Back from Worldcon!

Fairy landb Flickr kellyholt125

Image by KellyHolt125 via Flickr (some rights reserved; see link)

I just journeyed to a magical fairyland called Worldcon for the first time, and yes, the tales are all true: I am changed and will never fit into mundane mortal life again.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate.  This isn’t my first con, after all, and really, I wasn’t that mundane to begin with.

Stepping back, for those of you not familiar with it: Worldcon is what’s known as a fan convention or “fan con” — for fans of the topic. There are a ton of these cons all over the world devoted to science fiction and fantasy, usually with names like ConClave, ConTraption, ConFusion, Dragon Con, etc.

Worldcon is short for the World Science Fiction Convention, although it has also embraced fantasy for quite some time.  This was the 76th international Worldcon, held in San Jose, California.  The first Worldcon was held in 1939, believe it or not!

Worldcon is much more oriented toward books than other large fan cons like Comic Con, that have huge movie trailer premieres and feature famous celebrities.  I mean, Worldcon does have celebrities, it’s just that we readers and writers think of authors as being big celebrities, not actors.  So it doesn’t have quite the glitz or the production value of commercial cons, but then, the guests of honor actually walk around the convention center and go to talks and sit down for drinks, just like everyone else.  To me, that makes it feel so much more inclusive and approachable.

There’s a nice synopsis of the activities of Worldcon on its Wikipedia page, although that utterly fails to give the flavor of the event.

There were plenty of people dressed up in costumes, which was fun to look at (why didn’t I take photos?!?), although the focus was much less on cosplay than (again) at Comic Con.  I spent my three days going to panel sessions, hanging out with friends (mostly new ones), and visiting the Dealer’s Room to buy books and weird jewelry.  I got out of the convention center a few times to seek sustenance, and saw a bit of the city while walking between the various hotels that housed the evening parties, but I mostly did Con from day in to day out, fairly relentlessly, despite my body reminding me that I’m not 21 anymore…

I’m giving it all I’ve got, Captain!

They offered a wide range of panel sessions, which was great.  My main criticism — and that of many others — was that they didn’t have large enough rooms for the sessions.  Almost all the ones I attended maxed out, and they had to send people away.  The Fire Marshal was there, laying down the law on people standing in the back and exceeding the maximum room allowance.  So if you didn’t get to that room long before the previous talk ended, you wouldn’t get a seat.  I missed two panels I really wanted to see because of that.

I still got to see some great sessions, though.  I especially liked the sword-fighting demonstration.  They showed and described various types of swords and fighting styles, including using a buckler or dagger in the off-hand.  Most importantly, they fought.  Not choreographed fights, but real matches — which sometimes devolved into wrestling on the ground!  This was great fodder for writing something more realistic than what you see from Hollywood, and unlike at Ren Faire events, they kept stopping to explain what had just happened.  They pointed out that in real combat, there aren’t any rules like in sport fencing. They called the hits as they occurred (which clearly still hurt sometimes, despite them wearing padding and using blunted weapons) and the team doctor explained how that type of wound would affect the combatant’s ability to keep fighting.  Or whether they’d survive for now, only to die of infection later.  The key takeaway for me was how very fast these fights would happen in real life, compared to what I see in most books and movies.  They came at eat other and clashed only a handful of times before someone took a hit that would have crippled them. A few times, in the second or third clash, they would BOTH take wounds that would have mortally injured them.

I also really enjoyed a big panel session on the 50th anniversary of Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn.  Peter gave some great background and insights about the story, and other members of the panel talked about their experiences with reading it, and with bringing the new author’s original edition (being published soon) to life.

