Another year, another Worldcon, and we are back in Canada. Can Montreal rise above the specter of Torcon 3? Read on.
I love Montreal as a city. Kevin and I went there for a planning meeting in April (and incidentally to celebrate my birthday) and we fell in love with it then. The restaurants in particular are awesome. The closeness of Old Montreal and Chinatown to the convention center is very convenient. You could plan a better Worldcon site, but I doubt that many better ones actually exist.
The Palais des congrès is also pretty good as a venue. It was too large for us, but not embarrassingly so the way that Denver was. A bigger Worldcon would have filled it nicely. The layout, with all of the exhibition space on the second floor and all of the program space on the fifth floor, was also very convenient. (More about that later.) It was, of course, the usual boring, featureless space; all convention centers are like that. That could have been improved by better signage and better decoration. Sadly many Worldcons don’t understand the need for that sort of thing. Worldcon committees have an awful tendency to act like Puritans and claim that any extravagance such as decoration is a waste of the members’ money. Frequently, of course, they really are short of money, which makes such attitudes seem excusable.
The absurd price of wi-fi in the convention center was a big downside of the venue. It is, I think, a temporary phenomenon. Sooner or later convention centers are going to realize that smart phones are getting so powerful, and mobile broadband is becoming so common, that their business customers no longer need to pay ridiculous fees to stay on line during events. They can’t cut off the cell phone signal — that would cause outrage — so they’ll have to offer wi-fi at more competitive rates. But for a few years this is going to be a nightmare for Worldcons, and we are just going to have to live with it.
The Denial of Service Attacks on Twitter and various other prominent web services that started on the Thursday were also a huge inconvenience. Twitter described the attacks as “geopolitical in motivation”, so we can’t blame Corpse Fandom for them. They did, however, get us a mention in the Wall Street Journal, so I guess every cloud really does have a silver lining.
The one element of the con facilities that did not seem to work well was the Delta. Having the HQ and party hotel so far away from the main event (when many other hotels were closer) is not a good thing. Also the Delta is a tower hotel. The idea of having all of the parties on the 5th floor, which is walkable for many people, was a good one, but unfortunately the 5th floor was nowhere near big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to run a party, and we had to use the 28th floor as well. Instant elevator hell. I avoided the parties as much as I could once I discovered that.
What’s more it appears that relations with the Delta’s management were not good. There was some confusion about where parties could be held, and this resulted in a number being shut down, including the SFWA Suite, which was apparently being too noisy. Access to the rooms was heavily policed by hotel staff concerned about fire safety limits. Some of the convention staff tried to blame this on the Press Office, saying that a TV news crew had been broadcasting about free parties in the Delta with the result that kids from all over the city had converged on the hotel. As far as I can make out there was no evidence of either the TV broadcast or the alleged hordes of teenagers. I suspect that this was just another case of grouchy old fans being only too ready to believe any rumor that got started about media interest in the convention.
Finally there was a lot of unhappiness amongst disabled fans about the Delta. Elevator hell causes real problems for people in mobies, and the two-tier structure of the suites on the 28th floor caused issues too. I was delighted that the video Kevin and I took in April led to a ramp being provided to help with the awkward step at the entrance to hotel, but disappointed that it took a complaint from a convention member (Craig McBride from Melbourne) to make this happen when the ConCom had 3 months to do something.
I don’t think that Anticipation had much choice about making the Delta their party hotel, despite all of the issues it caused. As I understand it, that was the only hotel prepared to negotiate the necessary corkage waivers to make parties possible at all. This is a common problem for Worldcons. The traditional evening party scene is a wonderful thing, but fewer and fewer hotels seem to be prepared to accommodate it, and we can’t have Worldcon in Anaheim every year. My personal solution has been to ignore parties and spend my evenings with friends in restaurants and bars instead. Maybe I’m getting old.
I was a bit concerned when I saw that Registration was printing name badges as people signed in, but the crew there had the whole thing under control and I never saw anything like the bad lines we had in Denver. There was a bit of confusion on Thursday morning with Program Participant Registration having been put up in Program Ops on the fifth floor a long way from the main Reg desk, but Jeff Beeler and Sharon Sbarsky soon realized this was a problem and moved it to a desk on the second floor. Thanks to Jon Courtenay Grimwood who helped Sharon and I carry all of the stuff down.
