ONE OF THE beautiful things about science fiction is that almost anything can happen. Given how many possibilities exist in the genre, perhaps it’s natural that sci-fi fans tend to be open-minded about others’ passions in the real world.
That openness is one building block of the in-person community that grows from out-of-this-world stories.
Some readers are content to keep their literary discoveries to themselves. But others want to share their enthusiasm with fellow humanoids. Entities like Norwescon and its sister organization, the Northwest Science Fiction Society, give them ways to discuss what they read; revel in their fandom; and even, sometimes, dress up and act the part.
Norwescon puts on an annual convention. Norwescon 42 will be April 18-21 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel in SeaTac, and will draw about 3,000 fans to attend panels, meet writers and artists, and socialize. The NSFS organizes regular outings throughout the year, some sci-fi-related and some not. All are run entirely by volunteers.
The term “science fiction” is often — as it is with these groups — a catchall for all kinds of genres: science fiction and fantasy, along with some kinds of horror, comics, steampunk and romance. All of them are represented among the convention’s 200 speakers, chair Loree Parker told me when I dropped in on a recent Norwescon book club meeting at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park.
Why do people love science fiction? “First of all, it’s great escapism,” says book-club member Warren Dunham. There are what he calls “candy stories,” easy reads for when you just want to leave the real world behind for a while. But everyone at the club meeting agreed speculative fiction goes much deeper than that.
“It challenges us to live up to our better natures and shows us what can happen when we live up to our best selves,” says Kathy Bond, who oversees the book club and a handful of other administrative duties for Norwescon. A more dystopian subset, she adds, shows us what happens when we don’t.
The club meets each month to discuss a different book, following a different theme each year. This year’s is authors from the Pacific Northwest.
During the meeting, attendees talked about the month’s selection, “Beasts of Tabat” by Cat Rambo — whether authors should try to make each book in a series work as a stand-alone, what made the protagonists engaging, and the author’s choice to write one character from a third-person point of view and one from first-person.
But, as with most book clubs, the talk ranged to wider subjects, including books this one reminded them of and other books they’ve recently loved.
Science fiction is a way to explore real issues we face, but without the baggage of our existing world. Book-club attendees pointed to pioneering author Ursula K. LeGuin, in whose “Left Hand of Darkness” people can switch sexes at will. Octavia Butler, who lived not far from the site of this book-club meeting, wrote biting works critiquing the ways we organize ourselves and others into sometimes-senseless hierarchies.
“Science fiction is highly political, and anyone who says otherwise is lying,” Parker says. And yet it’s a big tent, with room for many viewpoints and many ways of raising questions.
The stories might not have all the answers to the big what-ifs they ask, but talking about them with fellow fans sure can be a lot of fun.