Worldcon 75 & Helsinki

This post is almost two months late. I could never quite think of what I wanted to say in it, and I didn’t try very hard. Thinking about how I needed to write this up first stopped me posting other things. So it’s all been on big mess of procrastination. But I’m here now, and I’m gonna write some stuff about my holiday – though it’s likely to be more broad-strokes than anything, after this long.

Worldcon

First up: I didn’t fall apart. I had worried about it, but I never really got to that point of frustration and anxiety that I had at my previous Worldcon. I suspect this is less of a personal improvement, and more getting used to failing at being social, and adjusting my expectations accordingly. I spent pretty much the entire con on my own again; I just didn’t get too bothered by it.

As for the con itself, apart from some first day hiccups where they had too many people and not enough space – I missed two or three panels on Thursday because the rooms were full – the content was great. It didn’t hit my specific buttons the way Nine Worlds content tends to, but there was a wide range of interesting stuff going on at all times, and there were only a few points where I found myself with nothing to do (which usually means it’s a chance to go eat).

Among the panels I attended were discussions of colonialism and orientalism, of representation in dystopias and in historical writing, of Lovecraft, and fairy tales, and musicals (the latter of which involved significantly less sing-along than the Nine Worlds equivalent). I attended talks by Ken Liu (on translation) and Jeff VanderMeer (on the adaptation of his novel Annihilation to film), and took part in the ASoIaF Quiz (which was far too difficult, alas, as it focused on pretty much everything except the main series novels or TV show).

It’s hard to be specific on these things when I’m writing about it so late, but I remember one of the highlights of the convention being the panel Oral Storytelling on Audio, which my last panel of the weekend, and was both informative and funny (largely due to some anecdotes from Mary Robinette Kowal).

The low point was probably the Fantastical Travel Guide panel, which attempted to get three authors to answer questions on the settings of their books as if they’re pitching them to tourists. Unfortunately the questions offered by the moderator didn’t quite seem to give the panelists much to work with, though they did their best. Anne Leinonen was very enthusiastically in-character to pitch her book, and Jeff VanderMeer, who seemed somewhat aware it wasn’t going well, at least was having some fun answering as Mord, the floating, giant, murderous bear from Borne (with multiple costume changes).

I attended the Hugo Awards ceremony again, and to be honest I found it a bit of a drag. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best way to watch the Hugos live is probably in private, with friends, so you can talk about it as it’s going on. The ceremony was also marred by some terrible live transcription, with frequent errors and sometimes entire chunks of speeches skipped after the scribe obviously lost track. I realise live transcription is a very difficult task, and most likely was being done by a volunteer, but I can’t imagine what it must have been like for anyone who had to rely on the text to follow the ceremony.

So Worldcon 75 was a positive experience, I don’t regret attending, but I ended it deciding that I probably won’t be attending the next one that comes close to home – Dublin in 2019 – unless I make new friends who I can attend with. It’s meant to be a social experience, after all, and I’m just no good at finding that side of it when I go in knowing no one.

Helsinki

Once Worldcon was pretty much wrapped up – I left a few hours before the actual end – I moved into a new hotel in the centre of Helsinki and started sightseeing. Helsinki Zoo, on Korkeasaari, is a short boat ride out of the centre and open late, and worth the visit if you like zoos – though you also need to like hiking up and down a very rocky island. I spent a couple of hours there on Sunday, tweeted a lot of photographs of animals, and then got caught out in the rain while we waited for the boat back.

On Monday, after picking up a two-day Helsinki Card (worth it, with the free transport and lots of museum entries), I went to the island fortress of Suomenlinna, which is a good way to fill up a whole day. There are a bunch of museums, including a German submarine you can walk through, as well as the islands themselves and all the old fortifications. I’m easily amused, so my favourite part was walking through the pitch black tunnels under the fortifications with only my phone flashlight to see by, though it doesn’t seem like the best thing to be letting unsupervised tourists do. Suomenlinna is usually the top listed attraction when you look up things to do in Helsinki, and rightly so.

(In a better world, I’d have arrived in Helsinki before Worldcon and signed up for the organised day trip to Suomenlinna. Alas, Nine Worlds being the weekend before meant I had to shift my sightseeing to after the con.)

