Three Views from Worldcon 2001

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Three Views from Worldcon 2001

By Jae Brim, Lazette Gifford
and Beth Adele Long

© 2001, By Jae Brin, Lazette Gifford
and Beth Adele Long



I'm glad to say I made it back in one piece from my very first Worldcon, the 2001 Millenium Philcon in Philadelphia.  Since I'd never gone to one of these, or any type of con, I had no idea what to expect.  Cons were something outside this girl's experience--something populated by people in Klingon costumes and the grand mystery of published science fiction and fantasy writers.  It was not a place for a wanna-be like me, or so I thought.

My perception of Worldcon, and of myself in the SF community, changed within a few minutes of being there.  My two friends and I were cornered by an AP reporter, who was asking about why, as women, we were attending an SF convention, the domain of men and scientists.  I said something about SF not being about guns and plastic space-suits and being something that people who think read.  The reporter asked me why I was there, and before I could open my mouth, my friend said "She's a writer!"  Just like that.  I was named, set apart from someone who was just attending, no longer a spectator but someone who had a reason to be there.

This was the attitude that I found prevalent at the con.  The second I said to someone, "I'm here because I write," they were very encouraging.  They would ask me what I wrote.  Sometimes they would even be interested in seeing some of it.  Maybe it was the attitude that I had originally set out to Worldcon with, that sense that I was just checking it out, that this was a new world and I should respect it, that gained me the deference I got from others.  I didn't try to mob big-name editors.  I simply wanted to find out what this was all about, and meet some people who thought like me.

And you know what I found out?  Worldcon might be for fans, and for people who dress up, and for readers, and for artists, but there is a small part of Worldcon that is specifically for writers.  It is not immediately obvious.  Writers do not wear large costumes or perform with swords, and they only occasionally scream things at the top of their lungs, but that part is there, if you can find it.  It is the fact that you can hide in the corner of a party and say to another writer, whom you have just met, "I sometimes get so frustrated by X," and they will understand, and a large group of you will converge and will end up talking about writing for hours on end.  It is about realizing that there are other people who slave away for hours in front of a keyboard, and you instantly feel close to them because you share a common dream.  It is the fact that writers are...well, fun to be around, and there is a certain flair for non sequitor and wit and humor that all writers share.  It is the nature of what we do, the way that we view the world, and it is something that can be recognized in another.  It is an inspiration, and an affirmation, that what writers do is a good thing, and should not be stopped, ever.

I left my first Worldcon exhausted and very happy.  I had gotten almost no sleep, eaten nothing but the occasional salad and Starbucks coffee for four days and met a zillion people, all of whom were very supportive.  That small creative part of me that is beaten down by corporate America and the lack of support for art was renewed.  I would not recommend going to Worldcon every weekend, but it is a place that everyone should go, and that I will definitely go to again.



 Once a year I travel to some remote place -- because everything is remote from northeast Nebraska -- to spend a few days with some of my closest friends. Although through most of the year our camaraderie is constrained by the limitations of email, message boards and on-line journals, that doesn't make our friendships any less strong.  Most of us are struggling writers, and the ability to have a few days to share meals, parties, and late night face-to-face discussions is a wonderful experience. 

However, from the very first WorldCon I attended there was another aspect that was just as important for me as an aspiring writer.  At each of these gatherings I attended panels, readings, and even parties over flowing with people whose ID tags had names I had previously only seen on the covers of books.  I felt daunted the first time I looked around and realized the company I was keeping.  Then, after a day or so in such circles, I finally realized the truth about published authors. 

They're real people. 

They have real lives (often more 'real' than my own somewhat fairytale existence), with work, spouses, children, and problems with their neighbor's dogs.  Better still, they work on their novels and stories just as hard as I do. They have the same fire for storytelling and the same joy at finishing a project. That they are being paid for it doesn't usually seem to change those feelings. 

I usually leave World Cons imbued with the belief that if I try harder, and if I work more diligently, I can make that next step in my career.  The weeks after I get back home are often my most prolific, as well as the point where I am likely to be somewhat more daring and bold in what I write.  