As soon as Anticipation announced its management structure Worldcon veterans started wringing their hands in horror. The idea of a giant Program & Events division where the managers of Program and Events were not Executive Committee members, and where the ExCom member responsible for those two key areas isn’t doing day-to-day management of the area heads, struck many people as a recipe for disaster. As it turned out, it wasn’t that bad, but it could have been so much better.
Farah Mendlesohn is a newcomer to Worldcon programming, but a veteran con-runner. She has chaired numerous academic events, and an Eastercon. The team of people that she brought provided a breath of fresh air. For many years now too many Worldcons have seemed to be just recycling the same tired old program ideas. The methodology of looking through last year’s program and copying it appeared to be used far too often. Montreal’s program had a wealth of interesting panels. It also had the monstrous coup of having Paul Krugman as a panelist. There were a few panel descriptions that were a bit off target, but even then those that I attended were able to produce an interesting conversation just from the panel title. The content of Anticipation’s program was superb. Unfortunately content was all that Farah had direct responsibility for.
Scheduling was another matter entirely. I understand that there was a fair amount of internal wrangling going on in the weeks leading up to the convention. There was software that many people didn’t understand and which may not have been appropriate for the job. Scheduling ran late, and was poorly done. Worldcon always manages to double-book some people (although if only someone would write some decent scheduling software that should not happen – and yes I am offering to help), but ignoring people’s “I don’t want to be on panel with” instructions is poor, and scheduling a program item for your main Guest of Honor (and Hugo nominee) in the hour immediately prior to the Hugo ceremony is simply inexcusable. For a whole variety of reasons, Neil’s schedule should have been fixed well in advance of the convention, so even if someone had been stupid enough to put him on a panel in that slot it should have been noticed and fixed well before it actually was.
The structure of the schedule was also poor. There’s nothing wrong with having some program slots that are 60 minute long and some that are 90 minutes. However, it is a disaster to mix lengths in the same time period, so that not all panels in a particular period started and ended at the same time. The inevitable result of this is that people will be walking into and out of panels part way through, which is disruptive for everyone.
Scheduling of tech for panels was even worse. All sorts of people had horror stories of tech they had requested turning up late, or not working. Probably the worst example was Bill Humphries’ Second Life panel. Because Second Life is bandwidth-heavy Bill had requested wired Internet access. When he arrived to do the panel he was told that only wireless was available, and that he would have to pay for that himself and apply to the convention for a refund. Thankfully Bill is a convention veteran who is happy to go along with such problems and make the panel work somehow. Other people would not have been so sanguine about it.
A similar sort of disaster almost wrecked Kyle Cassidy’s Saturday photo shoot. As soon as Kyle announced that he was doing it I suggested that he get in touch with the folks doing photography for the masquerade so that they could help each other out in case of problems. Charles Mohapel immediate shot back a question: did Kyle have an arrangement with the convention center for power supplies? Whoever planned the program item had no idea that such a thing was necessary. Thankfully we rescued Kyle in the nick of time, but that sort of lack of communication between departments appears to have been endemic at Anticipation.
Much of the tech problems appear to have been caused by the convention running what was described to me as a “just in time” tech policy. That is, the convention only had just enough tech to fulfill its requirements, and no more. Tech was rushed from one program item to another as it was needed. A classic example of the sort of problem this caused involved two back-to-back items scheduled to have the same tech gear. The first was a panel in which Japanese fans were going online to their friends back home. The second was the Tor Presentation. As the time for the first panel to end arrived, a venerable Japanese fan was giving a lengthy speech. The tech guy who turned up to collect the equipment was left with an impossible decision: either he cut off the Japanese fans and caused an international incident, or Tom Doherty and David Hartwell had to do without their tech.
Fortunately a solution was found, but this should never have happened in the first place. If you are that short of tech the thing to do is the schedule your program around the equipment so that it doesn’t have to be moved. That way you never put your tech crew in that sort of position.
