Convention Review

A Russian in a Strange Land

Yuri Mironets reports on his trip to the 59th World SF Convention, the Millennium Philcon, 30th August - 3rd September 2001, Philadelphia, United States of America.


To attend at least one Worldcon was, for me, a lifetime dream, but frankly speaking I never thought it would be a dream come true. The person who most helped me realise this aspiration was Catherine Mintz, who is better known as the former President of the American National Fantasy Fan Federation (N3F). I had been corresponding with her for several years and she has helped me greatly with SF books and related materials I use for my English language course on Anglophone science fiction. But when it was finalised that the 59th Worldcon (the Millennium Philcon) would take place in Philadelphia (Catherine's home town) she ventured the idea of bringing me to the Worldcon. This was no mean feat as my salary as a Russian university professor is meagre, especially by western standards, and it simply could not begin to afford my going to the US at my own expense. So Catherine established a special fund she named 'Let's bring Yuri to the Worldcon'. Fortunately many British and American writers and fans contributed to this fund and so the necessary sum was raised. I am especially thankful to Dave Langford who was a key figure on the British side organising contributions.

Then at last, the long-awaited day came. I left Vladivostok on the 28th of August, and having changed planes in South Korea and Los Angeles, arrived in Philadelphia almost 24 hours later in the early morning of... the 28th of August! That was a real travel back in time! Catherine's husband, Max, met me at the airport and helped me to the hotel (the Holiday Inn) before showing me Philadelphia's historical quarter. Max was the best guide I could have had and in a few hours we managed to visit nearly all the places of greatest interest, including: the Independence House, Betsy Ross' house, the Liberty Bell, the US Mint, and the oldest street in the city which was preserved as an open air museum.

The next day Catherine, Max and I went to the Pennsylvania Convention Center which was to be the Worldcon's venue for early registration. Only when I pinned on my membership badge and programme participant ribbon did I at last dare believe I was a member of this wonderful forum! I learned that I would take part in two panels and a Kaffe Klatsch. The first panel was on the first day and was entitled 'Galactic Patrols and Beams of Force: The Space Opera of E. E. Doc Smith and John Campbell'. To be truthful, I felt rather agitated and a little self-conscious to be sitting at the table with such SF giants as Hal Clement and Simon Green. Gradually I calmed down and felt more sure of myself, remembering that it was Verna Smith, Doc Smith's daughter, who some nine years earlier encouraged me to prepare a course of lectures on American and British SF at the Far Eastern University in Vladivostok.

After the panel was over I just roamed about the various rooms and halls of the Convention Center bumping into writers and fans with whom I had been corresponding (some for many years) but whom I never thought possible I would meet in person. There were so many people to meet, and so much to see! Among these I met in the main hall John Hertz, a fan from Los Angeles and the publisher of the fanzine Vanamonde as well as top expert in Regency Dancing. He introduced me to Harry Turtledove and his wife Laura Francos, so I took the opportunity to get photographed with the master of alternate histories. While talking with the Turtledoves, I spotted Rob Chilson, a US writer with whom I have been regularly corresponding and who supported my being at the Worldcon both in terms of morale as well as materially. We embraced and talked a lot, both being glad that our ambition to physically meet had been realised. Rob gave me a one dollar coin as a souvenir and I gave him a 100 rouble coin (now out of circulation). The next day Rob gave me a small parcel of SF books, mostly classics, which would be helpful for both myself and my students.

In the evening Catherine and Max Mintz invited me to dinner at a restaurant. Also present was Helen Davis (Catherine's friend and an active fan from Centerville, Ohio). I left the choice from the menu to Catherine as Russian cuisine is different from both American and Western European which I have had little opportunity to experience.

On returning to my hotel I found it difficult to sleep - there were too many impressions packed into one day...

...But the next day, Friday 31st, was even more tightly packed. I took part in the panel 'A Worldwide Endeavour: Science Fiction From Around the Globe' along with Charles Brown (founder of Locus) and Kir Bulychev, a famous Russian SF writer whose stories I admired many years ago as a student. Naturally Kir and I talked about modern Russian SF and fantasy. We agreed that in recent years the quantity of Russian writing had increased greatly, but their standard has now dropped to quite a low level. There are today few original Russian SF books; most are imitations of American and British authors. In the days of the former Soviet Union, while there used to be only a few SF books published each year, their quality was high - they had to break through the wall of censorship.

At the panel we also met Dainis Bisenieks, a Philadelphia fan and a good pen-friend of mine. Dainis performs noble deeds, sending as gifts parcels of SF books all around the World, especially to fans in the former socialist countries: he has sent me several boxes of books that now form a significant part of my collection. Dainis invited Kir Bulychev, Kir's translator John Costello and myself to dinner in a Chinese restaurant. The food was excellent and we had good time there enjoying the meal and chatting on a wide range of subjects.

Earlier that day I attended a Kaffe Klatsch in one of the Convention Center's cafes and met Tom Feller, the former President of the Southern Fandom Confederation, and with whom I have corresponded for several years.

Late at night, completely exhausted mentally, but pleasantly filled physically, I returned to the hotel.

The next day, September 1st, was to be my last full day in Philadelphia. In the morning I loaded my camera with fresh film and went to the Convention Center, intending to meet as many SF writers as I could physically manage. This was not a simple task as there were about a dozen panels, readings and Kaffe Klatches running simultaneously in different rooms at any time. So I became a stalker and a hunter. I managed to talk to (or at least exchange a few words), and get photographed with, Robert Silverberg, Jack McDevitt, Lois McMaster Bujold, Michael Swanwick, Frederick Pohl, William Tenn, Glenn Cook, Greg Bear, George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, Stephen Baxter, Charles Sheffield, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Samuel Delany, Robert Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Jack Chalker and David Brin. Come the evening and the masquerade, this time I was really exhausted and dropped with fatigue, but of course I could not miss the fancy dress. The masquerade was held in the Mariott Hotel and practically all the participants did their best to impress the audience: the huge dragon was immensely popular and after was continually surrounded by admirers.

As I had to leave for Vladivostok in the middle of the next day, September 2nd, I felt some regret at not being able to attend the Hugo Awards ceremony. But alas if I missed my flight I would have had to stay in Philadelphia three more days and this would have been impossible for me. The Hugo Ceremony was held in the evening and by that time I was already in mid-flight to Los Angeles. A few days later Catherine Mintz e-mailed me the list of Hugo Award winners and this somewhat lessened my sorrow at not being able to be there physically.

My way back to Vladivostok was mostly uneventful and took me from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and then across the Pacific to South Korea for the hop to Vladivostok. This time I was flying forward in time and somewhere in the middle of it all I missed a whole day.

I was slowly unwinding for much of the following week the many impressions gained during the Worldcon that were tightly packed in my head. Looking over the photos helped me relive every precious moment.

Finally, in this brief account I have not so far given you any official figures, but the attendance was estimated at 5,000 and I was most happy to have been a member of this great family. I have also forgotten to mention the Guests. These were: Greg Bear (Author); Stephen Youll (Artist) Gardner Dozois (Editor); George Scithers (Fan); and Esther Friesner (Toastmaster).

Best wishes and good luck to you all.

Yuri Mironets

Yuri Mironets is a lecturer teaching English in Russia's Far Eastern University (Vladivostok). He has previously written an account of his SF activities in Concatenation for our 1997 Eurocon-Award winning print edition that was published in both English and Romanian editions, and which can also be found elsewhere in this site. Concatenation has been pleased to be among those regularly contributing books and materials for Yuri's SF course.

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