Anticipation: Day 1 #worldcon09

Today was relatively lightly loaded. It started off with a Masquerade team meeting over breakfast at Eggspectation. We were then supposed to set up the Masquerade desk in the registration area, but this took a while and in the meantime I managed to get registered and pick up a bit of gossip.

The con seems to be going fairly well. I was a bit worried when I saw that they were printing badges at Registration, but the system worked smoothly and the lines were fairly small. The program schedule is rather confusing, with overlapping time slots, and Program Ops doesn’t appear to have any runners to keep panels to time, but so far nothing appears to have gone badly wrong.

My first panel was at 2:00pm, and I ended up moderating it as two of the panelists were late. It was on handling the mainstream media, and it went fairly well. The panelists all had good expertise, and people had sensible, constructive points to make from the audience. You may be able to hear the whole thing online as it was recorded by the Thru The Wormhole guys, of whom I will have more to say over on

One of the highlights of the show so far is the giant steampunk robot that can be found near the art show. I have a picture here. I haven’t been into the Art Show or Dealers’ Room yet, but they look fairly small.

Kevin and I have survived out first day of WSFS duties. Today was the meeting of the Mark Protection Committee which formally accepted and approved the report of the Hugo Marketing Committee. This is a good thing, and it means that Hugo marketing in moving forward.

And finally, I have indulged in a little Feminist activism. More of that in the next post.

El Worldcon Habla Español

Worldcon is starting to get extended coverage in various media. The convention’s press team is keeping track of it all here. I was particularly pleased by the extended coverage that we got from Sitio de Ciencia-Ficción, a Spanish-language web site. It has been obvious for some time from the links we get to the Hugo web site that there is a lot of interest in SF in Spanish-speaking countries, but it is always nice to see it in action again.

All of which reminds me that I need to nudge you folks about again. We are now up to 35 reporters, but we can always take more. After Miguel Esquirol Ríos’s excellent coverage I would really like to get more Spanish-speakers on board. And I want more countries. We don’t have anyone from Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Scandinavia or Japan. I know people from those countries are going to the convention. Surely some of them must be blogging.

Working on a Schedule – #worldcon09

Now that we have a provisional program available I have been working on where I need to be when at Worldcon. The trusty iPhone is coming into its own here, because I can put all of my appointments in its calendar. I have also been totting up how busy I will be. My total commitments currently look like this:

  • Thursday : 5.5 hours
  • Friday: 9.0 hours
  • Saturday: 10.5 hours
  • Sunday: 9.0 hours
  • Monday: 3.0 hours

The breakdown of activities is like this:

  • Program participant: 11.5 hours
  • Staff jobs: 6.5 hours
  • WSFS Business: 8 hours
  • Working for SFAW: 5 hours
  • Attending panels: 6 hours

The SFAW work would have been a lot more had Anticipation not scheduled several award ceremonies opposite each other on Saturday, and scheduled me on a panel in the middle of that.

As you can see, I won’t get to see much of the program myself. I’m particularly disappointed that I am scheduled on a panel of my own opposite the International Fandom panel, but so it goes. No program schedule is perfect.

Of course this is by no means all I will be doing. It doesn’t include any mealtime meetings except the Masquerade Team breakfast on Thursday. I expect I’ll end up with a few lunch or breakfast meetings. It also doesn’t include parties. I’ll be expected to turn up at the Hugo Losers Party on Sunday; and there’s the Dead Dog on Monday, which is normally invaluable for getting material for the con report. And of course I will want to make time to take a look around the Dealers’ Room and Art Show. It also doesn’t include time for blogging, interviewing people and so on.

So if I end up exhausted by Monday night you’ll know why.

The Program Has Landed – #Worldcon09

Anticipation has published a draft program schedule (two whole weeks before the convention is due to start – good going!). The draft convention guide is available online here (it is a 7.2Mb PDF so I’ve linked to the main programming page, not the document). This is somewhat provisional as last minute changes are still seeping through (I’m still listed on an item I asked to be taken off because of my Masquerade duties), but it should give you a good idea of what will be on offer and who will be on panel.

One program item I want to get to (though it is going to result in a very busy Friday afternoon) is this one:

International Awards Spotlight – Putting The “World” Back In “Worldcon”!
Julie E. Czerneda, Eric Gauthier, Emma Hawkes, Eric Picholle, Nir Yaniv, Brian Hades, Tamie Inoue, Jeanne-A Debats, Frédérick Durand
While the Hugos are the centrepiece of the Worldcon, and the Auroras of Canvention, there are many other awards given the world over for science fiction literature and media…

While I’m on the subject of things on the Anticipation web site, Masquerade Registration is now live. If you intend to compete, please fill this in now, it will save so much time at the convention.

