A SoonerCon 31 Summary

A SoonerCon 31 Summary

By Jan S. Gephardt

I promised a SoonerCon 31 summary, and I mean to deliver in today’s post. But this overview won’t be our last glimpse of SoonerCon. I love this convention, and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event. However – as at every convention – this one provided some “learning takes.”

Our dealers table experiment continues, although after SoonerCon 31 the effort is looking ever more dubious as a genuinely money-making proposition. We had another unfortunate entomological encounter, too. 2023 may officially be the Year of the Rabbit, but for us it’s also been the Summer of the Bedbugs. The Embassy Suites staff seemed better equipped to deal with it, however, and we’re hoping for less a arduous follow-up. Many of the public spaces were refrigerated in the tradition of our hotel at ConQuesT, but we were pleased to discover we could adjust the temperature in our rooms!

But apart from those rough spots, this large and very well-run convention had all of its usual excellence. Panels were well-attended and full of knowledgeable people, both panelists and audiences. Many of our panel topics would make good blog posts (I took notes).

The Art Show, overseen by the accomplished Marcia Bull, was large and gorgeous. It – and the artists who showed their work there – deserve another whole post of their own (stay tuned). And the people-watching, as ever, was fabulous.

This image is a composite of two square images. At left it says, “SoonerCon 31 June 30-July2, 2023,” superimposed over a science fictional-looking image. Farther down on a multicolored design are the words, “What is Harlan Zephyr Up To?” Then it says, “SOONERRCON 31 IS JUNE 30-JULY 2, 2023 Embassy Suites Hotel & Conference Center in Norman.” At right is a screen-grab from a video on the SoonerCon Facebook Page shows three images from past shows and auctions. Across the top a runner reads, “Oklahoma’s Premier Pop Culture Convention.” Below that, it says, “Check out the Art Show & Charity Auction,” and “SoonerCon 31, June 30-July 2, 2023.”
Images courtesy of SoonerCon 31.

What We Brought to the (Dealers) Table

No author (or micro-press publisher) goes to a science fiction convention without hoping to sell something, either vicariously or directly. My SoonerCon 31 summary wouldn’t be complete without some thoughts on that. We continued our experiment with running a Dealers Table, where we offered our four Weird Sisters books and also the books of our Kansas City Author Friends group for sale. Once again, we covered part of our expenses, but did not break even. Other vendors did far better – with a crowd of about 3,000 I would hope some vendors did better! But they offered other things, including sets of finished series.

Our Weird Sisters books for this convention were G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum Duet, as well as my “XK9” books: Trilogy prequel The Other Side of Fear, plus Trilogy Books One and Two, What’s Bred in the Bone and A Bone to Pick. When we originally planned this dealers table experiment, we thought we’d also have my brother-in-law Warren C. Norwood’s Windhover Tetralogy, and maybe even the third book in my XK9 “Bones” Trilogy, Bone of Contention. But that was not to be. We did sell several of our own books.

Our “Kansas City Writer Friends” have entrusted copies of their books to us for sale at the table, too. They include Lynette M. Burrows’ dystopian alternate history sf novels from the Fellowship Dystopian Series. They are Fellowship, a prequel of sorts, My Soul to Keep, and If I Should Die. For M. C. Chambers, we brought romantic fantasy Midsummer Storm (a novelette) and science fantasy Shapers’ Veil (a novel), as well as two anthologies that include her stories, Return to Luna (we’re now sold out for that one) and Ruins Excavation. And we brought a science fiction novella titled One of Our Own, by Dora Furlong.

But wait! There’s more! We did have one finished series, the Silver Web Trilogy fantasy novels by Karin Rita Gastreich. They are Eolyn, Sword of Shadows, and Daughter of Aithne. Rounding out the “friends” collection, from Randal Spangler we brought hardcover, full-color children’s books D is for Draglings and The Draglings Bedtime Story, written with Lauren K. Duncan, and The Draglings Coloring Book. We sold several of our friends’ books, too!

