Expanded Universe: HawaiiCon 2017 Overview

This year’s HawaiiCon offered an array of events in the fields of science fiction and fantasy. We’d like to share our thoughts on the convention, with input from Fred White who was a presenter and is Terry’s husband.

Marqueeda LaStar of Black Girl Nerds

Marqueeda LaStar of Black Girl Nerds

Marion: Marqueeda LaStar of Black Girl Nerds interviewed Nnedi Okorafor. They started off with the acerbic observation that after publishing for more than ten years, Okorafor is now an “overnight success” with HBO’s acquisition of her novel Who Fears Death. “After a lengthy career, you’re suddenly brand now because HBO picked you up,” LaStar said.

Okorafor’s path to writing success is not the common one. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer from Day One,” she said. “I wanted to be an entomologist – kids called me ‘the girl who chased bugs.’” Her main passion, though, was tennis. She played semi-pro and was nationally ranked at one point. At college, which she attended on an athletic scholarship, she did take a creative writing class, but it was because a boy she liked suggested it.

When she was nineteen, complications from back surgery left her paralyzed from the waist down. “That was a dark time,” she said, as for several weeks she did not know if feeling would return. While in the hospital on painkillers, she began to experience the sensation that she was flying, and to see a mermaid swimming through the floor of her room. These experiences weren’t pleasant but many elements made their way into her work.

Nnedi Okorafor, Writer Guest of Honor,

Nnedi Okorafor, Writer Guest of Honor

She returned to college and got a degree in creative writing, then worked in journalism, while she wrote six “practice” novels, novels she says she will never unearth. Her first published book was Zara the Windspeaker.

She acknowledged writer Tananarive Due and editor Andrea Pinkney for mentoring her.

Okorafor talked about “magic realism,” a term some people apply to her work, because is often includes advanced technology and magic, or at least a spiritual element. She calls it “African futurism,” and it seemed like the distinction between advanced technology, science and a reverence for the spiritual was almost quaint to her. “Not being able to mingle [those elements] is foreign to me,” she said.

She said she was looking forward to working with HBO, where she will be a consultant on the adaptation of Who Fears Death. “I am concerned about how they will the address the violence,” she said, “It can’t be overlooked that the main character is the product of rape.”

LaStar pointed out that, already, George R.R. Martin’s name has overshadowed hers on a couple of headlines. (Okorafor since responded to an online headline, “Nnedi Okorafor; the next George R.R. Martin?” with a humorous tweet; “I’m Nnedi, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”) Martin, who is an executive producer on the show, is a friend of hers, and they talk frequently.

Okorafor amplified her thoughts on the (artificial?) schism between science and a reverence for the spiritual on Terry’s panel, “Science Fantasy, Real Subgenre or Copout?” Okorafor says she understands the marketing application of genres but worried that this “split” creates an opportunity to dismiss work as not “fitting in.”

Terry: I moderated a panel on science fantasy, which was comprised of four authors: Nnedi Okorafor, Cynthia Felice, Elisabeth Waters and Janette Adams. We began with a discussion of exactly what that subgenre was — and quickly reached agreement between the panelists and the audience that just about all science fiction could be termed science fantasy, especially when one considers that there is no faster than light travel possible, according to what we now know of the universe. We talked about some of the devices and theories that partake of fantasy but are generally represented as science, such as Isaac Asimov’s psychohistory (a discipline on which his Foundation novels were based) and Ursula K. LeGuin’s ansible, a machine that somehow allows for instantaneous communications across time and space, regardless of the speed of sound or light. This was the first panel for the writers’ track, and it set a tone of enthusiastic participation by audience members that continued throughout the convention.

"Science fantasy" Panel, L to R: Elisabeth Waters, Janette Adams, Terry Wyeyna (m), Nnedi Okorafor

“Science fantasy” Panel, L to R: Elisabeth Waters, Janette Adams, Terry Weyna (m), Nnedi Okorafor

Marion: I moderated the “Breaking In, Selling Your First Story” panel, which included Janina Scarlett, a nonfiction writer whose book Superhero Therapy was published by Instant Help; T.L. Smith, and Wen Spencer. We got a lot of good questions from the audience. It was interesting to hear the difference between a nonfiction submission, which is almost always done with an outline (which is what Scarlet did) versus fiction. Scarlet felt that her online presence in the form of her blog helped bring her to her publisher’s attention. Wen Spencer, who despite being on this panel has been publishing for nearly twenty years, had some good do’s and don’t’s—like, don’t vent on Twitter about how angry you are with that insensitive editor who rejected you.

Janina Scarlet’s personal story is fascinating. She was a child refugee to America from a place, which she never named outright, that suffered a “serious radiation event.” Her illustrated self-help book uses the theme of superheroes to show traumatized children various ways to heal and grow stronger.

Terry: I was inclined to resolve a panel entitled “Language! Style and whether it matters” by simply saying “yes” and calling it a day, but the other panel members, Marta Randall, Fred White, and John Hedtke felt there was rather more to be said on the question. We did agree that style matters, not surprisingly, but we also agreed that one of the worst things a new writer can do is insert fancy words and long descriptions as a means of inserting style. Style arises from one’s voice, and the only way to find one’s voice is to write incessantly. “Read, write, revise,” I said at one point, which seemed to sum up our advice.  Randall and White were especially insistent that revision is utterly crucial to writing fiction, and Hedtke and I, who write primarily nonfiction, agreed — but seemed to agree as well that instructional nonfiction requires less reworking for style and more for pure accuracy. The panel compared the clear, almost transparent styles of writers like John Scalzi, Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein to the more intricate and beautiful styles of writers like Catherynne Valente and Gene Wolfe, and found great value in both.

