Tuesday, September 3, 2013

WorldCon Post-Mortem #1: The bird's, NO, spaceship's-eye view

For the last five days, I've been in San Antonio for WorldCon, the World Science Fiction Convention, which was great fun (with some serious issues on the side). This post will be the first of a 5-part series, unless I get bored or decide I have more to say. Today's topic will be a general overview of the convention, both in the general (what there is at a con) and the specific (what I did).

First, San Antonio and the Convention Center: 
The convention center was a little confusing at first in terms of layout; and I think several times some author would get lost on the way to his/her meeting and tweet out an SOS. (Twitter was essential for the convention. But a big-ass map of the convention center posted somewhere would be pretty sweet too.) The convention center is also near some very big hotels and a very touristy riverwalk, which makes it convenient but not all that interesting. So when I asked a friend what he would tell his family (in Alaska!) about Texas, he said he hadn't really seen Texas. 

Which is probably what you would say at just about any convention, but doubly so for this one: when the temp in the convention center is so low and the outside heat is so high, it doesn't encourage a lot of exploring outdoors. Luckily, thanks to an article in Texas Monthly, I found a couple of interesting/intriguing places to go to just south of the Convention Center. Maybe I'm a minority in this, but when I go to a distant city, I like to go a little beyond the convention center. Then again, considering how many mobility scooters and canes there were, I can understand why "exploration" was not high on many people's wish-lists. Which brings me to...

Second, the Graying of Fandom and Exclusivity: 
Is science fiction fandom getting older or is the WorldCon merely a forbidding place to the newbie and the young? Well, clearly the first is not entirely correct, since YA SF is a booming industry. (Although we could discuss whether YA fantasy is beating YA SF's pants off and giving those pants to a sparkly vampire.) I don't have much to say on this right now--for one thing, I'm not really sure of the demographic stats--but the possibility that WorldCon is graying/shrinking is a serious issue that is getting some attention right now; see Chuck Wendig's blog and Andrea Philip's blog for serious discussion.

I'm yoking "graying" and "exclusivity" together here because WorldCon has been going for a long, long time; and it's got some long-standing traditions. Which is great: I love tradition. On the flipside: oy vey, tradition. When a long-standing community has a set of in-jokes, it can be off-putting not to get the jokes; when they have a whole set of traditions that are fundamental to the operation of the convention, it can be exclusionary. There was a great joke by Paul Cornell when he was hosting this Hugo Award ceremony about this: when it came time to give the award for "Best Semiprozine," he noted that "semiprozine" sounds like something you ask your doctor for (when he said it "may cause drowsiness," part of the audience gasped) and then went on to list the counter-intuitive rules for that category.

So, as someone pointed out, a lot of the con business isn't science fiction and fantasy--it's the con. So there's the bid parties (where the city that wants the next available WorldCon throws a party to show you what a good time they have in, say, Helsinki). Which can be fun, but may be hard to navigate for a newcomer. Similarly, my membership allowed me to vote in lots of WorldCon business, but I didn't really find a lot of material in my con packet to help prepare me for those issues.

But I will say this: as a dude who spent a fair amount of time walking around with a woman, I didn't see much creepy interaction. But like I said: dude--so I'm not sure I would see the creepy interaction. And it was very nice to hear message of inclusivity and tolerance espoused by several people, including Paul Cornell and Best Artist John Picacio, as well as others.

Third, Con Events:
There are several things to do at a con like this, including
  • walk through the dealers' room and exhibit hall, where you can see weapons and books for sale, some Doctor Who memorabilia, and a giant plastic Iron Throne (from Game of Thrones);
  • go to panel discussions on
    • some book or book-related topic (e.g. Robert E. Howard's boxing stories, The Left Hand of Darkness, C. J. Cherryh's worldbuilding);
    • some trend (e.g. YA books, urban fantasy);
    • some craft issue (e.g., plot problems);
    • some speculative-related issue (e.g., space law);
  • go to an author signing;
  • go to an author reading;
  • go to an author Kaffeeklatsch or Literary Beer (a small group discussion);
  • go talk to someone in the hallway or on line (but never in the bathroom);
  • go to various parties (like the bid parties or the publisher parties).
Four, What I Did (and a Quick Note on How I Felt About It--positive, negative, or neutral):
  • Fantastic London panel (+)
  • C. J. Cherryh's Worldbuilding panel (-) 
  • the Haikasoru party (+) and several bid parties (-)
  • Kaffeeklatsch with Chuck Wendig (++)
  • Schmoozing 101 with Mary Robinette Kowal (+)
  • History of Science and the Experience of Science Fiction panel (+/-)
  • Literary Beer with Jo Walton (+)
  • My Dragon Torched the Prince and Other Plot Problems panel (+/-)
  • How to Sell to Ellen Datlow (-)
  • the Tor party (++)
  • How to Write a Short Story panel (+/-)
  • Kaffeeklatsch with David Liss (+)
  • Punking It panel (+)
  • Screenplay Structure for Novelists (++)
  • Short Stories--What's Next (+/-)
  • Kim Stanley Robinson reading (++)
  • Masquerade (-, but surreal enough to warrant going once)
  • the Drabblecast and Brotherhood without Banners party (I barely was there)
  • How to Write a Teaser (+)
  • The Future Two Hundred Years Out (++)
  • Kaffeeklatsch with Mary Robinette Kowal (+/-, but mostly because I'd heard most of these stories before)
  • Norman Spinrad Guest of Honor speech (+/-)
  • Where Have the Ghost Stories Gone (+/-)
  • the Hugo Awards (+)
  • Post-Hugo Award drinks at the bar (+)
  • How to Write a Novel (+/-)
  • Literary Beer with Paul Cornell (+)
Now, these were just the official things that I went to; many of my highlights were the unofficial chats that I had with people. (And I guess parties aren't totally "official" official.) But now that we have a rough overview of the con, I'll fill in tomorrow with my mistakes and highlights.

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