A lot of the other sessions I attended were more interesting for me from a worldbuilding perspective, such as session on “transgressing borders” where people discussed living with one foot in two social or cultural worlds, and the experiences of migrants and refugees. Another panel was about “fantasy canon from the margins,” where the panelists (all people of color) talked about being exposed to movies and books that only featured white people, or only included characters of their race as terrible stereotypes and bad guys — followed by a happier turn when they discussed all the amazing new books and movies coming out that are much more inclusive.  Another session was on “lost warriors“, decrying the pervasiveness in movies and books of of Medieval European knights, Roman legions, Samurais, and a few Celts at the expense of all the other fighting styles and concepts out there.

The panel on “imagining a non-toxic masculinity” may not seem like worldbuilding to some folks, but I have a whole empire based on gender neutrality, so it was amazing for me!

One panel on mythogenesis discussed myths, and how they’re incorporated into fiction, and how writers can incorporate and explore myths other than those from their own heritage without appropriating or being disrespectful. (“One person’s myth is another person’s sincerely held belief system.”)  Another panel focused on writing, specifically how to be more aware of body language in real life and how to use it in your writing to convey emotion and character.

The one panel that had nothing to do with my own work was about the intersection of science fiction and future studies, but boy, it was still super interesting!

I also went to an author reading, and to a kaffeeklatsch with the editor of Asimov’s, and those were both great.  I’ll definitely go to more of those next time.

I managed to miss the Masquerade competition / performance — I’ll try harder to do that next time.  My friends and I decided not to stand in line to get into the Hugo Awards Ceremony, but instead to grab seats at the “bar” set up in the middle of the exhibit hall to watch it simulcast on a huge screen with a few hundred others.  It was a little weird at first to clap for people who couldn’t hear you, but we all got over it and cheered wildly when our favorites won and gave great speeches.

The closing ceremonies were brief but interesting — and sad, that it was all ending.  They brought out the organizer of the next Worldcon, which will be held in Dublin.  Boy, between him talking, and the video they made about how great Ireland will be to visit, and then the Irish band that played — I am convinced!  Let’s all go to Dublin next year!


In between all of the sessions, I met many other writers and exchanged business cards — which I promptly LOST, along with my whole business card holder.  It was heartbreaking.  Ah well, I guess I’ll have to go to Dublin and meet them all again!

If you’re interested in science fiction and/or fantasy, I would highly recommend going to these cons.  Even if you’re introverted and have a hard time meeting new people, I think you’ll like these people: they are so warm and welcoming and nice and fun, and they’re geeks just like us!  I don’t know if I’ll actually be able to swing going to Ireland next year.  It’s awfully expensive, and I’d want to take extra time to sight-see while I was there, which makes it even more expensive.

But hey, all things are possible.

If you’re going to be there, let me know!

Before I went to Worldcon, I was away at a professional conference, so I’ve been gone for ten full days.  Add in the weeks of preparation for both events, including preparing my presentation for the prior conference, and I have had almost no time for writing, or even reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.  I’m sorry!  I’ve missed your blog posts and stories, and hope to get in a little more reading before my next whirlwind of travel in a few weeks.

What happened while I was gone?  Let me know!


33 thoughts on “Back from Worldcon!

    • It really was fabulous! I’ve never been to a SFF con outside of the US, so I have no idea how different the vibe might be, but I’m sure it would be amazing wherever it was. People were talking about New Zealand 2020 as though it was pretty much a sure thing, so I think you’re in luck. I just checked the Worldcon site, and it looks like they’re the only ones who still have a bid in, which makes the voting only a formality, I would think. I would LOVE to go to New Zealand, too, but again, the costs are pretty prohibitive. Looks like Washington DC in 2021 and Chicago in 2022, which are both much more doable for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • New Zealand isn’t *that* much farther away from me (in southern California) than Dublin — the flight would be about three hours longer, according to Google Maps. But I just priced flights, and they would be THREE times higher to go to NZ than Dublin. Ouch! Okay, Dublin it is.