My #Worldcon Schedule

Things seem to be coming together for Montreal. This is a preliminary schedule, because other people may have issues that cause things to move, but we’ve been through one round of changes so hopefully this is close to firm.

Thu 14:00 – Don’t Main the Streams?
How does the mainstream media report on the world of SF? How is SF perceived, how can it be covered well, and what fandom can do to get its story across?

(Sam, Damien, Kate, Mike and anyone else I’ve forgotten who writes for mainstream newspapers, I’d love to hear your views on this.)

Fri 14:00 – The Future of Gender
From contraceptives to computers, is technology undermining traditional gender roles and if so where is this taking us?

Fri 20:00 – Future Sport
Yet more commercialism, leagues and spectator culture? Or is that merely a distraction from the growing number of guerrilla sports, hobbyist groups, and people who think ironing on a mountain top is a sport?

Sat 14:00 – Greatest Fan Writer Besides Me
Best Fan Writer Hugo 2009 nominees recommend the fan writers that you should read and why you should read them. An excellent introduction to the current fan writing scene.

(This is one of those panels that cries out for a list of web links to be published afterward. I will be suggesting that to my fellow panelists.)

Sat 18:00 onwards – Masquerade
I’ll be backstage helping the show run and doing video interviews with some of the costumers.

Sun 14:00 – Private Passions: The Many Interests of Neil Gaiman
Neil Gaiman talks about the many things that interest him.

Yes, I am introducing Neil’s GoH speech. Can I say how totally stoked I am about this? Woo hoo!

Sun 18:00 onwards – Hugo Awards Ceremony
I’ll be covering the whole event, including the pre-ceremony reception. Right now it looks like I’ll just be tweeting because of lack of wi-fi, but I’ll arrange for someone to be “in the studio” as well.

I have one other possible panel, but I’m not sure I will be able to make time for it. I haven’t listed other participants yet because I’m not certain that they will all be available.

Also Attending

One of the perennial complaints about Worldcon is that there is no point in going because they have so few guests. This is, of course, a misunderstanding arising from the different use of the word “guest” at different conventions. Anticipation’s PR#4 has just been released (you can download a copy here) and I’m pleased to see that they have released an “also attending” list of over 130 writers, artists, editors and media people who will be at the convention. Some of these are new to the business, or write in French, and so won’t necessarily be familiar to you, but here are some highlights:

Ben Bova, David Brin, Charles Brown, Pat Cadigan, Ellen Datlow, Cory Doctorow, Scott Edelman, Esther Friesner, Marc Gascoigne, Donato Giancola, Laura Anne Gilman, Karen Haber, Joe & Gay Haldeman, Janis Ian, Hiroaki Inoue, Guy Gavriel Kay, James Patrick Kelly, John Kessel, Mary Robinette Kowal, Nancy Kress, Donald Kingsbury, Jay Lake, Geoffrey A Landis, David D Levine, Kelly Link, Sean McMullen, Farah Mendlesohn, Steve Miller, L E Modesitt Jr., Larry Niven, G David Nordley, John Picacio, Mike Resnick, Geoff Ryman, Robert J Sawyer, Stanley Schmidt, Karl Schroeder, Gord Sellar, Josepha Sherman, Robert Silverberg, Melinda Snodgrass, Charles Stross, Michael Swanwick, Cecilia Tan, Amy Thomson, Jo Walton, Robert Charles Wilson, John C Wright.

You can find the whole list on page 57 of the progress report, and it is now out of date because people keep on joining. You can, I think, add Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Daryl Gregory, Anne Harris, John Scalzi, Ann VanderMeer, Connie Willis and Gary K Wolfe to that list. There are also a lot of top class academics attending this year, which I’m very pleased about.

Apologies to anyone I’ve missed out, but the basic message here is, you don’t get that sort of guest list at just any convention.

Montreal: Eating, Tourism, Supplies

As we had a few hours before Kevin needed to leave for the airport we took walk around the city. It was very productive. I have a lot of photos. Meanwhile here are some highlights.

The breakfasts at Eggspectation continue to be awesome.

The archaeological museum, Pointe-à-Callière, will be having an exhibition about pirates during Worldcon.

Old Town (Vieux-Montreal) is well worth a visit. There’s a long stretch of Rue Saint-Paul where every second or third shop is a restaurant. We found a Polish restaurant, a Portuguese restaurant, several places that advertised good beer and so on. Really, it is hard to go hungry here.

