Dublin Worldcon 2019

Location – Dublin Convention Centre

Dates- 15th-19th August

So, this was my first ever worldcon – the World Science Fiction Convention to give it it’s full term and this was I think number 77. It roams the world (primarily North America and a little bit of Europe) and each year thousands of fans assemble for a collection of panels, readings and the opportunity to meet authors, scientists and so many more types of geek. It was an unforgettable weekend but there was a lot to think about.

Preparation is the key

And I was not really in that mindset.  I’d just had my first week off in ages and unfortunately came back to a manic workplace so while I as not a zombie my inner introvert anxiousness was rising sharply. I strongly recommend for cons watching this video from the awesome Claire Rousseau https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwDvuLxdp2g – the tips here even for my late stage really helped.  The four-plug adaptor tip alone is worth it along plus carrying hand gel to avoid the concrud!

But bear in mind this was a womble on low power who was bouncing straight out of work into con and then straight back into work so my ability to throuw myself into it was limited!

Wow this is a big con!

I’m really more used to a convention like the late lamented Nineworlds where I’d arrive Thursday, register in the evening; have two days of panels and by Sunday content really dries up by late afternoon. You’re talking around 1000 people and was largely one medium sized hotel with conference space; Edgelit and Fantasycon are smaller events but Worldcon is something else – I think estimates ranged from 5-7 THOUSAND expected. It runs from Thursday morning all the way until Monday morning with panels from 10am to 8pm. Its four floors in one location, then you have warehouse space and even some Odeon cinema rooms.  There was tonnes of content on and learning to pace yourself is important unless you have a time machine accept you cannot see it all but look out for the live tweets.   For me that was a bit overwhelming on Day 1 and certainly took a few days to adjust.

Panel Nirvana

I knew I probably couldn’t handle many panels each day but the ones I saw were absolutely uniformly excellent. (I tweeted many in my guise of @runalongwomble which I found an intriguing experience).

A portable kind of magic: why we love books about books – this panel with AJ Hackwith, Genevieve Cogman, Tasha Suri and Miriam Weinberg was a super intelligent delight to the discuss love of a book but also a passionate defence of libraries and their role in our culture (and their threatened status). One small thing I will be taking from this was how in books libraries are all about secret knowledge but in reality, a library is about sharing.

An Introduction to Hopepunk – this panel with Jo Walton, Sam Hawke, Alexandra Rowland and Lettie Prell was a passionate look at how the genre can help us when things look bleak.  I love when grimdark also serves a purpose and this panel was not an attempt to say one is better than the other but that each serves a purpose.  Warning us and encouraging us. Key thing many pointed out that a lot of people ignore the punk element – these are books about resisting (personal or en mass) and that’s always a powerful message that chimes with me.

Anniversary – The Left Hand of Darkness – This with Cheryl Morgan, Laura Lam, Nick Hubble and Ell Schulman was a very fascinating discussion of one of SF’s greats (although only read it recently) The panel was very open in the pros and cons of its portrayals of a planet with a very different set of genders but also was pointing out it was a product of its time and got quite a few things wrong which even Le Guin was accepting.  A powerful message that we shouldn’t just let our historical texts be frozen in praise, but we need to be brave and interrogate them to see if still relevant to the now.

Fantasy beyond Europe – Another one with huge food for thought with Zen Cho, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Fonda Lee, Arthur Maia and Tasha Suri and this panel really helped my understanding of when I enjoy worldbuilding in stories and when I can’t.  The note about making people sound like they’re not from 21st century America or the UK was so on the money but also the added texture of popular culture/myth that gives you historical depth. 

BookTube: the world of YouTube book discussions with the estimable Stevie Finegan, Claire Rousseau, Thomas Wagner, Linnea Sternefalt and Brianne Reeves. I’m firmly a blogger and no desire for my own channel (womble suits are not very expressive) but I have nothing for respect for those who do and make this a fascinating format that I often absorb in the mornings. Lots of tips equally applicable to text blogs about mixing the content up and also dealing with the joy of keeping up some form of pace.

I was also lucky to attend readings from the AMAZING Kate Elliot (expectme to read her very soon) , funny Joe Hill and awesome Yoon Ha Lee. 

Its not bigger on the inside than the outside

Thursday, I think was really when the convention set-up got tested in anger and I think I now understand that this was a relatively smaller space than some world cons are used to. While I have nothing but praise for the convention hotel and con volunteers who I found cheery; hard-working and sometimes just funny there was clearly something awry with getting large numbers of people into the rooms. Over the following days lines for queuing were on the carpet and while annoying was less chance of people colliding with one another. I don’t think this was helped by the floor foyers being quite narrow.

