Archive for category Con Report
I recently attended the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, MD, and felt that I should revive this blog to report my observations. The book is still on hold. I am currently unemployed and in that place where I’m thinking wow, I’m probably going to have to take a terrible minimum wage job just to make ends meet.
Anyway, this isn’t about me and my life, save in a tangential manner — it’s about conventions, and going to them, and what they’re like.
So! The Small Press Expo.
First off, the good things:
This was BY FAR one of the most diverse conventions I’ve ever been to. There was a sizable population of people who were neither white nor male, both among the exhibitors and attendees. There was also the largest openly trans*/genderqueer presence I’ve seen at pretty much any convention. Obviously I cannot quote numbers because hey, it’s impossible to tell sometimes, but in many other cases there were people who were openly proclaiming their status as trans* persons, which I’ve… actually never seen at a geek convention before. Meaning: I have met trans* people at conventions, but they generally didn’t proclaim their identity loudly and in fact took great pains to be invisible (PAX was an especial case in which an individual I had met had to be constantly re-assured that everything was okay and we were here to help him).
On top of that, there was a great diversity in the materials being offered. The comics at SPX ran the gamut from goofy weirdness like the one about the boy who turns into a boat, to quite deeply serious autobiographical pieces, to hand-painted children’s comics, to straight up porn.
The Ignatz awards were what I feel the Hugo awards SHOULD be like. The Hugos used to be (as far as I can tell) a fan-run award, with the idea being that the fans of science fiction and fantasy would choose the awards. I feel quite strongly that this is no longer the case; the Hugos are chosen now by the few who can 1. afford to go to the convention in the first place (which locks out people under the age of 40, people who aren’t white, and many LGBTQ persons), 2. who actually remember to bloody vote and 3. have the time to read up on the nominees / watch the shows / whatever (which locks out people with day jobs). SPX, meanwhile, has a much lower barrier of entry, being cheap to attend and, as I said, already drawing a huge variety of different individuals.
Ballot gathering was a good deal more egalitarian as well. My own method was this:
I walked around the floor with that box on my head telling people to cast their ballots. It worked pretty darn well! It got people’s attention and got them excited about voting, even if they might not have otherwise voted. Efficient? No, not really. Fun? Heck yes!
The award ceremony itself was mercifully short and free of too much pomp and circumstance. ALL the presenters were women, which, again, in an industry that at times seems so very male focused was a breath of fresh air.
The not so good things:
There were a number of big problems with organization. I was volunteering, and first off, there was no real effort made to properly coordinate volunteers or make sure volunteers were fed to the appropriate areas. I was never really told what to do, and though I’d signed up for line management I ended up just kind of hovering around the front desk, waiting to be told what to do. I did get to collect ballots, but other than that it all felt much too ad-hoc, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I wish there’d at least been a small pamphlet explaining what to do, or more volunteer coordinators on the floor, as well as a more official meeting place for volunteers to go to get assigned than “I guess… over there? or something?”
While panel times were listed in the program, there was no hotel map indicating where those panels were located, so we had a lot of guests going “Where are the panels?” The show floor map was confusing and difficult to read. There was no schedule for official book signings, and we had a lot of questions about that too, but no schedule to give anyone to indicate when those signings were.
The main afterparty was MUCH MUCH MUCH MUCH too crowded for the space it was being held in, and how / where people got drink tickets was entirely unclear. I managed to escape the party to go hang out with friends elsewhere, but the party was seriously less a party and more a mad mob descending upon chocolate fountains. I think a party suite system like what most SF cons I go to use might be a better way to spread people out, but that’d require people on the floor to figure things out rather than the con comm, which might go badly…
Overall, I think SPX is a wonderful small to mid-sized con, and a true celebration of comic arts and the people who make them. I hope it continues to be so even as it grows larger. I wish I could have bought everything in the exhibit hall, curse my lack of funds! And the best thing about that, though, is that I felt as though every dollar I spent was going to supporting a fellow creative artist who genuinely needed it, rather than some faceless megacorp, as is the case at some of the larger conventions.
A+ would attend again.
So at long last, I’m going to sit here and talk about my overall feelings about Renovation, my first impression of WorldCon, and some general thoughts on the state of SF conventions as a whole.
But before I do that I’m going to talk about the phat lewt I got at the con.
The Philip K Dick, Philip Jose Farmer, and Elizabeth Bear books were a lucky grab from somebody who just yelled FREE HARDCOVERS near the free stuff table, and also make it so I had to check my luggage. Completely worth it though.
Hounded, as it turns out, isn’t actually a very good book; the author spends the entire first chapter on an infodump, which instantly turned me off. I prefer implicit narration to explicit narration when it comes to fantasy, and I do not want you to just tell me how awesome your ten thousand year old druid is. Indeed, I’d have been more drawn in if the character’s age were never stated, just implied to be really, really old. I haven’t started reading the steampunk book yet.
The Song of Ice and Fire buttons in the upper right corner I found randomly on Sunday; they were originally handed out at the ASOIAF fan club meeting. I have… way too many of them, so I’m going to be giving them away as soon as I have the free time to actually arrange mailing them out.
Finally, the towel everything is resting on is the only souvenir I bought at the con, and well worth every penny. I mean. Look at that towel, guys. I will never leave home without it again.
Alright, now onto the meat of this post: my feelings about WorldCon in general.
Overall? Yes, it was an interesting and excellent con. It has a very long history, and I had some excellent networking opportunities. The panels were, for the most part, interesting and engaging, and the parties provided wonderful ways to socialize. The Hugo Awards were fantastic to see and one of the highlights of the event.
