WorldCon 76 was amazing, overwhelming, and huge. I made new friends, caught up with old ones, and talked about all sorts of fascinating things.
To give a feel for the sheer size, I went through the dealer’s room three, maybe four, times, and still didn’t see it all. I visited the art show and only managed half. Same with the retrospective presentation. My program schedule (the online one through Grenadine) has 32 items selected not because I attended 32, but because I wanted to. I gave up marking them after a while.
A friend reminded me of something I’d figured out before, and it made me feel better about all I was missing. He said he’d been told what makes cons great isn’t the programming as much as talking with a ton of people who are interested in the same things you are. It’s hard for folks like me to give up on the learning, though.
Before you get the wrong idea, I love the programming. I like to hear new perspectives on things I know, learn new things, and even have topics I thought I understood validated. It’s more a matter of priorities, and the friends you make in fandom tend to be long-term ones. I met several people who had been going to World Cons for decades, exploring the world one con at a time. These are people with normal lives, jobs, families, and all the things that surround us. Once a year, they go to a new city to learn and expand their horizons, and yet do so from a place of familiar comfort. I collected tips about places I might never see, but the possibility was there.
Sometimes you can even expand your horizons right at home. I now know I love Malaysian curries as much as Thai and Indian. Sure, I could have discovered that anytime, but it took a group of friends, busy restaurants, and one recommendation to make it happen. I’d say the willingness to try, but I’m always willing to check out new cuisines…especially ones with curry.
If you’ve been reading my con reports, you’d know programming will always deserve a mention. I grew up surrounded by interesting people having interesting discussions. That’s hard to find outside of a university campus, a diplomatic/ex-pat community, or oddly, a bus station because such open discussions aren’t acceptable in all circumstances, but cons thrive on exploring ideas. WorldCon 76 was the first time in a long while I’ve gone to a con without being on a lot of programming (though I was on one panel). Except for that one responsibility, my time was my own.
So we get back to the items on my schedule. The sign of a solid bit of programming is my desire to attend more than one item every hour out of the day. There were panels on different cultures, mythologies, writing techniques, societal structures, perception, exploring the constructs in specific books, music, and more. While Grover (my Life Glider) allowed me the mobility to enjoy the con, I cannot stand still in him for long, so some panels were too full for me to go in. This is both a sad thing and wonderful.
So many people came to the event and were interested in panels that asked you to think and explore perspectives different from your own, whether from another socioeconomic group, philosophy, race, or ethnicity. I’ve always been of the opinion that what’s important is thinking, whatever positions you take after doing so. You can disagree with me and we’ll have a wonderful time exploring the ways in which we approach things, but to do that, we both have to be willing and able to think. Blind acceptance, whether of science, religion, or any other element, means giving up the right to truly understand what you are putting your support behind.
I’m still not over the cold, which seems to be making me wax philosophical, but I stand behind what I said. Sure, like anyone, I’ll get frustrated at times when people have a position I can’t get behind, but most of the time I’m more interested in why they are behind it. Assumptions lead to trouble while understanding can open a path to acceptance in myself as much as others.
But enough about what I wasn’t able to do. I did attend a bunch of interesting panels between exploring, talking to people, and going out to eat with friends. However, I failed to make any notes (okay, one obscure one I don’t understand) after the first day, so this is a recreation of the panels as best as I can recall. It would have been wonderful if the setup existed to podcast the panels so people could “go to them” later (even post-con) and/or if the overcrowded rooms had a spillover space with a YouTube link like the Hugos. I know the technical issues would be great, but it’s something to consider for later years. The big romance cons sold a DVD of all the panels for those who couldn’t attend in person or who wanted to review the writing workshops, so it is possible.
Anyway, the first panel I attended discussed ordinary people as lead characters instead of chosen ones. The panelists were Cecilia Tan, Nick Mamatas, Christine Taylor-Butler, Rosemary Smith, and Sheila Finch. It was interesting on two levels both because I write about ordinary people far more often than those with the leisure to be epic without as much cost and because the panelists looked at how the ordinary people motif was actually common in writing, at least at first. Frodo and Sam came up among others as characters called upon to play a greater role not just despite but because they had no aspirations of greatness. Some neat things to explore there as well as a validation of my current approach.
I also saw my first academic paper panel at a con. It’s an interesting concept, and though I prefer the exploration of topics through multiple perspectives in general, I enjoyed listening to a look at Post-monogamy in Robert Heinlein and Spider Robinson. It was fascinating to learn academia is now interested in exploring the socio-cultural aspects of science fiction. Cultural exploration is one of my favorite forms of science fiction. The presentation in this case explored both non-binary family/community groups and sexual desire (or no sexual drive) within those poly structures. What made them work, whether the structures appear in life as well as fiction, and what were some issues with each made up most of the presentation. Allowing for a strong Western cultural focus, the two presenters, BE Allatt and Emily Fleming, brought forth multiple things to consider for each situation. I wish I’d been able to get to the non-academic panel on the same subject to compare and contrast the presentation styles, but I didn’t manage it.
