Illogicon has a different chairperson every year, and its focus changes accordingly.
One year, for example, this local science-fiction con’s chair was Klingon language expert Lawrence M. Schoen. Accordingly, that year there were several panels about linguistics and the role languages can play in writing or role-playing. Other chairs’ interest may be cosplay, music, performance or classic sci-fi literature, so the programming shifts to match.
Gerty McHenry, the current chair, is huge into “Star Trek,” and 2018’s programming reflects the forward-thinking morality of that longstanding space opera franchise.
“That has always been my perspective on science fiction — how does it make us better and how is it a lens for us to think about how we can become better?” she says. “Because this my year as con chair, it’s going to go a little more towards the social justice aspect of things.”
This weekend at the Embassy Suites in Cary, Illogicon turns seven. By and large, its guests are sci-fi authors, many of whom live locally or have local ties. McHenry has been involved since year one. She’s not a founder, she notes, but was invited to help with programming in the first year by founder Warren Buff. McHenry and fan conventions go way back — she’s been attending Atlanta’s DragonCon for 16 or 17 years, she notes — but she especially likes being directly involved with conventions, like with Illogicon. Such a hands-on perspective lets her see the growth of the con, sure, but also its impact on the local sci-fi community.
“I have definitely seen [Illogicon] attendees who came in year one and year two and went to workshops on worldbuilding or author readings, and just got to know people or got practical tips,” McHenry says. “And now [they] have come back and are published authors and are guests themselves. It’s really nice to see that come full-circle for some people.”
Michele Tracy Berger is one such author. This year marks the Pittsboro writer and North Carolina Writers’ Network board member’s fourth Illogicon, though before Illogicon it had been twenty-plus years since her last sci-fi con experience, which had left a sour taste in her mouth. Berger admits she was leery about returning to the con world, but she attended her first Illogicon on the advice of fellow writer Mur Lafferty and was hooked.
“At Illogicon, I get the best of both worlds in that I get to practice being a writer in public and also geek out with other people who love the same things I do,” Berger says. “I’m particularly impressed with the diverse community of Triangle fans and creatives that Illogicon attracts.” Berger has moderated and appeared on panels. This year, she is a guest and will be reading from her 2017 sci-fi novella “Reenu-You.”
Illogicon intentionally features writers on all sort of platforms, from self-published authors to those who work with major sci-fi and fantasy publishers like Tor and Baen. There are small-press editors and publishers and podcasters, too. The idea is that attendees can see the variety of publishing options, but maybe also learn about the nuts and bolts of writing life — the administrative side, say, or tricks for balancing one’s day job with creative writing.
“[Writers tend] to be the bulk of our panelists and the people that are speaking, in part because we have such a wealth of those kind of people who are local or are regional who are interested in coming to talk about their work and to lead discussions,” says McHenry.
This year’s guests of honor reflect diverse approaches to sci-fi. One is Raleigh short story and novella writer Alyssa Wong, who McHenry notes has received a lot of acclaim early into her career. The other is Mississippi School of Law professor Stacey Lantagne, who researches the intersection of copyright and intellectual property law with fan art and fan fiction.
Yet you can also come to Illogicon to simply play.
“There are plenty of people who come just to go hang out in our gaming rooms all weekend, and they’re up there playing Pathfinder, playing board games, and never come down for the discussion-based things,” says McHenry.
Indeed, you don’t have to be an über-nerd to enjoy Illogicon, she says. Newcomers to the con can try their hand at Settlers of Catan (“Which even my dad knows how to play at this point,” McHenry offers), and segue from there deeper into board game nerddom if they’d like. And this year, for the first time, dealers hall admission is free on Sunday. Those who are curious about fan culture can come take a look around. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll end up hooked, too.
“If it seems like the kind of crowd they’re interested in and they see something on the schedule, they can grab a day badge for relatively cheap on Sunday,” McHenry says. “But at least they can kind of try something without putting any money into it.”
When: Jan. 12-14
Where: Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham/Research Triangle, 201 Harrison Oaks Blvd, Cary
Cost: $45 weekend badge, $30 Friday only, $35 Saturday only, $20 Sunday only; $5 Saturday night shows only; Dealers room free Sunday; Children under 6 free.