I’m up way too early with jet lag, looking over Twitter, and ran into Nick Falkner’s report on the TED panel I moderated at Worldcon, which reminded me that I never did write anything about the con. Late is probably still better than never, so here are some quick long-after-the-fact comments about my program items:
— Only one person showed up for my Kaffeeklatsch, probably because it was at dinnertime on the first day of the con, and also the Kaffeeklatsch rooms were in a place that didn’t look like somewhere you were allowed to go. My one guest was a guy I’ve exchanged emails with for many years but had never previously met, so that was fun.
— I moderated a panel about meanings of the term “Banksian,” and structured it around a handful of words and phrases I’ve seen “Banksian” used as synonyms for: “Bloody and Violent,” “Expansive/ Inventive,” “Experimental,” “Political/ Utopian,” “Genre-crossing.” That worked very well, though it wasn’t as easy as I had hoped to get concrete book recommendations for other authors that were “Banksian” in that same sense. I cut off a discussion of Scottish independence by saying “I’m an American, and I don’t care.” “About Banks’s views of political parties?” somebody asked, and I replied “No, about Scotland.” I half expected to be mugged by dudes in kilts after that, but they took it fairly well…
This panel got mentioned positively in a write-up of the con, so that was nice; Google didn’t turn up much else about it, and I’m not that plugged in to fannish social media, so I haven’t seen any other discussion.
— I was much more worried about the TED panel mentioned above, because I wasn’t sure we’d have enough to fill 90 minutes. It worked out pretty well, on the whole, though– we had enough disagreement among the panelists to get a spirited discussion going, and I didn’t have to resort to any really obvious filler (I did run out of notes with a few minutes to go, but luckily there were enough threads from earlier discussions to extend things smoothly). We continued the conversation over beers in the convention hall later, so that went well.
— The one dark spot regarding my programming was also associated with the TED panel, alas. An older white guy down front made some annoying comments to one of the female panelists who was having difficulty with the microphones, and I was very close to telling him to shut up or leave. At the tail end of the panel, as people were leaving, he followed this up with a directly and offensively sexist remark; I didn’t hear the original statement, but heard her say something startled, and his follow-up clearly included the word “tits.” She told him “I don’t have time to deal with your bullshit,” and he left, but I reported the incident to the convention, because that kind of shit is unacceptable. Sadly, it wasn’t the worst report they’d gotten that day– when I told them I wanted to report an incident, the person at the desk said “Does this involve somebody using the N-word? Because we already know about that one…”
— To their credit, the con staff were very good about taking the report, and making clear it was taken seriously. If anything, they seemed to expect me to need more soothing than I did– I mostly wanted to just give them my report and get out back to drinking beer with the other panelists… I don’t know what if any action was taken as a result, but was very pleased with my interactions with the staff.
Regarding the rest of the con:
— I’ve only been to three previous Worldcons, but this was far and away the best exhibit area I’ve ever seen. Beyond the usual collection of construction-paper displays of old photos, they had gotten a range of serious academic groups to set up tables and posters– there was a big display of stuff about ESA satellites and other science missions, some material on academic studies of genre literature, people doing a survey of gut bacteria, examples of prehistoric tools, and a whole lot more. I’ve been told that this was largely the work of Farah Mendelsohn, who is to be commended for doing a great job– given that my reading has shifted almost entirely to ebooks, this section was far and away the highlight of the convention hall. I hope this sets a precedent for future Worldcons to try to emulate, rather than sliding into a story about “Hey, remember that one Worldcon that had that awesome exhibit area?”
— For reasons relating to the tininess of European hotel rooms, most of the social aspects were moved within the cavernous convention center. In particular, rather than taking place in tiny hotel rooms, the various bid parties were in the central “Fan village” space. I think this worked out well, for the most part– I’m a big guy, so cramped hotel-room parties are less attractive to me than they might be– though I’m sure it annoyed some people.
— The programming included a huge number of panelists, many of them drawn from outside the pool of Usual Suspects, which is a good thing. The down side of this, though, is that running lots of panels at once required splitting the con area up into many smaller rooms. Which combined with the ExCeL staff’s obsessive attention to UK fire codes meant that I was closed out of a lot of things I might’ve liked to see. That was doubly frustrating, as the program was a little thin in terms of things I wanted to see as it was (this is a matter of my own divergent tastes, not a knock on the overall program; lots of people spoke glowingly about the content). It also made panel-hopping basically impossible, as most rooms were at capacity, so if a panel turned out to be dull or annoying, you didn’t have much chance of getting into a different one.
— The fire code thing was both obsessive– they kicked people out of rooms in the name of keeping the exits clear, when those people were sitting on packing crates for A/V gear that took up at least as much room as the folks on them– and ironic, as the only access to the meeting rooms was via a single pair of narrow escalators, which formed a horrible choke point. Especially given the tendency of self-absorbed fans to just stop at the top of the escalator. There were fire stairs you could take down from the meeting rooms, if you knew where to look, but those dumped you outside the ExCeL center.
— The combination of big crowds and tiny rooms led me to burn out on the whole scene a good deal before I otherwise would’ve. It didn’t help that our hotel was a good kilometer away, so going back and forth wasn’t completely trivial (it did offset some of the fine British ales I was drinking, I guess…). The fact that I was comprehensively burned out on work before getting to London didn’t help any, either. I missed a few people I would’ve liked to see, and generally wasn’t as social as I usually am. So, you know, if you didn’t get to talk to me, or if I seemed kind of aloof and dickish, I apologize.
(After the con, Kate and I went to Dublin for a couple of days, then I had two solo days in London before going to Sweden, which did wonders for my general state of mind. In particular, spending a big chunk of a sunny Sunday tromping around Hampstead Heath was a huge morale boost, so I was much happier by the time I hit Stockholm.)
— The Hugos were… well, the Hugos. I voted “No Award” on an entire category (Novella), so I obviously wasn’t going to be thrilled with all the winners, but I thought Ancillary Justice was a terrific and deserving winner, so that’s good. And the most offensive of the “sad puppy” nominees lost to “No Award” by a huge margin, so that’s a victory for good sense and taste.
Anyway, it was a good and well-run con, which broke all sorts of attendance records, so congratulations to all the folks who made it happen. I’m not sure if I’ll be at the next one– Spokane, WA is not inherently all that attractive to me, but I may have Reasons to be there (contingent on a bunch of other stuff that I’m not going to talk about right now). We’ll see.