by Toni L.P. Kelner
This weekend my family and I attended Arisia, which bills itself as "New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention." Folks, they're not kidding.
Just look at this year's Guests of Honor. For writing, it was Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due, noted SF authors who just happen to be married to one another. For art, it was Roger Dean, whose distinctive look is familiar to millions from the album covers for the band YES. And for music--yes, they had a music guest of honor which already gets them diversity points--it was Celtic band Emerald Rose. So just from those seven guests, you had an academic, a NYT bestseller, a pal of rock stars, an architect, a Brit, four guys from Georgia, a chemistry teacher, a software professional, a former member of the KISS army, and an anthropologist who did extensive field work in the Yucatan.
Note that none of those descriptions include science fiction or fantasy--part of the joy of Arisia is that the organizers don't limit themselves. They even let in mystery writers!
Given the wide variety of events going on into the wee hours of the morning--I had to sleep sometime--there's no way I can give a comprehensive account of the con, so I'll just try for a sampling.
I mentioned Roger Dean, and in addition to getting a chance to see his work up close in the Art Show, I went to a Dueling Easels event where Dean and former Arisia GoH Bob Eggleton created alien landscapes while we watched. (The woman to the far left of the picture is Dean's daughter Freya Dean, an artist in her own right. Dean pointed out that Freya is expert at drawing horses, which he has never mastered.)
I'm not a visual artist, but this was a treat. It never ceases to amaze me that an pictures starts out as a line, then the artist adds some more lines and some dots and maybe a blotch or two, and suddenly it's a dragon or a house or a person. My daughters, who are visual artists, got more a lot more practical inspiration out of the demonstration.
Both artists answered questions as they worked, and they were asked about their inspirations. Dean cited something I hadn't expected, but which made perfect sense: Chinese landscapes. Eggleton cited Dean, even though his work doesn't look anything like Dean's. I guess that goes to show that inspiration and copying aren't the same.
Though I wasn't attending as a pro this year, plenty of other writers were, and I met a new one: Alex Lidell. Her first novel, a young adult fantasy, was just released two weeks ago. She says she was inspired by reading Alanna by Tamora Pierce and The Three Musketeers when she was young. (She read The Three Musketters in French, English, and Russian. That's a language per musketeer!)
Arisia always includes historical reenactors and demonstrations of swordsmanship, but this year included a group I'd never heard of before: the Salem Zouaves. Zouaves were originally French-Algerian light infantry known for their Turkish uniforms, snazzy precision drills, and skill in battle. American militia companies were inspired by the original Zouaves, and adopted their styles and methods. Zouave drill competitions were huge before the Civil War, and Zouave companies fought on both sides of the war. The Salem Light Infantry from Salem, Mass., went Zouave in 1861, and the current crew demonstrates their skills at events all over the area.
As a long-time circus fan, I was intrigued by the listing for Piscis Volans, which calls itself New England's premier steam-punk circus troupe. (I didn't even know there was such a thing as circus troupes inspired by steampunk sensibilities! And they've got a tumblr! Get it? Tumbler/tumblr...) In fact, it was a premiere for this premier troupe: their first performance. Since it was the first, there were some technical issues, but I was impressed by their skills and really enjoyed the show.
One think I always get a kick out of at science fiction cons is the costumes, and Arisia is a great place to see costumes inspired by books, TV shows, comics, and artistic imaginations. Not only is there an elaborate costume contest, but people wander the halls in really fabulous outfits.
This is a crew of cosplayers dressed as feminine versions of the Avengers: the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor. (Those are Zouaves in the background, by the way.)
Do I even need to introduce these three, who stayed in character all weekend long as they promoted a bid to bring the World SF Convention to Orlando?
Here we have Doctor Who's canine robot K9 and former companion Leela. Or, given that the Doctor is a time traveler, maybe that should be his future companion Leela. Either way, if you know the show you can appreciate how authentic these two were. Leela used a remote control to propel K9 all through the convention.
The costume on the left is a Clockwork Repair Droid based on characters in a different era of Doctor Who. The one on the right is a reimagined version of Batman. If the pictures aren't impressive enough, be aware that there is somebody in that red dress who did walk around, even without a face. And those black wings folded shut.
Here's another for Doctor Who fans--apparently this was the year of Doctor Who, because there were even more costumes inspired by the show than I could take pictures of. This lady is dressed as the TARDIS, the Doctor's space ship / time machine. You can't see it in the picture, but her crown lit up.
Even with all these pictures, I have left out so much of what I saw at Arisia, let alone all the panels, parties, and events I didn't see. But in looking over this report, I realized I'd reused the same word multiple times: inspired. Usually that's a warning sign that I need to rewrite, but this time I think it's a theme. Arisia was filled with people who don't just read books and comics, or look at art, or watch TV and movies, or listen to music. They are inspired by them to create work of their own.
Sometimes it's a faithful recreation, like the Zouaves, Leela, the Clockwork Droid, and the Disney princesses. Sometimes it's a reimagining, like the Batman, the steampunk circus, the gender-bender Avengers, and the Tardis. Sometimes the inspiration is obvious--at least in retrospect--like Roger Dean's affection for Chinese landscape painting, and sometimes less so, like Eggleton's citing Dean's work. And sometimes the inspiration takes years to come to fruition, like Alex Lidell's book.
Arisia really is as diverse as advertised, but I think all the participants were linked by inspiration, and maybe some of us left with fresh inspiration for our own work.