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….

Worldcon: Day 5 Recap

NOTE: I tried to post this yesterday, but my web host seemed to go down.  Hence, this is a day late.

The morning started off with sleeping in a bit—there were no 9:00 AM panels that grabbed our interest more than sleep did, and so it was at 10:00 AM that we hit up the “Movements in Fantasy” panel, which talked about the rise of literary movements within the genre.  Among the key points discussed were that such movements are usually only identified after the fact, often arise from a group of like-minded authors reading each other’s work and responding to it (usually pre-publication), and need a defining work to kick them off and an ideologue to promote it.  Interesting and entertaining stuff.

At 11:00 AM, my girlfriend went to the “On Editing” panel featuring David Hartwell, while I went in search of autographs from Charlie Stross, Julie Czerneda, and John Scalzi.  I was happily successful, and they were all very warm and friendly, though due to the lines for each, it meant I could only get to “On Editing” for about the last 5 or 10 minutes.  What I saw of that panel was good—Hartwell is a very entertaining and engaging speaker.

After lunch, we took in the panel on “Hard SF: Is It What You Do, or How You Do It?”, which explored whether the definition of the genre is fixed in the rigorous application of science, or in the appearance of the rigorous application of science.  They did admit that hard SF could still incorporate “magic” technology, but otherwise no one held forth a conclusive answer, which, I suppose, it not terribly surprising.  Interesting, but after an hour the audience ran out of questions and a lot of ground had been covered, so it ended early.

We did a brief run through the Dealers’ Room again, though thankfully did not spend any further money, and then we went to a reading by Robert J. Sawyer.  He’s a generally entertaining reader and pretty genial guy, and he entertained us with a reading of his story “Mikeys” and a prose poem (not in that order), and then I got him to sign my copy of the Distant Early Warnings anthology I’d been collecting signatures on all weekend.

Next, at the request of the girlfriend, we went to a reading by George R. R. Martin from his forthcoming and eagerly-anticipated book A Dance With Dragons.  Fans of the series (which has been optioned by HBO, and a pilot episode is currently in production) seemed to enjoy it, and I thought it was okay—a little too descriptive and verbose for the kind of reading I’m into these days, but I could see why he has a huge fanbase.  I will no doubt pick up this series when I’m back into reading big books.

And then it was the closing ceremonies, which were brief and too the point, handing off things to the Melbourne Worldcon organizers for next year.  It was surprisingly well-attended, and a sort or sad send-off back to the real world.


After successfully acquiring dinner at Le Steak Frites, we hung out back at the hotel for a while, before heading to the Dead Dog party at the Consuite at the Delta.  It was surprisingly packed, and we ended up in some long and varied conversations with some very nice people before heading back to our hotel after 11:30, because I seem to have come down with the plague.

Or a slight sore throat.

I’m not sure which.

Anyway, that was the Worldcon.  Once I’m back in Toronto, I may do a wrap-up post of my thoughts about it, post some pictures, and possibly update these posts with panelist names and such.  Yesterday, however, was about seeing a bit of Montreal.

Worldcon: Day 4 (Part 2)—The Hugo Awards

Sunday evening was the main event—the Hugo Awards presentation.  Before that, being human beings of a hungry sort, we decided to seek out food.

This proved to be more problematic that we could have imagined.  We first decided to go back to Le Steak Frites, but found them to be booked full until 8:30 or later, which was no good, since the awards started at 8:00, and, well, we didn’t want to wait that long.  It seemed to be full of Con people, and perhaps there were officials being dumped there, and such.  So we went back to the convention center to try a restaurant there, only to find that was full.  We had had trouble finding a place that was open near the convention center the evening before, so we decided to go back to our hotel and try the restaurant there.

Food was only being served at the bar, and was not especially cheap or appetizing.  So we set out again, thinking maybe of the nearby Dairy Queen, before ending up at Eggspectation, where I had a satisfactory panini sandwich.  After all that questing, we were running a little later than expected, but still arrived at about 7:55 PM, where we had to sit toward the back of the massive Main Tent, as it was quite full.

