Sunday, August 25, 2019

WorldCon report: #Dublin2019

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My WorldCon programme highlight was probably ‘The Magic of Beauty’ with Jeannette Ng, Navah Wolfe, Rebecca F. Kuang, and Vida Cruz, moderated by Kate Elliott. I wanted a sequel: the panellists had quite brilliantly picked apart and satirized literary and social norms around beauty, especially in relation to gender and race, and had just begun to explore how speculative fiction might be a space for cultivating new norms and new gazes.

I also really enjoyed ‘Horticulture in Extreme Environments’ (which was much more concerned with Earth over coming decades than with, say, Mars) and (despite the appalling moderation) ‘Future Financial Systems and Transactions.’

I did a little bit of tweeting.

I forgot to vote in the Hugos, although pretty much everyone I wanted to win did anyway, so maybe that’s the correct method? One point where the conrunners could have shown more foresight was the use of psychic surtitling during the award ceremony. Captions were live-streamed directly into the minds of the audience which, it turns out, simply does not work: it was like feeding chili cheese burritos into a USB-C port; there is zero compatibility. Ada Palmer was at the podium as this unfolded, and should be applauded for her aplomb. No one could applaud as we were just freaking out in deep neuro-glitch bacchanal. To his credit, WorldCon Chair James Bacon owned up promptly, acknowledging that it was an accessibility issue, and gave what seemed to be a heartfelt apology without attempting to downplay the incident.

Jeannette Ng's excellent acceptance speech. I think renaming the award would be a great start. Doing this officially would be ideal, otherwise maybe we can just sort of do it. Congratulations to Jeannette on winning the Ursula K. Le Guin Award for best new writer (not to be confused with the Ursula K. Le Guin Memorial Award for Best Novel). Now I'm going to tuck into this bowl of delicious Le Guin's tomato soup.


One of the things I enjoyed were the little logistical improvements that accrued over the course of the con: the visible evidence of the vast often invisible volunteer labour of conrunners. Signs spawn and migrate, queueing topologies shift, even the durations of programme items squirm, as the whole system evolves toward elegance. There were something like 7,000 in attendance, which did mean a lot of queueing, although that was really okay for me … a chance to actually read a book, which is something you can find yourself really itching for at a con!

Another challenge for the conrunners is that the entire convention centre was isolated from the outside world by an unrelenting blizzard, which took out all the phone lines, as we were picked off one by one. In the end, the only thing I didn’t get into that I wanted to was Dirk Gently's announcement in the Library which was a shame because I did the murders. I did actually mention this to one of the volunteers and it seemed a bit weird to me that they still wouldn’t let me in, but I guess it’s one of those things where if you make an exception for one person you have to do it for everyone. Also apparently it was an extremely busy item with some people sitting on the floor and at least one person lying on it spreadeagled but with one arm crooked. So I appreciate that and I hope it went well.

I wasn't too ferocious in my efforts to attend programme items anyway. Chatting to folk is kind of my favorite part. That, and just running away and sitting and staring blankly. I enjoyed a couple spells behind the BSFA table in the dealer's hall, which combines these two pursuits.

I presented a paper on Project Cybersyn which was a little rushed (I learned the sessions had been shortened by five minutes and overcompensated). I probably won't put the slides online, but it's based on an article I wrote with Liz Stainforth forthcoming in Science Fiction Studies, plus I'm going to give some version of it at Productive Futures in London next month (with Liz!).

Another major issue was that I didn’t like one of the songs that John Scalzi, author of the Old Man's War series, Redshirts, and many other novels, played during his DJ set one night. I can’t remember the lyrics but it was the one that went NYAAAAAAAWWW DOOF DOOF DOOF PUCKACHUCKACHOOKABOOPBOOPBOOP DOOF DOOF DOOF like that. I didn’t know which dance went along with it.

Brexit spread a subtexty shadow almost everywhere.

A further logistics glitch was the location of the hellmouth nearly a kilometre away from the two main sites. Spawn events were staggered so that if you wanted to catch a programme item at the conference centre or Odeon site, you still had just enough time to rush over and disturb an ancient evil. I definitely got my 10,000 steps a day in. Inevitably the hellmouth side of things was a little self-contained, and many con-goers will have missed their chance to comically mistake an actual demon for their friend who is cosplaying the same demon. Again this is really nitpicky stuff.

On the plus side, another highlight was not getting con crud! Con crud, if you haven’t heard of it, is nature’s little fuck you to human cosmopolitanism. Folk converge from across the world bringing a rich mix of pathogens and a patchy quilt of immunities, and then spend a week not getting quite enough sleep. So con crud is really myriad maladies that begin to set in, jiggling in the glands just as the population disperses, like a horror movie where you think they have made it out okay. On the Saturday night, Vector editor emeritus Glyn Morgan patiently explained to me that a serving Vector editor can edit any vector: you open up InDesign, you enable the CRISPR gene editing plug-in, and you just co-edit the disease vectors into innocuousness. So I did that, and wiped con crud and in fact all disease past, present, and future. And now I’m playing with Poynting vectors and Laplace–Runge–Lenz vectors, whatever those are. I think it’s to do with yeeting the sun into the moon?

Next year's WorldCon, in New Zealand, looks lush and I hope I can make it. It is also fucking far. I haven't yet read this year's Hugo winning novel, Mary Robinette Kowal's The Calculating Stars, but I hear that it's about climate crisis too. Obviously. Literally everything is about climate crisis except Democratic National Committee sanctioned presidential candidate debates. WorldCon seems to be by-and-large a progressive institution, but I haven't yet come across the bit where we track its carbon impact. Maybe something for the future, or what's left of one.

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