I had planned to go to MidAmericon II in Kansas City, where I grew up, when my mother still lived there in assisted living north of the river. But we moved her to Tallahassee to be near my brother eight months ago — by then I was committed to participating in the unveiling of the Heinlein bust (which I had helped complete by my last-minute donation) destined for installation in the Hall of Famous Missourians in the capital building. Like 99% of science fiction readers, I had never attended a Worldcon (World Science Fiction Society convention) fully — I dropped in for one day at San Jose’s ConJose 2002 Worldcon when I lived in nearby Sunnyvale.
The above photo was taken from the fitness center on the 22nd floor of the Marriott, one of the convention hotels. The convention center is on the left, in the Power and Light District named after the 1930s Kansas City Power and Light building on the right. When I was young it was the tallest building in town and the lighted top changed colors to give the weather forecast. the area is now coming to life as a residential and entertainment center with cool restaurants and high-rise condos.
Our room was actually in the renovated Muehlebach tower next door, and we spent a lot of time walking back and forth across the skybridge between them.
This is the view north, with the old in-town airport on the right and the suburb I grew up in, Gladstone, in the green hills above the river bottoms in the center. Kansas City was formed from several small settlements, one at the river landing in this shot, another at Westport a few miles south where wagon trains assembled for the trails west. Settlers arrived by riverboat and later train to make the overland trek west, and local merchants thrived outfitting them.
Kansas City had one of only two highrise city halls in the country, Los Angeles being the other. The city is known for its large and creative black community, with associated achievements in jazz and barbecue. Its science fictional associations come from Robert A. Heinlein’s childhood; he grew up in KC after being born in Butler, MO to the south. Like many families including mine, his family moved from a rural area to the city to pursue opportunity.
I brought my husband Paul along. He reads more science fiction than I get a chance to these days, tending to prefer the action-adventure-military variety more prominent at Libertycon. Because of his rotator cuff surgery a month earlier, he was still in some pain and wore a sling to prevent his healing shoulder from being injured. Which is why we didn’t take up the Heinlein Society’s invitation to join them for the official installation ceremonies in the state capital following the con.
The bust unveiling was one of the first events, and we had some trouble finding it in the vast exhibition hall. I was introduced and lots of nice people thanked me for stepping up to put the fund over the top.
The state rep, T. J. Berry, was present with the proclamation passed by the House. He made a short speech before the unveiling.
After the ceremony and pictures, the Heinlein Society had a cake and cookies reception in the con suite area:
Friday night, Keith Kato threw a chili party for the Society and guests at his hotel. We Ubered up there and enjoyed wine and chili, four different kinds — including “Silverberg recipe,” extremely spicy. Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven sat across from each other and I managed to talk to both of them briefly (achievement unlocked!) though both were pretty tired and out of it. We left fairly early as Greg Benford arrived, and thus missed out on Robert Silverberg, who normally attends. I therefore missed my chance to apologize for calling him on the phone when I was twelve, when (being quick) he recognized my book report excuse as transparently fabricated.
A typical KC thunderstorm was just starting up as we left the party, and our first Uber driver dropped us when rates suddenly went up, but we had another in a few minutes. This was the first time we relied on Uber to get around all weekend, and it went well generally, with $5 rides far easier and cheaper than renting a car and paying hotel parking rates.
I had a long talk with the sculptor, E. Spencer Shubert, about his use of 3D cad cam techniques in his work. He had discovered this online after another artist hinted at it, and he’s now pioneering what is becoming important in sculpture. Which is another example of how internet access is aiding transmission of new technologies, something Heinlein didn’t think of first!
More pictures of the bust and the artist:
The Heinlein Society also had an exhibit area with personal momentos like his typewriter and ephemera of the day:
We did some panels — or at least I did, because Paul was tiring quickly and needed to rest back in the room. Mike Resnick and Eric Flint, who often collaborate, have apparently been doing panels together for a long time and have it down to an amusing art:
Later I went to a panel on future government, which was a little unimaginative but still worthwhile. Karl Schroeder and Matthew Johnson presented the aggressively Canadian perspective, while hot new novelist Ada Palmer (Too Like the Lightning) kept the niceness from being oppressive. Schroeder barely touched on radical notions like smart contracts and and DAOs. And the much more practical concept of liquid democracy and Google’s voting experiments weren’t mentioned at all.
I captured a bit of video to give you the favor of it. Note this was for *personal use* and not in violation of the con’s rules! (I am gently making fun of certain people now claiming no one can record a panel without getting permission from everyone involved.)