The Hugo Awards ceremony was generally well-run.  There were a few tech mis-cues, and a few times we had to wait slightly long before somebody came out or got to the stage, or whatnot.  None of the speeches were unnecessarily long, and so the evening went by quickly and pleasantly.

The results can be found here, at the official Hugo Awards site.  It was nice to see Neil Gaiman win for The Graveyard Book at the Worldcon where he was Guest of Honour.  David Hartwell also won Best Long-Form Editor, and he was Editor Guest of Honour, and also damned entertaining.  I enjoyed all of the winners, and felt a little bad for the “losers”, many of whom were my first choice, but it was a fun and exciting evening overall.

After the awards ceremony, we did one more panel, from 10 to 11 PM, called “Young Turks”.  It featured a few writers who were basically emerging as forces to be reckoned with, and because the audience was small enough, it became a sort of cooperative Q&A whereby they talked about why they wrote, how they got to the point they were each at, techniques and tools they had found helpful for their writing, and the like.  For a panel so late, and day 4, after the Hugos, it was a pleasant surprise to have such an engaged and active set of panelists, and such a fun and interesting panel.  Kudos to them for pulling it off.

At that point, we called it a day.

Worldcon: Day 4

The fourth day of Worldcon was also a big one, and quite full.

We started at 9 AM once again, with a panel on “How Not to be a Jerk Online”.  I went to this because John Scalzi—whose blog and work I am a fan of—was one of the panelists, and I suspected it was a topic he would hold forth entertainingly about.  I was right, although the other panelists (whose names I will call forth in a later update) also had excellent and amusing contributions.

The next panel I wanted to see was “Deities and Demigods”, because I wanted to snag panelist Paddy Forde to sign a book I had, but alas, it was cancelled.  That did leave me free to join my girlfriend at another panel I was interested in, on “English-Canadian Small-Press SF Publishers”, which was an illuminating and honest look at the business and economics of small press publishing in Canada, with the attendant advantages and disadvantages.  Kind of interesting and depressing.

Next was another panel on “The Singularity: O RLY”, which was pretty entertaining, although with my own reading in the area and the panels I’ve been to this weekend, I may be singularitied out.  I did get a signature from Peter Watts after, though, and had an entertaining conversation with him about genetic algorithms as they might be applied to FPGAs that was punctuated him him being mind-boggled when he noticed my {Terror} t-shirt form Dr. McNinja.

Then it was lunchtime, followed by spending too much money in the Dealer’s Room, where my girlfriend bid on a print in the art show, and I bought a Con t-shirt, another book, and ended up subscribing to OnSpec.

The next panel we saw was “Which Histories Get Alternates?”, wherein the panelists discussed why so many alternate histories focussed on the same events (eg. American Civil War, WWII, etc.), and partly concluded that it was needed because the audience had to have strong familiarity with the events in question to understand how it is alternate.  A list of other types of alternates was also volunteered by the audience.

Then it was on to “Economics of Star Traders”, which discussed whether it could ever be worthwhile to have trade between planets, first in a relativistic universe, then opening it up to FTL-capable universes.  Some interesting ideas bandied about.

We were pretty exhausted by panels, so we wandered around a bit, outside, before heading back so I could get some books signed by Robert Charles Wilson.  Then it was in search of dinner, about which I will complain in the next post.

Worldcon: Day 3 Recap (Part 2)

After a quick lunch, my girlfriend had hoped to take in the panel on “Montreal Local History”, but it was apparently cancelled.  I headed to “Building Realistic Worlds”, but it was so full that there wasn’t even space to stand at the back of the room, so I went to my other option, “How Are We Getting on Towards the Singularity Then?”.  This was also quite full, but I could still find room.    It was a decent panel, exploring the different ways we are approaching the Singularity (or not).