After that we checked out the IGA grocery store just up the road from the Holiday Inn. It has everything you need for party supplies, and if the order is over CA$50 they’ll deliver for CA$4.75. It also happens to back on to a large shopping mall with a big SAQ (government liquor store) if you don’t like the wines and beers in IGA.

There are also several small grocery stores in Chinatown.

The short version is that Montreal is starting to look like a really good Worldcon venue.

Kevin has his own assessment here.

Hugo Voting Package Released

While we were in the Anticipation committee meeting someone else was sending out emails to members informing them that the Hugo voter packages are available. The message doesn’t say what is in it, though I gather from a tweet we caught that Anathem is not included. Scalzi hasn’t posted anything, last I looked. I don’t fancy trying to download it on the fairly slow connection in the hotel here, or on mobile broadband back in the UK, so I probably won’t get a copy until Friday. Hopefully I’ll find out what is in it before then.

Montreal – Getting There #worldcon

I was too tired last night to do a proper post, so here’s a quick recap of the arrival at Montreal.

Firstly I was very impressed with Air Canada. Their flights from the UK are very conveniently timed, their have the best in-flight entertainment system I have yet seen, and the food was edible. Of course despite there being 20+ movies available there still wasn’t much I wanted to watch. The categorization was a bit odd too. Why is Citizen Kane “contemporary” rather than “classic”? Why is a TV documentary about Jean d’Arc “nature/science” rather than “history”? And with echoes of AmazonFail, Milk was hidden away in “avant garde” (which appeared to be a category for any movie with explicit sexual themes – Doubt was there too).

In addition to having edible food, quite a rarity for airlines, Air Canada served us a snack dish was was essentially a lamb pasty. It was a more convenient shape for packing than the Cornish thing, and the packaging claimed it was traditional Savoyard food. It was a good idea for serving on a plane.

Customs and immigration at Montreal were very easy. There is a little form to fill in, but there are no silly questions about genocide and you don’t need a visa if you are coming from the EU or USA. Montreal is clearly a busy tourist city as the baggage area had plenty of guide pamphlets available (Quoi faire en Montreal?) Apparently it is the 40th anniversary of John & Yoko’s sleep-in, which took place here. I am tempted to try to emulate them, but the food is very good so I think we’ll go out.

The taxi to our hotel was CA$38, so quite reasonable if there is more than one of you. However, there are apparently buses that are cheaper. Robbie Bourget and John Harrold were on the flight with me and they took the bus in to get to meetings while I hung around waiting for Kevin’s flight to arrive.

The Holiday Inn Select appears to be very nice. We have a fabulous room thanks to Kevin being a platinum member of their loyalty program. I shall take some pictures later, but Kevin has just woken up so it is time to check out the shower and get breakfast.

Liveblogging Test Post Mortem

The test with CoverItLive that I ran yesterday worked reasonably well, but it did highlight an issue with speed of posting from Twitter. The tweets that Kevin and I did through our accounts normally posted fairly quickly, but anything with one of the listed hashtags in it was very slow to post.

For Montreal this is no problem. What we want is to capture the thoughts of meeting attendees while they are in the city. That doesn’t need to be live. On the other hand, for things live the Hugo coverage we’ll probably want to do without importing everyone’s tagged tweets anyway because that would clog up the show.

So the plan for the weekend remains to create an event that we keep open, mainly to collect tweets from people in Montreal, but also for you to post questions. Kevin and I will try to do a live Q&A at some point, but as we won’t know our schedule until we get there we can’t advertise a time for that just yet.

By the way, I know I haven’t created a specific web site for this stuff yet. I am looking closely at Drupal because it appears to be the best solution for what I want to do, but I’ve not used it before so it will take me a while to get up to speed.

21st Century Worldcons

I promised in my last post on Worldcon that I would have a bit more to say about how the convention can be made more appealing using modern communication technology. This is that post. However, before I get started on the tech stuff I’d like to put the discussion into its historical context.

In the very early days of Worldcon it was an event that covered most of fandom, because fandom was very small. Indeed, I understand that it wasn’t until 1960 that it was deemed necessary to limit voting in the Hugo Awards to WSFS members. I’m not sure why supporting memberships and progress reports were invented, but it seems entirely reasonable that a supporting membership should have been for the benefit of people who wanted to be part of WSFS and Worldcon, but who could not afford to attend the convention every year. Remember that travel was much more expensive in those days. Equally we can see progress reports as an obvious application of 20th Century fan communication technology to the problem of transmitting information and maintaining community. Conventions needed their own fanzines, so they were invented. As fandom grew, techniques were put in place to help hold it together.