One of my biggest gripes was there wasn’t really a lot of fan space. For other cons weirdly many of us usually reside in the pub/café/hotel receptions but the foyers here were often full of queues and the one purpose built bar area ‘Martins’ was really just a huge hall with a round bar and not very many tables or chairs to sit at (with added muzak and a tendency to turn the lights off). It was not a great area to actually relax in. I tended to wander the Dealer’s Hall a lot – I think future sites need to think about how you balance the people going into rooms with the people, who need a break for an hour or so.  Added to my general tiredness and this really wasn’t probably the best environment to recharge.  One other location issue the other Odeon location was about 1km/20 mins walk away so could be tricky for people to bounce between the two

The Hugos

I wasn’t in the actual audience, but I was in the room next door to it watching it on a huge screen. There was a huge audience reaction of cheering when AO3 finally got the acclaim it deserves and most of all the one everyone was very much cheering Jeannette Ng’s passionate pointing out of the Campbell award for best writer being allowed to acclaim someone who was racist, fascist and sexist and would definitely not have approved of many of the shortlists tonight. I’m totally up for Worldcons to get his name off the trophy and leave him in the dust of history.  I am reliably informed that some people booed and walked out at Jeannette’s words – good I don’t want those people in my fandom anymore.  I hope the door hits them on the way out.

This was a very strong year for the genre and largely pleased with all the winners. It’s important to note if you are on a Hugo shortlist or long list then fandom are seeing your work as part of one of the many facets of this ear’s genre zeitgeist is a triumph in itself and that should be recognised so I was definitely disgusted at how the Hugo’s Losers Party left many of the shortlist attendees out on a Sunday night in Dublin in the cold. Clearly that event has become an industry/convention organiser event and the small matter of those it’s supposed to be honouring has fallen by the wayside. When the shortlist clearly shows the appetite for a fresh different and modern approach, we are a tad stuck in the past and even a bit cliquey – the nominees are not losers and deserve profuse apologies and respect.  They’re not Losers they’re representatives of our genre and deserve the Worldcon’s respect.

Subjective Kind of Chaos

Yes, my fellow judges were there and announced the award winners. I ducked out as I wasn’t feeling quite public facing this year but our winners are here As blogging can often be solitary discussing books you’ve missed out on; why they work or don’t work with other bloggers is a fascinating experience. To my judges I salute you and thank you for entertaining me!  Already some discussions as to the 2020 format are quietly bubbling away…

Community – it does exist

Conventions are where I get to meet people, I’ve probably met online and often have never met previously. This was more 3d twitter and while I apologise for those, I couldn’t manage to cross paths with to all those I met you were amazing. On Saturday afternoon I found out my dad was in hospital back home and while not serious I was understandably upset and really appreciated the concern, offers of help and people to talk to.  Thank you so much.

But cons are also were you can be silly, discuss books (yes this includes tempting) discuss tv, film and life. That was my highlight be it eating noodles, doughnuts or at the tables of publishers. That really lifted my spirits and my luggage weight but so worth it. I’m also going o shout out to all those who work in publishing – for them cons are not days off and can be quite busy intensive days.  Book bloggers should always remember these people are awesome and we know you’re all the best.

I think Worldcon showed me that this genre is like most of the world adapting to some darker times that we’ve all suffered through.  We spent many years fighting off the invasion of the alt-right in their Puppies form and while sadly they found government an easier nut to crack that theme of resistance is growing. If Hugos can do it then so can political elections. But at the same time, I sense a perhaps generational attitude in some that now the Puppies has imploded we can get back to Hugos as usual.  The answer is no. This is the genre of change be it defeating evil empoires or embracing new tech and frontiers lets try and move with the times?

Two points underlined where change is needed.  The Worldcon Business Meeting defeated proposals for Best Game and Translated Work awards for reasons that I think make little sense (how on earth an annual business meeting can react to our genre is a bit wearisome and this slowww ent moot two year style debate needs to get digital and move with the times of a fandom that can debate things across the world hours after an issue is raised. Accessibility at the con was on show but for example lifts were poor, seating was haphazard – not all with access issues are mobility focused for example those with hearing issues need to be able to lip read. Nineworlds took ages to get that right but Worldcon should be setting an example and getting best practise shared across the world.  I think there is a generational shift coming fast and that will be fascinating to watch develop further but a true worldcon needs to be for all fans not just cis white able-bodied ones.

I shall return

Overall, I came back shattered but the last few days I’ve had some ideas for what I want to do with my blog and my reading. There are awesome books a calling me. I actually this morning finally feel refreshed and while I didn’t come back with my instant warm fuzzy Nineworlds feeling of this is what geek nirvana should be like I did get to feel that my beloved genre is on the move and needs to change and I’m a very small part of that but to get mass change you need lots of us to work together and I want to push that conversation.  Hopefully if Glasgow (or possibly earlier if nearer) then gets the bid in a few years’ time I will be there, the world will be less on fire and you’ll be there to book tempt ahem help.  A worldcon is an experience like no other and one you should try at least once.