Last weekend in London was LonCon 3, this year’s Worldcon. The convention, which has been held in various cities around the world since 1939, is where the Hugo Awards are given out and where fans from all over the globe meet up.
It was my first Worldcon, and while I’ve been to large conventions before such as World Fantasy and Eastercon, not to mention several local conventions such as Tuscon, I still wasn’t quite sure what to expect. What I got was five fun days of events, conversation, and camaraderie.
The Loncon staff did a fine job making everything run smoothly. A handy pocket guide steered me around the huge convention center without a hitch, and twice-daily newssheets kept me up-to-date on any changes.
There were only a couple of small minuses. First off, the dining options at the ExCel Centre were overpriced and generally substandard. Not that this is unusual for a convention center, so I don’t blame LonCon for this!
Also, the ExCel is huge and has all the ambiance of a shopping mall. But as Robert Silverberg pointed out, “Cons aren’t about venues, they’re about people.”
So on to the best part about Worldcon — the people. There were fans from absolutely everywhere. While the UK and US were the main countries represented, I also met fans from Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Ireland, Poland, Germany, France, China, Japan, Norway, Croatia, Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, Malaysia, India, Israel, South Africa, and probably a few more places I’m forgetting.
Everyone was eager to talk about their favorite books and movies, and even though the venue was huge and impersonal and I knew only two other attendees, I never felt alone. Conversations had a way of absorbing me, sucking me in like some giant amoeba of fandom. Strolling by the booths in the fan village or the stalls at the dealers room, I’d suddenly find myself in a long discussion about this year’s Hugo nominees or the best Polish SF available in English.
The program was chock full of items and in most time slots I’d be torn between two or three things. There were panels on everything from Arabic science fiction to the editorial process. On the first day, I got to participate in a panel about refugees and how they are treated in fiction. My copanelists came from a variety of viewpoints and included the talented South African writer Lauren Beukes, who told some grim stories of covering refugee issues for the South African press. The consensus is that these issues aren’t tackled enough in speculative fiction.
There were also personal conversations with authors at Kaffeklatches and Literary Beers. I noticed that John Norman, author of the bestselling and controversial Gor novels, was doing a Kaffeklatch. I’d read a few of these when I was a teen and remember my reaction being, “Cool swordfights. What’s with all the weirdo sex?”
While I’m not a Gor fan by any stretch of the imagination, I was curious to meet the man. He turned out to be a pleasant, well-spoken philosophy professor who was quite smug about the success of his novels and bemused by all the controversy surrounding them. Also at the table was his wife, who never spoke above a whisper when she spoke at all, and a half dozen male fans. One guy even had the VHS copies of those terrible Gor movies. John Norman said the director had “an amazing lack of talent.” At least I agree with him on that!
The Kaffeeklatch with Django Wexler was quite different. While Norman basically did a monologue, Wexler turned it into a friendly fannish conversation. I didn’t learn as much about Wexler as I did about Norman, but I did add a few titles to my “to read” list.
Besides the scheduled programming, there was a games room (including a demo of a cool Firefly boardgame), filk singing, a costume ball, and plenty of parties. The Finns and the French Canadians and the Japanese plied fans with booze and snacks to support their bids to host future Worldcons. Helsinki in 2017 is getting my vote for the simple fact that I live in Europe and it will be cheaper to go. The fact that they were really nice and will offer English programming helped too. I hereby forgive them for getting me to try salmiakki, a salty liqourice candy that’s definitely an acquired taste!
My favorite room party by far was put on by the Germans, who had a private screening of Raumpatrouille – Die phantastischen Abenteuer des Raumschiffes Orion (“Space Patrol – The Fantastic Adventures of the Spaceship Orion”). This wacky German TV scifi show, which lasted only 7 episodes in 1966, is little-known outside Germany.
Luckily members of the fan group Starlight Casino brought along some episodes and the clunky sets, cool ideas, and general sense of fun and wonder made me a fan. Once my eight-year-old son and I watch the complete run I’ll be coming back to you with a full report on this series.
Because of the expense, I decided not to bring my son along. That was too bad, because the Loncon folks put on a great series of kids’ activities. Steampunk Nerf guns! Chocolate Daleks! Quidditch! One little girl made her own superheroine costume and regaled an admiring circle of adults about her superpowers. Another little guy wore a plush Dalek costume. Plush Dalek? Only a toddler can make it work. The wee ones had a blast, and it was great to see so many kids from so many countries getting along.
Getting along, in fact, was what the theme of this year’s Worldcon. The focus was on diversity of speculative fiction. While fans come from all sexualities, ethnicities, and religions, not all are made to feel welcome or find people like them well-represented in the genre they love.
Tune in next Wednesday for a discussion on how Worldcon tackled this project, along with some things I learned about fandom in faraway places.
Sean McLachlan is a freelance travel and history writer. He is the author of the historical fantasy novel A Fine Likeness, set in Civil War Missouri, and the post-apocalyptic thriller Radio Hope. His historical fantasy novella The Quintessence of Absence, was published by Black Gate. Find out more about him on his blog and Amazon author’s page.