Earlier, people packed a tiny room for the highest-powered panel of all, moderated by Chuck Gannon and including many of the remaining warhorses of “science-y” science fiction: Joe Haldeman, Larry Niven, David Brin, Greg Bear, and Greg Benford. I came in a bit late and ended up sitting on the floor in the last available space near the AV stands, which explains the strange camera angle….
For the panel on hard science in science fiction, Ann Leckie (representing “soft”) sparred amusingly with Geoff Landis (representing “hard.”) While this was fun, I had to leave early.
“Masters of Science Fiction” had collectible cards made for them, which were presented. Connie Willis was as charming and fun as I’m told she normally is, bantering with Silverberg gamely.
I was impressed by Jim Davidson on the immortality panel — he sounds like me, which means he must be right! Greg Benford is involved in a biotech startup, thus his interest in the topic.
The Retro Hugo Awards went to deserving works from 1940 (as I recall) which was before Hugos were presented. The competition was stiff and made current work seem a little shallow by comparison. Keith Kato of the Heinlein Society accepted for Heinlein’s two retro Hugo wins, and everyone was touched when A. E. van Vogt’s granddaughter stepped up to accept the retro Hugo for Slan. The 1940s touches included a swing band and dance, plus some well-done period announcing and costumes.
Later that evening I ran into Dave Truesdale, who edited and published one of my essays over at Tangent Online. I missed the now-famous panel where his moderation resulted in loud disorder and got him expelled from the con, but I wrote what little I have to say about that affair here.
More travelogue: the city is a lot livelier than when I left 40-odd years ago, with a spiffy new convention center and lots of arts and entertainment to be had in town. I had remembered the oppressive heat and humidity and suffering while I mowed other people’s lawns, but I had forgotten that every few days a cold front sweeps through bringing cool, dry conditions, and we had two perfect days of it with highs in the 70s. I was actually cold at times since I had neglected to pack any nicer or warmer clothes.
We ventured downstairs to the old lobby of the formerly grand Muehlebach Hotel, now just used as an annex of the Marriott:
My cousins remaining in town took us to the Jack Stack barbecue nearby, which is apparently better than the famous old standbys like Gates and Arthur Bryant’s. After we were seated, Democratic VP candidate Tim Kaine was shown to the table next to us, which meant much of our dinner was accompanied by a jostling scrum of reporters and cameramen just a few feet away. The full retinue included Secret Service, even more staffers, and a dozen reporters and cameramen. Their cars parked outside blocked our cousin’s car in, since they had been allowed to pull up and park in front of the door.
The Marriott is a well-designed, mostly well-managed hotel, but the restaurant was inadequate to convention needs. They had the usual breakfast buffet and plenty of table space, but bottlenecked it by inadequate servers staffing — several mornings there were long waits to be seated when there was plenty of space and most people were just going to the buffet line anyway. Sunday we had to find a sandwich for breakfast when they told us the wait would be thirty minutes. For dinner, the food was uninspiring.
On the other hand, the entire 22nd floor was dedicated to a great fitness center and indoor pool, which not surprisingly was underused during the con.
We escaped to local restaurants on foot and via Uber. Lidia’s is a great Italian place run by the eponymous TV chef:
And Monday we Ubered out to the airport and returned to real life:
I would have enjoyed being on a panel or two, but by the time it occurred to me to volunteer, it was too late (a month before the con).
Nice review, thanks!
I didn’t mean to drop by and just leave before!
Mostly I think you zigged when I zagged, so that there was no overlap in our conventions.
It’s interesting to hear what the other half of the con was like, especially the Heinlein stuff which I somehow totally didn’t even notice.
I ended up missing most evening events too, except for the main Hugo ceremony, because I was staying out in the boonies with relatives and had to go be social.
The swing dancing looks as if it was fun, so I’m sorry I missed it.
One thing I did really feel was that both Kansas City proper, and the people at the convention, were all amazingly nice – helpful, and pleasant.
I mean, I asked for directions a couple of times, and didn’t only get directions but actually people walking with me to make sure I got the right place.
Kansas City itself was much prettier than I’d expected – rolling hills, the river, and a great mix of newer and historic buildings in the downtown.
(Your photos of the old hotel are lovely.)
The thunder storm was a treat for me, and CICADAS out in the countryside.
So glad I went.
Thanks for the report and the pics! I attended Worldcon (My first!) as I’m from Wichita and still have family in the KC area. Stupidly, I stuck to the author-and-book area of the convention hall and didn’t peek at the exhibits; My loss! (I did see and meet a few authors I’ve enjoyed for years!)
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