So you may have heard that the WorldCon (or the 72nd World Science Fiction Conference) was in London this year. Probably because I didn’t have to commit to any major travel plans, I dithered a bit (okay, a lot) on whether to attend or not until the week before, when I finally decided that this would probably be the only time in my life where the WorldCon would be in my home city and I should really go. So after studying the programme in detail, I handed over the money for a Sunday day admission – and was glad I did, because I probably would have died from envy while reading status updates otherwise…
I did swing past the Excel Centre (where the convention was being held) on the Saturday as Andrea K Höst organised a fan meet-up in one of the nearby cafes. I was running late (thanks to me forgetting the DLR weekend schedule was slightly different to the weekday one) so I arrived midway through Andrea’s explanation of the world-building in her upcoming book, THE PYRAMIDS OF LONDON, I think! But it was fun to talk books (and I also got to meet Estara in person, which was great).
On Sunday, I arrived at the Excel Centre more or less when planned this time around. I thought the con was very well-organised – maybe because it was the fourth day, but I picked up my badge at the registration desk in about two minutes flat. There were queues outside the more popular panels, but certainly the ones I attended were very prompt about ending 5-10 minutes early so that the next panel could start on time.
I had a few panels on my list to attend, and the first panel was “Authors Accept, Encourage, and Create Fan Works Too” – partly because of the authors on the panel (Seanan McGuire, Adam Christopher, Karen Miller, and Patrick Rothfuss, moderated by Karen Hellekson), but also because I was curious about their take on fanfiction (I’m not a massive fanfic reader myself, but have read and loved some). This was held in one of the larger suites, so didn’t feel massively crowded – possibly 2/3s full at best?
Caveat: I wasn’t doing any proper note-taking, so I may have misquoted or misinterpreted panellists.
My notes are rather scanty, as I’m really not at my best before noon on a Sunday. The hour flew past – 60 minutes for a panel doesn’t feel long enough as by the time intros are completed and the panel has answered a couple of questions thrown out by the moderator, you only have time for a few questions from the audience. For this panel specifically, I also had the impression that the panel wasn’t necessarily in agreement on certain topics, so it was a shame that there wasn’t enough time to explore what they agreed/disagreed on…
Not all the questions from the audience here felt particularly relevant to me, especially when one of the people chosen (I think he was an author too, but didn’t catch his name/recognise him) ended up stating his views on the topic as opposed to asking a question. From memory, questions included the risk of losing copyright/trademarks (which led to the level of control that creators have over their universe – Karen Miller talked a bit about the restrictions of writing in the Star Wars universe) and whether actors should be allowed to add their own interpretation to characters as written by authors (there was a firm “no” from Karen Miller (I think!), though Pat Rothfuss hinted he disagreed). Towards the end, Seanan McGuire (err.. I think again – good thing I’m not a journalist) made an eloquent argument about why “intent does not mean anything”, which I thought was fantastic – paraphrasing horribly, but it was along the lines of “it doesn’t matter what you meant when you wrote something, it’s about what the reader took away from it”.
I then went to the “Diversity Within Young Adult Science Fiction” panel, which was 90 minutes long and felt so much better-paced as a result. Panellists were Mary Anne Mohanraj, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz, Mahvesh Murad, Kate Elliott, John Hornor Jacobs, and it was moderated by Marieke Nijkamp. You’ll be glad to hear I had a few more proper notes from this one – so much so that the detail is behind the cut below, as this recap has turned out to be a bit of an essay… Midway through this panel, the skies opened – possibly coincidentally, my note-taking application crashed (if I’d thought about this a bit more, I’d brought pen and paper really). Which means my notes on book recommendations are rather sketchy – Kate Elliott talked up Malinda Lo’s books a lot though!
I took a break from the programming to wander through the dealers’ hall – there were so many secondhand mass-market paperbacks I wanted, but couldn’t really justify as I’ve the e-copies and no shelf space. But still… I loved seeing all those retro covers, and would have probably caved had I been at the con for more than a day. And I also bumped into Ana and Thea from The Book Smugglers while browsing through the books – they were just as fantastic IRL as you’d expect them to be.