The next panel we both went to was “Online Magazines Represented HERE: A Good Market”, in which several people who work in various capacities at online fiction magazines discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the format.  Advantages were mostly in the negligible cost of distribution and international reach, but the downsides were the lack of a business model and combatting obscurity—how does your magazine get found among everything else online?  The panelists were all good and played off each other well.

Then there was a panel on “How to Pitch Your Novel… and how not to”, which was good at offering practical advice from publishing professionals on how you can get someone to look at your novel.  Thankfully, I had encountered most of the information before, so it seems like my research into publishing in the field has been successful.

Next up was a panel titled “Aunts in Spaceships”, which my girlfriend was interested in seeing.  She was hoping it would more be about why aren’t there more characters with extended families (or families at all) in SF literature, but it was concentrated more on older women characters, and became something a chance for the panelists and audiences to list examples of such characters.  Given that it was a 90-minute panel, and wasn’t quite what we were looking for, we ducked out a bit early and visited the dealer’s room again.

At 6:30, there was a short event, featuring author Karl Schroeder and his Tor editor David G. Hartwell talking about the process of working together, and how their relationship and working approach has changed over the course of working on 7 novels together.  It was really interesting, and actually felt like it ended too soon.

Then we went looking for dinner, but found a large number of places were closed, so we ended up going to an Italian place that was fine, but a bit slow because they were overwhelmed with other Con-goers.  As a result, we were late getting back, and missed the first hour of the Masquerade costume show.  We saw a few minutes of it, but I was interested in another event, “Gaiman Reads Doctorow”.

As an experiment, Cory Doctorow is releasing his next short story collection as a self-published Creative Commons title, and using it to explore a number of different ideas a business models, including a free audiobook read by friends (in this case, Neil Gaiman, star of the Worldcon), print-on-demand, and high-cost hand-made limited editions.  Gaiman read quite well, as he is wont to do, and then they both fielded questions after the recording was done.  Gaiman and Doctorow were both gracious, funny, and passionate speakers, and I felt the event was well worth missing the Masquerade.

The last event of the night was a fireworks display that we could watch from the top floor terrace of the convention centre.  The fireworks were not part of the Worldcon (it was for the Festival of Fire, I think, being a South African entry), but it was a nice way to end a very long day.

Worldcon: Day 3 Recap

Day 3 of Worldcon was a very panel-heavy day for us.

We started with “Writing for the Non-Adult”, which had a nice mix of panelists that played off each other well, and talked about the difficulties of writing for children and young adults, both in terms of craft and the market.  This included elements such as boys being unwilling to read books that look like they’re for girls, and the gap where many boys stop reading at all.  Overall, it was a nice discussion.

From there, my girlfriend went to the “Archetypes Without Stereotypes” panel directly, while I ducked down to the signing area to get a book signed by Cory Doctorow.  When I mentioned I had studied cryptography in grad school, he showed me his wedding ring—it was an Enigma cipher custom-designed by Bruce Schneier and made by Schneier’s daughter.  Very cool.  He had a fairly sizable line (though smaller than Robert Silverberg), so I didn’t get back to the panel till it was about half done.  I view this as exceedingly unfortunate, as the part of it that I saw was brilliant.

The five panelists (Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Ben Jeapes, Nalo Hopkinson, and Doselle Young) worked together perfectly.  They were cracking each other up, getting big laughs from the crowd, hitting all the big points, going back and forth with smooth banter, no one was stealing the limelight… they just worked with each other and the audience really well.  I think this may have been the best panel I have ever seen, even though other panels have had subjects of more focussed interest to me.  Kudos to the panelists.

From there, we moseyed over to “What Makes a Good Story?”, but since it was quite full, we tried “Abby Normal: Comedy and SF”, which was also full, but we didn’t want to run to yet another place that may or may not be quite full, so we stayed.  It was a fun panel, talking about different kinds of humour, though it mostly focussed on film and TV rather than written SF.  Halfway through, I ducked out for 10 minutes to get a book signed by James Alan Gardner, who is a very nice guy.

