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First time at WorldCon

Australia in 2010

When I was asked to do a guest blog about my trip to the most recent Worldcon in Melbourne, a number of questions flashed through my mind such as; “Where do I start?”, “Where do I *stop*?”, “Is anyone actually going to read a geeky version of ‘What I did on my vacation’?” Thankfully, Lisa has given me a fair amount of leeway in how I present this, so I figured I would try and answer questions from the collective unconscious, based on certain assumptions :

  • Assumption #1 : If you’re visiting this site, you’re a fan of the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction genre and possibly a writer (aspiring or otherwise)
  • Assumption #2 : You live, have lived, want to live or know someone living in Singapore
  • Assumption #3 : Singaporeans, for the most part, don’t have a lot of access to SF/F/Spec fandom conventions

First off : What is a Worldcon?

Aussiecon4 Logo

Actually, even before we address that, I think we need to break down the distinction between a Fan Convention and a Professional convention since I believe most Singaporeans are only familiar with the latter.

  • A ‘Professional’ Convention like Comic-Con or the Singapore Toy Games and Comics Convention is ‘for profit’ and brings in paid media guests to do signings/presentations amidst a large (very pricey) dealers room to sell merchandise. Ticket prices are generally higher for a shorter period, but if you are a fan of ‘famous’ actors, artists, directors, etc. , this is the place to meet them. Whether its STGCC or Anime Festival Asia, I think this is the model that most locals are familiar with.
  • A ‘Fan’ Convention is organised by a non-profit organisation (any profit generally goes back into running the next years con or other related activities) and(on average) charges a more modest ticket price. Only Guests of Honor (if any) are issued travel expenses, and possibly a small per diem and/or honorarium, depending on the con. Dealer’s rooms at these events can also be pretty large, but will generally be more retailers and fewer distributors/larger companies. The closest examples of this in Singapore are probably CosFest (Cosplay/Anime) and SPORE (Gaming).

WorldCon is the short name for the World Science Fiction Convention, technically a ‘Fan’ Convention, with the focus being on Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction genre works. It’s been around for about 70-odd years and from its roots focused mainly on the literary aspects of these genres, although TV, Film and Graphic Stories have pretty well established portions by now.

WorldCon is probably the largest gathering of genre fans and professionals, averaging about 5,000 attendees in the US and about 2,000 at Aussiecon4, the 68th Worldcon. As I mentioned earlier, only the Guests of Honor expenses are accounted for (and flights to Oz are NOT cheap), so all the other authors, editors, artists, agents and industry professionals participating on panels are there because they WANT to be there. They, like the fans, pay for the privilege of attending WorldCon – partly because doing so makes you eligible to vote in the Hugo Awards (more on that later), but mainly because it’s the absolute best place to network within the genre and a whole lot of fun to boot!

Aussiecon4 Closing Ceremonies Crowd
Crowds gathering after the Closing Ceremonies in the Main Hall of the Convention Centre

Many attendees of the convention never step foot inside a panel room (or more rarely the dealers room, dance hall, etc.), preferring instead to hang out with like minded fans and/or stalk (in the nicest possible way) their favourite authors! A lot of people will tell you that the ‘real’ con only starts after dark – in the hotel bar or the private parties thrown in the rooms (just how private is up to the host)! WorldCon, more than most conventions, is a SOCIAL con.

On a personal note : I’ve known for a while that (at least in the US), the geek circles and the polyamorous circles overlap to a surprising degree. There is a LOT of ‘hooking up’ at WorldCon, but as long as you’re polite, you can avoid it if you so wish. If you don’t wish to avoid it, just please remember to practise the basic precautions – like learning your partners *real* name ;P (thats the only emoticon i’ll use in this article, i promise).

Why did you go to Worldcon/Who are you?

Aussiecon4 Souvenir Book and Con Badge

Some people might introduce themselves at the *start* of an article, but since this post is focused on the event as a whole and not so much my personal experience of it, I’ll just provide a brief background to give some context for my reactions/opinions.

I’m a geek of all trades, being a longtime SF/F fan whether in comic, novel or some other form. I went to boarding school in the UK and attended University in the US, so English is my primary language. I have a day job, but identify myself as a writer.

My fandom convention attendance includes Arisia (Program Ops/Con Ops/Setup), AnimeBoston (Security) and Fiddlers Green (Dealers Room/Art Show/Setup). Despite several attempts, starting in 2001, I did not manage to attend any of the Worldcons in the US, so Aussiecon4 is my first (Con Ops/Info/Dealers Room/Art Show/Teardown).

My goals for Aussiecon4 were :

  1. Meet old friends flying in from the US
  2. Fill in some gaps in my knowledge (e.g. how to get a book published)
  3. Hopefully meet some authors (long list of interesting attendees)
  4. Relax after the #@*%%^! YOG.