But. And there are a lot of “buts.” Keep in mind when reading this that I approach this con not as an old-school SF fan but as someone who met fandom first through anime and second through media fandom and videogames. I am an outsider, I am a new-generation fan used to an entirely different convention scene. But I still think that my opinions and observations are entirely valid, and I’ll enumerate them here. Also: I still have two more SF cons to go to before I feel I’ll be able to safely say I have an idea of the spread of different types of SF cons, so my opinions may change from that as well.
First of all, the way I was hyped up for Worldcon did not live up to what I actually experienced. Everyone talked about it being the largest SF con, several oldfen warned me that I would be totally overwhelmed by all there was to do, reinforced by the program booklet and otherwise. Old stories of Worldcon talked about young starry-eyed fen’s lives being changed by this event, of them being lost and confused and ultimately welcomed into the fold as they rubbed shoulders with the greats.
The experience I had at the con itself was nothing like this.
First of all, Worldcon is not a large con at all. I was continually struck on the convention floor by how empty the place seemed, by how the convention occupied a space about five times larger than it needed to be in. Worldcon is 4000 people; I believe you could have fit 20,000 in the Reno-Sparks Convention Center (do NOT quote me on that, I don’t actually know the full capacity of the space, and I also don’t think you could do that comfortably… I just think you could do it), which in turn made me wonder why the hell the con committee had seen fit to rent such an egregiously oversized space. How much money was wasted on a convention center of that size? I saw many panel and meeting rooms go almost entirely unused at certain parts of the con, which again felt like a terrible waste of time, money, and resources.
Second, it was absolutely not worth the price in any way shape or form. Renovation’s tickets were around $200 at the door; for around a quarter of that price I could go to the Penny Arcade Expo and get a far, far better experience. “Yes,” you say, “But this is WORLDCON, not PAX! It’s DIFFERENT!!!” But what I’m saying is that the cost is prohibitive and I didn’t feel as though I was given my money’s worth at all. This event was not worth $200. Given that Worldcon moves around every year and is constantly in different locations, I could maybe see justifying $150 at-door, but as it stands the cost is absurd. You can argue the point all you like, but cost is absolutely a restrictive gateway for attendees, and doesn’t provide a particularly good return on the investment unless you are a pro. As a casual fan? This is not a con I would ever recommend.
Which in turn brings me to the social scene and a problem both myself and my friend Kevin encountered, in that we both felt terribly alienated here. It wasn’t quite as bad as my first Otakon (nothing will be that bad) but I still felt a genuine sense of displacement and, in some cases, like I wasn’t even wanted. In my case, if I mentioned my work on this blog, I would catch the interest of a few older fen, but this felt like they were only interested because they were flattered, and because they found they idea of a young fan researching fandom history almost exotic (the number of times I heard “but you’re so young!”…)
While I did make a few interesting connections at parties, these were largely with other younger fans who felt the same way — alienated and sometimes even ostracized by the larger fandom. In some ways, Worldcon felt like an old country club, full of people with their own rituals who had no interest in outsiders. I sometimes heard conversations where in the same breath as someone complaining about the “greying” of fandom they’d then complain about how the young people just didn’t get it, and were all too caught up in their animes and mangas to care about real fandom. Kevin elaborates on the feeling and his point on his own blog a bit better than I’m doing here.
SF fandom has fallen behind other fandoms. Where once Worldcon really was a giant of the con scene, the be all and end all, now it’s barely a footnote in comparison to other cons. You can go on and on about how the traveling nature makes it so much more expensive, about how the history makes it worth it, but that doesn’t change the fact that the young people aren’t coming to the con anymore, that we feel alienated and sometimes even ostracized, that the discussion isn’t as vibrant or interesting as it used to be. Frankly, I wasn’t impressed, and if it wasn’t for the fact that I need to keep going to Worldcon for my research, I wouldn’t go to Chicon next year.
This isn’t okay. For a culture to survive, it needs new blood, and Worldcon should find a way to make itself more inviting and palatable to people of my generation. Everywhere, people complain about the greying of fandom, but nothing is really done about this, nothing concrete anyway, and I get the feeling that nobody wants to do anything about it.
Now, on the flip side? It’s not like I didn’t have fun. I did. I got a lot of research done, I had some fascinating conversations, and yeah, I got to see the Hugos. I just don’t think that experience was worth the time, effort, and expense of the trip. Like I said, I’ll be doing Chicon next year, and in another two years I might do Worldcon if Orlando wins the bid (long story as to why), but that’s all the way in 2015, so who knows what I’ll be doing or feeling then.
And maybe it was just this particular con. After all, each Worldcon is very, very different from the rest, given the way they move around and are chaired by different people. Perhaps Chicon will be different, more welcoming, and more accessible. Who knows?
To conclude… to me, Worldcon feels like a fallen giant. I can see how back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, and even the early 90s it might have been a giant of fandom, the mainstay of the geek scene and the heart of all conventions, but now it feels like a fallen monarch, ousted from its glory by a combination of bigger, better, friendlier cons. I still think it’s worth going at least once, just to say you did, but it will not be a mainstay of my con stable.
(Also again, I’m sorry if this comes off as excessively bitter: I really did have a great time and really did get a lot of research done! The people who I did interact with were great. But I still had a lot of problems with the con I felt I needed to get off my chest.)
First, a little background: Tim Powers is, of course, an SF writer. His first novel, The Skies Discrowned, was published in 1976. His breakout hit was The Anubis Gates, a tale of time travel, magic, and madness; it won the Philip K. Dick award and was nominated for the Locus Fantasy Award and the British Science Fiction Association award. As of this writing, he’s published about thirteen novels and five short story collections.