Unfortunately, as time has passed, various parts of fandom have ossified. The folks who call themselves “Core Fandom” believe that true fandom is composed of people who still read and write paper fanzines; and the people who attend Worldcon most years believe that they are the real science fiction fandom, and that everyone else is “not part of our community”. In parallel science fiction has gradually taken over mainstream culture to such an extent that the number of people who call themselves fans is truly vast, and fandom is a genuinely global phenomenon. To some extent this doesn’t matter. If Corflu only attracts 200 people that’s not a problem, and the attendees are probably happier that way. But something that calls itself the World Science Fiction Convention, and is the home of the Hugo Awards, cannot be allowed to become the preserve of a small group of old, rich white (and predominantly male American) fans. Worldcon and the Hugos are too important to vanish into a geriatric ghetto. Fortunately Worldcon can revitalize itself by engaging with the wider fannish world.

Back in the 20th Century, if you could not attend Worldcon then you could at least buy a supporting membership and get the progress reports and souvenir book. You could also vote in the Hugos. That way you still felt part of the process. But obviously you could not be there. 21st Century communications technology is beginning to blow away the tyranny of distance and make events accessible in ways never before imagined, except in science fiction. Some of the technology is still quite new, but we are science fiction fandom: we are overflowing with tech nerds and early adopters. If we can’t make this work, no one can.

The starting point has to be the actual experience of the convention. Back in the 20th Century, people wrote con reports for their fanzines. I have done a few myself. Nowadays we are all citizen journalists, and we can all report live from the convention. People have been blogging conventions for several years, but I expect Montreal to be the first Worldcon that is widely tweeted. Twitter brings an immediacy and ease to reporting that blogging doesn’t have. It is dead easy to be sat in a panel with your phone and tweet. People who can’t attend the con will pick people to follow (Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow are all prolific twitterers), or they may use one of the many services and search engines available to follow anyone using the #worldcon tag. The atmosphere of the convention (and its 24/7 lifestyle) will be available online for all to see.

If I were in charge at Montreal what I’d be doing is getting hold of Apple, Google or a local mobile phone company and asking for a loan of a few iPhones or G1 phones for the duration of the convention so that key people can tweet the con. Neil Gaiman already has a phone from Google so they’d be a good target. Hopefully other guests would agree to tweet too, and actually the con chairs would be good tweeters. Once the con gets going, aside from chairing the morning staff meeting and some official functions, the con chairs should have very little to do except wander round and see how things are going. (Well, that’s what Kevin tells me anyway, and he’s been there.)

There are other forms of instant reporting available as well. The live reporting of the Hugos that I did last year was great fun and I’d love to do that on a regular basis, preferably without having to worry about whether I’ll have connectivity on the day, or about being thrown out by an angry Hugo Administrator. The technology has improved quite a bit since last year, including the ability to import Twitter feeds. As it appears that I get to go to the pre-ceremony reception, I should be able to report live from there as well as from the ceremony. The same technology can be used to report on other events. Indeed, if it were down to me I’d have used it to announce the nominees. It would have turned a fairly low profile press release into a major online media event.

Con reports will still happen, of course, but the simple blog or fanzine article no longer cuts the mustard. Armed with a cheap personal video recorder such as a Flip, and with YouTube as our friend, we are all TV crews looking for a story. Last year my Worldcon video diary comprised an interview with John Picacio about his art show exhibit, and a number of behind-the-scenes interviews with costumers. It made my day when someone from Australia wrote and thanked me, saying that it was almost like being there.

Ideally I would like to see Worldcon committees take an active part in all this. Traditionally the convention newsletter is only for the people attending the convention, but recently Worldcons have started posting them online as they are published. There is no reason why they can’t do more. There are plenty of fans who enjoy reporting on conventions – why not recruit a few of them and at least publish links to their work on the main Worldcon web site? (As I recall, Noreascon 4 did some of this back in 2004.)

But that should only be the start. And at-con involvement should only be the end point. Current Worldcon web sites are very 20th Century and Web 1.0. If they have any interactivity that tends to be done in a separate LiveJournal community (and you know I think LiveJournal may become another of those fannish ghettos that will eventually become outmoded but the people who love it will stay and claim to be the “real” science fiction fandom). There is no need to be so hidebound. For the 2009 World Fantasy convention I built the web site in WordPress. Members can actually ask questions and leave comments. I gather that some old time fans were utterly horrified by this, but so far it is working fine.

