The 2014 SF Worldcon
Given that Britain is now bidding for the 2024 Worldcon,
Glasgow is bidding to host Worldcon in 2024, which would be a welcome British return for the science fiction and fantasy sprawling roadtrip that in recent years has taken in Helsinki, Melbourne and Dublin, as well as Glasgow itself in 2005 and London in 2014. This year it was meant to be in New Zealand, in Wellington, a great venue for SF folk, but global events kyboshed that one (though it did go Ďvirtualí as fandom adapted using technology. (The worldís first truly Ďworldí con?). Mostly other years since its inception have been North American affairs (as was last and will be next yearís, and 2022), so a 2024 return to UK shores is most welcome.
I wasnít at the 2005 Glasgow event, though I did attend an Eastercon there and can confirm the (potential) venue is fantastic, the city is fantastic and the Scottish science fiction community is extremely well placed to host an event of this magnitude.
I was at Loncon, though Ė Londonís 2014 Worldcon Ė and thatís whetted my appetite for more. Set in the sprawling caverns of Londonís Excel Centre Loncon was HUGE Ė way larger than the Eastercons Iíd been used to Ė jam packed with big names and big ideas. It was recognisable, though, and clearly shared DNA with any other science fiction of convention Iíd ever been to. Panel discussions, Kaffeeklatches, Filk, beer, signings, workshops, dealers rooms, blokes wandering around in full Klingon battlegear, women in pith helmets, auctions, overpriced food, queues for the toilets, more beer, available hotels some miles from the event, late nights, great conversations and a vast wonderful community of like-minded enthusiasts.
All bigger, all better than anything other than another Worldcon. Iíd been to awards events before, but these were the Hugos! And as a Worldcon attendee, I got the chance to vote in them. So Iím partially responsible for Anne Leckie winning the big prize for Ancillary Justice (which Iím ashamed to say I still havenít read). And the music Ė never been to a Con before where the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra plays a gig. And the big throne. Right there in the bar Ė the Game of Thrones seat, probably now home to a multitude of selfies (sadly I didnít get around to taking one). And speaking of Game of Thrones, one of my lasting Con memories is seeing George Martin standing around in the corridor like any other fan, idly flicking through his convention programme.
I love the fact that big industry pros like George Martin just hang around with everyone else (though thereís undoubtedly a pecking order to these events and the parties are only great if youíre invited), but thereís no doubt that the larger the event, the harder it is to get any quality time with anyone. Still I did manage a Kaffeeklatch or two (Paul Cornell was one, I think, who I remember being good value) and itís great to wonder who the guy standing next to you at the bar is and realise itís Charlie Stross, or someone else youíve only seen on the cover of a book jacket.
And yes, I did go to a party or two. I particularly enjoyed the Milford event, where I got to hang out with old friends and Milford people whoíd gone on to great success that Iíd not yet met. And we SF² Concatenation folk got together for a very pleasant meal at a Chinese restaurant just outside the convention centre where I was able to put names to faces Ė we should do that sort of thing more often, because itís great for team building. (Editor: Yup, sure thing we will, if it is clearly signalled well in advance that 2024 will not be overcrowded. See second paragraph below as well as Helsinki, and Dublin reviews.)
The Science Fact & Fiction Concatenation dinner at Loncon 3, the 72nd SF Worldcon.
(From centre going right: Cristina Macia (dinner fan GoH), Ian Watson (dinner author GoH),
Jonathan C. (news & reviews editor), Arthur Chappell (book reviewer), Mark Bilsborough (book reviewer),
Alan Boakes (webmaster), Sue Griffiths (book reviewer), Tony Bailey (stationery),
Dan Heidel (site registration and station maintenance), Peter Tyers (book reviewer and con reporter),
guest of Peter, Roberto Quaglia (European liaison and articles).)
Thatís true of our community as a whole (the doing it more often thing). Because although Worldcons are many things, the most important is, surely, teambuilding. They bring us together, help us shape our shared values, forge our ideas and principles and leave us feeling energised and invigorated. Not immediately, of course, because I probably wasnít the only one to spend the few days after the Con catching up on my sleep.
I canít remember any of the panels in any detail, though I recall most of them were absolutely packed and difficult to get into. I remember some great conversations with a wide variety of people in the corridors between the panels, though, and that, I guess, is what conventions are all about.
Worldcons are also an opportunity for places to show off, too, but the cons Iíve been to (Loncon 3 included) donít seem to make enough of that. Sure, Boris Johnson (then Mayor of London) wrote the foreword to the convention booklet, but as the event itself was stuck out in Docklands I bet the most many attendees saw of the UKs capital city was the airport, hotels and the Excel Centre but London has so much more. I hope Glasgow learns from this and makes the most of the cityís vibrant cultural and historic setting.
Loncon wasnít without its controversy. Jonathan Ross was slated to hand out the Hugos, but was forced to withdraw after a very public row over his suitability. And the Hugos themselves were undermined by the Sad Puppy rows that influenced the nominations slate and were to further dominate the following year. But that aside, this convention was a huge success and a credit to all who gave their time so freely, from the hundreds of panel members to the countless volunteers who made sure things ran smoothly (which they generally did Ė though see Peter Tyerís slightly more critical report on Loncon 3ís operations elsewhere on this site).
When I think of Loncon, though, Iíll always remember a moving pole with a small TV screen trundling from talk to talk, with a remote attendee watching via robot Ė first time Iíd seen this and how fitting for a science-fiction gathering. I recall watching the late great Brian Aldiss watching the TV on a stick out of the corner of his eye, no doubt wondering if the worlds heíd envisaged were finally coming into being. Or maybe Iím just imagining that.
Iain M Banks was to be one of the guest of honour at this convention, but he died before the event itself (was he the first posthumous guest of honour?) and, since he was beyond doubt one of the greatest (if not the greatest) science fiction writer ever to come from Scotland, itís maybe fitting that the event is now being considered once again for the country of his birth. Letís hope it wins the bid.