Powers is best known for his “secret histories,” that is, the way that he merges fiction and fact in his books. Many of his novels involve real historical figures and events, set against a speculative fiction backdrop of magic, weird science, and otherworldly powers. Even the magic he writes, however, tends to be well-researched and grounded in mythology — the voodoo in On Stranger Tides, for instance, is all based on traditional voodoo rituals, even if it takes a purely fantastic twist at the end.
I hadn’t known who Tim Powers was until Patrick asked me to write this article (a fact true of many of the attendees at Worldcon — I’ve been out of the SF literature scene for so long that many names are unfamiliar to me, to my eternal shame). Interestingly enough, at the same time as I’d asked Pat about what subject he wished me to write on, I had also asked my friends to recommend fiction about 18th century piracy, and one of the top recommendations was Powers’ On Stranger Tides. It is in fact an excellent book, but sadly I did not have enough time to read Powers’ other works before arriving at Worldcon.
I went to two events involving Powers — the first was a panel entitled “Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy,” which concerned exactly what the title implies, that is, how to construct a magic system that feels believable and organic in a fantasy universe. The second was his Guest of Honor speech. I attempted to go to his Kaffeeklatsch, but unbeknownst to me it had been rescheduled from Sunday at 10:00 AM to Wednesday at the same time, so I had missed it by two days (much to my sorrow — I adore Kaffeeklatsches, and feel that they’re one of the best traditions of the SF con, and something that other media conventions might want to think about adopting).
In “Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy,” Powers talked about his own personal methodology in making sure that the magic in his works feels simultaneously believable but also magical. While he agreed with the other panelists that the key to this was setting up rules and limitations on the way magic works, he cautioned against telling the reader too many of those rules outright, or defining them too rigidly. According to Powers, if you define the rules explicitly rather than implicitly, and magic just becomes another kind of technology and loses the quality that makes it magic. In his case, many of his books are based on real history, so he attempts to find magic that fits the time and place — ancient Egyptian rituals, Arabian mythology, Caribbean voodoo, so forth and so on, he researches these myths and legends and then adapts them into magical systems that work for his stories.
Powers and the other panelists also discussed acknowledging the effects magic has on the world you’ve created. In a universe where everyone knows you can talk to the dead, the legal system would be quite different than the one we have in our world, by simple virtue of the fact that in murders the victim could easily be interviewed. In addition, Powers mentioned his reluctance to blatantly defy all laws of science and physics: “I always worry, even though I have supernatural stuff going on. I don’t want to accidentally posit something that is absolutely impossible. I would never have an invisible man who could see by visible light. I might have two little retinas floating in the air. If I had a four inch tall man, I’d want to know can he talk? How much does he have to eat, how much space does he have for his brain? If you recognize these challenges and talk your way around them, it makes them look more real.”
Powers’ Guest of Honor speech was mostly about his philosophy in regards to science fiction and fantasy, peppered with anecdotes from his life. He talked a little about the general attitudes towards science fiction and how the field has expanded. When he went to his first convention, it was still possible to have read everyone in the field; now, it would take a lifetime. In addition, science fiction has mainstreamed — now more and more people have at least read one fantasy or science fiction novel. Yet when Powers talks about his work to his neighbors, they still say “Oh, that Buck Rogers stuff?”
When discussing his attitudes on the place of the fantasy and science fiction genres in our lives, he said that “Fantasy at its core is bogus.” There’s a sleight of hand, a trick, a bit of smoke and mirrors involved in making the reader temporarily forget that what they’re reading is fantasy and transporting them into another world. Powers fully believes that fantasy is pure escapism: while it’s perfectly valid for it to have deeper meanings or relevance, at its heart it should be designed to take the reader out of the mundane and into another world. Fantasy and SF that tries too hard to have a “point” or “purpose” falls flat for him — in the end, it needs to be truly fantastic for it to be fantasy.
As I said, I wasn’t able to get to his Kaffeeklatsch, but after those two panels, I really would like to read more of his work. Now, if only I can get the time…
Hope you enjoyed, Pat!
Yes, I know, this is getting outright silly with these delays, but I have good reasons for them. I was going to try to get a new post up today, but with the start of the semester looming and the fact that I am both a full time student AND a part-time employee of my college, I’m going to be busy busy busy. On top of that I have a new roommate moving in (yay!), the monthly avalanche of bills (boo!), some minor health issues (double boo!), a few problems getting my grant money from my school (KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN), and somewhere around fifteen of my old friends coming to visit this weekend.
You will get my Worldcon reflection and my swag list eventually, it just might not be until Sunday or Monday. I know you are all waiting with bated breath, but so it goes.
OI. KICKSTARTER REWARDS PEOPLE. Those of you who got photos still haven’t told me what you wanted. I cannot make you prints unless you tell me which prints you want. That is how these things work. I am going to start harassing you by email soon about this. BE WARNED.
Sunday, August 21 began with a combination of the usual con-haze of “I’ve just spent two days straight running, writing, and talking” combined with a new feeling of “wow, I drank a lot last night.”
My first panel was for me probably the most important panel of the con — First Fandom: Awards, and a Look Back at the Very First Worldcons. The panelists were all attendees of the very first Worldcon, true ancients of the fandom world: David Kyle (who I’ve mentioned several times), Art Widner, and Erle Korshak (the chairman of the second Worldcon, Chicon 1). The panel began with information about each of the panelists, starting with Erle, who apparently chaired the second Worldcon by accident. He talked about hitchiking through Philly to get to the first Worldcon, since he was sixteen years old and it was the Depression. There was some talk about other methods of getting to Worldcon, and a lot of note about how many fans would help other fans out of kindness and a desire to see them.