The Gephardts represented for Weird Sisters Publishing, their Kansas City Author Friends, and Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Studio at SoonerCon 31. Upper left is their Freebie Table display of badge ribbons, bookmarks, postcards, and business cards. Between them all, the freebies represented G. S. Norwood’s Deep Ellum stories, Jan S. Gephardt’s XK9 books, M. C. Chambers’ books and short stories, Lynette M. Burrows’ “Fellowship Dystopia” books, and Essential Polish proofreading services. At right, Ty and Pascal Gephardt sit behind the Weird Sisters Publishing dealer’s table at SoonerCon 31, on either side of the “Rana Station” banner. On the left end of the table are science fiction books by Gephardt, Burrows, Dora Furlong, and M. C. Chambers. On the right end are fantasy books by Randal Spangler, Karin Rita Gastreich, M. C. Chambers, and G. S. Norwood. Below at center is the SoonerCon 31 Art Show display of nine paper sculpture artworks by Jan S. Gephardt.
Above, The Weird Sisters Publishing and Kansas City Author Friends’ Freebie Table display and Dealer’s table (starring Ty and Pascal Gephardt); below, Jan’s Art Show display. All photos by author.

Fun and Interesting Panels

As ever, I thoroughly enjoyed being on several panels – as well as attending others. I couldn’t write a SoonerCon 31 summary without mentioning them. I only remembered to get pictures of two of them. Especially when I’m the moderator, I have other things on my mind! But I was personally scheduled for four panels plus my reading, and I made a point to attend another one as an engaged audience member on Friday.

There’s been a lot of recent concern in the arts community about the ethics behind Chat GPT and other generative AI programs. So I was curious to see what the panel for “Teaching a Robot to be Kind” would say. Moderator Mel White, PhD (Professor, scientist, artist, and author with a background in computer programming) led a lively and wide-ranging discussion by panelists from a variety of relevant backgrounds. Dara Fogel, PhD Is both a professor of philosophy with an emphasis on brain research and ethics, as well as a writer. James “Pigeon” Fielder is a military veteran who designed and executed military war games, and now designs them for others. Authors William Ledbetter and Tim Frayser both have researched the topics of AI and robotics in depth for their books. Loretta McKibben comes from a deep background in STEM and computer programming.

My own panels each could merit a future blog post of their own. On Saturday, “Reading is Power” examined the ways that literacy can defeat authoritarianism and fascism. Moderator Shai Fenwick, along with Melinda LaFevers, Ted Penella, Matthew Price, Cheyanne Welker, and me, explored the question in depth. We had the advantage of also attracting an engaged and well-informed audience. I moderated “Fan-Made Content: Reimagined Creation or Copyright Issue.” We had such an engaged audience for that one, we never got to the questions I’d prepared. Panelists Peri Charlifu, James Farr, Hall of Femme, Sally Hamilton, and L.L. Killjoy each brought informed, but quite disparate, understandings to liven things up.

In the upper photo, SoonerCon 31 “Teaching a Robot” panelists are, Upper L-R: Dara Fogel, Pigeon, Loretta McKibben’s chair, Moderator Mel. White, William Ledbetter, and Tim Frayser. Below, L-R, the “Immortality or the Singularity?” panelists were Ted Pennella, Jan, William Ledbetter, Rhonda Eudaly, and Selina Rosen.
The “Teaching a Robot to be Kind” panel photo was taken by the author with the panelists’ permission (Loretta McKibben came later so she’s not in the picture). Below that, the “Immortality or the Singularity” panel photo was taken by a helpful audience member who did not volunteer his name.

The SoonerCon 31 Summary of Panels isn’t Done Yet

Possibly the most thought-provoking panel on my schedule turned out to be Sunday’s “Immortality or the Singularity.” I moderated again, working with panelists Rhonda Eudaly, William Ledbetter, Ted Pennella, and Selina Rosen. We had some great comments and excellent audience participation. Moreover, this topic sparked conversations for the rest of the afternoon and evening. We focused mainly on the “immortality” part in our discussions, both during much of the panel and after. But we did also tackle questions about the feasibility of “uploading” someone’s consciousness (or at least, one’s memories) to a computer. Senescence, and a variety of methods for staving it off, took up yet more of the allotted time. So did the question, “would you truly want to be immortal?”

