My First World Con
From August 17th to the 21st in my stomping ground of Kansas City, the 74th Worldcon was in town (aka Mid-Americon II, aka the Hugo Awards). My wife and I went to it excited but also uncertain – we’ve been to a local SFF con, but it didn’t have anything on the scale of this. From Tuesday the 16th until the end on August 21st, we basically were running all the time. And then afterwards I stepped right back into a whirlwind at work and have been trying to catch ever since. And I’ve also spent my little bits of down-time trying to think about what, precisely, that con meant to me. Figuring that out has taken some time.
After a couple weeks distance, I know now that on some level I was looking for community. I’ve found glimpses of that on Twitter, but nothing beats face-to-face gabbing. I wanted to meet people. I don’t care if, for example, Patrick and Teresa Nielson Hayden know me; I just wanted to hear them talk. I wanted to listen to people involved in the business talk about the business of selling imaginary worlds. Not because I’m a safari hunter stalking editors for one crack at a pitch, but because I want to be able to put names with faces. I wanted to belong.
And honestly, initial impressions didn’t bode well for that. The opening ceremony, for example, felt like one big inside joke that we just didn’t get. It didn’t help that the first few panels I went to were painfully moderated. I felt like an outsider. Sure, it was cool to see GRRM siting around holding court with his writer friends, but that made me feel all the more like an outsider. There was the folks “in”, and then there was everyone else, just wandering around trying not to look lost. It felt terribly isolating.
Things changed when I volunteered; I ended up hauling ice and stocking drinks for the hospitality suite. I was only there for a couple hours, but I got to glimpse this community at its best. I saw MIMO crew helping set up plates of vegetables, people who brought their whole family to volunteer. People who talked about how this was there 10th, 20th, or more convention. They weren’t writers, or publishers, they were just sincere fans. On top of that the con staff were so grateful I helped out in a pinch, and there sincerity stunned me. It made me feel like I had made a difference, however small, and I like that I got to give back, even a tiny bit.
That’s when I saw this wasn’t a community of writers talking about writerly things. This was a community of fans, of people pitching in to make sure that this worked. They helped each other, and they did it to make the best experience they could for everyone.
The second major turning point was during the Hugo ceremony itself. At one point they did a retrospective of all the members who had died in the previous year. And as I watched this somber stream of names scrolling up, I noticed that yes there were several creators, screen-writers, and editors. There was also plenty of people listed as just “fan” or “volunteer.” The fact that the organization took time to recognize these people, some of whom were just and only fans, showed just how deeply some people cared about this community.
That doesn’t mean that this is a perfectly idyllic community. It has its share of politics and power struggles. But the fact that this community has organized these events and continues to organize these events tells me personally that this is a meaningful community I want to give back to more. To that end, we’ve already reached out to some of our local cons to get involved in volunteering next year.
Over all? World con was an experience I’ll never forget. While the first impressions weren’t the best, once I got my feet under me and got to see more of the con, it was something I’m so happy I went to. We’re already looking forward to traveling to many more cons and interacting with a lot more. I got to meet some amazing people, and who knows who else I will meet in the future? It’s such exciting, untapped potential.
A Comment on Puppies
I feel like I can’t mention Worldcon without at least acknowledging the entire fracas with the Sad Puppies, but part of me cannot help but think that might be giving them more respect than they are do.
I will not dig deep into the issues- many more knowledgeably and eloquent voices have said things far better than I could- but I will say this for myself as a reader: I want diverse stories. I was so excited that the Hugos seemed a vindication of this quest for diversity, not because of “some bullshit quotas” but because these authors are writing legitimately kick-ass fantasy that deserves to be recognized as overwhelmingly awesome.
A succinct list.
- Pace yourself. I about burned myself out after two days, and I realized that I physically would not be able to make it through the entire con if I did. I started pacing myself and going at a much slower pace so that I didn’t just run myself into the ground. That’s perfectly fine.
- Watch for encumbrance. Seriously, bags can get very heavy. Especially if you are planning on buying lots of books. Make sure you bring absolutely nothing extraneous, because the days are going to be long.
- Not all panels are created equal. And that’s okay. Yes, some panels might be physically painful to watch as a moderator quietly mutters to themselves, but there are other panels with old hands at this where you get some positively amazing conversations that you will get nowhere else.
- Bring water. Because you need to be hydrated, and the days are going to be long.
- Be nice. You will meet a lot of people. Be nice to all of them, because you never know when that first impression will matter. And if you are nice to people, they will want to give you money.
- Check thy credit card. Less philosophical, more practical: contact your bank if you’re going to a con.We were local to this con, but the vendors weren’t, and when they ran our cards it counted as being from their zip code. A quick jaunt across the vendor haul might end up with charges from 8 states, causing a well meaning bank to freeze your card.
An Aside – Draft Complete!
Another reason for the delay in getting back to the blog was that once I finished I was busy writing like mad. Oops-I-accidentally a novel. My novella “Iron Stars” accidentally ended up being 65,000 words. Look, I know that’s a super awkward length – waaay too short for a novel, way too long for a novella.
Right now though, I don’t care. I finished a draft of it last week. That was super exciting, and I’ll put another post together giving a retrospective of that shortly. For now, I’m just celebrating that it is done and looking forward to the next project!