      • New Zealand was the only bid for the 2020 Worldcon, and they won It took us a few days to get the various sites updated (and some are still waiting to be updated) because most of us who do the updating were also at Worldcon and were a little busy. Glad you enjoyed Worldcon 76! It makes all of the work we do to organize it worthwhile!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I definitely appreciate all the work the organizers do — it’s clear what a huge undertaking it is! A labor of love, I’m sure. I would really love to be able to make it to New Zealand for Worldcon 2020, that would be amazing! I’ll have to save up my pennies…


  1. Wow, it does sound amazing Joy! I know you’ve been to a few conventions but it sounds like you’ve taken a lot away from this one. I’m tempted to start booking my trip to Dublin now! What do you think was most relevant to your writing? Great post

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oddly enough, now that you say it, although I enjoyed this con more than most, I don’t seem to have come away with as many big revelations about my stories. Maybe I just haven’t processed what I’ve heard enough yet. I do have a huge number of recommendations for books to read, and many notes about specific issues. Probably the most important are ways that I can shift the cultures and cultural artifacts (e.g., the types of weapons they use) to make the various peoples of Eneana seem less like cookie-cutter, vaguely Medieval European fantasy denizens.

      Another small (but maybe big) takeaway was from the mythogenesis panel, where they talked about the universality of the basics of myths across peoples (always fun to play with) but more importantly, than in fantasy books, if the reader hears about a myth, they’ve come to expect that it will turn out to be true. Which of course made me immediately want to write more stories where the myths are prominent and yet turn out to be false. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m usually looking for ways to make Eneana feel more magical, honestly. I sometimes worry that it’s *too* real — as in, normal and boring, lol! I have to keep asking myself for every story, Wait, what is actually “fantasy” about this? Quick, add in something magical!


    • Thanks Crispina! I, too, am looking forward to writing again. Hopefully this weekend, although my calendar is pretty crazy full as it is. No time even for laundry at this point! I keep telling myself how great it will feel once I catch up. (Cue hysterical laughter.)

      Liked by 2 people

  2. This sounds awesome Joy and so helpful. Sounds like it would be fascinating to hear these panels and see these demonstrations. The costume thing is funny lol. I got the idea this more of a writers sci-fi worldcon, than time to play dress up like at comic con, but then again where else can you? And that would keep things interesting forsure 🙂 I also like the gender neautrality themed session, that too sound interesting as even in today’s world, that concept is very muddled. Glad you had fun and I’m sure this will inspire you like crazy. Two weeks ago I was at writers conference in my home province and attended many interesting sessions, pannels, 12 Minutes of one on one editing a couple of times, and I even had a successful pitch . . . Once the final working draft of my manuscript is done lol. But, I can somewhat understand your excitement, I felt the same way after, as did my friend who writes YA fantasy. Glad to have you back on WP, can’t wait to read more 🙂



    • Good job on your successful pitch! I’m having the same problem though: my WIP isn’t nearly done enough to “really” pitch, but it’s good to get practice. Writing conferences are great, I love them. Worldcon had a writing track of panels, but also many other tracks, so it was mostly a fan/reader con. It had a whole track for cosplay: panels about fabrics, hair techniques, makeup, etc. There weren’t many people walking around in costume though; maybe about 5% (and they mostly didn’t come into the panels I went to). There were more on Saturday afternoon because that evening is when they held the Masquerade costume competition.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That sounds very cool and the masquerade event sounds like great fun too 🙂 Yeah, Just practice a pitch if you get the chance. Most publishers are nice and will tell you how to improve if you need. If they are mean without reason, well you don’t want them as an agent/publisher anyways lol. The costume classes sound as fun as the writing courses!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think it’s useful to work on the pitch early on. It helps me to think about what the main parts of the book are, to try to “tell the story” of what it’s about in just a few sentences. That makes revising so much easier!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yep you bet! It does make those things much clearer. Doing such a short overview is very hard too do. I went from synopsis up blurb to pitch. Long process but easiest way to cut to the facts 🙂 Good luck