Networking in Your Niche” polished off Sunday afternoon. Once again I moderated, with Liz Campbell, SoonerCon’s own Amber Hanneken, MadiHatter, and Mimic Rae on the panel. It was scheduled during the last programming slot before Closing Ceremonies, and I think we all were feeling the cumulative weight of a very full convention by that time. This was the smallest audience I saw for a panel. And we were next door to the Drag Show event. We really could hear it very clearly! But we managed a substantive and relatively inspirational conversation, nonetheless.

I also attended a bunch of readings by other authors, but those deserve a post of their own. Stay tuned.

Here are four different parts of SoonerCon 31’s convention space on Saturday afternoon, and in every view you can see cosplay and other costumes from a variety of media. The photos show, clockwise from left, the Dealers Room, an elaborate Star Wars Village along the northern hallway, the Artists Alley in the southern hallway, and the Artists Alley in the eastern hallway.
Four parts of SoonerCon 31 on Saturday afternoon, July 1, 2023: costumes and cosplay in all. They are, clockwise from left: one aisle of the Dealers Room, the Star Wars Village, and two Artist Alley views. Photos by the author.

Colorful Crowds Kept Every View Interesting

I absolutely can’t finish a good SoonerCon 31 summary without taking a moment to talk about the costumes. The SoonerCon community includes an active and thriving Cosplay and Costuming group – and they contribute a lot to making every SoonerCon a feast for the eyes. The time, creativity, and skill that goes into these marvelous creations can stagger the imagination.

The Dealers Room and Artists Alleys included many resources for costumers. And I definitely need to give a special shout-out, not only to SoonerCon, but to the creators of “Kah’Maloo,” the “Star Wars Village.” I also want to offer another salute to the members of that community who so ably contributed to panels and other programming. To people like James Farr, Hall of Femme, Sally Hamilton, L.L. Killjoy, Madi Hatter, and Mimic Rae. They are the mentors, the guides, the gateway to the future for so many!

Fandom is at its best when it nurtures the upcoming generations. That’s why I think some of the most important programming is the writers’ workshops, the editors’ and publishers’ intros to the field, the writers and artists and costumers and others who offer pro tips to those who want to learn more. Fandom nurtured the workshops where I learned many of the most important lessons of my crafts. That, as much as anything else, is what fandom is about. No SoonerCon 31 summary would be complete without a salute to the way this fandom does its best to nurture the next generation.


Most of the photos for this post were original photos taken on-site by Jan S. Gephardt, but not all. Most of the promotional imagery, especially in the first montage, originated with SoonerCon 31’s staff and on their website and social media. Thank you! Thank you also to one of our audience members in the “Immortality or the Singularity” panel, who took the panelists’ photo but did not share his name. We deeply appreciate your help!

One thought on “A SoonerCon 31 Summary

  1. On the subject of uploading consciousness and immortality, I am reminded of the brainships, by the author of the “Pern” series. On the subject of ethical AI and war machines, I don’t recall the author, but I read a book called “Solo”, about a robot designed to be a soldier that decided that wasn’t right, and who ends u in the rain forest as protector to the native population.

    When our own species is not always ethical or just, and AI is programmed by humans, we cannot assume an AI will have our best interests at heart, or that it won’t make value judgements about who should be saved. As with Asimov’s Laws Of Robotics, there are ethical dilemmas – do you save the 60 year old neurosurgeon or the 4 year old girl from drowning.

    But SF and fantasy are the arena in which such things are modelled and commented on. One only has to look at the different attitudes to the XK9s and distributed consciousnesses to see this in action, and I m sure that, as in the James White “Sector General” series, aliens might have a different attitude. Can you imagine an insectile hive-mind deciding that saving a group of humans is unimportant, not realising that each loss is an individual, not a component of hive mind.

    I’d quite like to have my consciousness placed in a robotic or android avatar, backed up moment by moment to multiple safe locations, so I could be a dep sea exploring vessel or interstellar vessel surveying the universe, or in a sort of “Thunderbirds” rescue machine saving people from deadly situations where humans cannot operate. I suspect the cost would mean that only such transfers would be viable you would have to work off the debt incurred before becoming free to be an independent. Retirees who pay off their debts, as with the brainships, could pick and choose what jobs they did, and where they were sited. In the brainship books there is one brain who becomes a space station, and no doubt there will be other altruistic people taking on librarianships, exploring, mining and more.

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