Of course this also brings to light the issue of timekeeping. Program Ops did not have enough staff to send runners around panels with “5 minute” signs. Staff should, of course, have been recruited beforehand. There’s not much chance of getting them all on the day, especially if Volunteers hasn’t been told of the need – some online reports have suggested that prospective gophers were being turned away as they were not needed. There appears to have been a communication failure here. Anyway, Jeff Beeler and his skeleton crew apparently did sterling work keeping the program going. Besides, better timekeeping would not have been necessary if more panels had been well moderated.
Panel moderation, it seems, was a problem for Anticipation. This does not surprise me. Most Worldcons struggle in that regard. There are good reasons for this. To start with many of the program participants are unknown to the programming staff, and if you don’t know your panel participants you can’t judge who will make a good moderator. Also Worldcon Programming teams are under a huge amount of pressure to put lots of different people on panel, which exacerbates that problem.
Anticipation, however, didn’t make it easy for moderators. The Program staff was all ready to send out emails to moderators giving them the emails of the panelists so that they could discuss things in advance, but they were told that they could not do so because Canadian privacy law did not allow the convention to give out emails in that way. I gather than there was a big internal row about this, and the web site team came to the rescue by putting up a site where program participants could log in and allow their emails to be posted. Sadly for many people this was too little, too late, and too much of a barrier to participation. The right way to do this was to have had people required to sign off on allowing their email to be distributed when they applied to be program participants, but the people doing the work on web site and program had no idea it was required, and the people who did know were not paying attention.
The problem would not have been so bad at a smaller convention. At conventions like Eastercon and WisCon it is normal for panelists to meet in the Green Room prior to their panel to talk about what they plan to say. At Worldcon this generally does not happen. This is not (UK fans please note) because Worldcon is an “American” convention where they do everything “wrong”, it is because at Worldcon many program participants are booked solid all day and don’t have the time to drop into the Green Room for such discussions. That’s why it is essential to allow panelists to talk amongst themselves before the convention. The Worldcon Green Room is there for a very different reason – making sure that hard-working program participants actually get a chance to eat during the day (and believe me I have been very grateful for it at many Worldcons).
One further element of Program fell through the cracks. All program participants were asked to provide a short biography for printing in the souvenir book. Lots of people sent these in, and a few hard-working bi-lingual staff spent a lot of time translating them, mostly into French. Ultimately, however, nothing was printed. Apparently not everything could be translated in time, and many of the biographies were much too long. I can see how this happened. But it is also another example of things being left to the last minute, and poor inter-departmental communications. I understand that the biographies will appear online at some point.
None of the program items that I attended were moved or re-timed at all. However, I gather from complaints online that the situation with signings was very confused. The biggest problem, however, appears to have been access to Neil. Everyone knows that when Neil does a signing the queues are horrendous. Plans were put in place to deal with this. To get into a Neil signing queue you had to have a ticket, and each person was limited to no more than two books. That’s very reasonable. But none of this was announced prior to the convention, and some people didn’t find out until they came to queue up. What happened? Were these special requirements a last minute panic idea? Or did the convention committee not think it was necessary to inform members of this? As silly mistakes that can rile up a whole lot of people and could easily have been avoided go, this one was quite spectacular.
I wasn’t expecting to be on more than one or two panels at this Worldcon. Imagine my surprise when I was put on 6, one of which I had to drop off because of scheduling conflicts. They were all good panels too. Here’s a brief survey of them.
I started out with a panel on how to interact with the media. I was happily surprised that a Worldcon should run such a panel, and even happier to find that we had a reasonable-sized audience that didn’t just sit there muttering “we don’t want anything to do with them”. I’m not sure that the panel was hugely informative, because in an introductory panel there’s not a huge amount you can say beyond “have a good story” and “you scratch their backs and they will scratch yours”. I did manage to show people some examples of the excellent press coverage that Finncon gets.
Next up was a panel on the “Future of Gender”. This was one of those panels where my co-panelists either didn’t turn up or said they had no idea why they were on the panel. Fortunately I had come prepared. My colleagues, Jason Bourget and Jeanne Cavelos, made some valuable contributions, as did the audience. The panel description was a poorly-though-out idea about applying science fiction speculation to the idea of gender, but there was little point in doing that without talking about gender, and gender theory, first. Also what real-world science is doing to gender is a lot more interesting than speculation. I have put a whole lot of links in my panel report.
