I thought I would do a postmortem here about my very first WorldCon, Dublin 2019!
In my experience, a postmortem looks at a project or experiment after it’s over and says ‘How did it die? Did it have a good death?’ So, did it achieve what we wanted it to achieve when we thought of it, and if not, why not? What worked? What didn’t? How close did we get?
I thought I would break it down into 3 categories:
1. Things I liked personally and/or thought were done well based on my experience of 1.25 cons to date (Scintillation in 2018, and one panel at PureSpec this summer).
– I liked the size and general format of the panels! The panelists came prepared with recommendations, the moderators asked specific questions that were not either too open-ended or binary, and people generally stayed right on topic and no one monopolized any of the panels by monologuing (with one exception, which I’ll discuss briefly below). They all ended bang on time as well. I assume that’s due to staff/volunteers with the time cards. Very diligent!
– I learned a lot from all the panels I attended! There were none where I thought ‘Ugh, I wish I had skipped that one.’
– The programme book was very good!
– The programme participant package was good, had some useful tips and so on. I wish I had read it more closely because participants had a special designated chill-out area that I did not take advantage of (I chilled out at Martin’s instead, drinking cider).
– I liked my literary beer, although oh my God it was so weird to have people I didn’t know sign up for it. I absolutely, you understand, assumed that only my friends who were also attending WorldCon might show up, and we’d hang out for 50 minutes or so. Instead, some strangers who said they were fans (??!) of my stuff (??????!!!???) came, and they had brought questions, and they stared at me, and they waited intently for me to answer them, and I was like I THOUGHT WE WERE ALL JUST GOING TO DRINK TOGETHER.
– The live podcast I did with Escape Artists was amazing, despite a) my nerves, b) the tiny, tiny font size of the story on my Kindle, c) the fact that I completely misspoke one word, d) my broken voice, and e) forgetting to say the title of the story or the author (we fixed it in post). And there were cookies! And the cookies were both beautiful and delicious, which should be impossible!
– I got to meet Diane Duane!!!!!! And tried to explain to her that the first three books in the Young Wizard series were basically the catalyst for me deciding to write my own stories down, so she is the reason I am a writer today, but I don’t think I actually succeeded in communicating that. As far as I can recall I just made some noises and enthusiastically shook her hand.
– I also got to meet the owner of the literary agency I’m a client of!
– I got to meet my editor! The one who edited my novel! He is a real person and can be hugged!
– Ditto my publicist! I have a publicist?? I have a publicist!
– I got to meet a ton of other really cool and interesting people, including some long-time Twitter friends! Too many to list. I wish I’d thought to get photos with everyone I met.
– The exhibition hall was so fun! I didn’t think there was going to be one and in fact did not discover it till most of the way through the first day, and then I was like ‘WHAT, LET ME IN THERE ASAP.’
– Nice people came up to me and asked me to sign copies of my debut novel ARC, which was super exciting! Also terrifying! Because I knew some of these people and did not know others! At all! So I nearly had a panic attack every time!
– A total stranger asked for my actual autograph in her autograph book??
– I got to eat dinner on a boat across from a super famous author, and, an astronaut!
– Who I didn’t know was an astronaut initially and was just some very cool and goodlooking lady who had happened to be seated across from me, which is also true, but she also is an astronaut. And she found me the next day and we got to talk again, leading me to conclude several things that directly led to some decisions I made in later parts of the trip. (Always take good advice from smart people, kids.)
2. Things I disliked personally and/or thought could have been improved
– The actual panel ‘system’ for people to get in kept shifting from day to day? Staff were generally on top of things but (for example) the queuing and then lines taped on the floor system took a couple of days to evolve. I would probably have been OK with it if it had been in place from day one.
– The panels themselves were way, way overbooked and in 90% of cases, there was no possible way you could go to two in a row, because after you went to one you would have to join the queue for not the next one but the one after that. The way to solve this is unfortunately fewer panels and larger rooms, so that people are more likely to get a spot if they are arriving from the ten-minute gap after the last panel. But I understand the urge for a con to be like PANELS PANELS MORE PANELS PANELS ON EVERYTHING PANELS PANELS
– Pre-registration and an RFID wristband would have solved most of this, or at least helped staff figure out capacity issues. The app could then have been updated in realtime so people could veer off and reallocate themselves to less-occupied rooms. (“That’s impossibly complicated!” Well, it’s not, because I’ve been to work conferences that have done it. It just needs some planning ahead and well-trained staff with smartphones at key locations.)
– Personally, and this is strictly because I am out of shape and a huge baby, Point Place, the other venue was an enormous pain in the ass. First, it was way further away than I thought
— at least a fifteen minute walk even when I hustled (I never did take the tram, because $). Second, the queue to get into all the rooms (except for the very first panels of the day) was a single giant queue, and there was nowhere to sit except on the floor. People were standing, in some cases, for the better part of the panel before it, so, an hour. That is not do-able for everyone. I am one of those ones. And it’s too bad, because the academic track was the one I wanted to attend the most, but it was mostly held in Point Place.
– The Hugo wristband queue — why? It’s an auditorium and the seats are numbered. Was there some reason people would not be able to get tickets (free or paid) well beforehand in the normal way that they do events at the auditorium? I assume they have extremely frequent events there? Instead, people had to queue for literally hours day-of, long before the wristbands were actually due to be distributed, in the rain. I am not exaggerating. It actually rained.
