What's a Worldcon like?

[Mirrored with the author's permission from http://blaser.tzo.com/tcon/viewtopic.php?t=1344&postdays=0&postorder=asc&start=150, a now-vanished post to a Web message board that briefly existed for members of Torcon 3, the Toronto Worldcon. Please see also a similar essay by Leigh Ann "TrinSF" Hildebrand.]

From: Thirdworld Barbarian

Joined: 13 Aug 2003
Posts: 2
Location: South African in Mississippi USA

Posted: Thu Aug 14, 2003 2:55 am
Post subject: Hello Toronto fans

I am a South African living in Mississippi, USA, who will shortly drive up to Torcon 3 (around 20 hours) in your fine city. I am really looking forward to seeing more of Canada (visited Montreal before). I have a strong fondness for your country. I am also looking forward to meeting more Canadian fans, and sampling the local culture, foods (in a culinary backwater here) and attractions. I am as excited as a school child.

Seven other South Africans will join me at Torcon 3, one coming in from the UK and the rest coming in from South Africa. Those of you attending, look for our SFSA (Science Fiction South Africa) party on Saturday night (unless we find a better sublet ). Come taste some South African goodies and maybe swap fanzines and chat about how we all do things differently.

I am looking forward to meeting some of the folks I've come to e-know, and meeting some of the people that I have started friendships with. These people are from Scotland, Australia, England, Sweden, Norway and a host of other countries. I have also met fans from Russia, Japan, Poland, New Zealand, Germany and more.

You want another reason to come to Worldcon? I just gave you one. Where else can you meet fans from all over the world? Sure, you get one or two from time to time. In 98 a South African friend of mine attended Rivercon (USA), making the most of the huge expense of coming over to the USA from South Africa to attend the Worldcon in Baltimore (my first Worldcon!). To this day, when I meet folks from that convention, a sizable one from all accounts, they remember him by name. He was a one-man event. Not so at Worldcon, where fans from all over the world can be found.

Now I know that Toronto is one of the multicultural capitals of the world and you have a wide and diverse population (which I am very much looking forward to seeing), but how many of them are coming to your cons? Even then, ex-pats, like myself, are out of touch with fans back home. The Worldcon members are not merely folks from these countries; these are people in various forms of fandom, all forms.

But of course there is more to it than that. Canadian friends of mine lament the exchange rate to the dollar, but try our group for size. The South African Rand is 7.40 to the USD, 5.36 to the CAD. I see all of you talking about how Torcon 3 is so expensive, and how do you know it's worth it. Well ask yourself this; why would regular folks just like you, with moderate paying jobs, living in moderate neighbourhoods in South Africa, with kids-mortgages-car-payment, whole-kitten-caboodles, who can afford at best one Worldcon every five to ten years (if it's all they save for), come to a Worldcon?

In fact, of the nine South Africans who went to the Worldcon in Baltimore, only four could now afford to be at Torcon 3, despite the more-favourable (but still horrific) exchange rate to CAD. That is still a huge gap. Tell me how many events that cost under CAD300 you would not be able to afford, given years to save? Far, far more than my friends I can tell you.

It's even harder than I'm making it sound. Think of the equivalent of paying over a CAD1000 per night for hotels, CAD20 for a burger and CAD5000 for the flight. Think of 24 hours of travel time, dealing with jet lag and paying off bills for years afterwards, even if you did save.

My point is that if all of these South Africans, and all the fans from all over the world, some with even weaker currencies than ours, some whose first (or even second) language is not even English - think that a Worldcon is worth all that trouble, effort and expense, doesn't that also tell you something about the value of a Worldcon?

Okay, so maybe you are still unconvinced. Now I do several smaller cons year, but I hope never to miss the Worldcon ever again. It's just that freaking awesome (self-censoring here)! I'm open to correction from Alex or others here, but I think there will be over 170 guests (authors, artists, scientists, etc). It's a chance for autographs and awesome programming. Plus all of them (except GOH) will be there for the love of it and nothing more. I have met only one media star (actor) that was not in it as a business. Maybe I've just been unlucky with media folk, but at Worldcon you can find authors/legends who have no books in print and don't even benefit indirectly. Several I know of spend more than they benefit but they too love the Worldcon and you see them attending panels, parties and ceremonies. In fact the longest streak for continuous Worldcon attendance belongs to an author, (Robert Silverberg). I'm sure that media folk with the same attitude would be most welcome, as they are usually otherwise unaffordable.