I must admit that I was rather nervous about this panel, because I figured I had a reasonable chance of getting a hard line feminist in the audience who would try to bang on endlessly about how gender was entirely a social construct. One person did try, but thankfully gave up when I pointed out that she was trying to push a very simplistic understanding of gender when we had spent the entire panel explaining how complicated it is.
The Future of Sport was never going to amount of much because it was so broad a topic. I was very pleased to have Larry B. Hodges, an actual Hall of Fame table tennis coach, on the panel, though I have to say that Larry was in some ways a stereotypical coach and wanted to talk at us all the time. We had a fun time anyway, and I was pleased that we got an audience late at night when people could have been (and I should have been) at the Chesley Awards.
The Best Fanwriter panel threatened to be derailed for a while because Evelyn Leeper insisting on asking us what a “Fan Writer” was. Thankfully the rest of us were keen to actually recommend people whose work we enjoyed, rather than get involved in rancorous fannish debate. The results of our deliberations, plus a bunch of additional recommendations from readers, can be found here.
Then there was Neil. When I was first offered this slot I was told that he would be giving a speech, and that all I would have to do was give a short introduction – no more than 5 minutes. I figured that if I said anything other than, “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Neil Gaiman,” and then sat down I would probably be lynched, so though I did actually prepare a 5-minute speech I didn’t expect to have to give it.
After I arrived in Montreal I heard from my long-time friend Anne Murphy, who was once again working as Neil’s PA for the convention. Neil, apparently, did not have a speech. He was expecting a conversation. Did I have any questions to ask him? Um, no. Fortunately we had planned to have lunch together immediately before the panel, and we went over a few ideas then.
Interviewing Neil is a bit like being Oprah Winfrey, except that Oprah’s audience tunes in mainly to listen to her, whereas my audience was only interested in the celebrity. I could have been as witty as Stephen Colbert and they would still have sat there in stony silence muttering, “Shut up and let Neil speak.” My job, therefore, was to feed Neil lines and get him to open up about himself. Unfortunately you don’t get to be as famous as Neil without learning to avoid leading questions. I think with Neil it is instinctive by now. So really all I could do was throw ideas out there and hope that some of them would cause him to segue into a good anecdote. As it turned out we got two really good ones: the Brighton Metropole Story, and the Neil Discovers Sushi Story. The latter had the audience in absolute hysterics, so I’m counting the panel as a job well done. I still wish someone had videoed it though, I would love to be able to watch it and see how well I actually did.
There were far more panels I wanted to attend than I had time to do so. As it turned out, I made it to three, of which one was the Introduction to the Business Meeting because I needed to help Yonmei with her Women and the Hugos motion.
The panel I most wanted to get to was the (somewhat token) LGB(t) one, cutely titled “Once upon a time, there was a Little Gender Variant Metaphor.” The LGB people on the panel took exception to the fact that the panel description included the phrase, “Now the closet doors are open”. When you think about what is going on in the USA right now with the gay marriage debate you can see how silly that is. I was a bit annoyed that the panel title talked about gender variance but the panel description talked about sexuality. Whoever wrote it was pretty clueless, I think. But we did manage to have a great panel anyway, and it was packed.
The International Awards panel looked like a really good idea when initially floated, but then it changed from a panel into an opportunity for fans from multiple countries to do Seiun-style repeats of their award announcements. Julie Czerneda did a fine job of trying to make the whole thing work, but it didn’t. It was far too long, so the audience was small, and even many of the presenters left once their particular slot was over. The Finns, I’m sorry to say, appeared to have forgotten to turn up.
Various other panels have attracted a lot of attention online. Here’s a few highlights, with links:
• The now legendary Stross-Krugman panel
• The bizarre case of the Cultural Memory panel
• Gaiman and Doctorow on Copyright
A much more comprehensive set of links to panel reports (and many other convention reports) is available over at ConReporter.com.