And then… Erle mentioned the Exclusion Act. There was an audible sigh from David, though he was kind enough to explain it to the audience, there was still this clear “not THIS again.” It’s really kind of a shame that the thing David Kyle is remembered most for is accidentally causing his friends to be banned from the first Worldcon.
This segued into a lot of talk on all parts about how they were all young and stupid back then — something which I think holds true of many modern fandoms. We’re all young and stupid. There was also a lot of talk about how divided fandom was — many states had at most one fan, but they stayed connected to the larger world through letters and magazines.
The most interesting thing that came out of the panel was when Erle mentioned that the ticket cost of Worldcon in 1940 was $1 — so, where did the money come from to run it? It came from advertising revenue and from exhibitors in the form of pulp publishers. I was thrilled to hear this: earlier, I’d countered someone’s observation that I was awfully young to be at a Worldcon with a retort that perhaps more people my age would arrive if the admission price wasn’t so ridiculous, which was in turn countered with “Well, Worldcon is all volunteer run, and unlike those big cons like the anime cons and comic book cons, we didn’t sell out to advertisers.” But according to Erle, Worldcon had “sold out” in the 40s! It’s all well and good to be noble, but if you’re going to complain about falling attendance numbers and a lack of representation by the under 30 crowd, then don’t act high and mighty about the fact that you don’t use outside sources of revenue. This in turn has led me to wonder — when did Worldcon get this hipster-esque “But we don’t use filthy advertisers or sponsors or corporate exhibitors!” come from? When did that start?
The other anecdotes are a bit of a blurr — Art shared a story about staying on a rich Southern plantation while hitchiking to another convention and having the best meal he’d ever had, while it came out that David Kyle won the first ever costume contest with his 1940 Ming the Merciless.
Due to a scheduling problem, the panel ended a bit early, so I wandered into another panel, namely the end of The Changing Short Fiction Market, with panelists Lou Anders, Neil Clarke, Stephen H. Segal, Rick Wilber, and Sheila Williams. I was only in the tail end of this panel, so mostly what I got out of it was that short fiction is more accessible to a younger audience, and that we’re seeing a renaissance of the novella thanks to e-publishing and the internet. Originally, novellas were difficult to publish due to paper costs, but favored by authors for giving a little more freedom than a short story but less commitment than a novel. The internet solves this problem because paper costs are a non-issue.
I didn’t get to stay in this panel long since, as I said, I was only catching the tail end. After that it was onto the Chicon 7 panel, with panelists Jane Frank, Dave McCarty, Helen Montgomery, Peggy Rae Sapienza, John Scalzi, and Steven H. Silver. This was a panel about the next Worldcon in 2012 (obviously), and the panelists answered questions about their approach to the con. All in all it sounded like a really good time — they asked the crowd to give suggestions for panels, then mentioned that some panels would be simulcast to Dragoncon (so attendees at both cons could see them) which seemed pretty cool. I highly suggest going to the Chicon website and giving suggestions (and I’ll see you guys there!)
The last panel of the day was Issues in RolePlaying Game Design, with panelists Jennifer Brozek, Colin Fisk, Steve Jackson (yes, THAT Steve Jackson), Tom Lehmann, and Allison Lonsdale. Unfortunately my notes on this panel indicate that my exhaustion had finally caught up with me, as they read: “late. Not giong to say much, i’ts a really interesting panel but I’m very tired?” There was discussion on GM-less gaming, but I’ll get to THAT in a minute!
After that it was time for the Closing Ceremony, which… to be frank, was completely boring. It was mostly a speech, followed by a symbolic passing of the torch to the Chicon committee. The highlight was when the con chair, Patty Wells, realized that she hadn’t ever officially opened Renovation, and so she declared the con open… then immediately closed. This followed on the heels of the Chicon staff accidentally saying that their con would run from August 30 to September 30 (instead of August 30 to September 3), and thus a joke that the world’s shortest Worldcon would be followed by the longest.
While at the closing ceremony, I met up with a guy named Mike with whom I had a great conversation about medieval weaponry, and also my friend Joy Crelin. After that, we headed out to the Dead Dog party, where we hung out, ate snacks, and generally decompressed from the convention. Later, Mike left, and Kevin once again joined us.
The last highlight of the con began with a man walking about asking loudly if anyone wanted to play an RPG with him; I spoke up and said sure, why not. The man’s name was Jason Wodicka, and the game was called Microscope.
THIS GAME IS AWESOME. All caps and italics awesome. Seriously. This is one of the aforementioned wave of GM-less games, in this case a collaborative storytelling game that is also diceless. We ended up with a story about a great 21st century war against dragons which ended with a renegade AI killing all dragons and almost all of humanity.
Halfway through the game though I stepped out to finally meet Christopher Garcia about being Emerson students, fandom, and writing. I also gave him a hug, and then I got to hold his Hugo. We had a great conversation that ended up all over the map, and in the middle of it a lady gave me an LED on a piece of velcro (it came from her costume…? Random?) which I promptly stuck in my hair (it now lives in my hat). I then went back to playing Microscope.
Alas, we all had early flights the next day, so it was time to trade contact information and head off to bed.
UP NEXT: My swag pile, and a reflection post.
And we’re back. The hurricane was quite lame, though I’m coming up on a hurricane of a different sort — the start of the semester. Things are heating up around here!