Sunday turned out to be my heaviest panel day, odd because it was also the day of my panel on Body Language. Yvette Keller, Fred Wiehe, Scott Sigler, Howard Tayler, and I had a lively discussion exploring the different ways we approached body language in our various types of work. There was a lot I wanted to get to, but with only 50-minute panels, I believe we did a decent job in offering some techniques. Those attending our panel seemed to think so, and the room was quite full. I left with the grand plan to turn my panel preparation notes into a couple of exercises on my blog, and that’s still the plan, but everything got pushed out a week or two.
Coincidentally, the room had good mojo in that I was interested in the next two panels there, which is how I ended up going to so many on Sunday.
The first was Black Panther, Luke Cage, and #OwnVoices Creators with Sumiko Saulson, Leslie Light, Steve Barnes, and T.L. Alexandria Volk. While I loved Black Panther for all that made it a rich tapestry of life, I had some issues with the underlying messages between isolation and action. I was interested to hear the thoughts on this topic while I’ve enjoyed both Steve Barnes and Leslie Light’s writing before. Much of what they discussed had already been visible to me (I have a weird angle at culture not apparent in my skin color), but they also spoke of a greater context behind some decisions I was unaware of. This made me reconsider other programs I’d thought had better choices than expected, though in some it’s a matter of every path having a downside thanks to a long history of bias.
The final panel of the day was Xenomusicology with howeird, Unwoman, Cliff Winnig, Frank Hayes, and Sheila Finch looking at what music might appeal to aliens, what were differences already present in human music, and whether we’d be able to recognize alien music as such or would they be able to recognize ours. There were more elements touched on including the influence of physiology as well. It was a good, broad-thinking look that combatted statements about music having specific characteristics that are, without fail, described through a narrow cultural viewpoint.
I’d planned to go to a bunch of readings, but only managed one. Erin M. Hartshorn read from Troll Tunnels, the third in her Boston Technowitch urban fantasy series. I’m already a fan, but it was fun to see how many people came to the reading who knew nothing about it and left planning to check out the series. Speaking of ordinary people, in so many ways, Pepper is both the epitome and opposite of that. She has abilities unknown to the local witch community and yet at the same time, she holds down a job in a coffee shop while parenting her precious twins as a single mom, albeit with a lot of support from their father’s family.
As I said from the start, I met many interesting people. In the registration line, I happened to be next to a steampunk blogger, Stephen Beale of steampunk-explorer.com, whose articles I’ve enjoyed. I met several people involved in Clockwork Alchemy (a Bay Area steampunk con in March) and plan to reach out to programming there since it no longer conflicts with BayCon. Speaking of BayCon, I spent some time at the BayCon fan table visiting with old friends. Most importantly, I had fabulous “hallway” conversations with fellow fans, writers, and creators throughout the convention. It’s the last I’ve been missing for a couple of years, but which having my Life Glider has opened up once again. I still need to find places to sit, but I’m no longer too exhausted to hang out where I’ll trip over people.
So, this is my belated con report. Considering I kept such poor notes, I remembered a lot and couldn’t even fit everything in. I didn’t mention the parties because I only managed to attend two (crowded hotel rooms are worse than crowded lecture halls when you can’t stand long on your own), nor did I go into as much detail on the conversations or the amazing artwork and neat things to buy. I have another stack of bookmarks to check out once things calm down (and I’ll post those separately), but here are a couple of notes you might find interesting as well:
1) The Clockwork Alchemy folks told me about Steamy Tech, a company that produces laser-cut wooden gears and also sells maker boxes so you can put together your own constructs. I haven’t looked them up yet, but I will.
2) I don’t remember who told me about File770.com, but for those of you who go to WorldCon every year or are supporting members, the owner of that site attempts to compile the Hugo-nominated works available on the Web early, giving voters the chance to read as much as possible even before the Hugo packets are out.
That’s about it for me. How about you? Did you go to WorldCon, and if so, what was your experience like? If you didn’t, does this make you want to? The next one is in Dublin, Ireland. 2020 is, I believe, in New Zealand, and 2021 in Washington, D.C., so a real tour around the world. If WorldCon is too far, there are science fiction, fantasy, steampunk, and horror cons all over the place if you want to look.
We went! It was a lovely confluence of our first time on the ballot and the first Worldcon that was very close. It was a wonderful time only marred by the fact that we didn’t get to meet you. 🙂
We will be at BayCon, and we look forward to seeing you there!
Congrats for making it onto the Hugo ballot. You were in good company :).
I’m glad you enjoyed WorldCon and look forward to seeing you at BayCon next year.