Fred White: Martian weather; the archaeology of Hawaii; sounds of the cosmos; building a robot; the intersections of science and the sacred: these are a few of the captivating topics presented at HawaiiCon 2017. And the presenting scientists, specialists in their respective fields, each displayed a remarkable ability to convey complex ideas in a lucid and fascinating manner. Planetarium shows, star parties, and insights into raising octopus and squid added to the scientific fare.

My favorite science panel was “Best Astronomy of the Year,” in which each presenting scientist presented his or her favorite science news story in 2017. Among them: the discovery of seven rocky planets (three of them apparently earthlike) around a red dwarf star; discovering the most distant galaxy ever detected, more than thirteen billion light years away; and the cryo-volcanoes on Neptune’s moon, Triton. It is difficult to imagine a greater display of intellectual excitement than that of astronomers waxing ecstatic about the latest discoveries.

Marion: One of the most thought-provoking panels I attended was “SF, Science and the Sacred.” The panel was billed as a way speculative fiction allows writers and readers to explore the way science and the sacred intersect, but it soon turned into a place where that very thing was happening. Two astronomers, a linguist and a chaplain with a degree in divinity discussed the presence of the sacred in science and debated the apparent conflict between the two. Lou Mayo, astronomer and martial arts teacher, said he sees science and faith as “not oppositional, but orthogonal;” at right angles to each other. He accepts faith and champions the scientific method. (I love the image of science and faith as a bar graph, even if I can’t quite picture what we’re measuring on those axes.)  Kalah Perkins, the chaplain, told a story about looking viewing an image of a distant galaxy with a friend. The friend said, “Where is God in that?” Perkins responded, “Where isn’t God in that?” This is the panel that has kept me thinking, over two weeks later, about these questions.

"SF Science and the Sacred," L to R, Keao NeSmith, Lou Mato, Kalah Perkins, Tim Slater

“SF Science and the Sacred,” L to R, Keao NeSmith, Lou Mayo, Kalah Perkins, Tim Slater

Nationally acclaimed fire dance at the luau.

Nationally acclaimed fire dancer at the luau.

Terry: On Friday night, the con threw a luau on the lawn of the resort. Many of the media guests attended, including Charisma Carpenter and Emma Caulfield of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame and Rod Roddenberry, an executive producer of the new television series, “Star Trek: Discovery” and a noted philanthropist. We were at Roddenberry’s table, and were utterly charmed by his four-year-old son. The setting was gorgeous, with swaying palm trees, bright glittering stars, and the ocean just a few yards away. The buffet was better than any buffet has a right to be, with the traditional pulled pork being the highlight. The stage show featured excellent dancers who demonstrated the hulas of several traditions, from Tahiti to Samoa to Hawaii. The fire dance was especially good, featuring a dancer who has participated in international competitions.

The cosplay contest was great fun. All the costumes were stunning. In the group performance, the pair of rambunctious Vikings had a brief malfunction when one of them rolled off the stage by mistake. He leaped back up without missing a beat, and they took second place. Marion’s personal favorite was the woman who played Weird Al Yankovic and lip-synced to “Word Crimes.”

This handsewn and handbeaded Queen Amidala costume won 1st place in the Star Wars category.

This handsewn and handbeaded Queen Amidala costume won 1st place in the Star Wars category.

The Mask and his dance partner won 1st place in the Group Performance category.

The Mask and his dance partner won 1st place in the Group Performance category.


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MARION DEEDS, with us since March 2011, is retired from a 35-year career with county government, where she met enough interesting characters and heard enough zany stories to inspire at least two trilogies’ worth of fantasy fiction. Currently she spends part of her time working at a local used bookstore. She is an aspiring writer herself and, in the 1990s, had short fiction published in small magazines like Night Terrors, Aberrations, and in the cross-genre anthology The Magic Within. On her blog Deeds & Words, she reviews many types of books and follows developments in food policy and other topics.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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10 comments

  1. I wish I could have joined you, Terry and Marion. That sounds like a wonderful convention!

  2. I loved reading about the con! Thanks for talking about it, it sounds like it was fantastic!

  3. Sounds like everyone had a great time!

  4. Christoph /

    I learned a lot about Nnedi, that was so interesting.

  5. Jackie J /

    Hawaii is a great place for a con. I hope I can attend a future Hawaiicon. :-)

    • I hope you do too, Jackie. If you ever do, leave yourself some time to visit the big Island’s Volcano National Park. A must-experience.

      I see I neglected to provide a link: http://www.hawaiicon.com/ And they have a good Facebook Page.

    • Jackie, if you do, please don’t fail to introduce yourself to us! We’d love to see you there.

      The resort where the convention is held is stunningly beautiful, and since the con is held during the off season, the rooms are far more reasonably priced than you would guess — about half off the rack rate, if memory serves. And the hotel extends the convention rate to time before and after the con — Fred and I stayed on for an extra three days and had a wonderful time touring Volcano National Park and just lounging by the pool.

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