But this isn’t about my current life, this is about Renovation 2011, so I’m going to now talk about SATURDAY.
I began my day by getting gussied up as best I could, putting on a grey waistcoat and pants. If I was going to the Hugos, I wanted to look good… and… maybe pass as steampunk for the rest of the day. I followed up by utterly failing to go to the first three panels I meant to hit (those being SF Physics Myths, Technology as Cure, and The Importance of Continuity). I also failed to sign up for Pat Rothfuss’ Kaffeeklatsch, as it filled up nigh instantly and I was just a little slow that morning. I had good reason though — I was back in the Exhibit Hall with Joe Siclari of The Fan History Project, who in turn was busy introducing me to David Kyle! I also met his son, Arthur. Our conversation was a bit brief, as Mr. Kyle had a bit of trouble hearing me in the loud expo hall. The most interesting tidbit I gleaned was that according to him, he’s the reason that conventions are called (and thought of as) conventions. The story he told was this: in 1936, at that first fan meetup in Philadelphia, he and his friends were sitting in the back room of a bar owned by a friend’s father. At the time, the Republican and Democratic national conventions were going on, and this came up in the conversation. This came up in conversation, and eventually David Kyle said “Well, if they can have conventions, why can’t we?” And thus did SF meetups come to be called “conventions.”
I also talked to Joe about the split that happened in the 60s where SF cons gave way to comic book conventions, and how fandom changed there. My notes on this subject are sadly a bit unreadable (this happens whenever I handwrite anything, thanks to my dysgraphia). I’ve got a bit about a fanzine in the 1940s (I think?) which had articles about comics, something called “Xero”, the names Don and Maggie Thompson and “boondoggle.” There’s also a bit about an explosion of regional cons, Star Trek, and “mystery fandom, media fandom, comics fandom, late 60s.” What I remember about this was namely that in the early 60s fandom became divided and split over a number of issues, and as the decade progressed the large cons split into smaller regional cons, and further fans split off into other fandoms due to these disagreements. I don’t recall yet what they were over (obviously something I should research!), but there was definitively a huge influence from the growing Star Trek fandom, which decided that it didn’t feel welcome at literary SF cons and so split into its own, kicking off a split into other media cons. The first Comic Con (Which I think was actually held in New York) was held around this time — another tidbit I need to investigate. I wish I’d been able to take better notes, but sadly when I handwrite my notes I simply cannot read what I’ve written down (someday I might enlist a helper in this regard…)
After that, it was finally panel time! My first panel was The Origins of Fandom and the Very Slow Internet, chaired by Lenny Bailes, Andrew I. Porter, Mike Scott, and Mike Ward. This was an interesting if somewhat unfocused little panel about fannish behavior through the ages, and the way that fandom ultimately acts as a way to connect with people, regardless of the subject matter. Great discussion was had on the parallels between SF fandom and other fandoms, such as baseball fandom and model train fandom, the similarities and differences in behavior and how, despite developing in entirely separate ways, they still maintain parallel traditions and organizational modes. I had a great time talking to the panelists, and in the end they all gave me their business cards (and I gave them mine)!
Next up was Why are fans good at running conventions, and how did that happen? with panelists Vincent Docherty, Helen Montgomery, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Rick Weiss, and Ben Yalow. Naturally this panel focused on why fans are good at running SF conventions, not conventions in general; specifically, that same elitism of “We don’t use outside sources/advertising revenue/have corporate sponsorship” ran throughout (an attitude I find a little grating from SF fandom, particularly when coupled with their complaints about media and anime cons stealing all the young folks). Still, the panel confirmed a lot of what I already felt — namely, fans are good at running conventions because of their passion and dedication to the subject matter. Fans, being geeks, are also often talented in some other field: if not finances, than at least mathematics, and a fellow who can organize a weekly DnD group or science fiction club at least has some organizational skills. Finally, fans have friends. If there’s one thing fandom is immensely talented at, it’s networking, and that seems to be the way these cons get going — massive, vicious, gung-ho networking. As someone (I forget whom) on the panel pointed out: the people who run business conventions have business skills of 4 and team skills of 1; whilst SF con runners have business skills of 0, but team skills of 5.
I had a break between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm, and I genuinely cannot remember what the heck I did during that time. There’s nothing in my notes that suggest I went to any other panels; I did stand in line for kaffeeklatches only to discover that the person I’d wanted to see (Tim Powers) had rescheduled his for… Wednesday, and because I hadn’t been paying attention I hadn’t known. Whoops. I think I must have wandered the Dealer’s Room after that, because I honestly can’t think of what else I could have done. At some point, free books and swag were obtained (I’ll get to that in another post), but other than that? It’s all a blank. I think I may have gone to the con suite to decompress, rest a bit, and hang out with Amanda, but I honestly cannot recall!
After that I went to what would prove to be the most disappointing panel of the convention. It wasn’t necessarily because of the panelist or the subject matter, I think I simply had different expectations than what was delivered. The panel was The Futuristic Legal System — Legal Dilemmas in the Not So Distant Future. The title and panel description lead me to believe that this would be a cogent discussion on issues such as copyright law in an age where everything is online, the personhood of robots, and so on; instead it got very, very dry and academic (even for something that was part of the academic program) and focused a lot on SF films and television shows and not so much on literature. I’d hoped for some insight in how to construct the legal system of a near-future world I’ve been developing, but got nothing and instead ended up extremely bored.
For dinner, I believe Kevin, Amanda, and I went to the Bistro in the Atlantis, and had a fine meal, though I accidentally ordered something with jalapeno in it, which made it not so much a fine meal for me as “wow, I can’t taste anything.” (not a fan of jalapeno or related peppers).
