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 V.24 No.36 | September 3 - 9, 2015

Feature

The Furries of the Day

Bubonicon as history, history as Bubonicon

Xeru, Shawn Maple, Absinthe
Xeru, Shawn Maple, Absinthe

From the beginning, let us offer you news of the event. Bubonicon is a large science-fiction and fantasy convention held in Albuquerque. Just past its 47th year of existence the event is host to hundreds of fans, authors and other members of a vibrant American subculture. This same subculture has recently drawn the notice of the media and the general pubic. Among the reasons for this: women, the LGBT community and a rainbow of human ethnicities are ascendent in sci-fi/fantasy culture. Propelling this tendency forward, Gamergate as well recent events at the yearly Hugo Awards gathering indicate that change is in the air. Once the bastion of white Euro-centric males, the culture, much like America is evolving.

Alibi sent August March to Bubonicon 47. He went seeking the magnificent mysteries of an event ensconced in tradition yet perched on the edge of a cultural sea-change that portends a more inclusive of version itself. Here is what he discovered, here is what he wrote.

A Klingon warrior of decidedly African-American heritage is being helped to the elevator. His wife says he grew overheated in his armor and needs fresh air. March looks askance and decides on the stairs.

March fiddles with the air-conditioner as he speeds toward the Marriot Hotel. Clouds and mist hang over the Sandias. He circles the hotel parking lot, sweating like a man stranded in the middle of the west mesa in June. A slot beneath a shady tree ends his momentary misery. In a flash he is standing beside the car checking the batteries on a pocket recorder, ready to go.

Professor Richard Berthold, a long-time Bubonicon participant walks by, arms filled with maps of the ancient world. He is wearing a turtleneck sweater and a camel-hair jacket; March wonders how the hell that is possible in such heat before motioning him over for a chat.

Berthold’s been coming to Bubonicon since the 1970s. Lately he’s been responsible for intriguing lectures on Hellenistic life and customs, drawn up from his area of expertise—which happens to be the world as it was.

Julia Kirby
Julia Kirby

March asks the professor—famous for onnce telling students that the Pentagon deserved everything it got on 9/11—if there has been a noticeable evolution in the sci-fi and fantasy subculture in residence at the three day event.

A self-admitted member of the cynics club popularized by Diogenes in the 4th century BCE, Berthold says no. Urged on by the blinking light of the Olympus brand recording device March is pointing in his direction, Berthold continues, “I don’t think it’s evolving much. It certainly is a good place to get laid. It looks a little bit more like America now. And it’s comfortable. These are people who enjoy the same kinds of things I do. The culture here sorta thinks the way I do.” Berthold says he feels overdressed and continues walking to his ride. March waves goodbye and heads for the hotel lobby.

Captain America rushes past him heroically, pushing the revolving door forward but stranding August March in the nether world between inside and out. Once past this formidable gate, our exemplar goes to the registration booth, pins a press credential to his polo shirt and heads to the pressroom on the 16th floor. In the elevator he talks to two convention-goers, Sarah Porter and Nathan Gonzales.

Sarah, a twenty-something Albuquerque native has been attending Bubonicon for the past eleven years. Her view of the event contrasts with that of feisty firebrand Berthold. “I’ve seen an inclusive trend in the films and novels presented, more heroines, more people of color.” Gonzales chimes in, supporting his partner’s view, “I’ve always felt welcome here, I’ve never felt excluded.” The doors of the turbo lift swoosh open and March proceeds to room 1617.

At the entrance to the event’s nerve center, a masked young woman named Julia Kirby greets him. She is 16 years old and dressed as Marie Antoinette. She tells our reporter that she feels “more and more young people are becoming interested in the convention. Before, it was older people. Now a lot of teenagers are getting introduced to science fiction and fantasy through Bubonicon. That’s very cool.” Julia smiles, sips on an iced tea and gambols out the door.

The room is packed with VIPs, old-timers and kids too. There’s a table of delicious food, which March cherishes because he really likes to eat. After deciding against a packet of Cheetos (he doesn’t want to ruin the previously mentioned polo shirt), August March sits down next to a loincloth-clad, shirtless man in his seventies. It’s George Bates, who has been coming to Bubonicon since its beginnings in a Burque back yard 47 years ago.

Asked if he’s seen signs of cultural evolution, Bates nods his head, and replies thoughtfully, “It’s been a slow tide, but it’s been coming in for years. It’s more inclusive now, a wider range of humans is showing up, that’s fine by me.” As Bates heads for the buffet line, March grabs a diet Pepsi from an ice cooler and exits the suite, determined to witness the changes afoot at Bubonicon first hand.

A Klingon warrior of decidedly African-American heritage is being helped to the elevator. His wife says he grew overheated in his armor and needs fresh air. March looks askance and decides on the stairs.

In the lobby March is greeted by a host of furries—cosplay fans dressed as animals. Taking them aside he asks the same of them, wondering how a genre once dominated by tales of rocket ships written by white males has blossomed into a universe as diverse as the stars contained therein.

Living out their non-human identities as authentically as possible, the furries have a translator with them. Shawn Maple tells August March that his friends are called Absinthe and Xeru before giving his impression of this year’s con. “I think it’s fantastic how much Bubonicon has grown over the years,” he says, before wandering into the crowd, holding hands with his furry friends.

March decides that it is time for a smoke. There’s an area by the pool where he can do that. A couple sits at the adjacent patio. He asks to join Dizmis Frost and Tim Pohl as the two gentlemen take a break. Pohl is convinced of cultural evolution, says that it’s not a new thing in America or Bubonicon. It can all be traced back to the original version of Star Trek he gravely intones. The trend continued to grow, he solemnly believes, in films such as Ridley Scott’s Alien and James Cameron’s The Terminator, where strong female leads featured prominently in humanity’s salvation. Bubonicon merely reflects that slow, yet awesome progress, he concludes.

After taking all of that that in, August March returns to the convention and visits the author’s room. There, he encounters Joyce Hertzoff and R.J. Mirabal, two writers who are spending their second Bubonicon together. She says there is definitely a change happening; he agrees.

“There’s absolutely evolution taking place here”, Hertzoff thinks. “I’m seeing it at many levels, in terms of what people are writing and reading and who is attending. Also a change is happening with regards to the literature, it’s finally being seen as something that’s legitimate and weighty. The sky’s the limit; there are so many genres and subgenres that women are excelling at now, that’s a huge change.” Mirabal, who writes fantasy works based in New Mexican culture, adds, “I look around at the people coming here and I see everybody: Hispanics, African-Americans, Native Americans, members of the LBGT community.”

As August March exits the author’s area, he runs into Alibi Film Editor Devin O’Leary. They agree Bubonicon is a world unto itself, advanced in comparison to the world outside its confines; defined by a vast collection of humans who have set aside the status quo in favor of embracing a formidably inclusive and progressive environment that really is the future of American culture.

On the trip home, with the windows rolled down and the smell of rain all around, August March notices a paperback copy of Norman Mailer’s The Armies of the Night flapping around the back seat. In that book, Mailer wrote in the third person about his own experiences discovering American culture at a big convention. His outlook was bleak. But as March rounds the corner near his chante, he wonders if a similar thing could be done in a positive and proactive voice. When his favorite song, “Video Killed the Radio Star” begins playing on the radio and home comes into sight, he nods and says to no one in particular, “Yes, of course.”

 

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