        Liked by 1 person

  3. One thing to keep in mind: some cons have rules about photography, particularly because of cosplayers being abused. Arisia, in Boston, pretty much has a “don’t photograph without explicit consent” rule.
    My favorite set of panels at Arisia this year were those including V.E. Schwab, who was refreshingly honest about not necessarily knowing what she was doing and admitting her perplexity at certain types of authorial problems. It’s nice to know a best-selling author has much the same problems in writing as the rest of us (only at a higher income level).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Worldcon has the same rule, that you should ask for explicit consent before photographing someone, whether they’re in cosplay or not. Which is better all around, because then you get them to pose! And you’re not allowed to take photos within the Exhibitor’s hall, or during the panel sessions (they had professional photographers covering some of the sessions I went to, but not all of them).

      Arisia sounds interesting! And yes, I get the same feeling of reassurance when I hear that successful authors also feel doubts and got a lot of rejections before they got published. I had the opposite experience at the reading I saw at Worldcon. The author said she’d been feeling horrible writers’ block for a year or so after getting her MFA, and then one day she just sat down and the whole story flowed out of her fingers, from beginning to end, as if it were already fully realized and she was just transcribing it. And then boom, it got picked up by a publisher and here she is, reading at Worldcon. I tried to be happy for her, but boy, I had to fight through a few layers of jealousy to get there!

      Liked by 1 person

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  5. That is the coolest thing, ever, Joy. My nieces are both artists so the do many of the cons, such as Comic Con.. I didn’t realise they had them for writers… The things I learn from the peeps I follow….

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is a broader fan con, so it’s not just writers — a lot of readers but also artists and gamers and costumers. There was a big exhibit hall for art and photography, and some amazing costumes too. Tell your nieces to check it out. Well, maybe in a couple years, when it’s nearby again — it’s in Dublin in 2019 and New Zealand in 2020, but probably Washington DC in 2021 and Chicago in 2022.


  6. This sounds like the best fun. I envy you! 🙂 (Does that help with your layers of jealousy? 😉 ) A great description of the con. I’ve heard about them, but never in much detail. I would have been wildly interested in the canoon from the margins and mythogenesis. It’s so easy to do the ‘all colours, all genders, all cultures’ thing wrong without realizing it. And of course the science fiction and future studies. Thank you for this report.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would have loved to have you there as my “con-panion”! 😉 And yes, those were great sessions, and they talked about those specific issues, all the ways you can inadvertently misappropriate or misrepresent someone else’s culture if you aren’t sensitive enough. The one thing I really hoped they’d cover that nobody did is how to do that in secondary worlds. For instance, how can I create cultures and characters in my made-up world that, say, Chinese or Chinese-American readers will relate to and feel included by, if my world doesn’t have a China or even an Asia? I bought a book on “writing the other” that I hope will deal with that, but there’s surprisingly little advice out there on it.

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. Enjoyed reading your summation of the Con. For those that have never been you are so right that it’s a great place to meet a very nice group of fans. Everyone is very open and friendly. As proof, I had a chance to chat with you during the closing ceremonies.

    You were spot on with your observation that we view the authors as celebrities. I’ve tried to describe that to my friends that aren’t into the genre, or even into reading. It’s a thrill to be able to attend a panel and listen to a favorite author speak on a topic. Or to bump into them between conference rooms and give them a quick hi and compliment on their latest work. I enjoy that brief connection with them.

    I see you are creating your own work, fantastic. Maybe someday I can attend a panel that you will moderate. Please note, I’ll be asking for you to sign my copy of your book. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Louis! I’m so glad you looked me up here – nice to “see” you again! I didn’t see any of my own favorite authors at this con, but there were a few that I knew were there somewhere and just never caught up with. Maybe next time! And yes, I am working on being a famous — well, at least published — author myself. And who knows, maybe at the front of one of those panel sessions at Worldcon some day. Hope springs eternal!


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