This strange, COVID-filled year was the year WorldCon was local to me, so I figured it was the best time to check it out. I didn’t need to pay for a hotel or flight, just a few days of parking and metro line fees. Overall, I thought it was fine. I enjoyed the panels I attended, especially when Scalzi read from his upcoming book, Kaiju Preservation Society. But I didn’t become a convert like the folks at the First Time Attendees panel who have been attending for decades. Outside of that, I had a few thoughts about my experiences this year:
One of the best parts of the convention were the Koffeeklatches. Basically about 10 folks around the table with an author or other famous person. More or less everyone gets the chance to ask at least one question (as long as they’re assertive enough to ask – definitely some gender issues at some of the ones I attended where the men spoke up a lot more than the women, including pushing past the woman, who usually yielded).
It was fascinating to attend Jo Walton’s event. I loved her Thessaly trilogy and so I was curious to see what kind of person she was. The highlight for me was when she blew my mind while responding to someone’s question – Ms Walton mentioned that having European fae (or other mythological creatures) in North America is a kind of literary colonialism. Because the fae (and friends) are supposed to be creatures from the deep past. So shouldn’t America be full of the Native American mythological creatures? (Neal Gaiman deals with this in the best way in American Gods) I’d never thought of it before! It was also neat to learn that The Just City was based on a story she started while she was a teenager.
I also attended Kaffeeklatsches for magazine editors Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld and Jason Sizemore of Apex Magazine. The magazines have slightly different focuses, even if they’re both SFF magazines. Since they’re both smaller magazines, they’re very much reflections of their editors. (I know that this is true to a certain extent of any magazine, but the larger ones that have been around for decades have editorial inertia as well) Both editors spoke about how they work with submissions and how many times they have to go back and forth with contributors. Both gave horror stories about people who couldn’t take rejection well and, in some cases, threatened the editors. It was fascinating to see the behind-the-scenes aspects. I also got the impression that, generally speaking, SFF editors are a genial bunch who help each other out even though they are ostensibly competition. I think they tend to see themselves as part of a pie that just grows with more publishers. From the outside, the short story/novella market does seem to be growing.
The Future of WorldCon
I’m nearly 40 and, based on appearances, there were not too many folks at the convention younger than me. It seemed everyone was either within a decade of me or older. Why is this? I would wager that it may have something to do with the mainstreaming of SFF and the growth of the internet. Until very recently SFF has been the domain of us nerds and geeks. Even being a gamer was considered a bit of a badge of shame until a decade or so ago. (I certainly remember in middle school that it was considered a more nerdy pursuit) And now with the MCU, HBO’s adaptation of A Game of Thrones, The Wheel of TIme, and a million other SFF books being adapted for the masses into TV shows and movies – it’s no longer so geeky to be into SFF. Notice how both the west and east coast Comic Cons now require a lottery for attendance. So perhaps there is a less of a need for WoldCon to meet with others who share your genre likes? And with the internet and massive forums like Reddit, you can find others to talk to, even if you can’t meet in person. And it even allows you to go so deep like the subreddit dedicated only to Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere.
Perhaps there is still some hope for growth of the WorldCon family, though. During the “Is Genre too big for the Hugos” panel (which turned out not to be exactly what I expected) there was a large focus on growing the fandom in diverse areas. I think the WorldCon/Discon committee did the best they could to make Discon III an inviting place. There were gender neutral bathrooms. Lots of admonitions to be nice to others, despite differences. Lots of signs to remind folks to give up seats to others because “not all disabilities are visible”. So if we can grow the fandom, maybe that helps keep things going?
Tying into all of this – this was the second year that WorldCon was virtual. To be most specific, it was a hybrid con this year. I attended both in person and virtually. The first few days I attended in person and I watched the Hugo Awards and the Sunday panels virtually. I think the virtual programming is important because it helps folks attend who can’t spend a thousand or so on travel, hotels, and food. This helps with diversity as well because we can also consider rich vs poor as a diversity dimension. And since membership in WorldCon is required to vote in the Hugos, it makes the Hugos more representative as well. I think between the Discord chat and the (I believe) Vimeo video, things worked well. Things that could be improved in the future if WorldCon moves to a hybrid model include better audio and making sure someone is monitoring the chats for questions. I also think that YouTube might be better than Vimeo for casting to a larger screen.
Last Random Thoughts
Based on the questions asked during the panels, it seems there were more writers vs non-writers in attendance. (Maybe only writers were likely to ask questions? Or maybe it’s just the panels I happened to attend)
The genre has definitely become huge for quite a few niches to have formed. I attended panels where I had no idea who the authors were and yet there were fans who were extremely excited to see them.
The convention did a great job dealing with COVID. For the next week or so afterwards they kept us informed of people who reported positive cases and the panels they attended.