This past weekend was the first ever HawaiiCon. I was one of the 199 Kickstarter backers last year, and was excited for the chance to attend. In all, the new con had about 700 attendees (including guests and comps), with the split between Hawaiians and mainlanders about 50/50. Although the Kickstarter hailed it as a science and SFF con with a Hawaiian twist, and touted its authors, celebrities, and comic book artists, the con really ended up being roughly 60% hard science, 30% SF, and the rest a sundry mix.
My panel schedule:
Friday: “Women Not Wrecking SciFi;” Bobak Ferdowsi solo panel.
Saturday: “SF Chicks: Feminism in SciFi;” “Death from the Skies!;” “Deep Space Voyaging;” “Girls with Guns;” “Black Holes;” Cosplay contest.
Sunday: “Tales from NASA;” “History/Future of Earth;” “Future of Exploration;” “Women in SciFi/Fantasy.”
First let’s talk location. As stunning as the Hapuna Beach Prince Resort is—and the views are spectacular—it’s a little out of the way. Mainlanders have to take both a regular flight and a puddle jumper. And because the resort is a ways up the coast, if you wanted to opt out of paying the high resort costs, you’d end up paying the same amount anyway in rental car/taxi rates getting to and from the nearest cheap lodging that isn’t camping. In short, this isn’t a con you can skimp on. Between the airfare, assorted resort costs, and ticket prices, I spent almost as much as I did back when I used to go ComicCon. That’s a hefty chunk of change for a poor, student loan-riddled librarian such as myself. But holy Hera, they picked one lovely resort. The beach alone is almost worth the price. Almost.
In terms of diversity, the attendees were perhaps one of the most diverse groups of people I’ve ever seen. Every point on the human spectrum was there, and that is bloody fantastic. The con has an explicit harassment policy (although I never witnessed any violations), and the volunteers and staff were always about and responsive to any issues. Feminism in SF was a hot button issue in many of the panels—so much so that Bobak Ferdowsi made the insightful point that science tends to use gendered terminology, and that he was always on the lookout for better descriptors—and if there were any MRA trolls on the premises, they kept their opinions to themselves.
For a first year con, the staff and volunteers did a bang up job keeping everything afloat. There were plenty of newbie issues, mostly coming down to missing some key detailing. None of the panelists had name tags, or were named in the printed schedule, so unless you already knew who astronomer so-and-so was or they remembered to introduce themselves, a con goer was out of luck. There were a few minor time management issues, like panels starting at the same time as resort check-in or being entirely rescheduled and restructured at the last minute, but these will sort themselves out as the con ages. They might also consider hiring/acquiring a volunteer who can proofread to clean up the grammar in the printed materials, and a layout designer to improve the look of the official con booklet. But, again, these are little first year growing pains that didn’t derail the overall experience. And, to be fair, the HawaiiCon staff and volunteers seemed to be just as exasperated by the unexpected fluctuations as everyone else, and they dealt with them with ease and speed.
The panels weren’t what I expected, which is largely my own fault. I sorta thought the con would be like Hawaii’s answer to ComicCon but with a slightly heavier skew toward science. What I got was mostly science camp. There were quite a few science fiction television stars and panels, so fans of Walter Koenig and Patricia Tallman were probably thrilled to bits. Having never seen a single episode of Stargate: Atlantis or Deep Space Nine, most of the stars didn’t do much for me, but I rarely go to celeb events at cons anyway.
Now, I’m not much for science. I like it, and I like learning science-y things, but the depth of my interest only goes down to i09 articles and the occasional Scientific American. The last science class I took, not counting a few college-level computer science courses on programming languages, was physics in junior year of high school. I refuse to take the GRE, mostly because it involves relearning math and science. Social sciences? Yes. Hard sciences? Eh. I’m also much more of a fantasy girl than science fiction. Had I gone to Michael Hogan’s Battlestar Galactica panel, I would’ve asked him about Gerard Argent from Teen Wolf. In short, I like monsters more than robots.
The science panel topics were cool, but I would’ve preferred the information dispensed in actual panel form, with a moderator pitching questions and the panelists discussing the issue. A majority of the science panels turned out to really be hard science presentations. Sitting through 50 minute powerpoint presentations was not my favorite thing, no matter how intellectually stimulating. But the panels I most connected with were the ones that were actual panels. Everything else offered a lot of very interesting information that I’m already forgetting. Given the overwhelming popularity of the space science presentations, I’m clearly in the HawaiiCon minority, so I won’t hold it against them.
At the end of the day, no matter my personal gripes, I had a heckuva lot of fun at HawaiiCon. It was great constantly running into panelists and stars at the resort. I learned a lot about space science, met a ton of nice people, and spent a lovely afternoon at the beach reading John Scalzi’s Lock In and eating mango gummy bears. HawaiiCon is definitely on my list of cons to return to, perhaps in a few years when it grows a bit more. Those looking for an exciting new con to sate your science needs, this is right up your alley. If I were the grading type, I’d give it a B+/A-. Not bad for a first year con. Not bad at all.
- Favorite panel: “Future of Exploration” with Bobak Ferdowsi, Robert Kelso, and moderator Phil Plait. Each had a lot to say on the topic, all of it the perfect mix of astute and entertaining.
- Most enjoyably educational panel: “Black Holes” with Dr. Nicholas McConnell. SO. MUCH. SCIENCE.
- Biggest fangirl moment: Meeting Bobak Ferdowsi. Few people in this world can turn me into a blushing, bashful fangirl, but Bobak is one of them. He’s the Neil Gaiman of space robotics engineers.
- Happiest fangirl moment: “Women in SciFi/Fantasy” panel with Esme Bianco, Torri Higgenson, Claudia Christian, Patricia Tallman, Jane Espenson, and moderator Brad Bell. So much female creativity in one spot. That panel could’ve gone on for 2 hours and it still wouldn’t have been enough.
- More #HawaiiCon2014 goodness on my Instagram.
Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.