Tuesday was meant to be “visit all the museums/churches” day. In reality, I had picked up a cold around Sunday and by Tuesday it’d gotten nasty. I managed to get through a few – the Natural History Museum, the Finnish National Museum, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (which, well, it turns out I don’t like contemporary art) – but by the time I got to the Ateneum gallery I was pretty damn sick. Since I couldn’t concentrate on looking around exhibits, I ended up going on a long walk around the south end of Helsinki instead. It turned out to be a great idea; the weather was great, my head cleared up, and I had some very nice ice cream. I ended the day with a boat tour of the islands (included in the aforementioned Helsinki Card) which may not have been my best decision, as having a cold and sitting on an open top boat with the wind blowing in your face for two hours isn’t the most pleasant experience. I must’ve looked like I was crying my eyes out.

I really enjoyed my stay in Helsinki – great place, great weather, lots to see and do. And I lost a lot of weight from all the walking I did (I have, alas, gained it all back since).

My trip home was a bit of a disaster, however, as a flight delay led to me spending five hours in Amsterdam Schiphol Airport waiting for my replacement connection. I didn’t get home until midnight, about six hours later than expected. But at least I got home.

The week after I got back from Helsinki, I spent a couple of days in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, which I’ve done five years in a row now. I saw some very good stuff this year, the best of which was probably Two Man Show by RashDash, which I highly recommend if the words “feminist exploration of masculinity through theatre and interpretive dance” appeal to you.

I don’t have many plans for more trips at the moment. I’m likely to return to Nine Worlds next year, though that may change if they change venues from London to Birmingham (to be announced soon, I believe). I’m likely to go back to Edinburgh, too. But I’m not sure if I’ll have a job next year, so I’m not sure when I’ll next go abroad for a trip.

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Nine Worlds 2017

I got back from Nine Worlds Geekfest yesterday, and before I get working on my packing for Worldcon – it’s tomorrow! Aah! – I thought I’d get down some brief thoughts about it, particularly given my last post.

This year went better than last year, I’d say. The content was mostly great again, but the main thing is that I managed to not fall down an anxiety rabbit hole again, managing it by just giving myself permission to go off to my room and do something on my own a couple of times. Though I still spent far too much time standing around awkwardly on my own, the folks at Nine Worlds are pretty friendly and welcoming. I got onto quiz teams at the beginning and end of the con, and spent a little more time gaming than I did last year.

I’m still terrible at eating properly and looking after myself while on holiday. I survived on the included breakfast in the morning and a Tesco meal deal in the afternoon, which isn’t exactly a balanced diet. I’m not sure what I’ll do in Helsinki – in Norway last year I managed, but would spend far too much time trying to convince myself to go inside restaurants for each meal. I’ll survive, I guess.

But overall it was pretty good this year. I think if I keep going I’m likely to get gradually more comfortable there – at least in part because I might start to feel like I know people. I’m not quite there yet, since I still managed to feel like an outsider whenever I was around other people. Whether I go again next year might depend a little on my employment situation, though. We’ll see.

Anyway, Worldcon 75 awaits! I’m curious how the culture of the two cons will contrast.

Anticipation

(This is a personal post.)

In little over a week, I’ll be setting out for a long month of events, starting with Nine Worlds Geekfest, followed immediately by Worldcon in Helsinki, and then a week later my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I’m excited and eager, but there’s one little bit of me wondering if it’s a bit too much.

The first convention I attended was Loncon3, the 2014 Worldcon in London. Overall it was pretty great, I enjoyed the panels and readings, but the whole thing was undercut with frustration at myself for not being able to socialise. I’m far too self conscious and uncomfortable to approach people I don’t already know, and I tend to end up staying isolated even among these big groups of people with presumably shared interests. I’m very grateful to Meg Frank, who generously showed me around and introduced me to a bunch of people at Worldcon, but even then I wasn’t really able to engage with people and didn’t feel comfortable approaching them again afterward.

The anxiety and frustration culminated in a bit of a breakdown in my hotel room on the last night, where I’d retreated after leaving the Hugo ceremony and finding I didn’t really know what to do with myself while everyone else was heading off to the various parties. I found myself venting on Twitter, which helped me calm down but wasn’t exactly a good idea.

