Thursday, August 25, 2011


Renovation: A First Worldcon Experience

I attended my first Worldcon recently, Renovation in Reno, NV. I've been going to conventions since I was teenager, primarily locally, but I've attended both Dragon*Con and San Diego Comic Con on the national level.  I've been actively involved in CONvergence for over a decade, and while CONvergence last year was bigger than Renovation, there is a tradition, legacy, and reach to Worldcon that is unique in fandom.

The Hugos themselves are awesome, though I was embarrassed by the production values of the Hugo ceremony itself.  The Hugo Award itself has high production values. I came out thinking that they don't really know what they have, and I was a bit bothered by that. This was perhaps an unusual first Hugo experience for me, since I am friends with the editors of Chicks Dig Time Lords and had more than the usual personal investment in seeing them win.  But I think even when people complain about the Hugos, it is because those awards mean something to a wider group of people than just those that attend Worldcon.

I was also highly envious of the main ballroom for Masquerade and Hugos - it fit 2,000+ people,  and the stage was immense.  It was glorious.

The Masquerade itself was very good, but considering I had heard about Worldcon masquerades forever, I was less impressed than I expected to be.  But I suspect I had unreasonable expectations -- as it really was a very solid and enjoyable masquerade.  I knew that Paul Cornell running Just A Minute masquerade half time show would be excellent, and I was not at all surprised to discover the Seanan McGuire was an immediate master of the game. There was very little hall costuming, but I believe the weather and location may have hampered that.

This was a multi-campus convention; and the distance between the two host hotels required regular bus service. And these were full commercially obtained busses.  Overall, I felt the bus service worked well, though there were some people frustrated by long wait times. Oddly enough, I felt better about the buses when I saw professionals like Larry Niven and special guests like Dr Demento take the bus.

I saw some improvements i would make in how they could take take advantage of what they had - the parties were in one building, and the Hugos and Masquerade were in another, and the other building had more of the membership.  That meant I went to parties the first twonights, but then stayed in the Peppermill the other two, where I had my hotel room.  There were limitations because casino hotels are not great social spaces for conventions. However, I think in a multi-campus solution there should be at least a small consuite or other designated social space as much as possible - there wasn't a great 'Barcon' or 'LobbyCon' type social space. They had 'event' panels to keep people in the Peppermill in the evening after Masquerade and Hugos, but I was a little disappointed in my chance to chat and be social on both evenings.

That's all a function of the location though -- and one of the things about Worldcon is that it is a largish convention that travels -- you don't have to go to Atlanta or San Diego every year, but it may end up in areas that don't otherwise see a convention like this.

They had a very intriguing 'Art Night' that I did not attend, and I  heard many very positive things that made me regret not attending.

Programming had plenty to keep me interested.  My favorite item was seeing Other Hand Productions's production of Whatnot, a puppet show that was unique, artistic, and wonderful.  There were a variety of other items I attended, some on convention and non-profit running, some readings, and the usual sorts of discussions.  Of course, one of the strengths of Worldcon is that the concentration of professionals is higher than you'd have at any regional, even a larger one like CONvergence.  That has some benefits, but then you do get circumstances where you pull in a pro to talk about something from a fan context and it's actually not as in depth of a conversation as you might be able to manage elsewhere.

I had a personally very positive volunteer experience in programming ops - I was thanked regularly, had fun, and would absolutely do it again.  They have two levels of volunteering rewards - one that after a certain amount of hours you get  a volunteer t-shirt, and another that will get you some level of reimbursement.  I knew from my years of experience on CONvergence that even volunteering a little bit at a volunteer-run convention enhances your experience of the convention, and thankfully that was true here as well.

Consuite was heavily hampered because the convention was only allowed to serve separately pre-packaged food, due to hotel or legal restrictions.  I think this is something that you can't expect to be the same at every Worldcon, and I certainly expect a more robust consuite in Chicago next year.

Registration was very smooth.  I liked the landscape version of badges, and the thin wide ribbons are turning into something that is democratic and not exclusionary, but silly con fun.  With the ease of ordering ribbons online you have something that lots of people made little ribbons to trade and share.  Instead of pre-printing all of the badges they printed out labels that were attached at registration.

Most of the other facets of the convention were what you expect - dealers was OK and was blessed with plenty of space in a main convention hall along with the art show.  They had a teen lounge as well as children's programming and a separate child care, all of which seemed well received.

I attended parts of the WSFS business meeting. OMFG. This is Roberts Rules of Order taken to extreme. You CAN influence things - there were some elections, and a fair amount of votes about future Hugo categories.  But it is a legislative fight, and things move VERY slowly, as just about everything needs to pass a two separate consecutive Worldcons.  WSFS is very much like the early US underer the Articles of Confederation - it's very weak.  There is no Worldcon, Inc. - each year is put on by a different organization. Nothing happens fast at WSFS, though, and while I see a desire to improve Worldcon and an effort to make it relevant to 21st century fandom, it is not going to be quick -- and may not be quick enough.  There is, oddly for 'fans of science fiction', a definite conservative (not in the political sense) streak.

Minnesota is well represented at this Worldcon - there were about 60 MN registered and I saw about two or three dozen people that I recognized from the area.

Parties were OK, not as many as I've seen at CONvergence and a lot of one night parties.  I don't know how typical this was, as Reno has very little SF convention history, and many of the people the were not local and like me, may not have had the capability to bring in additional supplies.

Over all, I had a really positive experience.  I met a good amount of people and strengthened bonds with some acquaintances.  I'm certainly planning on attending Chicago, and I think every science fiction fan should, at some point, try to make an effort to attending a Worldcon, especially when it is near them.   I'd like to see a MASSIVE turnout from Minnesota next year.

Also, with the rise of electronic distribution of the Hugo voters packet, a Worldcon supporting membership has never been more financially appealing, and instead of complaining about the Hugo results, you can nominate and vote and be a part of the process.

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