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.)