The second convention I attended was Nine Worlds 2016. I loved Nine Worlds – it covers a very broad range of geeky interests, but comes at every part of it with a focus on inclusion, and the understanding you can love things and still be critical of them. It just ticked all my boxes as far as the programme content went, which is why I immediately bought a ticket to go again this year. But in between panels, I spent most of my time hanging around the edges, sitting alone watching everyone else. I managed to have some fun in the games room, but half my visits there still involved me standing around awkwardly for a few minutes then leaving. This disconnection from the other attendees wasn’t helped by having a hotel room ten minutes walk away. Once again, the con ended with me falling apart back in my room and venting on Twitter.

(I should probably be embarrassed at myself for those tweet threads, but somehow I’m not? I still don’t know if I was attention-seeking or just thinking out loud.)

Which brings me to next month. My third and fourth conventions, back to back. I’m really looking forward to it, and I expect to enjoy it a lot – I’m not really anxious, at the moment. But I think back on those two nights, the hour or so I let myself fall apart each time, and I wonder. What is it going to be like for me, going through that not for 3 or 4 nights but for two long weekends in a row? I don’t see any reason why I should struggle with it now, but I was hardly having a rational reaction the other times it happened. I honestly don’t know if this will get to me again on the same level, or possibly worse.

Overall I expect to enjoy the experience, I just feel like I’ll be going into it constantly anticipating those anxiety-induced tears.

(I guess I’m lucky I only get anxiety, and not depression.)

The Hugo Awards 2014

So the Hugo Awards were handed out on Sunday, and I was there for the ceremony. Despite some of the controversy about the shortlist – which I’ve spoken about before but won’t go into now – the results were pretty pleasing.

Ancillary Justice continued its clean sweep of the major awards – it has now won Hugo, Clarke, Nebula, BSFA, Locus, and Kitschie Awards, was shortlisted for the Philip K Dick award, and made the Tiptree Award Honors List. It’s pretty much the most successful novel ever published in the genre in terms of award wins. And there’s a sequel out soon, so expect to see that making a pretty big splash.

I was very happy to see John Chu and Mary Robinette Kowal take home awards for their stories, but I was a little more surprised by the Stross win – Equoid was a good story, but in my mind the category was between Cat Valente’s Six-Gun Snow White and Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages’ Wakulla Springs, and the panelists on Friday’s discussion of the short fiction ballot at Loncon3 had suggested the same. Looking at the full voting figures, it turns out Wakulla Springs wasn’t even close.

Kameron Hurley was a big success this year, taking home Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work for her essay “We ave Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative”. That essay may have also played a part in the victory of Aiden Moher’s A Dribble of Ink in the Best Fanzine category. As I said back in my post about my votes, I had been very uncertain of what the “best” work was in the Related Work category, because it’s so hard to compare the different things; but Hurley’s work is one I can get behind winning the award.

Going through the full statistics is one of the more interesting parts of the Hugo Awards announcements; it’s always enlightening to see the actual numbers behind the results. Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form was always going to draw my eye, as I like to spot where the Doctor Who votes go as each entry is eliminated. “The Name of the Doctor”, among the worst episodes (that nevertheless made it onto the ballot), received the fewest votes for 1st place and ultimately ranked 5th. Interesting to note that of the 83 who ranked it 1st, 50 ranked “The Day of the Doctor” 2nd, and 6 listed no other preference after this one episode. Most of the votes for “The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot” similarly went to “The Day of the Doctor” or “An Adventure in Space and Time” when it was eliminated. The key here, though, is that it looks like almost as many people ranked Game of Thrones below their first choice Doctor Who item; that and the 2nd place votes of half the Orphan Black fans kept “The Red Wedding” in the lead.

The nomination details can be pretty interesting too; not only can you see what almost made it (The Shining Girls, Locke & Key, and Joey Hi-Fi were very close to the ballot in their respective categories), you also get to see just how low the bar is for nomination. While it takes about 100 nominations or more to get onto Best Novel, the Short Story that went on to win the award had only 43 nominations. All but one of the Best Graphic Story nominations received less than 40 noms (Saga was miles ahead with 164). And fully half of the Dramatic Presentation, Short Form list received less than 50 nominations. (The really awful Doctor Who Christmas special, “The Time of the Doctor”, was itself only 3 nominations short of the ballot, at 35.)

