MidSouthCon 31: A Celebration of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
Friday through Sunday, Hilton Memphis, 939 Ridge Lake Blvd. Admission: $50 for the weekend. Daily rates and event admissions vary. Visit midsouthcon.org.
H.G. Wells. “Star Trek.” Superman. Pulp fiction.
Unlike the pages of the magazines that introduced the first stories by Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury, some topics never fade with age at MidSouthCon, the region’s annual celebration of science fiction, fantasy and horror.
Even so, a genre celebrated since the days of Jules Verne for its gift of prophecy had better keep up to date. MidSouthCon 31, which begins Friday and continues through Sunday at the Hilton Memphis hotel on Ridge Lake Boulevard, will be populated as usual by fans of Vulcans, vampires and hobbits, but some panel topics reveal what sometimes-science-fiction author Aldous Huxley called a brave new world.
A Friday panel at the convention will tackle “50 Shades of Cliché: How 50 Shades of Grey Has Changed How Writers View and Write Sex Scenes and Erotica.”
Taking a cue from the Syfy network series, the “So You Want To Be a Ghost Hunter” panel will introduce the audience to real-life paranormal investigators.
And “Defining Steampunk” will explore a science-fiction subgenre that’s popular enough to be referenced in the Luann comic strip and to influence the style of the pop-country duo Sugarland, yet is still relatively little-known in the mainstream.
“Steampunk in a nutshell is a style — a style of books, movies and video games that derives its inspiration from the science fiction of the 19th century, when steam was the dominant form of power,” said novelist Cherie Priest, the convention’s “Author Guest of Honor” and one of close to 150 writers, editors, scientists, comic-book artists, game designers and anime voice actors who will attend the event, along with hundreds of fans.
The science-fiction/fantasy professionals will take part in public talks, sign autographs and mingle with fans at film screenings, art shows, concerts, game competitions, a costume ball and the ever-popular “dealers’ room,” where books, comics, games, original artwork, replica weapons and toys are offered for sale. They also will lead numerous how-to panels intended to help beginners break into the genre marketplace.
In addition to being fun for fans, the nonprofit MidSouthCon is “an educational entity,” with many panels devoted to the realities of space travel and other “science fact” topics, according to event co-chairman Carlin Stuart. “It’s a fun environment in which to learn something,” he said. “Wearing a costume is accepted.”
The convention is a fundraiser for two charities: Literacy Mid-South and the emergency medical fund of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the professional association for genre authors.
Once the stuff of cultists and specialists, science fiction and fantasy subject matter now dominates the entertainment industry. Led by “The Avengers,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Hunger Games,” the top 12 movies at the U.S. box office last year were genre films. “The Walking Dead” is the hottest program on television.
Nevertheless, making a living in the crowded science-fiction field. is tough. Calling herself “an overnight success after 10 years and seven books,” Cherie Priest is the author of a relatively new and successful series of “Clockwork Century” alternate-history adventure novels, the first of which, “Boneshaker” (2009), was nominated for science fiction’s top honor, the Hugo Award, for best novel of the year. Set around 1880 in an America torn by a Civil War that has lasted two decades, the novels have “zombies and pirates and spies and Civil War drama and a little bit of everything,” said Priest, who lives in Chattanooga.
An English major who grew up as “a tragic little Goth girl,” in love with the work of Edgar Allan Poe and J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Priest hasn’t given up horror. She’s currently working on a story in which Lizzie Borden takes her famous ax and gives 40 whacks to Cthulhu and the other gods of the H.P. Lovecraft mythos. In Priest’s world, Borden did, in fact, kill her parents in 1892, “but it was self-defense: They were turning into fish-people.”
Convention guest Stephanie Osborn came to the genre from a different avenue: As she might say, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to write science fiction, but it helps. In fact, Osborn — a Clarksville, Tenn., native who lives in Huntsville, Ala. — was a rocket scientist, working for both the government and the private sector in the space shuttle and space station projects.
“I am old enough to remember the Apollo missions, and also old enough to remember the cool science-fiction programs that were on at the time — the original ‘Star Trek,’ ‘Lost in Space,’ ‘The Twilight Zone,’ ‘The Time Tunnel.’”
At Austin Peay State University, she earned degrees in astronomy, physics, chemistry and mathematics, so perhaps it’s no surprise that when she turned to fiction, she resurrected a hero with a similarly analytical mind, Sherlock Holmes. Osborn’s novels, including “The Case of the Displaced Detective” and “The Case of the Cosmological Killer,” bring the World’s Greatest Detective into an “alternate reality” version of the 21st century.
“I wanted to throw him in mind-bending situations — something that might drive another man insane. He starts out as very much the character that Conan Doyle wrote about, but he’s forced to change, so that by the time I’m done with him, there are some significant differences.”