It’s already been a week since Worldcon ended. I might have waited too long to make this post, since it’s no longer precisely fresh in my mind, but I did want to get down my thoughts about that. I’ll do another post in a few days about the rest of our Ireland vacation.
I never thought much about attending Cons when I was younger. After I shelved my writing attempts in my early twenties, there wasn’t a career goal to pursue. Maine didn’t have any real Cons to speak of, and even after I moved to Baltimore, I never had the finances to afford the outlay for attendance. Nor really the motivation. I grew up in a small community far from other fans of genre works, so for me fandom was an isolated thing you did alone. It never occurred to me at the time to go to these conferences and meet other folks like me simply to bask in the shared joy of our loves.
I decided to attend GatewayCon in 2017 with a focus on improving my writing. It was a small Con, maybe 150 attendees, but Anne Leckie was one of the Guests of Honor and it was wonderful. Good panels, good conversations, and good opportunities to get tongue tied while fanboying. But Balticon earlier this year was my first big Con, one that was not only for writers, but for fans as well. Almost 2,000 people, many in costume, attending panels on everything from Worldbuilding to advances in vaccination science to making masks for costumes. I’d already registered for Worldcon months before, though, so Balticon was our attempt to prepare for what was to come (and we had a blast of course).
Worldcon is an entirely different beast.
First, there’s the matter of scale. Balticon’s 2,000 attendees seems huge until you realize that over 5,000 fans descended on Dublin for Worldcon. Even that was dwarfed by Helsinki’s Worldcon, which had 8,000 fans. These are massive events, befitting the status of the major award ceremony that the Con brackets. When you’re giving out the Hugo awards, people want to come see the winners.
Second, there’s the programming. I was a bit overwhelmed by choices when we attended Balticon. Worldcon’s programming left us speechless with decisions. There were often four or five different panels we wanted to attend at the same time during Worldcon. At best, we could have done two and shared notes. Luckily Dublin Worldcon provided a great app for our phones that let us download the schedule and mark off a personal schedule for ourselves. I hope this is something all Worldcons do, it’s a great benefit! We preloaded our choices and packed for the airport.
After a long night of flying and a taxi ride, we made it to the Grand Canal hotel, our home for the next three nights. Because of some confusion on my part about the wife’s schedule, I’d initially assumed we’d be returning home early on Sunday instead of staying on. When we cleared that up, I contacted the Grand Canal to add a night, but they’d already booked up for Sunday. So we had to plan to move to another hotel for Sunday night, but I’d found one close by we could walk to in a couple of minutes. No worries! And Grand Canal hotel was lovely (great showers!).
We walked up to the Con and checked in for our badges. I didn’t get a “First Worldcon” ribbon, and since I never really understood the ribbon game nor did I seem able to locate more of them, I had to make do with the one ribbon I did find for Worldcon 2021 in DC. Cons build their shared stories and experiences like any groups of people do, and ribbons seem to be a big thing for folks. Alas, I seem to be terrible at this one.
We were pretty wiped out from being on the road and awake for almost thirty hours at that point (up all day Wednesday getting ready, overnight flight, etc). We did meet up with some of my Viable Paradise friends immediately. Later, we joined a larger group of VP alumni for dinner and had a fantastic time with old friends and new at Hugo’s restaurant (a very fitting choice). And we did attend one panel. I Know My Worth: The Women of Marvel Movies. I don’t remember much about that one, though, I’m afraid, other than noting that one of the panelists, Cassie Parkes, would be joining me for my first panel on Saturday.
Friday we rose late (for us), had some lovely Irish breakfast, and went full bore into the conference, ready to bite off big chunks of it. The venue turned out to have too few spaces for all the panels, so they’d offloaded some to a couple of locations to the east, about a ten minute walk from the conference center. So we walked up to Point Square and attended Myths and Horrors: Lovecraft’s Poison Tree in Shoggoth’s in Bloom, a presentation contrasting and comparing Elizabeth Bear’s more recent take on Lovecraft mythos with the original, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We stayed at Point Square where I attended Writing Great Alternative Histories, and then Hopepunk and the Persistence of Optimism. Both topics are intrinsic to my writing, particular Hopepunk these days, which is something I want to try reflecting more in my work. Grimdark is fine, but I want to write more rebellion against the system, more building something hopeful out of the ashes of systemic failure. Hopepunk is antifa, it’s Occupy Wallstreet, it’s Hong Kong. I think its luring a lot of writers these days.
We switched back to the CCD for several afternoon panels. My favorite of the lot was What Writers Need to Know: the Brain and Body, which featured a lively and often hilarious discussion among the panelists. Anytime you stick Daryl Gregory in a room, the seriousness quotient is going to drop (and I mean that positively). More panels should feature more of this type of dialogue, rather than a moderator asking a question, everyone answering in turn, then another question. We took a long break for dinner, making the rounds with friends, and attended the Sex Positivity in SFF panel at 9:00 PM, which was also awesome and lively.
