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How tiny Tonopah beat out Phoenix to host the Westercon sci-fi convention

Updated July 20, 2022 - 1:36 pm

Tonopah welcomed Westercon over the July 4 weekend. The annual convention focuses on all aspects of science fiction, but specifically literary science-fiction.

Westercon has been held everywhere from Seattle to Los Angeles, but tiny Tonopah won the bid to host its 74th meeting at the Tonopah Convention Center after organizers selected the Nye County town over Phoenix, Ariz.

“Sixty-one percent of the [Westercon] members who voted chose Tonopah, so that was unquestionably the choice of the members to try something new,” said Kevin Standlee, who was in charge of this year’s event.

Tonopah is a “hotspot” for sci-fi enthusiasts because of its proximity to Area 51 and the number of UFO sightings that have been reported in the area over the past decades. It also has a history of science innovation which makes it a crossroads for two themes commonly portrayed in science-fiction.

Though Westercon has seen bigger venues, Standlee said that Tonopah had a draw that he and his wife wanted to share with Westercon members. Standlee lives in Fernley with his wife, Lisa Hayes. When Hayes was traveling across central Nevada, her truck broke down in Tonopah and she had to spend a few days here.

She said she enjoyed the Old West feel of the Mizpah and old mining infrastructure similar to the romance and industrial aesthetic of steampunk. Standlee added that he was glad to have the convention at a smaller venue, hoping that fewer people would reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Westercon attendees were required to wear masks and show proof of vaccination.

“This was probably in retrospect — with COVID not behind us because we’re in it still right now — one of the best places we could have held it,” Standlee said. “The very fact that it’s relatively small helps. I would not really want to go to a five-figure attendance event.”

COVID forced the convention to postpone the event for a year in 2020. The last Westercon was held in Los Angeles in December 2021.

During Westercon, the Tonopah Convention Center held several tables featuring rare comics, CDs, art and costumes. There also were various meetings that featured storytellers and scientists who discussed science fiction.

Westercon also welcomed two guests of honor.

Kevin Andrew Murphy, who has been recognized for his science fiction writing, most notably contributing to George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards series and character lore for Pathfinder, a role-playing game similar to Dungeons & Dragons, was one of the honorable guests at this year’s Westercon.

The other was Myrna Donato, a bookseller who owned a brick-and-mortar bookstore in Las Vegas that specialized in science fiction and fantasy for 39 years before she closed the store in December 2020 after the pandemic and the death of her husband made keeping the store open more difficult. She still sells books on Abebooks but enjoys working from home.

“Our members very much enjoyed their stay in Tonopah for the 74th West Coast Science Fantasy Convention,” Standlee said. “I would like to think that we did show them that a small town with a big heart could ‘punch above its weight’ in putting on an event like Westercon.”

The next Westercon is scheduled to be held in Anaheim, Calif. in 2023.

Carly Sauvageau is a freelance writer for the Times-Bonanza. She is a Tonopah native and a student at University Nevada- Reno.

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