Then it was time for the Hugos! Everyone was done up in suits and ties and looked so very dapper; I felt underdressed myself. First, David Kyle gave the Big Heart Award, an award for fannish service to the community; then Lev Grossman won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. After that, the artist Marie Gelineau revealed her beautiful design for this year’s Hugo Award base, a stained glass piece depicting primitive sea life and a background inspired by the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, thought to possibly contain such life forms. Everyone was quite impressed, and all agreed that this was one of the most beautiful Hugo awards yet.
I won’t bore you by listing the results; you can see them on the Hugo Award website. I will bring up a few points though. First: there were ENTIRELY too many episodes of Doctor Who nominated for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, and the pieces “Fuck Me Ray Bradbury” and “The Lost Thing” were absoultely robbed, especially the last one, which is a gorgeous piece of crafstmanship. No offense to Doctor Who, which is a great show, but owning three of the five entry slots is a little ridiculous (no doubt “Game of Thrones” will do the same next year…) Second: Chris Garcia of the Drink Tank had the absolute best acceptance speech, which you can see over here on BoingBoing (sorry for the ad, but it’s the only video I could find). I did give him a hug on Sunday, the guy totally deserved it.
After that, it was time for the grand Hugo tradition of drinking until you can’t see straight. Kevin, Amanda, and I headed back to the Atlantis for an evening of wandering up and down stairways, wondering where the other people were, and, well, drinking. I didn’t manage to get any guacamole at the LoneStarCon3 party, sadly enough (I hear it was fantastic). I initially had the opinion that the Klingon Black Hole party had the best booze; it certainly had the best atmosphere, with Klingons in full costume, carved faux stone decorations, a bar decorated with a cutaway view of a Bird of Prey, and a looped video of various Star Trek scenes. They had a number of drinks, including the Phaser Shot, the Warp Core (which I had), and Revenge, which if you ordered was loudly declared to be “A DRINK BEST SERVED COLD.” Sadly they were out by the time I arrived. I then meandered to the Brotherhood Without Banners, an “A Song of Ice and Fire” themed party that was VERY crowded. I had… something green (can’t recall the name at all!) before deciding it was a bit TOO crowded, grabbing a bottle of water, and absconding for clearer air.
But again, the best party of the night belonged to Lev Grossman, at the Two Moons Inn party. The conversation there was most excellent, and for a second time the beer was the most fabulous beer I’ve ever had in my life. I cannot for the life of me remember the names, but the flavors stand out: a hoppy lager that tasted of wildflowers (and I normally hate hoppy beers, but this one was not bitter, but instead mild and with a layered flavor), and a darker brew that had a distinct taste of chocolate, woodsmoke, and oak. The conversation too was excellent, though lost in a haze of “I already had three drinks and now I’ve had two beers, whoops.” The most memorable one of the night? Cordially discussing my atheist beliefs with a Muslim gentleman, and discussing his own beliefs. Reasons I love fandom, indeed.
Alas, I had to get back to my hotel room first, as I had a very early and very important panel the next day; else I would have stayed the whole night!
I should have been tired and hung over Friday morning, but my internal clock’s confusion over the time change combined with my amazing superpower to instantly fall asleep upon taking off in an aircraft (thus ensuring that I’d gotten seven hours of sleep before reaching the con) meant that I woke Friday morning by practically throwing myself out of bed. HAD TO GET TO ALL THE PANELS. EVERY LAST ONE. OH YES.
That said, I actually didn’t end up going to panels until noon. Instead, I spent my morning perusing the Free Stuff table (and seeding it with business cards, just in case), then meandering the Dealer’s Room picking up free swag. I had a nice chat with the gentleman at the McFarland & Company booth about my book; he seemed to be of the opinion that if I could finish it, I could certainly sell it, and encouraged me to submit. Personally I think my work isn’t quite academic enough and is more on the “creative” side of nonfiction (I think of it like a combination travelogue and history book; at any rate I’m not doing much academic analysis here). Even so, the vote of confidence was nice. I also had a chat with a fellow selling books for the Eclipse Phase RPG and apparently left quite an impression.
After that, I stopped by the fanac.org table. I was a bit shy at first, they’re actually rather intimidating people (though I imagine they’ll insist they aren’t), but after a bit of lurking I got up the courage to talk to Joe Siclari, the man behind the project. Joe was very nice and patient with my questions; he offered to introduce me to David Kyle on the spot. A combination of nerves and being late for a panel prevented me from taking him up on that offer, however.
I rushed to get to the Convention Running 101 panel. The panelists were Janice Gelb, a veteran Program Ops specialist; Andi Scheter, who started out in Star Trek conventions, and in addition to SF cons runs Mystery conventions; Gary Ehrlich, a native of my own Maryland and involved in Filk cons; Charlene MacKay who founded two western cons and is working on the 2015 Worldcon bid for Spokane; and finally James Shields representing the other side of the Atlantic as the con chair of several Irish conventions.
I have about two pages of notes on this panel which I won’t bore you with. The main points were to be very, VERY careful when negotiating with hotels and appoint a hotel liaison to ensure that one can get the best deal possible, that budgeting WILL bite you in the bum unless you keep a tight leash on it, and that it’s super important to find alternate sources of revenue. The overall impression I got is that running a convention is even harder than I assumed (I already knew it was back-breaking labor, but this was above and beyond.) Particularly, fan-run conventions like WorldCon are even harder to put on than conventions like, say, PAX or ComicCon because it’s all done by volunteers. None of these people make any money, it’s all non profit, and they don’t even have corporate sponsorship.