By Saturday, we were slowing down. 7 panels on Friday was a bit much perhaps, and there was a ton of walking involved (we averaged over 4 miles a day, and I talked to folks who did way more than that). But a lot of this had to do with the lines. On Thursday, the place was a mess, with masses of people everywhere jamming the hallways to get to/from panels. Fire codes meant once a room was full, additional folks had to be turned away. The CCD tried their best all weekend to get things organized. They resorted to having staff guide people into lines. When that failed, they marked out queues on the floor with tape. Still not good enough, they added tape barriers around the lines. That finally seemed to get things worked out well enough, but it was still impossible to go from a panel that ended at 50 minutes past the hour straight into another panel that started ten minutes later. The queues were already full by the time the first one ended, with people lining up 45 minutes early for panels they most wanted to attend. As more people joined, staff kept ordering folks to get closer, closer, “Squish up, squish up!” Uncomfortable for introverts, impossible for those with accessibility issues, and all around not a good situation.
I hope the next couple of Worldcons learn from the cluster fuck and either have much bigger rooms for all panels, better spacing between rooms, or do more to limit attendance. I know everyone who wants to go should go, but packing these conference sites to the rafters is a recipe for problems. They might mitigate reduced ticket sales by live streaming all panels and allowing folks to pay for remote access, like we already do for long-distance learning. I can take a hundred different classes from a university. Why can’t Worldcon stream a hundred different panels a day and let folks who can’t attend view them? A low price to view a single panel, a larger price to access any and all panels. An after-con price to view the recordings. All costs far lower than an attendance ticket. You’ll be doing yourselves a HUGE service AND helping to reduce the crushing mass of bodies.
So we only attended two panels on Saturday. But the third panel I went to was my own, Video Game Nostalgia. It was my first panel at any con and I was nervous, but it
turned out to be a total blast. I felt like my degree really served me well here, and my work making mods over the years. Not to mention my long and extensive game playing history.
Of the remaining panels I attended (fewer and fewer each day), Getting Published and Staying Published was by far my favorite. Solid advice from editors and writers on the difficulties of staying moving through your mid-career. Most important takeaways: don’t quit your day job; the third novel is harder than the first or second; write and read and STOP WORRYING ABOUT SUCCESS. Oh, and don’t let social media steal your confidence, because it will if you let it. Write!
My other two panels were on the same day. Depictions of Luna in SFF (I got to sit next to GOH Ian McDonald, and stole his thunder at least once to humorous effect). And my absolute favorite, Holy Forking Shirtballs: The Good Place Panel (and I sat next to GOH Ginger Buchanan on that one). Good discussion in both, and I felt I had useful stuff to contribute, especially on the topic of how the Good Place is about finding a community, a family, that helps support you as you work towards being the best person you seek to be. The VP community has been that for me and more, I don’t know where I would be without their love and support (and my wife’s love and support of course).
I’d be remiss in not thanking Katrina Archer (VP 12) and Simone Heller (VP 22) for chatting with me and giving me the chance to hang with them. Both are wonderful people, and Simone’s story was up for a Hugo. Katrina was on the video game panel with me as well, Dr. David DeGraff was on several panels, and Elsa Sjunneson-Henry won a Hugo for her work on the Disable People Destroy issue of Uncanny, so the Viable Paradise community was well represented at Worldcon in many different ways.
Our last night, Sunday, we spent at the Schoolhouse Hotel. I want to give them a shout out, because it’s one of the best hotels I’ve ever enjoyed. It’s a lovely old structure, the rooms are uniquely awesome looking and comfortable, and other than the shower being a tad difficult for me to negotiate because the height of the shower head was too low for me, it was a delight. They could use a few USB plugs in their wall sockets or lamps like other hotels have now, which forced us to go on a journey to find a proper adapter (the one we bought didn’t work in Ireland although it said it did), but otherwise they’re awesome!
And then it was Monday afternoon and we queued up one final time for a taxi ride to the airport, where we would pick up our rental car for the next five days as we toured parts of Ireland. We could have gone tour bus, but that wouldn’t have suited us. Rushing from touristy spot to touristy spot, dealing with crowds, always hurried. No, we prefer taking our time, going where we want, modifying as it suits us. Driving on the left was going to take some getting used to, but Jennifer lovingly volunteered to handle that duty and I would be her navigator. And so, off into Ireland we headed, away from the lovely city of Dublin which had treated us so kindly and generously. Hearts saddened by leaving such an amazing event, but excited about the next few days.
More on that later. For now, it’s goodbye Worldcon, and thank you for having us! I had the time of my life. I doubt I’ll be able to make Worldcon in New Zealand next year, but I do plan to attend 2021 in Washington, DC.