Worldcon 2011: Renovation

This past weekend was the 69th annual World Science Fiction Convention, though that name hardly does it justice. It’s far too small to represent the world and sci-fi only comprises a portion of the attendee interest. It also hosts the Hugo Awards for the best — or most popular, depending on who you talk to — science fiction and fantasy of the previous year. My convention experience has been limited to an X-Files convention I went to as a kid for my birthday, one Nova Albion, and two San Diego Comic-Cons, so I had absolutely no idea what I’d be walking into. Now that I’m home, I’m still not entirely sure what to make of it, but I know I had fun and cannot wait for Chicon 7.

There are several things that made Worldcon different from other conventions, the most noticable being the attendee age range. Comic-Con, which generally attracts an audience old enough to remember when Thundercats was on the air but young enough to have only listened to disco ironically (not to mention kiddies galore on Sunday). Worldcon, on the other hand, was populated mostly by middle-agers and seniors, with a smattering of twentysomethings for good measure. There were very few children, and most seem to be there solely by virtue of their parents not having babysitters. Maybe the age gap rests in less-than-stellar advertisement, maybe because it’s such a long-running con (every adult older than me — of which there were plenty — had attended for several years in a row, often decades at a time), and maybe because of the nature of the con itself.

That last point was the most disappointing aspect for me. I’m a huge moving pictures fanatic. I live for the stuff. Yes, I read a lot, but I watch television and movies A LOT. My Netflix queue is nothing but TV shows, movies I was too much of a frugal old woman to pay $15 for, and Buster Keaton DVDs. And Worldcon didn’t offer me anything except some kids movies, a few anime, and some shorts which were shunted off into the darkened, virtually abandoned corners of the convention center. Not that every con needs to be as Hollywood as Comic-Con, but to outright ignore the small and silver screens felt a bit elitist.

The costumes were also more interesting than other cons. If on Friday and Saturday you weren’t dressed in historically accurate Regency wear or historical-accurate shunning Steampunk you were the odd one out. Wildly successful published authors were approachable and pleasant; no one sat in their ivory tower or refused to talk to a fan. Hell, there were at least three con-related weddings. But mostly it came down to the subtle difference that people at Comic-Con love the spectacle of the convention while people at Worldcon love the people at Worldcon. At the former, you attend panels for the celebrity sightings and “firsties” cred. At the latter, you attend to see old friends, make new ones, and hang out with wonderfully creative people.

I attended some fascinating panels (expect a For Writers recap in the offing), and met some truly amazing people (there was nary a fight or asshat in sight). The con was small enough that by Friday I couldn’t walk the halls without getting stopped for chats by at least five people, though to be completely honest, some of that had to do with people recognizing me from the panels I was on. Introducing yourself to your seatmate on the shuttle, the person next to you at the panel, or behind you in line is standard op. And every single person was brimming with niceness and excitement. I don’t think I could ever attend Comic-Con without accompaniment because no one mingles there, but the only times I was lonely at Worldcon was in my big, garish, en-mirrored hotel room.

The thing about Reno, Nevada is that it’s a very strange little place. It has a long and storied history full of quirks, eccentricities, and downright creepiness. It’s isolated yet vaguely connected, depressing yet engaging, frowzy yet unique. All of which makes it the perfect setting for Worldcon. What are geeks if not random pockets of interconnected weirdos passionate about their anomalous cultural communities who do what they love while both forsaking outsider scrutiny and commercializing on their oft-mocked behavior? Reno and nerds have far more in common than I think either would care to admit.

To see pictures from Worldcon, click here. Also, Ian Tregillis is made of win and awesomeness.

Panelist Recommendations (in no particular order)

  • Last Call – Tim Powers
  • George R. R. Martin’s Wildcard series
  • Works Progress Administration’s 1935-1942 Federal Writers’ Project state guide books (48 in total)
  • And the Devil Will Drag You Under – Jack Chalker
  • Witch’s Business (aka Wilkins’ Tooth), The Time of the Ghost, Deep Secret, and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland – Diana Wynne Jones
  • Dangerous Visions – edited by Harlan Ellison
  • Castle Waiting – Linda Medley
  • Whipping Girl – Julia Serano
  • Venus Plus X – Theodore Sturgeon
  • The Fortunate Fall – Raphael Carter
  • Master of the Five Magics – Lyndon Hardy
  • Sanderson’s First Law
  • Vellum and Ink – Hal Duncan
  • Small Gods – Terry Pratchett
  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin
  • The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Magicians and The Magician King – Lev Grossman
  • Bitter Seeds – Ian Tregillis
  • Moxyland and Zoo City – Lauren Beukes
  • Writing the Other: A Practical Guide – Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward
  • Fangland – John Marks
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch
  • I Am Not a Serial Killer and A Night of Blacker Darkness – Dan Wells
  • Stormlight Archive wiki
  • Magic, Inc. – Robert A. Heinlein
  • Shades of Milk and Honey – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Little, Big – John Crowley

Alex Brown is an archivist by passion, reference librarian by profession, writer by moonlight, and all around geek who watches entirely too much TV. She is prone to collecting out-of-print copies of books by Evelyn Waugh, Jane Austen, and Douglas Adams, probably knows far too much about pop culture than is healthy, and thinks her rats Hywel and Odd are the cutest things ever to exist in the whole of eternity. You can follow her on Twitter if you dare.


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