SonomaCon Keynote Address

I once had a dream — a science fiction fan community run convention for Sonoma County, where I grew up and was once living. Then I moved. But, while I still had that dream I wrote this “Keynote Address” for the first SonomaCon as one of my Toastmaster Speeches. Enjoy!

sonomacon - sci-fi convention


Carma Spence will be giving a speech from the advanced manual “The Professional Speaker.” The first speech in this manual is the Keynote Address, which she has prepared for us today. She will be transporting us into the future. The year: 1999. The event: The first ever Sonoma County/North Bay Science Fiction Convention.

Ms. Spence has worked long and hard to make this convention a reality. This is a dream project of hers, and she has prepared today’s speech for this future occasion. Let’s welcome Carma…

Keynote Address

How I got into science fiction

Welcome to the first annual Sonoma County/North Bay Science Fiction Convention, Sonomacon! This convention was born out of a love affair with science fiction. Like most of you here, I became interested in science fiction at an early age. I was probably five years old when I walked downstairs to where my father was watching T.V. On the screen, a spaceship was flying across a sheet of stars. I asked my father what he was watching, and he replied, Star Trek.

I asked him, “What’s that?”

He told me, “Wait for a commercial.”

I sat down beside him and proceeded not to wait for a commercial. I prodded him with questions like: “What’s he doing now?” “Why’s she doing that?” and “I don’t understand what’s going on!”

He didn’t get to pay much attention to that episode. That was the beginning of a life-long interest in science fiction and fantasy.

Later, my father introduced me to the likes of Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I remember the first Asimov book I read. It was The Currents of Space. Then I started the robot novels: The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun, etc.

I would watch science fiction on television: Star Trek, Lost in Space, Quark — how many of you remember that one? — Space 1999, and more. You name it; I watched it.

When Star Wars came to the screen, I was ecstatic. I saw it at the theatre by Howarth Park in Santa Rosa; then I saw it again on the big, extra-wide screen in San Francisco; and then I saw it a third time for my 13th birthday party.

Now I know that seeing a movie three times isn’t very much for some, but it’s quite a bit for me. I rarely pay to see a movie in a theatre more than once. I was Star Wars crazy. I collected the comic books; I got a T-shirt (with Han Solo, of course), I got the poster and cut out any pictures and articles I found in magazines and newspapers about the movie.

I still have a box containing my science fiction collection. In it, I have, among other things, a Captain Cosmic T-shirt (remember him? He was played by the Creature Features guy on channel 2 and aired various sci-fi movies and series from Japan?), and a Cylon Raider. It has been unarmed. Apparently, people were having problems with kids eating and choking on the projectiles.

But I’m not really here to reminisce. I’m here to welcome you to Sonomacon and let you in on some the behind-the-scenes information about it.

How the idea of SonomaCon was formed

It all began in the summer of 1992. I had had a hard year. I just finished my first year of graduate school at the University of Maryland. And I had lost some people who I had really hoped to meet someday. First, Dr. Seuss died. Then Isaac Asimov — one of my top three favorite authors. And then Gene Roddenberry. It was the 25th anniversary of Star Trek, and sci-fi was beginning to see a strong resurgence on the television.

I came home for the summer. My mom, who at that time had just discovered the wonders of books-on-tape at the library, turned me on to a copy of The Martian Chronicles read by Ray Bradbury himself. I went to the library and put a hold on the set. Within a week, it had come in and I went to pick it up. A chill went down my spine when I noticed the dates next to Mr. Bradbury’s name: 1920 – 1991.

My heart stopped. I could feel tears wanting to form in my eyes. I asked the librarian what those dates meant — knowing full well what they were supposed to mean. “They usually mean the year of birth and death,” he said.

Just as I had feared.

“Ray Bradbury is dead? He can’t be! I would have noticed that!” I exclaimed while trying to hold back those sudden tears. The librarian got a consternated expression on his face and tried to remember hearing about it himself. He couldn’t remember.

Well, to make a long story short, we looked at various sources and found that he had a speaking engagement in January of 1992, so we knew that he couldn’t be dead. Our hypothesis was that someone got him confused with Gene Roddenberry and got the year wrong, as well. (I guess there is some resemblance, they both have the letter “R” in their name, their last names both ends with a “berry” sound and they’re both involved with science fiction.)

I was much relieved and at that moment I decided to write Mr. Bradbury a letter. I was not going to let him die before I had a chance to contact him. Trust me, this is going someplace, and someplace relevant.

Now let’s go on to the Fall semester 1993. It was my final semester at the University of Maryland College Park. And I was very much enjoying it, not only because it was almost over, not only because I was to soon return to beautiful — and warm — California, but because I was taking a class called “Science Fiction in American Culture.”