That took care of the morning.  More to come later today.

Worldcon: Day 2 Recap (Part 2)

When last we left our heroes, they were heading back to the Con for the Neil Gaiman signing, tickets to which they had acquired earlier that day.  Arriving at 3:30 PM (for the 4:00 signing), there was already a massive line of ticketholders ahead of us.   So, we had a half hour wait before the doors opened, and then a much longer wait inside.  We were (maybe) the halfway point in the line, and it took us more than an hour to get to the front.  Thankfully, we had each other for company, and we were standing next to some friendly people, one from Australia and one from London, Canada who contributes to Bureau 42.

Anyway, the signing was supposed to be an hour, and it took us that just to get to the front of the line.  There was a videographer filming the event, and when he saw that I had put the note on my book for Gaiman to make it out to “House”, he asked why, giving me the chance to explain on camera that since a friend dared me to ask Bruce Campbell to sign the book to “House”, as nearly all my friends call me, I’ve had every book made out to me as such.

So, my girlfriend was ahead of me, and I took pictures of her and Gaiman while he was signing.  When it was my turn, I handed the camera off to her, and she returned the favour.  Neil was quite gracious and friendly, signing 2 items per person, for the apparently 200 people who were given tickets.  Naturally, he didn’t have time to stop and chat too much, or pose for pictures (though he didn’t mind you taking them), but he still made pleasant smalltalk, cracked a few jokes, and made it a worthwhile experience.  So it was good times.

We finished there at 5:15 PM, and so were a bit late for the panel on “What Fans Don’t Understand About Publishing 2”, which had a focus on distribution and marketing.  It had Beth Meacham (a Tor editor), Eleanor Wood (an agent), Leah Bobet (writer/publisher/bookseller), and a guy who’s name I didn’t catch and can’t deduce from the program.  It was an interesting look at the insides of how publishing works, and was quite illuminating on some subjects (such as why publishers don’t typically offer e-versions of their own catalog, so as to not compete with the bookstores that are their clients).

Then we had pizza for dinner.  It went  alittle long, but was a nice break, and we were back in time for a panel on “Mad Social Scientists”, starting with the premise of how we only see evil physical scientists trying to destroy the world, and how can social science be used that way.  It had a nice mix of people (writers and humanities people, including a social psychologist), so we got to see things from a lot of different angles, and perhaps see that the social scientists already rule the world.

Next was a panel on “Advice for New Writers: The Secrets of Getting Published”.  It was supposed to be a session of what-not-to-do advice, to add a bit of humour to a dry subject.  Unfortunately, a number of the scheduled panelists were unable to make it, and so it was left to the remaining two—Jenny Rappaport and Walter Jon Williams—to go it alone.  They did an admirable job, keeping it going in that vein for a while before opening it up to a more direct Q&A session.

Finally, after that, we went to the already-in-progress screening of Coraline with Gaiman.  Since we arrived an hour after it started, I expected it to be further along, but it was still quite close to the beginning, so I rather suspect Gaiman did his thing before the screening, rather than after (since, well, he didn’t seem to be there after).  I do enjoy Coraline though, so this was hardly a tragedy.

So endeth Day 2 of Worldcon.   I’ll blog Day 3 in the morning.

Worldcon: Day 2 Recap (Part 1)

This was a long day, very full of delightful things.

The morning started early, as we went to line up to get tickets for the Neil Gaiman signing.  We arrived at about 8:30, and (thankfully) the line was still pretty small then.  We got moved around a little bit, but by 9:10 they started handing out the tickets, seeing no reason to keep us all there until 10.

At that point, some food and hydration was the order of the day, and so a visit to Tim Horton’s—where they had the blueberry glazed donut for sale, much to my delight—was in order.  There, in the line, we chatted with another Worldcon attendee, just as we had in the Gaiman lineup and on the way over to the convention centre.

After that, we hit up the dealer’s room, since there were a few things I had hoped to acquire for signings later in the day.  I was disappointed that I couldn’t find Karl Schroeder’s The Sunless Countries, but since he is a Toronto author, I’m certain I’ll have other opportunities to get a copy signed in the coming year.