Equally there are some conventions that run entirely online. The Australians have been doing this for some time, because their country is huge and far from anywhere. Last weekend there was an event called FlyCon. It was an entirely online convention, run using a hodge-podge of available technology including LiveJournal and IRC chats. I spent a little time in it, and it appeared to be drawing a fair amount of interest. There were panels, there were author chats, and there was even a “dealers’ room” on LiveJournal where people could go and post ads for their products. The convention ran 24/7 with people checking in from all around the world. I went and kicked some Brazilians and encouraged them to check in. I hope they had a good time.

Furthermore, Flycon was not the only virtual convention that happened last weekend. There were two of them. The other one was a comic convention that took place in Facebook – again a case of using available technology. That also apparently went very well. Both cons had “masquerades” that involved people posting pictures of themselves in costume.

One of the issues with such events appears to be the choice of technology. Flycon in particular used a wide range of different web sites and technologies, and I understand that there was a fair amount of frustration with people not being able to find things easily, or with the technology not working for them. I’ve attended a professionally run virtual conference, and those have issues too, but with a bit of effort I think such things can get a lot better. If I were running a virtual con the first thing I would do is make sure that it had its own web site, and that everything was accessible through that. I’d use IRC chat software for the con suite (I can’t understand why Flycon didn’t have one), but CoverItLive (the technology I used for the Hugo coverage) for panels. I’d want to run proper art shows and dealers’ rooms with the ability to buy things. There is a lot you could do with existing technology if you know what you are doing.

And then there is Second Life. Many authors have already done readings there. For all I know there may have been conventions there. The only reason that I haven’t got involved in it (other than that I can’t afford yet another time sink) is because none of my laptops have the necessary high-powered graphics cards required by the Second Life software.

Why should a Worldcon be interested in online conventions? It is all to do with the need to engage with people who can’t attend the convention. Remember, supporting memberships are for people who want to be part of the Worldcon experience but can’t afford to go to the actual convention. The 20th Century solution was the fanzine-like progress report. The 21st Century solution is the online mini-convention. Instead of (or as well as) pumping out static progress reports, or writing blog posts and waiting for comments, why not have key staff online once every few months to answer questions? Why not have the Guests of Honor do chat spots? The Aussiecon 4 folks are moving toward this with their regular blog news reports, but there is so much more that could be done.

And key to all of this is making the supporting membership worth something. For historical reasons the supporting membership fee has become tied in with the site selection process. Consequently Worldcons no longer see it as a means of expanding the community. Indeed, the need to send out souvenir books to supporting members after the convention is often seen as a chore that Worldcons have to be nagged into completing. Instead they see supporting memberships as a means of getting free money out of people who vote for a site but then can’t afford to attend because their chosen bid doesn’t win. It is a scam, and it gives Worldcon a very bad name, especially as it is the only way that people who can’t afford to attend the convention can get to vote in the Hugos.

I still think that the price of supporting memberships needs to come down so that they more accurately reflect the cost of what those members receive. However, if we can provide some online events prior to or during the convention that are available only to members then the supporting membership might start to look more worth the money. If nothing else I think Worldcons should do simple things like contests to win GoH-signed books that are only open to members. (Yes, I know this is a particular problem in Montreal, but most places don’t have Quebec’s weird laws.) The key is to see supporting members as people who are actually worth providing services for, rather than merely an irritation or a source of free money.

Of course all of this requires work. But guess what? Most of it doesn’t need to be done at the convention, or even by someone who is planning to attend the convention. Just like the audience, your online production staff can be anywhere in the world. That means you have a much bigger pool of potential staff to recruit from. The world is becoming an ever smaller place, and the tools to make Worldcon truly world-wide are out there. All we have to do is use them.

Busy Overnight

I’m delighted to see so much activity in comments on the Worldcon post overnight. Hopefully that will continue today. However, there is one thing that I wanted to raise. Many of the people commenting are still stuck in binary thinking, which in this case means the following:

Worldcon must stay exactly as it is. If any changes are made then Worldcon will become exactly like Dragon*Con or ComicCon (and the world will end).

This is silly. Few things life are either/or in that way. For Worldcon to survive it must have its own identity, distinct from that of other major conventions. In marketing speak, it needs a mission statement and it needs to know what its core values are. Hopefully I will have a post up about that today, but I want to run it past Kevin first and he’s asleep right now. In the meantime, please keep talking.