After that panel, I went to a panel called Consistent Magic Systems in Fantasy. The panelists were kind of a big deal, with L. E. Modesitt Jr., Tim Powers, Pat Rothfuss, Jo Walton, and Gregory A. Wilson. The main conclusion drawn at this panel is that magic was a sliding scale, but if the magic got too rule-based, it ceased to be magic and became a kind of science. In order for magic to really be, well, magical, it had to have some sense of wonder. That doesn’t mean that it’s not based on rules, but rather more that the rules aren’t explicitly stated; if the rules are known to the author but left for the audience to figure out, that’s how one attains consistency. All in all a highly enjoyable panel, as the panelists’ personalities played well off each other.
After that, I went to Tim Powers’ Guest of Honor speech. He meandered a bit, but was largely entertaining. My favorite quote (at least, that I wrote down!) was this: “What I think I read [science fiction] for is vertigo, disorientation, dislocation, precariousness. I assume you’ve read Flatland; I want to be A. Square experiencing ship rigging or a cathedral. Despite the weirdness, I want it to be believable. I want to experience the events, not merely know them.”
He also told a great story about a time that a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses came to his door. They asked him if he knew about Jesus, and he answered that he was Catholic, which they responded to by saying that was even worse than being an atheist, and he was surely going to hell. He listened politely, then said that he could prove that they were wrong, he just needed to see their bible. They handed it over, and he took out his magnifying glass so he could get a better look.
Now, it just so happened that it was a bright, sunny day, and he was angled so his magnifying glass caught the light just so…
Needless to say, he was never bothered by Jehovah’s Witnesses again; and the Witnesses maintain their low opinion of Catholics.
Following that panel, I think I went for lunch, but cannot actually remember. I believe I may have also taken a short nap, but my lack of sleep plus running around a convention center all day was catching up to me!
My next panel was called F*** Your Knight and the Horse He Rode In On, with panelists Saladin Ahmed, Aliette de Bodard, Christopher Kastensmidt, and Ken Scholes. The panel was about challenging the traditional fantasy staple of the medieval western fantasy by using elements from other cultures. The authors on panel, for instance, used everything from Aztec mythology to 16th century Brazilian folklore to Arabian myths. Everyone in the audience seemed to agree that we’re all very tired of medieval European fantasy and want something fresh. As for me? I ended up with four more authors on my giant “To Read” list.
I ended up fifteen minutes late for my next panel, Post-Modern Fantasy, Epic and Otherwise. Of all my Friday panels, this one was the most disappointing. The panelists were N. K. Jemisin, William Lexner, Nick Mamatas, Peadar O Guilin, Brandon Sanderson, and Brent Weeks. By the time I arrived, the panel had gone from discussing postmodernism to a large argument over just what postmodernism really was; not only that, but several audience members grumbled about how much they hate the genre and wished that SF writers would stop trying to use it (to which I could only ask “Why are you HERE then?” I’d gone in with the hopes of seeing some real discussion and finding yet more books to add to my list, but was ultimately disappointed on both accounts. Most of the panelists didn’t seem to have any background in postmodernism and thus no idea how to talk about it efeffectively. I did briefly get to chat up Brandon Sanderson after the panel, so not all was lost.
After that, I caught back up with Amanda and Kevin and we went for dinner at the Gas Lamp Grill. The fare was decent enough and far better priced than the stuff at the Atlantis. Unfortunately, I’d already come down with what I like to call Con Nerves, an affliction whereby nervousness and anxiety means I can’t eat very much. The food was still very good, I just couldn’t get any of it down. The conversation was pleasant, and all three of us shared our various in-progress stories (makes me wish I could go back to writing fiction – I miss it. Soon… soon.) Alas, the excellent conversation meant we were very, VERY late for the Masquerade. The event was hosted by Phil and Kaja Foglio, and was… rather long, actually. The costumes were good, but I was a bit underwhelmed by it all, particularly because everyone had hyped up the event so much. Far more entertaining was Paul Cornell hosting “Just A Minute”. The contestants were Bill Willingham (who was quite drunk), Seanan McGuire Lauren Buccas (I have spelled her name wrong, I know, but I don’t have a written list), John… … John “I can’t hear his last name on this recording, sadly”. (The recording is here, so if anyone can correct these names please do.) Seanan won by a landslide thanks to her mastery of the ridiculous list.
The awards themselves were poorly organized, so the three of us adjourned to the Atlantis, where I eventually wound up at the Convolution party. They tempted me in with sushi-shaped candies and delicious chicken satay… none of which I actually ended up eating, oddly enough. Even so, the atmosphere was great (the whole room was decorated in a dark urban fantasy motif) and the conversation excellent (though damned if I can remember what was said. Again.)
At some point, we ended up back at the hotel, but when exactly I can’t recall.
And that was Friday! My Saturday and Sunday reports will have to come at a later date, as I’m quite tired and I have a lot of work to do over the next two days…
Again, as a reminder to those of you who got Kickstarter rewards: don’t make me come after you. If you don’t tell me what photos you want, I will not be able to send them to you!
My Renovation experience began in earnest when I stepped off the plane Thursday evening to meet Amanda, a person whom I had only known for about a month through an online RPG. We didn’t even play with each other; it was through a conversation with someone else entirely that we discovered we were both going to WorldCon, and we figured well, why not? It’s this kind of random friendship-from-thin-air that I feel really makes a con. To put it another way, a convention is anywhere between three hundred and thirty thousand friends you never knew you had.
