Conversations at book events and publication launch parties often turn to the fact that Seattle needs another annual book festival. But, honestly, Seattle has had a prominent book festival for over three decades, and for the last quarter century it's also hosted a world-famous, prestigious awards ceremony. If you consider yourself a reader and you didn't know about this festival already, it's probably due to your narrow tastes: it's devoted to science fiction and fantasy.

Norwescon happens every year in SeaTac over Easter weekend (see for details), a scheduling choice that seems almost intoxicatingly sacrilegious. Fans and authors come from around the world for seminars, sales booths, lectures, and author signings. While its organizers keep the focus on Norwescon's literary roots, pretty much every aspect of the sci-fi world is covered, from anime to movies to television shows.

Many of the seminars are as thick with nerdly giddiness as you'd imagine. The Joss Whedon Sing-Along on Friday promises to live up to most people's distasteful sci-fi stereotypes and the mere act of imagining Saturday's Hobbit Country Dancing can herniate the brain. But there are also classes about how to become an author and sell your material once it's written. There's no other multiday event as dedicated to the printed word in the Pacific Northwest.

The best reason to pay attention to Norwescon is the Philip K. Dick Awards, an annual ceremony dedicated to celebrating a "distinguished original science-fiction paperback published for the first time during the award year in the USA." Unlike most book awards, the PKD Awards almost always single out an excellent book. Of the last five years' worth of PKD winners, three of them—Life by Gwyneth Jones, Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan, and The Mount by Carol Emshwiller—are books that, in a world unprejudiced to genre, would wind up on almost any critics' annual best-of lists.

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The Mount, particularly, is a marvel; originally published by a tiny Massachusetts art-house publisher, this novel—about a distant future wherein humans are content to be the transport animals (complete with bits and saddles) for tiny aliens who have enslaved us—is so refreshingly weird and allegorical that it evokes some of the earliest masters of the genre, like Orwell and Verne. If the PKD awards didn't recognize The Mount, it's doubtful that anyone else would have, either, which means that they're possibly the only book awards in the world that actually do exactly what they're supposed to do. recommended