So … what HAPPENS at a WorldCon?

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre, South Bank

That really depends on the individual – there’s so much going on at once! Typical of fan run conventions, the panel programme for this year’s Aussiecon was not available until days before the convention started. To be fair, MOST other cons try and have their schedules up a few weeks before they begin, but Aussiecon was a bit more disorganized than most.

http://www.aussiecon4.org/index.php?page=26

The link above will show you the proposed schedule, although there were ‘on-the-fly’ updates every day. A brief count gives me roughly 350 panels over 5 days on topics ranging from “How to pitch your novel” to “The Environmental Politics of SF/F” to “Build your own Lego Dalek”. Whether you’re an aspiring author, tech geek or media whore, there is likely something to interest you on a panel at some point. A more common problem is only having one body, as interesting topics are frequently booked at the same time.

350 panels – as well as book signings, kaffeklatsches (round table discussions with specific authors), the dealer’s room, the art show, movie screenings, impromptu filking, the evening events (2 dances, the Masquerade, the Hugos and Closing Ceremonies), bid parties, fan club parties and these are just the ‘official’ events!

Information Overload … what did YOU do at WorldCon?

Aussiecon4 - 501st Legion

Unusually, not much cosplay at the con this year, but you can always count on the 501st – in this case, members of the Oz and SG contingents.

Well I didn’t do any ‘hooking up’ if that’s what you’re asking – mainly because I was too busy! I flew in a few days early to catch the beginning of the Melbourne Writer’s Festival which was pretty interesting as well (Joss Whedon gave the keynote speech). Some days I was running back and forth from one event site to the other! In fact there was one particular day where I was literally racing China Mieville back from a talk he’d just given at the MWF to get to the Con Centre in time for the next hour’s sessions … hectic, but I made it work (barely).

At WorldCon, I caught up with a few friends, both fans and professionals, and tried to plan out a schedule that would let me cover most of my interests. A few ‘educational’ panels, a few fun panels and a great deal of shopping in the dealer’s room! I’m not an autograph hound so I wasn’t too concerned about signings but the kaffeeklatsches looked interesting so I thought I might try some of those out. Oddly enough, I skewed my priorities in such a way that I ‘missed out’ on some really interesting speakers – I didn’t get much chance to hear Kim Stanley Robinson, George R.R. Martin or Gregory Benford speak, although I managed to catch up with 2 out of 3 later.

The problem of course is, as you accumulate contacts/friends/information, your plans can shift and new panels/events can conflict with your initial assessment. The biggest ‘time suck’ for me was that I got ‘persuaded’ into volunteering at the convention (more on that a bit later).

When I wasn’t working, I attended several panels, mixing in some fun discussions and presentations (e.g. ‘Magic Mean Streets : The City as a Fantasy location’, WETA Digital Presentation, the Girl Genius Radio Play, etc.) and managed to sign up for one Kaffeeklatsch.

Unfortunately, due to a screw up, I was not able to get on the table with my chosen author – China Mieville. However, in retrospect, that was a blessing in disguise! China is undoubtedly an extremely talented writer (as evidenced by his winning the Hugo for Best Novel this year) and is widely known for his strong political opinions. From the table next door though, I could see that he spent most of his time talking AT his group rather than discussing topics with them.

I was lucky enough to be seated with Trudi Canavan, the author of the Black Magician series, whom I’d seen the day before in a panel alongside my friend Ellen Kushner. I hadn’t read much of her work (slightly embarrassing), but was interested in her perspective having come to Fantasy writing after a long stint at Lonely Planet. Really good interaction – and since this was her first kaffeeklatsch she even gave all of her group a small goody bag.

The 2010 Hugo Award, designed by Nick Strathopolous
The 2010 Hugo Award, on display in the Dealer’s Room. Click here for more images.

The most inspiring event of the convention was for me, the Hugo Award Ceremonies. For those of you unfamiliar, the Hugos are a literary award voted on by attendees of the annual Worldcon in categories such as Best Novel, Best Editor, Best Fanzine, etc.

I expected it to be a bit boring, but was very curious to see if the people I’d voted for took home a Hugo since this would be the first (and possibly only) time I contributed a vote. The reality of the experience was quite different, as people whose work I knew and respected were awarded and applauded, it made me want to participate more in this community – and yes, to be on that stage one day!

You’re obviously crazy – what should *I* do at WorldCon, if I ever get to go?

Aussiecon4 Dealers Room

Dealers Room on the left, Art Show on the right … and is that another SG SpecFic member in there?