– The post-Hugo mess — I truly enjoyed the Hugos ceremony in person, even with the unfunny and funny issues with the live closed-captioning (honestly, there were both), and the venue was nice. I appreciated the plug-ins and the tables at each seat. As for what happened afterwards, I wasn’t involved personally, but the next day I had breakfast with some people who were nominated and therefore legitimately should have been at the Hugos Losers’ party (and weren’t), and later on met up with a friend who probably shouldn’t have been there (but was). (To clarify: he did have an invitation as someone’s plus one, and their invitations were apparently checked, but due to the venue not checking everyone’s invitations, a lot of people got in without one and therefore the venue was at capacity when legitimate invitation-holders showed up, and they were turned away.) It left a sour taste in my mouth about the con in general, especially right afterwards when no one could figure out how, exactly, people had literally failed to organize a piss-up in a brewery. I’m well aware that cliques are a thing and Certain People are always going to get into Certain Things, but witnessing, that night, the blatant, much-posted-about, public exclusion of non-clique people who had literally earned a right to be at their celebration, crowingly supplanted by people who just happen to be popular or ‘know someone’? Yikes.
– The Dunsany panel I did was not like any of the panels I attended, because the moderator had pre-arranged with one of the panelists to do a long presentation about Dunsany that took up a surprisingly large chunk of the time. She also directed most of her questions to that panelist, and instead of directing any questions to myself and the last panelist, read two of Dunsany’s stories aloud. I understand fan service, but that’s not the purpose of these panels, and I was extremely taken aback. Fortunately since it was also my last commitment at the con, I headed back to the convention center and had several drinks to forget about it. The moderator also spent what I thought was a shockingly long time defending HP Lovecraft against ‘overblown’ ‘accusations’ of racism and bigotry, and dismissing my carefully pointing out that these weren’t overblown, and all you had to do was read the primary texts (i.e. his letters). She did apologize afterwards but I was stunned that she would stand up for him in public.
3. Things that I would probably do if I were going to a big con again
– Bring a backpack rather than my usual crossbody work bag. The work bag is great for work conferences, at which the swag tends to be quite small (pens, lanyards, thumb drives). It is not great for a writing conference, at which the swag tends to be huge chunks of dead tree. My back was killing me on one side for days.
– Literally go completely bankrupt staying at the venue. My place was about 10-15 minutes away, depending on the lights, but it was a huge pain in the ass to do it while drunk, in the middle of the day when I wanted a nap, when it was dark or cold out, etc etc. I was exceedingly grateful that I almost always had a tall white guy walking me home late at night. For my AirBnB, I paid about a quarter of the cost of staying at the con hotel, which enabled me to save enough money to do the rest of my Grand Tour Of The British Isles, but holy crap, never again. I am not a larva any more. I’ll just go broke next time.
– Spiral notebook, not bound. A bound notebook balanced upon the lap is An Loathesome Thynge.
– NO GOING TO A LOUD BAR THE VERY FIRST NIGHT OF THE STUPID CON I YELLED TOO MUCH AND LOST MY DAMN VOICE AND MY THROAT HURT FOR LIKE 72 HOURS
– Actually read the entire programme participant handout if I get one.
– Carry non-terrible snacks on my person at all times (this is directly related to my not eating after the Hugos — everything was shut and I had an energy bar in my bag but I happened to know from experience that that particular flavour was so disgusting that I would rather eat a fellow con-goer than eat that energy bar, so I did not).
– Prepare a reply to ‘So what’s your book about?’ that isn’t ‘Jesus Christ, I have no idea.’ In retrospect it should have been obvious that I might be asked about my debut novel a couple of times, and so I should have prepared at least a sentence or two about it, but nope. It did not even occur to me that I would need to talk about it.
– Prepare a reply to ‘So what are you reading right now?’ and ‘What are you excited to read next?’ and ‘What would you recommend?’ that might suggest to the asker that I have, actually, read a book once in my entire life.
In terms of next steps:
– I took a lot of notes at the few panels I attended (Writing from Non-Western Cultures; Writing Robots and Non-Human Intelligences; Lovecraft’s Poison Tree in Elizabeth Bear’s ‘Shoggoths in Bloom’; Perfect Children or the Birth of Perfect Evil: Ian McDonald’s ‘River of Gods’; Rural Pagans, Haunted Forests: Folk Horror Revival; Muslim SFF; Writing Interactive Fiction; The Lack of Technological Progress in Fantasy), and I will be posting some of those, and my thoughts/feedback, on my Curious Fictions page for subscribers!
– I had about 40 story ideas as well. Stay tuned for those to appear in a trickle over, probably, the next five years. (I know, I know.)
– Some con pictures will be posted at some point! Either here or on my Twitter page.
– Finally, I am not going to another huge con unless someone both demands that I go, and pays for everything. Seriously, the number of people completely stressed me out and destroyed my mental health such that I had to decompress in Scotland afterwards and not talk to anyone at all for three days. I suspect if I hadn’t been lightly self-medicating with alcohol all day every day, I would have just walked out and not come back, and hung out in Dublin doing other stuff by myself. Before I even got to the airport at home, I was like ‘Oh, it’ll be busy, just brace for it and it’ll be fine, it’s just a couple of days.’ Nope. I overestimated myself. I had to talk to too many strangers, I hated having to do it, I hated meeting new people after the first day, I hated moving around with an entourage, I wanted to be left alone. Basically, one (1) person is the maximum number of people I can hang out with and not be utterly miserable. “Oh, let me just grab my friend” was the straw that broke my back every day. Not doing it again. Le nope.
Anyway, overall, did I achieve what I wanted to achieve from a WorldCon? I think I did. I wanted to do two things (hug certain people, and learn some stuff about writing) and I did both of those things. I didn’t go in with many expectations about the degrees to which I might succeed at either of those, because I knew both goals were essentially out of my hands, but I definitely did both. And now I don’t have to do it again! Yay!