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!