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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There are things I know (from one conrunner to another).

The Hugo Ceremony official parts (except Silverberg) are pretty much middle of the road for non-Hollywood award shows. One could throw more money at flash and dash, but past Worldcons have been burned by doing this badly (the phrase is "Diamondvision").

Thanks for the kind words on how the masquerade ran. We had an interesting and in some ways atypical assortment of entries. Torrey's solo Na'vi winning Best in Show out of the Journeyman division is unusual, but deserved. Other entries in styles that would normally fall flat came through with flying colors.

The bus service was flawed, and Steve Cooper spent a lot of cellphone time with the bus company keeping them to the contract.

The building split for programming was a financial decision. The Peppermill contract gave us their entire AV inventory, so we saved buckets of money on AV rental. The Peppermill was also the bigger housing hotel; the block the Atlantis gave us was smaller.

The casino spaces and food service did make for a more distributed public space. There was no single "the bar" where pros hung out (which has happened at other multi-hotel Worldcons).

I missed Art Night, too much masquerade work.

The volunteer experience was great, as a department head it was wonderful getting so much support from the con chair and exec staff.

The consuite food was a legal thing. In Nevada, food can only be "served" by a licensed Nevada Food Service Professional. Packaged food removed "service" from the equation.

I missed the main business meeting, and could only attend the preliminary. But I did get my motion reconciled and passed.

The Atlantis layout wasn't optimal for parties, but it was what we had.

I think Reno was a great, if strange, Worldcon. Chicago will have a significantly different feel, with one of the only locations large enough to do a single-facility Worldcon and a hotel that many regular attendees are familiar with.
The Na'vi costume was fantastic, and there were a lot of good costumes and the masquerade itself was very well run from the audience.
It's amusing that you were embarrassed that the Hugo's production values were so low. This was my third Hugo Awards ceremony and each time I have worried that the production values are a bit too high, by which I mean that I feel there is a risk that they depart from being fannish. But you do have a point that the Hugos are known outside of fandom (my father knows what a Hugo is and he never even reads or watches SF anymore), and especially if we make the ceremony public on the web, it should probably look not-worse than it did at Renovation.

I like the strictly non-centralized way WSFS is organized. (I'm not sure I like Robert's Rules of Order, but that's nearly orthogonal, I think. It did give us some hilarious moments in the preliminary meeting, in any case.) I think that this is a formula for keeping Worldcon and the Hugos going for a long time by avoiding single points-of-failure. I don't think that the organization of WSFS has a whole lot to do with the quest to stay relevant to 21st century fandom. That's a responsibility that each Worldcon committee has, and they can probably do it better than a formal perpetual organization could, in my mind. At the panel If I Were Queen of the Worldcon, we talked about how Chicon 7 can reach out to adjacent fandoms (Anime in particular), to youth and to fans of color. I'd rather Chicon did this directly in ways relevant to Chicago than having some sort of Worldcon Inc. (probably made up of the very oldest fans) try to handle it.

I may be biased because the organization of WSFS/Worldcon is sorta like that of MNstf/Minicon, in that nearly all authority for the convention is delegated to a convention committee and in that each year's convention is a financially and organizationally separate entity. This seems to work well for Minicon. (Note that MNstf/Minicon was *not* organized this way 12-15 years ago, but at that point had a formal concept of a perpetual standing Minicon committee!)
I wasn't trying to make the case for a Worldcon, Inc. And one of the unique virtues of Worldcon is that it moves -- and I think that movement DOES mean that it makes sense for each one to be organizationally separate. And certainly there is some continuity in individuals from year to year, comparing the Chicon committee to the Renovation committee.

It's almost certainly a religious issue to me that I don't think that being fannish is an excuse for not trying to produce something of the highest quality possible. It's that you're doing it for the love of it that's important -- and so I want the highest possible production even if the people running it aren't getting paid.
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