people won’t come to a convention if it’s in Texas.  Fine, be that way; we don’t want you here if that’s your attitude.  I also heard speculation that the controversy of the bust of Lovecraft as the award had driven off some people, such as many of the pulp oriented folks.

I don’t know if there is any truth in any of the above statements or not.  I intentionally stayed away from panels that seemed to focus on identity politics.

Which may explain why I had such a good time.  I hung out with friends, ate a lot of good food, and got enough sleep most nights I was there.  I came back with some excellent books (and some in the swag bag I’m going to sell) including the new issue of Skelos and the two Best of Heroic Fantasy Quarterly anthologies, and made some new friends.  In spite of taking two sets of exams with me to grade (which I managed to do), I got a much needed break from work and was able to relax a little.  All in all, a successful convention.

Addendum:  Oh, and David, this wasn’t the type of convention you usually post about, which is why there are no photos of me with nubile  young women in skimpy costumes.  Unfortunately.


11 thoughts on “A Belated Report on the 2017 World Fantasy Convention

  1. Paul McNamee

    At this point, finding cons where you can chat with like-minded folks is more valuable to me than scoring great merchandise – though I enjoy that, too.

    I’m glad you had a good time.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks. Most of the titles I bought were because I was able to talk to the authors there at the convention. There were plenty of books I didn’t buy that I would have in previous years (maybe I’m becoming more of a grownup when it comes to money) I passed on. The main attraction was as you said, finding like-minded individuals to chat with. I was disappointed James A. Moore didn’t make; I was looking forward to meeting him. As I said in my reply to Wolfe, it was like a family reunion. I didn’t realize until I was there how much I needed it.

  2. Adrian Simmons

    WFC was a good time. Thanks for splitting a room with me!

    I have been to four WFCs (Austin, Ohio, San Jose, San Antonio), and I have to say that this one did seem smaller, especially compared to the one in San Jose. The Austin WFC might have been bigger than San Antonio, but it was hard to tell because the hotel was so big in Austin that it kind of diluted the convention a bit.

    I concur with you that the art show seemed smaller. I’m not sure on the dealer’s room—I noticed that there were no T-shirt vendors and such, but I’m not sure if that is because nobody wanted to sell T-shirts at WFC, or if WFC doesn’t go for T-shirts. As for the classic pulps, I think a lot of that may have moved online, and there is now a specific convention for that (Windy City Pulp and Paper, for example– https://www.blackgate.com/2016/06/20/total-pulp-victory-a-report-on-windy-city-pulp-paper-2016-part-i/).

    Still, things went well at the Heroic Fantasy Quarterly/Skelos table. As I think we talked about, the S&S/Adventure fantasy fans are a fairly small part of the larger fantasy fan audience; but it seemed like all the S&S/Adventure fantasy fans came to our table, and a large portion of them were buyin’!

    I had fun at the panels that I went to, although it was little difficult getting away from the table. I went to a couple of the ‘identity politics’ panels, which I always enjoy. I actually missed more of the pulp panels because everyone at the HFQ/Skelos table as interested in those and somebody had to mind the shop!

    1. Keith West Post author

      You’re welcome on the room.

      I think the Austin WFC was a bit larger, but as you say, it could be the hotel. There were several big name attendees I know were there, but I didn’t see except once or twice in passing.

      As for tee shirts, there were tee shirt sales in Austin. I bought several and had expected to see them for sale this year, especially since some of the shirt vendors I see at other Texas cons are from Texas. I did notice a lot of jewelry down at one end of the room, which has become par for the course. Another thing that caught my eye were independently published authors with their own tables. They didn’t seem to be getting a lot of traffic, which makes me wonder if they managed to break even on the con.

      Windy City has been around for a while, hasn’t it?

      I think heroic fantasy/S&S is a healthy subgenre. I’m not sure the question is what percentage of the general fantasy audience they constitute as it is what percentage of the WFC attendees they make up. Different conventions, especially well-established ones, tend to attract certain crowds. If you look at the success you and Skelos had, as well as the resurgence in small press publications devoted to S&S, I think they are a significant portion of the audience.

  3. Adrian Simmons

    I’ve noticed over about the last 5 years that dealers rooms at various conventions seem to be getting smaller. Again, I think that a lot of this is because so many transactions are taking place online. I think (although I can’t prove it) that the ‘greying of fandom’ is a real thing– there just are not that many new people coming in. A fallout of that is that, if you’ve been going to conventions for a while, you’ve probably bought all the shirts/gadgets/whatever that you want, and now you’re looking for specific things from specific people. At least that’s my take on it.

    I have also noticed that there are more independently published authors funding tables, and I agree, I’m not sure if they manage to break even. They probably treat it kind of like I do– a hobby. If I make a little money, fine, if I spend/lose a little money, also fine.

    On that subject, I usually go to FenCon and ConDFW and ArmadilloCon in TX, but I’m not sure if I’ll be in the dealers room at them. I figure that I got a high percentage of the TX S&S fans at WFC already…

    1. Keith West Post author

      Most of the ones I attended had a few dozen people in them. WFC caps its membership and runs multiple tracks of programming, so there aren’t many large panels. Of the three WFCs I’ve attended, this one felt the smallest.


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