Final Thoughts on Worldcon 2009

I had promised some final thoughts on my first Worldcon, and in the nearly three weeks since it ended I’ve had plenty of time to ruminate and absorb other people’s con reports.

First of all, it was a great lot of fun!  My girlfriend and I had an absolute blast, and are already making a list of people we plan to press-gang into going to the next one we can feasibly manage.  Everyone we met was friendly—or at least perfectly polite—and while I wouldn’t say we made any new best friends, well, that wasn’t really why we went.

I was happy to meet several authors I only knew of from their writing or online presence, and find out that they do indeed seem to be pretty cool in person, too.  My biggest regret was that my attempt to travel with minimal luggage limited the number of books I could bring for them sign.

The panels were, by and large, delightful.  We always had plenty to choose from, and in some cases, making a decision between them was really tough.  We attended some that were truly excellent, many that were good, and a few that just weren’t quite what we’d been looking for, but such is the way of things.

I even enjoyed the opening and closing ceremonies, and the Hugo Awards.  I’m not usually one for ceremony and pomp, but everything was kept moving briskly and infused with humour.  It was particularly fun watching the shock and delight on the faces of some of the award winners (David Anthony Durham, Ann Vandermeer, and Frank Wu come to mind).

I attended a lot of the panels on writing, as I have aspirations in that direction, and while they were uniformly excellent and and full of good general advice, most of it I have encountered before in one place or another.  Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve gotten all the general advice there is to get, and there’s nothing left for me to do but practice, practice, practice and seek out specific guidance and help.

So, all in all, a truly delightful time.  I took a fair number of pictures, most of which didn’t turn out, but I have posted them to Flickr anyway.

Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners
Nancy Kress, David Hartwell, and other Hugo winners

Now, given that this was my first Worldcon, I have no idea how it compares to previous ones in terms of attendance, programming, organization, or, well, anything at all.  The comments that follow should be read with my general ignorance kept firmly in mind.

One thing that sort of concerned me was, to put it bluntly, how old a lot of the attendees were.  When people talk about they graying of fandom, all they need to do to make their point is take a picture of the audience at a Worldcon panel.  Perhaps I’m phrasing this too harshly—I don’t mean to complain that there are a lot of older people, but rather that there didn’t seem to be that many younger people.  I’m 30 and still felt young compared to the majority of attendees.  At the very least I had expected myself to be near the median.

My concern is, well, where are the new fans going to come from?  The current fans aren’t going to live forever (well, barring breakthroughs in senescence research), and so the con—and the Hugo Awards—will need a constant influx of new people, and it’s not something I saw happening in a big way.

This is in stark contrast to the San Diego Comic-Con, which continues to grow as a massively popular media event among young people.  I have two friends who have made a trip to see SDCC, whereas I doubt they’d heard of Worldcon before I’d talked about it with them.  Now, no one wants Worldcon to be overrun by TV, movie, and video game content like Comic-Con has, but at least that brings in young people.  And an infusion of more people could do Worldcon a world of good.

Now, perhaps my concerns are overstated—there was a sizable chunk of teen and youth programming, so perhaps there was a sizable chunk of youngsters secreted away somewhere.  Similarly, there may be lots of younger people who would like to go to Worldcon, but can’t due to their economic situations—as they age and prosper, perhaps they will be the infusion of new blood.  However,  I can’t help but agree with Lou Anders (who I unfortunately did not get to see on any panels, despite his near-omnipresence and my enjoyment of his blog and many Pyr titles) that if Worldcon raised its profile a bit, it could boost attendance and ensure a long and healthy future.

Anders cites the opening night conversation between economist Paul Krugman and author Charlie Stross as the sort of thing that could raise said profile, and I agree.  A Worldcon built around a set of high-profile events like that as anchors of the programming, promoted and advertised well in advance, might attract more people interested in seeing what it’s all about.

I mean, I’ve been reading SF and fantasy for more than 20 years, but only in the last year or so have I started going to cons, or even wanted to, and part of it was ignorance of what goes on there and why I should go.  For a distributed community of Sf fans, who don’t all come from larger population centres with local cons, having a big draw like that to get new people in the door can only help bring more people into the fold, without corrupting the essence of Worldcon.

Another concern—or perhaps this is more of a comment or question—related to the Hugo Awards.  It was apparent that winning the Hugo meant a lot to the winners of the Fan awards, or to the writers and editors of the fiction awards, and semiprozines, and art, and the like.  Even the newly-minted graphic story had a few of the nominees in attendance, and I think that award may grow into more prominence in the coming year.  But, apart from the Metatropolis crew, I don’t think any of the nominees for dramatic work  (short or long) were present.  With that being the case, I sort of felt, well, why bother?

I mean, I can see that the Hugo Awards are fandom’s way of signifying and rewarding the things we liked most in a year.  But I feel that it should be meaningful to the nominees and winners as well.  This article has suggested that a Hugo for video games is overdue, but perhaps the Hugo voter demographic isn’t engaged enough with that field, and, well, do the game writers even care?

Perhaps this ties back in to needing to raise the profile of Worldcon.  While the prestige of a Hugo for Dramatic Presentation will never eclipse the significance of an Oscar or Emmy, it would be nice for it to be regarded as prestigious nonetheless.

Anyway, I suspect these concerns will resolve themselves over time, as I become more familiar with the ongoing history and life of Worldcon and the Hugo Awards.  In the short term, I just hope to be able to make it to the Worldcon in Australia next year.

With that, my 2009 Worldcon adventures have come to a close.  Time to start reading potential nominees for next year’s Hugos….