And looking at these numbers, I actually feel encouraged. Not because it’s a good thing they’re low, but because it means that the things that got onto the ballot that maybe weren’t very good, well, they actually weren’t that popular in the first place. It takes surprisingly little to get something on the shortlist, but once on there, it’s quality that tends to win out, as the wins for Ancillary Justice and “The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere” show. So I find myself wanting to keep taking part, and to encourage others to do so. I want to be one of those numbers, to bring the numbers required upward, and in so doing maybe to help make what’s on the ballot better reflect what’s good in the genre*.

I have nominating rights to next year’s Hugos, as a member of Loncon3. I might decide to buy a supporting membership to Sasquan, so that I can vote on the awards and also for Helsinki to host in 2017. Whatever I decide, I will be taking part on some level next year.

* I realise I sound like I’m trying to prescribe what other people should like, here. I don’t intend to fault people for enjoying what they enjoy; I just think it’s possible, for example, to like Doctor Who while acknowledging that it’s pretty often badly written and not on the same level as other eligible works. I enjoy watching Doctor Who; I just don’t think it’s great television.

Loncon3 – Saturday

I started today off with the Stroll with the Stars again, where I once again didn’t really talk to anyone. The walk wasn’t so great either, since today’s route was largely along streets and through housing estates. Oh well.

My first stop after the walk was a reading by Aliette de Bodard. She read from a novel about fallen angels and magic which was dark and interesting, and the longest piece I’ve heard at a reading so far. After that was the panel Imaginative Resistance, which was all about the kinds of subject matter that challenge and provoke the reader, and the types of things the panelists were or were not willing to write about. It was a pretty interesting discussion that touched on sex and violence and on just other difficult subjects they had approached.

After grabbing lunch, the second panel was Being a Fan of Problematic Things. I enjoyed this one, it was a very interesting and wide ranging discussion on problematic issues, on responses to problematic elements in various works, and just that whole area. If the panel had one problem it was that for a lot of the first half hour the moderator did most of the talking, and a couple of the panelists barely got to say a word. Later on it opened up, though, and improved a lot. I stayed in my seat after that panel ended for the one immediately after, Feminism and Sexism in Fandom. Another good one, on a similar subject. (I feel a bit awkward toward this subject matter, because I’m very interested in these topics and want to support the issues, but don’t feel as a straight white male that I’m at all qualified to talk about them.)

That panel done, I had a quick snack and then I met up with someone who kindly took me on a whirlwind tour of the fan village introducing me to people; I appreciated the gesture, but me being me I mostly wound up feeling awkward and not knowing what to say to anyone. Ah well.

It was back to panels after that, with the Full Spectrum Fantasy panel. This one was on a pretty similar subject to the rest of the afternoon’s panels, talking about diversity, in this case focusing mostly on disability, class, and race. Once again, interesting things, lots of good points made.

The final panel I sat in on was How Superheroes and Superheroines are Changing in Comics. The title pretty much says everything here: it was about superhero comics and movies, what’s happening in them, the recent moves toward diversity, and good depictions of superheroes in other areas, like prose novels.

And other than dinner, that was pretty much it for my Saturday. There was a little bit more in there but I really don’t want to talk about it in blog form. On to tomorrow; I’ve still not decided if I will attend the Hugo Awards Ceremony.

Loncon3 – Friday

I write this while aching and sore from walking during the day and standing up for the last two hours.

My second day here at Worldcon started (after a disappointing breakfast) with the Stroll with the Stars, a short walk around the area near the convention. I enjoyed the walk, but didn’t speak to a single person there, which is pretty typical of me. The Stroll kind of fell apart near the end when it reached a set of statues dedicated to polo; most of the group stopped to look, some kept going, and then people trickled off a few at a time. I was one of those, as I wanted to get to my first panel.

That panel was Don’t Tell Me What To Think: Ambiguity in SF and Fantasy, which was fairly interesting. I had an early lunch there, then went on to the next panel, A Reader’s Life During Peak Short Fiction. I mentioned that I was going to this in an earlier post, and it was pretty good. The discussion was all about the markets that exist for short fiction in different formats, how that has changed, where it might go; it touched on the difficulty of finding the best stories for awards, anthologies, or best of lists, and how if you get a group of people, even those who read a large amount of short fiction, often you’ll find there’s little overlap in what they’ve read, because of the sheer size of the market right now. All pretty interesting. It also made me think again on that whole subject of supporting free fiction venues – I mentioned in that older post how my reading stories in Pocket is probably bad for the publishers.