I adored this class. We studied the history and sociology of science fiction and how it reflected both the culture of its readers and of America as a whole. It was also during this semester that I went to one of the best Star Trek conventions I had ever been to and saw Leonard Nimoy speak.

And then, one day, I went to catch the Wednesday $1 movie at the campus theatre. And low and behold, on the back of the schedule, it announced that Ray Bradbury was going to be giving a talk at the theatre in one week. (I told you my Ray Bradbury story was leading somewhere!)

My heart stopped. I couldn’t believe it. I was going to be able to be in the same room with my all-time favorite, number one author. His lecture was wonderful and inspiring. He suggested that we follow our dreams and not let anyone detour us from our dreams. He even advocated that if we had any “friends” who didn’t believe in us, we should fire them. I agreed with everything he said. And I took hope and courage from the tale of his life, for I was just like him. And if he could make it, I could too.

After the talk, Ray Bradbury gave autographs. I waited in line like the rest and internally rehearsed what I wanted to say to him. I was going to ask his advice on getting published. However, when I finally got there, all my rehearsals disappeared. All I could do was smile and answer questions, or make the random lame comment.

Luckily, grasped tightly in one hand, was a letter I had written after I heard he was going to be on campus. I handed it to him — personally. It was that letter I had decided to write so many months before. He took it graciously and said that he would read it later. He signed my copy of Zen in the Art of Writing, and I went on.

I felt like such a dummy. All those things I wanted to ask him evaporated in his presence. It was weird. I’m normally a rather in control person.

Now jump back to the class I was taking, Science Fiction in American Culture. I’m pumped and excited about my future. I’m realizing that science fiction brings me joy that nothing else does. And my interest is being validated by both my idols and a graduate level class!

It was out of this class that the seed for this convention was planted. And it was the nurturing words of Ray Bradbury that gave me the permission and the courage to dream. I was excited about the ideas only hinted at in this class. I realized that the information covered could easily be expanded into many classes.

That summer, 1993, when I got home, I proposed three different science fiction courses to the SRJC’s Community Education program.

It was also that summer that the Sci-Fi Channel came to my cable company. Oh, Joy! I was so excited. All I needed to do if I wanted to watch TV was turn to the Sci-Fi Channel and it was usually showing something I wanted to watch.

Also that summer — notice how things just seem to come together? — I heard that Creation, the organization that had been bringing Star Trek conventions to Santa Rosa, was no longer going to do so. Something about it not being a big enough market.

I was shocked.

A Convention for the Bay Area

I knew in my soul that there was a strong science fiction audience in Sonoma County and the North Bay. I wanted to be an active part of this community, but I didn’t want to have to go to San Francisco — or further — to do so. In addition, I knew how fun conventions could be and I wanted people here, in the Sonoma County/North Bay area, to experience that.

Maybe, I thought, the problem wasn’t the audience in this area, but the way the convention had been marketed and planned. I decided that what was needed was a more all-inclusive convention. A convention where everyone from the hardcore sci-fi fan to the more moderate fan, from the younger to the older, from the reader to the watcher, could all come together and share their love of science fiction.

I wanted it to be a convention my mother would enjoy. I wanted it to be a convention where people could be proud of their interest in science fiction. I wanted it to be a convention where the news coverage wouldn’t be “Look at all the weirdoes gathered together!”

Now the commitment to the idea had been planted. I needed a target date. When was this convention going to happen? I decided an anniversary of some kind would be good for marketing. So I did some research. It turned out that the first planned science fiction convention took place in Leeds in 1937. The first American convention was in 1938. And the first Worldcon took place in 1939. All these dates meant that a 50th anniversary was coming up soon.

Now, remember, it was close to the end of 1993 by now. The earliest anniversary only gave me three years to prepare, and it was more obscure. I decided on this year, 1999 for three main reasons:

  1. It was the 50th Anniversary of the Worldcon. I figured this would be marketed relatively heavily because it was such a big deal. I wanted in on that fervor.
  2. Having the convention in 1999 gave me about six years to prepare. I needed to build credibility, reputation, and a support base. I couldn’t do this convention alone.
  3. 1999 is such a perfect science fiction year! So many stories are placed in this year. It is also the year people are looking to the future. The year 2000 is literally around the corner!

And so, from then on its history. I started writing articles about science fiction, I got my stories published, I started a local science fiction club, I taught classes and I even produced a PBS show on the history of science fiction. And now, today, this weekend, my dream is coming true.

But I know that it is not just my dream, but your dream, as well. In summary, what I’m really trying to do here is encourage you to follow your dreams. Go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? The dream won’t come true. But at least you tried. You can be proud of that. It will never come true if you don’t try. And you’ll live your life in a science fiction dream of “What if?”

So I am now very happy and proud to open up this, the very first — of many — annual Sonomacon! And, oh, Ray Bradbury replied to my letter.