Next up was a panel on “Relativism and the Superhero” (I don’t remember the panelists names right now, but will look them up later).  They panel was interesting and well-balanced, talking about how heroes and villains have gone from straightfoward all-good or all-evil to more grey and ambiguous states, with a focus on comics.  All the panelists had thoughtful things to say, and shared the stage well with each other, so it was fun.

At noon I got a few other things signed by Schroeder, and then we (being me and the girlfriend, not me and Schroeder) hit up some lunch.  This meant we kind of forgot the panel she wanted to see, on “Legal Systems, Past and Future” was starting at 12:30, and so we arrived a bit late.  The last bit (well, hour, I guess, which was most of it) was sufficiently entertaining though, with the panelists and audience having a good set of questions going back and forth.

After that, despite having a plethora of intriguing options to choose from, we decided to actually go outside, which meant walking back to the hotel, running some errands, and napping.  Then, we had to head back to line up a second time to actually get our stuff signed by Gaiman.

But that is a story for the next post, as is the rest of day 2.

Worldcon: Day 1 Recap

Oi!  It is early on the second day of Worldcon, so I thought I’d post about the first day, as promised.

The first thing I noticed about Worldcon was the scale.  It’s big.  Very big.  I mean, granted, I have little basis for comparison, other than Ad Astra, with was a more local/regional con, but I didn’t realize just how big Worldcon could be.  Thus far, however, everything seems well-organized logistically, since signing in was no problem.  They were also able to give a quick recommendation of a nearby restaurant (Steak Frites) that was quite pleasant.

We arrived rather late in the afternoon, thus the first panel we managed to take in was one on “When is Genocide Justified?”.  (Note: The we refers to me and my girlfriend, who got me this Worldcon membership as a birthday present, because she is awesome.)  It had Neil Rest, Richard Foss, Connie Willis, and Nalo Hopkinson (I think—I missed the intros, and thus this is a guess as to who was actually there).  It was an interesting and entertaining look at how genocide is used in speculative fiction, in all sorts of different ways.

After that, we hit up the Opening Ceremonies, which was a bilingual introduction of the guests and the con.  Well done, and well-produced, with cameras and projection screens for those halfway back in the gigantic “Main Tent”  There was also a performance by a contortionist (Sabrina Aganier?) and a welcome message from Dr. Marc Garneau, the first Canadian in space and currently the MP for the site of the Worldcon.  He was a good speaker.  Neil Gaiman (the English-language Guest of Honour) was charming and funny in his brief opening remarks, and all the other guests were quite good as well.  (Oddly enough, David G. Hartwell, the Editor Guest of Honour, may have gotten the most laughs, though.)

After that, we stayed for a conversation between Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman and Hugo-nominee and winner Charlie Stross, on economics and future of SF and society.  It was interesting, and the two of them had a good back-and-forth, and Krugman clearly knew his stuff (both economic and SF), so it was clear he wasn’t an example of “stunt casting”.

I have more to say, but too little time, so this post may be added to later.  But all in all, a most excellent start to the Worldcon.

Next Week: Worldcon!

So, I have a zillion things to post about, which I’ll get to once the journal paper I’m working on is finished and my research is under control.  There will be a number of movie, book, and concert reviews to catch up on, as well as some more thoughtful essays as I try to produce some meaningful content on this site.  None of this will happen next week, however, as I will be in Montreal attending the Worldcon.

What will happen next week is that I will blog about each day of the con after it is over—either that night or the following morning.  So, from August 6th to 11th (or thereabouts), you can expect a flurry of activity as I talk about the panels I’ve attended, the events that took place, and my general impressions of the con.  It will be my first Worldcon, and only my second con of this sort at all, so the scale of it may explode my brain.

Anyway, that is the plan for the coming week.  Posting about these things while they’re fresh in mind is probably a good idea anyway.