Condors at Capclave: The First Chilean Participation in the American Science Fiction Convention of Washington, DC.
By Leonardo Espinoza Benavides
When I left the hotel, after two days and three nights, I knew right away that nostalgia would come as soon as I lose sight of that building. For it had been an almost oneiric experience: the first time that I was participating in one of these conventions, in the USA, home of those nearly mythical authors that many of us have read in our journey through this literary genre.
It had been Capclave 2015, the Capital Conclave, as indicated by the composition of its name, the science fiction convention corresponding to the metropolitan area of Washington, DC. The event is organized each year by the Washington Science Fiction Association (WSFA), one of the oldest associations of this topic in the country, functioning—impressively—since 1947. With the support of the WSFA and some dear countrymen, we were able to carry out the first presentation exclusively dedicated to Chilean science fiction.
To many, an amazing weekend; to me, a little paradise. I have no way of knowing if such opportunity will present itself again, the stars would have to be align once more, and for that reason I took the time and stopped to observe that hotel before leaving it. I treasure this experience as if it were one of those old photo albums, the ones you keep like books on shelves to be rediscovered some daydreaming night…Although, if I think about it a little more, at the moment I’m saving this memory as if it were a giant poster on a teenager’s bedroom door. Yes, that would be more appropriate.
It was a long expedition till the day of the presentation. Planning and specifying ideas since March and even before, with WSFA’s motivation always present. I’ve said it before, but I believe it’s only fair that I repeat it: the people of the association with whom I’ve shared this year are individuals truly spectacular, and it brings me joy to count myself as a member of their group. They are people of tireless motivation and dedication. But this time I’ll also have words of recognition for my peers in Chile.
As it usually happens when planning, it was only when one week remained until the convention that unexpected events showed up. O the unexpected…An elemental part of the excitement, nevertheless.
The project was ready: the presentation was going to last sixty minutes, in which I was going to explain for half an hour the history of Chilean science fiction, having afterwards a direct contact via Skype with Professor Marcelo Novoa in Chile, who was going to talk about the most current situation of the genre in the country. The last fifteen minutes were going to be dedicated to a dialogue with the audience. I extend, before continuing, my sincere gratitude to Marcelo, a fundamental motivational pillar and a great literary promoter. Unfortunately, due to superior (and comprehensible) reasons, Marcelo told me that…he would no longer be able to participate in the videoconference.
The epopee had begun. It was Monday by then. The presentation: Saturday.
Here appears, as a savior from distant lands, the writer Rodrigo Juri (a notable writer, I would declare). A few weeks earlier, Rodrigo had contacted me with an email. He had read an article I had published in which I commented the project and called to join forces; call to which he answered—probably driven by the spirit of our ancient masters. We stayed in fluid communication and I invited him to take part in the international contact that was going to be held. Considering we only had one hour scheduled, we reached the consensus of not adding him. Still, Rodrigo remained available to help us, and it was him the one who received my frantic email bombardment when I found myself forced to restructure the presentation. Thanks, Rodrigo, for the patience.
That is how I got in contact with the legendary Luis Saavedra. I think he worthily earned that adjective. Luis manifested me his gigantic enthusiasm, and at the same time he informed me he was not able to take part in the event. He had a trip planned. After all, it was going to be a long holiday weekend and I was asking him only three days away from the convention.
Meanwhile, Rodrigo kept receiving my emails.
Thanks to Luis, I ended up contacting José Hernández Ibarra, also known as JH Magno, an admirable young historian of the genre. I wasn’t able to get in direct contact with him until Thursday, a day before the beginning of my stay in the hotel. I rapidly explained him what the convention and the presentation were about, the part he had to carry out, the times we had, and at last I was calmed after getting his participation confirmation. He is a very proactive and dedicated young man.
I told Rodrigo he could now rest easy. We had reached a conclusion before in which he might had to take the role of the teleconference, but the order was finally reestablished.
Everything prepared, Friday made its entrance.
Capclave 2015 had begun.
I arrived at the hotel in Gaithersburg (about thirty minutes from Washington) and eagerness and pure joy completely impregnated me. It was a dream coming true, after all; it’s not something minor. Yet, I must confess that I spent most of that Friday concerned with next day’s presentation, but that wasn’t enough to prevent me from enjoying the environment.
In total, nine rooms of different sizes destined to the activities, most of the time happening simultaneously. That’s what the convention itself is about: a big group of people (averaging four hundred these last years; with the exception, certainly, of 2013, when the participation of George R.R. Martin raised the number up to more than nine hundred), all of them spread out in those multiple activities: presentations, discussion panels, workshops and other special events.
I spent some time with Kathi Overton, a friend and a member of the WSFA, taking care of some details regarding the Skype contact. Essentially, none of this would have been possible without her help and support from the start.
And then…The unexpected again.
Rodger, the person in charge of the convention’s programming and to whom I thank his friendliness and assignation of an hour for the presentation, told me that, for the best, he had given us thirty extra minutes.
