Story & Photos by Taylor Richmond
UW News Lab

Around 2,000 science fiction and fantasy fans gathered for the 46th Norwescon in SeaTac last week at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.

Known as the premier science fiction and fantasy convention for the Pacific Northwest, the four-day celebration of literature, art, costuming, fiction, and science brought back lifelong aficionados and raised key issues affecting their work.

Elizabeth McKinney’s first Norwescon was in 1998, and this year marked her 20th time attending. She has a familial connection to the convention; her parents met at Norwescon, and years later, her sister took her first steps at the same hotel. “They were letting her crawl up the staircase,” she said, “and then when she got up to the first landing, she decided she’d had enough of crawling.” Her parents’ astonished exclamations, “Did she just take her first steps at a convention?” highlight the significance of Norwescon in her family’s history.

As a Norwescon veteran, McKinney proudly displayed her collection of ribbons that attendees could obtain by participating in different events, visiting booths, or volunteering. At that point, she had 42 ribbons in total.

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Norwescon Chair SunnyJim Morgan told The SeaTac Blog that the lifelong experiences keep the community committed to the annual event.

“These conventions are a bunch of nerds getting together throwing the party they want to go to,” she said. “It kind of morphs and changes with the community, but it really sticks with that community.”

An estimated 500 hours of content were available during the four-day event.

“Our programming is really the bulk of what we’re offering members,” she said. “That’s the difference between a Norwescon and a Comicon. Comicon is a lot of stuff to buy with a little bit of programming. We’re a little stuff to buy and a lot of programming.” This year’s variety of programming included an early morning game of laser tag using vintage Star Wars equipment, a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, board game competitions, themed charades and hundreds of panels.

Morgan attributes the people as the main reason the convention has been able to go on for so long.
Particularly important are the nearly 200 volunteers who help the convention run in some capacity. In fact, Norwescon is one of the largest entirely volunteer-run regional conventions in the United States. Even the leadership team is made up of volunteers. “None of the staff get paid at all,” joked Morgan. “We get a really screaming deal on our memberships.”

Also important are the vendors looking to sell their creations.

Nina Himes was there selling jewelry and other artwork. She is a full-time tattoo artist and only attends one to two conventions as a vendor. She prefers smaller conventions like Norwescon. “It’s way more personable,” she said, comparing it to some of the larger conventions she’s been to.

Jesikah Sundin is a full-time writer who relies on conventions to make her living. She plans on attending a total of seven conventions this year, including Norwescon. “I matched a quarter of my yearly Amazon sales at Emerald City Comic Con this year,” she said and mentioned how Norwescon was slower but still important. She was meeting a lot of first-time buyers and potential new fans compared to larger conventions where she mostly interacts with people who already follow her.

Another local author, Kate Alice Marshall, was this year’s special guest of honor. Norwescon was one of the first conventions she attended but had not been back in many years. “I had forgotten just how fun it can be,” she said in a written statement. “It was a huge honor to be the Special Guest, and to be alongside such brilliant and accomplished folks.”

Attendees returning after long gaps away were common this year. Morgan believes this is still a side effect of the coronavirus pandemic. “A lot of people I think are looking for that community-based event,” she said. “A lot of people coming out of the pandemic they’ve been isolated, they’ve been very lonely and this is the kind of event where you’re with your people.”

Panels ranged from fandom meetups to discussions about crafting equipment; from neurodivergence representation in literature to women in the business of STEM.

One throughline throughout the weekend was discussions on artificial intelligence and art in the digital age.

“I just don’t think about it,” said Charles Vess, illustrator and this year’s artist guest of honor. “Maybe I’m at a spot where I’m far enough along to where I don’t have to worry about it.”

Most artists worry about software applications that use machine learning, a process of compiling human-created works to better predict an outcome. For example, by continuously predicting what word will come next, these applications can create realistic text.

Applications can also create images utilizing the techniques of different visual artists through machine learning. “I know that there’s vast troves of my work in various AI things that whatever’s learning to do whatever with,” said Vess during his mainstage interview. “But there’s nothing I can do about it except to get angry and life’s too short to be angry.”

The next Norwescon will be returning to the SeaTac DoubleTree on April 17-20, 2025.

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Taylor Richmond is a senior at the University of Washington majoring in Journalism and Public Interest Communication. He’s particularly interested in telling stories about the people who work and play in the nerd community. You can find him online @BTayOkay.

University of Washington’s News Lab (COM 362) gives advanced Journalism and Public Interest Communication students an opportunity to build a dynamic clip portfolio by working with client news outlets and other organizations in the greater Seattle area.