I think it really depends on what your motivations are, but here are some examples :

  • If you want to network, you should attend panels led by industry professionals on subjects germane to you. I went to the “How to pitch your novel” [file link] and “The Secret Lives of Literary Agents” [file link] because I wanted to figure out what the next step would be, after I finish writing my own novel (whenever that may be). Other useful panels I missed included ‘Making a living writing Short Fiction’, ‘Editing the Novel’ and ‘Cover Art : Choices and Responsibilities’. Participate in discussions, go to kaffeeklatsches and keep up a healthy online presence – you’ll be surprised who comes to find *you*.
  • If you want to shop, camp out in the dealers room (local stores often bring in fresh stock every day), but also talk to the vendors and other con-goers to find out about local specialty stores or authors/artists/collections. Case in point, I went to Oz with 2 bags but I came back with 4 – and a box of books to be shipped!
  • If you want to socialize, go to the big fun ‘fanboy’ panels , Joss Whedon, Star Wars, Fringe, etc. and get to know the other fans. George RR Martin’s fan club threw parties 2 nights running and I was made an honorary member of the Melbourne Browncoats (although technically that happened before the Con). Keep your ear to the ground for the aforementioned ‘private’ parties too …
  • If you want to stalk (in the nicest possible way) your idol be it an author, artist, actor, etc. I’m told the sure fire method is to buy them a drink at the hotel bar. Be polite. Be respectful. Do not hug them or bring a pile of books *into* the bar. There are also the regularly scheduled panels, signings, readings, etc. but, as I said, WorldCon attendees want to be there and schmooze, so as long as you are pleasant and interesting (and even if you’re not, but polite), you can usually get face time with most attendees. I could name drop a long list here but suffice to say, I got to meet many very cool folk.

I might be as crazy as you – tell me more about volunteering?

A ‘Fan’ Convention is largely dependent on volunteer help for day-to-day operations. Whether it’s manning the registration desk, helping to load/unload trucks, stuff bags/envelopes or direct lost people to the right room there is a TON of stuff to do. I’ve helped out at a few cons in the past, but Aussiecon was really understaffed, often having 1 person instead of 2 or 3 in critical positions and turning over nearly all the security positions to the Convention Centre staff (rarely a good idea).

So I spent a lot of Sunday and Monday volunteering – although not as much as other people seemed to think I did. Whether it’s because I’m just a chatty sort or because I ran around a LOT, I was pleasantly surprised to be drawn into the ‘backstage gossip’. For example – I heard about the origin of the ‘Australia in 2010’ bid hidden online and how the MWF had been rescheduled to try and poach some of Worldcons authors!

The Duncan, Hero of The Registration Desk, Uber-volunteer

Some con-goers measure status by the length of your ‘badge beard’.
Duncan was the clear winner for this year!

Hanging out with the staff and volunteers was also a treat as these were some of the more dedicated and sociable fans at the convention. Whether it was Hugo speculation, Girl Genius theorizing or other geek trivia, there was always a lively conversation at most posts. Purely out of ‘chit chat’ I got adopted into the Melbourne Science Fiction Club, given an autographed John Scalzi book and ‘propositioned’ twice (although I’m fairly certain that 2nd time was a case of mistaken identity)!

As part of my ‘errands’ I got to hang out with Greg Benford after one of his talks and Stan Robinson dropped by the Volunteer after party to say hi to folks. In ‘recognition’ of my contributions I was gifted with a volunteer t-shirt (given to volunteers after they’d worked 15 hrs – I’d maybe done 8), a committee t-shirt (given to the planning committee, but they had spares) and other Aussiecon memorabilia.

So, while volunteering isn’t for everyone – and can be a LOT of work – the good points are you get to meet a lot of interesting people, get involved in the ‘local’ SF community and possibly get swag! It also helps to ensure that there will BE future cons.

I’m Hooked. I want to learn more.

It should be no surprise that with over 2,000 fans/attendees , there was a lot of coverage on Aussiecon4. One of the Hugo winners was even liveblogging as she walked up on stage to accept! Search twitter for #aus4 and you can still find people talking about the event, but the best compilation of links I’ve found is at

http://garykemble.posterous.com/aussiecon-4-links-and-then-some

videos of the Hugo Ceremonies (some excellent acceptance speeches)

http://www.vimeo.com/15046588

an excellent series of podcasts

http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/podcastalicious/

but the best con report i’ve read so far is

http://www.geekspeakmagazine.com/archive/issue7/features/conventional_wisdom_1.htm

and the panel i most regret missing

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E9IWz0Kj3U

If you read/watch them all, you’ll end up feeling as if you had actually attended – minus the large hole in the wallet!

The author would like to give a special thanks to his traveling companions, thejedisentinel & Radio Free Association, for suggesting this trip in enough time to adequately budget for it!

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