One or two panels managed to cause considerable upset. I understand that L. Jagi Lamplighter managed to make a complete fool of herself on the subject of racism. Also a number of people (from what I hear mainly British fans) complained loudly about there being a “People of Colour Meet & Greet” panel. Why this should be offensive to people is a mystery to me. And anyone who claims that fandom is in itself a safe space that doesn’t need such things is, quite frankly, an idiot (or at least working from way too small a sample).
Dealers and Art Show
Anticipation did have a dealers’ room and art show, but you could have been forgiven for missing them. This must have been the first Worldcon at which I could not find a single book to buy (though I bought several once I got to Boston because there were a lot of new books I wanted). John Picacio was the only one of the Artist Hugo nominees who was in the art show (though the fan artists put up a much better show).
This wasn’t entirely Anticipation’s fault. I had an interesting conversation with John Picacio about it. Clearly the whole mess over the artist GoH, with the convention first choosing Ralph Bakshi, then Bakshi declining to attend or send anything, and the con not replacing him, did not exactly endear the art community to the convention. The main problem, however, was customs. Both dealers and artists from the USA have been burned so many times before that they were very reluctant to attend. As I understand it, Anticipation tried really hard to get this right. John says that once the arrangements had been fully explained to him he understood how easy it would be, and reversed his decision not to exhibit. Most people, however, could not be persuaded, and consequently the Exhibits area was very sparsely populated indeed.
The lack of dealers and artists (and indeed quality exhibits, though the steampunk robot was awesome) was doubly unfortunate because Anticipation had bravely offered to trial taster memberships again. I understand that they didn’t work very well, with most of the people who bought them leaving after their 3 hours and taking their refund. I’m not surprised. The sorts of people who buy taster memberships are the sort of people who will mainly want to spend time in the Exhibits area. If those areas are poor, they are bound to be disappointed.
Given the layout of the convention center, I think it would have been very easy for Anticipation to offer separate, cut-price exhibits-only memberships. The security people were checking badges at the escalators anyway, so keeping exhibits-only people out of the program rooms would have been quite easy. Maybe if Anticipation had done that they would have been able to attract more Canadian dealers, and we would have had a better show. As it was, the exhibits area was very disappointing this year. Given that Anticipation tried hard, it is difficult to see what a future Canadian Worldcon could do to make things better.
Of course every cloud has a silver lining. There were so few dealers that those who did attend were apparently quite pleased with the money they made. Also they were very grateful for the provision of carpet. Anyone who doesn’t know why has not had to stand on a hard concrete floor for ten hours straight.
Torcon 3’s masquerade was an organizational disaster. However, I had no doubt that Anticipation would be OK from the moment they recruited Byron Connell to be Masquerade Director. The whole Permanent Floating Masquerade Crew swung into action and did their usual fine job. The costumers were great too. There were not quite as many as their would have been if the con had been just south of the US border, but we put on a good show and quite a few locals turned up looking spectacular. My own den was a delight. I had three entries, and all of them pretty much looked after themselves. Of course I had nothing like The Bear or the Cyborg Llama, but I was happy to have a quiet evening for once.
There were two areas in which I think we screwed up somewhat. The first was the issue of the backdrop. Early on in planning we had been told that there would be a backdrop screen available onto which entries could, if they wished, have images projected. Foolishly we told the costuming community about this. But a month or two out we discovered that Tech had canceled the order for that screen without telling us. This did not make people happy. I realize now that I really should have advised Byron not to trust what Tech told us, but there you go, we got all excited about the idea and paid the price.
The other thing that didn’t go well was the half time show. In the end we had quite a good run of old cartoons to show, but not many people stayed to watch them, and that was probably because they were well know cartoons that many people had seen before. That show, however, was hastily cobbled together in the few days before the show because we arrived in Montréal with nothing prepared. It hadn’t been at all clear whose job it was to organize one.
Both of these problems were caused by lack of communication and unclear lines of command. In theory Lance Sibley and Andrew Gurudata were running Events. In practice Byron appeared to deal direct with Terry Fong much of the time. Whether this was because Lance and Andrew were not paying attention, or because Terry was bypassing them, I don’t know, but the management system seemed very poor to me compared to the one Kevin and I set up for Glasgow in 2005. I know that’s blowing my own trumpet, but I know what we did, both in terms of keeping the area heads on their toes, and keeping them safe from all of the political nonsense that goes on at ExCom level. Anticipation seemed to be lacking that.