It was a favorable unexpected situation, but unexpected all the same.
I always wanted to make this opportunity something to be shared with the people in Chile, with those who I know are also working to contribute to our dear local science fiction. José and I could’ve simply extended our parts to fill those extra minutes, but we decided to try using that time for adding more Chilean voices.
Rodrigo! I’m not sure what he might have thought by then, but, of course, I was announcing him this with basically no time to make preparations, after having telling him to rest easy. So, it was more than understandable that he couldn’t participate.
I also invited Mario Bustos Ponce, a writer published by Puerto de Escape and a friend of mine, but, again…let’s say I was not giving him plenty of time to prepare anything, although he would’ve been happy to join us. He was, besides, out of Santiago.
Nonetheless, there were no troubles at all. José and I practiced our timings and we felt more than ready for next day. Forty minutes for the history of Chilean science fiction, another twenty for José’s contact (during which I was going to translate his words to English), and the rest of the time was for the audience.
That night, to relax and enjoy, I accepted the invitation and went to have a drink on the 12th floor, where the nocturnal gatherings were being held. The meeting was fantastic; the beer…not the best idea. I had no way of predicting such dark beverage would decide to destroy my digestive system. “Ragin Bitch” said the label, in case you felt curious.
Okay—perhaps I was only nervous.
Saturday, October the 10th, 2015: the Chilean presentation. We were going to start at one thirty in the afternoon and finish by three. Blue shirt, khaki pants and shoes ready. I went to Salon A, the one I was assigned to. Slides displayed, José online via Skype, and people arriving. A few minutes after the scheduled time, we began.
It was a success. Marvelous ninety minutes.
I made an introduction about our country (wine and earthquakes are surely one of our most recognizable emblems; wine in particular generating a good dose of enthusiasm) and then I expounded on Chilean science fiction—from Francisco Miralles to the 21st century writers. Subsequently, José provided an analysis of Chilean science fiction within the Fantastic Literature. Next, the spectators began raising their hands.
There is nothing more I could’ve asked from this interested group of people that came to see us. I have personally rarely seen this kind of motivation in terms of this topic in particular, and José would later tell me the same. They wondered about the influence of poetry in our writings, and about the importance of our astronomical observatories; they analyzed, commented and gave their opinions. Some of them took notes of book’s titles and authors. The presentation was over and there were those who approached me to share a nice conversation and congratulation.
I sent the good news back to Chile and the rest of the day became a nirvana.
We made it.
I enjoyed the rest of the convention in a state of supreme bliss. I had lunch and spent some time with the kind Lance Oszko, an experienced enthusiast of science fiction, and to whom I had to opportunity to clarify that Alejandro Jodorowsky is from Chile, and not from Mexico as he thought. Being a man of traveling, among the things he told me was that contacts were usually made by looking for the foreign associations, as it had been the case with Poland when he visited that area. I’ll take to Chile that pending mission; I believe the model of the WSFA is a magnificent example worthy of adapting for a Chilean association with our own cultural accent.
That same day, the winner of the WSFA Small Press Award was announced, and as a member of the WSFA I had the pleasure to count myself as part of the jury. The award went to Jackalope Wives, by Ursula Vernon, winner of the Nebula as well. And great was the introductory speech of Sam Lubell, reminding us the importance of the short story in the world of science fiction.
Rodger was congratulated for his work and recognitions were given to the guests of honor: Alastair Reynolds, a remarkable British author of science fiction, and Gordon Van Gelder, publisher and former editor of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction.
The day concluded impeccable.
Sunday felt calmer—it was the closing day. I enjoyed some conversations and went to some interesting presentations. Before heading to the last one of the day, dealing with climate change in science fiction, I had the vast fortune to share some words with the already mentioned Gordon Van Gelder. A man simply phenomenal: amicable and approachable. In addition to handing me the last issue of the Magazine, he gave me a copy of the book Welcome to the Greenhouse, an anthology edited by him. For the trip back to Chile, he said to me.
As I stated before, he is a fabulous guy.
By 4:00 p.m. I was already standing outside of the hotel, holding my backpack and luggage, pondering and breathing the entire odyssey. A beautiful odyssey, unique, of which there is not a single moment I don’t feel grateful for.
I had concluded it before, but I was able to confirm it once more. Here, the achievements arise from the fellowship they have created, a long route they’ve walked together, supporting themselves and fervently believing in what they do, not only caring about the horizons they can reach but mainly focusing on expressing and cultivating an affection and a shared dream. And there is room for everyone.
I witnessed the sublime American science fiction scene, but I was also able to perceive the bond that unites those of us in Chile who have freely decided to be part of this small niche in our country. I received unselfish help and for that I personally thank each of you. There is an implicit companionship of which I have no doubts. I believe it’s inevitable.
And thus occurred the first Chilean participation in this convention; an achievement not of one, but of many of us—with plenty more room for others to come.
When kindness, effort and comradeship are present the results can only be fruitful.
October 2015.Virginia, USA.