I wanted to attend the “So Grim. Much Serious. Wow” panel, primarily because Tanya Huff was on the panel, but when I turned up about 10 minutes early, the queue for the room was massively long. So I figured I wouldn’t get in and decided to go to Bryan Talbot‘s “How I Make a Graphic Novel” instead. Bryan Talbot was one of LonCon3’s Guests of Honour and it was a fascinating hour or so. I don’t really read graphic novels (but I’ve been trying to understand how to read one, if that makes sense!), so I suspect I didn’t get as much out of it as others would have, but I enjoyed listening to him talk through the actual process of writing one – usage of different grid-styles, pacing, page design etc – and left impressed with the amount of work and thought that goes into creating a graphic novel.
Final panel of the day for me was “My Opinions, Let Me Show You Them“, which was a bloggers’ panel (Foz Meadows (m), Thea James, Aidan Moher, Adam Whitehead, Justin Landon) – it was nice to see the faces behind the blogs. I’ve to say the room was very very warm – it was one of the smaller suites, and it was packed – and I swear the man next to me was snoozing away. He perked up as the panel was asked to talk about some of their controversial posts, and started googling the posts in question as the bloggers were speaking, which amused me! One of the questions asked was whether the panel ever pulled their punches, which led to Foz Meadows (usual caveat of I think it was, anyway…) talking about punching up/down/across, which was also referred to in the Diversity in YA panel I attended earlier.
And that was it for me – I had to run unfortunately, so couldn’t go to the Hugos ceremony in the evening, but it sounded like it was good fun for those who went (winners and breakdown of votes). Although I only spent a day (or eight hours or so, to be precise) at LonCon3, it was really refreshing to be in the same place as other people who love reading and SF/F as much as I do, and I can definitely see the attraction of con-attending (and I really want to attend a romance and/or blogging convention now). I suspect my experience would also have been a lot different had I done the full weekend/staying on-site thing – maybe next time…
From the Diversity Within Young Adult Science Fiction panel – in no particular order, points that caught my attention:
- When talking about the why behind diversity, Kate Elliott said “all narratives are equally important” – she also briefly mentioned her upcoming YA fantasy COURT OF FIVES, which sounds fantastic (and which her publisher is calling Little Women meets Game of Thrones). John Hornor Jacobs (whose introduction of himself as the “token white male” on the panel made the room laugh) said YA was about coming-of-age stories, and everyone deserves to have a guide for this.
- Mahvesh Murad (I think – I obviously lied about having better notes from this panel) talked a bit about how her exposure to MG fiction was very British-centric, using Famous Five as an example, and her confusion around why kids were drinking alcohol (ginger beer) and wrapping themselves in carpets to keep warm (rugs) – i.e. her books had experiences foreign to her everyday life, but they were the only ones available to her as a child. Mary Ann Mohanraj said something along the lines of “your imagination is stretched only as far as the books you can read”.
- There was a bit of a discussion about why it appeared easier for a non-POC author to have a POC story published. An audience member suggested authors should start submitting work under pseudonyms to get across the first hurdle in being published. The panel’s reaction was very much “you should change the system, not hack it”, though I think there was an eventual acknowledgement that you may need to hack the system to start the change. Kate Elliott mentioned that when she chose her pseudonym, she went for one which was more “ethnically-neutral” (she originally wrote under Alis Rasmussen) – in hindsight, she would have had considered a gender-neutral one as well.
- Mary Anne Mohanraj said that saying one racist thing doesn’t necessarily make you a racist. She had a great analogy around how you should feel free to check your friends if they make a racist remark – in the same way you would tell them if they had a booger hanging out of your nose (love that Americanism), you should do the same thing if they make a racist remark (“hey, you’ve a booger, here’s a handkerchief so you can sort it out”).
- Kate Elliott said she didn’t actually care for the term “diversity” as it situates the issue from the white person’s perspective. Similarly, Rochita Loenen-Ruiz said the term “ally” bothered her slightly because it presumes someone is either a good or bad ally – she suggested the term “comrade” instead.
- There was a bit around “punching up” and “punching down” when writing characters – which was interesting, as the same concept was used in the bloggers panel I attended as well.
There were various other talking points, but these were the ones I jotted down – feel free to ask if you want to know more.