About 5,000 science fiction fans are expected to beam down to Spokane next summer for the 2015 World Science Fiction Convention.
The gathering, the 73rd annual WorldCon, is a big deal in sci-fi. It’s where the annual Hugo Award winners are announced – among the most prestigious honors for science fiction and fantasy writing.
It’s also likely to be the largest convention in Spokane next year, said Tim Robinson, a spokesman for Visit Spokane, the nonprofit that promotes tourism for the area.
Each WorldCon features dozens of panels, presentations, music events, and sessions with noted artists and authors, along with the traditional no-holds-barred masquerade ball.
For those planning to visit Spokane, the convention is the Super Bowl of science fiction fandom, said Tom Whitmore, a Seattle massage therapist and WorldCon volunteer who’s helping promote and organize the five-day event.
WorldCon 2014, in London, drew nearly 8,000 attendees, according to news stories.
WorldCon’s appeal includes the chance to meet like-minded fans plus provide access to noted science fiction or fantasy authors and artists, Whitmore added. “It’s a chance to see people who live thousands of miles away who love some of the same things I do. We talk, we connect and we think,” he said.
For most of the past dozen WorldCons, “Game of Thrones” author George R.R. Martin has been an attendee, simply to hang out and have fun, Whitmore said.
Attendees come from across North America, Europe and Asia. The website Sasquan.org is the online catalog of the still-evolving schedule for the Spokane convention.
Each year’s WorldCon gets a unique name. The 2015 event is called Sasquan, a mash of Sasquatch and convention, Whitmore said.
The past three WorldCons took place in Chicago, San Antonio and London, and Spokane’s convention will be the first in the Pacific Northwest since Seattle hosted in 1961, Whitmore said.
Spokane got the nod over bids from Orlando, Florida, and Helsinki.
The city’s appeal as a host increased relative to bigger cities because its downtown is easy to navigate and because it has enough hotels near the Convention Center.
“Spokane is also not too expensive or complicated” compared with Seattle, Whitmore said.
“Plus the people we have worked with at Visit Spokane have been wonderful to us,” he said.
When it started in 1939, WorldCon was a cult attraction for readers of pulp science fiction, he said. Today, it’s a different kind of convention, drawing writers, artists, fans, editors, publishers, academics and dealers who have an interest in science fiction.
“The difference now is that there are a lot more nerds and it’s acceptable to be a nerd,” Whitmore said.
“For some it’s about meeting the artists and writers, people they’ve heard of or read,” he said. WorldCon also showcases scientific topics like space travel, climate science, computing and artificial intelligence, he said.
Fan gatherings devoted to science fiction and fantasy have multiplied over the past two decades. On one end of the spectrum are the more commercially based gatherings that bring in film or TV stars or comic book creators, said Randy MacKay, a Spokane resident and WorldCon veteran.
Those events, like the San Diego-based Comic-Con International, charge admission and often focus on group sessions with pop stars in the science fiction genre, he said.
WorldCon sits at the opposite end of the spectrum, he said, being a nonprofit event. People get into the convention not by buying tickets but by becoming a member of the group.
MacKay has helped organize Spokane’s annual SpoCon event, which is a small, local version of the annual WorldCon convention. Because the big show will be here next summer, SpoCon may take a break in 2015, he said.
About 500 volunteers, or “con-runners,” plan WorldCon and keep it running smoothly, Whitmore said.
One con-runner, Washington State University associate professor Phyllis Eide, is helping schedule some of the convention’s lineup of science presenters. Her goal is to include some of WSU’s notable researchers. One invitee will be WSU physics professor emeritus George Mount, who helped develop the Orbiting Carbon Observatory, a NASA satellite that will measure precise carbon dioxide levels in the earth’s atmosphere from space.
Eide said she traveled to Anaheim, California, in the 1980s to attend her first WorldCon. The next one will be coming to her instead.
“It’s an international event, maybe not like the World’s Fair was. But in its own way, it’s going to be a major deal,” Eide said.
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