In confess to having been very worried about this year’s Business Meeting, and for the most part things went much better than I expected.
The first piece of good news was that no one tried to object to the Hugo Logo Contest, and the logo itself has been mostly very well received. The few people who have objected have basically not understood the requirements. There were lots of beautiful logos submitted, that would have looked wonderful on web sites, but would never have been used by publishers on book covers. The logo our judges choose works fine on web sites, and is also fine for using on book covers, so it will get a lot more exposure than any of the flashy ones would have done. I’d like to say a big “thank you” to our judges: Chip Kidd, Irene Gallo, Geri Sullivan and Neil Gaiman. They were a pleasure to work with, and they taught me a lot about design along the way.
The Women and the Hugos thing was a big surprise. It certainly isn’t anything that I would have brought before the Business Meeting myself. Apparently Yonmei was impressed with what I had written about WSFS’s participatory democracy in the Souvenir Book, and she decided to give it a try. After I had talked her down from doing something totally outrageous I put her together with Kevin and Tim Illingworth who did a fine job explaining the process and helping her craft the motion. Sadly the Business Meeting reacted in a very negative way. I don’t mind the motion being defeated — I wouldn’t have voted for it myself — but the manner of its defeat was embarrassing and is likely to put people off from trying to participate in WSFS in the future.
(By the way, if you really do want to participate, it is much better to line up some support and find the weak spots in your proposal before you ever get to Worldcon. Kevin and I can help you do so.)
Still, as Yonmei has said, the main point of the exercise was to provoke discussion, and it has certainly done that. A lot of the conversation online has been very productive. The negative stuff has mainly been from people who still don’t understand how the Hugos work, or what the motion would have done. I’m still seeing people claiming that the motion would have given people a Hugo just for being female, which it would not have done, and is exactly why I talked Yonmei down from her original proposal.
James Bacon’s motions on promoting Worldcon and youth memberships went pretty much the way I had expected, except that this time the baying mob that yells “Objection to Consideration” to anything they don’t like didn’t get enough support to stop debate. No one was prepared to vote for anything that mandated future Worldcons to do anything because individual Worldcons are ferociously independent. Everyone was happy to vote for non-binding resolutions, but it was fairly obvious from some of the speeches being made that what was really happening was that people were saying “we’ll vote for this because we’ll look bad otherwise but we intend to ignore everything it says.” I found Kent Bloom particularly depressing. It may well be true that it is hard to find volunteers to work on Worldcon, but if the first thing we jettison for lack of volunteers is marketing then we are going to preside over the managed decline of the convention. I suppose that’s what some people want.
And so to Saturday, and the Semiprozine debate. That also went much better than I had expected. Ben Yalow was the only person who insisted on standing up and saying that most of the fine magazines we have highlighted over the last year were not worthy of a Hugo. Everyone else was at least respectful, and many people had clearly changed their minds since last year. Naturally we ended up forming a committee to Do Something about the Semiprozine category (and the Editor and Fanzine categories as well), but I think that committee is going to have to work miracles to come up with a definition that is as watertight as fans typically tend to demand. Kevin and I have spent hours talking these issues through, and have not come up with anything remotely bulletproof.
Talking of Kevin, I was delighted to have many people come up to me at the convention and tell me how well they thought he ran the meeting, and how seriously WSFS took the whole process. These were, of course, mainly people who had only been around for the Semiprozine motion, and had never been to a Business Meeting before. Had they been around to see people yelling “Objection to Consideration” with such fervor on Friday they might have come away with a less rosy picture of things, but for the most part Saturday went very smoothly.
The Making the Web Eligible and Graphic Story Hugo ratifications both went through fairly comfortably. It remains to be seen whether Graphic Story will work well, and whether the web eligibility thing will really cause the End Of The World As We Know It, as some people have predicted. Personally I suspect that the Hugos will carry on pretty much as usual.