There will be hordes of panels with a Canadian/Toronto theme, from what I've seen (I was on the programming brain trust, but only as a bit player proposing ideas with an international theme (you'd never have guessed that)). This will only happen while the Worldcon is in Canada.

There are writers groups where your writing can be critiqued by industry pros (I'm booked for one) and writers workshops that can keep you busy all Worldcon long. If your interests are in physics, astronomy, the Hubble telescope, Mars missions, space exploration, etc in the sciences, then you will curse the fact that you cannot split yourself into four. There will be programming tracks for children alone and other things to make it a family affair. Movies, anime and other media abound, and though I'd agree there could be more media at Worldcons, there is still more than I see at most cons (though granted, you have a huge fan base so you probably have better cons than I can drive to (budget, budget)). A huge computer gaming area and a sizable gaming area will compliment a huge Internet lounge.

Dances will be plentiful and the parties are out of this world and massively diverse. The masquerade is awesome--the best I've ever seen--and even I, a non-filker, find myself humming along at one of hordes of filking events. The dealers' room is an adventure! Already broke and in hock, I still end up buying things that I just don't see elsewhere (yes, I usually don't need them but have yet to meet a fan not guilty of the same). There are masses of Kaffeeklatches and occasional Beerklatches (get your favorite author drunk ) , where for an hour or so you can chat amiably with your favourite authors.

Hell, there are even tracks for educators, where putting Science Fiction culture into classrooms is discussed, alongside academic programming. There are Poetry sessions and workshops and technical workshops (web fandom, etc) side by side, repeatedly. Costuming programming keeps company with hordes of readings. Some panels have fan fiction writers sharing the stage with Hugo winners, editors and publishers. Publishers are there in droves, showcasing new releases and telling you about future ones (plus give-aways usually abound). In fact, there are usually so many give-aways of various kinds that they have numerous tables for them and committee members in charge of give-aways.

There is usually a sensational art show and numerous special events, like displays from international fandom or from the history of all fandom. There are fanzine exhibits and convention bid tables for future cons and Worldcons. Then there are the various award ceremonies--the Hugos being the most famous--and I have even seen award presentations by Japanese fandom, based on translated works. It's astounding! Damn, there is so much that, after all that interminable waffle, I'm sure I left things out.

If Torcon 3's Con Suite is half as good as ConJosé's, then you are in for a treat, and it, along with the fan lounge, is a great place to chat to guests and damn foreigners like me.

It's so big that there are numerous free newsletters released throughout the day just to keep you informed about future events and provide news about great stuff you missed, plus a list of all the parties in the last newsletter of the day. The collection of fliers advertising groups, clubs, competitions, conventions, etc is astonishing. I usually collect a stack about four fingers high to send back to the folks back home, along with programming books and such.

Ah, goodness, at Worldcon time I wish I could be cloned and then de-cloned so that I could experience everything I want to, but almost every hour of the day has me making tough choices on what panel I most want to attend. I miss more than I see, it's a freaking tragedy, sniff, sniff. That's why I'm helping on program ops, because apart from the beginning and end of the panels, I won't miss that much of the Worldcon. Yes, though I'm on staff, I really don't want to miss any of it. Others are more addicted than I am though. One guy I worked with in the ConJosé Con Suite got about 3 hours sleep the first three days of Worldcon and had to be ordered to get some sleep, and even then he only doubled his tally and was back in the thick of things again.

Well, them there's most of the reasons. If for no other reason, come because I want to meet you. I want to mingle with Canadian fans and hear more about these conventions of your, especially this one (TT). Don't tell me about all your fans who are involved running the Worldcon, I won't get to see any of them, as they will likely be too busy making the magic happen. I e-conversed with Kevin before ConJosé, but never met him once (closest was seeing him on the stage at the Hugo awards) in the seven days I was there, despite actively looking for him.

