What’s this WorldCon thing like, anyway?

A couple weeks ago, two people in one day hinted that I should try to convince them to come to WorldCon. I wrote up some information about WorldCon in response, but neglected to make it more publicly accessible. It's a little late for me to post this at this point, but what the hell—I suppose it's possible that someone is still waffling about whether to come. (If that describes you, better hurry and decide; it started today! But the best days will be Friday through Sunday.) If nothing else, I can point people to this when the same question comes up next year.

One friend asked: "Would I have fun? Never been to a con in my life."

My answer: Hard to say. WorldCon is a big event; I'm not sure whether to recommend it as a first convention. On the other hand, it's nowhere near as big an event as, say, Burning Man or some computer conferences, so it would be fairly tame for people used to those things.

The main thing about WorldCon that sets it apart from most other sf conventions is that there's so much going on. There are often, oh, I dunno, maybe 15 tracks of panels going on at a time—often there are two or three I'm very interested in at the same time—and that's not counting any of the non-panel activities. There's a film track that generally runs around the clock, so if you're tired of other stuff you can go watch movies. There's nonstop filking, if you're so inclined. There are people in costume wandering around the halls, including small herds of Klingons. There's gaming. There's costuming. There's little meet-the-author get-togethers ("kaffeeklatsches"), and autograph sessions. There's a gigantic dealer's room and a big art show. On Friday night, there are dozens of parties. On Saturday afternoon, there's the Strange Horizons tea party, where one can have tea and cookies and look at the site on laptops and mingle with our authors and various other luminaries. On Saturday evening, the costume contest (known as the Masquerade, but it's not a dance—people in costume come out on stage and do skits) runs for several hours; often entertaining to at least stop by there for a while. On Sunday night, there's the Hugo ceremony, which is much like any other awards ceremony—sometimes entertaining, sometimes boring, sometimes totally charming. Oh, and there are various displays and exhibits about the history of fandom and conventions. And a huge number of authors (both established and new) reading their work aloud.

It's kind of like there are five or six small conventions all taking place at the same time and place. (There tend to be between 3500 and 5000 attendees total.) The majority of the attendees are fans, with all that that entails—a lot of smart funny people, a fair number of, um, shall we say undersocialized people, and some who fit both those descriptions. (I should note that I have a certain fondness for and sympathy with fans, having been one all my life; but I know some people whose tolerance for fannish behavior is pretty low, and they sometimes have a hard time at WorldCon.)

But in addition to the fans, a WorldCon has plenty of pros—writers, editors, agents, etc—many of whom retreat to the bar for the duration.

The conversations are less likely, by and large, to be terribly deep or intellectual than at some small "sercons" ("serious conventions," like WisCon or Potlatch or ReaderCon). You'll get people arguing about the relative merits of Star Wars and Star Trek—but the flip side of that is that whatever obscure sfnal thing you're interested in, there are probably other people there who are also interested in it.

If you want to get a general sense of the overall shape of the weekend, take a look at ConJosé at a Glance. If you want to see the preliminary program (listing times and participants for panels, readings, kaffeeklatsches, etc.), see the preliminary program schedule.

So, overall, I'd say that WorldCon tends to be fun but exhausting.

For another overview, see Mary Anne's latest editorial at SH.

I should conclude with a few caveats:

  • The hotels, last I heard, appear to be booked solid. Not so much a problem if you live around here, of course.
  • It's kinda expensive. Five-day membership at the door is $200; one-day rates are $40-$85.
  • Cons can be a little lonely if you're not there with a bunch of people you know.
  • The only way to tell whether there would be panels you'd even potentially enjoy is to go look over the programming schedule.

Hope that's useful—for next year if not for this year.

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