That should have been the end of things on Saturday, except that Seth Breidbart introduced this interesting little motion demanding that next year’s Hugo Administrator enforce the rules on professionalism. Vincent Docherty, whose has that job, did not look too happy. As I pointed out, we don’t really have a clear definition of what “professional” means, and it is very unfair of us to ask Vincent to enforce something when he doesn’t know what it is. But it seemed to me that the main thrust of the motion was to try to encourage Vincent to disqualify Locus (and possibly several other magazines) from Best Semiprozine on the grounds that they were “professional”. Given that most of the people who had come to debate the Semiprozine issue (including the Locus staff) had left, and Mark Olson had made an admirable speech about not using parliamentary trickery to revisit the vote after they had gone, this new idea seemed very dubious to me. I’m glad we voted it down.
Sunday saw Reno duly elected as the 2011 Worldcon and Raleigh elected to hold the 2010 NASFiC. With the conventions titled Renovation and Reconstruction respectively there was an air of rebuilding about the future. I do hope so. There is a lot of rebuilding to be done. Chicago continues to be unopposed for 2012, and San Antonio has revealed a bid for 2013. Rumors of a UK bid for 2014 continue to circulate, but I don’t think that’s totally official yet. Certainly they haven’t made a final decision about the site. Sadly there was no sign of the Croats and their Zagreb bid.
At the end of the meeting it was moved to adjourn in memory of Charles N Brown. Such things are normally a formality. There was considerable shock when someone objected very loudly, and even more shock that several people voted against this. I gather than one of the people who did so was a newcomer who wasn’t aware that adjourning memory of famous members of the community who have died is something we do quite a bit, which is understandable, but there were some long-time regulars who voted against. I was deeply unimpressed.
All in all I was very happy with the Hugos at Anticipation. It would be churlish of me to be otherwise. However, the ceremony did go very smoothly. What’s more it was well paced. Despite the need for translations, it never once appeared to drag, as such things can do when someone gets to monopolize the microphone and drone on. There were a few small technical glitches, the most obvious of which was during the reading of the nominees for Best Fan Writer. They announced Dave Langford’s name, and put up a picture of me. At that point I started to believe that I might actually win. If you remember, there was a tech glitch at Noreascon 4 when I won as well. And besides, if people were mistaking me for Dave, maybe they would have voted for me by mistake as well.
Anyway, congratulations to Jim Mann, Ian Stockdale and their crew for putting on a good show. I’m sorry I didn’t get to the post-ceremony party at a reasonable hour, but Kevin and I had a lot of work to do getting web sites updated with the news (and understandably I couldn’t be given the results in advance). The space that Aussiecon 4 had for the party seemed much larger than those parties normally get, so it might not have been quite as awful as I had been expecting. And it was in the basement so it avoided the Elevator Hell.
There have been a few minor upsets regarding the results, as there always are. I have written about the most important one elsewhere. I may dig into the numbers a bit more deeply in another article, but not here as this report is quite long enough already.
I should not leave coverage of the major events, however, without giving due credit to Julie Czerneda who worked very hard all week and has an amazing capacity to be enthusiastic about whatever event she is fronting. She was an excellent choice of Toastmaster.
A WORLD convention
One of the repeating themes that turned up in conversation during the convention was how international it felt. Partly, of course, that was because it was bilingual. Having all of the signage and official documentation in both English and French certainly made a difference to people used to living in monolingual parts of the USA. (It makes less of a difference if you live in a state like California with a huge Latino population, or you live anywhere in Europe except England.)
In addition there were fewer Americans and more people from other countries. The numbers of Americans are always down for a Canadian event because so many Americans don’t have passports, or get worried about traveling anywhere as foreign as they perceive Canada to be. The number of Brits was probably up because so many of them get worried about traveling anywhere as dangerous and unfriendly as they perceive the USA to be. And of course there were quite a few French people in addition to the Quebecois. But what really made me happy was the number of people from other countries. There was Sissy Pantelis from Greece, Ana Cristina Rodrigues from Brazil, Rani Graff from Israel, Lauren Beukes from South Africa, Miguel Esquirol Ríos from Bolivia, and of course the usual contingents from the Nordic countries, Australasia and Japan. Worldcon is still a long way from being representative of the world population as a whole, but it is definitely moving in the right direction.
