WORLDCON REPORT — SUNDAY, AUGUST 21 — Farewells

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.

Now.

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.

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  1. #1 by Kevin Standlee on September 7, 2011 - 2:31 pm

    I can answer one of your questions about why Worldcons got so expensive. If you ran a modern Worldcon on the same scale as those old $1-membership events, you could sell memberships at an inflation-adjusted similar rate (about $15 today). But that’s one track of programming, and almost no services. It’s easy to look with rose-colored glasses at those early days, but the fact is that people have come to expect vastly more from a Worldcon today than they did sixty-plus years ago.

    We actually do take in a chunk of money from publisher advertising and other sponsorships, but it’s a relatively small portion of the event cost. What’s happened is that over time the percentage of sponsorship has dropped while the expectations have grown immensely. Things don’t scale as directly as you might think.

    And when some Worldcons have undertaken sponsorship, they’ve done it badly, like the Worldcon that took in sponsorship in such a way that made it look like the Hugo Awards was an afterthought because it was the L RON HUBBARD WRITERS OF THE FUTURE CONTEST PRESENTS the hugo awards SPONSORED BY BRIDGE PUBLICATIONS AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT BUB DID WE MENTION THAT IT WAS THE WRITERS OF THE FUTURE CONTEST SPONSORED BY BRIDGE PUBLICATIONS? (Sorry to shout; it was the only way I could think of showing the contrast.)

    So that’s the main reason things are so expensive. There are others. If you held Worldcon in the same place every year, run by the same organization (a la DragonCon or ComicCon), the costs would start dropping radically, and would probably drop down to roughly half what they are now. I can go into more detail if you really care, but what it amounts to is that the things that make a modern Worldcon a “Worldcon” (and not the East Coast Regional SF Convention) have forced the costs much higher than anyone (including the organizers) likes.

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