Immediately after that, I ran downstairs to try to catch the last 5 minutes of Lauren Beukes’ signing slot, but they were already switching to the next group. So I went back upstairs to the Writing SF/F in Non-Western Modes panel. This was probably my favourite panel of the day, discussing culture, types of story, language, and just all that kind of thing. Entertaining,  enlightening,  all those words you say when you talk about something like this.

For the rest of the afternoon, I was pretty much chasing signatures. I attended Lauren Beukes’ reading, and though I’d read the book it is still interesting to hear the Q&A stuff, and afterwards she kindly signed my books. Then it was time for Elizabeth Bear in the official signing slots, so I got the full Eternal Sky trilogy signed (having picked up Steles of the Sky in the dealer’s room earlier, along with a bunch of new releases). Queuing for that meant I missed the next round of panels, so I didn’t do much for a while. I dropped most of my very heavy bag of books back at my hotel, then had a bite to eat – and for once not just a sandwich.

Jeff VanderMeer’s reading was next. He read some excerpts from Authority, and told a bunch of funny anecdotes about the absurd stuff from his past workplaces that have informed his fiction. After that he did a quick signing in the hall outside – I felt a bit awkward having a pile of 4 books when most of the other half-dozen or so people had only one or two. (I had brought 3 with me, but then Acceptance, which isn’t out officially until September, was on sale in the dealer’s room.)

My final Friday panel was on the 2014 Hugos Short Fiction ballot. This was a fairly interesting panel, talking about all of the Novella, Novelette, and Short Story nominees. Of course it touched on the Correia/Day thing, but mostly the panelists talked about what did and didn’t work in the stories themselves. For the most part what the panelists had to say agreed generally with my own feelings on the ballot (everyone seems very enthusiastic about John Chu’s The Water That Falls On You From Nowhere), so maybe some of my enjoyment of the panel came because it was confirming my own biases.

Finally, there was the Welcome Party. This consisted of a very crowded, very loud tent full of people chatting about stuff. I spent about an hour and a half talking to several other fans about all kinds of things, ranging from the Hugo Awards, to Night Vale, to Doctor Who, to Scottish independence. It was a fun end to the night; I enjoyed myself (despite my mouth being perpetually dry from having to talk so loudly over the crowd the whole time).

So, all in all not a bad day. Now that all my books are signed I’ll be spending more time in panels, and I’ll be posting all about that tomorrow.

Loncon3 – Thursday

Hello! I am now in London, for my second trip of the week. This time I’m attending Loncon3, the 2014 World Science Fiction Convention.

Today was a pretty light day for activity, because it takes 4 hours to get to London by train. I took that as an opportunity to read half of Elizabeth Bear’s Shattered Pillars, because after finishing Range of Ghosts on Tuesday I just couldn’t resist moving straight on to the next one.

I got to my hotel by the convention centre at 2pm, which didn’t leave me all that much time to see things. After getting my badge from registration I did some wandering around the halls, and didn’t keep track of time enough to hit a 3pm panel. I wound up in the games tent for a quick game of Pandemic instead (we lost). What I did then have time for, by sacrificing the chance to have a full sit-down meal, was a 4.30 panel, Ideology vs Politics in Science Fiction, which was pretty interesting.

That’s all I managed at the con today, though. After the panel I grabbed a quick sandwich and headed off on the tube to Leicester Square, because I had a ticket to see Book of Mormon. I’m still not convinced I should have spent so much on a single show, particularly coming back from the much cheaper Edinburgh Fringe, but the show was good and I enjoyed it a lot.

Tomorrow, my con starts for real. I’m still trying to talk myself into the Stroll with the Stars first thing, but I’m not sure I can get over my fear of talking to people I don’t know. (I have similar thoughts regarding the Welcome Party on Friday night, but that’s farther away and I’m able to not think about it much.) I will be attending a lot more other stuff, though, and will post another update.