So, San Antonio, do you think we could see some programming in Spanish? (Yeah, I know about the whole Alamo thing, but it would be interesting.)
Overall I was very pleased with how well ConReporter.com went. It was an experiment, after all. We peaked at over 1200 visits on the Sunday, which is very good. The Hugos live webcast had a little over 100 people watching it, which is well down on last year. That’s partly because the problems with wi-fi meant we could not be interactive, and partly because last year Paul Cornell did a great job of driving traffic to the event.
For the future, the software could be better, and I could definitely do with more help. Ideally I’d like it to become a community project with lots of people using the site without needing my help. And of course the ideal is that conventions should do that sort of thing themselves, and not have to rely on outsiders to do it. Something of that sort makes particular sense for Australia because so many Worldcon regulars can’t afford to go. If we could work out a way to give extra functionality to people who had supporting memberships that would be very useful.
In the meantime I am looking closely at Google Wave. It appears to have a lot of potential. At the moment the Sandbox is only open to people who are actually looking to develop applications, but it will open up to selected ordinary users at the end of the month, and someone has already written a WordPress plugin to embed a wave in your blog. I’ll keep you updated.
I should also note that Anticipation has the best press coverage I have seen for a Worldcon. It was in more newspapers, and on more TV stations, than ever before. And the coverage was more positive than I have ever seen before. There was a convention report in Time. This is the sort of thing that Worldcon desperately needs if it is to have a future. Anticipation’s press office has done a fabulous job.
If your criterion for the success of Anticipation was that it should be better than Torcon 3 then it can be counted a resounding success. It had problems, certainly, but for the most part it went very smoothly. All Worldcons have problems of some sort, and this one had fewer than several I have been to.
On the other hand, things did go wrong, and every time we have a Worldcon we learn new lessons, and sometimes re-learn old ones. Anticipation, I think, mainly re-learned old ones. The whole issue of the US-Canadian border is a running sore than has affected far more conventions than Worldcon. I really don’t know what can be done about it, short of major changes on the political front. This is probably not good news for future Canadian Worldcons.
The other big problems at Anticipation, however, seemed to all fall into three areas: communication, breadth of vision, and lack of staff. I’m sure I have said this about Worldcon before, but management is a skill, and if you are trying to run an operation with a few hundred volunteer staff then you have to get your lines of communication established and working. When Kevin and I turned up at the planning meeting in April and found a single large meeting with a poorly defined agenda that kept getting sidetracked we knew there would be problems on the communication front.
Breadth of vision is also really a management issue. All too often in convention running, particularly with large conventions, people get focused on doing their own job and ignore everything else that is going on. That can be bad even at a junior level, because what you department does can affect what happens elsewhere. But it is really bad when it gets to a management level. Everyone on the Executive Committee has to be focused on the success of every part of the convention; otherwise problems get missed and can fester. One Program staffer that I talked to was absolutely incensed at what he saw as a lack of interest in his department by senior management. If that’s true then it is no wonder there were a lot of problems with implementing what was basically a very fine program.
Of course running a Worldcon isn’t easy. In many ways we are extremely fortunate that anyone is prepared to give up huge amounts of their time, at great expense, to serve as con chairs and division heads. That not everyone who volunteers for such jobs has all of the skills necessary to do them should not be a surprise to anyone. But this brings us to the final issue: lack of staff. There were several areas where Anticipation clearly didn’t have enough people. Some of this can perhaps be put down to management issues again. A classic type of fannish management failure is reluctance to delegate. But there were clearly areas like Program Ops that simply didn’t have enough bodies. And in the Business Meeting Kent Bloom complained about the difficulty he had getting staff for Denver last year.
Personally I am very much in favor of Worldcon remaining a volunteer-run event. But it can only be so if enough people volunteer, and people will only volunteer if they feel part of the process and if they care enough about the convention to want it to be a success. And that brings us back to the whole graying of fandom issue once again. We have to reach out, we have to recruit, otherwise we die.
My photos of the event are available below. I have very little video but I may add some later.