This is another thing that makes Worldcons so amazing and moly no. All of the above help make the Worldcon magic, Disneyland for fandom, but the only agenda is fandom itself. Fans make it happen and without us (u 2) the Worldcon would disappear. As others have stated, indeed proved, all you pay for are actual costs. You don't pay that team of web gurus the going tech rate, you don't pay the experienced expert managers CEO rates, you get bargains on hotels and other services, you don't even have to say "thank you," and yet all you pay for are actual expenses. I still find this staggering. How rare is that in this world. Professional conventions (technical, academic, etc) usually cost you into the thousands, and yet here and there in the middle of this cynical world we find fan-run conventions that benefit no one financially, but everyone spiritually. And the Worldcon is the cherry in this cake.

I have read a lot of long-winded opinions here, nothing short and succinct like mine , much of which I agreed with and some of which horrified me. If the people behind these strong opinions and dissertations are as motivated as their typing fingers, then Worldcon needs you. You have that much passion, conviction and drive to sit and type all that, so chances are you will move and shake on the Worldcon scene. Yes the Worldcon is great and yes the Worldcon needs to keep growing and changing and guess what, someone has to do it and boy would I be excited if some of you got involved. And yes, you can change things, as others have stated. Ultimately, it's those involved with dictate the direction of Worldcons.

Still, the fundamentals of Worldcons are more than sound, they are absolutely incredible, hence the reluctance to tamper with a winning formula. Come join us in running Worldcons, please. I for one would welcome new ideas to go along with my own. To answer one of Guru's points, a couple of us plan to be the pebble that starts the avalanche, promoting Worldcons as a whole, completely independent of any bid, and right now completely independent of the WSFS as well. Sometimes you just have to do it if you want to change things.

I'm involved in the scene, nothing near the level of Kevin, but as a staff member from last year onwards, and on to committee positions in the future, then management, and then dream-time I hope/wish. I have a distant dream of one day bringing a Worldcon to Johannesburg South Africa , a massive and perhaps impossible task (the whole expense thing when bidding and promoting, among other hurdles). I am terribly saddened by how many of my South African friends will never ever see a Worldcon otherwise, because they cannot afford it no matter how many years they save for it.

This one is in your own back yard - don't miss it I implore you. What South African fans would give to be in your shoes (and fans from many other countries too). I promise that in my sincere opinion 98% of you will not regret it. If I had the money (that lottery thing everyone keeps mentioning ) then I would gladly offer you all a money back guarantee and would reasonably expect to refund no more than two or three out of a hundred. The Worldcon is that good. Try it. You know where to find me (Saturday night party) so I would not lie to you (just don't ask for a refund, I said "If I had the money." ). It's magical, it's wonderful and you might never again see one with strong Canadian themes like Torcon 3 will have, one that is so owned by you and yours.

Forget about disputes and the Olympics or World Cup (football or soccer as Americans like to call it ), the Worldcon is bigger than the hosts, bigger than the fans, bigger than even the guests. As one involved only on the fringes, and living far away, my only motivation in sitting up here four hours after I should have been in bed on a work night (bee-in-bonnet stuff), is that I want every fan to experience the magic of at least one Worldcon. Don't miss this chance.

Thank you for your time and forgive my verbose posting. Please forgive any odd tones, poor grammar or such, as I'm quite groggy at this point. It was my intent not to offend and I sincerely hope that I succeeded. I look forward to enjoying the fabled hospitality of your city and country (plus it will be nice to be in a bilingual country again ) and I hope to see you there.

PS. For an article I wrote on saving money at a Worldcon, see http://members.aol.com/safaricon2011/pennypnc.html - though it might be more useful in the future than now. Also see http://members.aol.com/safaricon2011/party.html for an article on hosting a party at a convention (just in case).

PPS. What a kick-ass Message Board!

Grant Kruger