For me, The Millennium Phillcon, like all the others I've attended, was my reminder that there is no secret formula, no special handshake, and nothing that can be handed to me from the outside to help my writing career.  And that's the best news, because it means I am in control of my own fate as a writer.   I can try harder, I can make that next breakthrough, and eventually I can be someone with an ID tag that others look at in surprise. 



Panels?  There are panels at Worldcon? 

Okay, I did go to a few panels at Millenium Philcon, and I quite enjoyed the ones I did attend.  The most memorable of those that I attended was the panel that discussed whether science fiction has become overly nostalgic and backward-looking; the springboard for the discussion was an article by Judith Berman published in the New York Review of Science Fiction.  The panel comprised Gardner Dozois, James Patrick Kelly, Judith Berman, Gordon Van Gelder, and John Kessel, which made for an intent, sometimes impassioned, and undeniably humorous hour.  They debated whether the near-future extrapolative fiction that's being published these days does indeed need new life injected into it, what the specific shortcomings of such stories might be if they are lacking, and who is doing good work in extrapolative science fiction (names like Carolyn Ives Gilman, David Marusek, and Cory Doctorow came up, among others).  Someone pointed out that cyberpunk was the last revitalizing movement to sweep through science fiction, and that quite possibly what is needed now is another such movement of newer writers to breathe new life into the genre. 

So yes, I did attend some panels, but mostly I took advantage of the networking possibilities presented by having such a huge number of science fiction professionals (and near-professionals) in one place.  I was fortunate enough to have met a number of people -- writers, editors, artists, long-time fans -- previous to this year's Worldcon, so I got to enjoy networking more than I would have if I'd been starting from scratch. 

If you've never been to a convention or conference and are intimidated by the idea of networking, relax.  While it does take energy, attention, and planning to network at a con, it's also easier than you might think and can be a lot of fun.  The important things to remember: ask questions (have some ready beforehand if you're not good at thinking on your feet), be a good listener, and take an interest in people regardless of their status.  If you find yourself in the SFWA suite or some other place that's overflowing with sfnal fame, remember that for every Big Name Author, there are several Minor Peons (or even No Name Whatsoevers) who are at least as interesting as the BNA.  Just get in there and see who you can strike up a conversation with. 

Of course, it's nearly impossible to have a serious, intent discussion with anyone at a con of that size; that's the nature of the beast.  People's schedules are too full, there are too many people to touch base with, the noise levels are too high and the sleep levels too low.  Even so, ten minutes of conversation is usually enough to refresh a relationship or establish a new one, even if you're crammed into a party suite where you have to yell to be heard.  And in many cases I did make an effort to set aside time to talk to friends in quieter environs: meeting someone for breakfast, grabbing half an hour in the hotel lobby, and so forth.   

And, of course, I played Mafia and Thing (the newest Mafia variant, which was introduced by my Clarion class and seems to be infecting all sorts of interesting people).  If you've not heard of them, these are group games of murder and deceit that have very convoluted-sounding rules but are, once you've learned them, absolutely addicting.  You need a sizeable group to play, so cons are a natural place for large games to spring up.  I wasn't in top form when I played at Worldcon; I was too exhausted to be able to plot and lie with proper zeal.  But much fun was had by all, and it made for a satisfying late-night con experience. 

An aspect of the con that I enjoyed more than I expected was the dealer's room, where various publishers (book and magazine) and other vendors had set up.  It was interesting to see what some of the small presses are producing, and it was tough to choose which hard-to-find books to buy.  The art show was also quite impressive, with a wide variety of paintings and other forms of artwork; I was particularly impressed with Lisa Snellings' striking "Dark Caravan" sculptures. 

By Monday afternoon, after several days of the zany schedule and weird diet that seems to be an essential part of the con experience, I was completely exhausted.  I stood around and chatted with friends for a while and then headed home, where I was happy to collapse into bed and try to recover from the weekend.  I don't know whether I'll pack up for the trip to San José for next year's Worldcon, but it was certainly worth the investment to be there in Philly.