Hoooooo-kay. My first WordCon, Day One taught me a few things. First of all, waking up in excitement at 3am is not a good way to begin (so apologies for the inevitable typos and rambling). Also, I need to be far more organised, and while I want to get to absolutely everything, this won’t happen. Trying to attend multiple sessions simultaneously is . . .problematic. But more on that later.
First of all, a summary of how we got here.
The World Science Fiction Convention (don’t be fooled by the name; Fantasy, Horror, Steampunk, and a bunch of other genres are also represented) aka WorldCon 78 aka CoNZealand – was meant to be hosted by Wellington in New Zealand this year. Well, is still kind of is. CoNZealand is still running the business end, its just that we get to experience it digitally.
Now, there are pro’s and cons to this. My selfie with Toastmaster George RR Martin was a little different, for example:
But on the plus side, there are no queues, no-one judges you for having a gin in the middle of the day, and when a session isn’t quite what I’m after, it’s so simple to jump into another other and see what’s around. Also, I was able to sit in a bunch of different Discord servers and enjoy multiple conversations simultaneously. All from the comfort of my own home, with no travel costs.
There is a downside too. I like meeting people in person. I wanted to get some books signed. I just want to visit New Zealand and Hobbiton at some point. But even with all of that, and a few technical glitches, I’m a big fan of running the digital option at future cons. I hope future WorldCons have this feature.
But anyway, onto the Con Experience!
For the first few hours, I was fulfilling my volunteer duties as a roving moderator. Funnily enough, the first session of ‘Meditation for Trekkies’ didn’t result in any issues. What it did result some enlightenment on the Jewish history of the Vulcan salute. Apparently as a child, Nimoy saw a Rabbi make the symbols as part of a religious ceremony, and adopted it as part of his character.
As a whole, the meditation was a relaxing way to begin and set the tone for a great day.
Next on my schedule Future Laws. Now if the meditation put me in a relaxed mindset, the Future Laws panel gave me all the right kinds of headaches, dealing with difficult, knotty, and complex legal questions. Discussing questions of liability when it comes to AI and self-driving cars, the idea of cascading effects of precedent leading to legal conservatism, and tech companies leading the legal system in setting the expectations and responsibilities of tech. In short, it was fascinating.
Next was the opening ceremony, with a special appearance from one Jacinda Ardern:
And George pre-selfie talking about frogs, elephants, and potentially jumping out of a paper mache Kiwi (though it was unclear if this was a fruit, a bird, or a citizen of New Zealand).
One of the best parts was going through the design of the Retro and contemporary Hugos. The incorporation of navigation techniques, constellations, art styles and indigenous culture across the two designs made for stunning bases well and truly worthy of the Hugos.
One of the other best parts (there were many) were the winners of the First Fan awards. I didn’t even know these were a thing, but it’s a great concept. WorldCon runs on volunteers and fan communities, so acknowledging that is a nice touch. As a bit of a newbie to the community, I don’t know enough to give worthy and respectable run downs, so I’ll just list them below.
Hall of Fame: Roger Sims
Posthumous Hall of Fame: Chad Oliver
Sam Moskowitz Archive Award: John Carter Tibbetts
Big Heart Awards: Janice Gelb and Stephen Boucher
Well done to all!
I’ll also apologise for not listing the rest of the guests – if I did, I would pretty quickly run out of space! But they’re all awesome. And one of them has an Allosaurus skull, which as a former dino-nerd, was awesome.
Okay. Next item.
Welcome, New Professional Writers.
Now, this was great as a place to hear about writers who are the start of their careers and can tell us what we’re in for if/when the rest of us make it as authors. Photogenic pets are a must, and social media is a necessary evil.
My ‘photogenic’ requirements
But there was a bit of a distraction when an agent decided to offer advice in the chat. Not just any agent either, but Joshua Bilmes of JABerwocky, who is very high on many people’s query lists (including mine). In that sense, it became almost a duel session. New authors, and an experienced agent. Perfect mix for some really good advice.
But it also led me to the false belief that maybe, just maybe, I could attend multiple session. So I spent the next hour was spent trying to straddle the ‘What to expect when querying’ and ‘Who, what, when, and/or where inspired you’ panels. There was some good advice in both, and a very cool knife from Kaaron Warren in one of the sessions, but I should have learnt then that I would struggle to appreciate multiple sessions at once.
Spoiler: I didn’t.
The next two session, ‘Small Press: Leading the Way’, and ‘The Death of Genre’ were great, but I lost so much context and content from jumping between the two that it finally convinced me to stick to one.
That said, I did catch some great comments about the community of small publishers, the collaborative process, and the agility of small presses to adapt, simply by virtue of not having to alter the momentum of more staff, more processes, etc. It was also very interesting to hear about what work and what doesn’t, and how much that often depends on the engagement of the author in the process as well as the publisher knowing the audience and avenues to go through.
The Death of Genre panel was very much into the perception of stories – genre as a way to sell, as a way to label, and as a way to convey context to the reader. Personally, I’m not convinced genre is dead or meaningless at all, though it may be that genres as we understand them may need updating.
Other areas of discussion were how covers invoke ideas of genre, and which genres seemed to mix together nicely. In all, it was informative, I just wish I could have given my full attention to each panel.
So, having learned my lesson. . .I passed out at my computer. I won’t mention which panel it was, but it was a fantastic one that was very interesting. I was just exhausted. In my defence, I had woken up at 3am, and it was an intense first day. So I had a nap, waking just in time for the BEST PANEL OF THE DAY! ‘Representing the Other’.
This is a topic that is very much of interest to me. As someone who holds a lot of privilege purely through the luck of genetics, I’m always very cautious of writing other demographics. Knowing how to support marginalised communities without getting in the way or appropriating culture is very important to me, and hearing about ethical responsibilities, how and when to approach sensitivity readers, respecting the emotional labour of those sensitivity readers, and getting a bunch of book recommendations was awesome.
Considering I’m already at 1200 words, this is becoming a little less of a summary and more me tiredly blabbering about what a great time I had, so I’ll summarise the rest in a few lines;
Are we in a simulation: Consensus of ‘does it matter?’ and, ‘Yes, No, Maybe’. Also had me geeking out at all the philosophy talk.
Planning and Attending Conventions in the Age of COVID-19: Virtual has advantages, but misses the chance interactions and social side. VR and AR are at least 5 yrs out. Masks are good, but need to be thought through (taking lipreading into account, for example).
Then there was a party, but the best part about a virtual con was that while I can go to the bar, I can also do it while sitting in my tracky-dacks, at home, in the comfort of my own bed. Goodnight.