The first order of business was to hit the hotel – not the Peppermill or Atlantis, mind you, but the Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham Reno Airport. I’m a graduate student, there’s simply no way I could have afforded the other two, much as I desperately wanted to stay in the Atlantis! The Hawthorn Suites was cheap though, and breakfast was included, so I can’t complain. Amanda was staying in the hotel right next door, so she helped me drop my stuff off, check in, and get situated. Then it was off to the Peppermill first for some gaming!
Our journey was perilous indeed, as it involved crossing – gasp – a casino floor. It’s been years since I was last in Nevada, and I’d almost forgotten how labyrinthine casinos can be. The Peppermill was especially bad: my friend Kevin described it as “a Gibsonian nightmare,” a not inaccurate descriptor considering all the damned blinking lights. It took us a while to get through, but eventually we figured out where the gaming rooms were.
They were surprisingly empty, but I put it down to this first not being a gaming con and second to the parties all being in the Atlantis (and alcohol is a great motivator.) I briefly looked in on the tail end of the Dresden Files LARP, just finishing that very hour. I was quite sad my flight hadn’t got in earlier, as the rules looked interesting. All was not lost, however, as Amanda and I soon found ourselves a game of pick-up DnD Encounters. It took four editions, but I finally had my first taste of edition-hate – Encounters really doesn’t deliver the experience I’m looking for. Don’t get me wrong, I had fun, but everything felt a little too board-gamey for my tastes. Great as a pickup game, but not DnD. While there, I was also entertained by stories from the Dresden Files LARPers, and from meeting a new friend, Robert, who I kept running into throughout the con.
After that, I suggested we go pick up my roommate for the con, Kevin. Kevin was over at the launch party for The Magician King, and it’s at this point that things begin to get a little fuzzy for me, as there was an awful lot of free alcohol. I do recall speaking to a kilted gentleman who had provided the beer, which was excellent. This would become a theme – basically, Lev’s parties were where the good beer was. While in the midst of a conversation, someone popped in from across the hall to shout “THEY HAVE A JACCUZI FULL OF BEER AT THE TOR PARTY!!!”
Enticed by this image, I was compelled to cross the hall in search of more beer. The beer in question was far less fine than the stuff at the Magician King party, but more abundant, and it was getting to the point that I was having difficulty telling the difference.
At some point, I ended up telling a story about my time in Japan, which segued into a talk about my project. Apparently, talking about fan history draws old fen like flies to honey, and I was soon surrounded, sharing (drunkenly and incoherently) my drive for the project, my nervousness that I would not be able to finish it (apparently even delicious beer can’t shake my anxiety!) and what research I’d done so far. One gentleman saw fit to inform me of the locations of several excellent fanzine collections, including the one at UC Riverside. He gave me his email address, and it was a solid three days before I realized that the man in question had been David Hartwell! This encounter set the tone for the rest of Worldcon – I made so many contacts and encountered so many big name fans and authors that my head is still spinning.
At this point, I suggested going back to the hotel. I think Kevin likely wanted to stay a bit longer, but Amanda was tired and I was jetlagged, so we headed on back. Kevin and I managed to keep each other up with good conversation until four in the morning. I’m fairly certain I finally fell asleep in the middle of a thought, my body vetoing my mind’s desire to keep talking.
NEXT UP: FRIDAY
Ladies and gentlemen, I am returned from Worldcon.
Of all the cons I’ve been to thus far, this has absolutely been the most successful in terms of the information I got out of it. It wasn’t the most fun I’ve ever had at a con (that’s PAXEast) nor was it the most well-organized con I’ve ever been to (… again, the award goes to PAXEast), but unlike every other convention I’ve ever seen I got a real sense of history. Worldcon has a weight to it, a sense of real history I’ve never seen at any con. Maybe it was because I got to meet the (in)famous David Kyle in person, maybe it was seeing the Hugo Awards and the most heartfelt acceptance speech I’ve ever seen anywhere ever, I’m not certain. I met a lot of people who all shoved business cards at me (and I at them!) and I hope I can remember to contact them all (seriously folks, I’m staring at this pile going WAIT… I THINK I REMEMBER YOU?)
Over the next few days, I’m going to be emailing everyone whose business cards I got and posting day-by-day con reports, starting with Thursday evening. I’ll also soon have my Kickstarter reward articles up (though those may take a while longer).
But speaking of Kickstarter: I owe pictures! Sadly I’m a pretty terrible photographer, and the con itself wasn’t all that glamorous. Worldcon stopped accepting outside sponsorships in the 50s (they used to take out large advertisements from SF publishers and magazines; now they pride themselves on being self-contained, at the expense of being one of the most expensive fan conventions in the US) so there were very few big displays, almost no hall costumers (though many steampunk outfits) and I didn’t get a chance to explore the Reno countryside.
Those of you who Pledged $10 or more on Kickstarter, please tell me what photographs you want (email me at firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll get them to you as soon as I can.
So, before I do anything else: THEM PICTURES!
If you’re in any of these pictures and you don’t want them up here, PLEASE email me (email@example.com) and let me know. Kickstarter people: Tell me which photos you want! Email, comments, whatever.
Next up: Day one of Worldcon.
So now I’m going to talk about the panels I CAN get to! Yay! much more exciting.
Events in BLUE represent free time that I can do whatever I want in. Events in RED represent stuff that I CANNOT MISS EVER. Events in GREEN are just suggested things to do with my time. Yes, it looks kind of packed, but hey, it’s a con. Sleep is for the weak.
I’m pretty excited about all these panels. Man, I still can’t believe I’m actually going tomorrow. Woo!